The Governor, a Birthday Cake, and That Inch

The last time I was measured at the doctor’s office, the young woman doing the measuring said, “5 foot 9.” I told her that couldn’t be right. I’d been 5’10” since before the Beatles played Shea Stadium. She tried again. Then she gave a little nod that meant she was right the first time. She absently said something like, “This happens to women a lot.”

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss that inch.

I never thought I’d say it because for most of my life I had inches to spare, inches I would have happily given away to girls who moaned about being short. I never thought I’d say it because for most of my young life, I felt too “big” standing next to most people.

At 14, I thought that if I slouched, I could take inches off my height by inserting a curve in my spine that no one would notice. Once I got the hang of it, my parents kept flicking me between my shoulder blades every time I walked by, and saying annoying things like, “Stand up straight.” So I got in most of my slouching at school.

I didn’t go for the usual style of slouching, where you just cave in the upper part of your body and spend the day looking down at your feet. Mine was more of a clever maneuver in which my knees were also called into action. I got so good at it that I probably would have continued on through college if it hadn’t been for the governor of New York.

I was waiting tables at the Boardwalk Restaurant at Jones Beach the summer before college, 1968. I was still taller than most people, but when called into action, my spine could do some amazing feats of containment. I was sure that through optical illusion alone, I was fooling everyone.

One morning the manager excitedly called the waitresses together and said that Nelson Rockefeller, who was then governor, would be visiting the next day for a press event. Since it would also be his birthday, the governor’s people had asked that a cake be rolled out as a “surprise.”

“I need two girls to push the cake out and stand on either side of the governor as we sing ‘Happy Birthday,’” the manager said. He scanned the room full of young waitresses. “Okay . . . Karen and . . . Linda.”

I was thrilled. My mother wondered if I’d be on the front page of the newspaper. I rehearsed my smile. And in an act of teenage overkill, before I went to sleep that night I actually practiced the words to “Happy Birthday” so I wouldn’t mess it up in case television cameras were focused on me.

The next day, a few of Rockefeller’s people arrived just ahead of him. They checked out the table formations, the stage, and us. As Karen and I practiced rolling out the cake cart, one of them pointed at me and said something to the man next to him. The other man nodded.

The manager walked over. I could tell it was bad news. “Uh, really sorry about this,” he said to me, “but you can’t be on the stage after all. Turns out the governor doesn’t like to be photographed with people who are taller than he is.”

My first reaction was to argue that although I was, indeed, 5’10”, the clever way I rearranged my skeleton made it seem like I was only 5’6”. But everyone was now in a rush with the last-minute change, so I didn’t. I left the stage and watched 5’2” Esther Kaufmann from Wantagh take my spot.

The governor was a smiley man, shaking hands deftly as he moved to the stage and saying something I couldn’t hear to the reporters, who laughed politely. He did a credible job of acting surprised when the cake got rolled out, and I could see that Esther was flush with her good fortune.

Annoyed, I thought, “Well good for you, short people.” But then, my epiphany hit me as I watched the governor towering over his cake pushers.

Suddenly, my spine straightened, and my shoulders relaxed. And it was the last time I ever thought about being anything less than 5’10”. I would have belted out “Happy Birthday” like nobody’s business if given the chance that day, but I figured out something bigger. I was going to stop pretending I wasn’t tall. And I hoped the governor would stop pretending he was.

I can only report that I stuck to my plan. Which is why I miss that inch.

The Woman in the Parking Lot

I learned to love a supermarket because it was the place I’d go to cry when I first moved to Baltimore. I missed my life in Buffalo — in the house that felt right, surrounded by friends I didn’t want to give up. My transition plan — such that it was — included driving to the supermarket a few times a week, ostensibly telling my husband that I “needed a few things,” when what I needed was to call my friend Carol (collect) from the pay phone that was right next to the produce aisle.

Not wanting to let my kids know what a terrible mistake we’d made moving to this “southern” place where I couldn’t understand the language sometimes, I’d do my crying at the supermarket, near the zucchini, in Carol’s ear. In those months when I had one foot in each city, she’d say, “Just give it time.”

She was right, of course, and it only took a few weeks until I could pass that pay phone and just keep walking. I broke the code of this new language Marylanders spoke. I made friends.

My supermarket is part of a local chain, nothing fancy. High school and college kids would come back to work there summer after summer. My favorite was one who, when I told him I would miss his great service once his last summer was over, said, “Well, uh, I’m graduating from the University of Chicago. You knew I wouldn’t be here forever, right?”

