[The first part of this novel excerpt can be found here.]
Once the workday was over, I decided it was time to amend my physical appearance. I would need to get rid of my parka. And the circles under my eyes. Pump some life back into my hair by washing it. With shampoo.
And I would need to mastermind my wardrobe for the interview.
That night I went home and I stood in front of my closet for a full ten minutes. I decided to go with my gut instinct. My gut instinct was telling me to dress SEXY. I needed to polarize myself from the turtleneck as much as possible. I needed to make it look like I would sleep my way to the top if necessary. I settled on a red mini-dress that I had purchased from Forever 21 for 13 dollars. I had never worn it to work before. I paired the dress with tights and Russian hooker boots. I decided to give the outfit a test drive. So, I wore it to the grocery store.
Before I made it into the store, a man on the curb asked me if I wanted to go for a ride with him. God had given me a sign: THIS DRESS WAS A WINNER.
I bought a bottle of soda water at the grocery store. When I got home I poured a little into a glass of ice and filled the rest up with vodka. I leaned on the counter and looked down into the glass. The ice cracked, the bubbles floated to the surface. I could feel my red mini dress creep up, just barely underneath my ass. I imagined myself standing in the kitchen as if someone else was watching. A young woman in a kitchen, a mini-dress, with a drink on the counter, contemplates her career advancement. I must look incredibly sophisticated. Intelligent. A definite catch. I beamed inwardly.
My interview was the next morning. And I needed the final part of my strategy: How would I sabotage Judy? What were her weaknesses? Where did she live? What was her life like? Maybe she was too perfect? Could that be a weakness? Definitely. That turtleneck screamed “status quo” and stability. Everything that turtleneck represented was EXACTLY what was wrong with America. If only I could find a poignant segue during my interview to express this opinion.
Maybe the Turtleneck meant that Judy was hiding something. A birthmark. A scar. Or a giant mole. Or maybe childhood trauma, self-loathing, insecurity – I could only hope!
I took a long gulp of my drink, and gasped with satisfaction.
How would Judy perform in the interview? I could imagine her sitting there, hiding in her turtleneck. I looked down at my mini dress. I wished I could talk to her. What was that thing that Al Pacino says in the Godfather about keeping your enemies close before he kills his brother? Whatever it was, I knew that I had work to do.
It took me twenty minutes to find our office phone directory. I scrolled through the list co-worker names, until I found the one and only: Judy. It was a EUREKA moment. Only one Judy in a 56 page staff directory! What were the odds?
I immediately dialed Judy’s number. I needed to know what I was up against.
“Hello?” said a mousy female voice on the second ring.
“Yeah? Who’s this?”
“That’s right. From your office. You know? The one applying for the job that you’re going for?”
“I know who you are,” she said. Ice cold. Right away, there was no question: THIS GIRL HATED ME. I tried to fill in the blank: She hated me because _______. She hated me because I slept with her boyfriend. She hated me because I slept with her friend’s boyfriend. And then I settled on what it must be: She hated me, because I was a formidable competitor. I smiled.
“I just wanted to wish you luck tomorrow,” I said, almost feeling sincere. She was going to need it way more than me.
“Oh really? You don’t remember me, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you remember Brad?”
“Brad?” I thought hard. Was there a Brad? A co-worker named Brad? Who was Brad? Brad, Brad… Then, like a lightening bolt, it struck me: I remembered briefly dating a man named Brad for about ten days. A man named Brad who I had met at the office Christmas party, three years ago, long before Vanagon.
“Yes, Brad. You met him at the office Christmas party three years ago? Gave him a blow job in the parking lot, two hours later?” Judy’s voice was so filled with hostility she was having trouble getting the words out.
“Listen, Judy, I don’t know about that. I am sure that Brad and I had been getting to know each other in the work environment LOOOONG before we consummated things at the Christmas party.” I was lying my ass off, of course. I didn’t remember working with Brad or what had happened to him. I had a feeling that it wasn’t good.
“Uh, no. Actually, Brad was my date to the Christmas party. He was my neighbor.”
“Wait… Brad didn’t work in our office?”
“He was your date?”
“Oh. Jesus.” I didn’t really know what else to say. She hated me because I slept with her boyfriend. But: What had happened to Brad? We went home after the party? I was drawing a blank.
“Yeah, I really liked Brad, actually. We had been dating for a couple of months. So, yeah, I remember who you are. When I heard it was YOU who was applying for this position, I remembered that Christmas. It was the worst Christmas I ever had. Jesus. She sure was being dramatic. I imagined Judy as a young theater major in college, wearing the same turtleneck, hanging out with Goths, and smoking clove cigarettes. With this bummer attitude it was hard to imagine Judy having friends. This was good news. I WAS TOTALLY GOING TO GET THIS JOB.
“Sorry about that, Judy. Brad sounds like a total dick. I mean, you brought him to the party and then he ended up going home with me?” Judy was silent on the other end of line.“Hello? I mean, that’s just totally rude… right?”
