The sign-in sheet asks for a name, a company, and a reason for visiting. He pauses at each blank, realizing he can answer none of these questions. He looks at the receptionist who was examining at a magazine photo of Kerry Washington.
“Can you-,” he starts, then regurgitates a liter or so of liquid into his beard. “Excuse me. Can you help me with something?”
She looks up, head in her hands. “Possibly.”
“What would be a good name to write down?”
Adjusting her glasses, she leans over the desk to examine him. Oh I’m so embarrassed, he thinks.
His body glistens with layers of mud, chemical residues, and beige fluid plopping onto the carpet. A trail of sewage marks his path from the elevator. His skin is a lush topography of calcified feces, fungi, algae, dried blood, tar, and a shredded Chicago Tribune stuck to his genitals with bubblegum. In preparation for the interview, he rubbed a handful of yellow cream in his hair and beard, aiming for dapper gentleman but looking more like a victim of egging. His arms and legs are speckled with needle marks, not from syringes but from the hundreds upon hundreds of rats that scamper over his body while he sleeps, nipping him in their mischievous way.
To his right, he notices the other job applicants sitting in a circle of sofa chairs. They are all clean. Business suits and dress pants. Shiny black shoes. Clean shaven, smelling sweet and floral. Not at all like an oven full of cockroaches. I have made a miscalculation, he thinks.
“Kendyl,” says the receptionist. “You look like a Kendyl, I think.”
“Thank you,” he says. “My parents never gave me a name.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. You’re fine.”
“I was dropped in the sewer when I was a baby,” he says.
She puts her hand over her mouth. “In the sewer?
“The actual sewer? Underground.”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“You poor thing. I’m a babysitter on the side, and I find it’s so easy to keep a baby out of the sewer. When they crawl toward a sewer drain, you pick them up and say ‘Don’t go in there. That’s a sewer.’ Then you bring them inside the house and put them in a crib.
“And your parents, they never gave you a name?”
“Wow, they sound shockingly negligent, if you don’t mind my saying. But I’m sure you’ll do great anyway, Kendal. Nature over nurture and all that.”
He contorts his expression into a toothy grin. She smiles back. For approximately ten seconds, he locks his gaze on her until her smile fades away and she deliberately returns to looking at her magazine.
On the sign-in sheet under name, he writes “Ken Doll” and under “reason for visiting” he writes “work givs our livs purpos”.
Then he joins the other candidates, who, without fuss, place tissues over their mouths. Looking around, he observes their ironed shirts and symmetrical facial features, and wonders how they removed every infinitesimal particle from their skin without nanomachines or perpetual bathing? Were they birthed by angels?
“My parents left me in the sewer as a baby,” he says to them.
Waiting for acknowledgment, he notices a bowl of peppermints on the table. “Is this for all of us?” he asks. “Does anyone else want the candies? Are we allowed to…” He trails off, already clutching a handful of peppermints. “To…take…” He pops them in his mouth, swallows without chewing. “I haven’t eaten so…” Another handful of peppermints. “I hope we are allowed…” He gags a little, works them down his throat like a swan eating bread. Handful after handful, he eats all of them, breathing hard, smacking his lips. The candidates avoid eye contact. One stands and moves to the opposite side of the room.
For over two hours, none of them speak. Candidates are called in to Stephanie’s office, then leave fifteen minutes later with bowed heads. Onto the elevator, down to their cars, presumably they return to their cozy, dry apartments above ground where the scent of feces is nearly zero, and their spouses are human and not inanimate objects. “I blew it, hon,” they say. “I didn’t measure up.” And the beautiful spouse cradles the candidate in his/her arms and strokes his/her hair with long delicate fingers, whispering soothing things in the candidate’s ear that induce a sensation of wet cloth sliding from the cerebellum down the brainstem. Lulled by the ocean wave sound of their breathing, the low-volume murmur of Jason Alexander on television, the candidate drifts into reverie. 8 billion souls crowding into bodies, and the candidate’s crawled into the one genetically equipped to attain love from an optimal human, to achieve a comfortable standard of living with approximately zero rats and/or crying; surfed the probability wave into the dimension where he/she achieves contentment, tempered only by this failed job interview.
“Kendyl?” says the receptionist. “She’s ready for you.”
“Oh, that’s right. Thank you.”