14 War stories

By the end of the summer of 2013 George liked and trusted Jesse as much as he could remember trusting anyone.  He had tried to like Ágnes’ special friend, back in the day in Budapest, but there had been a quiet accumulation of insults from Mátyás and he hadn’t the temperament to pretend to be his friend.  It was as an act of penance for ever being that much of a poltroon that he maintained his waxen civility, able at any time to cool into a pleasing shape or disperse in heat and light, and smoke, for George saw much of himself in Mátyás. In the way he clung to Agnes, and moaned about her sex work, he reminded George of his badtempered pleading with his own mother. 

He had pretensions to being a revolutionary too, and George had distinct notions of what the order of operations would have to be to take down the current régime, while Mátyás was full of pamphlets and empty of practical notions like how to keep the proletariat fed properly and transportation and power production running while the grim legal stuff like a new constitution was worked out.  He liked demonstrations, and George loathed them. “By all means, Mátyás, let’s put all the state’s enemies into one cozy pile in the middle of a lovely broad intersection across which troops can have a spiffing field of fire and when you’re done with that carnage you can watch the previously injured randomly be crushed by men on horseback or stand up to flee merely to be pounced on at the first choke point and hauled off in wagons. Foolishness. Absolute foolishness.”   

Family lore said large gatherings of anything were a criminally bad idea.  He had said that offhandedly to Jesse once.

Jesse said, “I’m going to have to start keeping track of your family lore.  Tell me again about the not driving.”

“We don’t drive ourselves; we hire vehicles,” George said.  

“While living in rural Romania, nay, even Transylvania.” Jesse briefly considered imitating Bela Lugosi but decided against it.

“I can’t help where I was born,” George said tartly.

“Or how,” Jesse said. “I’m getting a mental image of your mother riding on horseback to the delivery room like a boss.”

“You’re not getting that mental image from me; she was never on a horse in her life. I was born at home, as is proper. Being born in a dirty, badly-lit hotel full of strangers with ghastly infections is no way to start life,” George said.

“Were you guys Roma?” Jesse said, believing he’d at last figured it out.

“No,” George said. “If I was Roma I’d still be there. They are not often given a chance to emigrate.”

He changed the subject. “You haven’t told me much about your family, except Raven, who seems to be a species of angel.”

“The name-taking, ass-kicking kind,” Jesse said amiably.  He’d started to study how George could dodge a direct question, and with some downtime, now was as good a time as any to practice.

They were waiting for the all-clear from the client. There was some kind of three way slap-fight going on up there, and if the police weren’t called, one of the combatants would eventually stomp off and he and George could finally get in. At one point, from the café across the street, where the harassed manager had allowed them to sit on the patio after closing, as long as they put the chairs away, they’d heard something wooden crash, with a spatter of exploding crockery, like a cabinetful of Royal Doulton getting knocked down some stairs.

“You don’t talk about your mother,” George said.

Jesse scowled.  “You know she abused me; I told you that, and you never forget anything.”

“I’m very fortunate to have an excellent memory for the spoken word. How were you abused?” George asked, and got another scowl.  George said in a flat voice, “It’s hard for me to say how my mother abused me, because not everyone who witnessed it thought it was abuse, and a child needs to be believed before the abuse is real. Before anyone believes you, it’s just how things are, at least as far as the child’s concerned. I had something wrong with me, health problems I’ve since more or less grown out of.”

Jesse said, “She bullied you because you were weak.” George certainly despised weakness now, even as he took steps to protect it with that unselfconscious superiority of his.

“Almost to death,” George said. “It wasn’t what she did, it’s what she let others do.”

Much of the time Jesse thought he wouldn’t be able to tell if George was lying; he had no tells. Now he was convinced that George was being truthful, although he knew he had no way of confirming anything he said.

