How to sell yourself on something you don’t like (Day 12)

I always loved a good side hustle—even before it was a thing. Having something on the side always made you feel you had stuff going on, especially when you had nothing else going on.

For a while I took whatever popped up and was happy to: a job with Captain Morgan that involved dressing up like a wench and slinging shots down by the pier; pouring samplers of Sam Adams while dressed as a revolutionary in a tricorne hat (and taking Polaroids with anyone who asked); handing out granola bars at the subway station. Once I had to dress as one of the Charmin bears, in a full bear suit that I could barely see out of, and stumble around Revere Beach in 90-degree weather to promote their new wet wipes. I almost passed out.

I was part of the launch team for Febreze. Before it became a household name, I stood in CVS to demonstrate how it worked: One container with smoke-treated cloth, and another container with a cloth that had been treated with Febreze. It was the 90s, and you could smoke in bars, and so you couldn’t leave one without smelling like a house on fire. I took great pleasure in the theatrics of opening one jar and watching them recoil at the scent, and then their eyes widening at the other, which had been treated with Febreze. Then I’d show them how to spray their clothes in long, sweeping strokes. Just watch how this magical fairy dust spray actually attaches to foul-smelling particles and lifts them off your good blazer on a million tiny chemical wings.

But one of the sweetest gigs I got was during the Christmas season, standing in the meat department of the Stop & Shop, sampling fancy cheese for $30 an hour (which was an unspeakably good rate). The irony was that I hated cheese. I passed on pizza, lasagna, mozzarella sticks. I took no pride in this, by the way. I would have loved nothing more than to pile onto a plate of deep-fried apps or draw a stringy slice from the box with obvious delight. I believed it would have made me more fun and cool and likable. I worried that I might seem like a bore or a weirdo, or just profoundly unAmerican.

Liking cheese was not a job requirement, though; a perky, positive attitude was. You just had to stand there with an apron on over your shirt, khakis and sensible shoes, and offer people little bits of triple creme and herb-infused brie. Turns out, this was the easiest job in the world. I didn’t have to convince anyone; they steered their shopping carts toward me as if drawn by an industrial-size magnet (“free cheese?!”) and daintily picked up the little paper cups as if they’d never seen anything like it.

They all stood there—the toad-like woman in an oversized coat; a bedraggled mother with a kid hanging from her sleeve, a tall, rangy man whose hair looked as if it hadn’t gotten over the shock of waking up. We stood together in a strange collective cheese-eating tableau, as they moaned and rolled their eyes at the sheer pleasure of it—picking up a wedge of it to peruse the label (“What is this stuff?”) as if it had been imported on the backs of virgins straight from Normandy for the very first time. “And one for the road,” snatching another sample as they rolled away toward the chip aisle. Some were sold, tossing a few wedges in their cart—“Perfect for my holiday party”—as if they needed an excuse, or as if I did—while I suspected they would unwrap it alone in front of the TV later that night, without sharing it with anyone at all.

It was hard enough to endure the smell of the stuff wafting up in waves from the table, but what was curious was that I was compelled to agree with them, regardless of what I thought. They complimented it and me, as if I were a cheesemonger who’d gone to great lengths to select it, and not a 24-year-old who watched Friends while eating sardines out of a can.

But something happens when you keep telling other people, and yourself, how good something is, what fine quality, what a perfect complement to your meal. For hours and hours. How creamy and rich—And have you tried the mushroom one? You can’t help but start to believe it must be true. With the right motivation, you could talk yourself into anything.

During a slow period, I put a sample in my mouth—and was surprised at the way it took over your tongue, unfurled its buttery breadth like a picnic blanket. You didn’t just taste cheese; you experienced it, the stunning arrival and the lingering, creamy finish.

It was a successful day. I moved a table’s worth of brie, and I’d learned that in very small doses, I could stomach it at room-temperature. My feet were starting to ache, and I thought about how I liked the job, but only because I knew it would end. I wanted nothing more than to crawl onto my couch and spend the evening watching reruns of Forensic Files, to find out what other girl vanished without a trace, so that I could make certain it wouldn’t happen to me. At 5 o’clock, I removed my apron and picked up a wedge of the mushroom triple creme, and headed toward checkout.


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