The Tricky Business of Image Making / Part 2
My interviewer eyes me up like a package of reduced meat,
the excess blood squishing beneath the plastic wrap.
“Maybe, Jacob, or can I just call you boy? Maybe boy, you’re
just a hypersensitive, groveling little wimp who’s out here to
make mommy happy. You think I don’t see it? Maybe your
precious little ethical dilemmas are there to hide your own
lack of cojones. What we big shots in the corporate world call
a waste of sperm. This is a tricky business, boy, and I sure
as hell don’t need you taking up my time while there’s money
to be made. You think I’d trust you to sell anything of mine?”
Good lord, if there were no such thing as selling, the man’s
vocal cords (and now I realize the testicles as well) would
shrivel up, become vestigial.
I do see what’s happening. He’s testing my limits, finding the
exact point at which I will abandon everything I claim to hold
dear. Hold out. Hold out. “But I maintained a 3.8 grade point
average at (but now instead of sounding romantically bluecollarish
as it always had before, it sounds like a cheap state
school; as I say it, it even sounds second rate to me, more
like a correctional facility than a university) Raritan State.
“Hah!” he laughs as he looks at my resume. “German and
English Literature? That’s practical. Jesus, why do they keep
sending me these people? Boy is too good for you. I’ll call you
faggot.” He knows he has me.
“But maybe I’m like this for a reason. Maybe I can fix
whatever’s wrong if I just follow you around and see
firsthand how you apply your American Business Creed. See
how it works. Maybe I can absorb just enough of your
greatness to effect my cleansing, no better, my rebirth.
Rebirth, get it? Phoenix Office Sys—ah, forget that literary
shit, that’s the old me. The new me says give me some tips
on the swagger. The new me wants to know how I can be just
“People like you can never be like people like me.” And before
I know what hit me, he’s kicking me in the ribs with shiny
black shoes that are harder than I would have imagined.
Probably, he gets custom ass-kicking shoes made for wimps
like me, probably has a direct line right to a fellow hard ass
in Mexico or Taiwan. I fall into a tight, defensive crouch,
bleating “Mama! Mama!” in a high-pitched girly shriek. I am
afraid of being booted right through the window, which in
true corporate-park style runs ceiling to floor. Luckily, his
phone rings before the strength of the glass can be tested
with my back.
And with that I leave whimpering on all fours.
Balls, I convince myself, only get you so far. OK, they’ll
usually get you what you want, but is that always good? Too
much balls and you can’t ever be truly happy, you know
smell the flowers and all that. Too much and you’ll be
nothing more than a corporate conquistador who kicks
milksops like me around, nearly out of windows. Admittedly,
this is an inconsequential, unsatisfying, particularly
intesticular kind of consolation. So, as I evolve into an
upright creature somewhere between the copy machine and
the elevator, I decide to take action. I go back and start to
make an enlarged copy of my bare ass. I know it’s trite, but
it just seems so liberating to be plopped down on the
ImageMaker 4000, Phoenix’s workhorse model, the crown
jewel of their line. The problem is, the secretary catches me
and starts yelling “Mr. Majkowski! Mr. Majkowski! he’s, he’s.
. .” so I don’t get to sign it and slip it under the door of B. (for
Ballsy?) Majkowski. The secretary, middle-aged and every bit
a gossipy, blue-dressed cliché, looks at me with such
repulsion that it’s hard not to judge myself. Anyway, I get out
and pull my pants up in the elevator. People snicker.
Coming back to a reality of business literature spread across
my bed, I realize it would be damn near impossible to have
strayed much further from Tip #3 (behind “Prepare, Prepare,Prepare” and “Get a Good Night’s Sleep”) in How to Knock
‘Em Dead at Interviews, which states, “Visualize Success.”
Then there’s tip #4, which is not even a tip. It says, “You’re
Worth More Than You Think.” Does this mean my mother’s
right about me after all? Is it possible that her bias isn’t
some kind of maternal dementia? Maybe I am worth a shot.
