I've decided to sacrifice this story to the blog. I like it. It's had a few polishes but its been rejected out of hand everywhere I've sent it, no feedback at all. Yep, I'm feeling self-righteous this afternoon. Also, a note, Brett and Jermaine are not the Brett and Jermaine. The picture is Brett, this Brett's nemisis, Old Economy Steve.
With the Manager
"Thank you for coming..." said the Manager. Brett almost said 'you asked me here' but he smiled:
"Thank you for having me..." Stay positive.
The Manager continued: "You have been a valued member of our team this past month…” Pause. “You have done yourself proud."
"I'm just grateful for the opportunity, Sir, to prove myself" said Brett.
The Manager sat forward in his chair, "and you have. You're an intelligent and hard-working young man, a good team player too. No, we've really enjoyed having you here.” He pushed a small envelope across the table toward Brett. “Please accept this as a token of appreciation from all of us at Bravos Summerisle..." Brett picked the envelope up. This was not going well. He opened it. "Book tokens" said the Manager, "thirty pounds; a little bird told me you like to read so..." The Manager sat back again, palms open, he smiled as if to say 'ta-da.'
Brett beamed. This was not going well at all. The Manager had been dodging the question for a week. Still, Brett smiled like he meant it. "Thank you, Sir, that's so kind of you."
"Not at all" said the Manager, eyes to the ceiling, slightly nervous now. "We had a whip round. It just goes to show that..."
"Sir" Brett interrupted.
"Ian, please..." said the Manager to Brett again, mock-diffident.
"Ian... Sir... I was wondering..." The Manager's face started to freeze. Here it comes. "I was wondering" said Brett, "if there were any openings at the firm, after all..." The Manager looked away with a sharp intake of breath. "That I might..."
"I'm sorry" said the Manager to the table, "but we're fully booked at the moment." He looked up at Brett. "But we would very much like to keep in touch. Rest assured you will be contacted in the event of any vacancies arising..."
"And references...?" Brett asked.
"Of course" said the Manager, "though I hope we will be the ones to eventually employ you. I really do." He stood to shake Brett's hand from across the desk. "Well done and... good luck."
"Thank you" said Brett, still smiling through the sinking feeling.
"Take the afternoon off" said the Manager, letting go. "Enjoy yourself."
"I will...Thank you..." said Brett to the office door. "Bye."
Through the door.
"Here you go..." Jermaine was back from the bar, a half of lager for him, pint of stout for his younger brother. "I don't know how you can drink that stuff."
"I guess I'm just bitter" Brett said with a thin smile, “or stout… I don’t know…” He took the pint, had a quick sip and sighed. "Thanks" he said.
"No worries" said Jermaine. He sat down at the table with Brett.
"How much was it?" asked Brett.
"Its fine" said Brett.
"Seriously, little bro, it's fine..."
"No, I can..." Brett tried to push a five pound note across the table.
"No" said Jermaine, holding his hands out. "You need to save your pennies." Brett eventually relented, putting the money back in his pocket. “So, How did it go?”
“It's gone...” said Brett
“Oh... well it's...”
“No, well, I spoke to the manager, Ian; they're keeping my details though and...
“That's something” said Jermaine, brightly.
Brett sighed, “it's been a month working for nothing.”
“But they're keeping your details...”
“And the Manager said he might give me a reference” said Brett.
“See, that's not so bad” said Jermaine. He took a sip of his half.
“It's not a job, though” said Brett with suppressed anguish. “I need a job. I've spent a month working for free. How many more bloody unpaid internships do I...?
“I don't know Brett” said Jermaine flatly.
“Your... generation, you got a ten-year headstart. You just walked into your jobs. It...”
“Sorry, Son, but times have changed...”
“It's not fair!”
Now Jermaine sighed. “Life's not fair, snd that attitude's not going to get you a job either... Is it...?
Brett, resigned: “I know.”
“Are you going to drink that?” said Jermaine. Chastened, his brother took a sip of his pint. “You've got to stay positive” Jermaine added, “project confidence. That's what employers are looking for.”
“I know” said Brett, a little narky.
“You've got to sell yourself” said Jermaine.
Brett thought about objecting but fell silent. The brothers each took a swig of their drink.
"Anyway" Jermaine added, "enjoy it while you can.”
“The free booze” said Jermaine. “I'm thinking of quitting my job."
"Well, I'm not just going to walk out like that" said Jermaine.
"Fifty grand a year" said Brett, astonished, "I should think not."
"I'm thinking of turning gamekeeper" said Jermaine. He took a sip of his half-lager then explained. "Advertising's just so cut throat, dog-eat dog. Now, if I joined a marketing department, well, the money's just as good, the position's secure and I'd get to fuck over ad-execs to my heart's content... well, a little bit anyway."
"Are you sure about this?" Brett asked.
"I don't see why not?" said Jermaine. "I've got the portfolio and the experience."
"Yeah" said Brett, glumly, "it's all about the experience."
They each took a sip in silent unison.
“You’ve got a new book” Jermaine observed. He picked it up from off the table, read the title “’Get the Job You Really Want…’ that’s not your usual” and put it down again.
