Who needs Xanax when there's Target?

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2003

So far, my days as one of Portland's unemployed roll out like a German waltz from the speakers of an old record player. Mostly, I keep finding myself floating through the aisles of my neighborhood Target, dreamily filling my cart with home improvement items. It's not because I particularly need them, but because buying them with the intent to screw them into my wall gives me a sense of purpose.

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Julia O'Malley can be reached at julia_o_malley@hotmail.com.

In Target, my anxiety about my near-fruitless job search melts away. I especially like rolling down the rows of fabric softeners, with their garish colors and floral scents, because it conjures scenes of stability in my imagination. One whiff of Downy and I'm transported to childhood, where I can see my mother standing in front of the dryer, folding clean towels.

Sadly, however, a girl cannot stay in Target forever. And, when I am spit back out into the glare of the mall parking lot, I get a creepy feeling in the back of my neck, and I think of my bank account and its dwindling balance.

Jobs in general are not easy to come by in this city, and jobs in journalism are particularly rare. I have sent out resumes. I have e-mailed. I have waited. And waited. And then, late last week, like a miracle, one call came back. I was asked to come in for an interview.

The interview is not for a particular job, but rather a "We'd like to meet you" interview with an editor. It is promising in a bittersweet way, like when you find, after a week or two on a diet, that you can squeeze into the jeans you wore in college. But, like the college jeans, the "We'd like to meet you" interview creates false hope.

Sure, you squeeze in to those jeans, but by the end of the week, there's a 90-percent chance you are going to be skipping the gym to eat Annie's macaroni and cheese in front of "West Wing." And, by the end of the "We'd like to meet you" interview, there is a 90 percent chance you will get the big "See-ya-we'll-call-ya," which, coincidentally, will also probably leave me in front of the television, clutching a bowl of comfort carbs.

Anyway, my interview is the day after I write this, and I am prepared for the fact that most likely I am going to be a temp. I met my first temp earlier this week at the cell phone store. "Erin" was printed in large letters on her nametag. Her eyebrows were so enthusiastically waxed they looked like two tiny caterpillars crawling above her eyes. As she reeled off cell-phone-plan facts, Erin also let slip that she was a temp, and if she didn't sell a phone, she would get canned. Lucky for her, I bought one.

As I walked down the city street outside the cell phone store, I caught my reflection in the window of an Ann Taylor store. I looked good and I felt optimistic. Maybe the editor would be impressed. Maybe he would call me back for a second interview. It could happen. I decided that I didn't really need to go to Target that day as I had planned, and instead, I would try something new to relax. I decided to attend a hot yoga class.

For those of you who aren't familiar with hot yoga, it's like regular yoga but you do it in a room that is about 100 degrees. When I walked into the studio, I was hit first with a wave of heat, and then with the smell of dirty tights. The yoga instructor was a chiseled man, and I couldn't help but notice his glutes riding so high it looked like he had boulders in his spandex. The class began easily and, though the sweat was pouring down, I was enjoying it.

"Imagine a calming place," instructor Boulder Booty said, as I grabbed my leg from behind and stood on one tip-toe. I imagined Target, near the pink boxes of Dreft baby detergent. I heard the instructor's voice in my ear.

"Look at your legs," he whispered loudly, slapping my left thigh. "We are on our right legs now. This is your left leg."

Embarrassed, I quickly switched legs, and for the first time noticed that every other woman in the class was, basically, a model for J. Crew.

"Let all of your worries go and just float here," he told the class.

I closed my eyes and inexplicably I saw Erin, with the caterpillar eyebrows.

Boulder Booty came around from behind me and pushed on my back. I felt my thigh quiver. I began to teeter and I fell. Sitting on my yoga mat, I stared at myself in the mirror, surrounded by skinny women who were all standing on the correct leg. What was I thinking? How can I get a job in Portland when I can't even hack Portland yoga? Would I soon be wearing a nametag? Would I be peddling cell phones? Would I be waxing my eyebrows?

To find out read "The Interview, Part 2" in the Sept. 26 issue of This Week.

Former Empire reporter Julia O'Malley will continue to write columns twice a month from Portland. She can be reached at julia_o_malley@hotmail.com.

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