4. Alex adds nothing to the story

“It’s been hard. Really hard, but I have good news!” Pause. “ A guy with big connections to a record label called last night. He’s agreed to see me and I’m heading to his office this evening!”

The news cracked the girls’ sobriety and replaced it with a rich excitement that leapt between them like St Elmo’s Fire. The gentleman to her right glanced from the corner of his newspaper, then returned to whatever he was doing. Her friend spoke up.

“Good! No-one deserves it as much as you. How long have I had to tell you? You were the best singer in school, you’ve made all the right decisions and now, you’re going to be the best singer in the world!” 

The first girl blushed, clearly pleased with this praise. It was remarkable how this morning the same words would have felt hollow to her but now, after her interview offer, made perfect sense: here were the  irrefutable consequences of her hard work, something to be shown to friends, enemies and herself as proof that  someone important felt she had what it took to become famous. This person’s career depended on finding the next big name, and he had chosen to consider her. Above all else she had achieved something here, even if she wasn’t entirely sure what it was.

“And best of all, you’ve never had to compromise who you are. How do you feel?”

“Good. Well, obviously,” she laughed, “but very nervous. He’s from a company called Mustapha.”

The girls’ attention was briefly stolen by a scruffy looking man sitting on the chairs opposite. He glanced up and down the corridor with the same furtive gestures as a rabbit watching for wolves, peeking from between his dirty, tartan baseball cap and thick, green raincoat. This in itself marked him as suspect, as the weather was balmy, a typical late afternoon in July, and all other passengers wore no more than one thin layer of clothing. Suddenly he stood and walked in determined strides towards an exit, trailed moments later by a security guard. Then he was out of sight, to a different part of the train. 

The two girls looked at each knowingly, they had both tried to ride the train without a ticket before, smiled, then stood themselves as their stop approached.

“But you’re right, I’ve never had to lie to myself. I’m willing to make some changes and be flexible of course, but I have too much self-esteem to say I’ll just be whoever people want me to be, and who’s to say that’s what the public even want?”

The train came to a halt and the two girls disembarked, illuminated by the golden light of a summer day’s close as they disappeared down the platform.  The gentleman opposite placed his paper on the small table to my left, took out his mobile and himself prepared to leave. As he rose from his seat and turned in the opposite direction of the girls, he began to speak.

“Hi, dad? It’s Frank. I just wanted to let you know I’d like to cancel my eight o’clock tonight. I don’t think she’s the right person for us.”

As his voice faded into the muted tones of the commuting crowd I noticed the paper Frank had been reading. An elaborate puzzle was visible, a maze, formed beautifully into the shape of two letter “u”s hiding underneath an umbrella during a rainstorm. Several different inks were present, the remnants of previous challengers that had built upon each others success, with the final solution provided by Frank himself. I pondered his answer briefly, then flipped the paper over and turned to the job vacancies.

 Maze (original design by mazeingpuzzles.wordpress.com)

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3. A Bad Dream

I woke-up this morning with that awful, clammy feeling that comes after a bad dream. It’s strange that a person can simultaneously sweat while feeling cold; it just isn’t right at all. I also woke-up on my back, which is another sure indicator my night has took a turn for the worse. Whenever I wake-up on my back I feel exposed to too much of the world in one hit. Instead of opening my eyes and half my vision being obscured by a pillow or some linen so I’m allowed to re-enter life piecemeal, I’m slapped immediately with a big dose of sunshine and reality. I’m glad in a way babies aren’t delivered by stork so they’re spared the same sensation.

Any way, my dream was that I had met one of my younger sister’s friends, although she doesn’t exist. She was attractive with tanned skin and short-ish blonde hair, pleasant and a nice smile. Don’t get the wrong impression though, it wasn’t that type of dream, I was just talking to her out of politeness. I generally prefer to keep to my own business but make an effort for the sake of people I care about, so I have no problem speaking with anybody so that they have a nice time and so my friends/relations are happy to introduce me to people as well. So it went here. We were having a polite conversation, but out of nowhere she made an aside comment to somebody else in the room that made it clear she simply didn’t want to talk to me any more. I can’t remember her reasons, but whatever they were, they really set me off in my dream.

