Before the world stopped, I worked in events in Los Angeles. I worked for catering companies and event coordinators as a bartender/server/captain/van driver/assistant/buyer/scheduler/therapist/financial advisor/nanny… you get it, I did shit. The events ranged from weddings to funerals, from corporate seminars to award shows. Yes, I worked that event. Yes, I served that celebrity. Yes, Ellen is the asshole everyone says she is.
This was not my dream job. It was a placeholder until I made a career in acting or writing or something glory-filled. Aw, to be twenty-three and hopeful . . . In my defense, my twenties were a blast, and more than likely, better than yours. Do I have a 401K? A mortgage? Children and a spouse who love me? No! But I once threw myself a fake bachelorette party on a Wednesday with 8 of my closest “bridesmaids,” and had our massive bar tab covered by Jim Jeffries. Fair trade, I’d say! But back to the point of this section….
A job in events is always a fly by the seat of your pants, tell your family you loved them in case you get swallowed whole by the job kind of lifestyle. And I did. Get swallowed whole. Not a bite mark on me. I was Jonah, my skin and bones rotting away in the acids of the whale’s stomach, for far too long. With every plus to the job, there was a minus. I could choose my own schedule, but many months (specifically April, July, and August), events did not exist. Every event was different, yet surprisingly the same, especially if it was at Hollywood and Highland – 9 out of 10, it was Oscar-themed. I never had to go to the gym because I averaged 1,500 steps per hour. One event, I hit 20,000 steps and still had 3 hours to go. My joints will feel certain events for years and years to come. I tried finding other work, but nothing ever compared to the burning sensation of event acid.
I want to say I don’t know why I stayed, but that’s a lie. It’s because I was good at it, and I loved being good at something. I understood it’s ins and outs, and it understood me and it made me feel important and necessary, even if the event itself was completely unnecessary. I once worked a birthday party for a dog. Over $10,000 spent for a fucking dog. I loved the people I’d meet, and the food I’d eat, and the stories I’d collect, this weird pocket of society – those packed with money being served by those of us without. There were moments in events that I felt like Atlas, condemned to hold the party up so guests could keep eating and drinking and not tipping. And just when it would become too much, a co-worker would remind me, “This is not your circus. These are not your monkeys.” I’d go home tired and full and spent, and parking my car a mile away from my apartment because I didn’t own a parking spot and street parking is a journey, then crawling into bed dirty and fuzzy teethed and falling asleep in seconds. There is no better night’s sleep. Hopefully I’d have the next day off. Usually, I didn’t. So I’d get an amazing 4 hours, then arise, ready to run up that hill and make a deal with God. I did that for 8 years.
It’s less than 24 hours before *Gia’s (not her real name) ocean-themed? or was it beach-themed? whatever it was, I had to blow up a shit ton of beach balls, Bat Mitzvah. I’ve been prepping it all week alongside the event coordinator, who, far too casually, says to me as I’m leaving for the day, “Oh, you’ll need to pick up the fish.”
I’m confused. A catering company is hired, and catering brings all food. I go with the flow. “Okay, where’s pick up?”
My brain melts. “Ohhhhhhhh LIVING fish.” I’m laughing, but now I have 1 million questions. I decide it’s best to ask the important one. “Why?”
I cannot express to you how INSANELY CASUAL she is... “For the centerpieces.”
Barbaric? Yes. Do our rich clients think so? Of course not. Welcome to the 1%.
I hide my opinion. “How many fish do we need?”
She counts in her head. “7? Ehhh… 9. In case a few, ya know…”
Die. She doesn’t want to say die.
So at 5pm on a Friday, I quickly select and purchase 9 betta fish. Fun Facts about Bettas:
I call my mom. “I need names for 9 fish.”
My mom does not ask for clarification anymore when it comes to my job. “Well, what do they look like?”
I look at the one in the closest cup holder. “Scared.”
Not one of the $20, well enfinned bettas, this one is tiny, pinkish white, and clearly more concerned for his well-being than aggressively plotting an escape. A true beta among alpha-bettas.
“Willis. Name one of them Willis.”
