OMG. I wrote a novel.

book coverThe following is an excerpt from my novel They Don’t Like Me: A Love Story. (Not published.) The narrator is Haley, who is barely holding it together after a break up with her boyfriend, “Vanagon.” Vanagon cheated on her with his ex-girlfriend, a woman named Theresa Gibson. Haley found this out while she was at her best friend Dan’s wedding. She has plunged into a spiral of depression, and is desperately searching for a way out… Note: These characters are not real people from the author’s life. This is fiction.


Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville.
Searching for my lost shaker of salt. Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, But I know it’s my own damn fault.

– Jimmy Buffet, Margaritaville

Things were bleak. I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at my ceiling. I thought about Vanagon and Theresa. Constantly. I imagined them on an Island, coasting down zip lines, and having amazing sex outdoors. They’d be fucking on boulders and shit. Fireworks and glitter and perfect lighting. Total ecstasy, straight off the cover of one of those Fabio novels. Then I would think about blowing my brains out. But only for a second.

After staring at my ceiling for most of the day, I’d finally drag myself off the couch and consult my calendar. I’d flip through the pages, measuring out exactly how much of my life I had wasted in that relationship. And how much longer it was going to take to wade through this miserable aftermath. They say that it takes half the time of your relationship to get over the relationship. This was not good news. I didn’t know how much more of this I could take.couch

I couldn’t eat. Sometimes I would pour myself a bowl of cereal, but I could only manage to choke down a couple spoonfuls. My best and most consistent course of action was a daily regimen of vodka and Ambien, consumed immediately after work. The goal was to lose all traces of consciousness until the following morning. Then, I would wake up and drag myself to work. After work, I would come home and start the whole cycle over again. This break up was hitting me harder than I anticipated. Besides the nightly blackouts, the only thing getting me through it was my resolve to NOT call Vanagon. Unfortunately, whatever satisfaction I was getting from my resolve was canceled out by my disappointment that Vanagon wasn’t calling me either. It was an insult. Really.

Morale was at an all time low.marigold necklace

The first day that I trudged into work after the whole wedding/break-up debacle was rough. Upon entering my cubicle, I was face to face with the picture of Vanagon at the gas station, wearing his marigold necklace. I let out a deep sigh and yanked it off the wall, wadding the picture up in my hand, and quickly dropped it into the wastebasket next to my desk. I stared at my computer screen. Ah, the monotony of work. The hum of fluorescent lights … slowly killing what was left of my soul.

And this too shall pass. And this too shall pass. That was the only hope I had. It can’t be this terrible forever, could it? I remembered Dan after his breakup with Yoga Jenny. He barely left his house. He grew a beard. He wore the same sweatshirt every day for weeks. I totally understood now. I totally got it. But now that Dan was happy and married, I didn’t feel like calling him up to share this new-found sympathy. He was fine. He had made it through. I, on the other hand, was shriveling up inside.

Months passed, but the pain did not subside. I realized that I was going to need something drastic to rocket me out of this dark place. What would it be? I scrolled through my mental Rolodex of things that put me in a happy place:

  • Frozen yogurt
  • Jameson
  • BCBG

So far, at best these had provided only fleeting relief. At worst, the one time I tried to combine all three, I ended up with froyo puke stains on my new silk parachute pants. The salesgirl was a complete bitch when I went to return them, but when I made enough of a scene, she finally took them back just to get rid of me.

Anyway, finally, one day out of the blue … like a miracle… the solution appeared on my computer screen. It was an e-mail from Human Resources. The subject line read:

New Position Available. Applications due Wednesday.

This was it! A SIGN.

Obviously, what I needed was a new career. PROBLEMS SOLVED. I would forget all about Vanagon and focus entirely on myself. That seemed fairly straightforward. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? I met with Dan for lunch to discuss my new game plan. He was not as enthusiastic.

“Why do you want this new job, anyway? Does it pay more?”

“No.” I didn’t know much about the new job that I was applying for. All I knew is that I needed some momentum in my life. Something DIFFERENT. Even lateral movement was good. MOVEMENT AWAY FROM THE OLD ME. No more vodka Ambien cocktails at 6 PM. No more nightmares about Theresa Gibson sledge-hammering away at my potential for love and happiness.

“WHAT exactly is the job?” Dan asked.

