"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."--Humphrey Bogart
Bogey sure knew what he was talking about.
I was sitting in the office of a Wall Street-area company today waiting to go into a job interview.
I felt tired, still cold from the brutally frigid temperatures that have descended upon this city, and a little edgy. It's been a while since I've on an interview and I felt nervous.
I was filling out the application form--something I truly hate, as I have to cram my entire work history into tiny little boxes. Isn't that what resumes are for?
I had to wait for another applicant to finish her interview, which rubbed me the wrong way. I know I'm not the only person who answered the ad, but when I walk into a company, I like to pretend they're not seeing anyone but me, that I'm the only person they'd even consider hiring.
What can I say? I want to be loved. When I know someone else is ahead of me, I feel like I'm in a barber shop--I still remember those. All that was missing at this place today was the loud voice booming out, "next!"
So I'm struggling with this form when I sense a life form walking through the reception area.
Don't look, I tell myself. Don't look at the competition. It's bad karma, bad luck, bad news all around.
Then I heard her speak.
"Thank you," my sworn enemy said to the receptionist. "Take care."
Wait a minute, I said to myself. I know that voice.
In fact, I did. I looked up and realized that I knew the rest of her, too. She was one of my former co-workers, who had been laid off along with me.
And here she was, interviewing for the same job that I was trying to nail. Why, small world, isn't it? Yes, and a rather sick one sometimes, too.
I called to her and she came back and greeted me. We quickly established that, yes, indeed, we were after the same post, and it got a little awkward.
It was like the scene in Casablanca, when Humphrey Bogart first sees Ingrid Bergman in his saloon.
I was half-expecting Victor Lazlo to walk in looking for the letters of transit. Here's looking at you, kid. Only I wish I weren't.
"Under normal circumstances," I said, "I'd wish you luck. However..."
I didn't bother finishing the rest of that sentence. We said our goodbyes, promised to stay in touch, and then she left while I sit back on the couch and sank down to the ninth circle of hell.
Jesus, I know the job market is bad, but running into a former co-worker on an interview? This isn't Mayberry, for God's sake, we're not applying for a job at the local mill.
This is New York, a city of 9 million or more people, a bustling metropolis brimming with business. What the hell what was she doing here, damn it?
Round Up The Usual Candidates
I thought this kind of crap only happened in sitcoms. I was considering using this is in one of my stories or screenplays, but who in the hell would believe it? I'm not sure I do and I was there.
I can't help but do the job hunter's math: I have more experience than my former colleague, but she's younger. I know more, but she'll cost less. Something sure as hell does not compute.
I put those thoughts aside for the interview and did my best. I made sure to do the pre-and post-interview chitchat: Gosh, it's cold out there; you have a nice office, and where's the men's room?
I came home on the subway tired, even colder, and crabby as hell. I couldn't seem to get out of Rector Street and get back home.
The W train pulled into the station and just sat there, like an 8-car potted plant, while the wind from up above jumped the turnstiles and blew through the station like a harried commuter.
I stared at a poster for the Academy Awards show and thought how cool it would be to attend that thing, to win an award, like I had fantasized all these years.
Hell, I'd be happy to host thing in place of Jon Stewart. I'm a funny guy...when I have a job and it's warm...and I'm in a good mood. Maybe I should let Stewart take this one.
Finally, the damn W pulled out and an R crawled in behind it. I took a seat, read a little, napped, and then looked up at the ads running the length of the car.
There was the picture of Jerry Orbach for the New York Eyebank. Next to that, a photo of a very unhappy couple moping beneath the heading "Don't Let Impotence Ruin Your Life."
No, I thought, let marriage do that instead.
I don't know why I'm so down on marriage, since I never did take the plunge or bite the dust. Maybe I'm just being bitter by proxy.
There was an ad for a local college with the requisite photos of smiling young people energetically doing something.
I don't think I ever looked that happy when I was in college. And I certainly wasn't that active. The ad had this slogan "Start here, go anywhere."
Sure, I muttered to myself, start here and wind up freezing your ass off on the R train at 50 years old with no job.
Okay, that was harsh. But it's another world when you don't have a place to go to in the morning.
I know I'll miss this time when I finally do land a job, but right now I feel like an invader in my own neighborhood.
I walk down the streets in the morning or early afternoon hours and all I see are little old ladies out shopping, delivery trucks and local merchants sprucing up their stores.
Sometimes I see the homeless Arabic man, who hangs around one of the mosques that have cropped up in the neighborhood, or at a Middle Eastern food store on Fifth Avenue.
The other day I saw him speaking with his Styrofoam coffee shop and then waving his hand over it, as if he were blessing the thing.
Is this what's awaiting me? I ask myself.
I had a 10 am dentist appointment today and why not? It's not like I have to be at an office or anything.
On the way back I passed a local coffee shop where Mexican immigrants hang out looking for day work.
There are the kind of people we walk by without really seeing. They're always at this spot, so they've become part of the landscape.
But I did notice them today, the poor bastards, standing out in the freezing cold waiting to get the signal from somebody, anybody, to give them some work.
As I think of it now, the odds are that any work these guys did get today was probably outdoors, too. So they probably didn't get a chance to escape the bitterly cold temperatures.
Now rest for the weary; no warmth for the frozen.
I don't want to even think about what these guys have to go through, but I will the next time I find myself complaining on the R train.