The person who may have been there the longest is the woman who walks you to your car and helps you load your groceries. I think of her title as The Woman in the Parking Lot. I’m guessing she’s now in her forties. I’m also guessing that she makes minimum wage plus tips.

I think she is the sole reason this store is overrun by elderly people who probably shouldn’t be driving any more. They seem to flock to her. The Woman in the Parking Lot knows every one of them by name. The Woman in the Parking Lot asks, “How’d you do in Bingo last night — lose your pants again?” “Did your son get good news from the doctor?” “Why don’t you get a head start to the car? You always beat me anyway,” and they think she’s hilarious. She’s learned to speak loudly and clearly over the years, part of her on-the-job training. The rest of her repertoire comes naturally.

If there is a person with white hair moving slowly and deliberately out the door, pushing a cart, I know The Woman in the Parking Lot will ignore me. And I love that.

One year at Christmas, I watched her helping an old man who looked like my dad, who was living hundreds of miles away. And though he had my brother and other relatives close by, I was sad and guilty that I wasn’t doing my part. I heard her tell the old man about something funny her husband had said. She gave him a quick lowdown on her kids’ holiday concert. He smiled broadly and said something I couldn’t hear. Then she hugged him.

As she was pushing the empty cart back to the store, I rushed over. I told her about my father and how he was far away and how I’d been watching her for years and knew how kind she was to old people. She had a slightly panicked look on her face because apparently I wasn’t taking a breath. I knew I was oversharing but I didn’t care. I pressed money into her hand — a lot of money — and kept talking.

After that she still ignored me in favor of someone old enough to be my parent. And I loved her more.

Once in a while, if there wasn’t someone older to wait on, she would take me on as a parking lot client. We’d do the usual chit chat — weather, Orioles, Ravens — in that order. Years of experience had taught her the least awkward small talk when she had to wait for you to fumble in your purse for her tip. And she always, always, ended with “How’s your dad doing?” I would say “He’s good. He’s fine,” the answer I continued years after he had died.

The supermarket chain announced last month that it’s closing. I no longer live in the neighborhood, so my shopping allegiance has moved on anyway, but I felt a little sad. I drove over last weekend, not on a nostalgic mission, but because logistically it made sense. And there she was, nodding to a woman with her keys in her hand, ready to get in her car, but obviously remembering something important she had to tell The Woman in the Parking Lot.

Someone who never watched this woman work once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Summer, when it is brutally hot and humid. Winter, when your face gets red and chapped from the frigid wind.

The Woman in the Parking Lot waited until the conversation was finished. It took a while. They smiled at each other. Then there was a hug.

Words for a Horrible Week

I don’t have any. But I’ll leave some from a writer whose work I love, Scott Russell Sanders.

“Even the disciples, who at times could be dense as bricks, realized that the true neighbor was the one who showed mercy to a stranger.”

Back next week with some words of my own.

“I Haven’t Got All Day”

My mother was famous for calling me out on never finishing most things I started. She had a point. But a few months ago, I looked at the manuscript I’d been working on for two years and realized I needed to go on to the next step. That included finding an agent, which was daunting and sometimes (lots of times) deflating. But Maryann Karinch, of The Rudy Agency, saw promise, took me on as a client, and here I am (below) in her agency’s spring/summer catalogue.

Now it’s just wait and see. And believe in myself and my writing. Which is what writers do more than they have their fingers on the keys. Thanks for all of you who tune in on Thursdays.

I  Haven’t  Got  All  Day

My reaction at hearing my baby brother would live with us

           In her frank and funny memoir, Linda DeMers Hummel takes her reader — via a collection of connected essays—from the sweet but inherent awkwardness of growing up in a 1950s Long Island suburb, to her coming of age smack in the middle of the sexual revolution, to her days as a grown woman who was all ready to follow in her mother’s footsteps until the 1960s changed everything. I Haven’t Got All Day is wickedly charming—whether Linda is finding old boyfriends on Facebook, jumping into online dating after 50, or recounting the pratfalls of her life with unflinching truth. Her fine storytelling proves there is no road map for how we’re supposed to age, and that Baby Boomers are still making it up as they go along, as they always have. I Haven’t Got All Day will speak to those who remember their pasts with just a little wincing, lots of laughter, and gratitude for a journey during a most captivating time.

