My senior year of college, my elders peppered me with the dreaded graduate-to-be question, “What are you going to do for a job after you graduate?”
I was a sociology major, English minor and my post-graduation plans involved being either an itinerant rock star or combatting the white supremacist patriarchy and saving the world. Somehow. Help Wanted: Dismantle the master’s house with or without the master’s tools. Competitive pay and benefits package included.
I had lived a life of invisible middle-class privilege funded by my parents. When my wallet got light, I ferried my friends to Exxon and let them load up on cigarettes and Funyuns courtesy of my parent-paid gas card, which my dad slipped in my wallet to avert fuel-related emergencies. My parental debt was paid in awkward phone calls where they wondered aloud where I was driving that required so much gas. As graduation neared, I didn’t feel the urgent press of the real-life realities that would soon befall me or the bills that could not be paid with a guilt-tinged Exxon run.
In lieu of searching for a job, a task accomplished through a search of the classifieds since the internet was no more than a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye, I directed my energies towards more entertaining horizons.
Option one: The Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. If dubbed wiener-worthy, I would ride around the country in a hot dog-shaped vehicle extolling the dubious virtues of meat tubes. My application was half-hearted. I was more wiener grrrl than girl, and I was not confident the hot dog honchos wanted a pierced, tattooed, Manic Panic-haired girl on their all-American team. I tucked my handwritten application and the required essay about why I wanted to join the Wienermobile team into an envelope and hoped for the best. Alas, my English minor did not adequately prepare me to wax poetic about hot dogs. My application was rejected within the week.
Option two: Cast member on The Real World: San Francisco. My housemates and I had gathered around the TV quasi-religiously to take in the antics of The Real World casts since the promos entreated us to see what happened when people stopped being polite. When the casting call for The Real World: San Francisco flashed on the screen, I pawed through layers of cigarette ash, Taco Bell wrappers, and broken CD cases for a pen to scrawl the address on my arm. The Real World was the perfect venue to bring my brand of Riot Grrrl feminism to the masses. I had a vague inkling that the show was heavily edited, that even if I came up with a description of feminism that would transform Rush Limbaugh into one of his loathed feminazis, it would probably be edited to make me look like a harpy. Still, the chance to live in San Francisco rent-free was too sweet to pass up.
I wrote a letter describing myself and why I would mesmerize MTV viewers with my choppy hair, nose ring, cute sneer, and snappy opinions on current events. I signed off with a bit of reverse psychology: I know you won’t pick me. You’re too scared to pick me so fuck you. Unless you pick me.
The required photographic portion of my application was a snapshot of me in my best imitation of a gangster moll. I wore fishnet stockings, biker shorts, a silver lamé shirt and fringed Lane Bryant vest, my arm draped over the shoulder of my friend who was dressed like a twenties gangster. I pointed a fake gun at the camera and scowled. Yeah, that’s what MTV wanted. I hadn’t realized how many of my hopes had been riding on the shoulders of coke-addled MTV execs until the letter stamped with the MTV logo arrived in my mailbox. The form rejection thanked me for trying and reminded me to check out the next season.
The scamp known as Puck filled the punk rock slot, my slot, on the show. He of the scabbed arms and strings of snot hanging from his nose. I scoffed. I was gross too!
Evidently, they were not ready for the transgression of a proud fat woman hocking loogies onto the hardwood floors of The Real World loft while wasted on cheap merlot. The reach of the patriarchy was vast. The world wasn’t ready for the Riot Grrrl Puck. Or so I told myself to ease the sting of rejection and the realization that my life would not fit neatly into a modern-day reality show hero’s journey.
How different my life would have been had I been chosen. How hideous. I shiver to think of the path that would have unfolded had my years of cheap wine and faux-punk bluster been televised, a morsel to feed the newly stoked appetite for dissecting the televised lives of others. In my alternate Real World life, I imagine myself trying to spin my dubious reality TV fame into punk band gold and instead finding sneers of sell-out among the people I ostensibly want to impress. My people. Up next would come my brief retreat into obscurity, the obligatory yoga period, then my reemergence as a mommy blogger leading to a tell-all memoir recounting my winding path to domestic enlightenment. My final public act: a “Catching Up With” article in People magazine that inspires Marjorie in Kansas to write “I didn’t much like her back when she was a drunk howling banshee, but she’s really cleaned up her act. Way to go!”
I think of the major decision points in my life and how things could have gone so terribly wrong if I had gotten the things I thought I wanted. Thank God University of Virginia rejected me. Praise be I didn’t marry the first boy who proposed. So lucky was I to be rejected for TheReal World:San Francisco.
Katherine Sinback’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Defunkt Magazine, Southern Humanities Review, and Taco Bell Quarterly, among other publications and anthologies. Born and raised in Virginia, Katherine lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. More at www.katherinesinback.wordpress.com. She can be found on Twitter @kt_sinback.