The Poop Factory
I’m hopeful, certain even, that after today I will finally have a job. A good job, one that pays above minimum wage and can appreciate my Bachelors in Communications. I’m not sure that I can say the same for Tavia, my best friend since we were 12, who’s been staying with me for the past few weeks. I don’t think she’s as optimistic as I am, in fact, I know she isn’t. Pessimism is embedded in her bones and I can tell from her anxious and detached expression as we pick out our most professional-looking outfit that today’s agenda may be another exercise in futility.
Despite her cup-half-empty attitude Tavia’s sense of humor and her ability to to make me laugh-cry at will is part of the reason why I love her so much. Perhaps it’s a gift bestowed upon people who’s gone through lots of pain to help ease the burden of living with so much emotional trauma. She and her mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, had recently gotten into an argument that resulted in Tavia’s expulsion from her home, replete with police interference. Their relationship had always been a tenuous one, as I’ve been on the receiving end of many tearful and angry re-enactments of blowouts between the two. So of course my mom and I adopt her, giving her a place to stay while she figures out her next move.
The job fair is at the one of the several Marriott spin-offs dotted along Hospitality Lane. The nicer end of San Bernardino, replete with chain restaurants like Red Lobster and California Pizza Kitchen and laden with well-kept office suites and private technical schools, is an area that breathes middle class comfort. As we drive towards the hotel we chatter about nothing while on the inside, I’m brimming with high expectations. I envision being able to finally afford to move out of my mom’s place and Tavia and I renting an apartment together. I can actually live like a real adult instead of a 24-year old scraping by on unemployment while using loose change to pay for gas and stretching my Nordstrom credit limit to buy overpriced MAC lipglass while living in a state of perpetual brokeness.
Tavia, in her tasteful black shift dress and Bill Blass sunglasses seems somewhat detached from it all, yet a hint of nervousness remains apparent. I’m armed with refreshed copies of our resumes in one of my mom’s leather portfolios ready to convince someone, anyone, to hire us. I almost wished I’d worn a skirt like Tavia since it’s so hot, but I know my polished trousers and matching blazer will tell employers how serious I am. As I pull into the parking lot, which is mostly full, my excitement turns to anxiety although I try my best not to show it. I make sure to maintain a positive attitude for Tavia’s sake. I need her to know that everything will go well.
Once, Tavia described herself as a character from Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, and it tickled me so much I broke into random laughter throughout the day every time I thought about it. We’d went to an open call hiring event at Urban Outfitters, and after our interviews, Tavia became so distraught and unraveled to the point of tears because she was sure they wouldn’t hire her. She didn’t have the look or the “vibe” as she called it, but just knew I would get the job (I didn’t). She described her feeling in that moment much like those vibrating squiggly-lined cartoon characters, a mass of nervous, fearful energy. I was hoping today would be an exception. We needed jobs.
As we walk through the hotel lobby towards the conference hall, I’m mentally rehearsing all of the appropriate ways in which to respond to questions about my abilities and experience, all of the stuff you’re supposed to say on an interview. I know what to say and how to say it which only heightens my expectations. But then, my vision falls flat. Upon entering the event, I was shocked to see professionally dressed people milling around tables with the names of different companies attached to them. This was my first job fair and not knowing what to expect, I was disappointed that this wouldn’t be the classic interview setup I was hoping for. Deflated, I haplessly passed my resume around to representatives and pretended to be interested in whatever it was their company did. Tavia followed suit, although she seemed much less enthusiastic as I was. Feeling defeated after getting rid of our resumes, we found and empty table and made ourselves comfortable.
We looked at each other and agreed that this was a waste of time. By now, our conversation turned to what we would do for the rest of the day. Even though on the outside I was over the whole thing, deep down I felt like a failure. I had a college degree and couldn’t figure out why a year after graduating I was still floundering. I kept hitting the same walls and felt like I would never climb myself out of dependency and borderline poverty. I felt stuck in a small town where it seemed like the only good jobs meant working for the city or in a hospital; outside of that you were a low-wage worker just getting by. I was tired of getting by and it was depressing. I don’t know if Tavia could register my disappointment, but at this point, she knew exactly what to do.