“Not totally sure.” All I knew was that the job was in the same firm, but it was on a different floor. The person doing it before me had quit. Or moved away. Or got promoted. I wasn’t exactly sure.

“Let me get this straight. Your interview is tomorrow and you don’t know anything about the job?”

“Uh, huh.”

Dan put his sandwich down. “Haley, I know that you’ve been through a lot lately. I know the break up has been rough, but this seems like a pretty rash decision… Don’t you think?”

“It’s a good idea, Dan.”

“I know you think it’s a good idea. And usually I just sit back and watch you do what you’re doing and fuck things up. Partly because you never listen to me anyway, and partly because I find it amusing. Well, this is where I intervene and give you the COLD HARD FACTS. Are you ready for me to do that?”

I eyed him warily. “All right,” I said and leaned back, bracing myself.

“I honestly don’t know how you’ve even managed to stay employed this long. It’s kind of like the eighth wonder of the world. I would say that your ability to remain solidly employed for the last eleven years is probably your greatest asset. I mean, have you looked in the mirror lately? No offense, but it looks like you haven’t been sleeping.”

“That’s actually not true. I’ve been sleeping. A LOT. I found a new trick – I bumped up the Ambien and I don’t waste time putting my pajamas on… I just go to sleep in my clothes.”

“Right. Sounds like an excellent plan. But listen, it’s possible that you may have just been flying underneath management’s radar. In other words, this interview may bring you to someone’s attention. Someone who might FIRE you.”

“Wrong.”

“Well, is anyone else applying for the position?” he asked. I put my fork to my lips and thought for a minute.

“There is one other applicant, but I don’t know her. She works in another office. I’ve seen her. But I can guarantee you, there is no way this other woman is getting it.”

“Why?”

“She wears turtlenecks.”

And, as far as I was concerned, that was the end of the discussion. Turtlenecks. Case closed.diane keaton

“Turtlenecks? You can’t be serious.”

“You don’t even know, Dan. I know.”

“But you don’t work in a department store, Haley. You work in a law firm.”

Dan was aware of how badly I was taking the breakup, and he was trying his best to treat me with compassion. The kind of compassion that you show people who are losing their minds.

But, maybe he was right. Perhaps I was a tad overconfident about getting this job. But the mere possibility that The Turtleneck would get this job instead of me was mortifying. How many turtlenecks did this woman own? Maybe she was just having a bad day. Maybe she needed to do laundry the day that I had seen her. What if it was dark in her apartment and she had accidentally grabbed a turtleneck that morning? Maybe she had grabbed that turtleneck instead of the gauzy silk blouse that she had pressed the night before? What if I had too much riding on this turtleneck business and this woman was some sort of genius?

When I got back from lunch, I knew that I needed to investigate. I dropped by to visit Miranda in Human Resources.

“I heard that you and your boyfriend broke up,” she said.

“That’s right.” Was it that obvious? It’s true I had lost about fifteen pounds. And there were dark circles under my eyes. Occasionally, I was wearing parkas indoors. And sometimes, sunglasses.

“I’m applying for that new position. It’s part of my campaign to get my life back on track.” Miranda nodded. She looked sorry for me. And I was going to roll with it.

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“Who?”

“THE OTHER CHICK APPLYING FOR THIS JOB?” Miranda sighed.

“Judy,” she said.

“That’s it? That’s all you got? Judy? What do you know about this woman?” I leaned across Miranda’s desk until we were almost eye-to-eye.

“Um? She’s young…” She leaned back slowly, raising an eyebrow. “She went to school for journalism.”

“What?! Young? How young? Do you mean ‘bad young’ or ‘good young’? JOURNALISM? Like a young Katie Couric in a turtleneck? Is that what we’ve got on our hands here?” Miranda got up from her desk. She was definitely starting to get irritated. I looked over at the picture of her little Dachshund.pucker alive

“He sure is cute,” I offered, trying to get back on her good side.

“I’ve got a meeting. Good luck with your interview, Haley,” she said.

LUCK?! What did she mean by that? Would I need it?

And journalism! That was the worst possible thing I could have imagined. Journalism made the turtleneck make sense. In fact, the turtleneck was giving Judy’s journalism degree a lot more credibility. I imagined Judy in her grey turtleneck, deep in the library stacks, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Judy had discovered a factory that was poisoning the drinking water of a small rural community somewhere in Middle America. (Yes, just like Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich!)