“No” Said Brett. “They gave me a going away gift, all the people at Bravos Summerisle… some of them anyway. Book tokens…”
“You got that with book tokens?”
“I know” said Brett.
They took another silent sip.
OK, let's. Email. Open. Here goes. Nothing? Three. Oh, O... K... Travel agency position. Dear Brett, personal, informal, regret that on this occasion. Same old. Thank for interest. Person of more experience. All right. Long pause. Next one. University support. That'd be nice. Didn't think it would come in. Nope. They're looking for someone with more appropriate qualification. What? This is a paper-sifting job. Last one. NHS. Dear Candidate, blah, position will now be filled... internally. What was the point in that? It doesn't matter what I... No, don't think like that. Project. Like the book said. Maybe if I just. I mustn't let this. Stay positive.
“Why do you want this job, Brett?”
Brett opened his mouth, a moment too long because:
“You're not sure, are you?” The Interviewer sighed a deep breath. He renewed, “I want motivated, confident people that are going places, Brett. Are you one of those people?” The Interviewer had a soft voice.
Brett, slowly, “I feel that I am motivated and I am confident. I am getting myself out there and...”
“And now you're here” the Interviewer interrupted. 'Here' was an office in a lane off Liverpool Street. “Turnover is quite high here” said the Interviewer, whose name was Nigel Stiffly-Barrage QC. He sat forward across the table between him and Brett. “This is a pressured environment...” small fist bumps for emphasis, “how do you cope with pressure, Brett?” He sat back.
“I like to plan” said Brett. “I take the long view, get to know the rhythms of the office and try to anticipate...”
“No, Brett” Mr Stiffly-Barrage QC leaned forward again. “That's how you avoid pressure. I was asking how you cope with pressure.” His expression hardened. “How would you cope if I gave you a hundred pages of notes to be typed, proofed and allocated in three hours. How would you cope, Brett?”
“Well” said Brett, “I would try to prioritise...”
Mr Stiffly-Barrage QC shook his head. “That's not answering my question, not by a long chalk, no, no, no.” Now his voice was hardening as well. Mr Stiffly-Barage QC sat back and crossed his fingers, archly. Silence. “How old are you?” he eventually asked.
“Twenty three” said Brett.
“And what do you want out of life?”
“I... want to be... happy...”
“Happy? Mr Stiffly-Barrage QC almost snorted. He then stood up and offered Brett his hand to shake. “Thank you for coming.” Brett rose to reciprocate. “But I don't think you'll be hearing from us” he added and shook Brett's hand very hard. “Good luck with ‘being happy’” he said.
“Thank you” said Brett, feeling equal parts humiliated and relieved.
Brett was waiting for a bus out on Liverpool Street when he saw a woman. She was wearing a branded T-shirt and handing out fliers. Brett was intrigued. She was attractive, but after the interview he just had Brett didn't want to talk and, anyway, she was probably out of his league. He thought about it again, then went back, then bottled it again. He took a flier though. It was for something called The Job Laboratory, a website and a hotline. It promised applicants work within twenty-four hours. Brett thought it was too good to be true, worth a try though, it was an agency after all. What did he have to lose and where was the Woman? Stay positive. Brett turned to look. Where'd she go? That was odd. Still, Brett had the flier at least.
Two days later
Brett was back in East London. It has taken some finding but there it was, in a side street just off Brick Lane. From the outside the The Job Laboratory office might not have looked like much to a passer-by, a small logo above a solid green door on the side of a barely recovered industrial site, but Brett felt optimistic, almost buoyant. Talking to Bella of course helped.
A phone call
Minutes after he submitted his CV online he got a call from an Unknown Number.
“Hi” said a bright, twee voice, trilling “is that Brett?”
“It is” said Brett neutrally.
“Fantastic” said the Voice. “My name’s Bella. I’m calling from The Job Laboratory. I’m calling because we really like your CV and reckon we could get you fixed up?”
“You do?” said Brett, uncertain but with anticipation emerging. Bella was the first person to speak to him in months who didn’t sound mournful, embarrassed or belligerent.
“Sure” said Bella, audibly smiling. “It’s not every day we get a philosophy graduate on our books.”
“No” said Brett, almost smiling back, “I suppose not.”
“What was your dissertation in?” Bella asked.
Brett had to think about it for a second, it had been so long, or felt like it. “'Existentialism and the Ontology of Time' he remembered.”
“Oh right” said Bella, “like Nietzsche?”
“More sort of Heidegger into Sartre” said Brett. He was pleased to elaborate, “but Nietzsche is considered one of the pioneers of existentialist…” then he remembered himself, “sorry.”
“Fascinating” said Bella. She left a pause before adding. “We must get you in for a formal interview and some testing.”
“Thanks” said Brett, now elated.
“Of course” said Beth, “most of the jobs we have aren’t specifically related to philosophy.”
“Of course” said Brett, echoing.
“But I see you’ve got some good experience” said Bella.
“People don’t often say that” said Brett.
