A Short Story by Jonathan D. Scott
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I should have known all along. The amazing thing is I was completely taken off guard even though all the signs were there. Like take for instance, the big red sign on the barbed wire fence beside the street leading to the plant that said "No exit."
I’m what some so-called sophisticated people call superstitious. I like to think of myself as sensitive. I believe that life is like a good suspense book. I mean, there are all kinds of clues to what’s going to happen next. If you keep alert to the signs.
My friend Lenny doesn’t believe in signs. I’ve told him one of these days he’s going to land in trouble if he doesn’t watch out. He’s the one that gave me the phone number of this place he said I could get a job. I’d been feeling so discouraged I didn’t think I could go through the whole thing again. But I noticed that the last four digits of their phone number were the same as my birthday. I thought it might be a sign.
"American Auto Options. Please hold." answered a lady’s voice. Then there was a loud click.
"What do you want?" the voice came back.
"I was calling to find out if you’ve got any openings."
"What the hell do you mean by that?" she snapped.
"Are you looking to hire anybody?" I said, trying to be more specific.
"No," she said.
"My friend Lenny DeAngelo said he thought you might need somebody.
"Hold on." Then the click, then and something that sounded like Sinatra singing from the bottom of a well. Just as he was explaining how he had gotten through life doing things his way, the voice came back.
"Mr. Martelli says for you to come in Thursday at eleven. And he says to bring your résumé." Then the click, then silence.
Well, that was a hang-up. In more ways than one.
I had gotten through life pretty well up to that point without ever needing a résumé. You see, I’ve never been the kind of person to follow a straight and narrow path through life. Not that I’ve ever been crooked, at least not intentionally. It’s just that my life isn’t linear. When it comes to doing one thing and then another I’ve always been more...well, holistic. That’s really a good word for it because my life story is kind of holistic, in that it has quite a number of holes.
The kind of holes I’m talking about are like the time I took that drive-away car out to New Mexico and hung out there for the rest of the winter. Or when I spent three months working on balloon art.
So there I was needing to put my whole life down neatly in typewriting by Thursday at eleven. I didn’t have either a typewriter or a clue where to begin and so I asked Lenny for some help.
Lenny is a wealth of information on a lot of things. He says it’s because of his education. But most of the things he knows they don’t teach you in school.
The first and most important rule Lenny told me in writing a resume is to never be specific. Like, for example, never put down the exact dates when you started and left a job. For an example don’t do this:
Abrasive Products Company: June 6, 1988- June 24, 1988
Responsibilities: Stood between two jerks on an assembly line, tossing out broken parts, licking gummy labels and trying to look busy so as not to be given something else to do.
Obviously that’s no good at all. Lenny says the key is to be as general as possible. Like this:
Abrasive Products Company: Late 1980’s
Responsibilities: Research and marketing.
Lenny says "research" has a nice, scientific ring to it and everyone who’s been through high school can say he’s done "research." "Marketing ," he says, is a great thing to put down because nobody’s really sure what it is.
Like take my last job. No, actually my next to last job if you count the car delivery thing, which as I’ve told everybody, I’d just as soon not even mention. When I first saw the ad in the paper for Furst Quality Parts Company, and realized that it was not only Sunday, the first day of the week, but it was also the first day of the month, I thought for sure it was a good sign, even though I don’t ordinarily take much stock in homonyms.
I was the first person to call in for the job, the first person to fill out an application and, in what I thought was the first string of good luck I had had in while, I got the job.
It wasn’t too hard. Most of my time was spent answering the "order" line, then trying five or six times to get the stock number of whatever the person wanted to come up on the computer, putting the receiver down next to the radio and going back to check the inventory in the stock room.
Sometimes five, sometimes ten minutes later I would come back and if the customer was still on the line, I would say something like, "We only have twenty 0-300 double A’s and thirty of the 0-400 B’s, but only the flat kind." Lenny said I should list it as a "research and marketing" position.
It was a good job, and I’d probably still be there if it weren’t for Mr. Furst. He called me into his office on the first morning and told me, "Whatever Mr. Furst tells you to do, just ignore it." That had me completely baffled. Then I thought maybe it was some kind of Zen paradox thing he was doing. Finally I caught on that there were two Mr. Fursts, referred to around the office as the first Mr. Furst and the second Mr. Furst.