Tavia and I met in 7th grade Home Economics (a great time to be alive — you could learn to cook at school!). Like most people, she initially mistook my aloof demeanor as a sign of conceit, rather than an intense fear of people and self-consciousness which stemmed from years of being teased in elementary school. I was drawn to her unique personality and she liked my black and white striped babydoll dress with a giant red vinyl heart stitched on the chest. We couldn’t be more opposite and alike. She was into skater culture and wore JNCO jeans while I kept my nose buried in Seventeen and Jane magazine and stayed up late on weekends to catch Yo!MTV Raps. We were somewhat atypical black girls in that we lived in the suburbs and “spoke white” and had very few black friends other than each other.
By the time we got to high school, I became better at pretending to fit in whereas she was more comfortable being herself even at the expense of being mocked by our peers, which was often. She proudly wore a lime-green bob wig to school nearly everyday during our senior year. She had a subversive sense of humor, a dry, self-mocking wit that made her seem more mature for her age. She kept a cut-out photo of Beck in a tiny frame on top of her bedroom TV and introduced me to Portishead and always told me how much I looked like a black Shirley Manson. Meanwhile I hid my obsession with Jamiroquai from my other friends and wore the color pink every single day to school when I was 17 because a girl told me it looked good on me.
Tavia regularly suffered from long periods of depression and frequent anxiety. She would have tearful breakdowns over feeling inadequate because her life didn’t look how it was “supposed” to look. Like me, she was raised by a single mother but had issues with her family. She didn’t have the best grades and struggled academically. Her yearbook quote was “I don’t need to smoke weed to be lazy and unfocused, I can do that on my own.” I always thought she was brilliant. I constantly tried to remind her how talented she was, how one day she would be a stand-up comedian or a graphic artist. She was an active member of the drama club and worked on our school’s newspaper. She had the kind of artistic sensibilities, knowledge and tastes that made me feel sophomoric, even though I tried not to show it.
Tavia grabbed a piece of the powder-blue paper and a pen that had been left on the table and started writing. At first I’m not paying attention because I’m irritated that today’s venture bore no fruit and at the same time I’m trying to think of my next move and how I’m going to get out of this place. I look over and see that she’s made a sign — large comic-book script that says “Poop Factory” accompanied by floating turds of various shapes and sizes. I know what’s coming next and I look at her with an “are you serious right now?” expression and of course she’s serious because we came all the way over here just to pass out resumes and we’re going to make the best of it.
She tapes the sign (I have no idea where she got the tape) to the table and we wait. I’m giggling like an unwitting accomplice as people walk by and awkward smiles spread across their faces as they register the sign. A guy finally walks up to our table and begins to ask questions.
“So what does the Poop Factory do?”
“Well, we specialize in poop, of course,” Tavia says in her most professional-sounding voice trying not to crack.
“Really? What kind of poop?” the man presses.
“Everything from turtle eggs to green apple splatters. We are the leaders in poop manufacturing.”
“Interesting. Do you have a card?”
By this point, I’m embarrassed for this person who went out of his way to humor us. Tavia pretends to look for a card and then tells the man she’s run out but that if he has any inquiries or wishes to work for us, he could visit our website. He thanks us and walks away as if everything was normal. Other people stop by our table and make similar small talk. A woman compliments us for coming up with something so clever.
After a while, the ruse starts to get stale and we decide to go to Costco for giant slices of pizza with too much cheese and I realize how lucky I am. It’s been ten years since Tavia and I last spoke, with so much life having come between us. Yet, I hold onto this memory because it serves as a reminder that I knew such a person, who would go to such lengths to make proverbial lemons out of lemonade, and make me laugh when I’d rather cry.