The Mountain Bike Life

Episode 1: The Interview

“Evelina will see you now,” a pretty young girl called to him. He put the book he was reading back on the pile of identical books, being sure to line up the spines. The girl was taking big strides towards the back of the bookstore. He followed her through the narrow hallway, past a few closed doors, then into a room with nothing but a conference table, eight folding metal chairs, and bright fluorescent lighting. There were two women in the room, both in dress suits, one older and sitting stiff and upright with her chair pushed in close to the table, and one younger, sitting with her legs crossed, a stack of folders on her lap, tall and lanky enough that they shook hands without her needing to stand up. He didn’t shake hands with the older one, who spoke only to say “I am Fran.” She bore a thin-lipped frown and sat a long distance across the table.

He sat in the closest chair, which was so cold it almost felt wet through his thin polyester Goodwill dress pants. Evelina sat crooked in her chair, facing him.

“Well, first of all, I found some things on your resume to be quite unique.”

“Yes,” he answered, “I suppose. But I find myself to be awfully plain, really. I grew up in a small town, went to a state university, and spent the following ten years trying to survive and pay my student loans.” He was hoping having paid for his own school would reflect well, but Fran only cleared her throat and narrowed her eyes. He knew she was studying the suit-jacket, a hand-me-down from a friend with much broader shoulders, which hung crooked on his frame.

“Well, what I found interesting,” Evelina said, pulling his attention back to her, “is your work history. Did you really work as a Texas ranch hand?”

“Yes.”
 
“And a janitor?”

“Yes.”

“And you drove a delivery truck? And a dishwasher? And a bicycle mechanic?”

“Yes, the latter has been my main occupation. It’s not all turning wrenches though. There is a lot of customer service and sales involved…a lot of hand holding. Cyclists tend to treat their bikes like children; they bring it in all in a rush like they are dropping it off at daycare, but despite me having a lifetime of experience they are not very trusting. It’s like they want to do a background check on me when they are the ones doing the abuse. So it has been something that has given me skills in diplomacy that I feel could translate to customer service in an office setting.”

“I see you do have some bookstore experience here. And an English Degree. What was the store called?”

“The Naked Page. It sold books of an adult nature. I got held up there, Duct-taped to a chair by a guy with a sawed-off wearing a gorilla suit. That was something else.

“Well, that doesn’t seem too plain and ordinary.” Evelina, he had a feeling, was already thinking of how much she was going to enjoy telling her husband about the interview when they go to bed that night.

“I suppose not,” he answered. “But, you know, you sell books. Fiction has taken a back seat to memoirs. And there’s already plenty of white American male authors that line the shelves. As an aspiring writer, you know, I just feel I’m at a disadvantage because I didn’t grow up an enslaved hermaphrodite that escaped my third-world country only to be forced into marrying an abusive Persian Consulate from the United Nations.”

“Right.” Can you give Fran and me a minute?”

He stood in the narrow hall and looked at the scuffs on the toes of his shoes. He was right outside the door, but heard nothing but a shuffling of papers. He looked down at his cracked, calloused hands, each line accentuated with the stain of yesterday’s grease he was unable to scrub off. His hands, though stained, were never this clean; his nails were never trimmed so well. He was called back in.

“Have a seat,” Evelina said. “You had said you were interested in either the office or warehouse position, and we are thinking we could offer you a sorting and packing position in our warehouse.”
“Well,” he said. He rubbed his chin. “As you can see from my work history, I have no problem working hard and dirty jobs, but I do have a Bachelor’s Degree, and I’ve been trying for ten years now to move into something that would challenge more than my lower back. Something not so bottom-of-the-barrel-ish, you know?” He crossed his legs, carefully, as to not expose the stripes of his cycling socks.
“Yes,” Evelina answered, her expression softening, “but there are some holes in your resume.”

“Yeah, I’m trying to figure that one out,” he said. He was aware that he was sweating, and his back itched. “The holes. I’ve read that it’s a resume no-no. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I have two theories.”

“Well-”
“And here’s what I think,” he said, cutting her off. His face felt hot. “Number one, holes in the resume are frowned upon because people keep saying they are. But nobody really gives a good reason, they just read it online, republish it, and so on, then it ends up on some Top Ten Resume Mistakes list, and it becomes some kind of scarlet letter.”

“Actually,” she began-
“Actually,” he continued, “I believe it is my second theory that holds more water, and it is the fact that people are jealous of the holes. You know why I have holes? Because I haven’t jumped through all the hoops. I don’t own a house. There have been times when I got fed up with not moving up any ladders, so I saved up some money, loaded up a backpack, and cruised around the country. And it’s that freedom that everyone has a problem with. They know that after their workday is over, they are going to go home to some spoiled kids, an unappreciative spouse, and a mortgage bigger than their house. So they wield what little control they have in life and condemn someone to a lifetime of menial jobs because they took it upon themselves to have a few holes.”

“Well.” Fran straightened and stretched her arms out in front of her, those thin lips barely moving. “We’ll definitely keep you in mind.”

He walked out the door, looked up and down the street, and had that moment of panic you get when your bike isn’t where you left it. Then he remembered, of course, that he borrowed his girlfriend’s car to get to the interview. It was parked a few blocks away, across from the university’s student union. It was a spring day and the sun was warm. He took off his jacket and slung it over his shoulder. He walked slowly, in no hurry to put himself into the long line of traffic.

Behind him, getting louder, was the occasional ticking of a freewheel and the sound of a dragging chain. He stopped as the girl, probably a student, walked her bike around him. She gave him a glance. He let her get a few steps ahead. Her chain was black with too much oil and sucked up between her chainring and frame. He took a second to wish he belonged in the shirt and tie, to prolong his facade.

“Hey,” he called out. “I can fix that for you.”

Words: Brett
Art: John Paul

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