Jonathan sat in one of the black vinyl chairs, badly padded, badly contoured, and as uncomfortable as they were meant to be; no doubt an object lesson inflicted by some HR gnome just before she or he became expendable. The vacant-eyed woman behind the counter had returned her focus to the screen off to one side. If the entirety of ISIS came through the glass doors, assault weapons on full auto, they would overrun her counter before she’d have the presence to ask, “How can I help you?” Of course she wouldn’t be saying it anyway, because she’d be dead, still facing her inter-office emails or her unauthorized game of Spider Solitaire. Jonathan silently bet on Spider. Her attention was too… rapt for it to be anything less.
He glanced around the lobby of HR – glass walls on two sides, a huge wall-mounted screen spewing corporate propaganda on the third wall, a huge print of positively representative members of the workforce smiling out at prospective clients because they damned sure were having fun working for… The Machine? The Meat Grinder? He shuddered and decided on The Machine; the alternative was too in touch with… accuracy. They were having a wonderful time working their jobs in The Machine. And you knew it, too, by the way they looked out at you and smiled their smug, knowing smiles at you as you came through the big double glass doors.
Why all the glass? Jonathan wondered, looking around again. Was it meant to convey a sense of transparency? There was no transparency here, he thought. Four times he had gone through this process. Dress for success. Be sure your hair appears freshly cut. Use positive, appropriate colors when choosing your wardrobe. Appear young and perky, no matter your age. Be ready to answer questions the logic of which eluded Jonathan every time. The job interview process was the very antithesis of the metaphorically open and transparent lobby; there was no seeing in. It was the Bridge of Death in that Holy Grail movie. The bridge trolls allowed you to approach within eyesight of the other side – within view of the blessed end of the quest. Then came the questions. Each time you interviewed, they slipped in a final, damnedly deceptive question (“What… is the capital of Assyria?”). Fail to answer immediately… strong-heartedly… and, perhaps, even correctly, and you’re instantly flung into the abyss of despond and failure. God! To be The King for just this once!
Here he was yet again; proof that his applications at least attracted the attention of one of the trolls. His references and qualifications impressed someone enough to have him back in these god-awful chairs awaiting yet another ordeal.
As in previous visits, he watched the clock tick off time well past his appointment. Please arrive fifteen minutes early, they always advised. So we can rub your nose in it by making you wait a half an hour past… just for giggles.
Jonathan fumed. He hated wearing a suit coat, detested the noose about the neck. The smile plastered on his face caused his cheeks to cramp. The screen zombie behind the desk never looked up, right nor left, even when answering the phone. Was it all worth this, he wondered, irritated by the sweat rolling down his ribs under the crisp no-iron dress shirt. He wanted to strip out of his discomfort. He longed to tell the receptionist, “Red Jack on the Black Queen,” even it just messed up her concentration. Or tell her, “I’m going out to get a cold beer. Tell the powers to be if they want to interview me, I’ll be at The Crush around the corner, okay?” Instead he sat silently and fumed.
He followed the bridge troll with the well-rehearsed smile and the clipped on ID that sported the troll smiling the exact same smile. A few words of instruction, a rough idea of what to expect during the interview, and “Good luck,” were uttered before entering the conference room.
Jonathan shook hands, heard and forgot names, and took his seat. The questions came at him….