Agents and Sales
I am a people person. Although exp is pref'd, I have landed the Avon job, and am ready to make $$$$$. I have a fabulous new hairdo (possibly one that requires a curling iron), and know the difference between eye shadow and eye shimmer. I do not smear my lips with a melted stick of Blistex and call it a day! I use foundation, loose powder, and whatever that metal thing is that makes your eyelashes stand up straight.
It takes a while for me to prepare in the morning. I tell my husband that I am "fixing my face." He goes to work before I am finished, leaving his coffee cup half-full on the mantle. The coffee is chicory; we bought it by mistake, but we have gotten used to it. If I had an income, we could afford to throw it away and walk right down to the snazzy gourmet shop and buy something more to our liking: Ethiopian Dark, perhaps, or Kenyan Peaberry. If I had $$$, I would go on over to Starbucks and buy a bag of oily beans. Instead, I sip from my husband's cup.
My face is fixed. I am luminous, dewy, a vixen. In my terrycloth robe, I sit on our dingy couch and prepare to make my first call. I pick up my phone, which is Avon-lady pink. I practice speaking in an engaging manner. "Hello, there," I say to my cat. "Well, now, how are you this morning?" I say. I flutter my lashes.
I am supposed to begin with friends and neighbors. My neighbors are alcoholic old ladies and crackheads, so I call my friend Jill. "Well, good morning!" I say, when she picks up.
"Are you hung over?" says Jill, "Jesus, I'm hung over."
I think about how to turn this situation around. I sip my crappy coffee. "Are your eyes puffy?" I ask. Jill does not answer. "Lackluster skin?" I suggest.
"Fuck you," says Jill, and she hangs up.
Holding the pink receiver in my hand, I breathe out. "I went to college," I remind my cat. "I am an artist," I tell her. She does not answer. The phone receiver is caked with the orange makeup that I have so carefully applied to my face. In the corner of our tiny, termite-ridden apartment, there is an empty canvas, waiting.
If you play at one of the tables, you get free drinks. I bring them to you, dressed smartly in a red cocktail dress with red heels. (I can walk in heels, and even balance trays of martinis.) My hair is swept up, and sometimes I wear a big red hibiscus bloom behind my ear. You are drinking Scotch and soda, and I get the bartender, Joseph, to make them extra strong. You are playing blackjack. You are winning.
Harrah's casino is enormous, filled with rows of slot machines at which downtrodden people perch, holding dirty plastic buckets of quarters. My section, however, is for high-rollers (like you). There are video cameras everywhere, monitored by skinny mustachioed men. When the cocktails waitresses get old, or plump, they are shipped to other sections. This place-with the red velvet walls, the women who look like Grace Kelly hanging on the arms of men with cigars-this place is for the young.
You hold up your finger for me, and I saunter over. "Would you like another, Sir?" I ask. You look at me for a long moment.
"The name's Gene," you say.
I smile. (My teeth are brilliantly white, despite the coffee.) "Another drink, Gene?" I say, taking care to say it sultrily. Actually, let's have your name be Renaldo. "Another drink, Renaldo?" I say, sultrily.
"I'd love one."
"How's your luck tonight, Renaldo?"
"You tell me, beauty queen."
"Renaldo!" I put my hand (the one not holding the drink tray) to my chest. I have painted my nails scarlet. I do not bite them, and they are long.
"Hit me," says Renaldo, to the dealer. (He is playing the game where you say, 'hit me.' I am quite sure this is blackjack.) He chuckles as he wins another stack of whichever chips are worth a thousand dollars each.
"Be right back," I promise, poutily. I saunter to the bar.
"What's up with that?" says Joseph, as he pours the Scotch and soda.
"Don't you know who Renaldo is?" says Joseph.
Joseph snorts. "That guy, the slick one, the one you were lap dancing for over there, he's Renaldo Rodruiguez!"
"What are you saying, Joseph? Spit it out."
