Wednesday, November 30, 2011

je propre la nuit, part 45

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part forty-five of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

exactly what happened at the crossroads of highway 5 and route 64 on that rainy night will probably never be known. six people were involved - the detectives hogan and murphy, the girl ricky, the "hermit" barnabas, lefty, and clyde.

part 46

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


by horace p sternwall

illustration by rhoda penmarq

i wrote a poem to pass the time
it didn't scan and it didn't rhyme
i had absolutely nothing to say
but i went and wrote it anyway

i thought it turned out kind of nice
i looked it over once or twice
i finished it off and set it free
on wings of immortality

o little poem, boil and bubble
at least you kept me out of trouble
maybe you need a little friend
another poem - will they ever end?

Monday, November 28, 2011

the thing in the place, part 2

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for part 1 click here

i had a pleasant surprise on returning to my house after my first visit to the firehouse. my housekeeper, mrs adams, presented me with a package that had been delivered in my absence - a new monograph, with copious notes and addenda, by doctor hargrave on the aboriginal burying grounds in his native dakotas. he and i had long enjoyed a friendly rivalry as to the relative antiquity of the ruins in his part of the world and my own, and i looked forwardly eagerly to studying and passing considered judgment on his newest findings.

consequently the three days passed swiftly before the date of my next scheduled visit to hank and the firehouse, and as i spent them almost entirely in my study and did not so much as look out the window, i had sadly neglected the good doctor melville's exhortations to exercise. i decided therefore to walk the three or four miles to the firehouse, rather than summon a hackney as i had on my first visit. and also save a few pennies from my all too rapidly disappearing patrimony.
i quickly regretted my decision - the day was much chillier and windier than i had first apprehended - but some unsuspected reservoir of stubbornness welling up from the depths of my being kept me from turning back.

when i was about half way to my destination i began to feel light headed, and the landscape - of unremitting fields of some crop or other - agriculture being no part of my field of study - began to take on a sinister and sneering hue not easily described. the midday sky was a loathsome bluish-gray and the crops - tall greenish-purple stalks of who knew what - seemed both to wave mockingly and be frozen in some obdurate obsidian vision of cosmic blasphemy.
a single gray cloud hid the sun.

butterfly wings of panic tickled my brain. where was i? where? what had possessed me - i , who had hardly ever gone fifty yards from my beloved study - to venture into this terrifying desolation? a desolation undreamed of in my most terrifying nightmares? and yet existing, apparently, only a few miles from the cocoon of my ancestral fortress?
you are a waterspoon, i told myself, a waterspoon. the direct descendant of the pitiless pioneers who cleared the land of its savage inhabitants, in order to stamp the impress of civilization on its flat and ungrateful face. it won't do to give in to even the appearance of effete hysteria, it won't do at all.
no vehicle had passed me in either direction as i walked the road - a road, i should mention, absolutely straight and uncontoured - nor had i seen a living person, or heard an animal or bird.

i began to feel thirsty, and even more lightheaded. i must, i thought, be only a mile from my goal. what could i do but press on.
at last - at last! - i saw a figure approaching in the distance. what relief i felt! i should mention here that i was under the impression that the farm dwellers in the neighborhood, though ignorant brutes to be sure, had at least a vestigial remnant of respect for their betters, in contrast to their degenerate cousins in the modern metropolises (with whom i had had only one terrible encounter - never, unfortunately, to be forgotten).

as the figure came closer, my blood began to run a little cold. i beheld a shambling, rawboned figure - "human" to be sure - it wore ragged clothing and a battered felt hat - but barely. the craggy face, simultaneously apish and reptilian, seemed to light up with an unholy delight on perceiving me, and i felt nought but panic as it hastened toward me, swinging its long, low-hanging arms.
"morning!" it cried. "morning there, professor!" in a voice like ice breaking in a subterranean cavern. "out for a stroll, are you? ha, ha, ha!" and it roared with laughter at this humorous sally.

with some effort i mastered my first fear. as the creature came closer i perceived that it was, after all, only a man - a hired man type of fellow of about thirty rough years. and the sobriquet of "professor" with which he greeted me, though not strictly accurate - my studies have always been maintained privately - seemed to indicate a modicum of respect.
"hey, professor, hey!" suddenly a thick walking stick seemed to materialize in his right hand and he poked me in the chest with it. as i staggered backward i heard another voice raised in laughter - the shrieking laughter of a banshee. and i perceived on the road behind the man a stunted figure which on rapidly approaching i could see was a pigtailed girl of about fifteen, in a tattered flowered dress, and with a face even more lewdly simian and reptiloid than the man's.