We attempt to name the others, but my mother has a life and my life is now fish. Only fish.
Another Fun Fact about Bettas:
So THREE HOURS BEFORE THE EVENT, the centerpieces are completely reworked, and I have to hide 9 betta fish for the rest of the party under a table in a closet that I guard with my life or the location will fine us.
At the end of the party, we pawn off a few fish to Gia and her friends, and I give one to my friends at a bar later that night. Another Fun Fact about Bettas:
We name that fish Sorry because he was clearly upset by the noise of the bar and we kept apologizing to him… Anyway, this left me with 2 fish… and Willis, whom I never even brought to the event. I knew from the minute I saw that scared little baby he was mine, and that he’d be my payment for the 8+ hours of keeping his brethren swimming. His brothers, Griffin and Harry S. Truman, have passed – burying fish in downtown LA is a whole other story – but my Sweet Baby Willis lives on, stronger than ever.
I’m wearing an N95 “duckbill” mask. Over that mask, I wear another mask – a cloth mask, that I do not wear for extra protection, but for pride. I’d rather pass out than look like a duck. I round out this lewk with a face shield. I have no problems looking like a responsible scientist. I am in the airport. My life is stuffed into 3 suitcases, and a clear, plastic, quart-sized deli cup. What’s in the deli cup, you ask? Sweet Baby Willis, of course.
It’s happened. My biggest fear. Where I’d run out of money and have to crawl back to the dirt roads I came from, where butter is a food group, shoes aren’t required, and somehow the term “oooooo pig sooie” is appropriate in every setting. I’m trying to find solace in the fact that this isn’t my fault. I didn’t spend the extra $600 a week willy-nilly. I paid off my car, my credit card, and built up my savings. I tried to find work, but the only work I could get was $15 an hour at 8-10 hours a week. I’d need 3 of those jobs to survive, and not contract COVID in the process. Events will not be coming back until who knows when, and even then, how safe will they be?
I am a thirty year old ball of nerves about to move in with my mother. I’m wearing a face-shield. I’m holding a fish. Welcome to NerdTown. Population: Me.
My friend, Faith, has come with me in support… and to roll my life-bags. It is real difficult to roll 3 large suitcases and carry an equally nervous fish. He takes after his mother. Faith is also wearing a facemask and shield. I cannot express to you how attractive we are. HEADS ARE TURNING.
We hobble up to bag check. A tall Southwest Airlines attendant steps in front of me. “What do you have there?” She is referring to Willis.
I try to contain my childlike wonder of him, but it’s impossible. “This is Willis.” I hold him up, closer to her sightline. I’m practically Simba-ing him.
The attendant is not amused. Instead, she calls over her supervisor.
I am confused. What could be wrong? I read TSA guidelines, even called a TSA hotline. Betta fish are allowed. The only stipulations are a clear plastic container, and to keep the water level to a minimum. They don’t even state an amount, just whatever the fish looks comfortable in. SERIOUSLY.
A tired, cold looking supervisor saunters over. “Unfortunately fish are not allowed to fly with us.”
I can’t help my nerd from blurting out, “But TSA allows it. I researched.”
She shows zero emotion. “It’s our policy.”
It sinks in slowly, “It’s Southwest’s policy?”
Cold supervisor is still cold. “Yes, our policy.”
I turn from the cold supervisor. I can’t look at her. I feel like I’m twelve years old standing in front of the chalkboard, trying to do a math problem I can’t comprehend while the rest of the class glares, annoyed they have to wait on me. I didn’t even think to look at Southwest’s specific policy. I thought studying TSA policy was the only homework assignment.