The National Association of Baby Boomer Women, whose constituents are the primary target market, serves 38 million women in the United States between the ages of 52 and 70. They won’t be around forever, of course, and this comes as a great shock to them, so they read about their generation as much as they can.

Linda’s print credits include Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Writer’s Digest, Family Circle, Baltimore Sun, Newsday, Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sasee, Maryland Magazine, The Sun, Parenting, and others. Her most recent online credits include Washingtonian, The Big Jewel, 1010 Park Place, Author Magazine, Syracuse.com, NPR This I Believe, and NYPress.com. For ten years, she taught writing courses at Johns Hopkins University.

It’s a Toddler Harness, not a Backpack. And it’s fine.

I first saw the monkey “backpacks” last month. I was on a field trip with my granddaughter’s preschool class to the zoo. As our group assembled outside the gates, I chatted with my daughter-in-law and watched the usual (and amusing) herding of cats that goes on when preschoolers have to wait longer than five minutes for anything.

Two of the younger siblings in our group had these “backpacks” on them. The long “tails” are actually the end of the harness (which it really is) where the parent holds on for dear life in a crowd and hopes for the best.

I bet there are people who tsk tsk about the monkey backpack. In fact, I’m sure of it because why else would parents feel obliged to pretend it’s anything but a harness? With a monkey backpack you can say — without uttering a word — “I actually have total control of my kid. This? Oh, this is just a cute little accessory. He really loves it! It’s not a harness. It’s a monkey backpack. See? We put snacks inside the pouch.”

Toddler harnesses were all the rage when I was a little kid, in the 1950s. They were leashes for humans, of course, devoid of cute monkey faces. Let’s face it. Kids had to toe the line in a big way back when we all liked Ike, and any child who was a runner, a climber, or even a wanderer, needed a constant reminder of who was in charge.

When I had my own kids in the 80s, harnesses had fallen out of fashion — along with feeding schedules and crying for any reason — because you never wanted to limit your baby. And because somehow the toddlers of the world had now taken charge of the universe.

Parents today are cagier than we were. Sure, they might use a harness on their toddler, but they’ve had the forethought to give it enough spin that, for a minute, you actually believe it’s not what you think it is.

When that little boy wandered into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo, tirades about  poor parenting are flying through the air. “Should toddlers be leashed?” CNN wanted to know in its morning headline. News flash to CNN: Toddlers are leashed all over the place. Check the backpacks.

If you’ve ever been in charge of a three-year old (I am, several days a week, along with his year-old sister) and you’re honest with yourself, you’re able to say this: “I can’t always predict what will happen next because I’m not a psychic. If he gets too much of a head start, it could be big trouble. I can’t call her name in a crowd and believe she’ll stop dead in her tracks at the sound of my commanding voice.” If you’re honest with yourself and not actively engaged in the mommy wars that have you mistakenly believe you’re a better parent than everyone else, you may come to the harness decision.

The good news is that those of us in the last generation of mothers may not even notice — because of the clever monkey tail design — that they’re even harnesses. Not that you should care what we think. Not that you should care what anyone thinks. You know your kid. And you just want to keep him safe. However you get there.

If Only It Were True

In the village of Skaneateles, NY, at the base of its gorgeous lake, is a war memorial. Bronze plaques list the names of those who died. The first one, dedicated after World War I, is simple in its optimism. Above the names is its title: “The World War.” And then, of course, in a steady stream of more plaques next to it, comes the truth. Still, I love that bright anticipation. If only it were true.

I posted this blog entry about growing up in Massapequa with Ron Kovic last year on the Fourth of July, his birthday. And because this weekend is Memorial Day, and Memorial Day is more than picnics and mattress sales, I’m placing it here again.

 

***

 

“I don’t like this,” my mother said as she set the dinner table. “It’s getting to be a bad habit.”

The rest of my family out-voted her. So my brother placed the portable black and white TV on a snack table in the corner of the kitchen.

It was fall, 1967, and I was a senior in high school. Between bites of dinner and sips of milk, my family watched the news unfolding from Vietnam. As a student who thought history was her best subject, I was interested in the logistics of it all, the politics. My ability to watch young men being ripped apart on a 16-inch screen and then say things like, “Please pass the potatoes,” evidently didn’t bother me.

Then Ron Kovic got shot.

Ron Kovic grew up one block over and two blocks up from our house. He and his friends were a staple of my childhood. For one summer I worshiped his broad-shouldered body as he played ball every day in the neighborhood. He was — as were many others — the older boy who never looked my way. For three hot and humid months that year, I made up a reason to walk past his house ten times a day. I hoped for a “hello.” I never got a nod.

