A harrowing tale By Cat Weaver
I called Clare again. It’s beginning to be every other day and you’ve got to wonder if she notices. I asked, but she simply steered the conversation back to the usual track. That’s okay though, because Clare’s just that way — strictly business.
That’s actually her charm.
After our chat, I was ready to face my day. It’s been a rough period of unemployment for me. Every Monday I line up the interviews, dotting my calendar with notations regarding times, locations, contacts. Nary a blank day, save a column of blue Sundays, and yet I only make it to maybe three of them each month. The bulk turn out to be too depressing and one look at my notes will send me back to bed where work doesn’t matter.
But today things went so nicely with Clare that I went to one of the more depressing ones anyway. They want someone to “design” catalogs. I’d rather collect tolls or even shampoo hair. In fact, I went to those interviews with a bit of joy in my swollen heart. But Catalogs? I tell you, it’s a testament to Clare’s uncanny charm that I tightened a silk knot around my neck and even shined my Kenneth Coles.
The interview, of course, was another matter, one in a two-year long string of disasters. It’s one thing to get your ass to the interview and quite another to suffer well the subsequent barrage of tedious questions — old saws like why-did-you-leave-your-last-job and what-would-you-say-is-your-greatest-weakness? My chin, I said, and laughed, not at my own joke, but at the absurdity of it. Sitting there in the summer time with the impeccable suit on, again, and answering the same dumb questions I answered last week and the week before that as well. Again.
My interviewer was obviously baffled by my attitude and told me it didn’t seem like I wanted this job. I’m sure it didn’t, because I don’t. I mean: I do. But I don’t.
Here’s what it is: When my start up went under, I didn’t give a shit. I took my huge severance and my girl, Max, at the time, and I slipped off to Europe to explore. When I came back, I started mailing out proposals and re-contacting people I’d worked with. I started out happy and ambitious and full of hope, a regular hot air balloon of bright colorful ever-rising hope — but then I noticed that no one was returning my phone calls. In fact, everyone was – could it be? – avoiding my calls.
“Hello, This is Adam Taylor? I called yesterday: regarding my résumé. I sent it to Nedra Wilson about two weeks ago. When I called to follow up, she said she’d get back to me, but it’s been a couple a—”
“Nedra Wilson is not in the office right now. Can I take a message?”
“I’ve been leaving messages. I’ve left twelve messages, in fact.”
“Would you like her voicemail?”
“No: I’d like to know when she’ll be in. Is she EVER in?”
“She should be back later this afternoon.”
“Amazing. Can you coax her to call me back? I assure you I’m worth it.”
“I’ll tell her you called.”
Later the same week I called again:
“Hello, this is Adam Taylor? You know, the guy Neddie keeps blowing off?”
“I’m sorry, Nedra Wilson just stepped out.”
“I’m sure she did. Ask her to do me one teeny tiny favor, will ya?”
“You’d like to leave a message?”
“Yes: tell her I’d like her to call me and tell me to my face to Fuck –“
“I’m sorry, sir: I can’t allow you to speak to me that w—“
“I’d be glad to speak to HER that way if I could only —“
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you not to call back.”
That was about 17 months ago, and since then the situation has grown increasingly hopeless. Never mind the phone tag, even when I do get interviews they are so monstrously mismatched to my résumé, that I barely remember what it is I used to do for a living. I’ve gone from looking for an art directorship to attending interviews for entry-level positions — interviews, mind you, which usually involve grill sessions wherein I’m enjoined to confess that I lack experience doing the sort of bland, talentless, grunt work I used to happily delegate to underlings. “No CATALOG experience!” Jesus Christ, no. None. At. All.
When I get home I call Clare, but hang up as soon as I hear her voice. It’s become so easy to please me — her voice, outside of everything, cold, but there. I can dial her up like a genie and she will always respond. Icy Clare. Simple Clare. Always there at the Dash Telephone 1-800 number.