"uncle jack asked you a question, professor! ain't you got no manners?" and she howled with laughter as i shrank back from her hideous person.
"yes, yes," i managed to stammer, "i am out for a stroll, as you so drolly put it. a stroll into town." i controlled myself, and felt some little rage bubbling up beneath my fear.
"no need to be snickety, professor, when folks asks you polite questions." and the man poked me with the stick again, harder this time. "into town, hey?"
"yes, to the fire station to be exact. for a friendly game of checkers."

"fire station! as worthless a bunch of sons of bitches as ever there was, hey, lily?"
my fear began to return. needless to say i was not used to such rough talk as this, and in front of a young woman no less, rough-hewn as she might be. something was amiss. where was i?
"you said right, uncle jack. almost as worthless as those no good clowns as call theirselves deputy sheriffs. they friends of yours too, professor?" i now saw the girl had a stick too, and she shook it at me.
"i don't have the honor of those gentlemen's acquaintance," i replied with such composure as i could muster.
"is that right, professor?" drawled the girl. it had finally gotten through to me that in their mouths "professor" was not a term of respect at all, but intended as some sort of epithet, even insult. "gentlemen, eh? are you a gentleman, professor?"
"why of course i am a gentleman."

the girl whacked me sharply across my knee with her stick, and i cried out.
"lily, lily," laughed the man. "no need for that. he ain't said nothing to deserve that. yet." he looked up at the sky. though it was about mid day, the single dark cloud continued to hide the sun. the wind had died down. "kind of hot, eh?"
"yes, it does seem to be getting warmer."
"seems to be, seems to be. always the way with the likes of you - seems to be, hey?"
i did not know how to answer this. "yes, and i must say i could use a drink of water. though there does not seem - though i don't see any place in sight where i could find one."

"oh? look over there." the man pointed across the fields and i saw - surely i would have noticed it before if it had been there - something i can hardly describe. some kind of giant featureless mound rising from the field. but made of what? and was it a building? it had neither doors nor windows. some kind of giant growth from the depths of primordial dreams, like a colossal mushroom ? it seemed too smooth.
"what is it?" i managed to ask at last.
"well, what do you think it is?" asked the man. "it's the place."

"the place?" i replied. "and what is in the place?
the girl howled with laughter. "what do you think is in the place? ha, ha, ha! what would be in the place, do you think, but the thing? ha, ha, ha, ha!" and she whacked me with the stick again.
this time the man made no objection to her striking me. he looked into my eyes, and his own eyes seemed to change from rhinoceroid gray to cobroid green. "you've been asking questions, professor. but there are those in the place who would like to ask you questions."

the two of them fell upon me, flailing at me and driving me into the fields with their sticks. i staggered through the hideous green plants toward the "place" with them laughing and shouting behind me, and as i did i lost all dignity and began sobbing uncontrollably with fear.
the horror! the horror!

to be continued

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Emergency Landing

Before returning to New York, Zach called his daughter Rosalind. Because she’d be delighted to learn the twins had arrived healthy and eager to meet her.

For once, she answered his call. What she said, however, was not encouraging. “Two words, Dad: Fuck you.”

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

He called again and apologized to voice mail. Without forethought, he said that baby Alice reminded him of her. (She hadn’t until he said so, but…) Rosalind, too, once had looked at him with newborn triumph. At this she picked up, “Alice and Corrine—I’ve got that. Want me to tell Mom?”

All right, he deserved that. Further, because of the stalemate with Beth, he had opted to skip his son’s high school graduation. He hadn’t thought until now that he really ought to send him congratulations and a generous gift certificate.

That evening, he scrolled through his email and found that last week Matt had reported he needed a year off from school. He realized his father would object but Reed College had already approved his deferment. What Matt wanted to know was—would Zach still pay his tuition when the time came?

