Nobu lost his job when the company he worked for closed, another victim of the failing oil and gas industry of the 80’s. We needed money for Christmas so I took a job as an on-call banquet waitress at a nice hotel.
There were many challenges re-entering the work force after years of staying home with the boys and I was nervous.
The first night of work I reported to the manager, trying my best to appear calm and confident. She told me that all hotel employees had to wear and name tag and where was mine?
I always chose my words carefully when I spoke to this Icy Blond, a very competent, brittle person with a sharp tongue and no patience.
“I don’t have one”.
She pursed her lips and opened the top left drawer of her metal desk.
The Icy Blond located a cardboard box near the back and dropped it in front of me. The metal name tags clanged and rattled. I wanted to linger over my choices but her expression made it clear this was not the time to dawdle.
I chose “Grace”. Maybe it would bring me good luck.
The next night I felt a bit more confident and took the name Natasha.
The cardboard box was now on a shelf near the clock, available for new hires. I started to look forward to the excitement of being someone new for every shift. I asked a co-worker where the name Polina was from. Belarus.
I began to put together a biography in case one of the guests asked me a question.
“Hello. My name is Polina. I’m from Minsk. I have a mother, father and four brothers. I came to this country from Belarus three years ago.”
No one ever engaged me in conversation but I was prepared.
The second week at work, I punched my timecard and made a bee line to The Box. Tonight I wanted to be from Morocco. Or Egypt. The Icy Blond blocked my path.
“Where’s your name tag?”
I had assumed the hotel didn’t want to spend the money on temporary help. I would have explained my thought process but I knew that the Icy Blond appreciated brevity.
“I don’t have one”.
“Go down and order it from HR and have it by tomorrow.”
The next night I dutifully attached the shiny new metal tag to my lapel.
I was once again plain old Alice. From Denver. Married with two children.
When I left that job I added my name tag to the box. As I left the hotel for the last time I passed a new girl with dark hair. I imagined her saying with a lilting European accent,
“Hi, my name is Alice.”