Usually people can say anything they like to me and I’m near impervious to taking personal offence. I think it’s because I approach other people in a very forgiving and empathic way. I could be strapped to a chair as Scientologists put me through one of their initiation grillings, hurling abuse at me, but in my head my thoughts would be this person is just saying these things because they’ve been conditioned that way, and this genuinely works to completely placate me. For this reason, when someone says something disagreeable to me my first reaction is to say “what’s wrong (with you, to make you act this way)?” rather than “what’s wrong (with me, to make someone say something like this to me)?”. This may be slightly arrogant of me, to assume the problem isn’t with me but with the other person, but I’m also lucky as it means my self-confidence is rarely effected by other people.

As if to underline this, when I woke up I composed myself when I remembered how good looking I was. I felt my legs aching from the run I had took the day before (funnily enough, with the same sister whose fictitious friend had shunned me in the dream), remembered  I had muscular legs, then felt better. Funny, eh?

2. That Job Interview, In Full

Unknown location in a large UK city, between the central train station and commercial district. This area is still generously described on some CVs as a “busy town centre”, although it realistically only occupies a no-man’s land between these two hubs of genuine activity. From the window our interviewee can see a Ca$h Converters, a small café and several boarded-up buildings. The office is small and sparsely decorated. This gives an impression of transience, as if this building has held several enterprising marketing companies over the years only to have them fail in sequence. The floors are boarded, the walls newly painted red, with two small pictures of a New York skyline and an Art Deco style clock on the wall opposite the entrance door. This sits above a desk that houses two receptionists, both of whom pretend to work for independent companies. Our interviewee stands when beckoned, enters a separate room, and takes out various sheets of paper from his bag and arranges them on the desk.

After 10minutes, a gentleman enters. He wears a grey suit with scuffed black shoes.  He has a terrible skin complexion,  is tall and full of energy. Both shake each others’ hands, smile, and begin.

Pimply Gent: Hello Mr _____, remember me? We spoke on the phone. You found us alright then did you?

His smile broadens even more. He sits at the end of a long table, with his body facing slightly away from the interviewee, stroking his tie slowly, sometimes stopping to pinch the end lightly. Our interviewee laughs tersely. He inhales to speak.

PG: Great! Well I wont be interviewing you, your interviewer is running late from a meeting. One moment please.

20minutes pass. A more serious, but equally tall, gentleman enters. He wears a slightly darker suit, is thinner, and doesn’t smile. Handshakes this time are firm, eye contact assured though fleeting. He gives the impression of a person agitated.

Serious Man: Right, Mark filled me in on your CV. Basically, I don’t give a shit about CVs, or degrees, or work experience, or words, I just want to know what you can do. So what can you do?

Interviewee: I can do the job, I say so on my CV, and Cover Letter.

SM glances over CV and Cover Letter.

SM: So you do. Let me put it this way. You’re answering my questions well, and that bothers me – it means I’m not able to see the real you. I want to know about your motivations – where do you want to be in five years time?

Interviewee pauses, then begins to answer…

SM: AND NO BULLSHIT. If you don’t know, then don’t make it up. Because I don’t know either, and if you make it up, I’ll have to make it up.

Interviewee: I want to start my own business.

SM scoffs.

SM: Do you know how many graduates come here and tell me that? You’d be amazed. Sell me this pen.

Interviewee: Would you like to buy a pen?

SM: NO! That’s the whole point. I’m going to leave and come back, and when I come back in, I want you to tell me why I’m qualified to be your boss. Here, you can even take my notes. Then I’m going to buy that pen off you.

SM leaves and re-enters.

SM: Hello, I’m John. I’m looking to buy a pen.

Interviewee: Hello John, how about this one?

John: NO. Ok, here’s where you went wrong. You didn’t even ask me about my semi-professional football team. You didn’t even ask about whether or not I wanted a pen. First thing in sales is – you have to establish need. I don’t need  a pen, I need a sycophant who’ll go all gooey eyed when I tell them how great I am. I want someone who can validate me every hour, on the hour. Don’t you get it at all? You’ll never work for Serious John Inc. with that attitude.