This terrifying vision spurred me into action. I immediately scrawled out a list of things I would need to do in the next 24 hours to get ready for my interview:

1. MAKE FRIENDS AT WORK

2. FOCUS ON MY PERSONAL APPEARANCE/INTERVIEW WARDROBE

3. SABOTAGE JUDY

Making friends with my co-workers with only four hours left in the workday was a tall order.

Especially since no one liked me.

***

So basically, my office is India. Yes, it’s a large, confusing and utterly terrifying place. Yes, it’s filled with people who practice yoga and wear baggy clothes. But mostly it’s India because it is divided into a caste system. If you sit in my office lunchroom for an entire day (which I have done on occasion) a person will quickly realize that there are hard, uncrossable lines that separate the social tiers in my office. Never the twain shall meet. NEVER. The castes are as follows:

The Sudra. AKA: The Lower Tier. (“Unskilled workers.”) The members of this caste are united by a deep and abiding love of Buffalo Wild Wings, Lean Cuisine microwave meals, Disney themed clothing, stuffed animal key chains, and sweat pants. The Sudra do not trouble themselves to ride their bikes during the lunch hour. In fact, it is likely that most of them wouldn’t even be able to balance their massive frames on a tiny bicycle seat in the first place. And they don’t pretend that fast food isn’t delicious. They talk about things like family, their children, and sporting events. And they try as much as possible to avoid the Vaisyas.

The Vaisyas. AKA The Upper Tier (“Merchants, skilled traders, and minor officials”) Generally the Vaisyas do not eat lunch during the lunch hour. Instead, they go bike riding, running, or do yoga. Similar to The Sudra, the Vaisyas wear workout attire during the lunch hour. Unlike the Sudra, this attire is only worn during the lunch hour. (Example: Conrad is the consummate Vaisaya and I always know that the lunch hour has arrived by the sound of Conrad clicking on his little bike riding shoes. Gerry from the mailroom is a Sudra, and I have never seen him without his grey sweatpants and striped tube socks pulled halfway up his calves.) Vaisyas firmly believe that they are more sophisticated than the Sudra, but they are too politically correct to ever say so out loud. Like the Sudra, Vaisayas talk about: family, their children, and sporting events.

There is one caste that both the Sudra and the Vaisyas can unite in openly looking down upon:

The Pariahs. AKA The Untouchables. (“Social outcasts.”) There was only one Pariah in my office. ME. I didn’t bring a microwave Lean Cuisine to work. I didn’t bike at lunch. Or do yoga. I never watched sports. I didn’t have kids to talk about. I lacked any common ground whatsoever with either the Sudra or the Vaisayas. But that’s not the reason I ate lunch alone every day at my desk.

How do I know this? One time I tested this theory by microwaving a 350 calorie lasagna and sitting in the lunchroom, pretending to participate in a conversation about little league.lean-cuisine-lasagna-with-meat-sauce-02 I nodded my head and laughed when everyone else laughed. I even made up a little coming of age story about me, as a burgeoning young ten year old, nearly losing my innocence to a rugged divorcee Little League Coach named Douglas. My coworkers appeared to be riveted by this story, but even after lunch, no one invited me to happy hour. There had to be a reason no one liked me, but I couldn’t figure it out.

In order to get this job, I’d need to get to the bottom of this unpopularity problem. I decided to call Dan for more clarity. He was briefly employed at my office years ago. He had no problem making friends while he was there. He was even nominated to dress up as Santa Claus for our office holiday party.

“Hi Haley. Nice talking to you again. It’s been so long … what, forty-five minutes?”

“Dan, I need your help. Why don’t they like me?”

“They? You mean, everyone in general? Or just your co-workers?”

I waited for Dan to answer my question. I had my pen ready so that I could take notes.

“You take personal calls at work, talk too loud, you wear that parka all the time, and a lot of times you don’t seem…”

“Seem what?!”

“Approachable” he answered, though I’m not convinced that’s the word he was initially searching for.

NOT APPROACHABLE? Ha. Well, now I had a PLAN. My Plan to Win the Approval of My Coworkers and Gain Upward Mobility and Out of Untouchable Status = BRIBERY. Simple. Easy. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

The high rate of obesity amongst my co-workers was a clear sign that FOOD was appreciated in my office. My co-workers put candy bowls next to their desks. It was the unspoken code of office hospitality.