Against his innate sense of order and rigor, Zach answered an exhausted, “Yes,” adding a P.S. wondering if they could get together, not this next weekend, but the one after.

Before bed, he listed interview questions to review during his flight tomorrow. Unlike Dorothy Zimmerman, Zach didn’t presume his dealings with East Coast bigwigs would impress Midwest academics. Having grown up in Illinois, he thought it more likely they would suspect him of a fawning snobbery.

At nine a.m., he settled into his business class seat, only to be joined by an eight-year-old girl traveling from New Jersey, where she lived with her mother, to Omaha where her father, a lawyer, lived with his new wife, also a lawyer. It was her first time flying, and she trembled, blinking back tears.  Zach told her that he traveled on airplanes every week. Statistically, it was safer than riding in a car. She nodded anxiously. Her mother had said the same thing.

“My name is Emma.”

He nodded and returned to his laptop yet the child stared at him intently. So he glanced at her, raising an eyebrow.

“Now you’re supposed to tell me your name.”

“Oh, that’s right. Do you want to call me Zach?”

“Is that your name?”

“Of course it is.”

 She grinned. “Then of course, Zach. That’s what I’ll call you.”

A small exchange but for Zach a first—an eight-year-old girl teasing him? He realized the past year had hurled him into a no-man’s-land of rocky ground. But only now did it penetrate that by adapting to the terrain, his authoritative manner had ceased to intimidate.  Never had children questioned him outright—not even Rosalind. Not even when he was a child himself!

Taking stock, as he did ritually, Zach perceived no dwindling of his righteous determination. Yet perhaps his harshest self-scrutiny involved deception. And perhaps all those years of running around with Vida had softened him. In order to befriend people in power, he had made a habit of holding in abeyance his innate scorn of banality. No wonder Dorothy Zimmerman hadn’t shied from prodding him to resign. But then he had welcomed the change. Or no, feeling little Emma’s persistent attention, Zach recalled that at first Dorothy’s announcement infuriated him. Then Duncan had declared it a promotion. As if wispy Duncan were the man to blaze Zach’s trail! Sitting straighter, he brushed off any possibility that his ramrod command had weakened.

Emma’s anxiety felt stifling.

“Don’t you have a video game to play? A book or something?”

“No, do you?”

“I’ll get you a headset if you want to watch TV or listen to music.” He shivered seeing her serious little face.

“Zach, are you afraid to die?”

The question, put so directly by a little girl, startled him enough so that he forgot the protocol for indignation and didn’t even bristle. Although, had someone like Duncan asked, he would never have deigned to answer.

“Afraid of death? I don’t think so, Emma. Each of us dies when it’s his turn.”

Two hours later the plane hit the runway and bucked. A sickening grinding and scraping accompanied several hard collisions with the ground. The full-capacity load of passengers froze, silent and terrified. From the window, Zach watched sparks flying from the ground. The jet bounced and scraped as heads collided with the ceiling despite seat-belts.

When the jet rose steeply into the air, people breathed louder, somewhat relieved. The pilot announced a problem with deceleration—the plane’s landing gear was functioning abnormally. The pilot would circle at lower than usual altitude for twenty minutes while the ground crew prepared for an emergency landing.

During this interval, passengers mumbled desperately.  Prayers of, “Oh God, please,” and occasional moans. Emma had been squeezing Zach’s fingers since the first hit on the runway. To his surprise, he was stroking her hair protectively.

Re-approaching the runway, the plane plowed through a wall of foam but bounced higher and harder. Bodies slammed forward and back as luggage flew from the overhead bins. Emma’s eyes were squeezed shut and Zach noticed tooth-marks on her lower lip.

The plane veered off the runway into a corn field, smashing into the crop at hundreds of miles per hour. The foam barrier had dampened the sparks. Slowly but surely the corn stalks and tilled rows of earth reduced their momentum, but as they crashed through acres of mounded dirt and half-grown corn, the floor beneath Zach and Emma ripped apart. They saw flattened green stalks and billows of smoke.

