I put sour cream in my coffee because I didn’t have any milk. I searched through my refrigerator for anything that could possibly be utilized as a splash of creamer. Salad dressing, mayonnaise, soy sauce, anything. Finally the sour cream called my name. Arguably I told myself, sour cream is kind of like milk. It’s white, and dairy based. It even had “cream” in the name. I couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store and buy milk, so sour cream would have to do.

The glob of sour cream floated on the top of the steaming cup before dropping slowly to the bottom. Chunky pieces sporadically floated to the top. It was a disgusting thing to watch, and I quickly found it an even more disgusting thing to drink. I gave up and poured the coffee down the sink.

I didn’t have any milk because I don’t have any money. I don’t have any money because I don’t make any money as a waitress. People aren’t going to out eat anymore. They are saving money and staying home. If they do journey out for a bite, they spend less, tip less, and quite possibly complain more. We’re in a recession, and everybody feels it.

I called up my father to complain. “Dad” I whined, “I don’t even have any milk.”

“You win some, you lose some” he responded dryly. He’s sympathetic but wholly unattached. His retirement disappeared in the death of the stock market and he tells me he’s probably about to lose his job. “Buck up,” I suggested, “Maybe reserve a small portion of your unemployment check for an exciting new hobby.” He chuckled shallowly. Perhaps he’ll invest in some quality rope and learn out to tie a noose. “I refuse to let dry, baseless humor like that take over MY century,” I told him. “Good luck with your milk situation,” he said and didn’t mean it.

Before San Diego, I had been living in Lake Tahoe trying to make it as a professional snowboarder. I even graduated from college early because school was getting in the way of my inevitable career path. My mother told me that my job choice as a snowboarder wasn’t realistic. I told her I didn’t need her negativity aboard my success train.

Let’s make one thing clear. I failed miserably in Lake Tahoe. I didn’t have what it took to make it as a snowboarder. Talent, being at the top of that list, followed by perhaps aptitude or maybe even ambition. I did learn a few life lessons in my failure. The most important of these was that a new career path was indeed in order. Don’t tell my mother. San Diego, here I come.

I had high hopes for a job in San Diego. It was a city, I reasoned, and cities were bound to have a plethora of job opportunities. If anything it had the advantage of sheer size. I was in a small town in Northern California, so OF COURSE there weren’t any jobs. There were only like ten places to work. San Diego, though, now this place had potential.

Living in a ski town was tremendously fun and in the scheme of life, monumentally rewarding. Unfortunately, I quickly realized it was not remotely impressive to potential employers. But I spruced up my resume and wrote millions of cover letters, and even got a few interviews. I would bumble into the room with all my potential and absolutely no experience, to encounter questions like, “There’s a woman applying for your same position as receptionist and she has 15 years of experience, what can you offer that is equitable?”

“Really? Wow. This is an entry level job, isn’t it?” “Apparently, a lot of people have been losing their jobs lately. There are a lot of very over qualified applicants.”

“Oh. Wow. I don’t really have any experience at all. Do I even have a shot?” “That answer didn’t help,” he said and flipped my resume face down on his desk.

Just in case failure wasn’t enough in a solo interview setting, there were group interviews as well. I got a call back for another receptionist job for an attorney’s office near downtown. I walked in to a room full of women all there to jockey for the same job. They clutched their brief cases in their laps as they smoothed their starch dress pants, and tapped their polished pumps. They glanced at me with vulturous looks. I gave them all a warm smile and shoved myself in the corner, trying to hide behind the door so I could keep my eyeballs.

We were herded into a tiny office and sat semi circle around a pompous wooden desk. “I’m sorry.” the attorney apologized, “There were just so many applicants, we thought this would be the best way to get through all of you in a hurry.” We all had a chance to impress with essentially one question. I tell myself I may have genuinely had a shot had the woman going before me not burst into tears. “I just really, really, need a job” she sobbed, “I’ve been looking for so long.” The attorney offered her a Kleenex as he didn’t listen to the answer I gave to my only question. The job market is tough. I got a job at a restaurant and consider myself lucky.

“Now what?” I ask myself every day. Do I actually believe the country can turn itself around? I’ll confess I’ve never been really patriotic. I grudgingly mumbled the pledge of allegiance in school. I’m guilty of ever so reluctantly holding my hand over my heart during the playing of the national anthem, and whispering, “This is lame!” to my giggling friends. I come from a generation of spoiled children. We’re jerk offs. People tell me this all the time. But let’s be serious, I get it. I’m putting sour cream in my coffee.

Despite everything, I believe in my country. I especially believe in our president, Barack Obama. Even though the greedy capitalistic overtones of my parent’s generation has left me with a job serving fried food to a scarce group of angry people, I do believe at some point the sun will shine again on our struggling economy. Besides, I don’t know what else I can do but make it work with what I’ve got, and have a positive attitude in the meantime. Until then, I’ll just follow my mother’s advice, (because I do that now), and listen when she tells me with all her wisdom and delicious eloquence, “Just hold on to your hat for a while.”

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Comments

David Dodd Aug. 5, 2009 @ 2:13 p.m.

I like this, and I like it even more now that it's netted you a cool two-hundred and fifty bucks. Congrats on second place, and sometimes us poorer folk have to drink our coffee black. And some advice: Take a couple of dollars from your winnings and buy some dry creamer for the times when buying milk isn't possible.

I've been there, and I'll be there again.

Oh, and if that restaurant you work at needs a dishwasher let me know. My unemployment checks are about to run out.

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Altius Aug. 4, 2009 @ 1:10 p.m.

Don't blame your parents' generation for the fact you're an underpaid waitress. It's not surprising that an underachiever like you would blame someone else for your lack of success. It's equally unsurprising that you're an Obama supporter. Remember that lady who on live national TV who said something like, "I'm so happy. Obama's gonna get me a house and a car." President Obama is not going to fix your life. Neither will his socialist agenda. (If anything, his money-printing approach to the economy is going to make things worse. Japan tried it. It didn't work.) But you can fix your life.

You're obviously a talented writer with an active, fertile mind. And you have the awareness to know that you're from a generation of spoiled children. Dump your generation's baggage. Put your gifts to work for yourself. Stop blaming the world for your problems. You're young and bright, and you live in the nicest corner of the nicest country on earth. Opportunity, even in these times, is all around you. Avail yourself of it. Billions of people your age all around the world would kill for the opportunities you have.

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thestoryteller Aug. 6, 2009 @ 11:40 p.m.

Loved the story. Don't let Altius rattle you. He sounds like an elitist. There are many, many people walking in your shoes, my daughter included. She got a student loan and graduated, but can't get a job to pay it back. The important thing to remember is that the reason you cannot afford cream is due to other people's failures, not your own.

My husband's unemployment check runs out in October.

P.S. I'm emailing this story to my daughter. I think it will help.

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