Yesterday, I decided that I wanted to work at a book store. I made the traditional Are You Hiring? calls to the three closest locations to discover that the furthest one away was the only one hiring. So be it.
The online application consisted of the standard employment questions that required me to dig through stacks of papers to find the phone number and address of past employers. There was, however, a 100 question self-evaluation, where I had to completely agree, agree, disagree, or completely disagree to statements about myself.
I consider myself a tidy person:
When one job is finished, I look for more work to do:
Other people often annoy me:
They should have included a 101st statement:
My responses to the previous 100 statements were mostly lies in an attempt to tell you what I think you want to hear:
It was a harder experience than one might think, attempting to
determine my responses in regards to what I am actually like versus what I would be like while working. I actually giggled as I described myself as a hardworking, tidy person who is not annoyed by stupid people. Many of the questions gave me pause, such as the infamous “I am overqualified for this job,” which is an obvious eeny meeny miny mo response.
But the question that really made me stop and think was:
I don’t care what people think about me:
I sat and wondered. First, about which box the book store would have liked me to check. Do they want to know if animated individuals are willing to suppress their enthusiasm so as to not scare customers away? Or do they wish to cultivate such characters to get the customers “excited” about books? Do they want a gothic poet laureate to hide her tattoos from fellow employees? Or should she express her individuality in the workplace?
There were too many scenarios. Too many possible wrong answers.
I then started thinking about whether or not I actually do care about what other people think about me. Of course, I always say that I don’t care. But how much weight can that carry when I have sat for five minutes wondering what a book store might think of my responses to innocuous questions?
Then I thought back to my middle school cafeteria.
My dad is pretty much the epitome of frugal, always electing to buy the generic brand items to save some cash. This included the store brand juice boxes, which were included daily in my lunch. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the generic brand of juice boxes didn’t picture these little cute fruit men. Apples, oranges, and strawberries equipped with hands, feet, eyes, and gaping smiles. The small army of fruit men occupied the entire surface area of the juice box and appeared to be dancing and celebrating, as if to say, “Hey everyone in the cafeteria! Look at me! I’m a smiling humanoid fruit and happy to be alive! Yippeee!”
Upon sitting down for lunch, I promptly opened my paper bag, always keeping it standing upright and close to the edge of the table. Then, I quickly placed the juice box between me and the paper bag, so that nobody could see that I promoted tiny dancing fruit men. Usually, I sucked down its contents before I even started eating my sandwich, leaving me parched for the rest of the meal.
Then, I would look across the cafeteria at James Savage. The name just screamed “cool,” I know. I’m not sure what his lunch consisted of, but every day he had two Squeezits. Squeezits were the king of the realm of lunchtime juices, completely abandoning the contemporary idea of juice in a box. That’s right, they came in six-packs of plastic, squeezable bottles. The bottles were shaped like cartoon crazy faces, but there was a striking difference between his lunchtime refreshment and mine – his were advertised on television. Therefore, they were more expensive. And cooler. And he got two. Everyday.
It wasn’t fair that I had to veil the contents of my lunch, while he could hold his up high like a trophy, and probably take any girl in the sixth grade to first base if he wanted. But such was the life of a middle-schooler.
Today, with a limited cash flow, I am all about saving a buck or two and will frequently buy generic brand products. But back in middle school – forget about it. If you wore sneakers that were anything but Nike or Adidas… well, you simply had to prepare yourself for ridicule. No Jansport school bag? Might as well just carry your books to school. No Starter jacket? Gear up for a cold winter. Oh, and your Starter jacket better represent a good team. Or at least have cool colors.
The only upperhand I had on my peers was with my pencils. As a teacher, my dad obtained an endless supply of Dixon Ticonderogas. “Ohmygosh, Johnny has a Papermate pencil!” I would jeer, “It’s not even a Number Two!” There wasn’t much we could make fun of Johnny Sang for, except for the fact that if you put a period after his name, it would make a logical sentence, so I got my shots in when I could.
I was always looking for my next pencil-less victim, always listening for the snap of a point. I would point, laugh, and then usually gave the victim a fresh Ticonderoga so they could avoid further embarrassment. My arrival as Johnny Appleseed of the pencil world lasted longer than it should have, perhaps, but it did earn me some friends while taking the SATs.
I realize that my self consciousness was not limited to just middle school, and some forms of it exist today. For example, I always feel like a shoplifter when I leave a clothing store empty-handed after having tried on some merchandise. I feel the urge to put my empty hands in the air as I walk out, or offer the too-friendly greeter an explanation that “the jeans weren’t my style” as he wishes me a good day. I continue onward into the mall, feeling his eyes still on me, searching my body for an abnormal bulge in my jeans where I must surely have tucked away an unpaid-for t-shirt. I literally feel guilty for a crime that I have not committed.
In reality, he didn’t think twice about me as he continues to fold clothes and daydream of what he will do when his shift ends at 5 o’clock. It is all in my head, this thought that the world revolves around me. The thought that I am the only customer who would walk out of American Eagle without a bag of newly purchased clothing and a receipt. The thought that one type of pencil will make you a superior scholar than another. The thought that the comfort of a shoe comes second to the name that appears on the tongue.
It is ridiculous, really, the fact that I am 23 and still have a desire to be liked. To please other people. Although I wish to outgrow it, I know that it is a part of human nature, and I am sure that some of my self-conscious habits are shared by many other people. One day, I am sure I will reach the point where I am above all of that, but until then:
I don’t care what people think about me: