MTM (Part 1)

My heart flooded with nostalgia when I read about Mary Tyler Moore’s passing last week. Her eponymously named TV show ended the year I began, putting every episode I watched in past tense. Except that the humor, the writing, the subject and most of the outfits (the yellow plaid pantsuit not withstanding) resonated present tense.

Season 1 came out on DVD just before I moved into my first cavernous, shoe-box apartment. Like Mary Richards, I had just ended a long-term relationship, a med student finishing school and poised for a terrific career in medicine. But what looks good on paper does not always work out in real life and we were not a good fit.

Summer 2004 found me newly single, living in the very strange town of Beaverton, OR (a suburb of Portland according to Portlandians, a town proper according to Beaverton residents). I sat on the floor eating my Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips out of the bag and drinking Yellow Tail Shiraz, the height of sophistication, while I watched Mary Richards navigate her hilarious, unorthodox life.

Like Mary, the dating scene existed (somewhat), but that was of little consequence compared to my new adventure. I was a career woman! Monday I would start my new salaried position as a “whole home lighting specialist.” Sitting on the floor of that apartment, eating my chocolate chips and drinking wine out of an IKEA water glass, I thought about my first jobs in Oregon.

First jobs teach a person a lot – like asking questions before signing the contract. When I moved to Oregon to be with my boyfriend at the end of summer 2003, the tech boom busted and over-qualified workers filled every entry level position. I pounded the streets in my crisp, navy pinstripe suit and blond Trixie Belden mop looking for work.

Finally, I found a hiring agency willing to place me. When I signed on with Adecco, the hiring agent said, “no one cares if you have a master’s degree. All they want is a high school diploma.” There were no other options, so I agreed to $8/hr, no benefits and a contract that only guaranteed work one week at a time.

The question I should have asked the hiring agent before I signed the exclusivity contract was, “exactly what position are you looking to place me in?” And the answer would have been, “receptionist.” It turned out the hiring agent only had a high school diploma herself, which in hindsight explained her attitude toward me.

But I had a job: I was going to be a receptionist for a week in the legal department at Portland General Electric.


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