Over the grinding metal, sirens sounded. Out the window, Zach saw trucks towing a black rubber sheet, racing ahead of the plane’s trajectory. He whispered, “Brace yourself,” to Emma as they suffered a shocking impact. The rubber sheared off the plane’s wings whereupon it angled acutely forward but—stopped. As Zach unfastened his and Emma’s seat-belts and lifted her toward the exit chute, she wrapped her arms around his neck and said, “Not our turn to die!”

(click here for the next episode)

je propre la nuit, part 44

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part forty-four of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

despite his humiliation at the hands of hogan, despite ( perhaps because of ) his lack of sleep, clyde was still confident he could crack the case.

and then it hit him.

part 45

Friday, November 25, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 37: "My name is Hyacinth Wilde"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

*Ass’t Professor of Epistemology, Ass’t Homeroom Coordinator, Olney Community College; editor of A Foul Wind; “The Ben Blagwell” Novels of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. I: A Foul Wind for Jakarta; A Devil Called Minnie; Backstreets of Bangkok; Tramp Steamer; Olney Community College Press.

for complete episode, click here

Thursday, November 24, 2011

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 103: victory

By popular demand our legendary author Larry Winchester* now checks in again with two of his most beloved characters, the Cockney rock star Derek Squitters and the Native American brujo Paco…

(Go here for our previous episode; and here is where the whole sad story began.)

*“This man loves to fuck with your head.” -- Harold Bloom, in Maxim.

Now it was a Luden’s cough drops commercial.

“This shit’s freakin’ me out, Chief,” said Derek.

Paco bent forward, reached out, and switched the channel.

The World War II movie came on again with a montage of newspaper headlines in Italian, French, Chinese and English, all of them declaring in bold type “NAZIS SURRENDER! VICTORY IN EUROPE!”, followed by stock-footage shots of crowds of people celebrating in Times Square, Trafalgar Square, at the Arc de Triomphe.

Cut to the young Mac MacNamara -- unshaven, in dusty combat fatigues and overseas cap, carrying a battered leather briefcase, leaping out of a jeep on a London street on a bright spring day. The young Buddy Kelly, also unshaven -- in dirtier fatigues and cap, buck sergeant stripes on his sleeves, a dead cigar stump in his mouth -- sat at the wheel of the jeep.

“Our movie’s back on,” said Paco.

“Far out,” said Derek.

“Like me to wait for ya, Major?” said Buddy.

“That’s okay, Buddy,” said Mac. “Go get a load on. You deserve it.”

“Ah, now, Major, you know what happens when I get drunk. Remember that café in Brussels? Them three British officers? And them Belgian cops?”

“Oh, right,” said Mac. “Well --”

He laid his briefcase on the hood of the jeep, took out his wallet, pulled out a sheath of British currency and dropped it on the front passenger seat.

“Now, Buddy, I want you to drive directly to number 231-B Jermyn Street and go to the second floor. Tell the lady that Mac Macnamara sent you and you’re to have two of the finest Polish whores she’s got in that place.”

Buddy picked up the bills and counted them, took the cigar stump out of his mouth and whistled.

“Two, Major?”

Mac picked up his briefcase.

“You heard me, soldier. And that’s an order.”

Buddy stashed the bills in his jacket pocket and snapped off a salute.

“Yes, sir!”

Mac returned his salute, Buddy put the jeep in gear and roared off.

Mac strode across the sidewalk and up the steps of a large building. Graven into the granite above the arched entrance are the words “St Mary’s Lying-In Hospital”.

“I love this fuckin’ movie, man,” said Derek.

Sister St. John, a no-nonsense English nun in a white habit, stood in front of a door.

“I’m sorry, Major, but you simply cannot come barging in here --”

Mac took out his wallet, flipped it open, and showed it to the sister.

Adjusting her wire-rim glasses, she read the identification card.

“MacNamara,” she said. “So you are --”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Mac.

“But this is highly irregular, sir. Visiting hours are --”

“Sister,” said Mac, “you’re going to force me to turn on the charm. And I’m not so sure you want to see that.”

“Major, I assure you your charm will avail you naught with me.”

Mac drew two ten-pound notes from the wallet.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to resort to bribery.”


“For the poor box, sister.”

