Monday, the fifth of May, 2013
Sometimes he worried that he was too anxious. No, anxious wasn't the word, he thought. It was more of a neurotic compulsion towards introspection, analysis, and self-dialog that concerned him. Not that he was concerned , more like it was just something he noticed. Yes, he noticed these thoughts that seemed to flow from one into another, with no discernible space between them. What had his Grandmother called it? Yes, going down the rabbit hole, escaping into thought by means of additional argument. He was the kind of person who liked to think they were quiet and easy going, but it proved hard to believe that when he didn't truly understand what either of those terms meant.
"Mr. Lamb, here's your coffee. Black, you said?"
Startled, he managed a quick smile and a nod, and soon the woman was on her way, having completed her auxiliary duty of seeing to the prospective employee waiting by the chairs that lined the hallway. Mr. Lamb made an effort not to look at his wristwatch as he lifted the coffee to his mouth. This of course did no good, as the constant tick of the clock that hung across from him on gray walls made it near impossible to keep the thought of time absent from his mind. What made matters even worse was the anonymous beeping of some unknown device that emanated from further down the hall. The noise seemed at times to sync up with the clock, only to slowly disassociate itself from the beat. Each revolution of synchronicity and dissociation took about thirty seconds. Mr. Lamb had been waiting in this chair, this precise location- Psynex Solutions, 32 Reynolds Avenue, Toronto, Ontario- for approximately thirty such revolutions. During this time, he had noticed the obvious absence of any other applicants, which seemed strange for several reasons.
First, the email had specified that because of his late application, he would be subject to a group interview. He had never been in a group interview before, as most part time jobs had barely required interviews at all. In his experience, an interview meant a review of personal information, and brief haggling over hours, availability and other such administrative tasks. Having recently graduated, this was his first actual job, and as such he had zero expectations going into the process. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the job was an obvious choice for the recent graduate demographic to which it was obviously marketed. The job promised full time, on contract for two years and no benefits, but with just enough salary to make it seem worth the effort. The fact that he alone was sitting, waiting, and counting the dissonant beats seemed not concerning, as it might to another, but oddly exciting to him.
At precisely ten forty eight in the morning, the same woman who had solicited him for a coffee or tea escorted Mr. Lamb to the one conference room held in the small office. As the women led him through two clusters of desks, housing maybe eight to ten people, he couldn't help but notice the absence of people at their work stations. This too, excited rather than concerned Mr. Lamb. Perhaps it made him think that he could impress the staff with his dutiful attendance and promptness, or else spoke to a possible desperation on the part of the company, illustrating a need to fill what were obviously vacant positions.
All of the assumptions that Mr. Lamb had begun crafting in his mind were broken as soon as he entered the threshold of the small conference room. All around the oval-shaped desk sat no less than eleven people, dressed in business casual attire, all looking expectantly at the latest arrival. He managed a smile and gratefully took hold to a seat at the nearest edge of the table.
"Mr. Lamb, it's a pleasure to finally put a face to the name. My name is Sophia Davies, we've been talking back and forth over email."
"The name's Oliver, it's a pleasure"
Sophia, appearing to be in charge, led the onslaught of firm handshakes the Oliver received. Each hand was associated with a short and concussive mention of a name, all of which disappeared from his mind as soon as it was followed by another. Also embarrassing were the comments that many of those present made, all loud enough for him to hear, but the quantity of which made them difficult to parse.
"Good handshake, that often..."
"Yes, maybe a bit but it shows..."
"...better looking than-"
Oliver closed his eyes, using a quick breath to reset his disposition. At least here, sitting in front of what must have been the majority of the workers in the office, he was spared from the persistent noises of the clock and the unknown digital device. Eyes open, he readjusted to the fluorescent glow to find all faces, now quiet, looking patiently in his direction. There seemed to be an eternity contained in the brief moment where Sofia's lips pursed in anticipation of the words that would follow. Perspiration was forming on his forehead, and the crook of his neck.
"Please, be seated."
As Sofia spoke to the room, urging once again nameless faces into their respective spots, the real interview began. Oliver thought of all of the suggestions everyone from the university had given him; eye contact, a confident yet unobtrusive demeanor, and to answer every question posed to him without exception. The latter seemed to conflict with another piece of advice his grandmother had given him, her citing some universal maxim by insisting that he should limit his talking to what proved absolutely necessary. Answer all questions, but also keep your mouth shut. Another breath, and it began.
