by Jordan Castillo Price
Driver, Red Wing Island. Must speak English and have current Michigan chauffeur license. Room, board, and stipend provided. Single gentleman over 35 preferred. Smokers need not apply.
Was it still legal to discriminate against smokers? I wasn’t sure, but I thought it might give me an edge. I read the ad through again. I had a brand-spanking-new piece of plastic that entitled me to drive a cab, bus, or limousine. I was also flat broke, in debt up to my eyeballs, and I sorely needed somewhere to stay. Oh, and I spoke English too.
I’d followed the Guide to Gainful Employment to a tee. New haircut. New shirt. New slacks. New tie — new to me, anyway. Even polished my shoes for the first time in my life. The final tip, according to the Guide, was to be sure to address the interviewer by name, using a mnemonic device, if necessary, to do it.
It hadn’t mentioned what to do if there were two interviewers. Damn.
Two women turned up for the interview in the back office of the employment agency. There was an old one — eighties, I’d guess — and a younger one, a handful of years older than me. Maybe forty or so. A stocky, sturdy forty, with hair cropped short and gray at the temples and no makeup. The daughter? Maybe. She didn’t look like an accountant or a lawyer, that’s for sure. She glanced down at her paper, and asked me, “If a drawbridge does not have a signal light or attendant, how many feet away must you stop and check if the draw is closed?”
That was just on my test. “Fifty.”
I’d been so excited to know the answer to that one that I’d leaned forward and allowed my tie to slide out of place. The missing button midway down the shirt gaped. I hadn’t noticed it at the thrift store. I’d just been glad to find a dress shirt for less than three bucks that didn’t need to be ironed. I covered the buttonhole with the tie. And then I realized the gesture had caused my sleeve to ride up and show a glimpse of my ink. Damn it. Maybe they hadn’t noticed. They were looking me in the face, weren’t they? Both of them? I hoped so — the kind of hope where your stomach twists up and squeezes itself till you’re sick. Because I really, really needed that job.
The old woman, Mrs. White, which was easy to remember — white hair, white pearls, Mrs. White — reached over and tapped the other one on the forearm. My guts twisted against themselves harder. She’d seen. And decided I wasn’t the sort of man she wanted living under her roof.
I couldn’t dream up a neat mnemonic trick for the younger woman, Ms. Friedman, but I figured I could handle two names. She nodded vaguely and shuffled her questionnaire. “Do you have any family nearby, Mr. Carlucci?”
I itched to tell her to call me Ray, since I was only “Mr. Carlucci” to the legions of bill collectors I’d been picking off my sorry hide over the last year, but I figured it wasn’t my place to dictate who was called what during the interview. “Parents in Florida.”
Mrs. White spoke up. “Any wife? Children?”
And then I remembered the ad. Single gentleman preferred. Which seemed about as politically incorrect as specifying a nonsmoker. “No. Never married. No kids.”
Queer as the day is long, actually. But right now? A single gentleman. It made me sound a lot ritzier than I was, but I supposed I fit the bill.
“On your application,” said Friedman, “you wrote down ‘business owner’ as your last job. What was that?”
An answer I’d prepared for. “Custom art.” Because tattoo parlor didn’t have quite the same ring.
“And you list the reason for leaving as financial.”
I did my best to sound mild, but inwardly, I steeled myself against the possibility that they’d poke at some old wounds that hadn’t quite closed yet. And I reminded myself to take it like a man, sit up straight, and make sure that damn buttonhole didn’t show.
Friedman said, “I had a catering business before.” Her gaze went inward, just for a second. “So much work — sixty-, seventy-hour weeks. And then the check for a wedding bounced…” She spread her fingers in a “poof” gesture. And I looked at her, really looked at her, and nodded again. Because I could tell she understood that sometimes we fail — grandly, spectacularly — through no fault of our own. It gave me hope.
I didn’t feel like I could afford to cling to it, though. I nodded.
Friedman’s cheeks flushed. “Those are all the questions I have.” She turned toward Mrs. White. “You?”
White leaned forward and squinted. Her eyes had the cloudy, watery cast of age. “He looks fit. How tall are you?”
“Six-three,” I said. Not one of the interviews I’d sat through in the past several months had asked me if I had kids or how tall I was.
None of them had called me back afterward, either. Until this one.
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