Mortified On The Subway, 1988 (Day 152)

(photo credit: Responsible by studio tdes on

I was reading somebody’s blog post this morning about how 2015 has not been a good year for her so far. She described it as “the kind of year where you spend the whole day not realizing you left the size sticker on your shirt.”

Instantly, my stomach knotted up, as a long stored away memory rushed forward, a film playing inside my head.

I was 23. I’d left my job in Baltimore and moved to Boston because I needed some independence, which mostly meant I didn’t want to live close to home. Oh, and my boyfriend lived in the Boston area too. Meaning  the whole independence thing actually played a tiny role in the whole moving thing.

A couple friends rented a place in Somerville with me and I went about a search for a job.

I owned some work clothes from my last job but decided to bump it up a notch and buy myself a new suit to wear for my upcoming job interviews. The day before my first interview, I finally made the purchase. I don’t recall much about the suit but it was of better quality than anything I’d owned before. And it fit perfectly. I bought a silk blouse to go with it.

The next day, I took my time getting ready for the interview. I blew dry my hair, put on my makeup, opened a new package of pantyhose, made sure my shoes were not scuffed or dirty, and took the tags off my brand new suit. Dressed with time to spare, I walked down the street to catch the T.

The train wasn’t crowded but I remained standing, hoping to keep my clothes wrinkle-free until I reached my destination. This was a job I wanted pretty badly. I didn’t want to give them any reason to dismiss me. And I didn’t want anything to happen that would make me lose my deliberately built up confidence.

When the train stopped at the next station, somebody I used to know walked on. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years so he stood beside me and we caught up. I told him about the job interview. He wished me luck. The doors of the train opened again. Next station.

A woman who’d been watching me talk to my friend started to walk past me but stopped in front of me instead. She got a little too close as she leaned into me. She didn’t look like somebody I should be afraid of, at least not until she entered my private space, and not because she didn’t have anywhere else to stand.

I stepped back, as best as I could in the limited area, and she reached her arm around to the back of my neck. She pulled on my collar and said quietly, “You may want to remove the tag before your interview.” Then she jumped off the train just before the doors shut.

I reached around and pulled at the tag. It was made of that light white cardboard and said the size and price of the item I was wearing. All of the people near me were watching me. I’m sure my entire body turned twenty shades of pink.

After that, I asked my old friend to scan me up and down to see if I’d left any other visible tags on my clothes. He was a bit uncomfortable but did it for me. No other tags.

The next stop was mine. I got off and walked toward my interview location. I was glad the walk was several minutes. The entire time I reminded myself that I was a good candidate for the job and I looked the part. Now that I’d been de-tagged.

I didn’t end up getting the job. The suit carried me through a few more interviews and several years on the job. I never forgot the way that woman looked, the one who told me about the tag.

For years after that incident, I kept thinking that I was seeing her in different places. Before I discovered that she was not there, I wondered what I would do if I did see her: Would I remind her of the story and thank her for telling me about the tag? Or would I feel foolish, turn away, and hope she didn’t see me?

We’ll never know. Her face, finally, seems to have faded from my memory.


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2 thoughts on “Mortified On The Subway, 1988 (Day 152)

  1. Good piece, Sara. Amazing all the things we hold onto, walking around looking as we look, that no one else knows is playing on our own continuous loop.

    1. We need to find a way to share more of those stories with our friends. We’re so caught up in trying to appear flawless that we forget that what makes us interesting and accessible is that we are not perfect. It’s a good thing for humanity that we never reach that perfection to which we’re always aspiring.

So what do you think?