Interviewee: Serious John Inc.?

John: I’m going to make my own company in five years time, Serious John Inc. Think I’m going to work where I am now for the rest of my life? Not  a chance! So now I want you to ask me some questions.

Interviewee: Well, I noticed from your website that you’re an international company. Any chance I can work abroad?

John: What’s the point? We’re going to inflate to breaking point and sell to Brazil in three years. How’s that for a five year plan? I could be in jail by then.

Interviewee: You’re fired. Out you go.

John: Can I at least have my clipboard back?

Interviewee exits stage right. John covers office in petrol, and curtains fall as he lights the match.

Fin.

1. Depression

“Except they were just…what’s the word?”

“Counterfeits?”

“Counterfeits! Fakes! I warned him about buying clothes abroad but he wouldn’t listen. Now he owns a wardrobe  full of nothing that’ll probably just disintegrate in a few months.”

Amy heaved a laugh from her chest. It came free of her lungs then bounced through her throat like dry tumbleweed. Mike smiled dozily at her as Sam took a sip of her sparkling wine, ready to change topic.

“Of course house prices are dropping now,” she noted. “Mike and I were considering purchasing somewhere before the chance slipped us by”

Mike’s eyes flickered and his grin spread. As his face became more open his brow contorted, squeezing free a thin rivulet of sweat that dried a quarter inch down his temple. Amy noted his uncanny responsiveness to the conversation and immediately understood the topic was an old one for the two of them. 

“Except that now of course, given the climate, we’re unlikely to find buyers for quite a long time. But it’s important to put something aside for the future, don’t you think?”

Amy smiled and nodded with sincerity. She agreed it was important to consider the future, although it struck her as strange that a house could once be worth so much, and now so little, without having physically changed at all. Even now looking at her two friends, under the harsh overhead lights with their smiles and earnest expressions, she saw how delicate they truly were. A few misplaced words here or an act of nature there could so easily cause their world to cascade into oblivion. Mike and Sam’s sweaty, grinning countenances’ gave them the appearances of melting wax-works, struggling to hold themselves together under a rising sun.  

Depressions occur when we discover our fine clothes are invisible, our houses made of glass and that the friends we always knew to be impermanent reveal themselves as wax mannequins. If we examine the cause of a Depression economically, we see a situation of distrust and uncertainty created through plenty of optimistic thinking and excess. Previously grandiose plans can fold based on a relatively minor event that cascades like a house of cards back into their deck. No-one is prepared to lend to anyone nor take risks, and banks sit around trying to figure out what it is they do own and refuse to move until their basic needs of who they are, what they can do and where they go from their position are established. Sometimes, they need a helping hand from everyone else: the Government. They used to know this information and need to figure it out again soon. If they don’t, they’re open to bankruptcy and nationalisation.

Depressions foster depressed people for much the same reason. Previously their identities were bound with their ever burgeoning lifestyles; their property, their investments, their hopeful outlook on the future, but there is more people can learn from the economic crisis  beyond the message of placing faith in money. People have a tendency to over-inflate themselves as they are forced by society to put their personalities in the hands of something unstable. It may well be that a family are totally content with their daily routine, a city visit on the weekends and quiet nights in, and if so they’re the lucky ones. For others, there is a need to bloat their personalities to match their goals as the road to success can only be travelled at breakneck speed to keep up with everyone else. It’s inevitable there will be several crashes, from which people may or may not recover, but each one means another person gains frustrating moments on you until they crash themselves.

Sometimes, a depression is nice. It’s when you’re stuck on the roadside, the wreckage of your car formed from your history, your plans, your relationships and your ambitions, that you’re forced to take a look around and recognise the world beyond you. Usually it just zips by and you never get to see it, but for a while it’s right there in front of you. You know you can’t stay there for too long, but nonetheless, it’s welcome when it’s otherwise so easy to forget that it exists.