"So Mr. Lamb, let's begin with your recent graduation from school. It says here you graduated with distinction from Toronto, is that correct?"
Answer all questions, but also keep your mouth shut.
"Yes, that's correct."
His mouth formed into the default smile that was found on his face whenever he rested, was comfortable or otherwise engaging with pleasant people. Despite the absurd notion of being interviewed by the entire staff, he found Sofia's presence pleasant. Or perhaps pleasant wasn't the word, maybe more appealing. She seemed the sort who, regardless of the situation, could contain the anxiety of a person and bring them into a calm and collected state, as was the case here. However, the smile faltered slightly when his response, with its calculated brevity, was met with the clicking of a near dozen pens, followed by the frantic scratching of ballpoint on paper.
"You graduated with distinction, from a liberal arts program, opting to-" And the pause at this junction was one he was told to expect, and if played correctly, one that could be made his advantage. "-I see, you've just recently finished a general arts degree."
"Yes, I found that with my particular skill set, I was more effective while studying subjects on my own. General arts allowed me to try my hand at quite a few topics, so that I could continue my studies on my own, instead of committing, no-"But it was too late. He grimaced, hopefully only within the confines of his thoughts, at having used the word 'committing' in such a negative way. He soldiered on, hoping to avoid further scrutiny on his choice of diction, "-Instead of limiting myself to one specific area. I thought on the subject for a long time, and I'm quite proud of my choice, I think it was the correct one."
"Your marks are impressive, but I'm afraid we're more concerned with, or looking instead for, a relevance to the open job. Marks are fine, but we need workers, not," She looked vaguely in the direction of the corner of the roof, searching, "A scholar."
It was not, according to Oliver, supposed to go like this. His education, whether or not it was purely academic, was supposed to be an asset, and not a hindrance. There were a dozen things he wanted to say all at once in defense of the past four years. Yet one particular thought remained- answer all questions, but also keep your mouth shut. He found that presently the majority of the eyes in the room were cast expectantly in his direction, as if waiting for the answer to the implicit question that Sofia had posed.
"I can assure you all, I am nothing like a scholar." It pained him to say this, as Oliver often thought of pursuing academics instead of work. "It's like this. I know exactly what I am good at, and what my interests are. I knew going into school that specializing in a particular part of my arts education would limit the options I was given outside of that specialty. Instead, knowing I'm an independent and motivated learner, I chose to give myself the most options, and allowed them to myself."
There was an audible murmur in the group. Whether or not this was a noise of agreement or not egged on the edge of Oliver's consciousness, but the situation required his focus.
"So how exactly are you suited to this position, Mr. Lamb?"
He smiled, the conversation having returned to the familiar script that he was warned to prepare, "Let me tell you,"
That he got the job was not a surprise to him. After twenty minutes of questions pertaining to his education and relative inexperience in the field of order management, the conversation digressed into personal details. He thought, after hanging up the phone that evening, that conversation was not the proper word for what happened. It was more of a question and answer period, where the employees, prompted by Sofia, asked about increasingly personal topics. They, meaning he, discussed everything from school life, to transportation, his place of residence and past relationships. Despite the odd nature of this conversation, long having moved from work-related to inappropriate, at the time it seemed a natural transition.
What really made him confident also biased his thoughts about the peculiar line of questioning that he had been subject to. Rather than insulted or made uncomfortable, Oliver was made ever surer of his chances with every passing question. To him, it was not intrusive, or perhaps more importantly, not indicative of possible future intrusions, but taken as a sign of interest and intent.
Deciding to replay the message on his answering machine for a fifth time, Oliver redialed his code and waited.
"Hello Oliver, this is Sofia from Psynex. I'm calling to let you know that we've accepted your application, and we'd love to hire you on the terms specified. We can work out the details in the morning. You start at nine. I look forward to seeing you again."
This being the fifth time he had listened to the message, he did not listen to the words so much as take note of the timbre of her voice. Oliver tried to picture her face, pretty as it was, while listening. Were her eyes blue? As he prepared his supper in his small apartment, he concluded that they were probably brown, but the question would require further study.
As he lay awake in bed, having retired early, his thoughts drifted between Ms. Davies, the job, and the amount of hours of sleep he could fit between the present moment and six thirty in the morning. Despite his best efforts, his mind kept working well into the night. As each hour past, he tried to ignore what he was sure was the faint sound of a clock.