I was trying to create an alliance with Judy. We could hate Brad together! But it wasn’t working. Not even a little.
“Yeah. Actually, I thought about killing myself that year.” Judy said, in a very matter of fact kind of way.
“Well, thank God that you didn’t, because then you wouldn’t get the amazing opportunity to apply for this job.”
“Good luck. I sincerely mean it, Judy.”
She didn’t say anything. I waited for a few seconds, listening to her breathe on the other end of the line, before I hung up the phone. I poured myself another drink and raised it high in the air.
“I’m gonna get this fucking job,” I declared, to everyone and no one.
And then, I had the best night of sleep since my break up with Vanagon.
The next morning, I woke up feeling confident. I repeated some morning affirmations before leaving my apartment: Haley, you are amazing. You are so brilliant. You look amazing in leather pants. Your ass is so pert, even at thirty years old. You’re ahead of your time. You are a god damn genius. A fucking mastermind. You will get this job.
My interview was at 10:00 AM. Judy’s interview was after mine at 11:00. Job interviews at my office were a big production. A panel of co-workers served as the interview board. It was the firing squad technique. The office would round up a group of Vaisyas and they would help make the final decision. It was supposedly egalitarian and democratic, but I had a strategy.
My hope was that these people would talk amongst themselves and my interview would magically turn into a cocktail party. I would just sit back in my chair while conversation blossomed. My plan was to occasionally pepper the conversation with compliments and make everybody feel good about themselves. Everyone would leave the interview happy. I would get the job. Win, win.
This was my agenda for the interview:
A) Take the focus off myself and compliment everyone in the room.
B) If it was ABSOLUTELY necessary, I would tell everyone about Judy’s emotional instability. (I didn’t want to have to go there, but I wasn’t afraid to, if the going got tough. I would do whatever I had to do.)
I walked into the room and saw one of the IT Guys. He was sitting at the end of the table. He had a smug little IT smile on his face. There were four other people at the table, too. But I wasn’t concerned about them.
“WHAT IS HE DOING HERE?” I blurted.
“I am part of the interview board,” the IT Guy said.
He glared at me with flames of hatred in his eyes. I tried to figure out if he was a Vaisya or a Sudra. He had the pasty appearance of a Sudra, but the collared shirt of a Vaisya. I studied his pinched up, pimply, evil little face for more clues. The IT department knew of my Internet use, the dating advice sites, my WebMD searches, and my non-work related e-mails.
“This interview board includes a mix of your peers at the firm. Lyle works for our IT Department,” said a vaguely familiar boss-like woman, wearing a red blazer. I felt like I should know her name and title, but I had no idea who she was. Maybe that was better. Clean slate.
“Great,” I said, with as big of a smile as I could manage. But Lyle, The IT Guy, was not on the guest list for the interview/cocktail party that I had envisioned. Lyle was shamelessly crashing my party. No matter! I would have to take this challenge and run with it. Nothing could derail me now. On with the show!
What came next was a series of questions about my organizational skills, my vision for the future, and boring hypotheticals. I tried to add zest to the interview by telling as many personal anecdotes as possible. I really tried to reach out and relate with everyone at that table. Even Lyle.
What I knew about Lyle The IT Guy:
He had some interest in computers.
He drank Mountain Dew Soda. (He had a bottle on the table, in front of him.)
His parents went on safari in Africa.
What I interpreted these facts to mean:
Lyle was a lonely child growing up in a wealthy home. His parents were over indulgent WASPS. Probably racist. Lyle took solace and buried his feelings by emotionally eating. And he probably found escape in a fantasy computer game where he pretended to be a gnome or something.
“What do you do to relieve stress, Haley?” he asked.
I thought about this question for a minute.
“Video games,” I said. I had never played a video game in my life. I studied Lyle’s face after I gave my answer. He was frowning but he seemed intrigued nonetheless.
“Oh yeah? What kind?” Lyle asked.
“All kinds. I’m really into Lord of the Rings and drinking fountain sodas too. Especially Mountain Dew. I love that shit.” Victory was mine. The interview was wrapping up.
“Anything else you’d like to add, Haley? Anything we missed? Anything that you think we should know?” I considered saying a few disparaging words about Judy for good measure. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.
“Yes, actually, there is something I’d like to add.” I wasn’t even sure what I was going to say. I was still riding high from the positive vibes I was getting. That thing that I said about Lord of the Rings was brilliant and I had totally improvised it! This was the BEST interview of my life. I looked around the room . People were clasping their hands in anticipation of the amazing words that were about to come out of my mouth.
“I just want to say that I really think that Judy is an amazing person. The challenges that she’s overcome in her life … well, it’s just remarkable that she’s come so far. And though we’ve had our struggles, I want you all to know that I‘ve forgiven her.” I summoned an image of Theresa and Vanagon in Nicaragua and felt my chest get tight. Tears welled in my eyes. I was killing it. I was a method actor extraordinaire. I was Dustin Fucking Hoffman.
