Sunday, August 30, 2009

Somebody's darling

August 3, 2009

The morning’s yahoo news carried an item about the mistakes job-seekers typically make, such as sending out resume email-blasts and wasting time at job fairs. None of which compared with what I saw last night, which was perhaps the most tragic episode in job-seeking history, ever.

I was sitting in a restaurant in New York City, and it was pretty late when the woman walked in the door. She was stunningly beautiful, with a mix of hardness, craziness and vulnerability – Amy Winehouse stuff – that was both attractive and screamed Trouble. I should say right off the bat that I have no connection with this woman, and everything I relate here is based on uninformed observations or comments I overheard.

I watched as she approached the bar and asked to speak with the manager, who, it turned out, wasn’t in. Hearing this, she stared at the person with a look of strange, muted desperation -- shock, really, like she’d just been told she wasn’t going to be evacuated and everyone who stayed behind would die. She was quietly but intensely focused on this idea of talking to the manager, and that focus struck me as unnatural. I suspected drugs, though it was possible she was just crazy. From all appearances, talking to the manager mattered more to her than anything. Yet she was very quiet about it. You could hardly hear her voice.

Normally when you ask to see someone and are told that the person is not in, you maybe ask when is a good time to see them, whatever, then leave. But this woman just stood there, clearly not inclined to leave. Instead she claimed a small, rarified space in the center of the restaurant, smack in the middle of the line of traffic. I later learned that she had previously applied for work at the restaurant and was determined to be hired.

Aside from the fact that she was acting so weird, the dominant impression you got of her was that she was really, seriously good looking. She was blonde, Hispanic, with dark, oddly blank eyes and a voluptuous form that was set off perfectly by a shimmery sundress. She was sexy to the point of being disturbing. Her body seemed like its own invitation, and that would become more distressing an hour or so later, when she was wheeled out of the restaurant on a gurney, looking sexy as ever despite the fact that she was comatose. I know, it sounds weird, and it is weird.

After being told a second time that the manager was not in, she repeated her desire to see him, then stared at the employee as she was again told that he wasn’t in. After about 10 minutes of people trying to get through to her that the manager wasn’t in, and that he had considered her and wasn’t interested, the staff went about their business. The restaurant was busy. She sat down at the bar beside me. I looked away. Now and then she’d make eye contact, but each time I quickly looked away. It was the look on her face, the crazy, crazy need. I’m often attracted to trouble, but I know when I’m outclassed. I had no idea what it would take to straighten out her world, but I knew it was going to take way more than a job.

After a while she got up and approached a staff person again and began to make threats, a new tactic. She claimed one of the employees had stolen from her and said she was going to tell the police that the restaurant sold alcohol to under-aged drinkers if they didn’t give her a job. The staffer explained to her the concept of extortion. She said she wanted a drink. He said no. He asked her to leave. She would not leave. He walked her outside. She stared at him -- that empty yet focused stare. A couple of times tears filled her eyes, but each time her resolve returned and she repeated her requests and her threats. I noticed that her purse was heavily laden, and I began to wonder what was inside. I decided not to leave just yet.

The bar was closing when she went into the bathroom, and I thought: Not good; she’s not coming out of that bathroom. And she didn’t. After a while one of the staffers knocked on the door. No response. After a few tries he told her, through the door, that if she didn’t come out he would call the police. No response. So he called the police. I know this guy, and by this point I was getting concerned. I imagined two scenarios, one involving her with a gun and the other involving her slitting her wrists. So I waited just outside the restaurant door. Soon the police arrived. They had to remove the bathroom door from the hinges because there was no key, and they found her slumped on the floor, OD’d on heroin, they later told us. The police summoned a fire truck and, for some reason, two ambulances. I stood on the sidewalk, watching their ministrations as a crowd of late-night New Yorkers gathered to observe the commotion. I hoped the woman wouldn’t die. 

When they brought her out it occurred to me that her beauty might be all she had now, and that it was probably not going to be enough. In fact, it would probably betray her. The police asked if the restaurant had any contact information for her, so they retrieved her resume, which she had delivered folded up (and unevenly folded at that). It was sad, seeing what had brought her to this point, or at least what she claimed on paper had brought her to this point. It sounded normal, but there was something about the presentation that was off. 

I later heard that she survived the overdose. Not only that, but she called the restaurant the next day to say she still wanted a job.

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