Day 5: The Understudy
I was up early enough to swipe the classifieds from my neighbor's paper in an attempt to find employment and on that particular overcast Sunday, my choices were limited to the medical field, something involving carpet remnants or to be the second-string receptionist at a hair salon. I dismissed the middle one because it sounded dirty and despite watching every ep of House--multiple times thanks to the USA Network*--and killing all the viruses in Dr. Mario, I probably wasn't qualified to catheterize the elderly.
That left the hair salon. I stopped in on Tuesday morning** to drop my resume off in person, to show them that I was the type of girl who had initiative and also needed money for a new printer cartridge. From the heavily tattooed staff to the seizure-inducing swirls on the walls, this was obviously the kind of place people went for hairstyles that attract unwanted attention in Home Depot, to overdose on ironic t-shirts, and to leave with a bleeding ear.
The receptionist in charge--the Kerry Collins to my Vince Young if I got the job--eyed me warily as I introduced myself. I A'd a couple of Q's about my experience, attitude and glitter eyeshadow while trying not to stare at his facial piercings. Not only did he look like he'd passed out in a tackle box but when he turned and tossed my pages on the desk, I spied the Yogi Bear tatt on the back of his neck, the one inked below the words "Show Me Your Boo Boo".
We shook hands and swapped contact information before I headed home, taking the lingering scent of peroxide and cigarettes with me.*** Believe it or Not, Mr. Ripley, but they called the next day to ask if I could come in Friday morning for a four hour, twenty-four dollar trial run. I paused briefly to scan the cable guide and see which episode of Maury I'd be missing before giving a verbal thumbs up.
When I rolled in on Friday, He of the Bedazzled Face was there to greet me at the door because "unlocking the facility" was one of the lines dropped into the job description. He extended his hand and said "So, like, I forgot your name. Mine's Brandt, but everyone calls me B-Ice." Sure they do. They may also call you 'The Defendant' or 'That Guy Who Makes Drugs in His Carport'.
"I'm J-Money," I said "But everyone calls me 'That Girl Who Smells Like Pears and Is Really Good at Life'."
We shook, he tossed a Soilwork CD into the system and he considered smiling but that would've sent a metal shard into his cornea. After busying himself with the thermostat and a Swiffer duster, he reached over the desk to pull out a thin folder labeled 'Receptionist's Manual', opening it to remove several menus from a Chinese restaurant and a subscription card to a skateboarding magazine.
"Here, you can read this while I take care of the opening shit. This job's so not hard as long as you remember one thing."
"What's that," I asked, sincerely hoping it didn't involve my Boo Boos.
"Just don't tell any callers that the person they want is taking a shit."
"Should I just say 'in the bathroom' then?"
"No, you should say they've stepped out. Or that they're smoking, either way. Also, there's one word we never say here."
He shook his head, and gave me a sincere expression that was one oversized eye away from being a Precious Moments figurine. "Can't." He paused for emphasis. "We can't say can't here."
Before I could point out the fallacy of that statement, he gestured that I should sit down at the desk. He pulled a green post it pad out of the top drawer, tore a page off and began writing furiously. When he finished, he stuck the note to the phone, then pushed my chair close enough for me to see the script he'd just written out. There was a pause as he waited for me to react, so I read it aloud just to see if he'd lip-sync along as I spoke each word. He did.
exactly how you'll talk to the callers! I wrote it down for you!" He beamed, his expression disturbingly similar to the one my dog gets when he humps a pot holder. "Just don't, like, say sir AND ma'am. You've got to pick one."
I nodded and tried to take notes. I couldn't find any paper so I wrote it on my forearm, which was probably the preferred method anyway.
"So, if you think you're ready, I'm going to let you grab the next call."
As if on cue, the phone immediately rang. He pointed at it with one black laquered nail and stage-whispered "Get it! Get it!"
"Good morning afternoon!" I said cheerfully. "Thank you for calling HairBallz!"****
There was a pause on the other side of the line before a weary voice leaked into my ear. "Yeah, how much do y'all pay for gold?"
"Yes sir, you mean, like, gold highlights?" I asked, improvising like the Miles Davis of hourly wages.
"No, like gold gold." He paused for a wet cough. "I got some old wedding bands I need to sell." I was thrilled because this husky-voiced caller was either a for-real hobo or Kathleen Turner. Putting my hand over the receiver, I signaled for B-Ice who was using his Blistex to draw a dagger on his ankle. He wiped his hands, grabbed the phone and gave Kathleen a different set of digits.
"Oh yeah," he said, tracing a 'B' in the desk dust. "We get a lot of calls for the pawn shop. Just give them the right number and don't get freaked out if they ask a lot of questions about guns." I snagged another couple of calls before he seemed satisfied enough to let me fly solo. He spun his chair to face the computer, googling "Scariest Haunted House" and picking dead skin off his lips. I cracked the Receptionist's Manual and read looping cursive explanations of voicemail etiquette and got a second helping of the "say smoking instead of pooping" rule.
The remaining three hours ticked by with the quickness. There were two walk-in appointments, nine phone calls--a pair for the pawn shop--and I ate seventeen Jolly Ranchers out of the Shrek-shaped candy dish on the front desk. I got a tour of the salon from a stylist with an unsubtle hair color that looked like she'd stapled Bill Cosby's sweaters to her scalp. After showing me where the matches were in the Ladies' Room, she shared the secret of sweeping hair clippings, which is to call your boyfriend while the secretary's understudy does it.
I was dismissed promptly at two by the manager of the salon, a severe-looking woman with sallow skin and a dog in her purse. "We'll be in touch," she said, giving me a handful of cash. "If we think you can handle this job."
She wasn't. I guess I couldn't.
*A channel whose programming options are limited to House reruns, overly clever original programming and enough seasons of Law & Order: SVU that you can spend an afternoon watching Mariska Hargitay's hair grow out.
** They were closed on Mondays, quite possibly to let the hallucinogenics wear off.
*** Add a drop of desperation and that's exactly what Samantha Ronson smells like.
**** No, that's not what's stitched on their shirts. I did spend the better part of an hour coming up with alternate names like: Rusty Kuts, Good Head, BITCH I WILL CUT YOU, Scissor Sisters: But Only Because We Cut Hair & Not Because We're Lesbians, Dark Roots, Fuck Off & Dye, Gang Bangs or Turn Your Head & Coif.