by Brian Graham
It's somewhere in the middle of a federally mandated job search seminar that I begin to wonder what the barrel of a gun tastes like. Not that I'm all that suicidal -- I'm just bored as hell and the lecturer is currently entering minute 5 in her thrilling explanation of what a GED is.
This seminar is all part of the unemployment insurance proceedings. It's supposed to help you learn how to find a job. Networking, networking, networking, is the instructor's advice. What this has turned out to be is really just a two hour commercial for a government sponsored temp agency called WorkSource. But a letter I got from the state threatened to end my unemployment benefits if I didn't attend, and the only thing more embarrassing than collecting unemployment is having it taken away. So here I am, 9:30 AM, wasting my precious life away in a standard box of a meeting room, all piercing overhead lighting and uncomfortable chairs.
Make sure to keep all your ducks in a row, the instructor says and really, I have no idea what that means.
Who here has a resume? She asks. Raise your hands, she says.
We all reach our hands skyward like hesitant schoolchildren, afraid to be called on.
I look over at the woman sitting next to me, her blond hair languishing down to her shoulders, the faint smell of perfume scenting the air. Who wears perfume to a re-employment seminar? What does she hope to gain by this, I wonder, but the more I think about it the more I just want to leave with her, she's not all that much older than me and probably the kind of girl I would kill for in twenty years when I am old and desperate and we could go back to her place and open a bottle of wine, it's not like we have pressing obligations and it's been so long since I've been drunk in the afternoon and we could eat kung pao chicken in bed and it would be wonderful, a rewarding chance encounter, so much better than this shit. Uncomfortable, she readjusts her body in her plastic seat and I get a clearer look at her face -- sunken, sad eyes with small but prominent bags beneath them, weird thin lips that bare shiny teeth -- and my fantasy is blown and I have no choice but to listen to the woman at the front of the room, blathering on and on about how it's easier to get a job if you are physically impaired.
Who here is physically or mentally impaired? She asks.
No one raises their hands.
A year ago, on this very day, I was in Paris. I was in fucking Paris and there were those two girls who I met on the street and they seemed nice enough but they were only mildly attractive and I thought there would be so many more women in so many more countries who would kill to spend time with me, the young, sexy foreigner with so much wit and life to offer, so I left them in the gardens next to the Louvre and I had all those Vicodin that made the world so much kinder and more interesting and the artist in the park said I had a sexy nose -- and now, here I am. Unemployed and bitter and angry and I guess I could move to Paris, or Rome or Prague, yes Prague, Prague is perfect. I will start a new life in Prague as an artist or a writer or a street musician and they would all flock to me because I am clever and strong and could enrich their lives with my unpretentiousness. And I could beat them all at basketball. I will hustle at the schoolyards, taking small sums from unwitting locals who underestimate my skill -- he's short, they will say with a laugh to their friends and they will put up their money and I will take it from them so easily with a wide variety of low post moves, with my streaky jump shot --
There's a large market for school bus drivers, the instructor is saying. Does anyone want to drive a bus?
I idly scan the job listings that were handed out when I walked in, all administrative assistants and warehouse temps and delivery openings. The only one even vaguely interesting is a part-time job as a carpenter. I could be a carpenter. It would be nice to have that sort of skill, to be able to spend an afternoon on a workbench, turning trees into cabinets or shelves or more workbenches, something to show for my efforts, something to trade for my blood, my sweat, something that will stand in someone's living room and hold their entertainment center; but then I think of splinters and the smell of wood stain and I was never very good with a hammer, often leaving crude indentations all over from when I misjudged the head of the nail and mercilessly smacked the hammer into soft lumber instead.
You're out of work, the instructor says. You're shell-shocked, you're confused, disoriented, and you need a hand getting back into the workplace.
So now what? she asks.
She pauses, examining all of us seated before her. All of us with nowhere to go. Nothing to do all day. Living off the government.
She looks at us like we're pathetic, and Jesus -- we are pathetic. What do you do now? She asks again.
And, really, I have no idea.
About the author:
Brian Graham is not the sort of person who doesn't call when he promises he will. It's just that your handwriting is really illegible and maybe it got smeared a little in his jacket pocket and then it was raining as he walked home and that didn't really help matters at all. Brian also enjoys run-on sentences.