I’d lost track of him when he graduated from Massapequa High School in 1964. I had no idea he’d become a Marine. His little sister was at our bus stop on Broadway, but by the rules that governed bus stop protocol, I couldn’t talk to her because she was younger.

And then one afternoon in January, 1968, I saw his sister sobbing on the bus ride home from school, hunched over in her seat. Her friends crowded around her, and I heard one of them say, “Her brother got shot in Vietnam.”

Starting that day, I had two images of Ron Kovic that I couldn’t reconcile. In the first, he wore his letter sweater with the blue and gold M. He had a crew cut and was tan and smiling. In the second — only a few years beyond that — he lay in St. Albans Naval Hospital, paralyzed from the chest down.

 

Ron

In 1976, when Ron wrote about his life in Born on the Fourth of July, he graced the front page of The New York Times Book Review. He was renewed, strong in his anti-war convictions, still handsome. My brother bought a copy of the book for me and walked around the corner to the Kovic’s house and asked him to sign it.

“He was very pleasant,” my brother told me. “We talked for a long time. I asked him, but he said he doesn’t remember you.”

 

IMG_1904

When you’re the cool kid on the block, you don’t recall the skinny 13-year-old in the shadows, even if she is adoring your every move. And that wasn’t the big role Ron Kovic was going to play in my life anyway.

January, 1968, my family stopped watching the Vietnam War unfold on the TV screen at dinner. I no longer needed Walter Cronkite to shepherd me through the Tet Offensive or the DMZ. Ron Kovic — that beautiful boy from Toronto Avenue who did perfect handstands — took over the job.

If I questioned what war was, or what it did, my answer was close by now. Two blocks away. At the bus stop. Every morning when I looked into his sister’s eyes.

 

The Neighborhood Bully, 50 Years Later

The first time I heard “Hey, Buzzard!” I was 12, and I knew he was talking to me. With a small crowd around him, Walter  began flapping his arms wildly in the air, and making loud “caw, caw, caw” sounds. His friends were already laughing and didn’t need an explanation, but they got one anyway: “I call her that because she’s so ugly and her nose is so big,” he told them as they moved down the street.

My nose was way ahead of the rest of my face. In fact, my whole body was just one big adolescent disappointment that summer. My hair had the consistency of steel wool and would puff out like a blow fish as soon as the humidity raised half a percent. I was taller than anyone on my block (including a few short adults). I kept forgetting about my feet. I tripped a lot.

Puberty had not come gunning for Walter the way it had for me. He was athletic and blonde, with perfect symmetry to his face. As the kingpin of our neighborhood, whatever he said garnered plenty of nods and laughs. My humiliation — always close to the surface — didn’t faze him. Just the opposite. The few times I cried only fueled him. Twice he spit at me but missed.

I found no “safe spaces” during those summers. Unless it rained, kids played outside all day, and the hand you were dealt was a three-block radius of your house, maybe a total of 50 kids.

At dinner, my parents might say, “So, what did you do today?” but they never wanted to hear the details. There was an unwritten manifesto of all the Massapequa parents I knew: They’d had the foresight to buy a home on bucolic Long Island, a far cry from the mean streets of Manhattan or Queens where they’d come of age. They got points for providing you with trees, good schools, and fresh air. The rest was up to you. You were supposed to have fun in the summer. It was your only job.

As a child, my mother had watched her family struggle through the Great Depression. She was replete with stories about oatmeal. When my grandmother could afford to make some extra in the big pot on top of the stove, she would have my mother take it to the family who lived above them, a trip my mother dreaded. When the woman opened the door, her face would fall and she would sigh. She took it because her kids were hungry, but she couldn’t bring herself to say “Thank you.” Oatmeal was charity and people who worked so hard didn’t take charity.

My mother fought dark feelings most of her life that all our security would be whisked away. Walter meant nothing to her when  — at any moment now — oatmeal might return as a staple.

My father spent most of his childhood in Maine. When his mother died after his third birthday, his father moved away to find work. My father was shuffled among kindly relatives who fed him as long as they could. Theirs was a small enclave of French mill workers who did not speak English. And then when my father was 11, he was sent to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to live with his father, a man he barely knew and a man who refused to speak to my father in French. New father, new city, new language all in one moment. Walter? Don’t be ridiculous.

