I always play along
Notes from the Unemployed
There’s a reason why it’s 1am and I’m watching Frankenhood on the BET instead of sleeping, and it is because I have no reason to be asleep because I have no job and can wake up whenever I want tomorrow. There’s a good chance I will spend the entire day in front of my television with my laptop perched (fittingly) on my lap, while I watch sports and pretend to apply to jobs online that I’m overqualified for but will never hear back from because blind online applications do not work. The worst part of my day will be the text my mom sends at 4 asking what I’ve accomplished, which I will not respond to because that will piss her off less than the actual answer. The worst part of my day used to be when she came home at 5:30, saw me on the recliner and leveled the kind of look of disgust at me that I imagine mothers usually reserve for when they catch their progeny masturbating to interspecies or cartoon porn.
My continuing unemployment is a function of several crippling character flaws. First, I am hopelessly lazy. When I actually decide to apply for something, I start a cover letter, write a sentence, then get bored and play minesweeper. However outside of this laziness putting a stop to most job applications before they get anywhere is a more fundamental problem: I don’t want to do anything. Many of my graduated colleagues had ambitions that translated into particular jobs. They wanted to be something, lawyers or teachers or scientists. I have never had such aspirations, no yearning for any particular vocation. The knowledge that any job would still be a “job” weighs my life down as surely as the cement blocks affixed to the feet of a mobster’s victim. Every application is a thankless task, me shuttling off resumes and cover letters for positions I do not want with pedantic official titles, assistant-this and executive-that, thinly veiled pseudonyms for coffee-getter and office bitch.
I do, of course, want to do several things. I want to read great books and play soccer. I want to eat delicious food, and I want to drink wheat beers and hard ciders, because my particular strain of alcoholism tends towards the delicious. That those things do not translate into jobs is lamentable, but all I must do is get a job and use my paychecks to buy those things, in theory making me happy. Why then am I sabotaging my own job search? The answer, sadly, transcends my own useless nature, and it is that the idea of a job is itself distasteful to me.
What do I find distasteful, you ask? That I must abase myself before strangers in the hopes that they will employ me. And who are these men to whom I pay obeisance, what have they done to deserve this power over me? If I were paying homage to the president of a company I might understand, but I’m literally dealing with the lowest people on the totem pole here. What else bothers me about the idea of a job? That I must then serve these people: expend my energy in the pursuit of their profits. Is there not something perverse about that? That I should toil to make a man far richer than me more money, and if I metaphorically fellate them properly I’ll get a promotion and a nicer desk? No, that does not sound like the kind of system I want to be a part of. They expect me to dance and I do not wish to dance. The whole soulless enterprise is laid bare in the application process itself, much of which is little more than redundant pageantry. Applicants with puffed up resumes supplicating themselves before unmoved firms, whose form paragraphs and “I look forward to meeting you’s” as contrived as the confidentiality disclaimer at the bottom of their emails.
Let me project to you this false dance via my rejection last week. There was an opening at my friends law firm, and she instructed me to reference her. I send my letter and resume to the designated HR woman. She responds within days, “am I available to interview in NYC at (time x),” “Why yes I am, I look forward to meeting you.” I arrive at the appointed time, besuited; clutching the official looking notepad my sisters’ college gave her for graduating. The HR woman whisks me into a room, where I must fill out a form. The form is a trap, but I know how to defuse it. “Desired compensation,” Please, child, you wish to trick me into lowballing myself. “Market rate” I write; no potentially traitorous digits in that answer.
The meetings commence with “behavioral interview” questions, ‘have you ever solved a problem,’ ‘give an example of a time you worked in a group,’ questions to which I supply real but embellished answers. The truth is your enemy: that fun group project with friends? It was actually a harrowing effort to reconcile enemies in a quest for knowledge. The whole interviewing affair reeks of sterilization; an attempt to dehumanize (professionalize) me, they do not wish to hire me the man but rather me the office automaton, and I am sadly all too willing to take their 30 pieces of silver, or rather 40k plus benefits & overtime. I spent the day shaking hands, and when the farce finished I walked back to my friends apartment to write individualized thank you notes because I was warned they are compared.
All of it, the suit, my answers, my thank you’s, the emails I exchanged, hopelessly scripted, evocative of the unequal distribution of power in our relationship. Failure to follow any step would have doomed me as surely as mooning the receptionist, yet the HR lady sent me an email with three grammatical errors and I could do nothing but dream of being permitted such laxity as I re-read the five line email I sent to her a dozen times. The entire process was spiritually emasculating, myself standing before omniscient gatekeepers, entrance into whose domain required blind acceptance: to take their beatings with perfect form and rise again with nothing more than “please sir may I have another.”
Eventually they made their pick, and sent me a form letter, “there were many qualified applicants, and you, Mr. Leach, were the least of them.” I did not get the job I would have hated, was denied the opportunity to file real estate paperwork for high-powered assholes. I was disconsolate, and spent the evening getting fantastically drunk alone watching Hall Pass. Yet in that failure, you can see the game, can you not? And why I despise it? Considering that cynicism alongside my lack of desire for any particular job makes the game very hard for me to play. But the game still has to be played (does it not?), and I guess I will eventually succeed. Remember: it was always himself that the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily – All the Pretty Horses