Spitting off tall buildings - By Dan Fante

Chapter One

I GOT MY first job in New York City two days after I arrived. Monday. It’d taken me four days to hitchhike from L.A. I became a staple puller at an advertising company that did effectiveness studies for TV commercials. Clerical Assistant.

270 Madison Avenue. Third Floor. Schwermann Research, Inc. The gig came through an office temp place that advertised in the want-ads in the New York Times.

At eight-thirty that morning I began asking people on the street near Penn Station the way to get to Olson’s Temp at Forty-second and Sixth. The second guy I asked gave me directions by bus. I walked to save the carfare. It was ten blocks.

Ms. Herrera, the placement counselor, never looked up when she called my name and I got to her desk. She had lots of black make-up above her eyes and there were no apparent breasts behind her shirt. I was handed a pen, a clipboard and a long double-sided application. I sat down with the form and did what I do most of the time with job applications - make shit up. It’s a game I play to balance out the boredom and stupidness of having to spend time filling out forms and waiting endlessly in lines at employment agencies. I invent two or three companies where I’ve worked and say they have moved or gone broke. I use that as my ‘Reason For Leaving Last Position.’ It usually works and it eliminates the discussion of whether I was a good employee or not. The challenge comes when the agency person behind the desk asks stuff about my work history and I have to remember the sequence of what I wrote down on the application. If I’ve been drinking, concentrating and recalling my lies can be difficult.

Herrera saw that I’d completed all the blanks and boxes on both sides of the page and that I could spell and appeared to be alert so she gave me a quick pitch about how Olson’s charges their client companies and pays their people. Then she looked down on my form at the ‘Last Job’ section where I’d filled in ‘File Clerk/Counter Assistant.’ It was fairly easy for me to read my own upside-down printing.

‘Seagram’s Music Supply,’ she hissed through her teeth. ‘That was clerical?’

‘Mostly,’ I said back. ‘I worked the register too when we got busy.’

‘You left because…?’

‘I wrote it down. It’s there on the form.’

‘I said, reason for leaving?’

‘Business relocation. They moved.’

‘To where?’

‘Elsewhere. Washington State, I believe. That’s there too.’

‘Before that, you worked…where?’

‘Daniels’ Press. It’s there.’

‘How long have you lived in New York, Mister Dante?’

‘Two days. I’ve relocated too.’

Herrera was tall and thin and oozed silent business pressure hysteria. I could tell that she regarded me and the rest of the flesh that moved through her cubicle as a hacker in a slaughterhouse might, making his cut, tallying the slabs on the moving hooks as they passed. It was okay with me.

Ms. Herrera signed something on the bottom and checked off a box. She had nicotine stains on her big fingers and one of her stick-on fake nails was missing off the thumb of her writing hand. Opening up a 3 X 5 card box labeled ‘Clerical,’ she hurried along the tabs until she came up with an assignment she must have regarded as suitable, then copied the information onto a three-part 8 X 10 form. Over my shoulder I saw that more people had filled her ‘Applicant’ bench against the wall. Five or six new bodies to be expedited. More meat. Every time a new one sat down Herrera gave a low grunt and made a pissed-off face.

Suddenly we were done. She tore off the top copy of the form with the job on it, stood up and handed it to me. Interview over. I asked about directions to get to the assignment on Madison Avenue. Herrera shook her skinny face from side to side as if to say, ‘Why am I the one who gets all the dazed, cheesedick out-of-town fucks off the street to waste my time?’ She jerked her chair back from the desk and stomped down the aisle to the front door that faced Forty-second Street. I followed.

Outside on the street she lit up a Newport, sucked in a huge hit, then pointed east toward Fifth Avenue. ‘Walk that way,’ she said, still holding most of the smoke in. ‘That’s east. Got it?’

I nodded and watched her exhale.

‘The second light is Madison. Turn right at Madison. That’s south.