My parents listened to me, but their usual response — changing the subject — told me that they couldn’t relate. Their message was loving and practical and always the same, but it infuriated me in its simplicity: “Sometimes life is hard. Be a good person. Figure it out.”

A few years ago I was at a funeral back in Massapequa when I saw Walter walk in. He was easy to spot in the crowded room — still handsome, his blonde hair now gray. I’d been privy to what he’d been doing all these years. He has struggled — in a bunch of arenas — maybe the reason he was such a mean kid. He is still not known for kindness in any form. (Sometimes life is hard.)

Watching him, I felt a little vindicated as if someone had been keeping score all this time, and it had just been announced in this room at the funeral home that my totals soared over Walter’s. I realized, though, that I didn’t need to be the winner. And what I was feeling at that moment was a bit of compassion I didn’t see coming. (Be a good person.)

I caught his eye and smiled. He recognized me, and we made small talk about the old neighborhood. If I thought for a moment he remembered his treatment of me when we were kids, I might have brought it up, just to see what his memories were. But it was clear he just wanted to tell me about his business, his kids who play lacrosse, his new car, and his new wife. And maybe it was during that conversation — as my mind wandered — that I finally completed my parents’ advice from so long ago (Figure it out.) Because I remembered that at 12 I didn’t want to treat people the way Walter did. I didn’t want to end up like him.

And I didn’t.

“I Didn’t Know You Were a Writer.”

At 61, I was unemployed. Sooner or later, my severance package would stop arriving in my checking account, and although I’ve never worried much about money, I began thinking of ways to cut back, something I’ve never been known for. I tried not to surrender to my bent for the dramatic, but once in a while — usually awake in the middle of the night —  I’d see a vision of me in the future, popping open a little can of gourmet cat food, spreading it on some crackers, and calling it a day.

Then I had an idea. Traditionally (for me) this can be a terrifying way of opening a paragraph. I tried out my idea on my neighbor, who kindly wondered why he’d seen me home so much. I told him I’d lost my job and had been applying for new ones, but nothing was happening. Of course I didn’t say it exactly that way. I think I used words like “transitioning” and “turning point.” The phrase “letting you go,” my actual launching pad, was still coming to me regularly in my dreams, the ones where I’d show up at my office and everyone there would have to remind me that they’d already “let me go,” and — ashamed (and, yes, naked of course) — I’d slump back to my car and drive home.

I’d just met this neighbor, so he was a natural tabula rasa candidate. “I’ve decided I’m going to write,” I said, listening to how self-important that sentence sounded wafting through the air.

“Really?” he said. “I didn’t know you were a writer.”

If he meant had I ever made a comfortable living as a writer — or even an uncomfortable one — the answer was “no.” If he meant had anyone ever heard of me, nope. I didn’t mention that I’d won third place in my 6th grade short story contest back on Long Island, but it was one of the consequential events I was building my next career on. It’s amazing how reality hardly ever has anything to do with being a writer.

I bought some office supplies I thought writers needed. A stapler. A pencil sharpener, even though I barely ever wrote with a pencil. I was good on Post-It Notes. I kept writing. Nothing much. Nothing good. But I kept writing. And waited for a sign.

My next official act of reinvention was to move the desk in my study to the window. Before, I’d always thought I’d find it distracting, but I’d become such an early riser, I figured I might enjoy seeing the sun come up. Or that watching people in the little park below would give me some material once I’d stopped thinking about my big win in the short story contest in 6th grade.

The park is taken over with dog owners once the sun arrives. By about 6:45, the grounds resemble a golden retriever convention. People in their Under Armor gear talk and nod and smile as the dogs sniff at each other. (This is an unscientific sample, but I’ve learned 90% of the golden retrievers in America are named Bailey.) Mothers, nannies, and toddlers take up the next shift. At dusk, from the same window, I see parents and their children getting in a few minutes on the playground equipment before dinner.

Sometimes when nothing is coming to me, I walk out my back door and sit at the playground. I jot down what I hear or see in the notebook I carry everywhere. One day a boy, about ten, sat down next to me on the bench. His dad was off to the side, watching expectantly. I’d seen him nod in my direction and say quietly to his son, “Go ahead.” The boy cleared his throat a little and held out a stack of copy paper, mercilessly stapled down one side. The cover read ROBOTS in bold lettering, with an ambitious illustration.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m a writer. I have this book for sale. It costs $1 if you want to buy it. But just to warn you, it might be scary in some parts for your kids.” I loved that he didn’t have a clue that my kids are now in their thirties. I loved his confidence, even when his voice faltered a little.

