I love that moment in awards shows when some journalist asks a synthetically glowing celebrity that question the audience is absolutely itching to know the answer to: “who are you wearing?” It’s kind of a ridiculous question unless the celebrity is wearing fur, in which case they could cite the name of the pet they probably had butchered to make a shawl; “Oh, this is Mittens. She was a Main Coon, and now she’s here to keep my shoulders warm for half an hour before I forget about her in the back of my closet.”
I want a college version of these interviews. I want journalists to accost me and my peers and ask us “who we’re wearing” or “what’s your workout regimen like?” or “who does your hair?” or just “where’d you get that great coffee mug?” But nobody is going to ask me those questions. If, however, some deranged reporter did find themselves plastered to the peeling paint of the Liberal Arts building I live in, then they could give me the interview I so rightly deserve, the interview that finally, definitively reveals all the insight I have on how to get through college both as a teacher and as a steadily decaying student.
I know exactly what I’d say.
“Who are you wearing,” they’d ask, and my response would astound and disgust like a nudist juggler. This playful outfit I’m wearing now I found in a plastic tub at a Goodwill across from a veterinary clinic and a church that looks like a Subway. Notice the subtle marbling of white through the faded black of my pants, that’s all natural sweat stains. And these shoes: brown double faux leather. That’s right, they’re fake fake leather, and they cost a dollar at the other Goodwill across town. They don’t fit that well anymore because I’ve been riding them home in the rain, and now they’ve shrunk, but I have to keep them until the holes in the soles completely destroy every pair of socks I own because if there’s one thing poverty is good at, it’s perpetuating itself.
“Talk to us about your workout; how do you keep that bod?” I know they’d say “bod” because that’s the kind of word that entered our collective vocabulary ironically and now has just become something people say when they want to save all the time a “y” normally takes up. To keep my gorgeous sitcom dad-like physique, I have just one secret: I can’t afford a bus pass. I ride my bike to work every day now because the glamorous life of a bus commuter was just out of my pay grade. Life in the fast lane isn’t for everybody, even if that fast lane is also for carpooling.
“Who does your hair?” I’d be so thrilled that someone finally asked me an important question. A question that’s on the mind of every harried college student. I’d run a hand through the brittle strands of my organic head-mop, and I’d release to the world a light chuckle, like no problem is so heavy that talking about my hair won’t lighten the load on my shoulders. I’d look at the reporter, their pen poised to take my answer verbatim, and I’d say “the wind, dahling,” because the only time I’ve remembered to comb my hair is when I actually saw myself in the mirror, and I’m not making that mistake again. I didn’t even own a comb until a month ago.
Finally, the interview would take a relaxed turn. Maybe we’d be sitting in a nice cafe or on the floor of a unisex bathroom. The interviewer would look at me, then at their notebook, maybe they’d reach into a messenger bag to see if they have enough Xanax to get through another question. Then, with the rattle of an orange bottle and a swig of something chemical, they’d ask me “where’d you get your mug?” I’d smile in that retrospective playful way people in movies do before saying something like “go get ‘em, kid.” I’d smile, my eyes might even water, and then I’d say wistfully “I stole it from a lost and found,” and then the interviewer would leave, and I’d eat a banana I took from an office in a building I don’t even work at anymore.
That interview might save student lives. College orientation tells wide-eyed youths about all the wonderful resources they’ll have at their fingertips, but they usually don’t mention that those things cost a lot of money. I never had a lot of money, so I found out how to live where the only cost is to my dignity and datability. Now that my ego is irrevocably swollen by grad school and teaching, and I’m miraculously dating someone, I can reveal all my secrets. I hope some student finds them in their time of need, and I hope they too learn to dig through the lost and found and the cheap bins at thrift stores.