Category Archives: life

Manboobs and me

I was asked to read an essay as part of the Marrow reading series’ event at the Pitchfork Book Fort in Union Park on Sunday, July 20. This is what I read that day.

I remember when I noticed my body was very different from most of the boys I knew. When I first came to understand I’d almost certainly never look like the sexy, long-haired guys playing guitar I ogled subconsciously while watching “Wayne’s World” on repeat with my brother. I definitely had a thing for ripped up jeans.

I was in fifth grade and it happened in the locker room of the tiny gym of my small-town grade school. I’d come to loathe that room and dread walking down the gray concrete stairs to that dark, smelly dungeon of a middle-school gym class locker room.

“What’s up with your boobs, man?” a still-prepubescent classmate asked.

I didn’t know what to say but I remember bringing it up to my mom later that day — how it hurt my feelings and how it made me want to never enter that disgusting dungeon again. How it made me feel, for the first time, that my body was wrong. That it needed fixing.

“It’s just baby fat, hon,” my mom told me, with that 100-percent-guaranteed tone only a mom can have. “You’ll grow out of it.”

The fact that I was a little chubber had really failed to register on my radar before then. I grew up in a happy home in my small family in rural Wisconsin. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I felt like I didn’t need them. I loved to read, think and play — building giant theatre complexes out of Legos before writing surprisingly sophisticated scripts for my tiny plastic people to perform. I was happy.

But as I was entering middle school, it was different. I came to realize that the “husky” tag on my Arizona Jean Co. jeans set me apart from my classmates — and it didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly gifted athletically or interested in any sports besides figure skating, gymnastics or beauty pageants.

Whenever I found myself near a swimming pool, I was that kid wearing a shirt in the water, fooling everyone with my one-man wet t-shirt contest. The thought of being ridiculed was too much and I never learned how to swim. Land would have to do.

When I told my dad about being bullied for what I soon learned were my “manboobs,” my dad’s comfort was simple: “Look at me,” he would say, “I was always the biggest kid in my school so you know what I did to the first twerp that made fun of me for it? I dunked his head right into a toilet. Fluuuuush. No one ever teased me again. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Though I wasn’t about to physically assault someone — I think he was seriously overestimating my upper body strength — I took the rest of his advice and tried my best to ignore the teasing. And as they say, it got better. Sort of. I retreated into a regrettable Korn-with-a-K-listening-to-nu-metal period of what would turn out to be my not-just-a-phase goth phase. I even played tennis for a couple of years. I lost some weight. When my braces came off and I got contacts at the start of high school, I thought my manboob days were behind me.

Of course, they weren’t.

At my first job, running trays of food to servers at a seafood restaurant at the age of 14, the expediter in the kitchen would yell out “Tits! Come and get it, Tits!” when my table’s food was up.

When my chest remained large, I sometimes wondered if there was a woman trapped in my man body. I’d stare at my penis for a half hour at a time and wonder if it was somehow possible that what I was looking at was actually some sort of lady-like part to match what I’d been told was my lady-like chest. (Sex-ed was not my school’s forte, but shoutout to MTV “Undressed” for clearing that all up.)

I’ve struggled with weight issues ever since, see-sawing between periods of disordered eating and obsessive exercising — when I was eating only half a Pop Tart for breakfast and three mozzarella sticks for lunch for almost an entire year of high school, weighing just 150 pounds — and other periods of complete inactivity, eating constantly and ballooning to almost 100 pounds more than that.

At one point, when I was dressed as Little Edie Beale from “Grey Gardens” for Halloween one year, one of my best friends, dressed as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, approached me at a party and grabbed and squeezed my chest flab.

“What are these MADE of?”

“My skin.”

Time can be funny. I remember feeling absolutely monstrous even at my skinniest, unhealthiest point. When I look back at photos from that time, it’s like I can almost see my skeleton showing through my way-too-thin layers of skin. Who knows, I might feel the same way looking at photos of myself today someday.

Speaking of today, I’m better, thankfully. I’m eating better — I’ve even come to like the taste of kale! — and I go to the gym at least three times a week. I don’t instantly associate rejection with my body the way I used to. I’d say, on a happiness scale of 1 to 10, I’m generally around an 8.

