by Andrew Sacks
Walter placed his elbows on the dining room table, his fingers to his forehead, and stared blankly at the plated breakfast in front of him. He was as prepared as he could be for the customary assault.
“I told you so,” Dorothy began. “A simple chair! Yet even that comes with directions, and if you don’t assemble it right, what could happen is just what did happen. My mother almost broke her hip last night!”
Walter’s head shook slightly as he reached for his fork. He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.
“Then, it took me what–ten minutes at the most?—to set it up right, just by spending one minute—at most!—looking at the instruction booklet. I tell you, Walter…”
And soon it would be, Walter wearily perceived, a strident and lengthy harangue about either the copier cartridge fiasco or the floor lamp failure–or one of the other incidents over the years that revealed his purported stubbornness and pigheadedness in attempting to use his own wits instead of relying on manuals, booklets, or maps.
When he finished his breakfast, Walter rose from his chair and walked with what seemed a determined stride into the study. He turned on the computer and went to Google for a search. Within seconds he had it.
“Do-It-Yourself Divorce, featuring easy-to-follow directions.”
Miles strode out of the career seminar with even more confidence and self-assurance than usual—and that was saying something. Again and again the facilitator had stressed emphasizing your strengths, your strong points on the resume and in the resulting interview, and that was something that came naturally indeed to young Mr. Carlton.
Not the greatest student or worker, Miles had always tried to compensate by a self-confidence bordering on bluster. Certainly not a bully, he did in fact seem to intimidate many people, or at least put them on their heels a bit, by his overriding assertiveness and swagger. His belief in himself was absolute, despite both academic and workplace evidence that advances could well have been made. His good looks also assisted in this regard: he was, in a very real sense, an effective salesman of the product of himself, and although style outpaced substance, purchases were made.
And now there was objective, third-party evidence that gave him further confirmation. All he needed to do was document his many strong suits in his resume and then reveal them in person at the interview. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
On the morning of his first interview, Miles rose early, groomed fastidiously well, and dressed to perfection to present the very paragon of the employable young gentleman.
He arrived at the office 15 minutes early, just as the career counselor had advised, and introduced himself in a congenial manner.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Carlton. Let me see. Yes, Mr. Brodsky is expecting you. Please have a seat, and we’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
Miles sat down and placed his new leather briefcase on the seat next to him. He surreptitiously popped a breath mint into his mouth, crossed his legs appropriately, and exuded all the self-possession and confidence of a seasoned professional.
Not five minutes later, he was ushered in to see Mr. Brodsky, the personnel manager, a dour looking, unprepossessing man who sat behind his large oak desk, now slowly glancing up from his paperwork and motioning Miles to be seated.
“Mr. Carlton,” he began, “We decided to interview you because you look good on paper.”
Miles smiled. “Thank you, Sir.”
Mr. Brodsky’s eyes then narrowed and fixed the applicant in a firm stare.
“But everybody looks good on paper—or can be made to. Even me.”
Miles felt his face assume a faint, uncomfortable grin. Was that last a joke? Was he supposed to laugh?
Brodsky’s eyebrows arched as if to press for a verbal response, but as Miles attempted to speak, he cut in: “Mr. Carlton, we all have assets, some actual and maybe some imagined. But we all have liabilities as well. What I want you to do is tell me about some weakness, some deficiency of yours, a real one, and one that you acknowledge, and how you’ve been working to correct it.”
Andrew’s previous flash fictions for us are available here.
(Photo for “Strengths” from http://www.thebalance.com.)