“What do you mean? What struggles?” asked the boss lady with the red blazer.
“Oh? You haven’t heard? Well, I don’t want to get into the details, but a few years ago, Judy had an affair with my fiancé, Brad.” I looked directly into the eyes of the woman across the table from me. She had the essence of a woman whose husband cheated on her, constantly. The kind of woman who watched daytime television. A Sudra. She nodded in sympathy. Man, I was nailing this so hard.
“I thought everyone knew about that. I’m past it now. And like I said, Judy’s had challenges. I have forgiven her.” And with that, I pushed my chair out from the table and bowed my head. A COMMANDING PERFORMANCE! The job was mine for the taking. Was the salary negotiable? I wondered. I could probably ask for whatever I wanted and get it. They’d probably even be willing to knock something off their own salaries just to make sure I was properly compensated.
I left the room. Judy was in the lobby, sitting in a hard plastic chair, waiting to be called in. She was wearing a dark green turtleneck. It was a pilled merino. It had a tiny moth hole bitten through the shoulder. She glared up at me. She had a magazine on her lap. Something vaguely academic. And she didn’t look happy.
“Judy, what a surprise!” I said. I was ecstatic to see her. I almost felt bad for her. Judy looked down at her magazine, ignoring me.
“JUDY!” I shouted, five inches from her face. She looked up. Her eyes burned with fury.
“JUDY, I JUST WANT TO TELL YOU: GOOD. LUCK. IN. THERE. I. THINK. YOU. WILL. DO. JUST. FINE.” I said each word very slowly and loudly, as though I was talking to a retarded person.
I walked back to my cubicle and called Dan.
“Dude. I just finished my interview.”
“How did it go?” Dan asked.
“AWESOME. TOTALLY. AWESOME.” I said. Conrad sighed deeply in the chair behind me.
“I rocked that shit.” I whispered. I looked around my cubicle my for an empty box. I could get a jump on things, clear my desk, and be ready to move to my new workspace in a matter of seconds. Bye Bye Conrad.
“That’s great. Congratulations.” Dan said.
I hung up the phone. I was so pleased with myself that I ate a candy bar from my vase and left work early to celebrate. What happened after that? Hard to say. But I can report that the following 24 hours were filled with PURE ABSOLUTE BLISS.
The interview got me to a higher level of feeling. That feeling? The feeling could be described as a feeling of ‘ultimate satisfaction.’ I suspect that this is what Buddhists are going for. Monks sit around chanting for decades just trying to get where I was during that 24-hour period after my interview. I had arrived.
The next morning, I was sitting at my desk, visualizing what my new life would be like. I had spent the last hour emptying my desk, and everything was piled in a cardboard box, ready for the move. The phone rang. It was Miranda from the Human Resources.
“Miranda! So glad to hear from you. You know, I’ve still got a couple of Reese’s Pieces with your name all over them …”
“Haley, I am so sorry to tell you this, but Judy got the position.”
I was speechless. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“Miranda, did you just say that I didn’t get the job?”
“Yes, I’m sorry.” She genuinely sounded sorry.
“WOW. I can’t believe this.”
“I know.” Miranda said.
“This is … surprising…”
“I am so sorry to be the bearer of this news, Haley. I know you’ve been going through hard times with Mark and everything…”
“Mark? Who’s Mark?” I asked, confused.
“Your dog? Isn’t that the name of your Poodle? With the cancer?”
“Oh, THAT Mark … he’s on death’s door, Miranda. But we appreciate your concern.” I said. I was reeling from the news about NOT getting the job and I had completely forgotten about Mark. Whatever. Fuck Mark.
“I feel so bad about this, Haley. I really do. I hope you don’t mind, but when I found out that you weren’t getting the job, I decided to take up a collection … for Mark’s surgery.”
“I know, it’s none of my business… but I felt really bad … and I can’t stand the thought of Mark having to suffer … like Pucker did,” she said. I was quiet. I knew that I should not say what I was thinking. And what I was thinking was: PEOPLE AND THEIR FUCKING DOGS. But, the other thing that I was thinking was: JUDY GOT THE FUCKING JOB? THERE MUST BE SOME KIND OF MISTAKE.
“Anyway we have a fund for Mark …”
“How much did you get Miranda? This surgery is going to be steep.”
“Well, so far we’ve raised 2,000 dollars.”
Uh… what? Did she just say TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS? She couldn’t have. I must be having an auditory hallucination.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right. How much did you say?” I held my breath.
“All we could get was 2,000. Is that going to be enough?”
“Oh, joyous day! Mark might live, Miranda! HE MIGHT ACTUALLY MAKE IT!”
Oh Mark, my ridiculous, inbred, tumor-ridden, made-up, non-existent flea bag, you came through. You did it, buddy. I didn’t know you had it in you.
So I lost the job to a Turtleneck. I don’t know how that happened. But why waste energy on worrying about things that might have been, right?
I needed to put the past behind me. I had important things to focus on…
Like finding Brad’s phone number.