But sometimes the darkness creeps back in, as it tends to. Sometimes I still catch a glimpse of myself in the window of a building as I walk by and cringe at what I see. Some nights I dream of cutting away my extra fleshy parts and bleeding only pure, glittering joy at what was left. I still wake up other days and wish I could pull open my body at the waist to reveal a slightly smaller, otherwise identical version inside, like a matryoshka doll.

Of course, sometimes, the prompts are more external.

Last month, I was watching the Pride Parade as it marched and rolled down Halsted Street. Sandwiched between the entries from local politicians, corporations and bars was a float from a suburban liposuction clinic making their Pride debut. Riding the float were young children hoisting rainbow-hued flags reading “We’ll suck your fat!” And emblazoned on the side of the float was a sign exclaiming: “Say no to manboobs! We can get rid of them!”

I ended up writing a story about the float for my job and spoke with the clinic about their message. The story was later picked up by a number of blogs and news stations. She was shocked that anyone would be upset.

What their spokeswoman told me was that their message was one of love — that they are only trying to help people love themselves and help them look how they would like to look — and she reminded me that many companies would refuse to participate in a Pride Parade. She said she wanted “us” to know that they were “here for you guys.” I wanted to tell her to fuck off.

Of course, I’m not surprised that she was surprised anyone would be upset with their fat-shaming messages interrupting a day that is supposed to be about community and love. Some of the worst body-shaming I’ve ever witnessed has actually happened among members of my own so-called community. But this attack, coming from the outside, stung extra hard.

At one point during our conversation, the spokeswoman asked me what I would have suggested they write on their signs instead. I didn’t answer her question then but, after giving it some thought, I finally have an answer for her today.

What about: “Do what makes you happy!” Or “All bodies are beautiful, dammit!” Or maybe: “Listen to your body, do whatever the hell is right for it!”

I’ve come to understand, manboobs or no manboobs, our bodies are all we have. Let’s treat them like it while we still have them. And fuck anyone who says otherwise.

Excitement!

It’s been said that the only constant in life is that it is ever-changing.. And in that vein, comes an exciting announcement from My Writings and Me, Inc.

As of this Friday, I’ll be taking a leave from the fantastical Chicagoist. In the year-ish since I came on board the site, I’ve written 101 posts and enjoyed an incredible opportunity to reach a new audience with my writings on Chicago’s queer communities while dabbling in a bit of witchcraft – er, music coverage – too. (What, you haven’t!?) Dreams came true when I interviewed Mink Stole. I had an outlet for what turned out being a love letter of sorts to Courtney Love and ’90s nostalgia. And, more importantly, I had the opportunity to work closely with a talented bunch of hyper-motivated and hardworking fellow writers who I’m sure will continue to shock and amaze. So, if you haven’t already, please bookmark and follow Chicagoist religiously, as though it were the cult you almost joined in college. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

While you’re bookmarking things, be sure to add the Windy City Times’ home page, where you will shortly find news coverage written by yours truly. As of this week, I’m coming on board the incredible enterprise, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary of publication. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to work with such a legendary paper. As I described in my interview with publisher Tracy Baim for ChicagoPride.com, I think the paper provides not only invaluably attentive coverage of this city’s LGBT community, but also crucial visibility. I very much encourage you to check out last week’s special issue commemorating the paper’s silver anniversary to learn more about the paper’s past, present and future.

My work will also continue to be featured on ChicagoPride.com and Edge Media Network. Follow me on Twitter to stay on top of my latest pieces, and also be sure to visit my blog, which will continue to feature various run-off — most recently my response to former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee who, for some reason, is really obsessed with some article I wrote earlier this year.

Thank you all for your support through clicks, retweets, e-mails, “likes,” Facebook postings, comments, etc. etc., etc. As a good friend of mine, Brittany Julious pointed out in a recent interview with ch!cktionary, these are challenging times for freelance writers and every nugget of encouragement is fuel for our passions. Both that and news like this. And songs like this.

Dear Mike Huckabee…

I must say, it was a puzzling honor to realize my article – “The ’Ick’ Factor: How Gay Sex Plays in the Equality Debate” – hit your radar following the backlash ignited by your comments in your Ariel Levy-penned New Yorker profile. In fact, my sense of flattery left me feeling like you deserved the benefit of the doubt. Maybe all us sinful gay folk were being a tad harsh on you with their “icky” accusation.