I didn’t meet the second Mr. Furst until I had worked there a few weeks. He started calling me into his office every morning to ask me what people in the office thought about him and always said, "Don’t tell Mr. Furst that I’ve called you in here."
One day after I got back from lunch there were two notes on my desk. One read "Come to my office immediately," and the other one "Leave Mr. Furst alone." I decided the best thing to do was to take the afternoon off. The next morning there were two envelopes with pink slips inside, each signed by a different Mr. Furst.
Which brings me to another important feature in résumé writing. Never, ever list a reason for leaving. No one in his right mind would ever give an honest reason. If you try to give one you’ve pegged yourself as a liar right off the bat. Lenny said that if I ever have to fill out something like that on an application I should either leave it blank or put "decided to seek employment better suited to my capabilities."
Now "Capabilities" is vague enough to be okay according to Lenny, but never get that confused with "Career Goals," something a lot of people do. Some people make the mistake of putting in their résumés something like:
Career Goals: "I am looking for a position of advancement in the Such- and-such field."
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. You’d never get the job because they are probably hiring you to be a flunky and a flunky is what they want. The boss already has the best job. And he isn’t going to give it to you. You don’t have to have an MBA to figure out that when you apply for a job, the people that work there already have first dibs on the stuff everyone likes to do. They’re only looking to hire somebody who will do the rest.
Now with all this you’re probably wondering why I would ever want a job at all. The thing is, as everyone knows, if there’s anything worse than a bad job it’s no job at all. And the worst thing about not having a job is having to look for a job. And the best reason to get a job is so you can stop having to look for a job.
When you’re looking for a job you’re mostly likely broke. And when you’re broke you’re probably off your regular routine by a few hours and not keeping up with the appearance thing as well as you would if you had some money.
That’s the way I was after the Mr. Furst job. I had gotten into the habit of staying up kind of late at night. Then, to perk myself up, I started hanging out at the gym.
That’s where I got to know Jimmy "The Arm." We both used to show up at the gym at the same times and after you’ve been in the shower together a few times, you feel like you begin to know a guy. So one day I asked him if he knew of any places I might get a job.
"What can you do?" he asked me.
"I don’t know, the usual I guess," I said.
"You know how to drive a car?"
"Sure," I said.
"Well, I’ve got a friend who’s got a car transport business who ‘s looking for some help."
"A what?" I asked.
"It’s like this. There’s lots of people who need their cars moved from one place to another. Like, let’s say a guy drives his car here from Jersey to work and then he winds up going out later and getting drunk and taking a cab home. Then he needs somebody to drive his car home for him so he can do the whole thing again if he wants to."
I was skeptical.
"There’s people all over the city like that," he said, spraying his armpits. "It’s not just drunks, you know. Sometimes it’s businessmen who like to jog and they’ll pay somebody to drive their car from where they start to where they finish so they don’t have to run around in a circle."
"Nah," I said. And that should have been the end of it.
"See that guy over there," he said pointing his thumb to a guy in blue shorts with curly hair. "He used to make 25 grand a year doing car transport and he only worked a few hours a day."
I didn’t believe a word he said. But he gave me the number of this guy named Joe, and two weeks later, after the gas company shut off the hot water when I was in the middle of a shower, I called him.
It seemed easy enough to me. All I did was wait for the dispatcher to call and tell me where the client’s car was parked and where he wanted it driven. She called it the "origination point" and the "destination." It was just like driving the van to New Mexico, only shorter and more often. And every Friday I got $50 for each delivery.
Sometimes they sent me the keys in the mail or sometimes they were hidden in a Hide-A-Key box under a bumper. The day when I went to pick up this fire engine red BMW 230 SL I remember thinking that it wasn’t a very safe thing to do, leaving the keys like that. Somebody could steal it in a heartbeat.
You see, it’s signs like that that are important. And I would have seen it if I hadn’t been thinking about this girl Donna that I had dated for a while. She broke it off when I lost a job and stopping shaving. But I got this idea of driving downtown, parking near where she worked and offering her a ride home in a fire engine red 280 SL.
