When I was in seventh grade, I took an aptitude test that told me I should seek out a career as a butcher. This seemed like a shocking conclusion since, to my memory, none of the questions gauged my knife skills (poor) or my interest in animal entrails (quite low). In an act of defiance, I bucked my destiny and went on to get a bachelor's degree in Communications. My first job was with an arts organization run by a married couple. David and Elle were “free spirits” who tried to hide their entitlement behind eccentricity and pass off their lack of personal or professional boundaries as avant-garde. A couple of months into my tenure, the office was abuzz. World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was in town and would be dining at the home of my bosses. “Jen, you and Therese will need to go to our house to meet the caterers soon, so they can set up for dinner,” Elle informed my supervisor as she flitted manically around the office. “By the way,” she said with an air of forced casualness, “we've been having a bit of a…ladybug problem. So, if you happen to see any, just vacuum them up, if you could.” She hurried away as Jen and I exchanged raised eyebrows. David and Elle lived in an affluent suburb about 40 minutes outside of the city, in a mansion full of sleek, brightly colored furniture and peppered with experimental (read: nude) art. The house was swelteringly hot, even though it was March and nobody had been home. After setting down our bags and shedding our coats and blazers in the entryway, we took stock of the dining room. I gawped a bit at a large pair of purple breasts staring back at me from a painting hanging above the long table. The far wall of the room was made up entirely of windows, opening on one side to a raised deck and looking out over an in-ground pool on the other. The view was slightly marred, however, by concentrations of dark specs scattered over the bottom quarter of each tall pane of glass, like a bacterial culture growing on a clear petri dish. Jen and I glanced at each other and moved closer to the window. We stopped short when we got near enough to see that Elle had not been exaggerating about their little problem: each dark spec was, in fact, a ladybug. “Shit,” Jen muttered and turned on her heel back toward the kitchen. I quickly followed. “Do you know where they keep their vacuum?” I asked as she strode into what appeared to be a laundry room, dreading the prospect of sending a bunch of innocent ladybugs to a dusty grave. “No,” her reply was somewhat muffled as she rifled through miscellaneous household items. “…but this will do,” she emerged, grimly holding up a small blue handheld dustbuster. That's how we found ourselves, dressed in business casual, crawling on our hands and knees on the heavy off-white carpet. Jen led our bleak two-woman parade, sucking up all the ladybugs she could with the dustbuster. I brought up the rear with a roll of paper towel, scooping up those mercifully left behind. Kneeling in my blue pencil skirt, sweat accumulating under my stiff button-down shirt, I wondered how in the hell I had gotten there. Every four feet or so, we would get up and run out onto the deck. Jen opened up the dust buster, I shook out my paper towel, and we set the ladybugs free. We finished up the operation in plenty of time, a bit disheveled but surely less so than the ladybugs. The catering staff arrived shortly thereafter and began unloading large foil trays of food in the kitchen. The warm, spicy smell of potato samosas filled the room, made all the more tantalizing by the knowledge that we were not invited to stay for dinner and thus would not be partaking in the food. My mouth watered as I pushed down a wave of hunger. Glowing headlights appeared through the front windows, signaling the arrival of David, Elle, and Yo-Yo Ma himself. Jen and I quickly smoothed our rumpled blouses and skirts; I tried to pat down my flyaway hairs and performed a quick armpit smell check. David and Elle whirled in, all disingenuous warmth, showering us in greetings and feigned gratitude as we took their coats and hung them in their own closet. Mr. Ma followed close behind. He smiled genially as we made our introductions, waving away my handshake and offering a kind hug. The group ventured off for a tour of the house, and Jen and I were free to go. I snuck a few potato samosas from the kitchen and bid Jen goodnight. As I drove home, I remembered that aptitude test from seventh grade. I may not have been fated to become a butcher, I thought to myself, but I had dipped my toe into another unexpected profession: exterminator. Maybe the writers of the test knew what I was starting to learn – that you can't genuinely plan for much of anything, and throughout your life, your career path will twist and turn towards and away from what you actually studied. Or maybe they just got a kick out of messing with pre-teens.
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