I read the New Yorker article, your statement and all the news stories I could get my grubby mitts on with the hopes of better understanding your position toward LGBT equality and why the “ick factor” had manifested itself, but I’m afraid that I can’t quite wrap my queer head around it.

Yes, you’re partially correct: The “ick factor” is a not new term, and it is not yours. But to say that the term has been co-opted and accepted as an “established notion” to the gays is a complete misrepresentation on your part, having nothing to do with the actions of so-called “same-sex marriage advocates and militants.”

In my piece, the “ick factor” became a sort of catch-all phrase under which I spoke with some community leaders and academics, including Dr. Martha Nussbaum, on their perspectives on the concept. For many of the people I spoke with, the “ick factor” was an idea they had never before heard and many well-established LGBT leaders declined to comment. It is not a commonly uttered phrase among gays and lesbians – just a quick perusal of Google search results will find references to shows like Friends and Sex and the City, diet aids and ice-dancing siblings, colon cancer home-screening and bad ’60s pop songs. No other articles from LGBT media, previous to your PR flap, mention the phrase.

That aside, I cannot understand how the fact that the phrase is not new renders your comment justifiable in the first place, particularly when all the words surrounding it spew injustice.

But this is more important than a discussion about etymology or ethics. Or completing the research you feigned doing yourself. This isn’t about attacking you or raising funds – although you, yourself, have attempted to capitalize on the matter by asking for campaign donations at your statement’s end. And this isn’t even really about the New Yorker statement itself – you yourself have said far worse things previously.

This is about the livelihood of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans – including those you banned from adopting children in Arkansas – and the damage you willfully inflict on our lives with practically every damning word you utter through your bigoted laughter.

This is about your deliberate arrogance to deny full equality for an entire class of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Though we might “ick” you out, Mr. Huckabee, we are here to stay. To consistently condemn us while at the same time calling yourself a Christian is, in my mind, deplorable,  indefensible and hypocritical for a self-described man of faith.

If you’re going to pretend to know our community and the phrases we use, at least do your homework first, Mike.

–Joe Erbentraut

Table scraps.. A trip to the zoo with Kevin Chamberlin

Though I am relatively new to the world of writing about musical theater, there are a few patterns I’ve noticed during the past year of previewing and reviewing shows whilst referencing names like Sondheim and Fosse with ever-increasing ease:

First and foremost, when I get in touch with a show’s PR team, they usually hook me up with one of the show’s lead names. And when interviewing actors of such prominence, a certain degree of prudishness can be expected. When I previewed Legally Blonde, I interviewed Elle Woods, played by Becky Gulsvig, a very wholesome Minnesotan-at-heart who giggled anxiously when I noted the show probably attracted a lot of gay fans — “Yes, it’s awesome,” she replied cautiously. When Spring Awakening came into town, I spoke with Melchior Gabor himself, Jake Epstein (of Degrassi fame), who spoke nervously of his few seconds of partial nudity on stage. Such PG-rated responses really aren’t the stuff exciting interviews are made from, but I don’t necessarily expect actors to speak too open about sexuality in the first place.

So, when I’d been assigned to preview The Addams Family‘s pre-Broadway romp at the Oriental Theatre, I decided to aim high and get a spicy interview subject, asking for 20 minutes to chat with the very-gay Nathan Lane, who stars as Gomez.

Kevin Chamberlin, the Broadway bear.“He isn’t doing press right now” – my dismissive reply.

OK, how about Jackie Hoffman, an almost equally very-gay actress playing the role of the grandmother?

“She’s very busy promoting her one-woman show … But what about Kevin Chamberlin? He’s great.”

Now, another lesson: Usually if a publicist needs to say how great someone is, they likely are not. But, running out of options and still hoping for a shot at comp tickets to the show, I set up a time to speak with Chamberlin.

And then began the research, which revealed the 46-year-old actor’s Tony nomination and noteworthy appearances in gay cinematic classics including Trick, In & Out and the farcical’s 2007 Broadway run. But, perhaps even more interesting than those undeniably important achievements was the finding that Chamberlin is Broadway’s bear community poster boy. He is a co-founder of MetroBears NYC and appears regularly at bear events including International Bear Ren and Chicago’s Bear Pride. How could I resist bringing these key facts up?

