by Allan Shapiro
The handshake. So when I go to shake his hand, making sure to look him in the eyes and smile as I do, I call him Albert. My name is Albert. I say “Hi, Albert. I’m Alfred.” He’s Alfred. I’m Albert. Alfred says “You mean Hi Alfred, I’m Albert,” and I laugh and say “Of course, of course,” is a horse, of course, so Alfred says “Cause if that was the first question of the interview… you got it wrong,” and smiles as if he was laughing without the laughter. This is funny. We are both laughing without the laughter. I am also sweating. I shake my head doggedly, notably doggedly, and say “Sorry. I’m just a little nervous,” and sit down. Alfred continues to stand above me while still smiling. There is something of an awkward pause. Then Alfred’s smile diminishes and a hand waves forward Richard Nixon-style while he says, “Have a seat,” though I am obviously already sitting and sits down and church steeples his fingers in front of his non-grinning, non-congenial face. I should have waited to sit down until he offered me a seat. I have already completely failed miserably. Maybe I should stand up again and then pause for a second, curtsy, and then sit down again. No, I should apologize. Maybe Alfred is the kind of guy who truly respects the seat offering process, of allowing one to bend one’s ass onto a plane of wood that is parallel to the floor, of literally doing one of the most basic things the human body can do. A lack of respect for the process denotes a lack of respect for power, and far be it from me to ruin the opportunity for someone to wield it, as if that is some great accomplishment in life, some fantastic fucking achievement to be someone who can grant such a power to someone like me, like I am someone who would wait to sit in a fucking chair until some fucking fuck nut would offer me one, like I was the cattle being led to slaughter, like the sheep to the shear, like I have nothing better to do with my fucking life than to wait for some motherfucking fuck nut to offer me a seat. Well, fuck you, fuck nut, cause I’m a man, and if you think for one second that I am the kind of person who needs permission to be an actual human person, well, you got another thing coming. I am still sweating. I readjust myself in my seat while praying to dear god that I do not fart while doing so. I say “Thank you.” Alfred semi-nods. It is indication that he knows that I’m on to him. The interview begins.
Alfred leans back in his leather chair. It is an appropriate leather chair. It does not have crooked, bloated, rotting deer antlers attached to the top of it. A deep breath from Alfred as he leans back in his antler-less chair causes a series of shallow breaths from me. If I were to push really hard at the end of the series, a baby Alfred might come out. I would probably have to readjust in the seat again to do so. A second readjustment at this point of the interview would be inappropriate. “Be appropriate,” is the mantra since this morning. Alfred says “It’s supposed to rain on Christmas.” His hands are still steepled in front of him.
I readjust, lifting my ass so high that a herd of baby Alfreds could come out and say “Yes, I suppose it is,” with an awkward smile at his attempt of what I assume is small talk.
Alfred is not smiling. “You would expect it to do so, wouldn’t you.” This is not small talk.
“To rain on Christmas?” I clarify.
“Yes, you would expect it to rain on Christmas, wouldn’t you.” This is not a question.
I like the ran. And I like Christmas. But this year I will not like it when it rains on Christmas, which is why I expect it to rain. I think I narrow my eyes when I say, “Yes, I suppose I would expect that.” How does he know that I will not like when it rains on Christmas?
His eyes sit atop the steeple of his fingers and would glow red if there were a blazing fire in a large stone fireplace beside him, which there isn’t, though it seems like there is, perhaps because I have yet to look anywhere else in the room besides his face, his pasty, pudgy, completely opposed to normal human interaction face. He leans back in his chair and slowly un-steeples his fingers finger by finger. It is agonizing. Finally, he grasps the wooden armrests that end in brass fists. If I just focus on the fists, it seems like he’s sitting on someone’s lap, perhaps Satan’s. He says “Do you consider time to be linear?” It is the first question of the interview.
The answer of “My concept of time is irrelevant, especially to time itself, and thus has no bearing on my ability to successfully and effectively carry out the duties of this particular position,” is an inappropriate one. So instead I cough and would ask for a glass of water if I wasn’t convinced that such a request would result in the question of “Are you thirsty?” which is yet another question I did not prepare for.
“Well,” I begin after another dry cough, “what we think of as time, what we call time, is actually our lives, the seconds and minutes and hours of our existence, so when you ask of my perception of time, you are actually asking of my perception of my life, and to think that my life, my perception of my life, is a linear one, that is to say pointing in a single direction and moving towards it at a constant rate of speed, well, I would adamantly have to disagree with.” Pause. Another cough. A look askew at Alfred’s over-sized ear, like he was wearing another ear over his own ear, perhaps the interviewee’s before me. “That is to say…”
“That you have difficulty remaining objective about your own life,” Alfred finishes for me. A large file is removed from a desk drawer. Accomplishing this maneuver requires slowly craning forward, rippled shadows emerging behind him on the wall of college degrees and family photos of expressionless faces like wings tearing through his shoulder blades, then reaching arm forward into the darkness of the abyss beneath his desk and emerging with an over-sized manila folder that may very well be filled with scrolls of papyrus. It is placed on the desk in front of him. Will he blow a fine layer of dust from it before it slowly creaks open? “Do you know why that is? Why you have difficulty with objectivity.”
