Before we made the move from Cincinnati, Margaret-Ellen (my roommate) assured me that if I couldn’t find a full-time job right away, she could easily set me up with some promotional work. For the uninitiated, or more specifically, for the non-actor, promo jobs turn you into a second-rate “Barker Beauty” from The Price is Right. You show up to a supermarket, or a street corner, and promote a product, whether it’s a new bottle of wine, a slab of ribs, or a mafia-run comedy club. It’s a quick way to make money, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for doing it. You work short shifts, like four hours or less, and they cut you a check. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
But if you are aware of who I am, you know the idea of selling something to a stranger on the street, or even just handing out coupons in a busy area, makes the bile rise up from my stomach. I’m getting acid reflux just thinking about it. What made me extra uncomfortable is most companies require a headshot. I certainly don’t blame them — I wouldn’t want an uggie on my payroll either. But only those in the entertainment business have headshots; I have camera phone shots of me mean-mugging at karaoke bars. I’m not about to get turned down for a job standing in front of a strip club divvying out VIP passes because my sunny disposition doesn’t burst forth in a picture. So while I certainly appreciated the offer for work, I chose to remain poor and keep whatever shred of self-worth I had left.
Cut to late October and I’m still without work. My self-worth had been demoted from “hangin’ in there” to “the plug should have been pulled weeks ago.” When I received a call from Margaret-Ellen about a possible job one weekday afternoon, I was willing to accept practically anything. You want me to wear Victoria’s Secret angel wings in Chelsea? No problem. Promote partial birth abortion at a Catholic picnic? Let’s get this party started. Luckily, or more specifically because Margaret-Ellen knew I was more likely to accept this exact job, this one entailed driving a van and driving a van only. There was to be no mingling with the populace. Just pick up the staff and materials, take them to the spot, and wait. This I could do. I can sit in a van and play thumb war with myself for $25 an hour. I have a Ph.D. in Loafing About.
My only remaining apprehension involved my minuscule ego, which would not shut up about our “qualifications.”
“You didn’t go to 20 years of college to drive a van,” said myself.
“But you have rent to pay, and there’s only so much time you can waste browsing the Ikea website. You already have three Liatorps.”
“But they’re economical and they really tie the room together!”
All this inane inner dialogue immediately became moot when I began working the jobs. No matter how overqualified you think you are, nothing beats actual work experience. Humility, it’s nice to make your acquaintance.
On the first day, I managed to get a parking ticket within the first 20 minutes, loaded thirty more boxes into the van than necessary, and arrived to the event nearly a half hour late (thanks to the extraneous boxes). However, I did get to spend several hours watching a failed actor do push-ups in the middle of Times Square.
On the second day, I couldn’t find a parking spot close to the event (near Madison Square Garden), so I had to park it in a garage (added expense). This led to my having to go back and forth several blocks for three hours carrying forty boxes of bagged popcorn. The union that represents my body had a meeting that night, and, thank god, they decided not to go on strike. But I did receive a written warning.
On the third day, I dropped a box full of drug store coupons (about 500) into a puddle about six inches deep, and immediately exclaimed, “Oopsie daisies,” in front of a bodybuilder in a fireman costume, to which he replied, “Need a little help with that, Miss?” A little while after this fantastic conversation, I failed to properly secure a hose on a contraption used for pouring out coffee, and when it burst and sprayed hot coffee all over the ground, nearly scalding the guy in the fireman suit, I shut my eyes tight and waited for the punches to lull me into the waiting arms of a sweet, sweet coma.
On the fourth day, everything was going swimmingly — I found a place to park, NPR was playing decent music, nobody called me a woman, etc. But with about an hour left, I got the urge to drive a few blocks over to a McDonald’s. No big deal, right? What I failed to realize is that most drive-thrus are not designed to support large vans, so when I tried to turn right out of the parking lot, I scraped the entire side of the van against a concrete pillar. What went through my head? Mostly obscenities, but also thoughts of endless debt thanks to endless repair shop bills. There was no talking my way out of this one. No chance the rental company wanted a red racing stripe on the side of their van, even though it did look pretty rad. To top it off, by leaving my cushy parking spot, I had immersed myself in stopped traffic, just in time to be unavailable to drive the staff home. This led to several not-so-happy texts from women named Destiny and Brittnee. I assumed I was fired, so I didn’t even bother to drive back to the office. I went straight to the rental company, showed off my handiwork, and was told there would be a $500 deductible. This was a little comforting, even if it was still a little more than I could handle. Eventually, after a few hours of softly sobbing into a pillow, I emailed my boss and explained the situation (not The Situation). He replied shortly thereafter with a terse sounding, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of the damage. Talk to you soon.” I was grateful to be off the financial hook, but it is safe to say that the job offers went from “daily” to “every other winter solstice” with this company.
So what’s the moral of the story here?
Put on the stupid fireman’s costume and leave the heavy lifting to the professionals.