I walked by desks, grabbing a Milky Way there and a Payday here. But, NOT ONCE had I reciprocated by bringing candy to the office. Shameful. No wonder I didn’t have work friends! That must be it. Could working my way out of untouchable status have been as easy as a basket full of Three Musketeers bars?

I marched over to Rite Aid and bought three of the biggest bags of chocolate bars that I could find. Back in the office, I poured them into a giant glass vase and placed it at the edge of my desk, where no one could miss it. I sent out an e-mail to the entire office. The subject line of the email read: SNICKERS, HERSHEYS, NESTLE CRUNCH – to grab the reader’s attention.

The body of my e-mail didn’t matter, as long as it relayed the information that the candy was at my desk. Once I lured them into the realm of my cubicle, I’d have to do some serious wheeling and dealing. I’d quickly have to assess what their concerns were and somehow convince them that if I got a new job, their needs would be met. I WOULD GET CREATIVE.

The first person that came to my desk was a middle-aged member of the Sudra named Frank. He was balding and a chronic chain smoker. He walked by my cubicle at least thirty times a day on his way outside for a smoke break. But he had never stopped by for an actual conversation. This was a momentous event! I was delighted that my plan was working, but now that I was face to face with Frank, I had absolutely no idea what to say to him.Frank

Just as I was about to give up on being able to start any kind of conversation, I was saved by a sudden stroke of brilliance: I remembered that Frank’s wife was in the hospital last fall.

“Frank! So glad to see you! Please, help yourself! Yes! Doesn’t Nestle make a delicious candy bar? God, I practically survived on them when I was in THE HOSPITAL,” I said.

“You were in the hospital?”

“Last year. Yes. I know, I didn’t tell anyone at work about it. The doctors said there was only a 30% chance that it was terminal.” I let that last sentence linger in the air. The only sound was a muted crunching, as Frank took his final bite of the chocolate bar.

“Terminal?” Frank asked. His eyes widened. He looked extremely concerned. BAM! I had hit the jackpot on this one! It was remarkable how easily the lies were coming. It was as if all the hardship I had been through with Vanagon had stripped away any and all unhelpful emotions. No more guilt, honesty, or annoying barriers hindering me from making friends. No more annoying “moral compass.” I LIKED THIS NEW ME. This new me was capable of so many things. Perhaps I would actually survive this breakup and come out of it improved. A new career. New friends. Frank had only been in my cubicle for about ninety seconds and already things were looking up. Way up.

“Cancer,” I whispered. Frank’s eyes grew even wider. Less concern, more abject terror. “I’m fine now though. It’s great. My life has totally opened up for me. So much to live for. Like chocolate,” I said, handing Frank another candy bar. “So glad, just to wake up every day and smell the nougat. Get it? The nougat?”

Frank nodded, smiling weakly. I continued my rhapsodizing. This was fun.

“We take so many things for granted. What I needed was a close call like that to really make me appreciate life. Don’t know if you heard, but my boyfriend was cheating on me with his ex-girlfriend…”

Frank shook his head. No. He had not heard that.

“Well, he was. And you know what, Frank? That sucked. But I’ve been through a lot of tragedy and … you know… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! Right? And now I have the opportunity to apply for this job … everything I ever wanted in my WHOLE life, Frank.”

He perked up.

“Oh, that’s right. You’re applying for that job?” I’d never seen anyone so happy to change the subject.

“Yes, I am applying for it. And I really want it, Frank.”

“Well, I hope you get it!” he said. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Frank left my cubicle with a handful of Snickers and a smile on his face. A POSITIVE RESULT. The terminal cancer thing had worked so well on Frank, that I decided to try it on several other co-workers. After getting a legal secretary to cry a little bit, I realized that telling people that you survived “terminal cancer” is a great way to connect.

Miranda from the Human Resources stuck her head over my cubicle.

“Hi Haley,” she said.

“Hi Miranda.” I was immediately nervous. I had spent the morning begging Miranda for information on Judy and now she wanted to see me again. Was she onto my scheme?