I can’t afford my analyst anymore, so I haven’t told her about Clare; but she knows everything else about me, and today, after the interview, it struck me that she’s out there in the world, hiding all this useless information about me — like an ex lover. Only, she’s got credentials.
Not like Max, who holds perhaps more information about me, but most of it is false, or imagined — coaxed and teased from one year of — that deadly bane to love and romance — intimacy. Max knows for instance, that I fart a lot and that I lie about inconsequential things — but she also “knows” that I’m easy going and aloof. This part of her understanding of me is, in the strictest sense, false. But on the surface, spot on: tender as I am, I will always wear a smirk and give an offending lover a casual kiss on the forehead in answer to her cruelest betrayals. She does not know, as my analyst does, that my life is comprised of running jokes and painstaking deceptions all geared toward fending off judgment. She never once heard the details of my failed interviews, my fear that the volume knob was quickly being turned down on my lifestyle. I didn’t tell her about my very first BUDGET and how I wiped the tears away as I informed my personal shopper that I couldn’t afford him anymore.
Clare, on the other hand, only knows that I can’t seem to settle upon a cell phone account to suit my needs. Well, even that’s an interpretation: what she “knows” is that I’ve changed from the Dash Carefree All-Over-America plan to the Dash Joy-Ride Local plan, and from that to the Dash Day-and-Night Limitless Minutes plan, and then back again to Dash Carefree All-Over-America. But with OmniLine + Limitless Data WiFi.
BTW: I don’t have a WiFi connection – my Dash account used to include WiFi and cable, but I had to cut that loose. Even my laptop is three years old now, a relic — an archeological trace in the computer hardware development record from the way way long ago when I had a high-paying cushy job hacking away at my pet project, picking up the angel’s checks — taking long lunches. Back in those days I was ahead of the game. Now, people: I’m dying here. Like a trilobite — pressed! – so tightly— pressed into the crushing layers of hardening rock).
But I have Clare’s approval. Clare approves heartily of each change I make to my account, no matter how sad or absurd, and congratulates me every time I switch services. “Good choice,” she says, and each time I’m flooded with tenderness for her. Literally.
Not only do I always make the right choices when I’m with Clare, I do it often — mostly in the evenings when we can be alone. But sometimes during the daytime. Sometimes on the train. Sometimes while walking along the crowded jostling streets full of the lucky, the boisterous employed, so full of strength and energy, so ready to thrust an elbow, swing a metal-cornered briefcase. Yes: sometimes I need her positive input and helpful demeanor in a real hurry. More and more often, in fact. That’s why I really need the Limitless Minutes Plan. I’ll switch back tomorrow.
I have another interview this week. It’s with a novelties manufacturer, Harmon Industries, makers of boxing nun puppets and tattoos that state your philosophical bent in calligraphic script. My savings are running low and I really must try to take this one seriously.
Okay. So I took Lolly to Atlantic City this weekend past. Lolly is my dog. No, not really. Lolly is my new squeeze, but she’s a lot like a dog. She wears dresses like a dog, with more tolerance than grace. I met her at the bar across the street. She was in there at 3:00 to “get out of the heat” and so was I. Well, actually, I was there to escape the heat. I’d rolled a drunk on the train and a cop chased me out of the station. Thing is, I only wanted to see what he had on him, the drunk, I mean. I was just curious. But he had so much – so much! So… Maybe I can take Lolly to Atlantic City again this weekend — maybe I can win something to coast on a while longer.
Before I go to bed, I check out the Dash website to see if I can find a picture of Clare. So many pictures of very sophisticated women in headphones, but none of them look like Clare: you know — perfect and wise and sweet… so I have to find Lolly in the back of my mind wearing that dress I bought her in Atlantic City. I fix my mind on her, but I find I have to tidy her hair and re-arrange the dress. Only after a lot of fussing and re-arranging do I manage to make her look the least bit like Clare. Then I settle down to a listless wank. I use my right hand until it gets dead tired and then I switch to the left. “Good choice,” I hear Clare saying, and I strive on valiantly and with much greater enthusiasm.
