“Have you seen that commercial yet? With the taco?” This was the mantra of nearly all my friends and loved ones last summer. It came in the form of e-mails and text messages, taps on the shoulder at parties and too many phone calls to count. Turns out what they were referring to was an ad for a wireless company that promised rates so low, “Now we can afford for Mom to quit her second job!” In the spot, as the kids lounge around the suburban living room, the middle-aged mom comes out dressed for work. In a giant rubber taco costume.
You can probably guess where this is going. Yes, I too am a middle-aged mom, and, yes, I also happen to have a second job where I dress up as oversized foam food. Specifically, to complete the visual, I am a seven-foot-tall banana for a San Francisco—based fruit delivery company. I ride the train as the banana. I pass out bananas on the streets dressed as the banana. I get an awful lot of hugs as the banana, and more high-fives than anyone really has a right to.
Of course, it’s not all smiles, rainbows and complimentary organic Satsuma tangerines. Occasionally, people will openly laugh and exclaim, “You should have listened to your mother and gone to college!” or even snidely hiss into my face-hole, “You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job!” Truly, these are the hardest moments to squelch a Tourettic outburst along the lines of “I once had a book on the New York Times bestseller list!” (Okay, it was the extended list. But still.) I mean, just imagine the effect of a wounded banana in orthopedic shoes trying to one-up a litigation attorney on a downtown sidewalk at rush hour by bragging about her literary career. Pretty powerful stuff.
It didn’t take the geniuses on Madison Avenue to alert me to the fact that my mascot job is supposed to be pathetic and undesirable. In fact, I now realize that it’s part of the reason I signed up for it in the first place. When the CEO of the fruit company, an old pal I hadn’t seen in a while, offered up “the suit” as a way for me to supplement my income as a writer, my adrenal system went haywire. This might have been the most disturbing offer I’d received since a stranger dropped a paper sack full of money in my lap at a Tenderloin bar back in the early ’90s and whispered, “Just hang tight ’til Rick shows up.”
“I’ll do it once,” I told the fruit guy. “But one time only.”
Three years later, it seems laughable that I thought I’d want to quit, even as I signed a contract and got to work on another book. The job brings a decent paycheck and steady employment, and I had to admit that none of my other odd jobs comes close to making me feel this way: slightly vulnerable and unsettled, yet excited and uninhibited. Kind of like how I can feel on a good day writing.
And there’s the other part of me that is simply in awe of the comedic prowess of the costume itself. I may try to write funny: dismantling my insecurities, sharpening my observations, exploiting them for comic effect. I can sit at my computer working on dialogue, testing lines out loud to see if they’re any good, attempting to bring real people to life on the page in all their flawed and absurd beauty. But you know what? Sometimes I think that no matter what I write, no matter how much I improve, no humorous essay will ever be able to compete with the sight of a middle-aged mom dressed as giant food. Wearing a foam banana costume might just be as funny as I’m ever going to get.
|Beth Lisick is the author of Helping Me Help Myself, which chronicles her year as a consumer of self-help books and seminars, just out from Morrow.|