He slipped the notes into the shocked nun’s sash.

“But --”

“Sister, did anyone ever tell you how very charming you are when you’re shocked?”

“But --”

“Now if you’ll excuse me,” said Mac, “I’d like to see my progeny now.”

Touching her her arm gently with his left hand he sidled past her to the door, opened it, and went inside.

In the small white private room April slept beneath an open window, its white lace curtains billowing gently.

Mac took off his cap, folded it, slipped it into the epaulet of his field jacket.

Sister St. John stood in the doorway behind him, one hand clasped in the other.

“Well all right then,” she said, quietly. “But only fifteen minutes. Poor dear needs her rest, had a very difficult delivery, poor thing. And please, Major, no smoking.”

“Sure thing,” said Mac, speaking barely above a whisper.

The sister closed the door, leaving Mac alone in the room with the sleeping April.

“Oy, so he knocked the bird up,” said Derek.

“No kidding,” said Paco.

Mac stood there a moment, simply looking at April. Then he drew a seep breath, and sighed.

He went over to the bed, pulled a plain wooden chair closer to it, and sat down. He put his briefcase on the floor, took a pack of Chesterfields out of a side pocket of his jacket, shook one out and put it between his lips. He paused, staring at April’s face. He put the cigarette packet on the bed table, took out a scuffed Ronson and lit his cigarette.

April’s eyes opened. In the soft light from the window her face looked almost as pale as the pillow on which her head rested.

“Got a spare cigarette, soldier?”

Mac picked up the cigarettes again, gave the packet a shake, held it toward April’s lips. She ducked her head forward and brought it back with a cigarette between her lips.

She rose up weakly on her elbows and he gave her a light.

“Thanks,” she said.

The smoke from their two cigarettes merged and swirled in the spring breeze wafting from the window.

“Oh, and look, Mac,” she said. There was a teacup and saucer on the bed table, and April laid her cigarette on the saucer. “Your daughter and heiress.”

She drew back the covers to reveal a tiny sleeping infant at her side.

“Say hello to Papa, sweety,” she said.

The baby awoke and made a gurgling noise.

“Hi there,” said Mac.

He reached out his big index finger to the baby, she grabbed it and gurgled again.

“I’m thinking of calling her Daphne,” said April. “Do you like that?”

“Sure,” said Mac.

“Daphne was a nymph who, when pursued by Apollo, was saved by being changed into a laurel tree.”

“Did she have to stay a laurel tree?”

“I certainly hope not,” said April.

(Continued here. Soon to be a major motion picture, written and produced by Larry Winchester; starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, special guest star Buddy Ebsen as "Buddy".)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

je propre la nuit, part 43

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part forty-three of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

"yuck!" exclaimed ricky as she stepped into a puddle up to her right ankle.

barnabas said nothing but lowered the umbrella more protectively over her head.

part 44

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Pearls

                             (Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

Samantha said that Vida had asked her to phone him and so she had. The babies’ names, since he asked, were Alice Rose and Corrine Marketta.

Alice Rose. Corrine Marketta,” Zach said as if he had never heard such lustrous—and illustrious—names.

Samantha responded, warily: The babies’ maternal great-great grandmother had been named Alice Markett. Marketta was Greek and meant pearl.

This pleased Zach, or rather he was pleased with himself for choosing twin pearls for their mother’s rose-colored sapphire ring. But he waited until the jet reached cruising speed before retrieving it from his carry-on. The jewels mesmerized him; they were perfect.

After he presented his ID and logged in, the nurse at the desk said, “Wash your hands thoroughly in the restroom while I get you sterilized.” She meant an enormous decontaminated suit to cover his clothes and a mask, cap, and foot-coverings made of papery blue material: an antiseptic precaution for Vida’s private room where the babies slept instead of the general ward.

He crept in quietly while Vida was nursing baby Alice. Samantha, also covered in sterilized blue, was cuddling Corrine. On the windowsill, he noticed two terrariums filled with green moss and minuscule ferns.

The moment she saw him, Vida’s full, radiant face lit up even brighter. “Hi, Dad.”

Then she dabbed Alice’s tiny pink mouth and handed her to Zach, causing love and protective instincts to flood his body. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he said to himself, but still out loud.