“I saw your e mail and I am starving,” she said. “I’m going for a Snickers. I can’t help myself.” I exhaled a huge sigh of relief and watched as Miranda mined through the candy bowl to find a Snickers bar. When she did, she held it up to the fluorescent light. “Victory,” she declared.

Ah, Miranda. It seemed like we had already been through so much together. She knew about my Internet dating advice column addiction, my break-up. She knew TOO MUCH.

Telling Miranda that I survived cancer wasn’t going to work. She worked in HR and that meant that she knew about things like medical leave and sick time. Shit. I had to have Miranda in my corner. This Snickers bar was a foot in the door, but I needed insurance. I needed something that would seal the deal with HR. That’s when it struck me. THE FACE OF THAT LITTLE DACHSHUND!

Fact: MIRANDA WAS A DOG LOVER. Based on my experience with Champ and Mark, I knew that Dog Lovers had an absurdly irrational emotional connection to dogs. This would always be their Achilles heel – these dog lovers.

I started talking about my dog, Mark. A poodle. Diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s so sad,” I said.

Miranda’s eyes watered. She looked around my cubicle.

“You don’t have any pictures of Mark up?”

“No. It’s too sad. I couldn’t handle it,” I said, plunging my forehead into my hands. “I mean, first the break up – which I am totally over. But I just can’t take this cancer news with Mark. It’s JUST TOO MUCH TO HANDLE.”

“Oh god, I know. My little Pucker had cancer and my stepdad put him down… it was so hard!” she said.

“That’s terrible. Absolutely terrible.”

I was so committed I almost felt like I could squeeze out an actual tear or two for Mark and Pucker.pucker dead

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” she asked, dabbing her eyes. “I mean, a surgery or something?”

“Yes, but it’s very expensive. Of course, I’ll totally pay for it… I mean if there’s any chance that I can get a few more moments with Mark on God’s Green Earth, I’ll do anything … ANYTHING.” Miranda nodded as if what I was saying made sense. “That’s actually why I am applying for this job. You know? The extra money is going straight toward Mark’s vet bills.”

Miranda perked up. She wadded up her tissue, threw it in the wastebasket, and patted my shoulder. She didn’t say anything, but I was sure she was going right then to write a heartfelt e-mail telling management that I was supremely qualified for the new position.

Bye-bye Turtleneck.

Once the workday was over, I decided it was time to amend my physical appearance. I would need to get rid of my parka. And the circles under my eyes. Pump some life back into my hair by washing it. With shampoo.

And I would need to mastermind my wardrobe for the interview.

That night I went home and I stood in front of my closet for a full ten minutes. I decided to go with my gut instinct. My gut instinct was telling me to dress SEXY. I needed to polarize myself from the turtleneck as much as possible. I needed to make it look like I would sleep my way to the top if necessary. I settled on a red mini-dress that I had purchased from Forever 21 for 13 dollars. I had never worn it to work before. I paired the dress with tights and Russian hooker boots. I decided to give the outfit a test drive. So, I wore it to the grocery store.

Before I made it into the store, a man on the curb asked me if I wanted to go for a ride with him. God had given me a sign: THIS DRESS WAS A WINNER.

I bought a bottle of soda water at the grocery store. When I got home I poured a little into a glass of ice and filled the rest up with vodka. I leaned on the counter and looked down into the glass. The ice cracked, the bubbles floated to the surface. I could feel my red mini dress creep up, just barely underneath my ass. I imagined myself standing in the kitchen as if someone else was watching. A young woman in a kitchen, a mini-dress, with a drink on the counter, contemplates her career advancement. I must look incredibly sophisticated. Intelligent. A definite catch. I beamed inwardly.

My interview was the next morning. And I needed the final part of my strategy: How would I sabotage Judy? What were her weaknesses? Where did she live? What was her life like? Maybe she was too perfect? Could that be a weakness? Definitely. That turtleneck screamed “status quo” and stability. Everything that turtleneck represented was EXACTLY what was wrong with America. If only I could find a poignant segue during my interview to express this opinion.

Maybe the Turtleneck meant that Judy was hiding something. A birthmark. A scar. Or a giant mole. Or maybe childhood trauma, self-loathing, insecurity – I could only hope!

I took a long gulp of my drink, and gasped with satisfaction.

How would Judy perform in the interview? I could imagine her sitting there, hiding in her turtleneck. I looked down at my mini dress. I wished I could talk to her. What was that thing that Al Pacino says in the Godfather about keeping your enemies close before he kills his brother? Whatever it was, I knew that I had work to do.

