The room was on the fifth virtual floor and decorated distastefully in that eighties American corporate aesthetic. Beechwood tables, eight shoved together to form a boardroom folly, drunk grey plastic blinds covering un-openable windows, blue-red diamonded carpet that no-one would own up to having designed, had anyone actually designed it.
Outside the window-in-a-window ran a silent highway and half-alive trees encircled with black railings, the ubiquitous view of the building’s twin, separated at birth by a tarmacked parking lot, and randomly-placed office workers smoking their breaks away in frantic, unending puffs.
Christ, I said quietly, what-the-hell am I doing, before a steady knock turned me around toward the door.
“Hi,” I said in my virtual voice, which I'd never got used to.
“Hello,” he replied, and closed the door behind him. “Take a seat, any seat.”
I sat my avatar down and watched as this wide man in faded blue jeans sat down opposite me.
“I’m Anthony,” he said, offering a bunch of porky fingers. I shook the outstretched hand. “Why do you want to work here,” he asked, pushing his dark frames up on his nose and crossing his arms.
“I’ve heard a lot about your company, it’s got a great reputation. So, you know, here I kind of am,” I replied, somewhat detached from this strange, disconnected experience.
A smile arrived suddenly on Anthony’s face, giving him a maniacal clownish look. And then he began:
“You liked our reputation, you wanna improve your station, so you’ve come to our nation to show your dedication.”
And he just sat there grinning.
I want to run, I thought, but I can’t. I could end this, but that would jeopardize other interviews. So, I smiled too, not as stupidly as him, I hoped.
“Right,” I said.
Anthony was still smiling that same smile, as if temporarily stuck. And his lips seemed to be moving very slightly, though no words were coming out. Glitching, as my kids would say. His head was also gently rocking side-to-side.
Was he having an aneurysm? Can you have a virtual aneurysm What do you do when someone has that. Hit the pause button, the mute button, the end button? Any button?
Anthony, still grinning, still silently mumbling, still rocking, was staring at me with oceany eyes. I reached for the pause when Anthony spoke again,
“He came from far away, came here just to say, how really great we were, decided he’d concur. All the way from Britain, and now the, uhh … Brit is smitten, the future’s been written and he knows he won’t get bitten.”
Then silence again. Seconds passed slowly. This was bizarre.
“Ok,” I said, “that was great. The smitten bit took a while, eh.”
“How much do you want,” he asked suddenly.
“How much do you want? Salary.”
That’s never an easy question to answer, particularly when you’re sitting opposite a still-grinning lunatic beat poet.
Anthony grasped his hands together, let his large head drop to the left, stared at me from that position, waiting for my answer.
“Ok,” I said. “I’d like to get one-fifteen.”
Too high? Too low? Silence again. And then he stopped grinning suddenly, opened his mouth wide, made a huge ‘O’ and then after another pause said,
“He wants a salary of one-fifteen, paid to him in US green for his services to the cause …”
And then he just stopped. Mid-stanza.
The mouth was back in the ‘O’. I noticed how almost perfectly round the ‘O’ was. Was that supposed to happen? A few more seconds passed, then the ‘O’ narrowed, and he finished,
“… where he’ll perform to much applause.”
It was the cadence, I could tell, that tripped him up. Glad he got there.
“Right,” I said.
“Monday,” Anthony said, offering the meaty hand again.
“Monday. Great,” I said, “thank you.”
I pressed the ‘agreement’ button quickly, and the CEO stopped the neuro-electroencephalographic telecranial monitor, and went back to reading his Edward Lear.
photo by Andrea Piacquadio