Forty Years After Graduation, No Career in Sight

Five years ago I mentioned here that I was going to my high school class reunion and had forgotten to come up with a believable profession. Gearing up for my quinquennial visit back to see my classmates, I got through almost everything on my to-do list: I remembered to get a plane ticket, I remembered to buy a new outfit, I remembered almost everyone’s name, and I remembered to drink loads of water the day of the reunion, as well as pack some Excedrin. But I forgot to put together a good answer to the inevitable question, “What do you do?”

Well, guess what? It’s that half decade again, and I still don’t know what I do for a living.

Of course I know what I do for a living; I just don’t know how to present it so my former classmates don’t think I’m a slacker, an eccentric or a concubine.

“What do you do?”

“Whatever it takes.”

“What do you do?”

“What don’t I do?”

Those were suggested answers offered by my two sons. Let me mention that they don’t really know what I do either. They’re just really good at cleverly blowing smoke and diffusing awkward situations with humor.  And until a couple of years ago, when asked what their dad did for a living, they said, “He types.”

Other suggestions?

“None of your business. What’s with the third degree?”

“My FBI handler will give you a written reply within seven business days. Right after the congressional inquiry is finished.”

And my favorite, “Well, actually, right now I’m a — Look! A butterfly!”

More was expected of me in my high school. I wore glasses so naturally it was assumed that I was smart and would become an accomplished professional of some sort. But that was all based on my siblings, whose CPO jacket tails I rode straight through high school commencement. They were smart. They were Laneys. I was a Laney. Ergo I should be smart, right? It was Ohio public education in the 1970s, so we didn’t have philosophy classes to tell us life doesn’t work that way. You could be valedictorian without knowing what syllogism was, or any other ism for that matter.

I did my part by spending an inordinate amount of time studying, getting good grades, and only skipping class once in my entire school career. (I went to the Dairy Queen with Andy Franko and I about threw up from the anxiety of what was going to happen to me if someone in the office looked at the attendance sheets and saw that I had ditched. I frantically scanned the parking lot for the juvy paddywagon when we inexplicably returned to school. So not worth the 75 cent Dilly Bar.)

The smart girl thing worked among my classmates and even my teachers, but it didn’t fool the U.S. military. One day in my senior year of high school, the Army came in and did career assessments. A bunch of us were called down to the media center, where we sat at the round tables and listened to a sales pitch to enlist, and then filled out a long questionnaire about our interests and skills. And then we had one-on-ones, where we were told what the Army thought was our best career choice.

I got secretary. “The good news is you don’t have to go to college to work as a secretary,” he said. “And there are lots of opportunities to be a secretary in the Army, without any further delay.” Thanks, Army guy.

Shortly after that I was passed over for Rotary Student of the Month because my intended college major, Journalism, was “not an academic subject.”  Thanks, Mr. Rotary student selection committee chairman.

The cat was seemingly out of the bag. I probably wasn’t going to amount to much.

Sure enough, by my third class reunion I was unemployed and pregnant with my third baby. When I showed up at the Brentford House in a tent dress with a $10 haircut and a bruise on my shin from the McDonald’s PlayLand sliding board, it was the first time in months I had put on lipstick that wasn’t the candy kind.

“What do you do?” some poor unsuspecting, well meaninged guy asked me.

“Well, I, actually, — look! A butterfly!”

It worked then; no reason to think it won’t work again this year. Now to address the last thing on my list of things to do before my reunion: Lose 25 pounds.

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

Diane is a writer, blogger, humorist and author of the books "Great-Grandma Is on Twitter and Other Signs the Rapture Is Near" and "Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves." She lives in San Francisco.