On my way to the interview, this morning, I got an ink mark on my pants so I turned around and went home and surprised myself with some weeping. Then I took a drink and went to bed.
It’s easy to be hard on me. I know I seem spoiled. I know it looks like I had it too easy and I’m falling apart in the face of hardship. But I started in the middle of this story. I’ve been working hard, Bub. I’ve been trying to make myself marketable. I taught myself three new software packages and put together custom portfolios for every big interview. I kept looking at the sunny side of things for a very long time. This, I told myself, is an OPPORTUNITY, and I wasn’t about to let it go to waste. I threw myself into the void and smiled at the danger, I swear. I even tried working for Greenpeace.
But I’m watching all my effort and good intentions go for nothing. I’m seeing scorn on the faces of interviewers instead of the admiration I’m supposed to see. For all my efforts, all my rich experience, I’m not getting anywhere with this changing careers thing. Recently I tried to re-market my growing list of forays into ever varying fields as “F-L-E-X-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y”. But no: no one wants someone flexible: they want someone who’s “had catalog experience”.
In the morning I call Clare, but the Dash customer service computers are down and I get a real person and she hangs up on me. Clare would never do that. SHE NEVER blames me for my indecision. Instead, she admits her mistakes: “My mistake,” she says, each time I get tripped up by the huge network of options, Sometimes she’ll say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your answer” and I blush with gratitude and say something non-sequitous just to hear her apologize again. Apologies are rare these days. It’s more and more common to get hung up on.
And now, after this cruel challenge to my competence, I have to prepare myself, still yet again, for another interview.
Today it’s for a long-term packaging production gig. Izabelle Brown, my interviewer and head of quality control, lets me know in “no uncertain terms” that “attention to detail” is “CRUCIAL” in this position. She eyes my three-button suit and my Coles. She assures me the job is not creative. I am made to understand that creativity is positively frowned upon. She all but spits on my book before gingerly pushing it back toward me, across her vast, empty, shining, bewildering desk.
When I get home I go to bed and take Glen Fidich with me.
Before Max left me, I was still living pretty well. I’d cut a lot of expenses, sure — fired my personal shopper, ditched the rented parking space (parked the car on the street where it was immediately vandalized for the sound system) and I had run through my severance, but I still had savings.
Yet I could barely get a gig. Who needs an art director when they have, right at the front desk, an underpaid secretary who made her niece a lovely birthday card with MSWord’s clip art and who got straight A’s in all her studio art classes at SVU? Who needs a “consultant?” There are plenty of desktop publishers who can handle various handy software packages, all equipped with forms and borders, and even little icons. By the time CEOs had finished razing their company’s art departments, rates were lower than I’d made when I started my career straight out of college eight years ago. I’d become obsolete.
When I started to cut corners on dinners and concerts, Max bailed out, and my whole life seemed to follow her: Eventually I wound up in Queens.
Still yet, my exile to the outer limits of civilized society, my sad and undeserving plummet to the darkest bottom of the pits of hell was not enough to satisfy the spiteful hearts of the gods. No: my ravaged car was subsequently repossessed. And now, just last week, I solemnly bowed before my keyboard and E-Bayed away half my vinyl collection and a third of my wardrobe. I am now considering what my organs are worth.
It’s a Friday morning when I get a call from one of my agencies. I’m signed up with fourteen of them but I only hear from two or three. I suspect the others were contrived by the government as an experiment in using despair as a weapon in case of war. Anyway, Asha, my contact, is calling to ask if I have any connections I can help her out with.
“Um,” I tell her.
“You know: things are really slow these days. It’s a tough market. I just wondered if maybe you could tell me what places you’re getting work from.”
“Let me get this straight, Asha” I say, ignoring the sobs I seem to hear coming from her end of the line, “Let me see if I understand, because it seems like I must be MISS-understanding: YOU are asking ME to help YOU find contacts.”