It took me twenty minutes to find our office phone directory. I scrolled through the list co-worker names, until I found the one and only: Judy. It was a EUREKA moment. Only one Judy in a 56 page staff directory! What were the odds?

I immediately dialed Judy’s number. I needed to know what I was up against.

“Hello?” said a mousy female voice on the second ring.

“Judy?”

“Yeah? Who’s this?”

“Haley.”

“Haley?”

“That’s right. From your office. You know? The one applying for the job that you’re going for?”

“I know who you are,” she said. Ice cold. Right away, there was no question: THIS GIRL HATED ME. I tried to fill in the blank: She hated me because _______. She hated me because I slept with her boyfriend. She hated me because I slept with her friend’s boyfriend. And then I settled on what it must be: She hated me, because I was a formidable competitor. I smiled.

“I just wanted to wish you luck tomorrow,” I said, almost feeling sincere. She was going to need it way more than me.

“Oh really? You don’t remember me, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember Brad?”

“Brad?” I thought hard. Was there a Brad? A co-worker named Brad? Who was Brad? Brad, Brad… Then, like a lightening bolt, it struck me: I remembered briefly dating a man named Brad for about ten days. A man named Brad who I had met at the office Christmas party, three years ago, long before Vanagon.brad

“Yes, Brad. You met him at the office Christmas party three years ago? Gave him a blow job in the parking lot, two hours later?” Judy’s voice was so filled with hostility she was having trouble getting the words out.

“Listen, Judy, I don’t know about that. I am sure that Brad and I had been getting to know each other in the work environment LOOOONG before we consummated things at the Christmas party.” I was lying my ass off, of course. I didn’t remember working with Brad or what had happened to him. I had a feeling that it wasn’t good.

“Uh, no. Actually, Brad was my date to the Christmas party. He was my neighbor.”

“Wait… Brad didn’t work in our office?”

“No.”

“He was your date?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. Jesus.” I didn’t really know what else to say. She hated me because I slept with her boyfriend. But: What had happened to Brad? We went home after the party? I was drawing a blank.

“Yeah, I really liked Brad, actually. We had been dating for a couple of months. So, yeah, I remember who you are. When I heard it was YOU who was applying for this position, I remembered that Christmas. It was the worst Christmas I ever had. Jesus. She sure was being dramatic. I imagined Judy as a young theater major in college, wearing the same turtleneck, hanging out with Goths, and smoking clove cigarettes. With this bummer attitude it was hard to imagine Judy having friends. This was good news. I WAS TOTALLY GOING TO GET THIS JOB.judy goth

“Sorry about that, Judy. Brad sounds like a total dick. I mean, you brought him to the party and then he ended up going home with me?” Judy was silent on the other end of line.“Hello? I mean, that’s just totally rude… right?”

I was trying to create an alliance with Judy. We could hate Brad together! But it wasn’t working. Not even a little.

“Yeah. Actually, I thought about killing myself that year.” Judy said, in a very matter of fact kind of way.

“Well, thank God that you didn’t, because then you wouldn’t get the amazing opportunity to apply for this job.”

“Right.”

“Good luck. I sincerely mean it, Judy.”

She didn’t say anything. I waited for a few seconds, listening to her breathe on the other end of the line, before I hung up the phone. I poured myself another drink and raised it high in the air.

“I’m gonna get this fucking job,” I declared, to everyone and no one.

And then, I had the best night of sleep since my break up with Vanagon.

***

The next morning, I woke up feeling confident. I repeated some morning affirmations before leaving my apartment: Haley, you are amazing. You are so brilliant. You look amazing in leather pants. Your ass is so pert, even at thirty years old. You’re ahead of your time. You are a god damn genius. A fucking mastermind. You will get this job.

My interview was at 10:00 AM. Judy’s interview was after mine at 11:00. Job interviews at my office were a big production. A panel of co-workers served as the interview board. It was the firing squad technique. The office would round up a group of Vaisyas and they would help make the final decision. It was supposedly egalitarian and democratic, but I had a strategy.

My hope was that these people would talk amongst themselves and my interview would magically turn into a cocktail party. I would just sit back in my chair while conversation blossomed. My plan was to occasionally pepper the conversation with compliments and make everybody feel good about themselves. Everyone would leave the interview happy. I would get the job. Win, win.

