Joe was my people.
My people -- yes. Definitely my people. Through and through. And clearly. Being a bisexual foster child of Jewish-Arab-Puerto Rican descent (by way of Venezuela), I do not claim Joe lightly.
For I am never light.
I am heavy. I am deep. I am Yin.
I am ridiculous.
But I am proud to be ridiculous. It won't stop me, I won't let it. I carry on running uphill on two broken legs with shards of glass sticking out of my eyes where my foster sister punched me, dragging the photo reel remains of an 81 year old nerd with an aunerysm and a colorless flair for portrait, the blue-green copper cables of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and dying Syrian-Venezeulan Depression-era teenage mothers.
Joe was my people.
I need a job. I needed one, and I got one, but I got angry and I left. I'm very arrogant, you see, and being paid less than minimum wage for 12 hour back-to-back shifts felt beneath me. Before that was the cash register at the craft shop. Again, arrogance. I had signed on for framing pictures. Before that, handing out flyers. It's harder than it looks. And before that, I hadn't needed a job, but I got one.
I had been awfully depressed -- I get awfully depressed rather often -- and had neglected to sorta, kinda reapply for admission for the Spring semester of college. So I sorta, kinda, hastily landed a spot in a Botany class, a class that I had no interest in, where the professor would rather do research and my classmates were all premedical school students.
I, however, am a scientist.
At least my pretentions tell me so.
And while taking the lab portion of this class, my professor, a skinny little meek pastel man who had no fondness for me or my disinterest, and a great deal of fondness for grass, this little man who disliked me and my sort immensely pleaded the classroom full of future nurses and doctors and EMTs to sign on as a research assistant to a chubby, mild man who looked exactly like a Biology major. His friend, a grad student, desperately needed an assistant for his grant work. Anyone would do. Oh, oh, dear students and future BMW drivers, won't you hang out in the lab with a chubby man who loves mathematics, studying limnology and oceanography all throughout the hot, sweaty, stinking summer?
Not one taker.
I mulled it over. They offered credit in his paper. Very tempting.
Plus it paid ten dollars an hour.
So the pastel little man helped me get that job. I was very happy at it and was very much in my element.
For I am a scientist. I am a Biology major. I look exactly like a Biology major.
But in a different way than the chubby mathematician looked exactly like a Biology major. How should I put it? I shall not. I'll let Hollywood speak for me, since they're better at stereotyping.
"About 5'3". 112 pounds. Black hair. Glasses."
Actually, I was 93 pounds at the time.
That was my first job, and the only one I have ever held that ended naturally, neither fired nor quit. It was also the only one I was ever excited to have.
I quit job four after 6 weeks. It took me 11 months to land a new one.
It was for lack of trying.
I'm not lazy. It's just that I know I would be good at scientific research. And you can not get a job doing scientific research when the only "degree" you have is printed on cheap cardstock and is from the public high school you were zoned for. I am a carefully rifled bullet, lodged in a barrel, waiting to be shot.
Waiting 5 years to be shot...and counting.
I tided over the 11 months by being a carpenter's assistant. He was a friend and we smoked joints together at the worksite, so I never bitched about pay. I was not paid very often.
But my sister was bitching, because she paid rent and I didn't. We don't get along very well, on account of her being an only child for 26 years and me being regularly threatened with death at the hands of my foster siblings.
It's a long story, and I'll get to it once I'm through with Joe.
Anyway, my depression hit hard once again that spring, and I hadn't filled out financial aid forms at all, and now I had taken out a loan from my friend Ronnie, the graduate student and chicken delivery man, in order to fund my academic pursuits. This time they took the form of a psychology class on the weekends: Personality Theory. I am a big fan of Myers-Briggs, a pair of female Jungians who created a way to classify every form of human personality using just 4 factors, binary each. "They" say there are 2 kinds of people in the world; Myers and Briggs say 16.
And so, I was in need of money to pay Ronnie back. And so, I put in applications to toy shops, restaurants, hardware stores, and Chuck E. Cheese.
They didn't want me. I can't blame them. I mean, c'mon. I'm not pretty, I'm not blessed with social graces, and my teachers began eying me oddly after the Jonesboro school shooting. I don't make a good impression, unless you're a big fan of Daria Morgendorfer.
Some people are, though. I don't understand them too well, but I've had sex with them. I didn't ask too many questions.
So one day in late October, I had an interview with Kodak. I couldn't remember applying there, but, hey, what the hell? I went up to Manhattan for the interview, and spent an hour or so looking for the office. The building simply did not seem to exist.
My life is like that.
I came home, scanned Craigslist, and made two phone calls.
Two: The Fusion Voting Party.
Said to talk to Phil or Joe.
"Have you ever heard of us?", Fusion Voting asked.
"Yes", I said.
I was already ahead of the game.
Interview that Thursday. Next day. Quick.
I walked in slightly late, into a cramped, messy office which shared a family resemblance with many places occupied by college students. My fellow interviewees lined the halls.
Charming, extroverted, assertive, with skin that saw sunlight and eyes that could read unaided. It was very disheartening.
