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Career Moves

by Jim Sallis

I advertised for a job as king and got one. It was a shabby little land, the flag one color, no motels for tourists, national library in a back room of the bus station. They'd had few applications, they told me. They wondered if it was because of their paltry crown, or if word had got out about the food. I told them no, I didn't think that was it, people just weren't changing jobs like they used to, things being what they were. They decided I was a great ruler and asked what was my pleasure. I've always wanted a boat, I said. They started in building a navy.


The ad said very clearly: Wanted. One Jim Sallis. To Start Immediately. Experience Required. Apply in Person. This is what I'd been waiting for. I tried calling, faxed, finally went on down there. The building faced east, and the windows on that side squinted against the sun. There were forty or fifty people inside, all with résumés and leather shoes. You want to take the test? a woman behind the desk asked when I got to the front of the line. I didn't know. Did I? Don't worry, honey, she said. No one passes it.


New trends in packaged products sounded like the way to go. They were a little vague about just what these products were that we'd be packaging, so I was a little vague in turn about my background and qualifications. This was only fair: I assumed we were negotiating. After a while they nodded to one another across the long table and told me they'd been looking for someone like me. I made it a done deal. We'd have to settle on a title of course. But I could go ahead and buy new shoes and polish the mailbox, take someone out to dinner.


Name three of my personal heroes. What was the last book I read? Where do I see myself five years from now? Complete this statement: I would give up everything for. I'm prepared. Have my pen, my No. 2 pencil, my list of phone numbers and contact people from past employment, references. I complete the application and begin answering the 48 questions on their personality profile. After a while I get up and go to the front of the room to ask for more paper. When I look up next it's dark.


I've wormed my way through all the interviews to the final one but now this guy won't ask me anything. He sits rocking back and forth in his high-back chair, staring across the desk at me. We thought we might turn it around a little, he says, come at it from a different angle. That's how we like to approach things around here. So why don't you interview me? See if the company's someone you want to hire on. I didn't have a chair that would go back and forth but I did the best I could. That was about the toughest interview I ever had, he said when we were finished. How did I do? I'll let you know, I told him.


Each morning I would sit in Carl's diner with my coffee and newspaper reading every ad carefully, circling those of greatest interest. I would make lists of jobs according to location or bus routes, lists of numbers to call and in what order, lists of what I needed to remember about each job. In the afternoon I'd call for appointments, or to inquire regarding previous applications. A friend used to insist, I suddenly remembered, that the best way to learn about a city was to study its want ads. If that was so, I must be an expert by now, I figured. There a print shop nearby? I asked Carl. I had some cards printed up down the street and announced a series of lectures.

Jim Sallis this year has a biography of Chester Himes, paperbacks of his last two novels and his translation of Queneau's Saint Glinglin, as well as collections of poetry and essays and a two-volume Collected Stories, forthcoming.


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