This was my agenda for the interview:

A) Take the focus off myself and compliment everyone in the room.
B) If it was ABSOLUTELY necessary, I would tell everyone about Judy’s emotional instability. (I didn’t want to have to go there, but I wasn’t afraid to, if the going got tough. I would do whatever I had to do.)

I walked into the room and saw one of the IT Guys. He was sitting at the end of the table. He had a smug little IT smile on his face. There were four other people at the table, too. But I wasn’t concerned about them.

“WHAT IS HE DOING HERE?” I blurted.

“I am part of the interview board,” the IT Guy said.

He glared at me with flames of hatred in his eyes. I tried to figure out if he was a Vaisya or a Sudra. He had the pasty slightly acned appearance of a Sudra, but the collared shirt of a Vaisya. I studied his face for more clues. The IT department knew of my Internet use, the dating advice sites, my WebMD searches, and my non-work related e-mails.

“This interview board includes a mix of your peers at the firm. Lyle works for our IT Department,” said a vaguely familiar boss-like woman, wearing a red blazer. I felt like I should know her name and title, but I had no idea who she was. Maybe that was better. Clean slate.

“Great,” I said, with as big of a smile as I could manage. But Lyle, The IT Guy, was not on the guest list for the interview/cocktail party that I had envisioned. Lyle was shamelessly crashing my party. No matter! I would have to take this challenge and run with it. Nothing could derail me now. On with the show!

What came next was a series of questions about my organizational skills, my vision for the future, and boring hypotheticals. I tried to add zest to the interview by telling as many personal anecdotes as possible. I really tried to reach out and relate with everyone at that table. Even Lyle.mountain dew

What I knew about Lyle The IT Guy:

He had some interest in computers.
He drank Mountain Dew Soda. (He had a bottle on the table, in front of him.)
His parents went on safari in Africa.

What I interpreted these facts to mean:

Lyle was a lonely child growing up in a wealthy home. His parents were over indulgent WASPS. Probably racist. Lyle took solace and buried his feelings by emotionally eating. And he probably found escape in a fantasy computer game where he pretended to be a gnome or something.

“What do you do to relieve stress, Haley?” he asked.

I thought about this question for a minute.

“Video games,” I said. I had never played a video game in my life. I studied Lyle’s face after I gave my answer. He was frowning but he seemed intrigued nonetheless.

“Oh yeah? What kind?” Lyle asked.

“All kinds. I’m really into Lord of the Rings and drinking fountain sodas too. Especially Mountain Dew. I love that shit.” Victory was mine. The interview was wrapping up.

“Anything else you’d like to add, Haley? Anything we missed? Anything that you think we should know?” I considered saying a few disparaging words about Judy for good measure. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

“Yes, actually, there is something I’d like to add.” I wasn’t even sure what I was going to say. I was still riding high from the positive vibes I was getting. That thing that I said about Lord of the Rings was brilliant and I had totally improvised it! This was the BEST interview of my life. I looked around the room . People were clasping their hands in anticipation of the amazing words that were about to come out of my mouth.

“I just want to say that I really think that Judy is an amazing person. The challenges that she’s overcome in her life … well, it’s just remarkable that she’s come so far. And though we’ve had our struggles, I want you all to know that I‘ve forgiven her.” I summoned an image of Theresa and Vanagon in Nicaragua and felt my chest get tight. Tears welled in my eyes. I was killing it. I was a method actor extraordinaire. I was Dustin Fucking Hoffman.

“What do you mean? What struggles?” asked the boss lady with the red blazer.

“Oh? You haven’t heard? Well, I don’t want to get into the details, but a few years ago, Judy had an affair with my fiancé, Brad.” I looked directly into the eyes of the woman across the table from me. She had the essence of a woman whose husband cheated on her, constantly. The kind of woman who watched daytime television. A Sudra. She nodded in sympathy. Man, I was nailing this so hard.

“I thought everyone knew about that. I’m past it now. And like I said, Judy’s had challenges. I have forgiven her.” And with that, I pushed my chair out from the table and bowed my head. A COMMANDING PERFORMANCE! The job was mine for the taking. Was the salary negotiable? I wondered. I could probably ask for whatever I wanted and get it. They’d probably even be willing to knock something off their own salaries just to make sure I was properly compensated.

