I stood in the foyer of the tall office building waiting for the elevator to take me down 10 floors. I was secretly hoping he wouldn’t find something out about this dangling carrot he was trying to arrange for my possible consumption at a 4 o’clock meeting. While being out of work is sort of scary, I never thought of myself as one to use a placement agency.
Are you available today for an interview? You have a great book. I might have something perfect for you. It’s a job laying out a press kit. You’ve done a lot of these, I see. Are you available?
I wasn’t sure what excuse to use. Ideas came rushing to my head all at once and I could tell by how they hit the inside of each eye that I’d have a hard time lying.
Today? At four? Yes, I think I can do that. I think. I will have to skip yoga, but that’s cool. Can’t pay for it if I don’t find work, right?
Yoga? Why did I just say that? He is silently judging me now. I should say “Namaste” and walk away. Maybe do a few Oms as I exit backwards, bending forward offering signs of gratitude for having me there at 9 a.m. on a Monday.
Well, yes. Yoga and all. But this job could be totally cool. Don’t you think? I mean, it’s an excellent opportunity. Could you come in and take a couple of tests later as well? We need to see that you know the software. How does Wednesday sound? Good? I’ll pencil you in for then.
I nod. I might agree to anything at this point. I’m left wondering how it is that placement agency people are pushier than telemarketers. What gives them their nerve? I wish I had some of whatever it is allowing him to make so many assumptions about how open my schedule is. Then again, I put myself here and in this way. A person walks into a placement agency already wearing the scent of desperation. The moment they pick up the phone the scent kicks on, excreting from a previously dormant gland. I seemed desperate. I might actually feel a little desperate. I knew this. It’s up to this guy to acknowledge my desperation and run with it. We’re taking part in a relay, he and I. We’re playing this game where we hand off and assume, hand off and assume. I know he drinks fruity drinks during Friday happy hours. I know he’s the last one to leave a party. I know he has a girlfriend who bosses him around. He knows I’m married. I saw him look at my finger. He knows I live in Noe Valley. He knows I go to yoga class. He might assume my getting a job is a mere hobby. He might assume that my husband has asked me to do so. He might assume that I will settle for 30 bucks and hour.
We assume things about each other. It’s that kind of placement agency, where to place judgment. But you really gotta wonder about a person who works a day job from a cubicle placing other people into the cubicles making up other day jobs. Then again, I never understood eating tongue either. There are just some things, no matter how normal or acceptable they may seem, that just don’t make much sense to me.
The elevator bell dings letting me know it has arrived. I wait for it to open. I enter alone and turn around and wait for his face to disappear through the closing metal doors. At that point, I safely assume that he no longer exists and that my assumed smell of desperation might just stay in that elevator and remain long after I leave like cheap perfume or a human fart.
On the street below, people are running to and from coffee shops and pastry places and then back to work. Their feet push the ground out from behind them leaving it for the next person to do the same. They are all on their way somewhere, to another wood-grain desk and a padded chair, both items live inside temporary housing called cubicle. They hurry by me without a care for whatever it is they’re missing. I see a bum on the corner smoking a butt he plucked up from the street below. He stares deliberately at nothing sitting four feet in front of him. His hair is gray and brittle, the lines making up his face are dark and brown like the burnt California mountains I pass on my way to the airport. Standing there, feeling empty and sort of useless, I imagine that at any moment his nose might take off from where the point where a receding hairline meets his dirty forehead, cutting through the hills that make up his distinguished face. Above his head, atop a trail of smoke, his nose turns right in mid-air and heads straight for me. And with one deep inhalation it takes my scent of desperation and carries it up and away.