By the time I actually made it downtown it was well after five, and Donna had already taken the bus, and I was about three-quarters of an hour late to the "destination." That’s why I was going a little fast down Girard Avenue and that’s why the cops pulled me.
"License and registration," said a white one.
I got my license out of my wallet, thinking, "Shit," which is what everyone thinks when they get pulled.
"Get out of the vehicle and put your hands on the roof," said a black one.
"What?" I said.
They looked at each other, said something into their walkie-talkie and started giving me the Miranda thing just like on TV. Except this show was like a closed-circuit exclusive, just for those lucky people slowing down to gawk on their way home down Gerard Avenue.
* * *
I rode in the back of their squad car, feeling pissed that now I was going to look for a job again, until it dawned on me that I might have really done something bad enough to go to jail where, as you know, they’ve got guys doing things that even Dr. Ruth doesn’t know about.
The more I thought about having to go to jail over a fire engine red 230 SL the sweatier my palms got. I began to shake and tremble and thought for sure I was I was near the end when I realized we were just driving over the trolley tracks on Baltimore Avenue.
That’s when I made the deal with God.
"If I get out of this one, God," I said to him, "I promise I’ll be good for the rest of my life and always pay attention to the signs." And I really meant it.
Getting arrested is no picnic, believe me. This whole thing about being innocent until proven guilty is a big joke. I think the idea is that in case you get off for some reason, like I did, and don’t have to go to jail they want you to be sure you get in as much punishment as possible in the meantime.
They finally let me have my phone call. Actually, it was two calls.
The first one was to "The Arm" to get Joe’s number since I didn’t have it. He told me two things.
The first was if I ever get arrested again not to call him, and the second was the number of his lawyer, Leonard DeAngelo.The first was if I ever get arrested again not to call him, and the second was the number of his lawyer, Leonard DeAngelo.
A few hours later this little guy with glasses shows up and they let me out. All I had to do was to promise to give up the car transport business and never mention Joe to anybody. And that’s how I got to know Lenny.
How Lenny got me off I have no idea. And how he knows so much about writing résumés, I don’t know either. But since I wasn’t in jail, and since I was borrowing his typewriter, I didn’t question either one.
"What should I say about the car thing, Lenny?" I asked him one afternoon about a week later while I was in his office.
He pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked off into space for a second. "Say you managed a privately-owned vehicle transportation service. And if they want to know what you are doing now, tell them you’re currently self-employed as a consultant," he said shoving me out the door, "Nobody really knows what that is either."
I’m not exactly what you’d call a typist, so it took most of a night and about twenty-five sheets of Lenny’s high quality watermarked 70 pound linen writing text before I had the thing typed out nice and cleanly. By that time I was too wound up to sleep so I didn’t crash out till about four. So looking back on it, I’m sure if I had had more than a few hours sleep I would have paid more attention to the signs.
By the time I pulled into the parking lot of American Auto Options it was quarter past nine. There weren’t any signs on the building at all, which isn’t a good sign. But there was one door with metal bars across it, a lot like the one at the Baltimore Avenue Precinct House.
In the dim light inside I could make out one hardback chair, a tiny table and an ugly old woman behind a glass window reading a paperback book. I tapped on the glass about five or six times before she noticed I was there, and when she did, she looked at me like she had caught me with my hand in her purse.
She slid the glass aside and asked, "What do you want?"
"I’m here to see Mr. Martelli," I said.
"Well, you got to wait." she said.
I started to sit down but she stopped me. "Hey, you’re not going anywhere until you sign in." And she shoved a large black book out her window.
I took the thing and thumbed through it. It looked pretty innocent at first, just long lists of names and dates. But then I noticed something peculiar. Something that maybe some people might not notice if the weren’t sensitive to signs. Something very peculiar.
Beside each name there was written a "TIME IN," probably scratched in by guys like me waiting to get in to show somebody their résuméor something. But nobody, in all the years the book had been there, had ever written a "TIME OUT."
Maybe it was just a coincidence.
But maybe it wasn’t.
A door suddenly swung open and a little guy with thick glasses stuck his head in and said, "I’m Martelli. Follow me." He looked so much like Lenny he could have been his cousin. Which he probably was.
