Playing Games with the Faces

There's nothing worse than job hunting over the holidays, except perhaps starting a new job. In all my running around to HR meetings this week, I've seen people dressed for company parties, or decorating trees, or, at one branch of the company, a table with an electric menorah and a dreidle, and pamphlets explaining the history of Hannukah, and it makes me feel isolated, because as a new hire, I won't get to go to any of these events.

Sitting in the HR lobby this afternoon, I had the opportunity to watch many people. While I was there simply to have my fingerprints logged as part of the new hire process, some employees visited the same department to have their access badges re-activated, or, in the case of one man who gripped his cell phone with worried knuckles and left soft-pitched messages assuring his wife everything would be okay, to be fired. (I know this because he was ordered to stay in view while someone was sent to fetch his personal items.)

There were also about ten prospective employees, all interviewing for customer service positions, all nervous and freshly-washed, like children anticipating the first day of school, all about twenty-five, and most already at the peaks of their careers, even though it was only customer service.

And then there was Gregory. Oh, that's not his name (which I overheard, but will not repeat), but it's a name that suits him, and so I use it here.

Gregory sat separate from the others, his long wool coat draped over his knees, his posture perfect, even in the mushy chairs, which were too low even for me. His suit was dark, impeccably chosen, obviously expensive. His voice, when he spoke, was made of two parts experience and one part refinement. His hair was greying, his eyes were deep blue, as was his tie. His nose was red, when he walked in, but I attributed that to the weather, and the chilly walk across the parking lot.

He walked in with an air of quiet confidence that the other interviewees didn't posses, apologized in soft but firm tones for being late due to road conditions, and then reminded the receptionist (a dead ringer for Christopher Lowel, minus about fifty pounds), that he'd called to let them know he'd be late, as the roads were closed where he lived, and that while the drive had been long, he understood if it was necessary to reschedule. (When I overheard that, and the tinge of weariness in his voice, I wanted it not to be necessary. I wanted them to walk out and smile, and tell him everything would be all right, and mean it.)

From behind the relative safety of the internal corporate newspaper, which was the only available reading material other than the phone book, I watched him, noting the age lines in his face, but that he held himself with pride, the perfect manicure, the pressed suit. I wondered why such a person would be interviewing with the branch of the company where we were sitting, for jobs that were clearly entry level. I made up stories of tragic loss – his wife had died, he was a recovering alcoholic, he was a jazz musician who needed a stable income – any number of possibilities. I wanted to ask him, but knew it would be rude, so when I finished my paper and he finished his, I asked, “Want to trade?” and we did (they were different editions, each about eight pages long.)

I left the room before he did, and when I returned he was already gone, hopefully for a nice, long, successful interview. Later, when I spoke with my mother, I asked her why he might have been there, and she reminded me, “Honey, the fact that he was, as you guessed, at least fifty, is enough.”

It is terrifying to hunt for a job at the age of thirty-five. How much more so to be fifteen years beyond that, and forced to start your life over? I don't think I'd have been as calm. I wish him well, the man I will make myself think of as Gregory, and hope for the best.

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said â™be careful his bowtie is really a cameraâ™

â™toss me a cigarette, I think thereâ™s one in my raincoatâ™
â™we smoked the last one an hour agoâ™
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field.

–Simon & Garfunkel, America

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