"He's a mob King Pin! He's a billionaire! And he goes through starlets like Kleenex!" Joseph warns. He adds, "You're just a cocktail waitress, and you're married!"
I think of my husband, happy in his boring bank teller job. He does have smooth skin, I'll give him that, and he leaves the coffee pot on with plenty of coffee, even if it is that chicory shit.
"Don't be absurd!" I tell Joseph, "I'm just doing my job!" Joseph snorts again, and begins scrubbing at the bar counter with a wet, maroon napkin.
Back at the "hit me" table, you are looking fine. You also smell of Drakkar Noir, which is what my date wore to the Senior Prom. He went on to become a fat UPS driver, but you, Renaldo Rodriguez, are a billionaire who looks like a mix between Antonio Banderas, George Clooney, and Andrew McCarthy. You smile at me, watching me move across the room. Music begins-it is Yo Yo Ma, playing cello sultrily from atop the billiards table! "Just what I've been waiting for," you say, as I glide ever closer.
I hand you your drink, and our hands touch, wet with condensation. A shock runs through me, the kind I've read about in Elle Magazine. Your eyes are asking questions I don't know how to answer. "I am winning," you say, and you throw some chips in the air, to illustrate your point.
I laugh throatily. Your hand takes my hand (the one not holding the drink tray), and you press something cold into my palm. You watch me hungrily, Renaldo, as I open my lily white palm to reveal a necklace of rubies.
"Oh Renaldo," I say.
"Those are yours," you say, "Just for gliding so effortlessly in your high heels, for wearing a red dress over your toned body, which is surely better than even Britney Spears'."
"Oh," I say. Your eyes are as dark as chocolate. I want to kiss you, but I demur.
"If you come to my suite tonight," you say in a low voice, "I will cover your body with hot kisses, and I will give you riches beyond your wildest dreams."
I whisper, "What's the room number?"
The night goes on in a haze of smoke and perfume. You win enough money to draw all of the nubile starlets who hang out in the New Orleans Harrah's casino to your side, but you only have eyes for me. I serve wine and margaritas, Cosmopolitans and Cokes, beer and whiskey. And to you, I serve Scotch and sodas. So many, in fact, that you begin to slump a bit in on your stool and, to be honest, Renaldo, to slur in an ungentlemanly manner. By the end of the night, dear, you are babbling incoherently and your hair is a complete disaster.
My shift ends at midnight, and I take a final look at you. Oh, my knight, the moments we could have spent together! I know that I should take you to your suite, tuck you in, and tend to you, Renaldo. Instead, I hang my little apron in my locker, and I catch a cab home to my husband, who will be asleep. The rubies, I decide, I will sell. My husband has been wanting a canoe for some time, and I will buy one for him.
I am a dump truck driver. I drive a late-model tri-axle, and I have a clean DMV and exp. The other drivers respect me in my denim jumpsuit; they call me "Sport." I wake up before my husband, I make the coffee. I pack a simple lunch in a brown bag: ham sandwich, chips, Sprite, and maybe a candy bar. My co-driver picks me up (he arrives with a rumble and a short, horn blast, which would piss off my neighbors were they not on crack) very early in the morning, say four-thirty.
I climb easily into the cab of the truck. "Hey sport," says Don.
"Hey Don," I say. Don is a haggard dude, and he wears a wool cap all the time. God knows what's under that cap. What pokes out from that cap is bad enough. Don has a large nose, and smells of Irish Spring soap. (This is at the start of the day. At the end, I gather we all smell, unhappily, like garbage.) Don wears a denim suit as well.
"In the mood for some pancakes, Sport?"
"You know I am!" We stop at Betsy's Pancake House, where Hal and Joseph are already waiting. They have ordered me my usual: two pancakes, crisp bacon, coffee. The waitress brings it to me on a warm plate. While we eat (Don, that softie, even pours my syrup for me), we plan the day's route. Don and I will be picking up the garbage in the French Quarter. Unless dump truck drivers only work at the actual dump, moving stuff around? I am going to assume we pick up garbage, but then wouldn't we be garbage truck drivers and not dump truck drivers? OK, there's one for "Waste Management Drivers," so it's all good.