I don’t know how long I was doing it but I’ve been staring at Faith, and she’s been staring at me. Both of us speechless. She knows this fish means more to me than I ever want to admit. For God’s sakes, I am a reasonable woman. I would’ve flushed the fucker down the toilet. But it’s Willis! The only constant in my world for this Quarantine, and for some months, the only living contact I encountered in 2020. I know, fish do not have personalities and that their memory is limited, but Fun Fact about Bettas:
Let’s get real though, Will’s is about 12 hours, at best. I got him this little hallowed out log house at Pet Smart for Christmas. It had a butterfly on top, and little flowers around it. He’d discover it about twice a day. I’d see him wake up from a nap—Another Fun Fact about Bettas:
--and I could see his thought process in his hesitant fins. He’d just stare at the house, slowly circling it. Then, he’d see that the little log had a hole. Could he swim through it? He was unsure, so he’d slowly swim up to the precipice. He’d stare inside, and after a moment, bravely stick his head in. Finally, he would swim all the way through to the other side. Fish don’t smile, but … Another Fun Fact about Bettas:
I could tell he was happy because he had this giddy energy. He had a little bounce to his swim. And about 6-8 hours later, he’d do it again.
Faith snaps me out of this memory by scolding the supervisor. “Good God, she’s having to move to Arkansas. IN A PANDEMIC.”
The cold supervisor pulls another “it’s our policy” out of her frozen ass, and walks away. Actually, I’m not sure if she walked away at that moment, but it is definitely when I stopped paying attention to her, because I began to weep. Full sobs. In two masks, and a plastic cover strapped to my forehead while clutching a deli cup containing a very unhappy fish.
I’ve never been a pet person. And it is fucking ridiculous to bring a fish onto an airplane, but goddamn it, I needed that fish. I’ve never connected with something so pure and innocent and I understand his simplicity and he does not care that I am a failure and that I am a 30 year old woman moving in with my mother because I spent my 20s all La boheme. He didn’t care that sometimes I cheer and boo at Antiques Roadshow like it’s a sport, or dance around naked trying to learn to twerk with zero ass (which I grew this year, THANKS COVID), or that I smack SO FUCKING LOUD when I chew. I loved that his needs are few but NECESSARY. Change the water once a week. Two little morsels of food a day. That his activities are few but enjoyable – swim around the bowl, eat some, sleep some, discover the log house. He only needed me. I was important. And fuck man, I haven’t felt important in a long time. Willis only lives in the present, and I have always found the present deeply unsatisfying. He makes me want to stay in the moment. We’re not burdens to each other.
“What?! They’re not letting her take that fish?!”
“No! They’re not letting her take her fish!”
“That is ridiculous! Let her take the fish!”
The bag check line of an audience is beginning to rally. I do not want to cause a bigger scene than I already have. I have pride, remember? Also, a fish is no hill to die on. Willis is very much alive, and thankfully, I have an amazing friend who will take him.
So we preform the unbreakable vow and I hand him over to Faith, who now reminds him every day that he cannot die. And one day, hopefully soon, we will be reunited.
I got on my flight. I took off my shield because it was fogging up, but I was still worried about droplets so I put on my sunglasses. A child stares at me for far too long. I don’t even have the energy to bark at him like I normally would. I just cry.
I know that I am not worthless and hopeless and unnecessary. I know that I am loveable, and have amazing friends and family, and I am not the burden or the irresponsible human that deep down I have always feared I am. This year, as many many many years have been as of late, is about accepting the things I cannot control. Not my circus. Not my monkey. Not my circus. Not my monkeys… but damn. I’d really like my own circus and monkeys at some point before we all die from droplets.
I have no idea how long I’ll be here in Arkansas. I’m saying January, but who the fuck knows. All I know is I’m alive. I had the money to fly to family, and the family to go to. I have the privilege to be able to weep in public and gain the support of a small crowd because the supervisor wouldn’t let me bring a fish on a plane.
But with all of this said, I am still a petty bitch…
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES DOES NOT STATE ANYWHERE ON THEIR WEBSITE THAT FISH ARE NOT ALLOWED ON THEIR PLANES. SOUTHWEST AIRLINES DOES NOT STATE ANYWHERE ON THEIR WEBSITE THAT FISH ARE NOT ALLOWED ON THEIR PLANES. SOUTHWEST AIRLINES DOES NOT STATE ANYWHERE ON THEIR WEBSITE THAT FISH ARE NOT ALLOWED ON THEIR PLANES. FUCK YOU FUCKING FUCKS.