Samantha put Corrine in a bassinet long enough to help Vida shift onto her opposite side. “Are you comfortable? Do you feel secure like that?” Vida nodded. Once Corrine was nursing hungrily, Samantha turned to Zach. “All of us were beautiful once. All of us, believe it or not, were once little miracles. Even you.”

“That’s true.” Zach stroked Alice’s tiny fingers. He touched the tip of her nose. Samantha sidled next to him, to whisk the baby into her bassinet.

“Alice needs to nap after nursing. The routine is important.”

“Samantha. What’s the harm if her father holds her a few minutes?”

Alice had emerged first. The doctor pulled her up, and before anyone had spanked her to initiate her first breath, she had cried as if in triumph. “Her eyes are the darkest blue right now,” Vida said. “But they will probably turn brown like her hair.”


“C-section babies are always pretty,” Samantha said.

Zach loved holding baby Alice; he had forgotten how peaceful, how hopeful, and happy holding his newborn child felt.

But not even a minute later, Samantha took Alice from him and laid her in a tiny crib. Then Vida handed Corinne to him, but again only for a minute, while Samantha helped her shift into position for Corinne to suck the other nipple.

He held Corinne so briefly—Samantha being so efficient—yet he brimmed with joy. Corrine’s eyes appeared slightly bigger than Alice’s and not quite as dark. Her hair was longer and curlier. He stared at the infant, wondering what she saw and what she heard. Not much—had been the consensus last time around. But Zach’s little Alice and Corrine refuted all that Piaget nonsense. Anyone watching his newborn daughters could see they were intently communicating: Here I am! Be prepared!

Vida’s doctor, a sprightly young woman with short, reddish hair, knocked lightly on the door frame. She wanted to examine Vida’s incision and talk to her privately. After which, Vida should rest. Could Zach and Samantha return in a few hours?  Before leaving, Zach set the box containing the ring on Vida’s bed stand.

Sharp-featured Samantha resembled Vida only, if and where, opposites converged. Where Vida curved, her sister bristled. Vida brightened her surroundings, while Samantha, leading Zach to her car, exuded futility and gloom. Unlocking her car, she asked, “Are you checked into a hotel? If not, Vida asked me to invite you to stay in her room. It’ll be cheaper.”

“No, thank you, Samantha. I’m set—just need to call a cab.”

“Don’t fool yourself. My sister acts glad to see you because she’s in a state of elation. The truth is you’re the last person she needs.  And you can be damn sure she has no intention of moving to Omaha.”

“How do you know about that?”

“Dorothy Zimmerman called to see if the terrariums had arrived. So we know you have an interview the day after tomorrow, which is when Vida and the babies come home. Vida was conscious for the whole procedure, thanks to an epidural .”

“That’s my girl.”

“She’s not your girl. At one point, I almost had her convinced to keep your name off their birth certificates.”

“Can she do that? After all, I am their father. Doesn’t that give me rights?”

“Not as many as you think. Vida doesn’t want or need child support. And while you’re in the hinterlands playing academic, she and the babies will live here or possibly Potomac, Maryland.”

“But I’m their father. Alice and Corrine Severins.”

“Well, Vida’s much too kind. You’re married to someone else. So the hospital will present you and Vida with an affidavit. If I were you, Fatty, I’d make sure to get all the paperwork signed and notarized before you go to Omaha. Because when you get back,Vida will have regained her senses.”

(click here for the next episode)


by peter greene

illustrations by rhoda penmarq


is being able to anticipate events
by flow-feeling . freedom is
rising , riding

freedom is
a feather flying
just ahead of time freedom is

the holy circle of a trout's

spasms freedom is

like an orgasm, but not inside you : free

dom comes
from around you and you

grant it to others by knowing what to do

just ahead of time

Text ©2011 Peter A. Greene.

no wind...

by nooshin azadi

illustration by rhoda penmarq


no wind blows through the trees
most of the leaves are dead
but still hanging from the branches
deserted dug-up pavements
and communication cables are waiting
for the interment ceremony
to begin


Friday, November 18, 2011

no trains...

by nooshin azadi

illustration by rhoda penmarq


no trains stop at this station anymore
night is still and silent
the windows are closed
one by one


The Interview

Having worked tirelessly to get back in the “normal” workforce recently, it came as something of a pleasant surprise when I was asked to attend for an interview. That in itself isn’t so surprising, what was surprising is that this job was top of my wish list and to get the opportunity to interview for it was a great…. opportunity.