Chamberlin, far right, photographed with AF cast for Vanity Fair.And I did. Only three questions into our half hour-long interview, the conversation turned from the macabre singing-dancing family to the politics of being a bear. A good two-thirds of our conversation had absolutely nothing to do with theater. And while I couldn’t help but include some of the conversation that ensued, the bulk did not make it to the story’s final draft, featured on EDGE earlier this month.

Chamberlin: I’ve found it interesting to watch the bear community evolve – it’s like a social experiment watching the groups that have formed because of a reaction to another group. That’s why the bear community occurred, as a reaction to the muscle boy, hairless, self-waxing gay male stereotype. And it was a reaction to the AIDS crisis, people not wanting to look thin and quiffed. We wanted to look real and blend more [into society], to be embraced with the more masculine, real man look …

But it’s interesting, because now some schisms have been created. There’s the muscle bears, the chubs, the chasers. We’ve been splintering into more and more specific groups, whether it’s based on a fetish or outside activity like the gay softball or rugby teams forming … As more people come out of the closet, they find places to go and meet people who are like-minded. That wasn’t really the case when I was growing up and that’s what drew me in in the first place.

Me: Do you feel that the schisms are harming the community’s original intent?

Chamberlin: It’s an important community to me in how it’s very welcoming. And I’m hoping it will stay that way. As some gay groups have come up, they’ve become more exclusive, but it needs to stay accepting. And there’s new terms coming all the time. Redheads are orangutans, older guys can be silver-backed gorillas…

Me: And you have otters included in that, too.

Chamberlin: Oh, of course, otters! Who knows, the monkey movement might be on the way next.

Though I’m still not sure what a monkey is – a former-gymnast-turned-otter-chaser-or-both? Whatever the case may be, the moral of this story: Never turn down the opportunity to discuss bear identity politics. Even if it doesn’t get you free tickets to a Broadway production.

Now enjoy, this bear-related jam, from one of my favorite newly-discovered bands of this past year..

Download: The Antlers – Bear (mp3)

Previous Scraps: Dragonette and the conundrum of cool

A Halloween tale, via Missed Connections

SBL0607 2 MILLS

It is no secret that I love, love, love reading Craigslist’s treasure trove of awkwardness, the Missed Connections section. So, of course, as we all continue from a weekend filled with makeup, witches’ brew and masked make-out sessions, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to round-up some of my favorite Chicago MC’s to tell a little tale of Halloween lure (in addition to sharing some tunes).

Personally, Halloween has never been a holiday I associate with wild hook-ups, but maybe that’s because my costumes are usually not of the “Sexy (Fill-in-the-Blank)” variety. I’m usually in drag, covered in grotesque makeup with stubble poking through, and this year was no exception as I took on the role of Little Edie Beale from Grey Gardens. The below characters seem to have had some good luck knocking boots, even if they had a lot of explaining to do for their mother upon their return home. Here’s hoping the fates bring these lovers back together.

Missed my chance with Mr. Franzia – m4m (Belmont/Monroe)
Date: 2009-11-01, 11:33PM CST

“I had black paint smeared on my face. I admired the intricacy of your costume: Franzia boxed wine. We made some contact on the train before both getting off at Monroe. There we kissed at a street corner, where a passing driver yelled “FAGS!” at us (just in case you didn’t notice) … Sorry for not following, but, in all honesty, I was staying with my mom (who was visiting) in a hotel. That being said, I’d love to hear from you and maybe engage in some out-of-the-box conversation.”

ms wonderland left wondering? – w4m – 20 (in tinley)
Date: 2009-11-02, 2:40AM CST

“ok so i went 2 a halloween party with a gf and i was the sexy ms. wonderland girl. i was soooooooooooo wasted n u were so much fun and we ended up being naughty but i don’t remember most of it lol. u had on a dark costume not sure what it was though dah? well i have a bf so i guess it had 2 b a one time thing, just wanted 2 say if u ever read this i was the small blond who u helped have a really fun halloween!”

The outlaw Josey Wales – m4m (near loop)
Date: 2009-11-01, 6:47PM CST

“To the outlaw Josey Wales: it was so hot to watch you polishing your gun. A nice long gun, with a big thick barrel and a nice head to it. I can still taste that ammunition dripping into my mouth.”