We begin on Rampart. Generally, I stay in the truck, and Don does the actual garbage hauling. On the outskirts of the quarter, it's normal garbage, but as we get further in, it's just beer bottles and puke.
Wait one red hot minute! SWAMP TOUR DRIVER! Don and I throw the truck in reverse and head into Cajun country. (We are now CDL-C drivers with P endor and knowledge of area.) We have a busload of passengers, and while Don drives, it's my job to get the ball rolling.
"Where are you all from?" I ask. They are animated and cheery, calling out: "Wisconsin! Japan! New Jersey!" I am wearing an alligator suit. My face shows between the jaws.
"Well, welcome to New Orleans!" I cry. I raise my paws and shout, "The Big Easy!" They clap and cheer. I do a little alligator dance. Even Don is amused. I begin to tell tales of old New Orleans to my captive audience. I mean captivated. I talk about voodoo, and I discuss swamp folklore. By the time we arrive at the swamp itself, my passengers are stuffing tips between my alligator teeth.
The swamp smells salty and thick, and it fills our mouths. In the distance, a lone figure comes toward us. My passengers begin to whisper in frightened tones. Is it some creature from the depths? Some voodoo apparition? Don lays out the buffet lunch that will conclude the tour, and I can smell the egg salad.
There is a gentle paddling sound coming from the figure in the swamp. I know before I can even see him clearly, I know from his even stroke. It is my husband in his new canoe, and he has come to take me home.
Over drinks, I tell my husband that he should hold on to his dream. "You are an artist," I tell him. "And I can support us, for a while."
We are meeting at the Napoleon House for a cheese board and a half-bottle of very good red. I walked over to the Quarter after work, and my husband met me there. He has not taken a shower, and it doesn't look as if he's brushed his teeth either. I want to say something, but I do not. He's having a very tough time here, and I'm the one who married him and made him come. I explained that he wasn't really "following" me, but that marriage meant we were "a team forever."
"Want something else?" I say, "A muffalatta, maybe? It's on me."
"No," he says. He has his chin in the palm of his hand, and his eyes are vacant. He had been filled with fire when I met him, full of excitement and the belief that life had all sorts of things in store for him. He wanted only enough time to see what sort of art he had within him. Not much, it seems.
"I got the oil changed today," he says.
"Oh, great! Thanks!"
"There was a guy there who had been in a terrible accident. Some guy had just been driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Smashed straight into him."
"Oh, God." I am wearing a suit, but a casual one, because I am high enough up on the totem pole that I don't have a whole lot to prove to anyone. I sure am glad I went to law school instead of traveling around the world making myself less marketable and more dissatisfied!
My husband has drained the wine bottle into his glass. "Can we get another?" he asks.
He looks like a painter, I think, with his ragged hair and yellow-tinted sunglasses. "Why can't you be proud of yourself?" I ask. He has been calling me at work, crying, saying he can't hack it, he isn't an artist after all, he can't even get a job waiting tables, he's a failure.
When he dreamed about his life, he never saw roaches underneath the stove, never understood what it would be like to stay somewhere, to look down the long road of forever.
"I don't know," he says. His hand moves-I think he is going to reach for my hand, but instead he grips the fork in front of him. He breathes in slowly. I don't want to think it, but I do: Oh Christ, not again. "I'm hanging by a thread here," he says, quietly.
If I tried, perhaps I could understand the dark place he's living in. If I were another kind of person, not the one with a professional/technical job. If I, like my husband, sat at home all day in a dirty terrycloth robe, reading the paper and calling out to muses that never answer. Perhaps I would know how to help him, or what to say. But I am not that kind of person. I can make myself stop looking at the sorrowful place in the corner of my eye. I know that morning will come, I will wake, and I will have somewhere to go.
About the author:
Amanda Eyre Ward lives in Austin, Texas.