Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
(Another excerpt from my forthcoming show, “Every Job I’ve Ever Had.”)
The woman sitting across from me dumps a box of small metal washers onto the flimsy card table, picks up her stopwatch and says, “GO!”
And I go. I start putting these washers on the metal post as quickly as I can. I remember having a toy like this as a kid – big, colorful plastic rings of varying sizes that you’re supposed to put on an equally colorful post. I can see how this toy was designed to teach hand-eye coordination and spatial relations, but the rings were big and soft and mostly I just chewed on them. I don’t think chewing on these metal washers is going to help me at this point. I can hear the stopwatch ticking. Yes, it’s ticking, because this test is taking place in 1986, and things still tick.
I’ve decided that it’s time to get a job. Not my first job – I’ve had a few up until now. I’ve been an automotive parts sanitation engineer (see last week’s column), a paperboy, an underaged bartender/janitor, juggler, file clerk, messenger and card-carrying professional photocopier. I’m clearly not on the fast track to career stability and success, which is why I’m at this temp agency, seeing what other random jobs I can scare up for myself. Since my resume (see above) is a red flag for someone with a lack of skills and/or focus, I’ve been sent to the little card-table room to test my manual dexterity. I have 60 seconds to put as many of these washers on this post as I can. And I’m already about 15 seconds into it.
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Tick, tick, tick …
I have a smooth left-right-left hand combo going. Those washers are stacking up the post at an alarming speed. Ha! Piece of cake. I’m really good at this.
Oh no … I’m really good at this.
What if I’m REALLY good at this? What if my washer-on-post-putting skills are off the charts? That means that they’re probably going to assign me a job doing something very similar to this. Or doing exactly this. And I’ll be expected to do it this fast. They’ll total up my washers-per-minute, multiply it by 60 to get my washers-per-hour, multiply that by 8 to get my washers-per-day, multiply by 240 (365 days minus weekends and a 2-week vacation) to get my washers per year, then multiply that by my expected life span …
This is bad.
TICK, TICK, TICK …
The ticking seems louder now – maybe because it’s in all caps. I know that I have to sabotage this test, but I can’t be obvious about it. I “accidentally” drop one of the washers as I try to put in on the post, and it rolls toward the edge of the table. My hand jerks out to catch it, “accidentally” knocking over the post. All of the stacked washers spill out onto the table and the floor. I bend down and start picking washers from the carpet, fully intending to “accidentally” knock the card table over as I lift back up. Kind of like how you “accidentally” tip the board over when you’re losing at Scrabble. I’m debating over whether it would look more accidental to take out the table with my head or my shoulder when I hear, “TIME’S UP.”
Zero washers, 60 seconds. That’s one washer every … infinity. Perfect.
I help the woman gather up the washers for the next person, then she walks me to the front desk.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Given your test results, the only job we can offer you is, uh …”
She’s flipping through the pages of a book. Finally her finger rests on an address, and she looks surprised. “Oh! Well, here’s a place that needs someone to write free verse poetry from home. They want someone right away and full time. Unfortunately I’m afraid it only starts at a hundred thousand a year, no benefits but you get a company gas card. Sorry, but that’s the best we can do for you.”
Oh, wait! That’s not what she said. I was totally thinking about something else for a second. I remember now.
She said, “Get out.”
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