Friday, March 28, 2008
Dress Me, Father
I've been wearing suits a lot more often now that I'm back on the job interview circuit.
I don’t have that many actually, but I use them in rotation and I haven’t worn suits with such regularity since my father died last year.
The other day I dug out my old navy blue Brooks Brothers and prepared to do two, yes, two, job interviews in one day. I’m such a tramp.
I don’t want to think about how old this suit is. I got it years ago, I mean years ago, with my father.
His tastes were on the conservative side, but I trusted his judgment and he always seemed to know which tie went best with what shirt, something that still pretty much eludes me to this day.
Every time I had a job interview he’d look up and say, “are you going to wear your Brooks?”
I think about my father a lot when I get ready for job interviews. No matter how old I was, how mature I believed myself to be, I’d always go to him and ask “how do I look?”
He’d critique my appearance, checked to see that the collar was down in the back, no lint on the pants, no loose threads. It feels strange putting on one of my suits without checking with him before I go out the door.
I complained bitterly over the years about my father trying to control my life, about taking stuff from my room, sticking his nose into my personal business, but in this one aspect I always welcomed and actually sought his opinion.
Even when the Alzheimer’s had taken so much away from him, he was still able to look me over and give me an approving nod. It felt good, even though I suspected he wasn't really aware of what was going on.
Now that he’s not around, it’s up to me to judge my own appearance. And that makes me feel a little nervous and a bit lonely, actually.
I remember buying clothes in Century one time and in desperation, I turned to a woman next to me and asked her opinion of a shirt I was thinking of buying.
She seemed a bit surprised at first, but she gave me a few tips before leaving the store.
The Brooks Brothers suit still fits, though it’s a little worn in patches-—kind of like me.
As I was adjusting the jacket, I felt something on the inside pocket, a box of some kind and I assumed it was throat lozenges or chewing gum.
It turned out to be a set of Rosary beads I had gotten about three or four years ago when I renewed my interest in religion.
I just have to say here that Christianity is a lot more enjoyable now that I don’t live in fear of some psychotic in a nun’s habit bashing my face in or an incredibly short-tempered Supreme Being smiting my keester to cinders if I slip up on the Hail Mary.
I had gotten this set of beads at a store in the neighborhood. They come in a round container with a picture of small boy receiving Communion from Jesus himself. You’d never know Catholic school was so horrible by looking at this image.
I had gone to the rectory of Our Lady of Angels Church—I was a grammar school student there—and asked for a priest to bless them for me.
Things have changed quite a bit there apparently. Instead of an old Irishman or Italian, this priest was a young South Asian man. Old school is not so old anymore, I suppose.
It was comforting watching the priest take the beads in both hands and give the blessing. My Rosary beads were now sufficiently charged, and I was ready to start praying.
And then I lost them.
I had absolutely no idea where I had left. I called my gym, I looked all through the house, I went through all my drawers—nothing.
In the interim, my sister had gone to Italy and bought a beautiful set of Rosary beads, which had been blessed by the Pope himself, and these I vowed would never leave the house.
But the missing beads bothered me. Maybe I did need a homicidal nun hanging over me to make sure I didn’t lose such sacred items.
I could just imagine what would have happened if I had lost my Rosary beads back in my grammar school days.
It would have been a replay of the Spanish Inquisition in front a class full of terrified fifth graders.
Come Go With Me
On the day I had the two interviews, I wrote "Hell Day" down in my pocket calendar, which should give you an idea about how I felt about the whole thing.
Most of Hell Day was spent on the R train, going uptown and downtown. And nearly every time I got on the train, I was serenaded by the same group of older African-American men seeing the old tune “Come Go With Me.”
I always give these guys money, since I don’t consider this pan-handling—it’s work and they’re very entertaining.
They lift my spirits, especially when I’m unemployed and going through job interviews the way a hooker goes through sailors during Fleet Week.
You can hear some talented musicians as you make your way underground. Of course there was a lady at Atlantic Avenue last night who was kind of pushing it though.
Her act consisted of a beat box and a slide trombone. I didn't want to stare, but I was so sorely tempted to ask, "lady, are you for real or am I hallucinating?"
I didn't get her name, but I don't expect to see her selling out Madison Square Garden any time soon.
Now it never fails that when I'm going for interview I'll spot some imperfection in my appearance--when I’m on the train and powerless to do anything about it.
Whether it’s a wrinkle in the pants, a tiny stain on my shirt or tie, or a smudge on my otherwise perfectly shined shoes, I’ll find it and then I’ll worry about it, convinced my prospective employer will spot the fashion faux pas and drop kick me into the freight elevator.
As for the interviews themselves, well, what can you say? I hate them with a passion, I feel like an actor in a very bad movie, grinding out this ridiculous dialog that no human being would ever say, let own believe.
I actually had a woman ask me during a recent interview, “so, do you think you’d like to do this kind of work?”
Like? What are you high? I’m 50 years old and out of work, moron, what does like have to do with it?
Do you like what you’re doing? Does anyone in this stainless steel hellhole you call an office actually like their job?
I got a great idea: let’s go to each cubicle and ask every one of these Post It Note zombies if they like what they’re doing, if their suck-ass jobs fulfill all their dreams and that they’re all go merrily off to their graves knowing they’ve found the true meaning of happiness.
Just be sure to have a healthy supply of stomach distress bags handy.
I didn’t get that job, by the way. Can’t imagine why…
Then I had another situation where the interviewer forgot I was coming. She was extremely apologetic and I know what we all make mistakes, but I have to say it didn’t do much for my confidence.
Forgetting to take the garbage is one thing. Forgetting a human being in the lobby wearing his best suit is quite another.
If I had a job I would have stormed out and never returned, but you’re awfully forgiving when you’re searching for a steady paycheck so the first words out of my mouth were “do you want me to come back?”
Obviously if I had made that mistake, they would have shredded my resume and moved on to the next candidate.
So—big surprise—the people who make the rules are allowed to break them. When you reach a certain age, you really can’t be shocked by this kind of thing.
I’ve been taking tests, too, writing bogus stories to show I know something about journalism. I hate these damn things--I did this crap in high school--but there’s little I can do about that. And my briefcase is filling up with all these temporary building passes that have become a fixture in post-9/11 America.
Hell day ended with me back on the R train and another group of older African-American men trooping through the car singing a gospel tune.
I thought of joining them, as this line of work looked far more entertaining than any of the jobs I applied for. It’s a shame I can’t sing and I have absolutely no sense of rhythm.
The singers left and then a homeless man--literally dressed in rags--walked through the car. He was huge, filthy, and mumbling to himself. Most of the people in the car were frightened of him—myself included—and I don’t think he got a dime.
I always get nervous when I’m out of work and I see homeless people. This is a very unforgiving city in an extremely hostile world and sometimes you feel you’re just few clicks from the guy living in the doorstep.
So I haven’t found a job yet, but at least I found my Rosary beads.
And I discovered a fond memory of my father, at a time when my heart still holds a lot of anger toward him. I heard a lot of nice music, so I was feeling pretty good.
How do I look?