“Nonsense” said Bella, “let’s see, three months intern in corporate insurance, some temping in data entry, bar work, shop work and you’ve got a driving licence. There is lots to be going on with here” she concluded. “Can you come in tomorrow, say, eleven?”
“I can” said Brett.
“Then it’s a date” said Bella. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
‘A date…’ Brett almost blushed.
The Job Laboratory
Inside was not what Brett expected. Once through the entrance he found a cold, bare, door-less, palpably damp corridor, part whitewashed part bare-brick, at the end of which was somehow installed a lift. Still, he was here now. Stay positive.
The lift itself old-looking though the ride up soft and silent, Brett could barely tell it was moving. He got out on the first floor. There was a reception area, a woman behind a desk, a tall ceiling, a table with a pile of magazines and a couch and beyond that a line of temporary partition panels.
“Brett McKenzie” he said to the Receptionist, a young-looking woman, younger than Brett, “eleven o'clock...” he smiled. “I'm here to see Bella... I'm a bit early....”
The Receptionist held up a finger. She was tapping away with expert intensity at her keyboard, staring a huge, ancient-looking monitor. “There” she said and looked up at Brett. “Sorry, I was just, um... Bella, let’s see...” and she started tapping away again. “Oh” her face fell, “I'm sorry, Bella has had to take a day...” Brett’s face also fell. Pause. The Receptionist perked up again. “Not to worry” she said, “you'll be seeing Anna instead. Please, take a seat” with a professional, iron smile.
“Well” said Brett, pulling himself together, “thank you... It's...”
“It's quite… informal here” he observed. Not really the word he was looking for but the Receptionist quickly replied:
“Yes, yes it is” still smiling.
Nothing else to say, Brett sat.
Brett jumped. He had been flicking through a men’s style magazine, about a decade old. Here was Anna. She held out her hand, she was tall, professionally androgynous, wearing a smart, dark suit, unsmiling, neither kind nor rude. Brett, who had been sitting on the reception couch stood to shake. “This way” said Anna, adding a stern slap on the shoulder. She led Brett through the office.
The Job Laboratory HQ was open plan and alive with hubbub, about half of it perhaps to do with work, but what kind of work? There was typical office equipment, more computer terminals, old-looking PCs glowing, shredding machines buzzing, filing cabinets clanking, coffee machines humming a franking station the size of a small car and office staff. Further on though were sections, cubicles filled with strange, electronic equipment that Brett could not place, tubes and wires and aerials and men and women in white coats, almost like a laboratory.
Anna took Brett to a panelled cubicle it felt very quiet and secluded. She sat him down at a computer terminal. “Here you go” said Anna. She logged him into a programme. “It’s a short aptitude test” she said. She at Brett smiled thinly, towering over him. “There’s nothing to worry about” she said, “no right or wrong answers just... do your best… back in a moment.”
The test began. It was simple enough to begin with, the usual kind of personality/aptitude test. But then the questions began to change:
State your understanding of Einstein’s theory of general relatively as best you can in 100 words or less?
They went on:
Have you ever worked with a particle accelerator?
Give one solution to the Grandfather Paradox.
Describe the causal mechanisms of the Back to the Future trilogy as best you can in 100 words or less.
No right or wrong answers? Brett did the best he could with the questionnaire. Literally just as he was done Anna returned.
“I think I have” said Brett. “The questions were a little…”
“Unusual?” said Anna. “There’s a reason for that.” She leant over Brett. “Let me…” She pressed a few buttons. “I’ll be back with the print out.”
Back with the print outs and an extra chair Anna sat with Brett and glanced through it briefly. “Good” she eventually said. “I think The Job Laboratory would very much like to have you on its books.”
“Thank you” said Brett, smiling.
“I’ll give you this” said Anna. Beneath the printout was a document. “It’s a contract” she said, holding it in both hands. “We’d like you to sign.”
“Certainly” said Brett, reaching for the contract, but Anna did not yield:
“First” said Anna, “I strongly suggest you read it. It’s not your usual…”
“Your usual what…?”
“Yours usual agency contract” said Anna. “We can find you work” she added, “but we’re going to have to send you somewhen?”
“What do you mean, 'somewhen?'” Brett asked. There was a long pause. Anna seemed to be weighing up how to explain. Eventually she said:
“Young people like you have a lot of problems in this current job market.” She gave Brett the contract. He started flicking through. Anna continued, “you’re overqualified for basic jobs and underqualified for good jobs. The stuff you do go for usually for requires experience, even at entry-level. It’s crazy I know but that’s why we have things like the Temporal Confidentiality Clause” she said, indicating to Brett where it came on the contract. As she spoke a man in a white coat wheeled in a strange device, a piece of electronic equipment wrapped in tubes and wires and aerials. “Thank you, Dave... See, it ensures that while you are on our books you do nothing to dangerously skew the timeline of the current universe.”
Brett half-whispered half-mouthed the word “what?”
“This is not the usual contract and we are not your usual agency. We try to do the best by all our clients and the way the current job market is the best we can do for you Brett is send you back in time to 2007.”