I prepared myself the best I could for the big day. I went out and bought a whole new outfit. I suited up to the nines so sharply I resembled a younger, Welshier Don Draper.

It's like looking in a mirror!!
All that was left to do was present myself and rock their socks off with my witty, intelligent and concise interview technique, which basically involved me stealing Don Draper’s entire persona.

Yes, I like Mad Men.

I entered the interview room to be confronted by four middle aged women with bad haircuts, cheap clothes and skin that was the wrong side of ripe. 

Enter our lair!
This was the kind of scenario that ol’ Don lived for. Within seconds he would have had them eating out of his hand and asking him to be their boss. I intended to follow the same path. If Don Draper had taught me anything, it was this: "You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself."

However, there was just one tiny flaw in my otherwise flawless plan.

As I was introduced to the cast of the Bitches of Eastwick, I felt a slight unease and realisation running through my mind. People generally look for traits in others which they possess in themselves. It’s a fundamental rule of human nature. I may have many enviable character traits, but being able to relate those to four forty something former house wives with a maxed out Primark store card was a big ask. Short of starting the conversation by asking them if they had watched some angry working class soap or a brain numbing realty TV show last night, I was already on the back foot.

No matter. As soon as the interview questions start, I would give them little option other than to consider me the front runner for this position.

Then shit got serious.

Question 1:

"Quantify using your strategic analysis review experience, how you correlate the subject matter of the primary criteria within the confines of the agreed employment description, emphasising the essentially required person specifications relating to previous performance and subdivision parameters."

My mind raced. Wait, was that question even in English??

No, can’t have been? I only caught about a third of the words she actually said. To be honest, I think she was using an Elvish dialect I was not totally familiar with.

My mouth opened and vague, jumbled words spilled out.

If pie charts had had anything to do with the question I have no idea, but she seemed to pick up interest and wrote something down when I said the phrase “core management liaising skills”. However she seemed less interested when I talked about “like..patient confidentiality stuff, you know?”

I have no idea what my answer sounded like to them, but to them this is probably the kind of answer I gave and how I looked giving it:

Deciding to tag team me into submission, the questioning moved on to the next battle-axe in a blouse.

I could feel the blood rushing around my head. Had it started to drip out of my nose yet? I couldn’t be sure. I reached for the plastic cup of water that had been set in front of me and took a nervous sip. I resisted the temptation to throw it over them to see if they would melt. But my guess is yes, yes they would.

Surely the first question was just a tester. A kind of “no win situation” or “Kobayashi Maru” if you will, that would show them how a person reacts under duress and extreme pressure. I was wrong.

Questions 2:

"In response relating to the objective status of information queried, you are presented with misleading or nonmisleading recognition measure assessed information. If you are required to ascertain the validity of said information in a time structured manner complying with the employer’s code of conduct, do you feel this is systemic of a client testimony compromise or due, in part, to the previously mentioned queried information disassociation parallel?"

I started to sob a little at this point.
The question was longer and more confusing than the first. I quickly scanned my memory for key words and cues that could help. I sat there with my mouth open staring at the ceiling. I had to say something.

A long and exasperated sound seeped from my larynx. I wasn’t totally sure, but I think I might have been having a serious stroke at this point.

I started rambling again. A half remembered reference to “conduct” lingered in my brain as I checked off meaningless phrases and platitudes relating to this subject. I rubbed my now numb face in the hope of sparking some semblance of life into my answers, but all that came were stories of “client interaction” and “petty cash…reimbursement.. bus tickets..photocopy chart, list, prescription doctor”.

They witches cackled and sneered as they wrote down notes on their little forms. Their writing too small, far away and upsidedowny for me to read. But I knew what they were writing. I KNEW!

“HAHAHA. Can’t believe this guy is actually trying to answer these questions! He’s not even a 47 year old woman! Why would we hire him?”

