In a world where money is God, unemployment is for the forsaken. It can be seen in the glassy eyes of the homeless, who are denied ordinary human interaction and treated with revulsion as punishment for not conforming to accepted methods of worship. It can be seen in the content of daytime television. And it can be seen in the body language of those who have a job, when addressing those who would like one.
The young woman responsible for interviewing Hertz and I at the employment agency looked as though her clothes were swallowing her. She can’t have been long out of full time education, but had already been packaged in a sharp grey suit and her hair scraped back into a sensible, stern bun. She was taking her role seriously, speaking in a professional condescending manner, and putting on what would have been referred to as a display of power had she been part of the animal kingdom. Beneath all of that there was a person, I was sure. I squinted, trying to see who she might be.
‘Mr… Hertz? Would you like to take a seat and I’ll see if we can help you?’ It wasn’t a question.
‘Oh I’m quite certain you can.’ Hertz said with a smile. He was met with a glare.
I sat beside a water dispenser, swinging my legs to avoid touching the floor with the painful high heels I had to wear, and waited for my turn. I could hear the conversation carrying on nearby and it amused me. It wasn’t everyday that magical beings from dreamscapes were asked such questions as these. I hoped I could be so quick-thinking with my answers as Hertz was managing to be.
‘So what kind of work have you been doing most recently?’
‘Healing, mainly. I’m a medicine man.’
‘Medicine? Do you mean working in a pharmacy?’
‘A pharmacy, yes that’s it. I talk to people about what is troubling them, and find the best kind of treatment. Sometimes talking is enough. Sometimes they need the potions. Medicines, that is.’
‘So you also have counselling skills.’ She frowned, making notes on a logo-emblazoned pad. ‘Do you have anyone who can verify this?’
‘My friend Purple over there can.’ He looked towards me with a grin. The interviewer didn’t seem convinced.
‘I will need to see some formal identification, and two official references before I can register you.’ Her tone said she expected this to be a problem, but Hertz produced some paperwork from his jacket pocket which she photocopied and, after a few more lifeless questions, allowed me to take my turn.
As I expected, I stumbled a fair bit more. Not out of nervousness you understand, but out of the sheer strangeness of the situation. I didn’t appreciate that tarot reading, premonition, and becoming a cat on occasion, were not relevant skills to mention when applying for work. Apparently such things were considered ‘highly irregular’ at best, and more often ‘fundamentally impossible’. I was asked if I could use a computer, if I could drive, if I had been in receipt of disability benefits… I don’t believe I gave the desired answer to anything, but I wouldn’t tell a lie.
We were then given a personality test to complete, designed to engineer the closest job match. The results said that Hertz was some kind of genius entrepreneur, which he loved, and that I was the kind of person who didn’t like personality tests and pigeonholing, which I don’t. The conclusion reached on my behalf was that I didn’t have the right attitude to be considered for employment.
‘I’m afraid, Ms Purple, that you really have to want to work.’
With that, I was all ready to return to the dreamscapes: reality was boring anyway. But, desperate for us to do all we could to fit into this world, Hertz resorted to a sleight of mind trick to persuade our interviewer that I was genuine. He joked that not everyone was a cat person, but I was a people cat who could get along with anyone and would even refrain from scratching the furniture if I was given a chance. The comment raised a nervous laugh, which I took as a small success in breaking through the mould. We didn’t want to use deception of course, but this wasn’t, not really. We were simply bending the system just enough to let us squeeze in. She took a deep breath, signed us both up, and promised to be in touch within a week.
If you would like to read the previous segments of this story, you can find them on my homepage menu under Creative – The Old Woman, The Stag, and Me.