Of course, since these are Missed Connections, after all, not all of these rendezvous were as successful. Lesson be learned: Be sure to carefully stow your beloved university-provided metro card when going home with handsome men in “dark costumes.”

Halloween Party then Your Apt – w4m (lincoln park area)
Date: 2009-11-02, 10:28AM CST

“Friday I was beligerent, I apologize. I dont remember practically anything when we got to your apt, let alone how we did till my friend filled me in. Uhh yah I lost my Upass at your place did you find it??? That would bloow if I have to find another one. Ps. “my buldge” seeing I was spider man is in your room too, white/pink soccer socks? Yeah, well I’m sorry for being a slob, im sure i was a huge one. But on the bright side I do think your adorable!”

Georgia at Halloween Church Party – m4w
Date: 2009-11-02, 5:15PM CST

“I was the Chaplin with whom you danced. I got swept up into an evening of events that now seem unreal. If you find this, please shoot me an email. I’d love to see you again and take you dancing.
Take Care

A Somewhat Silent Man”

oh, pinnochio – m4w (subterranean)
Date: 2009-11-01, 11:24AM CST

“that little boy look didn’t fool me, you were smoking hot. i never made it to the hideout, but i did spend a more than a few minutes thinking about what it would be like giving it to a puppet that wants to be a real boy, but is actually the hottest little girl in the room.”

But, I think the most important lesson from all of this is to watch out for each other. Halloween is a time for all of us to come together and bask in the ridiculousness of it all. And protect each other from violent religious leaders. Especially if you’re dressed as a pop diva.

Kid that got hit by the pope at Evil Olive – w4m – 21 (Evil Olive)
Date: 2009-11-01, 9:19AM CST

“Lady GaGa wants to make sure you’re ok.”

VAGUELY AUTUMNAL AUDIO MIX:

Download: Ramona Falls ‘I Say Fever’ (mp3) (+++)
Download: Florence and the Machine ‘Drumming’ (mp3)
(+++)
Download: Crystal Waters ‘Gypsy Woman’ (Sharps Remix) (mp3)
Download: Squirrel Nut Zippers ‘Hell’ (mp3)
Download: Silversun Pickups ‘Booksmart Devil’ (mp3)
Download: Kate Bush ‘Get Out of My House’ (mp3)
Download: My Gold Mask ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ (mp3)
Download: Cold Cave ‘Youth and Lust’ (mp3)
(+++)

(+++) denotes high levels of recommendation.

This one time, I… Grew a mustache

Ever since I first viewed the phrase on a souvenir t-shirt in the Wisconsin Dells at a young age, one personal mantra – that I’d “try anything once” - has stuck with me. The mantra has resulted in experiences of varying degrees of success. [On a scale of 1-10: a night out at the race track (1), dating a woman (1.5), working as a magician's assistant for a week (5), eating a fried cheese curd (10).] But no matter what the rating, each experience certainly taught me something new and did not result in life-threatening circumstances (with the possible exception of the excessive fumes and nightly crashes at the Lake Geneva race track).

Therefore, in the spirit of lifelong learning [all the rage in these recession-riddled days, I hear], arrives the latest installment of this blog: “This one time, I…” Here, I will recount something I did during that past week/month/unspecified period of time I’d never done before. With pictures. First-hand accounts. Maybe even video or animated GIFs (you could be so lucky). Finally, for you Thievy McMusicPirates out there, there will be themed music mixes. It will be fun, I promise: TAKE THE CANDY. So, without further ado…

I grew a mustache.

Well, to be completely accurate, I trimmed my existing facial hair (which tends to be quite bountiful) into a mustache. It was something that always seemed like a good idea at the time, but alas, I lacked the bravery to walk about town sprouting a cookieduster. A flavor saver. A mouth brow. Until recently.

The product of a curious Friday night trim session resulted in a weekend-long case study into the discrimination faced by sporters of the pushbroom.

The product of a curious Friday night trim session resulted in a weekend-long case study into the discrimination faced by sporters of the pushbroom.

As I stared back in the mirror at what I’d done, I wondered if friends would treat me the same. If passers-by on the street would gawk. If my family would still love me. With a deep sigh, I turned away from the mirror and headed out the door to face the world I expected to shun me and my facial transgression.