Almost unbeknown to me I had stopped talking and they had moved onto the third woman and her question. By the time I had I had stopped talking and she had started, she was already half way through her question but I decided that I would at least try to get one question reasonably understood and give a decent answer.

Question 3:
"How do you feel, empirically speaking of course, you can respond to a work scenario that is conceptually heterogeneous in appearance, but displays homogeneity characteristics upon further effective and target led investigation."
I sat there and thought about it….. 

For what was a VERY long time
I had nothing.

Literally NOTHING!

Not a single word of her question made any sense and I had already used up every single reference to my skills and experiences that might otherwise allow me to tread water for a few minutes.

As Don Draper would have said: 

“I'm glad that this is an environment where you feel free to fail.”
I stroked my hair and started rocking back and forth in my seat. 

They all just looked at me for what seemed like an eternity. I now knew how those poor bastards in Dragons Den felt when they cracked under the pressure and couldn’t even remember what invention they were trying to sell.

I had no choice but to ask lady number 3 to repeat the question. She looked at me with an almost palpable level of disgust and contempt and then proceeded to repeat the question like she was trying to teach basic reading skills to a retarded 3 year old kid who grew up a middle child in a pack of wolves.

“HOW….. Do you.. That’s YOU!!! FEEL, EMPIRICALLY SPEAKING, of….………Course………
She gave me no hints or help as to what the hell she was talking about, but just repeated the question word for word in a much slower and patronising identical manner. 

This brief rest bite did give me a brief opportunity to leave my body and observe the car crash that was happening before my eyes. It was not a pretty sight in all fairness. Whoever that guy in the suit is sitting behind the desk should really wipe the dribble from his chin.

I feigned new and appreciated understanding of the question and gently nodded in some sort of realisation that the words she said now made sense.

I did not.
But the penny had not dropped. I was as lost as I had been at the start of the question, but at least now I had been given enough time to formulate some sort of answer. I figured anything had to be better than just sitting there like I had been struck down by a severe and sudden case of “locked in syndrome”.

Again I prattled on about “people skills” and may have even given a short speech on how.....

At this point, I was seconds was from reciting the lyrics to Shiny Happy People
More scribbles on their notes as I continued to give them a show of bewildered false conpentence not seen since they banned the circus from training Apes to ride Horses. 

Which is probably a good thing
The one thing I clung to during this time was the knowledge that my torture was almost over. I wondered if they used similar techniques on terrorists? They probably should. I was so confused and dumb struck that at this point that I would have happily run out of the interview room screaming about “Firm but supportive management styles” and “Database information review process” if my legs had worked. But this was the last question, so how bad could it be. It would be asked by what seemed to be the most friendly and senior interviewer. She even smiled at me and gave me a reassuring look.

Question 4:
 "Please give me your definition of avocation oriented success in which you can specify the techniques used in interdependence of conceptual targets in which you exceeded the agreed upon supposition of the work environment without having to rely on presumption of duty."

I started to shake. My breath came in short deep grunts, interspersed with the primal howl of a wounded animal. I rutted the floor with my shoe. Some sort of reply came from within. I had no idea what I even said, but I think I may have cursed her house in Klingon at one point.

Then it was over. 

I had worked on a funny joke regarding the “What are your weaknesses?” question, but they didn’t even have the good grace to give me the opportunity to use it. In case you’re wondering, it was something about being a “bit of a racist”. There was a whole setup and punch line thing that doesn’t make sense out of context. What you think you could do better? 

Needless to say I didn’t get the job. I have requested some feedback from the interview panel. A little bit in order to pick up some hints, but mainly to try and remember what the hell I actually said.

I’m quite annoyed and dismayed why people would want to turn an already tense and nervous situation into a full on mental torture session. We all have access to a thesaurus, but that’s no reason to take the piss. I really don’t know what they hoped they would get out of their petty and silly actions? Maybe the job had already been “promised” to someone else and this was their way of just stacking the deck, or maybe they were just jumped up, self-important fish wives who needed to try and make themselves look better than they actually were. Either way, their loss.  

Never mind. Plenty more interviews out there, meaning I get to do this all over again in the near future.