We walked down a corridor until we came to door marked PERSONELL. Only the P-E-R-S-O-N was peeling off. Not a good sign. Martelli held the door open like I was his honored guest. "Mr. DeAngelo tells me," he said, clearing away some paper plates so I could sit down, "that you’re a young man with a lot of initiative."
This threw me right off, because I didn’t know if initiative was something they wanted or something they didn’t. I looked down at my shoes and said, "Well, you know Lenny..." There was a long silence and then he broke out into a big laugh, which I joined in, although I wasn’t sure why.
"I brought my résumé," I said in my most professional voice.
I handed it to him and he looked it over for about ten seconds. "Nice paper," he said.
"Thanks," I said.
He leaned way back in his chair. "Look, I got a guy in the marketing department that’s going a way for a while. He’s making about twenty-seven five. You want his job?"
"Sure," I said, trying in my mind to divide twenty-seven five by fifty-two.
"Good," he said. "You’re hired."
He stood up all of a sudden and headed for the door. "I’ll show you your office."
Everything seemed to be going a little fast for me. I grabbed my résuméoff his desk. I wasn’t going to let all that work go to waste, even if I did already have the job.
He led me down through a couple of long corridors. I should have been feeling great. I mean I figured twenty-seven-five is almost four hundred a week take home pay. Every week. But for some reason my legs were a getting a little shaky, only this time I wasn’t in the back of a cop car going over any trolley tracks.
Finally we came to a cubicle in a dark corner at the end of a hall. "In here," he said.
There were two metal desks littered with worn down file folders and two calendars on the wall. One with a girl with bare tits holding an electric drill and the other one with Jesus Christ touching some animals on the head. A rumpled, overweight guy was standing next to a file cabinet, trying to make the room as smoky as possible. "This is Calvechio," said Martelli.
I stuck out a sweaty hand but Calvechio just looked around for a paper cup and spit into it.
"This is the guy that’s going to replace you, Calvechio" Martelli said to him cheerfully.
Calvechio put out his cigarette and looked at me. I wouldn’t swear it, but he seemed like he might have just come from the three-martini breakfast. "Good, " he said. "So now you can work here for twenty-six goddamn years until you find out that you’ve got no goddamn insurance so you can go to your wife’s goddamn cousin to borrow money for some goddamn operation."
"Calvechio has polyps, " said Martelli as way of an explanation.
But my mind wasn’t on Calvechio. It was on that Jesus calendar. Cold shivers had been going up and down my spine, just like that morning in the shower. And now I knew why. Looking down at my resume I realized I had already broken my promise to the Almighty. And so, instead of going to jail, God was going to make me take this job.
"Mr. Martelli, " I said weakly. "About my résumé..."
But Calvechio cut me off. "And you, Martelli," he began shouting, " you freakin’ bastard. How the hell do you sleep at night?"
Not any easy question to come up with a clever answer to. And so I don’t blame Martelli for reaching out to put a friendly hand on his shoulder. But apparently Calvechio didn’t see it that way. He lunged, grabbed Martelli and threw him up against the file cabinet. Pretty fast, I was thinking, for a guy who had been drinking this early in the morning.
But I didn’t have too much time to think. Calvechio turned to me. "And as for you, you little piece of shit..."
Now there’s more important thing about résumés that I forgot to mention. Something they don’t teach you in school. Something that probably even Lenny probably doesn’t know. But if you take two sheets of high-quality watermarked 70 pound linen writing text and roll them up as tightly as you can and jam them firmly into somebody’s gut you can really make an lasting impression.
Calvechio grabbed his stomach, turned pale and staggered back against the girl with the tits. I gently uncrumpled the dents in my weapon. "Mr. Martelli, " I said, tucking the résuméinto my pants like a pirate’s dagger, "I’ve decided to seek employment better suited to my capabilities."
I didn’t wait for Martelli to show me out. I left the two of them arguing if Calvechio could get Workman’s Comp now that he had been injured on the job. I didn’t bother to find the front door. I just went through the first exit I could find, not even caring that it set off an alarm.
By the time I was out of the barbed wire gate and wheeling down the drive I knew everything was going to be all right. I eased the pedal down and zoomed past a little green sign along the road. "Resume Speed," it said. It was a good sign.