I tried to smile and chat, but I'm not good at either. It hurts my jaw. So I just sat in a corner and read the various papers scattered across a cheap card table. Stuff about affordable housing, and indie music, and George W. Bush. I observed, out of the corner of my eye, a campaign worker wearing girl pants and a mullet.
It spelled doom.
Then Joe walked in.
Joe was my people.
Joe was a tall, bucktoothed, hyperactive boy with a scruffy beard and thick glasses, who talked as if his nose was permanently stuffed up. My people -- yes. Definitely my people. Through and through. And clearly.
I was very relieved to see Joe in that room full of hip young urban liberals. I was even more relieved to hear him describe the office as "loosey-goosey". In fact, I laughed. Mostly at Joe, but also with relief. He made me look good in comparison.
In fact...in fact, Joe was the man in charge.
Oh yes. So hired.
With Joe running the interviews, I had a second advantage, you see: I am a nerd with double X chromosomes. The Japanese call us "meganekko". There's this whole fetish. I looked it up on Wikipedia. I have been shocked to encounter nerd boys who want nothing more from a woman than a pair of glasses and a dillentante's knowledge of Linux.
So being interviewed by Joe seemed very favorable.
He went through his spiel about Fusion Voting supporting politicians based on their stance on issues, how they were different from the Green Party in that they weren't out to "steal elections" from the Democrats, and tried very hard to downplay the tangy taste of socialism the party, the office, the issues, and Fusion Voting's employees left in your hip young urban mouth. I was a little disappointed. Commies are also my people. I tried to appear to be listening, but I was sizing Joe up, and wondering thoughts not much more sophisticated than a cannibal enviously viewing a rival, plotting precisely how they will kill and eat them, in order to acquire their powers.
It was all very cynical, and they were looking for idealists, but I didn't let that bother me. I'm so cynical it wraps around. I just maintained my eye contact with that delicious, nutritious man.
Eyes on the prize, you see.
Soon he left, rushing out the door and calling for interviewees with an enthusiasm that suggested either drugs or utter unselfconsciousness. It was infectious. Like Ebola. I came skipping out the offices, bright tasty citrus on my tongue.
"Can you make it to our offices by 1 pm?"
Oh, Lord yes! It would interfere with my interview with NYPIRG, but what did it matter? I was hired! I rushed there, bus and subway, nerves rattled. I brought along my copy of "Grassroots Organizing", wore my warmest corduroys, and tried my very hardest to be charming, which, of course, failed. I had an awful cold, I was tired, I was eager. Joe came bounding in with a shit-eating grin, and now I was being sized up in return.
I took a good look around. Most of the office workers were Asian or white. They dressed like the audience at a Decemberists show. Most of my fellow recently-hireds were black or brown, and they seemed a little unnerved by the psycho nerd in front of them. They spoke with accents; the office kids didn't. And the office workers were kids, every one of them. My fellow trainees included actors and musicians deep within middle age.
I knew Khalil, vaguely. He did spoken word and hung out at the Muddy Cup, a local coffeehouse which had East Village aspirations. Hollywood would cast him as a bad guy, being that he was great-big-heavy and wore dreads to his waist, but he was artistic, well-educated, thoughtful, polite, and charismatic. He was exactly the sort of person who made me have second thoughts about being hired.
I looked at him, and I looked at Joe.
Something was clearly wrong with this picture.
What was I doing there anyway?
I had two years experience volunteering for grassroots causes. Flyering, organizing, designing posters, that sort of thing. It was always with half of me being utterly dedicated and the other half utterly defeated. It's hard to believe in democracy when you were born in 1984.
"The Fusion Voting Party is hiring campaign staff to help elect progressive Democrats while building a truly progressive third party movement."
But Joe was my people, and believing in him meant believing in me. Maybe he was more qualified than Khalil.
I sneezed, flooding my clammy hands with snot.
Lord, that bad feeling I had simply had to be my cold.
I didn't even believe in parties. I thought they were all bullshit. That's why I checked off "unaligned" on my voter registration card, the day I turned 18. I kept telling myself Fusion Voting was different. That they didn't even run their own candidates, that they supported whichever politician was best for the community, based purely on the issues.
I began coughing and choking.
Too much mucus.
"Ok guys! I need everybody to listen up!", Joe bellowed. He strode out into the middle of the room: slacks, grey pullover, and button-down shirt. I noted a small paunch. His teeth were bad. He slouched. But he didn't fucking care. He was going to shout and smile and unnerve these people who were sometimes older and nearly all more sophisticated than he was.
It didn't make sense.
How could you just walk out there and do that? No. No. I was going to hold this job. I was going to survive. I sniffled hard. I swallowed.
I swallowed everything he shouted at us.
I studied the papers I was handed. I choked on the buzzwords. I was frightened. We were going door to door in Yonkers. We were going to convince people to vote for Shelley Mayer.
Going to. Going to.
I suddenly remembered that I had social anxiety. That I was on medication. That I once was afraid to leave the house.
Then I tried to forget.