“Because last time I checked? Last time I checked, it was YOUR job to find contacts for ME. YOU were supposed to be lining up interviews for ME. I mean: am I nuts? Or is that NOT the dynamic?”
The sobbing gets louder:
“You see. The thing is: we’ve moved. TargetMarket? We couldn’t afford the rent in the Chrysler Building anymore. I called to tell you that.”
I hang onto the phone as if clinging to a life raft. I hear her suck in her breath, responding to my own breathless silence…
“I just called to tell you that. Actually.”
I hang up the phone.
“Asha” by the way? It means “hope” in Sanskrit.
I go back to bed.
We all try to talk about ourselves as though our lives were stories –as if each moment followed from the other coherently. But that’s not right. Really we are a lot of criss-crossed wiring. Anyway, I think I stayed beneath the covers for two days, rising only to take the occasional piss. I got up finally when I found myself considering whether or not to just wet the bed.
I have to make another interview anyway.
So I shower and sit down with some coffee and that’s when it strikes me. I have to call Clare and cancel the whole thing. I have to stop this toxic relationship.
But when I hear her voice, I just can’t do it. She’s the only one. The only one these days who gives a teensy turd what I do. So I switch services back to Limitless Minutes instead. As always, she seems pleased with my choices. “Good choice,” she says, and I beam from face to loins.
Whereas Lolly never called me (I just realized that on my way out the door, simultaneously noting that I’d forgotten to get these damned pants dry cleaned) She hadn’t called me the whole time I was in bed. I could have died for all she cared. I could be dead.
I’m in bed again and this time I mean it: I’ll die here. I’ll just die right here wrapped up in my 1,000 thread count Ralph Lauren Classic Collection silk sheets. It’s getting out of bed that causes all the trouble.
The interview had been hopeless. I’d forgotten what it was for and even who to speak to. I felt like an imposter standing in front of the french-manicured secretary, her polished desk keeping my soiled khakis a respectable distance from her slender knees. She called the art department but they had no interest in me.
So she called production. Never heard of me: could I do type specs? Yes.
She watched me out of the corner of her eye while she spoke next to Editorial. Yes, Mr. Williams would see me for the proofreading job. Oh. That was it.
Mr. Williams looked weary. He’d been doing my job. Sorry, I said. I’d have been doing it if I’d only been there. They’d think about it, he said — they had several more interviews scheduled that day. I understood and then I left.
On the way out I stopped to make an appointment with the Production Department.
I thought about food on the train but that made me tired so I fell asleep and missed my stop. I was now hungrier than ever, so I got out to forage and found a diner. My head hurt and I couldn’t eat whatever it was that I ordered, so I slipped out without paying. The waiter came out and yelled at me and this made me feel really kind of lost. So I called Clare.
And this time I told her it was over. She wasn’t good for me.
“My mistake,” she said, genially.
Feeling a little better, or at least, feeling like I’d made a bold new step toward recovery, I stopped into another diner.
In a diner the eggs are always nice. I had them scrambled and piled them on whole wheat toast. Then I had some ice cream and then I had three cups of coffee.
All this made me weepy. So I went and had a good cry in the men’s room. On the way out, people were looking at me the way they do lately. My guess is that the bathroom was less soundproof than I’d figured.
I got on the N train feeling more alienated, more picked on than ever — which made me remember that I was angry at Lolly. I’d have called her, right there and then, but I was rattling through the long dark tunnels which sever me hopelessly from my Dash lines, and, anyway, my break with Clare left me unprepared to deal with all things cellular, so I just sat and stared at an abandoned newspaper which said DAPPER DAN DEAD. Lucky bastard, his exemption from all this declared so succinctly in huge block letters.
I thought about the clutter in our attic back home when I was a kid. It all piles up, day after day after long year. I thought of the endless stretch of days before me. I thought of the color-coded notes on my desktop calendar at home and the toothpaste I have to taste every morning. When I got back to the apartment, I’d go to bed and never get up again. It was a mistake in the first place, this getting up.
