My Dustin-Hoffman-Graduate-Plastics' Moment
It happened decades ago. That phone exchange in my parents’ kitchen.
It was not long after exiting my college “Camelot”. The steep plunge from grandiose, myopic college senior to insecure, jobless, debt-ridden returning daughter/enabler whose vision hadn’t included re-filling her parents’ empty nest. What in God’s name had happened to the delicious and adventurous fast-lane to an independent adult life? Somehow I had gotten on a wrong entry ramp and was zooming backwards in time.
I could feel four years of amassed self-esteem relentlessly leaking away with each passing, unemployed day – hour – minute.
Needless to say there was no small spurt of interest one listless afternoon when the owner of a perky, female voice at the other end of the phone identified itself as being from the public relations department of my recent, beloved college.
Apparently someone whom this woman could not identify had disclosed to her that I had a strong interest in acting. I was surprised she would bring that up. Yes, I did enjoy acting. I had acted a lot in high school. But when I had gone to the smallish college only theater majors had opportunities to perform so I had had to give the passion up for four years.
She excitedly let fly: “We want you to STAR in a commercial for the college!”
“As an actress?” I asked.
“No, silly! As YOU, of course!!!!”
She went on to explain that enrollment had dropped dramatically, so the upshot was I would stand in front of my BMW, presumably in my power suit with my power briefcase on my way to my power job, and beaming gratefully at the camera exclaim that I owed it ALL to College X!
“You mean you want me to perform this as an ACTRESS!” I persisted.
“NO! AS YOU!!!” Exasperation beginning to replace perkiness.
“But I don’t have a BMW,” I explained and added mournfully, “I don’t even own a car!” (Hell, I didn’t even have the suit or briefcase. Oh yeah, or a JOB!)
There was a long pause with the unspoken but implied “so-what-is-your-point?” hanging out there.
I took a breath. “I have NO car. NO job. I have to pay back my student loan. I live with my parents.” (Shoot me now!)
She, totally unaffected: “This would be great for your acting resume! A MARVELOUS opportunity!”
Aha. I suddenly suspected it would be an UNPAID marvelous opportunity.
But I was still dealing with the FALSE ADVERTISING apparently-non-issue to even begin to get to other issues.
She blithely continued the pitch: “We need YOU to convey that going to OUR college fast-tracks you to success!’
“Well,” I stammered (this was years before libbyliberal had climbed on any high horses), “I could do that if I did it as an ACTRESS, and, well, you know, I didn’t have to state my actual name!”
“NO, NO, NO!!!!. We NEED you because you ARE a graduate. We need that credibility. THAT IS THE POINT!!!!” (Could I be any DUMBER I could hear her thinking through the phone.)
I took a deep breath and explained to the young woman that I could not bring myself to perform such a commercial since I would be L-Y-I-N-G!!!
She shot back. “That’s okay. We don’t mind.”
This chick clearly couldn’t begin to connect my ethical dots.
The tone of my response was more confused and apologetic than righteous I am ashamed to admit. “But, you see, I do.”
She offered me an abrupt but pitying “Good luck!” then hung up.