I sat alone in the waiting room, trying to let the intellectual sophistication of my surroundings seep into my well-scrubbed pores. I’d scrubbed myself with extra vigor (with my yellow medicine soap and my thick-napped turquoise washcloth) in the shower earlier that morning, knowing I needed to make an outstanding first impression. I’d learned something from past interviews; poor hygiene wouldn’t prevent me from landing this entry-level administrative job at the university. I really needed this job, too, for I’d just about burned through my savings, not that they had offered much kindling.
As I stared straight ahead at the closed reddish-brown door leading into the room or office or whatever where the interview would transpire, I wondered if my lack of experience would cripple my chances. I’d had several office jobs over the years, but none of those jobs had lasted longer than six months allegedly due to the cratering economy, or allegedly due to merger-related downsizing, or allegedly due to a rat infestation. (I could never find out how a rat infestation could drive an international financial company branch office out of business in this era of modern exterminating technology.) (The company had a branch office in Toronto.) My supervisors would tell me they liked my performance as they downsized me, but most supervisors probably say that to all their downsized employees as a formality, to give those poor fired souls a positive mental outlook; I imagined only the nastiest, most irresponsible employee would receive a negative critique. But what about someone with slight body odor? No matter how thoroughly you washed, you could miss a spot; you couldn’t smell your own aroma, but everyone else could. Or maybe the scruffs on my trousers had grown too obvious—I visited the coin laundry down the block from my studio apartment several times a month, possibly too infrequently to maintain a professional appearance.
My appearance as I sat in the waiting room looked acceptable to me—no stains, no wrinkles, a pleasant smell. I’d worn a suit I’d bought for this interview: a two-buttoned gray suit with a white shirt and a blue necktie; my other suit, the three-buttoned gray one, came across as too fussy, I thought, considering I’d worn that suit quite a bit to my previous job, the rat-infestation one, where my coworkers didn’t act in a convivial manner, at least around me; the suit (among other factors) must have repulsed them. The two-buttoned one would probably have more appeal.
But what if I showed too much eagerness during the interview? What if I acted like a spastic geek? I hadn’t had any caffeinated beverages that morning, no coffee or soda or energy drinks. And I vowed not to discuss the erotic cyborg vampire stories I’d posted onto the Net—six stories in three years, too few or too many? I’d learned not to mention the stories’ erotic element during interviews, but some interviewers might also dislike science-fiction, horror, or both. I could mention my other hobbies, but the interviewer might consider them pointless and immature, not an unlikely scenario considering the university’s prestigious reputation; the university had buildings with actual marble arches and ran half-page ads in The New York Times and—
The reddish-brown door opened. A woman poked her head out and called my name.
I walked through the door, touching it with my fingertips; the surface felt like actual expensive hardwood, not like actual cheap plastic. She led me down the hall and into a spacious conference room. A man sitting in a reddish-brown wooden chair before a reddish-brown wooden oval table got up, extending his hand. I shook it. Now he thought I had a limp-fish handshake. I should have started working out months earlier. He looked so tall and muscular. He also looked so handsome. He resembled the swordsman on that medieval fantasy cable show, the one with the dwarf and the dragons and all those naked ladies. The man in the conference room most likely scored with the ladies far more often than I did, though I tended to prefer writing my erotic cyborg vampire stories over dating; I couldn’t deny my creative urge, despite the other, more basic needs I sometimes felt. He most likely pitied me the moment he saw me.
Or maybe not—his dark-blue suit had two buttons, an auspicious sign.
I sat at the table, across from my interviewers. The woman looked great, too; a few tendrils of her long dark hair snaked down the front of her dark-blue blazer, which had two buttons, another auspicious sign. But I quickly averted my glance; I’d learned that female coworkers, particularly the supervisory ones, disliked male ogling. But she must have noticed my line of sight. Someone who looked like her couldn’t lack for companionship or for money, either. I’d read about scientific research studies proving that tall, good-looking people on average earned far more at work that we short, ugly lumps did. With success apparently beyond my reach due to my physical appearance, I despaired for—
“What positive qualities do you feel you could bring to this position?” the man asked.
“Positive qualities,” I said. “Well, as for positive qualities, I feel I could bring to this position, ah, well, ah—”
I stammered into silence. An inordinate amount of time passed; I didn’t want to look at my watch for the exact measurement, thus adding rudeness to my incompetence.
“Why don’t we move on?” the woman asked, her voice neutral.
“I can bring a skilled level of detail to the everyday operations of your administrative department,” I blurted.
“All right, thank you.”
That night, sitting in my bedroom, staring at my laptop screen as that moonwalking poodle video played on YouTube, my hand fishing around inside a half-eaten bag of nacho cheese puffs, I thought some people marched to the proverbial different drummer. I didn’t have the self-abasement required to succeed in a ruthless world. Who needed a fat salary when you had talent and dignity and enough money to pay for Internet service for at least another month?
Copyright © 2013 by David V. Matthews