There is a certain pained expression of my mother’s which she reserves for migraine headaches and discussions about my future career.
However difficult I may have been as a child, I have subsequently managed to stay out of trouble. Sometimes, though, I feel like my double major in theater studies and psychology might as well be a mile-long rap sheet and a bad-ass face tat.
Even after summer office internships, even after affirmations of “major doesn’t matter” from career counselors and recruiting sessions, even after my announcement junior year that I like power suits and making rent so much that I want to work for the man instead of sticking it to him with an urban guerilla theater troupe, my mother is convinced that I will never earn enough to pay a federal income tax.
For my mother, an econ major who put herself through four years of college and then earned a joint JD/MBA, my choice to major in “hippy dippy feeling classes” is a massive disappointment and source of stress. I clearly have not inherited my academic preferences from her.
But if you consider her problem-solving skills, you can see that this little apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
A week after I returned home from a summer of gainful, white-collar employment at a New York City firm, she explained how I should ensure my future fiscal stability. Not by keeping a copy of my intern performance review, not by promptly updating my resume. No, no: My mother — like me — is actually quite the creative mind.
“Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” was holding regional auditions in the Chicago area during the few days that I was home. This was serendipitous, she explained to me: “You’ll be great on camera, and I’m sure you know lots of people at school who could be good Phone-A-Friends!”
For once, I agreed with her. What better way to capitaliaze on my semesters of performance laboratories AND my friends’ actual practical knowledge? We had, in that great tradition set forth by Regis Philbin, found the perfect solution, the American Daytime TV Dream. “I want to be a millionaire!” I explained to our dog, looking up from a Mamet script one afternoon. He sneezed and ate some Goldfish crackers from the coffee table, which the theater student in me wanted to read as a warning against the evils of commercial success and overconsumption, but which I ignored for the time being.
Try-outs were to be held on a Friday out in Schaumberg, a far-from-glam western suburb of Chicago. As if to add insult to injury, the Millionaire people were commandeering, for purposes of these auditions, Medieval Times: Dinner & Tournament. This is without a doubt the most heinous of overpriced themed family entertainment — a 14th century dinner sans silverware is brought to gluttonous suburbanites by “serving wenches” while in the center of the banquet hall pathetic live-action jousting matches are fought by elaborately costumed “knights,” most of whom (I grant you) are probably recent graduates in psychology or theater. This is the gaudy spectacular stuff of my upwardly mobile nightmares. The Dinner & Tournament reaches levels of tacky that make Splash Mountain and its hillbilly animals seem like the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Again, I might have read the signs and known that success could not possibly be in store for me. Instead, I woke up every morning in time to watch Meredith Viera administer her multiple-choice money makers. I was “in training.”
The day before the try-outs, tornadoes hit Chicagoland. In a 90-second period, the sky went from dull blue to jet black, rain hitting the house horizontally and wind gusts of over 80 miles per hour sweeping over the greater metropolitan area. Hundreds of thousands were without power. Trees were down in the streets; the outbound highway was flooded across a 20 mile stretch, stranding motorists for up to three hours while the water level rose; and local schools had the first August “weather-related cancellation” in living memory.
Still, Millionaire auditions were on. My butt practically burned in anticipation of that Hot Seat. While people stayed home from work to bale out their basements and file insurance claims, Mom and I got in the car at 5 a.m. and strategized about optimal Lifeline deployment. Type-A to the bone, I did not weep for my fellow would-be contestants. “Whatever thins the herd!” I shouted, gleefully taking in the devastated front lawns and abandoned vehicles in the flooded roadways.
I passed the Millionaire test, moved on through the brief personal interview and counted the days until the postcard arrived in the mail saying that I’d advanced to the official contestant pool.
The postcard arrived, but I did not advance.
Perhaps this is karmic justice for my cruel post-storm schadenfreude. Perhaps the fact that a classmate of mine in BK ’08 actually made it to the hot seat last summer has caused me (a small brownish woman) to experience the downside of affirmative action for once. Perhaps the interviewer just thought I didn’t cut it. In any case, this game show wasn’t going to be my ticket out.
Mostly, I feel anger, with intermittent bouts of depression and disappointment. However, I also feel inspired. A million dollars in my pocket was going to be a pretty excellent way to join the workforce. But, at the very least, my liberal arts degree will earn me a spot as a medieval serving wench.
Sarah Minkus may or may not be selling out to the man.