I was sitting in a mall food court yesterday evening, eating some bad tray food. I had nothing to read, the phone was dead. So I just shoveled grub into my mouth while watching the above woman hand out free samples in front of the quickie Japanese eatery.
I’d seen this woman 1,000 times before. Well, not this woman, per se. But women and men in her shoes. Standing in a mall food-court, wearing a bright red apron and visor, interacting with an endless stream of passers-by, yet completely invisible. Nobody asked how she was doing, or what was going on, or whether she was tired or hungry or happy or sad. She wore a cheap pair of black sneakers that were worn and loosely tied. Every so often she’d take 10 seconds to sip from a Styrofoam cup sitting atop the counter. When people took a nugget of chicken (stabbed with a toothpick), she’d smile dimly—though I doubt the repeated action brought her much happiness or contentment. It was all robotic. As it probably should be.
I started thinking about how lucky I am. There’s a wonderful line in American Beauty, when Kevin Spacey’s character applies for a gig at a burger joint. He tells the manager, “I want the job with the least amount of responsibility.” I think about that, when I’m stressed, facing a deadline, struggling with sources or wording or whatever. I imagine how appealing it’d be to dig all day, or pick up the trash, or hand out chicken. No job stress. Just do.
But I snap out of it quickly. The woman pictured above has a brutally difficult gig, in that it’s repetitive and arduous and low-paying, probably, unfulfilling. She’s mall background. A person who exists, yet a person nobody seems to see.
I wonder what her life is. Married? Kids? Happy? Sad.