I left the room. Judy was in the lobby, sitting in a hard plastic chair, waiting to be called in. She was wearing a dark green turtleneck. It was a pilled merino. It had a tiny moth hole bitten through the shoulder. She glared up at me. She had a magazine on her lap. Something vaguely academic. And she didn’t look happy.

“Judy, what a surprise!” I said. I was ecstatic to see her. I almost felt bad for her. Judy looked down at her magazine, ignoring me.

“JUDY!” I shouted, five inches from her face. She looked up. Her eyes burned with fury.

“JUDY, I JUST WANT TO TELL YOU: GOOD. LUCK. IN. THERE. I. THINK. YOU. WILL. DO. JUST. FINE.” I said each word very slowly and loudly, as though I was talking to a retarded person.

I walked back to my cubicle and called Dan.

“Dude. I just finished my interview.”

“How did it go?” Dan asked.

“AWESOME. TOTALLY. AWESOME.” I said. Conrad sighed deeply in the chair behind me.

“Wow. Really?”

“I rocked that shit.” I whispered. I looked around my cubicle my for an empty box. I could get a jump on things, clear my desk, and be ready to move to my new workspace in a matter of seconds. Bye Bye Conrad.

“That’s great. Congratulations.” Dan said.

I hung up the phone. I was so pleased with myself that I ate a candy bar from my vase and left work early to celebrate. What happened after that? Hard to say. But I can report that the following 24 hours were filled with PURE ABSOLUTE BLISS.

The interview got me to a higher level of feeling. That feeling? The feeling could be described as a feeling of ‘ultimate satisfaction.’ I suspect that this is what Buddhists are going for. Monks sit around chanting for decades just trying to get where I was during that 24-hour period after my interview. I had arrived.

The next morning, I was sitting at my desk, visualizing what my new life would be like. I had spent the last hour emptying my desk, and everything was piled in a cardboard box, ready for the move. The phone rang. It was Miranda from the Human Resources.

“Miranda! So glad to hear from you. You know, I’ve still got a couple of Reese’s Pieces with your name all over them …”

“Haley, I am so sorry to tell you this, but Judy got the position.”

I was speechless. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Miranda, did you just say that I didn’t get the job?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” She genuinely sounded sorry.

“WOW. I can’t believe this.”

“I know.” Miranda said.

“This is … surprising…”

“I am so sorry to be the bearer of this news, Haley. I know you’ve been going through hard times with Mark and everything…”

“Mark? Who’s Mark?” I asked, confused.

“Your dog? Isn’t that the name of your Poodle? With the cancer?”

“Oh, THAT Mark … he’s on death’s door, Miranda. But we appreciate your concern.” I said. I was reeling from the news about NOT getting the job and I had completely forgotten about Mark. Whatever. Fuck Mark.

“I feel so bad about this, Haley. I really do. I hope you don’t mind, but when I found out that you weren’t getting the job, I decided to take up a collection … for Mark’s surgery.”

“YOU WHAT?”

“I know, it’s none of my business… but I felt really bad … and I can’t stand the thought of Mark having to suffer … like Pucker did,” she said. I was quiet. I knew that I should not say what I was thinking. And what I was thinking was: PEOPLE AND THEIR FUCKING DOGS. But, the other thing that I was thinking was: JUDY GOT THE FUCKING JOB? THERE MUST BE SOME KIND OF MISTAKE.

“Anyway we have a fund for Mark …”

“How much did you get Miranda? This surgery is going to be steep.”

“Well, so far we’ve raised 2,000 dollars.”

Uh… what? Did she just say TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS? She couldn’t have. I must be having an auditory hallucination.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right. How much did you say?” I held my breath.

“All we could get was 2,000. Is that going to be enough?”

“Oh, joyous day! Mark might live, Miranda! HE MIGHT ACTUALLY MAKE IT!”

Oh Mark, my ridiculous, inbred, tumor-ridden, made-up, non-existent flea bag, you came through. You did it, buddy. I didn’t know you had it in you.

So I lost the job to a Turtleneck. I don’t know how that happened. But why waste energy on worrying about things that might have been, right?
I needed to put the past behind me. I had important things to focus on…

Like finding Brad’s phone number.