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By Michael Jenkins
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Michael Jenkins
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Chapter OneThe Sleeper Agent
Some people respond well to stress. There will be a burst of energy in their brain, connecting with the spinal column and telling all the muscles in their body to move quickly in beautiful harmony to finish whatever job needs immediate completion. There are people out there who work two jobs, have a gross of children as well as an unfaithful wife, and when it gets too overwhelming, they take a deep, cleansing breath, hold out their arms calmly and say, "It's alright. I got this." These are the type of people that live to be over 100.
I don't work that way. I figure that my death date will be in my late 30's. When a difficult problem approaches me, I get sleepy. In my college days, a teacher would hand out a shopping list full of assignments, and while the students ran their fingers tightly through their hair, wondering how in the world they were going to complete all of this work in time, I would lean back in my chair and give a huge gaping yawn of nonchalance, while my heart pounded uncontrollably and in my head I was screaming, "Holy hell, I'm unforsakably fucked!"
Nearly all of my term papers were written between frequent nappings, and were finished in the early morning just an hour or so before they were due in the teacher's hands.
I told my mother about this reaction to unwelcome stimuli, and she told me that she suffers from the same affliction. This perplexed me, for I imagined early hominids being chased by ferocious four legged beasts of prey, and while a few of them got picked off and were torn to shreds, some asshole ancestor of mine was probably sleeping on some sun-soaked rock. How we survived this long, I will never know.
My slovenly reaction to stress concerned me because I was about to go into my first job interview, and an inquiry into my stress management skills seemed more than likely. I didn't even apply for the job; they found me. It was a company called "Iron Mountain," and a representative named Claire gave me a jingle. She told me that she found my resume on the world wide web, and that if I was interested in pursuing an employment opportunity with their company, I should call one Abigail Reynolds.
"Let me give you her number," she said. "Do you have a pen?"
I stood there for a couple seconds. "Uh ... Yeah, got it."
I repeated the last four digits while staring out the window. "0 ... 4 ... 4 ... 7. Got it. Thank you."
I went online and looked at the e-mail Claire had sent me. The company had something to do with insurance documents. The type of job they were looking to fill had absolutely nothing to do with my area of collegiate expertise.
Two days had passed when I got a phone call from Abigail Reynolds. Just like Claire, she asked me if I was interested in setting up an interview. I knew I had to get my first job interview over with, if only for the experience alone. An interview was arranged for Thursday morning. This was Monday. I told Abigail that I had never had a real interview before. She proceeded to give me a verbal onslaught of advice. One of the things she told me to do was start the interview by asking what kind of person they were looking for to fill the position, then answer the questions they asked me accordingly.
"But Abigail," I said, "Isn't that kind of cheap? It's like asking the teacher for the answers to the test before taking it."
She told me just to use their answers as a way to frame my own. I suppose it was sound advice, but I was not the type of aggressive person who would just burst into an interview and begin demanding answers. Abigail's last piece of advice was, "And even if it's 100 degrees outside, wear a suit and tie."
"I figured as much. Thank you very much for your help, Abigail."
"It's no problem, Michael. I am going to e-mail you the specs and application to print out and bring with you."
Specs, I thought. Well, I guess in the fast-paced cubicle world, there is no time to say specifics, let alone the time-consuming five syllabled specifications.
"Good luck, Michael!"
I wished I could have shared her enthusiasm, but now I had a number of problems to deal with: 1) I needed to buy a suit. 2) I needed to ready myself with falsified answers to the interview questions, and 3) I needed to find a way to keep my hands dry for the pre and post interview handshake.
Of all these concerns, the handshakes were what worried me the most, for there was relatively nothing I could do about it, especially in the mid-summer heat. Nobody ever shakes a palm dripping with sweat and says, "Mmmm! Sweaty! That's the handshake of a real go-getter! I love it! Love it!!" But I couldn't fret about the sweat just yet, I needed to buy a suit.
The last time I had worn a full blown suit was Easter of 1988, when I was 5 years old. It included a clip-on tie. But now that I was an "adult," I had to buy a real suit with a real tie. I went to Sears. I brought my friend Chris along with me, because although I wasn't color-blind, I was not color savvy. The only thing I was sure of was to not wear red to the interview. I read somewhere that the color red displays dominance, and as an interviewee, I wanted to play the role of the submissive employee; someone that would pick up the dried-out pieces of shit left by the boss's dog, all with a big smile on my face.
I decided to get a plain black suit with a cornflower blue shirt and tie. My rationale was that the boss in the movie Fight Club loved the color cornflower blue, and he was a major tool.
Now I had the shirt, jacket, pants, shoes, and tie. Grand total: $108.00. Problem: I didn't know how to tie a tie. Since my early adult life, I have been met with scorn and ridicule whenever I asked my brother, or worse yet, my father how to tie a tie.
