Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blowing Smoke Up Mervyn's Ass




I am a terrible liar. Really, super awful. Especially if I feel guilty about something, or I've done something wrong, then I'm the dog who has peed on your carpet; I get low to the floor with my eyebrows up in a little inverted V of shame and swipe the floor with hopeful, ambivalent wags of my tail.

Sometimes I try to lie. Like, Vild will say, "Did you scrape the mailbox with your car?" and I'll say, "NO!", but of course I did scrape the mailbox with my car because I'm too lazy to walk to it, and so I drive up really close on the wrong side of the road, with my hazards blinking, and reach in, Fat-American-style. So I say, "NO!" indignantly, and then maybe four seconds later I say, "Yes, OK, I did a little bit scrape the car." The full arc of my lies take about 3-5 seconds. My guilt mechanism is that finely tuned.

Sadly, it wasn't always so. I used to be younger and way more stupider. Particularly this one time, when I was a newly minted garment industry professional, armed with my very prestigious Associates Degree in Manufacturing - a two year degree I earned in fashion school in Los Angeles - and I applied for my first big corporate job at Mervyn's.

Mervyn's was, R.I.P, what people like me, with manufacturing degrees, call a mid-market retailer. You mortals would call it a crap department store. It catered to California women with mid-western tastes and slotted wallets filled with department store credit cards. Mervyn's made clothes for those women who posses giant key rings with laminated photos of their kids jangling noisily from them.

In fact, Mervs had many departments, from kid's to housewares, men's, women's, teens and so forth, and they needed something called a Color Analyst. I had no idea why colors needed analysis, but if they wanted to talk, I was ready to listen. It was an entry-level position in a grim suburb of San Francisco, the city that called to me with its gay magnificence in the early '90's.

I had applied for the job through the school's placement office, and soon thereafter I was called for an interview and landed the job. It was just that easy. I was qualified and, as it turns out, I have a keen eye for color. What this meant was that I was uniquely qualified to match socks with undies, pots with pans, cardigans with camisoles, pant suit components and luggage sets from different manufacturers to a color swatch in a cubicle in Hayward, an hour south of San Francisco.

Just like that, I had my very own low-paying, dead-end job with a long commute. Victory was mine! So I started staring at color swatches in a light box about a month later, after filling out a sheaf of papers for the HR department. One of those papers was an application for the job, which I found odd, seeing as I already had the job, and they had my resume. But I confirmed, and signed the information from my resume, which as a very minor incidental bullet point, mentioned that I had a Bachelors Degree from U-Mass.

I went to U-Mass for what seemed a very long time, more than three years. I made two of my best friends there, but I didn't actually, technically, graduate from there. I attended U-Mass. Then I left U-Mass in a huff, a few credits shy of a degree. But what the hell, I was close enough, right? Remember that this was a evolutionary flicker of time before email and Internet hit like a tsunami, a few years before your bra size could be found in a Google search of your name. People from HR actually had to call references and schools to learn the particularity of your deception.

Imagine my surprise when I was called to Human Resources a few weeks later. My boss, the kindest, sunniest, most personable woman ever to walk the halls of a corporate office building, told me I was being summoned, with the most genuine look of sadness and doom, like she'd been told in confidence that I had a rare genetic disorder, with only sickness and death ahead of me.

And here, my friends, is when the lying really began. Some might say it started when I wrote the lie on my resume, but I contend, from my own soul's-redemption standpoint, lies are the ones you tell to people's faces. It started small, as lies so often do. My boss said, "They cannot confirm that you have degree from U-Mass?" And the start of my lie came out as a shrug, and a sort of nondescript "hungh" sound, followed by, "That's odd."

Somewhere on the dead-man-walking route to the HR hive of cubes, I started creating the smoker that I hoped would lull the worker bees into a state of pacified ignorance and confusion. Another facet of the well told lie is that they start with the pollen of truth. Mine certainly did.

I left U-Mass is a mass of confusion. I had grades of "incomplete" in classes where I had only to turn in a paper to receive credit, an independent study that required the signature of completion from a professor who never returned from sabbatical, and maybe two more tiny semesters of class to get my degree.

By the time I got to the office, I'd created an Oh-jeez-here-we-go-again-with-this-college-degree confusion-again persona that I felt created the right alchemy of nonchalance and irritation that might ward off my being kicked to the corporate curb.

I spouted a geyser of bullshit and misdirection to the human resources director about how they'd said they'd corrected these issues, this is so totally typical, can you believe the inconvenience, I couldn't be more sorry for the trouble...

All the while, my dear, kind-hearted boss was nodding next to me in complete support. She was facing the firing squad with me, and as my lie got more complex and incomprehensible she was becoming truly hopeful. Maybe I hadn't lied on my resume. Maybe this was all just a big mistake. Her faith in me was being restored with every twist and turn in my labyrinth of lies. Deceiving this woman, who had shown me nothing but kindness, made something in me putrefy.

I had no idea what I was up against when I wrote the line on my resume. There were people whose whole job was about fact checking these kinds of things. I was scared. I wanted to keep the first real job in my chosen profession. I liked the people I worked with, I was able to pay my rent. I don't think it even crossed my mind that this misdeed could have effects beyond just my next paycheck. I shutter to think that I could have effected my boss' career (I don't think I could have), or the serious blow to my own career path it could have had. A career that lasted through three more jobs and ten years.

In the end, it was not that they were convinced I hadn't lied on my application, but from a legal standpoint they could not prove that I had. I spent weeks getting documentation of my incompletes, actually corrected and got credit for them with the university (go figure) and blew up enough dust to obscure the reality that I had said I had graduated, when I hadn't. They couldn't prove that I'd intentionally misrepresented on my application, so they couldn't fire me. It was all about the legality. I'd signed my name to the lie, which was the crime, and they couldn't prove that I'd knowingly lied which was my pass.

In the three weeks I held this sodden lump of untruth in the wet tissue of my conscience, before they decided to drop the issue with notes in the margins of my file, I was so terrified, so disgusted with my ability to pull it off, so humiliated at my own stupidity, I was changed forever.
My super-hero like power of deception was temporary.

Now you're likely to get from me a little more truth than you (or even I), are comfortable with at thanksgiving dinner, with mixed company, in the presence of minors, but its all me, Associates Degree in Manufacturing and all.

And if I do lie, you'll smell the pee and hear the thumping of my tail and you'll know.