When I am tired of clamoring to be heard, casted, read, hired, and liked, I have found escape in a pair of khakis and my old gym shoes.
I slide into the khaki pants I meant to launder yesterday and throw on my oversized green t-shirt with “staff” written in big white letters across the back. I found a cloth belt from seventh grade at the bottom of my closet; it has green strawberries on it for some reason. I use it to cinch my pants snuggly above my hips, a solution to not exchanging for the right size at the Gap. Nothing hugs the right places or does any body part of me a favor, but dressing in an outfit I did not have to choose or think about that comfortably hangs away from body makes me supremely happy.
My old gym shoes provide support for the hours standing and jumping in place to keep warm, and I don’t care how their wide sizing makes my feet look. No one will be looking at my feet, or my face, or me for that matter. I anticipate blending in and taking my place among the many clad in khaki pants, reminding me of our middle school orchestra uniforms and the itchy gray polo that looked good on no one. When I slip my ponytail through the back of my required ball-cap, I take on the role of a swell local girl earning an honest dollar. Men glance down at my nametag, “Meredith, is it?” On their third and fourth beers, they address me with ease.
Tonight I answer to Meredith, just Meredith, cashier and beer server at the local minor league ballpark. My stress lasts till the end of a transaction or until I can set down the water bucket my colleague drained from the steamer. My heart beats at a steady cadence, and I no longer feel zipped up to the nose with tension.
I try on an arsenal of 50’s caricature movements and gestures. I wink, I wave, I shrug my shoulders and comment about the weather. From my place at the beer keg, I salute back to the mascot in his cougar suit who I know to be a man in his 40’s with a mullet. Apparently he drinks a lot; I am accumulating the lore of this place bit by bit.
Here at the ballpark, they ask that I show up and clock in not more than five minutes early or five minutes late. Reporting to my assigned location, I press buttons on a register and pull down levers, divining how many inches of foam to float on top of a cup of Miller Light. I laugh at jokes about it tasting like piss and water, pretending to know the difference between watery-urine beers and other types. I laugh every time the joke is told, offering the joke teller their fourth and fifth glass of the piss-water.
The grandpas and WWII vets stand at attention for the national anthem before it is cued up to play, compelled by the magnetism of a patriotism that will go extinct in my generation. Ball caps get tucked below side-bulging beer bellies as the local middle school band blats what ends up sounding like a post-modern interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner. Their conductor waves her arms wider and wider willing the blats to align and sound in key.
I met one of the students’ grandparents before the game, and I picture them clasping their hands in front of their chests and snapping photos too far away to see for their Facebook pages.
Harmonizing to top 40 hits and rolling between my toes and heels, I get paid to stand and smile while secretly penning essays in my head. “Who Let the Dogs Out” gets played four or five times during the game and proves the hardest obstacle I overcome most nights.
I pray over the keg, asking the Lord to make it last till the sixth inning and ask him to keep the slurring Blackhawks jersey man at an appropriate blood alcohol level so I won’t be held liable for his drunkenness in a court of law. Across the park, the man vending “ICE! COLD! BUDWEISER” sounds his barbaric yawp as if to say amen to my supplications.
High schoolers supervise me and teach me how to get the sanitation water to start when the button gets stuck. They smile through my stupid questions and laugh at my bad jokes after they impart the obvious answers.
I memorize their names and call out to them on my way into the park like I am a regular, “How’s the old lemonade stand Nicole?” They teach me how to clean out frozen margarita machines, and I notice where they stash the napkins and how to slip kids free cups of Nacho cheese for their pretzels.
I get two dollars in tips my first night serving at a private party where tips aren’t expected, and it is the sweetest money I have ever made. It feels free.
Promotions at this job take the shape of arbitrary votes of confidence and placement at portable stands that hold a hierarchy of significance that I’ll never quite understand. “Oh, you’ve worked at South of the Border, impressive. Then you can definitely handle the Grill.”
I leave the park to the lullaby of the old man ushers bickering about the stats of the game and hear the crowd roar behind me, not for the three run-homer, but for the 15-second firework show the batter earned for the ballpark.
All I know: you keep the girl at the time clock happy with offerings of availability schedules and confirmation emails. This week, my name was spelled correctly on the schedule.