"You're 18 and you don't know how to tie a tie?!" Then they would take the tie, wrap it around their necks, and hand me the finished product without even showing me how it was done. With each year it got more and more humiliating when I had to ask.
"You're 18 ... 19 ... 20 ... 21 ... 22 ... and you don't know how to tie a tie?!?!" I didn't want to hear them reach 24, so I turned to my adopted third parent, the Internet. Tie-a-tie.com would show me the way. It offered hope.
"Have your first job interview coming up?" it asked. "Let us show you how to tie a tie in just 4 easy steps! Learn the basic Windsor knot, the slightly more difficult half-Windsor knot, or the ever treacherous Pratt knot if you really want to impress your future employer! Let us show you the way!"
I was impressed. I was sold. I never saw so much energy being brought to something so simplistic and mundane. I completed step one with relative ease, placing the loose tie around my neck. Crossing the two ends over each other: that was step two. No sweat. Then, out of nowhere the website showed me a picture of a bunch of fumbling knots, with lines and arrows pointing in all sorts of haphazard directions, telling me to loop side B through side A, coming halfway across and coming back over the short end of side B, turning it 90 degrees through the knot, "like so." Step 4 told me to pull the back of side A for appropriate tightness. I looked down at my own crumpled heap of silky knots resting on my chest. "Now you're dressed to impress!" it told me. I tried quite a few times, but it was pissing me off and stressing me out so much that I nearly dropped off to sleep my chair. I admitted defeat at around 1:30 in the morning. I left the untied tie on the kitchen table with a note that read, "Could someone tie this for me please? I can knot do it." It was important to me to still display humor in such frustrating times.
For my sweaty hands, I tried in vain to use my little electrolysis machine, called the Drionic. How it worked was that I would place my hands in two pans of water while little shocks of electricity shot through my palms and down my fingers. It's quite an uncomfortable procedure, and it goes on for half an hour. Whenever I got the urge to take my hands out of the pans prematurely, I looked at the quote on the box that read, "Eliminates social embarrassment!" The device is supposed to keep your hands dry for 4 to 6 weeks, but my Hyperhydrosis is severe, and the effect of the device will only last for ten days at max; and that is in the winter time. Doing it in the summer would be moot, but still, I had to try everything.
On Thursday morning I found the tie knotted in a half-assed, angry Windsor fashion. At 6:00 in the morning, my father was probably tying it, a cigarette dangling out of the side of his mouth and muttering, "Little asshole is 24 and he can't even tie a tie ..."
I put on two undershirts for the sake of my uncontrollable armpit sweat. The only part of my wardrobe that I felt any control over whatsoever was my lucky orange underwear. I ripped through the large white Sears bag hanging on my door to reveal my nemesis: the cheap, 86 dollar suit lying in wait to make me look like a fool. As soon as I put the thing on, tie and all, I looked in my portrait mirror: I did not want this job. No way. Even if by some miracle they offered it to me, I would give a high-pitched shriek and run for the hills. This conclusion had come to me earlier, but only after seeing myself in that outfit did it finally sink in. On the one sleeve of my suit jacket was the label of the cheap brand sewn into the fabric. If it was a Ralph Lauren suit, I wouldn't have minded; but there is something about a suit from Sears that you just don't want to advertise.
My mother got out the scissors and tried to remove it. I saw her shaky hands nearing the fabric.
"Mom, I don't trust this. Maybe you should just give me the—"
There it was. A hole in my suit jacket the size of a dime.
"I'm sorry, dear," she said. Then she stuck her index finger in the air to make a mental note. "I owe you one suit jacket."
I wasn't even angry. By this point the situation had turned into a comedy. Today was just not my day. I snagged the directions, the specs, and got into my car. When Yahoo! Maps fucked me on the directions, I only laughed. I don't know how I got there, but I did. Despite my air conditioner going at full blast, my underarms were relentlessly oozing a nervous sweat. I reluctantly found the office building a half hour before my appointment. I parked a good distance away, yawned, and began filling out the application. After writing in the necessary information, I reached for my last line of defense: A long, tall container of Gold Bond Medicated powder. I was reluctant to use it, for it was a powder, and would spread like wildfire over my black suit. The Drionic sweat system did absolutely nothing for my hands, but the Gold Bond could provide temporary relief for the first, but not the second, interview handshake.
