I dressed in what I thought passed for business casual and caught the bus downtown with my brother’s briefcase in hand. There was nothing in the attaché besides my three paragraph résumé and the Cannonball Run videotape I'd forgotten to return to Blockbuster before my appointment. I realized my outfit wasn’t right the moment I got off the bus at Market Street. I was wearing tan slacks and a tweed sports jacket, which may have passed muster in Denver, but in downtown San Fran it made me look like a door-to-door magazine salesman.
Guys my age in $2,000 Armani suits pushed through thick glass doors while chatting with lovely women in tight skirts. E-commerce millionaires in blue button-down shirts, chinos and black leather jackets made plans for lunch on their cell phones. Advertising hipsters in Fred Siegel jeans and artfully messy haircuts slipped into the backseats of sleek black Town Cars. I may as well have been squeezing an accordion with a dancing monkey.
The Perfect Fit’s waiting room was decorated with fake plants, reproductions of old paintings, and inspirational posters. Several bulletin boards displayed minimum-wage increase memos, and company picnic snapshots. The chairs looked as though they’d been borrowed from a cheap shrink’s waiting room, and one other sorry unemployed person hunkered down in one. This prospective temp was a woman about my age wearing a pants suit almost as outré as my sport jacket. She balanced a clipboard on her lap while chewing the end of a pen. I stepped up to the reception desk. The last time I’d felt like such a loser in a waiting room was back in college when I’d gone to Student Health thinking I had the clap. But this was worse, because at least copping to VD indicated you were getting laid. Another big problem with being unemployed in 1999 was that all the women who weren’t Internet millionaires themselves had become accustomed to $300 champagne dinners at Le Colonial and riding in BMW M3s. Anything less and they weren’t going to put out, so my offers of Applebee’s and bus fare certainly weren’t cutting it.
“Good morning!” The receptionist called out in a startlingly chipper voice. I guess you’ve got to be upbeat when faced with a bunch of depressed, out-of-work fucko-s like myself coming through the door. Just like at Student Health, there was a bowl of lollipops on the front desk.
The receptionist handed me a sheaf of forms and advised me to take a seat. I brushed aside a partially-deflated bouquet of helium balloons, and picked a chair as far away from the other applicant as possible—desperation needs its space. By the time I’d completed the packet I had taken off my jacket and rolled up my sleeves. I handed the clipboard back to the receptionist and flipped through a Red Herring magazine with a cover story about an eighteen-year-old tech wizard. In the accompanying photo the punk was behind the wheel of his orange Ferrari, grinning like he'd just figured out how to jerk off. His contribution to humanity was an online method of (illegally) "sharing" episodes of Air Wolf and Dr. Who.
I was halfway through the article when a cherubic woman of about thirty-five stepped into the waiting room and mispronounced my name. This was Clarissa. She led me back to her office. Clarissa scanned my documents, occasionally marking something in the margin with a pencil bearing a Smurf eraser.
“What kind of work are you looking for?” she asked finally.
“I want to do something interesting,” I explained.
“You know, like do you have any jobs chasing hookers out of yacht clubs or blowing up garbage cans? Maybe something that calls for riding a scooter around an office all day and getting a lot of stock options?” Clarissa cocked her head and stared at me for two seconds before she figured out I had made a funny and laughed. I was sweating and hoped like hell that my deodorant would last through the interview.
“I’ll be straight with you,” she said. “I’ve got plenty of temp jobs, but I don’t think any of them qualify as 'interesting.'” She used her chubby fingers to make quote marks in the air.
“Maybe I misstated my position,” I said. “I want—have to have—a job. Seriously, I just need to get my foot in the door somewhere. I figure I can work my way up from there.”
Clarissa said she understood, but the bottom line was that she didn’t want to put me in an opening where I was going to get bored after one day and quit.
“I get new jobs in every morning,” she assured me. “I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for something—how shall we say?—unusual. Like I said, I could start you filing at a law firm tomorrow but you’d hate it. So trust me here. I’m sure I’ll have something for you by EOW.”
I raised my hand,“Eee-oh-double-u?”
Clarissa raised an eyebrow, “End of week. Trust me here, I’ll find something for you. It may not involve hookers or yacht clubs or being a batboy for the Giants, but it won’t be filing or data entry. I promise you that. So go home and enjoy the afternoon. Okay?”
I reached across the desk to shake Clarissa’s hand.
“Honestly,” she said, “I wish we had more open-minded candidates like you. It’s so much more fun!”
I walked out of her cubicle and grabbed a lollipop off the receptionist’s desk. I was no longer unemployed. I was a candidate.
* * *
Clarissa called the next afternoon. I got the message after returning to the house from Sam the Sandwich Man’s, where I’d picked up hot pastramis for Stevie and myself. The sandwiches cost $2.50 apiece. Top Ramen with a can of cooked chicken was on the menu for dinner. Stevie had taken three bites out of his sandwich before he remembered to give me Clarissa's message. I put down my pastrami and dialed The Perfect Fit.
“Oh,” Clarissa said, her voice heavy with regret, “I just gave it to somebody else.”
“Gave what?” I asked.
“The job. I just got off the phone with the other candidate.”
I asked for clarification. She told me that she had found a prime gig at a leather goods warehouse, no filing or data entry involved. Apparently in the ten minutes it had taken for me to hit the sandwich shop and come home, some other go-getter had snagged what I envisioned to be a cushy, teamster-type job. I glared at Stevie. If not for him I’d be getting ready to drive a forklift and get discounts on motorcycle jackets. Clarissa assured me she’d come up with something else, but I was feeling crushed about the leather gig. It wasn’t a start-up and there was no mention of stock options, but it sounded pretty sweet for starters. I contemplated having Stevie holding all my calls for the rest of the afternoon so I could walk to the Blarney Stone and drink Irish Car Bombs until I passed out.
Clarissa called back when I was almost out the front door.
“Okay,” she said, “this definitely counts as unique.” The job required running a few errands for a wealthy matron, who was holed up in a mansion in Pacific Heights. There was a 10AM reporting time with a 6PM quitting time.
“And they’ll provide lunch.” I could tell she was reading the posting off a sheet on her desk. “Mrs. Phelan specified that she wanted someone intelligent that she could have a conversation with and that they be...” Clarissa trailed off. “Hmm…”
“Mrs. Felon?” I asked.
“Mrs. Feel-an,” Clarissa said, getting back on track.
“Do I have to screw her?” I asked.
“It sounds like a gigolo thing.”
Clarissa laughed. “Thirteen bucks an hour and it’ll be one or two day assignment. By the time you’re finished with that I’m sure I’ll have something good for you. What do you think? Sounds great, right?”
I was in no position to argue.