The new growth industry: kidnapping. The shovel ready job: murder. The secret history of the modern world: The Foolchild Invention.
It's an invention for fools and children. It's called the future.
I found the correct number. I took one last deep breath. The journey begins, again. A blast of white light greeted me as I opened the portal of potential. Come to the light of low pay and long hours, my son! I found myself blinking back tears as my peepers struggled to adjust to the artificial sunburst. First the cruel voyage across the sun’s anvil, now this fresh agony. It’s not easy being a vampire, let me tell you. It’s not even that sexy, contrary to what you might have repeatedly heard.
“Hi! Are you here to apply?” An edge of discontent and grinding boredom competed with the forced cheerfulness in the voice of the receptionist. She was several years my junior, but already showed the weight gain and world weariness that are an occupational hazard in the intense world of asking people why they are here and what they want. The stress from such demands could wear away the Rock of Gibraltar, so imagine what it does to a very average young girl who dared to fly where eagles only dare.
I was still recovering from having the delicate inner structures of my eyes taxed to the limit by my encounter with the searing light of truth, so my answer was slow in coming. I finally managed to get enough control to communicate my purpose. I was rewarded for this effort by a smile that while more pitying than warm at least seemed to be entirely genuine. “You’ll need to fill out these forms.” Papers seemed to materialize from nowhere as my vision still struggled to interpret my new surroundings. “Take a seat over there.”
Resting my fundament on one of those, “three for the price of four,” pieces of furniture was quite welcome. I was starting to feel a little faint and I think it was only the massive amounts of refined caffeine plant I’d ingested earlier that kept me from landing in a drooling heap on the floor of the overly bright office.
I went to work on the forms. Even in this futuristic computerized wonder-world we now live in I was still forced to scratch on a stack of dead tree remnants. Honestly, where is the progress? One would think that by this deep into the 21st century we’d have some sort of virtual reality process or something. And where the fuck is my hover car, for that matter? In any case I kept writing name and number on the appropriate lines, over and over. Yes, I am unemployed. No, I do not suffer from miner’s black lung disease. Yes, I graduated high school. No, the dog next door is not speaking to me through the wall, telling me to kill. Yeah, this was going to take a while. This is the long lonesome paper road to economic recovery and ex nihilo job creation.
As my eyes slowly recovered from the shock of the bright light fright I began to notice a few details of the cramped waiting room. A maze of cubicles worthy of a Dilbert strip sprawled out behind the front desk and every so often a pudgy woman or scrawny guy could be seen picking their way through the well-padded maze like one of those targets in Hogan’s Alley. ”You were right to fire, but that target clearly is protected by layers of flab built up through years hunched over a desk. Next time aim for the head.” Or, “You shouldn’t have fired. That target has three to five years of payroll experience and as such has tremendous human value, far more than you do.”
Again, I noticed how the business drones made it a point to hide from my gaze. I don’t even think it was because I was having homicidal violence fantasies about them. It was more embarrassment, as if there was a certain shame in everything they did and that shame was especially amplified by the presence of an outsider who had yet to be fully corrupted. Then again, I just might have a really crazy looking appearance or something. It couldn’t be ruled out.
I wasn’t alone in the waiting room. I was joined by a few lost souls that made me feel downright optimistic about my own miserable circumstances. First there was this old boy, looking every day of seventy, but obviously not ready for blissful retirement and gold watches and strutting around with his withered genitals exposed at my gym and all that other good stuff. Instead he was a few chairs down, cutting a deep frown into his wrinkled face and fretting over the same forms I had, spotted hands shaking away. He was probably not very happy about having to check the “yes” box for “have you gone over a decade without any type of joy whatsoever in your life.” I mean, even I could still honestly say “no” to that one, although who knows what the future holds.
We were joined by two other individuals facing a bank of computerized wonder on the far wall, like something out of the most depressing Star Trek episode ever. First there was your classic working class scum-bag, dressed in his finest denim and plaids for this important employment summit. You could tell it was high stakes as he left the beer-stained Harley Davidson shirt and the you-don’t-even-want-to-know stained trousers back at the Baby Momma’s house. Despite the heightened levels of self-awareness on the “looking like shit” front he still seemed to be struggling mightily with this so-called “com-pu-ter” if the seeming random pawing at the keyboard was any indication. No, my good man, you’re not going to need to hit the “PrtSc/SysRq” key too many times when you fill out a basic on-line application form.
Completing this triumvirate of unique and valuable special snowflakes caught up in the gears of progress was a dumpy looking woman of perhaps forty. She was operating the technology of the bold new world with the exhausted ease of someone who was very familiar with clacking keys and glowing letters. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of payroll background lurked behind her watery eyes. If it was substantial and she was applying for the same position, I was pretty much cooked. Yup, this bitter and world-weary sack would probably be viewed as the best possible choice. I guess it wasn’t the constant losing that bothered me as much as who I kept losing to. I could see falling short against other young hot-shots in a brutal shark tank type fight for highly desirable promotions or something. But here I was, getting bent over by the world’s least interesting woman in a battle for a job that’s the tie and suit equivalent of working in a salt mine.
No, no time for that sort of pessimism. I’m still likable, I still have a decent background full of books and taking tests, I deserve this. Chin up, fill the form.
After writing my name for probably the tenth time I finally reached the bottom of the stack and the dreaded I.Q. test that lurked there like a movie monster at the bottom of verbiage swamp. Too bad I hadn’t gone to law school like I used to dream about when I was a little snot-rag filler watching Perry Mason: I could probably sue this place into the Stone Age. Everyone knows that BS like “intelligence” or “a personality that doesn’t immediately grate” are the persona non grata of today’s stimulated economy. Can you clack the fucking keys? Can you use a highly specialized computer program used by us and one other office in Calcutta? These are the important issues. Smart people sometimes win arguments and likable people sometimes get the spotlight, and we certainly don’t want that when we can have cubicle rats who scurry around, avoiding the light and the gaze of others and occasionally emitting a squeak or two.
Ok, back to the examination. Serious, this time. “You have $500 dollars.” Well, hot dog. This was more than a simple racist and culturally biased exploration of mental prowess, it was honest-to-goodness economy porn. Somewhere John Maynard Keynes is leaning back in a comfy chair and softly moaning. “Required widgets cost $1.75.” Oh God, widgets. I’m going to lose it. “How many can you purchase?”
My mind was racing and my hands were struggling to catch up. The combination of a massive, imaginary windfall and the extreme challenge of fifth grade long division certainly form a heady cocktail. As I regained my center a bold stratagem began to form in the frontal lobes. Maybe I should just throw the test and do as poorly as possible. They’ll think I’ve got some secret, incredibly complicated plan going and hire me out of fear for what I might spring on them. Yeah, pull some wild end around and hit them where they least expect it. “You’ve got a Master’s Degree in some esoteric nonsense but you can’t do basic math? What is the story, man?”
It’s pretty telling that I was reduced to even considering this sort of Byzantine maneuvering, but a steady diet of failure will do that. The good news was I decided against taking the dive after a brief internal debate. I still had my arrogance as an academic and Big Brain to consider, after all. Pride will screw you over every time. I did the basic math to the best of my abilities and having put paid to the insensitive and divisive evaluation I returned the entire stack to the desk. Approval shown out from the receptionist’s round face for just a moment. It was almost like we were having a moment of genuine connection, recognizing our common humanity and decency, in spite of everything. Then she handed me a plastic cup.
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