(hint: the answer is not Jean Valjean)
In my nonfiction writing class, we've been reading excerpts from memoirs and personal essays by authors ranging from E.B. White to Maxine Hong Kingston. For my first workshop piece, I'm focusing on the question of identity by telling the story of my crazy freshman year suitemate, Bashe, who desperately wanted to be British and spoke with a phony accent 24-7. Issues pertaining to my own concept of identity tie into the essay (what college freshman isn't unsure of who he/she is?), which got me to thinking about how others perceive me vs. how I perceive myself. What I am discovering is that context is everything.
For instance, I have recently been detecting something unusual from Ali, the balding overweight man who runs the corner bodega by my apartment (the Linden Superette). The look in his eyes when he rings up my items....could it be pity? Why does this man feel sorry for me? Then I realized that I always come in alone, often unshowered, without makeup, and wearing sweatpants. And I regularly buy cat food and frozen Lean Pockets. He thinks I am a lonely cat lady! When this dawned on me, I felt compelled to dress up and enter the store flanked by an entourage of attractive friends...but this guy probably doesn't feel superior to many people, so I think I'll continue playing the role of single, homely, cat-owning woman.
At my new waitress job, Exotic Sushi and Tapas, they clearly have a different perception of me. Those of you who know me have heard me gripe about this place -- I'm trying my damndest to stay positive because the food is delicious and I think the owners mean well -- but the fact remains that I have worked there for 6 weeks now and not seen a paycheck. I'm making tips and my hourly wage is only $2.67/hr so it's not like the check is going to be that helpful, but still, it's the principle. Many employees have quit because they weren't getting paychecks and it's hard to understand how/why management believes they don't have to pay their staff. The only conclusion I can come to is that in their eyes, I am slave labor.
(In a meek act of protest, I have started giving my customers free miso soup. I fancy myself a sort of Japanese Robin Hood, distributing miso soup to the masses. We only charge $2 for the soup, but considering how cheap it is to make and how much gets thrown out, I think the end justifies the miso.)
Finally, let's examine how one other party perceives me: my cat Maude.
Not to brag, but I am the center of Maude's universe. Maude is mesmerized by my presence -- I am all powerful. When I come home at the end of the day, she is always, without fail, waiting by the door, meowing. The unconditional love pets provide is pretty nice -- no matter how shitty I may feel or how people may treat me, I know there is one living creature who will always crave my affection and attention. It's almost enough to give me a God complex. Almost.