But when I did get back I didn’t go straight to bed — I sat in the kitchen and drank scotch and began to doze while sitting up in my Eams chair near the window. Eminently salable, I thought, wearily, as through half-shut eyes, I noticed the sunset bleeding slowly all over the Manhattan skies.
It reminded me of shrimp shumai, so I called Lolly and we went to Wo Hop. She wouldn’t sleep with me though. Not since I hadn’t called her for three whole days she said. My mistake.
That’s the thing about women — everything is your fault. But, like I said before, Lolly’s my dog, so unlike most women, she didn’t make me talk about it.
I wish she had. Or else maybe I’d just like to have someone listening … but no one is. If someone were, I’d be there to listen to them back: to hear what they had to say about me: what I’ve been doing, what I should be doing, what I can do to save my life. But no one says anything. It’s as though I picked up a big echoing shell and put it up to my curling pink ear, and I can hear the entire empty world saying nothing to me. Nothing. Over and over.
Clare always assures me that my Dash account will be static free and I will be heard. I will be heard. I used to take some heart in this. Oh, Clare!
Lolly poked sullenly at the food I’d paid for and I missed Clare so suddenly that I felt sick. And I felt so sick and bitter that I told Lolly to just piss off and don’t expect another call from me ever. Then I just got up and left the restaurant.
So, here I lie: and I’m never ever getting out from these sheets again.
Last night I was enjoying a rather arduous wank when I realized it: I need something else.
I need something else.
Well, we all know what that means. “Something else?” It made me put my dick down. So then I’m just lying there with my boner intact and no relief in sight – and religion, peeking its sneaky hooded head over the horizon of my dreams.
So this morning my bone’s lying with me like a stranger and I stay in bed with it until noon when I get up for a spine-tingling piss.
That takes the air outta my raft so I have a few drinkies and get a headache and go back to bed — the better to be fresh for my interview tomorrow. Whatever.
But as I’m crawling back into this fetid nest of despair, I start weeping again — weeping like a hundred unwed mothers. Weeping like Jesus Christ’s very mother.
And I can’t see how to make it stop, so I finish off the bottle…
… I’ve called Clare and she comes to me in a white robe and says “my mistake” and she’s holding hands with all these other women in white robes and they’re all wearing headsets and Clare says it’s my choice whether to have a Care Free Limitless Minutes calling plan or not.
When I wake up of course it’s clear to me that I must change calling plans. What is more, I might as well get up and go to my next interview — I mean what could be worse than weeping all the time and getting drunk in bed?
It is beautiful outside. My neighborhood is flooded with sunlight. The free and clear skies are limitless, and WiFi is in the air all across America.
At Boynton International, Emile Vascloff is in charge of direct mail. He’s very organized and detail-oriented: he has a degree in detail orientation. He thinks I won’t be happy there, working in the production department as a team player. He suggests that I’m a flighty artistic type whose ambitions will have him out the door as soon as Starbucks buys Google. “I see here that you don’t have any experience with data input.” It seems that’s a large part of this desktop publishing position here at Boynton International. “I see you’ve never done trafficking. I wonder if you can tell me what you HAVE done?”
When I get home, I call Clare and add some upgrades to my account. I change my number and then change it back. I switch it to another phone and then cancel my account and open it up again. I try to choose Limitless WiFi Plus Free Ride Sweepstakes and Tranquil Cupcake Nationwidespread Validictory Handjobs. This makes Clair say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understa —“ and I curse at her, curse at her, curse at her, while she says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your answer.” I am laughing, tearfully, breathlessly, when I feel a sudden burst of clear blue limitless worldwide elation as Clare breaks, finally, repeating like a mantra: my mistake… my mistake… my mistake… mymistake… mymistake… mymistakemymistakemymistake…. mmmmmmmmmmmmmstake…