Diligently I poured the powder into my hand and began to sensuously rub it into my palm. It was heavenly. After that, I stepped out of the car and delicately put on my suit jacket, but, of course, the Gold Bond had yet to fully absorb my tenacious sweat, and little droplets of the powder fell onto my lapel and on top of my thighs. The white sprinkles lay there like so much cocaine. If it were to come in contact with the skin, it would be smudged into the fabric, fading the sheer blackness of my pants to a washed-out gray. I kicked my legs out and shook them individually, trying to get the powder off unadulterated, but the Gold Bond clung with sincere earnestness. I also tried bringing my legs up to my mouth and blowing with all of my might, but to no avail. Eventually, I just took the back end of my palm and rubbed it into my pants. Now my brand new, cheap suit looked aged and faded, with a hole in the sleeve to boot. I gave my upper body one last look in the driver's side window, adjusted my tie, and headed inside.
It was a 3 story building and smelled fairly stale, stagnant. When I picked up the phone in the lobby, a pleasant electronic female voice greeted me. "Hello! And welcome to the offices of the Iron Mountain Administration. If you know your party's extension, enter the number followed by the number button."
Numbers then the number button? It took me two tries to realize that the number button was the same as the pound sign which is what I usually refer to it as. I was exhausted. It was only 10:00 in the morning and I felt like I had been awake for 36 hours.
On the second floor I was greeted by a man not much older than me. He stuck out his hand to shake. I regretfully gave him the "clam hand" and hoped he would chalk it up to nervousness on my part. He led me through the small floor of cubicles leading to the boss's office. I kept my eyes focused on the back of his head, for fear that looking at the drones would depress me; but it did anyway. Maybe I should just take a deep breath, work for 40 years and die, I thought.
The corner office was of average size with a wide panoramic view of the parking lot. My car was in plain sight. If that guy took one look out his window at the right time and saw me doing the "hokey-pokey" next to my car, I was done for. But it was too late to turn back.
The boss, a balding, slightly overweight man with glasses shook my hand (sigh).
"Glad you could make it," he said. "I see that the specs were easy to follow."
He told me to take a seat. Behind him on the distant horizon were the towers of a power plant, and if he sat just so, it would appear that his head was steaming like an embarrassed Elmer Fudd after being kissed by a transsexual Bugs Bunny. I found this humorous, and daydreamed about it while he explained what exactly his company did. According to the little tid-bits that I picked up from what he was saying, I would be scanning insurance documents and e-mailing them to clients. No editing whatsoever, just scanning and e-mailing. It had absolutely nothing to do with my degree. Why am I even here I wondered, you wascally wabbit?!
I saw that he was about to wrap it up, so I began to concentrate. He leaned back in his chair and said, "So tell us a little about yourself."
I froze for a second, because I had remembered that I was chewing gum: surely an interview no-no. I swallowed my two sticks of Winterfresh and began to explain to him about my recent graduation with a Bachelor's degree in English, work at a golf course, been working since I was 16, never had any problems with any co-workers, etcetera. I was so worried about my hands and suit that I had completely forgotten to mentally prep. I rolled into this thing intellectually naked. It was when he began asking me cliched interview questions that I began to verbally stumble.
"If," he said, "you had only one word to describe your work ethic, what would it be?"
I paused for a moment and yawned with my mouth closed, causing my eyes to water.
"Um, consistent, I would say."
"Consistent," he said, looking for further explanation.
I went on to say that I am never late for work, and in my past five seasons at the golf course, I have never called out. I also told him that I was struggling a little bit because the golf course is pretty monotonous, and I was having trouble making a correlation between parking golf carts and scanning documents.
He said, "Don't worry about that too much." Then he pointed to the young guy next to me. "I've hired people from golf courses before."
So I tried explaining to him about monitoring the pace of play on the golf course. When he referred to how I handle diversity, I went back to my college days.
"In college, there were a few classes I had to take that I had absolutely no interest in, like German, or a course in homosexual male literature."
"Oh geez," he said, biting his lip.
"Yeah, I know," I said. "The point is I had to take these courses, so I just did it. Didn't fail one of them."
I took the role of the working horse, explaining that once I learn how to do something, I do it well, and when it becomes a steady routine I work quickly and efficiently.
"But what would happen if an array of different problems came at you at once?" he asked.
The whole "consistent work horse" thing painted me into a corner. If a bunch of problems came at me all at once, I would smack my head on the desk and pass out for a short while, but I couldn't tell him that. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of taking a deep breath and making consistent solutions to the problems. I used the word 'consistent' and its variations quite ... consistently. The interviewer was consistently un-enthused. When he asked his final question, things got just a touch ugly.
"What can you offer our company that will put you ahead of the rest of the applicants. Basically, why should I hire you?"
He was wrapping up this interview early. I was wasting his time, and he mine.
Shit, I could have been sleeping at this point. Why should he hire me? He shouldn't! But instead of saying that, I tried a bit of humor. I pointed to the guy next to me and said, "Well, we both worked at golf courses, right?" I chuckled desperately and dryly. Not a smile or a smirk from either of them. I was frustrated.
Excerpted from Man-Child by Michael Jenkins Copyright © 2012 by Michael Jenkins. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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