“My mother was not physically abusive, but she didn’t have to be,” Jesse said. “She terrorized all of us, but I got it worst because my mother hates men, and I was a little man and going to be a big one, just like my useless sperm donor father, and no matter how she tried to make me a good man, I was still a man. And then of course her sister got pregnant by the same guy three months before she did and when Rhonda told them, he took off without learning that he’d also knocked my mother up. She was a little tetched even then.”

“And yet you’ve managed to be a feminist. I’ve observed you very closely,” George said.

Feminism doesn’t stop being necessary just because my mother never got a diagnosis, Jesse thought. Aloud he said, “She didn’t hit me. But I wasn’t really a human being to her. Rhonda did what she could. When she was twelve, Raven decided to run away from home with me, and when we were fourteen, she made it happen.”

“Running away from home can be dangerous.”

“The exact opposite. We went to school.  It was fucking amazing. We got a year and a half in the regular system in the Interior when HellMom took to her bed and didn’t homeschool us anymore, so we managed to get caught up to our grade levels. It wasn’t too hard, academically, anyway, getting from where we were to an alternative high school in New Westminster, and it was on the Skytrain line, and we lived in a fucking dump of a one bedroom apartment and went to school 24/7. Raven got a scholarship and went to UBC.” Jesse closed his mouth and compressed his lips. There had been another crash from across the street, and one of the voices had risen to a shriek.

Job interviews

I am very fortunate to have a job interview today.  I know that when I’ve had 70 or 80 interviews the odds are good that I will get a job, but it’s hard to be enthusiastic.  I barked at the HR staffer on the phone who called me to set up an appointment because I didn’t recognize the number and I’d just had a big long run of writing and wasn’t in, “Hey dumdum you’re supposed to answer the phone like God’s receptionist!” mode. Which -every other time- I have done. And I got an interview anyway.  Not exactly sure how to feel.

It’s a reputable company doing reputable things, and it’s a half-hour commute by bus away, just like I’ve wanted.

But I think about job interviews where they love my resume and then they’re like this when I show up because I’m 57.

Or when I ask them about how online reviews say they’re the worst place on earth to work and she snaps, “That’s the factory in the States, not here,” and then THREE TIMES OVER THE NEXT YEAR they run an ad for the position I interviewed for (got a second interview, even), and instead of saying to myself Holy Crapstacks! dodged a bullet! you know what I do? I cry.  Because they didn’t hire me. I know I wouldn’t have lasted if it was so bad three people quit in a year, but still there’s me looking at the Craigslist ad, this last time was only six weeks ago, and thinking why didn’t they hire me?

Or I go to a headhunter and get told, “You have to spend money on clothes and wear makeup or you will never ever get a job.”

Or I go to a headhunter and get told by a woman younger than my daughter that I need to freshen up my resumé. I’d certainly like to know how, given that I haven’t worked for pay in 2 years.

“Volunteer! Spend days researching every company you want to work for and then pitch them hard! Go door to door with your resumé! You need to be looking at jobs anywhere on transit and quit with this foolishness about needing a short commute. Take any job however menial or destructive to your hearing, health or sanity, and look for a better one while you’re working! Go back to school and get something buzzy and pointless on your resumé! Have you tried …(a suggestion which implies that the person you’re talking to, whom you’ve known for 15 years, hasn’t actually spent any time learning who the hell you are)? Leave town and go where the jobs are, like Fort St John and Ft McMurray!”

I understand the world has changed; I have never expected to have a job for life.  I want a job which will feed me, stop me from destroying my life savings, and not be so demanding that I don’t have the energy to write.  If that is too much to hope for, I will adjust my hopes accordingly.  But I am not at the point where I can take just any job, because it would not be fair to my employer for me to just quit when presented with a better opportunity.  And there is always the possibility, since it’s obviously true, that there won’t be another job, and I’ll work in the dishpit of an Italian restaurant until I dissolve with the steam into a little spot of grease in a uniform, but not before my varicose veins crap out.

But it’s not like I’m the only one.