As it turned out, besides a startled baby and an overly-friendly bear bartender, my mustache did not result in any unusual treatment. In fact, I could feel peoples’ eyes look at me with a fresh curiosity, a stirring interest. Historically, commanding officers of the military; like General Lew Wallace; strangely appealing pop stars of the ’70s and ’80s; including Freddie Mercury and Frank Zappa; and eccentric filmmakers enjoyed a certain air of reverie surrounding their ‘stache-wearing ways. And the Mario Bros. had a pretty phenomenal run. Perhaps, based on the results of this study, it could be argued that the well-documented cultural enchantment with the mustache lives on to the present day. Therefore (this is the thesis):

Operation StacheGrow: A success. But would I do it again?

Operation StacheGrow = A success.

But, would I do it again, you ask? I can’t say I’d be in the quickest of hurries. In the end, my Diet Coke still tasted the same, the CTA was still dirty and the music in Boystown remained ear-bustingly loud. Despite the undeniable cult following my ‘stache enjoyed during its 2.5 days of existence, I still felt one pair of overly-large, “ironically-hip” glasses away from looking 100 percent creeptastic.

What I don't want to look like in fifteen years.

What I don't want to look like in fifteen years.

I’ll certainly keep it in mind if I ever become a pop star in need of a PR booster, a la John Oates’ “Ride the Mustache/J-Stache” campaign and its blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed and video series. Apparently Oates, er, J-Stache wants to “tame Leslie Feist’s shrew.” Which level of this statement do you find to be creepiest?

All told, I think this experiment has stirred a rediscovered admiration of the mustache to me. As the great lesbian philosopher Sheryl Concrowcious once said, “if it makes you happy, it can’t be so bad.” Despite carrying stigma in certain sub-communities, it has served as a symbol of manhood, virility and fuzziness for centuries – the first mustache – worn by a Scythian horseman – was documented in 300 BC. That’s before Jesus, therefore I believe it deserves our respect, honor and possibly its own religion. Or, at the very least, a photo montage. Below are a few of my favorite ‘staches through history, in addition to a little mini-mix for your ears (you know, the things on your face located directly to the left and right of your muzzy).

Discussion questions: Have you ever worn a mustache? Do you know someone who has? Do you plan to some day? Would you describe yourself as a Geraldo Rivera fan?

MUSTACHE MIX-A-LOT – A tribute to Nose Neighbors and Those Who Pull Them Off:

Download: Hall & Oates ‘Private Eyes’ (mp3)
Download: Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head ‘Beard Lust’ (mp3)
Download: SSION ‘Street Jizz’ (mp3)
Download: Islands ‘Creeper’ (mp3)
Download: Queen ‘Good Company’ (mp3)
Download: Patrick Wolf ‘The Hairy Song’ (mp3)

Or, download the whole mix.

FuManchu

fridakahlo mario

john-waters

john-oates

Career counseling

[Below is another tiny excerpt from my novel project - Wonderland. This post serves as a tribute to the modern, post-recession job hunt. For those job seekers out there, find a handy, middle school-esque career quiz at the end of the post. It's simple: Download each of the songs loosely based on an occupation. If you like the song, that means that you should pursue that career. Yes, it's that easy! Enjoy, and hang in there, job hunters.]

Pen against face = anxious job hunter? Maybe. They look like Vampire Weekend.

Pen against face = anxious job hunter? Maybe. They look like Vampire Weekend.

I’m a perfectionist.

What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?

Really, honestly. What is it?

And I’m not talking about the stock answer that you provide in every job interview – you know, one of the following required responses, all of which can actually be spun into positive things: “Sometimes, I don’t take enough time for myself, because I work too hard… Sometimes, I care too much… Sometimes, I’m too much of a team player.”

My biggest weakness at the moment, as it seemed as I was getting dressed before hopping on the train en route to my interview downtown, was being able to find a matching shirt and pants that were (a) clean, (b) not wrinkled and (c) coordinated with the one suit jacket I owned. Deciding that the slightly crinkled pale blue shirt would do, I headed out to the train station in a dash, convinced that I would be late.

Interview number one, as it turned out, was for a canvassing director position with an environmental non-profit organization, Green Illinois. The position did not pay well and demanded long, exhausting hours and I doubted that I would accept an offer even if it were granted to me. That said, I figured that it was worth the practice, and I was certainly not in a position to be turning down interviews from anywhere, anyone.

