First, A Story

Recently, I attended a night out for a dear friend who was about to get married.  I sat on my bar stool and made small talk with a friend of a friend who I had met a couple of times before.

So, Allison.  What are you doing these days?

I knew the question was coming sooner or later.  A variation of this comes up nearly every time you meet someone or see an old friend for the first time in a while.  Where are you working?  What do you do?  Or, as this person stated it, What are you doing these days?  This form of the question is popular with my peers, as it leaves room for a non-job, like a graduate program, or, more realistically, for unemployment.  Needless to say in this economic state, the latter is all too common.

It’s a question that, since college, I have come to dread.  I have applied to grad schools and been rejected.  I have been laid off.  I am a college degree-holder who is underemployed and already on life plan number 12.  I give him my canned answer:

I work for a company that does payroll for extras in TV shows and movies.

I hope that he picks up on words like “TV” and “movies.”  It makes what I do sound glamorous…or at least vaguely interesting.   I leave out the basic truth that I spend my days with never-ending stacks of paper on my desk, and I type the information into a computer word-for-word.  Sometimes I calculate payroll.  I answer phone calls from very angry people.

He says,

Oh.  What was your major?  Accounting or something?

I laugh and politely say it was English.  Our snickers are sharp, sarcastic.  I twirl the straw in my drink.  He tells me he’s a fitness trainer at a gym.  I ask him what his major was in school, and his face forms a lopsided smirk:

Civil Engineering.