Tax season. Another day standing here on the sidewalk dressed as the friggin’ Statue of Liberty. Instead of a torch, I’m waving a sign: “Liberty Tax.” In my opinion any job that requires wearing a costume in public should pay double, and any job that requires a man to dress as a woman should pay triple, but this is strictly minimum wage, and seasonal at that.
You may wonder how I ended up here. Probably you don’t wonder. Hundreds and hundreds of cars pass me every day without wondering, I bet. Once in a while some bozo will honk and point or wave back with a grin. Assholes. I’m doing this to earn money to impress my girlfriend Sherri while hoping that Sherri won’t see me, or any of her family, or any of her bitchy girlfriends. Besides four brothers and sisters and their families, a mom and dad and two grandmas, Sherri’s got cousins and aunts and uncles all living in Johnson County, and a shit load of girlfriends, so chances are that more than one of them’s going to drive by. Sooner or later, someone Sherri knows will recognize me. So the jokes could go on all year. I can already hear her brother Glenn bellowing from the other end of the table at Thanksgiving. “Give me your tired, your poor!”
Which is part of the point, isn’t it. If I wasn’t so poor, and so tired of looking for a job, I wouldn’t be doing this, would I? I’ve got a college degree, by the way. It’s in Liberal Studies, which is supposed to mean I’m well-rounded and qualified for a variety of jobs. I’m well-rounded all right.
Did you know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French? Beats me how they got it over here. So we’ve got French fries, French kissing, and this damn oversized statue. I’ve never been to New York and seen it up close. Maybe it’s more impressive than I think. Maybe I’d be more impressive in this costume if I was standing on a pedestal in a harbor, and not jumping up and down in the middle of Milltown with this stupid sign.
The other day I walked across the street to McDonald’s during my break and damn near wrecked my crown, or halo, or whatever it is. I forgot I was wearing it and the door closed on some of the spokes. It’s made out of foam rubber, lighter than you’d expect. A little bent now, but who cares?
I found the job on Craigslist, and it may not even be the worst job I’ve found there. I handed out sample packages of lice shampoo to housewives at a supermarket for three days, luckily about twenty miles away. “You don’t want your child to be the one they’re all pointing at!” I spent a week on the internet reading consumer product reviews and summarizing them for J.C. Penney’s. “I just want to let you know that this shower curtain coordinates perfectly with my towels and mat. Thank you, JCP!” I ask you, what kind of person bothers to write to J.C. Penney’s when they buy a shower curtain? Lonely people, is all I can guess.
Which is what I’m going to be, if Sherri leaves me. When I graduated last June she was all starry-eyed with the possibilities. “Maybe you’ll go to law school,” she said, “be some kind of big shot.” Well, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be in law school, with my GPA, but maybe I’d work in a law office, or wear a nice suit with a tag with my name and “Manager” on the lapel. Then after a while I was thinking, “So I’ll work my way up.” Did I mention that I’m living in my parents’ basement? It has its own entrance and Sherri can spend the night, but it’s not exactly the bachelor pad of my dreams. Or hers.
Sherri’s been working at Lorena’s Beauty Spot since she finished high school, did her cosmetology and hair stylist classes at night, and she’s doing pretty well. She’s got her license and everything, and some steady customers. I wish she was in a job where she didn’t talk all day, since the old ladies getting shampoos and sets are always asking about me. “Did that nice boyfriend of yours find a job yet?” And Sherri’s saying cheerfully, “Not yet, ma’am.” Repeating that all the time, customer after customer, she must be getting less cheerful. I know she’d like to get married, and Sherri likes to buy things. Clothes, makeup, little outfits and toys for her nephews and nieces. She’s always hauling out shopping bags and showing me something. “Isn’t this the cutest?” Her mother gave her a hope chest (a hope chest!) and she’s been filling it with stuff for when she settles down. Twenty-two and hoping.
So I’m out here on a street corner in downtown Milltown dressed like a Roman goddess and feeling pretty hopeless. Waving a sign for Liberty Tax when I didn’t even earn enough this year to fill out a tax return. Sherri’s going to grant me my freedom any day. I can feel it coming.
Photo by Ludovic Bertron