by Tracy Soren

For my second temp job, I wore a tuxedo.

I received a call from my agency asking if I was available for a four-day job at The Knot’s Wedding Expo. The Knot, a wedding planning site and magazine, was running their bi-annual expo at a fancy hotel and needed a slew of temps to take up critical but menial tasks. At that point, I had only worked one day organizing forms for photo day at a Greek Orthodox school near my house. Now here they were offering me four days, over the weekend, to work in a hotel? This was a step up. My naked wallet shivered out a yes before my mouth had the chance.

It turned out that working as an expo-greeter was more serious than I thought. I had to be interviewed.

Like all interviews I had right after college, I was extremely uncomfortable. Although this was just a quick interview for a temp job, I still couldn’t shake the unnaturalness of the entire process; the talking myself up, the modest and awkward offering of my attributes like a golden calf to this god in a pantsuit. Do I really have to pretend I am excited at the prospect of repeatedly saying, “Welcome”? Excited to help a bunch of tourists trying to peddle feathered veils? I wanted to say, “We both know why I am here. I can promise you promptness and my best telemarketer voice. Just give me the job.”

I wouldn’t realize till later that interviews are just another excuse to act, so I just went in there and did my best. I smiled. We talked about weddings. The calligraphic envelopes. Destination nuptials. How it’s all about the dress. The dress! OH THE DRESS!

I don’t think she caught my underlying feelings. The whole wedding fantasy is not fantasy I own. I focus more on questioning a culture that allows the cake fondant to be priced higher than college housing. If I could find the twelve jurors that started the never-ending cycle of bridal showers, I’d trap them all in a Bed Bath and Beyond.

The event organizer was a younger woman who obviously meant business. It was as if she was planning her own wedding and judging by her stack of binders, she was really organized about it. She stressed—her temps must be reliable, friendly, and able to take direction; all things a high-strung person like me responds well to. Chaos is not my phone-a-friend. She then asked if I’d be comfortable wearing a uniform. I had no problem with this either. She told me it would be a rented tuxedo.

“That’s fucking hilarious,” I thought. The ideas starting popping into my head, one by one:

“I could walk amongst the philanthropists, stealing their ice sculptures.”

“I could stroll on a velvet carpet and they will all ask me who I’m wearing.”

“I could save Gotham City.”

The tuxedo was like any other costume, any other tunnel to transformation. Just like the voices I conjure or my structured dinosaur impression, this black and white garb is another reason to pretend.

“This could be fun.”

After I received notice that I scored the position, I headed to a walk-up store off an avenue to be fitted. It was a shabby shop that looked like it had its heyday in the ‘70s. They gave me a tuxedo to try on and I was swimming in it. Nevertheless, I headed out on the rainy day ready to suit up … formally.

When I arrived at the hotel that weekend, I saw a machine in motion. There were vendors rolling into every room, making each one a tiny boutique. There were temps in tuxes, prepared to be stationed and not the least bit concerned that they were wearing formalwear at 8 AM.

I was assigned to the sign-up table. We’d be greeting vendors, checking them in, and giving them nametags. It seemed to be the least strenuous job that I was most happy about. I can’t lift a couple of jars let alone a bunch of mannequins.

The temps were given a storage room to change, eat, and take a break. They filled it with snacks and drinks which kept all of our broke asses happy. Whenever I am put into a situation where I know no one, I turn into a turtle hiding in its shell. But seeing as we looked liked we formed a traveling orchestra, I lightened up a bit. It also helped that a girl who I knew of from my high school was randomly temping as well—along with a guy who I met filing the papers on my first job. Those connections broke the ice and we all began talking to each other.

As usual, we all wanted to know why the others were temping at a wedding expo over the weekend. One by one, they revealed their true selves and the necks they put on the line and wrapped in bowties. (A bowtie I was apparently allergic to. Bummer.) Musicians, actors and actresses, comedians, costume designers, writers, poets, opera singers, models, and the generally unsure. After I thought about it, it made perfect sense. I always wondered who worked festivals, car shows, those Halloween pop-up stores where the employees dress like Freddy Krueger and hand out pamphlets. The Freddy Kruegers are temps. They are artists working hard at a present project, knowing if they’re lucky, there will always be another one.

Over the course of the four days, the crew got to know and like each other. Whenever we got breaks, we ate lunch together. If one of us had to unhinge a delicate dress from its stand, the other spotted. The job became fun, not just because I was rocking a penguin suit but because we all understood each other. It made being surrounded by people who took beading very seriously rather bearable.

Throughout the weekend, I kept wondering about the life of each temp. I wanted to know how they did it. How they woke up each day, getting up and going toward a new destination.

I was so young and didn’t know what lay ahead of me. How it can be terribly exhausting to always be working but also exciting to know you’re going for what you truly want. Yet here were these temps, older and more experienced than me, doing just that. And it was there in a hotel storage room, eating Cheetos in another man’s tux, where I learned from them what I would need to do.

I would need to wake up every morning and do something I did that very weekend.

I would need to wake up and put on my costume.

Walk amongst the others.

Steal the ice sculpture.

Stroll the velvet carpet.

Save Gotham City.

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