“I’m… not… quite… sure…”
“Yes, you are not quite sure.” The file is opened.
“That is to say,” I continue, “how this is applicable to the current… that is to say…”
Said slowly and to the scroll of papyrus he’s staring at, “That is to say that it is.”
Jesus Christ, I’d rip off one of my own testicles and swallow it whole for a glass of water right now. Another cough, a degree more pathetic than the last. “Well, to put it simply, I’ve never ended a movie by kissing the girl.”
“You never kissed a girl after watching a movie?”
“No,” shaking my head would be inappropriate, so I shake the rest of my body instead. “What I mean to say is that if my life was a movie, I never had that end of a movie moment in which I take the girl in my arms and kiss her,” ending with something of a shrug.
“And what does that have to do with objectivity?”
“Well, I suppose it’s hard to be objective about a bad movie, especially when that bad movie is your life.”
“Perhaps you should read more.”
I would laugh if I thought he was making a joke, which he isn’t. “I’m still not…”
“If you could sum up your life in two words what would they be?”
“Um… plausible deniability? But I still…”
“And if you were trapped on a deserted island and could only bring three books with you, what would they be?”
Finally a question I prepared for. “Well, the first would be a book about how to survive on a deserted island, the second would be a book about how to escape a deserted island, and the third would be We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee.”
Another papyrus scroll is lifted to his stare. There is no recognition of my obscure and meaningless reference. This time he looks up before he speaks. This time he looks me in my eyes. There is less malice than I expect. “And the one thing you regret most about your life?”
I remind myself to not repeat the question before I answer it. I remind myself of the inter dimensional nature of my existence, my non-linear comprehension of time, my baby Alfred pounding on the walls of my non-uterus. I say “The one thing I regret about my life is that I’ve never been the kinda guy to…”
“Yes, of course. And when it rains…”
“On Christmas, you mean.”
“Yes, and when it rains on Christmas, the one thing you will regret most about your life is not being someone else?”
I lean back in my chair, dig my wingless shoulders into the wood and take a deep breath. “Well, when you put it that way…”
“What other way is there of putting it?”
“Good point.” There are no windows in his office. Windows would imply a world beyond his own. There is not even a painting of a ballerina. Or a bullfighter. There are only wooden walls. The desk. My life in hieroglyphics. “You mind if I smoke.” The cigarette is already in my mouth as I say this.
Alfred’s expression shifts. The glistening of his teeth. The quivering of his jowls. The assumed erection in his pants. Perhaps he’s preparing to pounce. “And if it doesn’t rain on Christmas. If everybody is wrong and it is the most sunny and beautiful day of the year. What then? What would you do then?”
“Is this a scenario?” as I blow smoke across the desk.
“Yes, it is the scenario of your life.”
“So you’re expecting me to justify my life.”
“No, we’re expecting you to apologize for it.”
That I can see her face sometimes when I close my eyes. And when she is smiling, I can see things that have not happened. And I can be someone I’m not. I only regret the lie of my life and the honesty it devours. “Objectivity,” I say.
“You have difficulty with it.”
There are no windows in his office. There is no fireplace. A dim light on his desk. A lamp in the corner. A necklace of shrunken heads atop a humidor beneath it. Add a mounted boar’s head on the wall and it’d be the perfect setting for formal introspection. A safe, sterile place to see and feel everything, to unwrap each emotion I’ve ever felt as if they were gifts to be opened on the most sunny and beautiful day of the year, which also happens to be Christmas.
“Do you have a mirror?” I say.
“Yes, it’s on the wall beneath the boar’s head.”
“Of course it is.” I extinguish my cigarette on his desk. I stand up and walk to the mirror. I say to it, “I am very, very sorry.” I sit back down.
“Excellent!” Alfred says and stands with his hand out. It is the first time he seems to be human.
“Excellent!” I agree and stand too.
It is a firm handshake between two confident human men. It is a moment. “So I got the job?” I say.
Alfred is still smiling. “Oh my God, no! Are you kidding? For one thing it requires a Masters in Public Administration, and quite honestly, I’m a bit shocked you managed to get a 4-year degree. And for another, plausible deniability? You might as well said irritable bowel syndrome.”
“That’s three words.”
“Still would have been a better answer.”
“Oh. I thought the Masters was a preferred qualification.”
“No, it was required.”
Our hands are still in each others though the shaking has stopped.
“Soooo…” I think I say.
Hands release with a “We’ll be in touch.” I may have said that, too.
Tomorrow is Christmas and it is the most sunny and beautiful Christmas of my existence. So I spend the day rereading We Bought a Zoo.
About the author:
Allan Shapiro’s work has appeared in over 30 literary magazines including Hobart’s, Pank, The Rag, Canteen, to name a few.