I took the book in my hands and thumbed through. I complimented him on his wording and his drawing. I said, “Stay right here,” and I went back to my house and got a dollar. He showed me where the scary parts were so I’d be prepared.

“Is it hard to be a writer?” I asked.

“Not one bit,” he said. And he took off for the swings.

 

“We’re letting you go.”

I knew my days were numbered as soon as the new org chart came out. It was complicated and confusing, with squiggles and two-sided arrows. It was like a corporate Escher print, and I couldn’t — for the life of me — figure out where I belonged anymore in the company that had been my employer for six years.

“We’re letting you go.”

I love this phrase, don’t you? It made me seem like some sad, caged bird, who was now free to explore the world, thanks to the kindness of the Board of Directors. At least that’s how I tried to hear it.

My laptop was gone by the time my boss and I walked back to my desk. According to company policy, he was supposed to watch me pack up and escort me from the building.

“Really, you don’t have to stand here,” I said, trying to get him off the hook. I felt sorry for him having to bounce me out. “I’ll come by your office when I’m done,” I told him. Then as he walked up the hall, I reached for an economy 12-pack of Post-it Notes and threw it in my purse. It’s been five years since I was fired, and I’m mentioning it here since I’m sure the Statute of Limitations has kicked in. Apparently my new life hasn’t called for Post-it Notes the way I thought it would. I still have 11¾ packs.

By 7:45 I’d signed a letter giving me a generous severance and making me promise not to sue them for firing a person so old she had actually watched the Moon Landing on live TV and remembered Thin Elvis.

By 7:55 my boss and I were standing awkwardly in the parking lot, as he sweetly lifted cartons into my car: all of my framed photos, potted English ivy, my extra pair of winter boots in case it snowed while I was at work, and a pencil holder my son made in 3rd grade.

He said, “You’ll be just fine.” He looked sad. I thought about confessing about the Post-it Notes.

By noon I was almost buoyant. “It was for the best!” “Thank God!” “No more pressure!” “A blessing in disguise!” All me.

I did the usual things a person does after getting fired: I called everyone else who’d also been fired so we could bad mouth the company that didn’t realize how phenomenal we were. I considered careers that seemed like they’d be much more fun than the one I’d been tethered to —Personal chef? Yoga instructor? Restaurant critic? Then I drank a lot of wine and took a nap.

When it was time to get out there and find my next job, I sent out cover letters only to find the silence they received unsettling. So I did what I do in times of uncertainty. I took to the Internet to find 16 diametrically opposed opinions about what I should do next. I found some job counseling companies, loaded with experts who were dying to help.

I gave my credit card number to one of the companies with the words “PLUS” or “PRO” in its title, and three days later, my new résumé was delivered. Was I was concerned I didn’t recognize myself on paper anymore? Yes and no. It was unsettling to read all the things I had expertise in that I really didn’t. But I still thought as long as I could get an interview, I’d shine. Thanks to the fiction team now selling my wares, it would take the CIA to uncover how old I was until I arrived at their doorstep. Then my charm would take over.

I landed three interviews within the next week.

It takes a lot of time to get sparkling for an interview when you’re 61 — this much I learned. You have to project a certain maturity and know-how without letting them find out you’re wearing Easy Spirit pumps. You have to invest in Spanx. You can’t eat a poppy seed bagel for breakfast. It’s a long list.

For my first interview in the marketing department of a local hospital, I had to enter by walking right past the cubicles of the people I’d be working with. As I opened the door, everyone in the room popped their heads up, like those adorable little prairie dogs you see at the zoo. Immediately I watched their shoulders all slump in one communal exhale (sort of a silent “Oh, pulease”).

No, really, I wanted to say, I’m lots of fun! I know who Taylor Swift is! You’ll like me! I smiled and entered their boss’s office where his 15-minute interview was just over the line of perfunctory. It wasn’t worth the ten minutes it took me to get myself wedged into my Spanx.

The next two interviews weren’t any better. At the second one, the person in charge was — just a guess here — nineteen. At the third, I was interviewed by a panel of women my age, which might have held more promise if they hadn’t been Nuns at a women’s Catholic college and the only thing our lives had in common was that we were all wearing black.

I got three responses all in polite, templated email. All three ended with, “Best of luck in your job search.”

I sat at my computer, reading, and realized something I had glossed over before.

The part about being 61.