But then again, a job is a job…

Ding. Daydream over. I was now in an ornately-decorated elevator and had arrived at the floor of the office where I was to be meeting with Harrison Davis, an executive with a sister organization of Green Illinois’.

As I stepped out of the elevator, I glanced at my phone – 2:54 p.m. Six minutes to spare! Walking into the office, a group of three casually-dressed possible environmentalists turned simultaneously toward me with looks of disdain at being interrupted.

“Hi,” I said, with my voice cracking. “I’m here for the – the interview with – um, Harrison. About the canvass director position that you, or, the Fund has an op–”

“Interviewers go over there,” said a brunette wearing trendy Dolce & Gabbana frames a tight-fitting gray cashmere sweater, tweed skirt and hooker boots. She did not seem to be impressed by my inability to spit out a complete sentence explaining my presence in the office.

I walked past the cubicles and piles of boxes of sheets of paper and approached Harrison Davis, a somewhat gawky, awkward-looking man with short mousey brown hair, wearing a gray pinstriped suit and a purple striped tie. His initial expression toward me was only slightly less annoyed than the welcoming committee head that I’d encountered upon entering the office. I sat down on a metal folding chair after handing over a clean copy of my resume.

He looked it over pseudo-pensively for several seconds before launching his first question.

“So, it looks like you don’t have any direct campaign experience here. What makes you think you can just walk in here and do this job? Do you understand that this is difficult work?”

“Well, yes, I understand that there are a lot of responsibilities involved in the position, and that it is probably quite challenging…” I began as Harrison sliced a hole through my forehead with his menacing stare. “When I was in my undergrad in Madison, I learned several lessons right away, while trying to balance school, work, internships and volunteer work. First of all, it was that priotizing was crucial. Second, that sometimes you need to ask for help and build coalitions. For example, in one of my jobs…”

“No, I mean, you can’t just waltz in here and think that just anyone can do this,” he continued, staring at the wall while avoiding my eye contact until he suddenly shifted his gaze back in my direction. “Really, what skills do you have?”

“I have good organizational skills, can run meetings, have recruitment experience…” I slowly realized that I was growing increasingly sweaty – I felt my chair sink in the floor as I faced cross-examination from the defense stand. “And on my resume you’ll notice the computer programs I’m familiar with are quite numerous. And –“

“OK, OK – Got it, you’re not a moron. Super.”

“Um, yeah, I guess,” I replied, as face deepened to a medium shade of pink. “I mean, what I’m getting at is that I have employed many leadership skills in my previous positions, actually including quite a bit of volunteer and intern coordination, in addition to fundraising and team-building. I–”

“Okay, well… I have a meeting coming up, so let’s just get this over with. Would you relocate?”

“Honestly, probably not,” burst the words from my mouth before I had even given them a thought. I began to sweat. My face: From pink to a light red – what shade would they call that? Suddenly, the job I was barely sure I even wanted in the first place seemed bigger than the room. Bigger than the entire high-rise office tower. Bigger than the world. “I mean, I just moved here from Madison and have a one-year lease I was planning to live out. I live in Andersonville, it’s a really nice neighborhood and–“

“Right, right. We’ll see what we can do. How about you fill out this informational sheet. Be sure to list the places you would be willing to relocate to right here. I’m sure we’ll be calling you later this week, I think you’d be perfect for this job.”

“Oh, um, thank you.” Confused.

“Yeah. You can show yourself out. Nice… meeting you.”

He tentatively extended his hand while standing up, before leaving the room.

The next day I was offered the job for which I was (apparently) completely unqualified for.

Maybe it was pity, or maybe it was a fluke, but whatever the case may have been, I turned down the offer for a position entailing 70+ hour work weeks and a fair share of street canvassing, which is only a few steps above panhandling.

CAREER QUIZ MIX — The song you like most represents your ideal future career! (Sorry, no one sings about accountants..)

Download: St. Vincent ‘Actor Out of Work’ (mp3)
Download: Garotas Suecas ‘Ghostwriter’ (mp3)
Download: The Barmitzvah Brothers ‘Thrift Store Owner’ (mp3)
Download: Final Fantasy ‘The Butcher’ (mp3)
Download: M. Ward ‘Underaker’ (mp3)
Download: Tori Amos ‘Waitress’ (Live in Chicago, 11/6/07) (mp3)