Maybe in six months time I’ll be liaising with the best of
them. Maybe I’ll be awarded salesperson of the month for
exhibiting heretofore unknown levels of stick-to-it-ive-ness
without thinking twice about it. Maybe no more lump.
Out of nowhere, my sister walks in. She is five years old and
wants what she always wants, namely, me to tell her a story.
“Please, please, please, please, please, please, please!” she
begs as she lumbers onto my bed and thrusts her face into
the cold shaft of light from a lamp suspended by a clamp—a
leftover from college. “Please, please, please. Please, Jakey!”
This lamp provides the only light in the house at 12:21.
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“Nah. I’m awake.” She points to a picture of a copy machine.
“That’s a copy machine, silly.”
“What’s a copy machine?” She makes a face like she has just
swallowed something our mother has worked for an hour to
get her to eat--a stuffed pepper maybe--in exchange for the
promise of chocolate and marshmallow ice cream. “Say you need to give one of your drawings to mommy, but
you want to give one to daddy too. You put it in the copy
machine and it copies it.”
“You mean it draws the whole picture over again?”
“Yep. You start with one picture and you get two. Isn’t that
neat?” “Yeah. That’s neat.” Shirley waits to make sure I’m done.
“Don’t leave us.”
I have to think about this. “I promise that if I go, I’ll come
back again as soon as I can.
Shirley is silent. I am glad she is not old enough to shoot
back, “Cut the equivocation bullshit and just admit you’re
leaving. Hell, for a long time. Maybe for good. And it’s
because you don’t care about anything. Because you have no
idea what you want. You’ll just leave. Like that. Like nothing.
Leave me, your adorable little sister, me, leave me. For what?
Again: For what? A career? A job? An opportunity? A laptop
and a cell phone so you’re never, ever completely away from
work? For what, Jake? A chance to buy yourself some nice
suits and a hurried walk under a neat little folding
umbrella? Where might you go? Do you even know that? Did
they tell you that? Where? Why?”
“OK. Now tell me a story.”
“How’s this: I get a job I believe in, make good money with no
stress, get married, you move in with us, and we all watch
cartoons every Saturday morning.”
“No, silly, that’s not a real one. I want a real story, not a
make-believe one.” She grabs for a book on my floor. “How
about this one?” It is The Sorrows of Young Werther, also a
college remnant, one I still like to agonize to (“Everything
conspires against me!”).
I begin, only half certain how to contort a story about
unrequited love, chronic despair, and twenty-something
suicide to meet her expectations. “It’s about a young man.
“You mean a boy?”
“Yeah, it’s about a boy who’s in love with a girl. The boy
really wants to marry the girl. The boy’s name is VAIR-TER.
Can you say that?”
“And the girl’s name is SHAR-LOT-TA.”
“SHAR-LOT-TA.” Shirley blinks hard and raises her nose as
if she can sense the aristocracy lurking behind the names.
“But Werther can’t marry Charlotte because of a man named
“Is Albert the bad man? Like Stromboli?
“Yep. Albert’s the bad man. Like Stromboli.” Although it does
not say so anywhere on my resume, I’m fully fluent in
Pinocchio. “Werther and Charlotte fall in love. They do all the
things people in love are supposed to do: they dance, they
read together, they send each other letters.”
“They’re in love, like mommy and daddy?”
“Yes, just like mommy and daddy.” The thought of my
parents dancing or reading together seems unbearably sad.
“Then what happens? Then what happens?”
“They all get together. They have a big party and they sit
down and they talk about their problems. About their
problems with each other and all their problems. They just
sit and talk about them. And laugh. And Albert hugs
Werther. And Werther hugs Albert. And Charlotte hugs both
of them and they all dance together. And they sing. They
hold hands and sing like you and mommy sing in church.
And they all live together and Werther doesn’t have to blow
his brains. . . and they all live happily ever after.”
“That’s a nice story,” Shirley tells me as she slips out of the
light. “That’s a nice story,” she repeats. “So don’t cry.”