You and I Have Something in Common
"You and I have something in common," he began. "We are both successful men of color."
"I'm white," I said.
"All the same, you have a certain tint I'd consider a color."
"You're white," I said.
"Am I? You know, my mother was Belgian if that counts for anything."
"So you don't think we are successful men of color?"
"No, I don't."
"All the same, I do feel that we have something in common."
"You're probably right. For instance, we're both white."
"That doesn't count. We need something bigger than that. Something you can hang your hat on."
"We both own hats. You're even wearing one," I said.
"Can you hang your hat on a hat?"
"It depends where the first hat is. If it's on a hat rack, for instance, you could."
"Oh, you know what? I own a hat rack. Do you?"
"No. I don't believe in them."
"I have one, so I know they're real."
"That's not what I meant. Give me a ledge any day."
"Ledges have more uses, but for pure hat hanging, you can't beat a hat rack."
"So you say."
The interview was not going as well as I had hoped. The interviewer had a black beard trimmed in such a way to indicate that he spent more time trimming his beard than a clean-shaven person spends maintaining his or her face, or than clean-shaven people spend maintaining their faces (regardless of gender). He had standard brown eyes and was wearing a dark blue suit with outsized gold buttons that somehow made the rest of the suit irrelevant. He smiled constantly.
"Spraysee" had, according to the brochure, "a fifty-six year history of being an up and coming start-up." So far as I could tell, they manufactured an odorless spray that sharpened the contrast of display screens. The spray could be used on televisions, movie screens, computer monitors and, now, touch-screen phones. I had never met anyone who had heard of the product.
I have mistakenly left out the start of the interview. When I walked into his office, he remained seated and signaled for me to walk towards him. I did, and he extended his hand limply. "Dano Somperton," he said. "Nornten Scuzzlebut, pleasure to meet you," I said. I sat down across from him in a straight-backed, white plastic chair. He was sitting in an elegant black leather chair, but only had what appeared to be a cheap wooden TV tray for a desk. There was no other furniture in his office, and the only other notable item was what appeared to be a complementary zoo wall calendar flipped to two months ago (a leopard). The conversation continued.
"I do say, and I believe what I say."
There was a moment of silence in which Dano looked around his office and tapped a pen on his TV tray. I raised my eyebrows a few times, hoping he would respond.
"You ever listen to Blood, Sweat & Tears? I mean really listen?" Dano finally asked.
"The Churchill speech?"
"The Johnny Cash album?"
"No, the 60s jazz-rock group. BS&T, they created the genre."
"I'm sorry, I'm not familiar."
"You know Spinning Wheel? He began singing, "What comes up, must come down. Spinning wheel, got to go 'round." He made a circle with his hand, apparently to indicate the spinning wheel. He did not sing especially well, but he was not terrible either.
"But the best part, and you'll remember this, the best part is the horn line." He enunciated with some punchy lyricism, "Bup . . . bup . . . bup . . . bup . . . bupbupbup bupbupbup . . . bupbupbupbup Bah! Bupbupbup Bah Bah!" He moved his right hand to the syncopation as if he were conducting it.
"I might have heard that once in a grocery store."
"Really? What store?"
"Might have been the Spend n' Save or Fran and Hank's Deli-Mart."
"I wouldn't call Fran and Hank's Deli-Mart a grocery store."
"Must have been the Spend n' Save then."
"Excellent, excellent. I have a bootleg tape from when they came here in 1980. The line-up was different, of course; by then it was a completely different band. The style was not the same either, but still good. I think I have it here somewhere." He looked under the two papers on his TV tray (one presumably being my resume), and then looked around his barren office, but the leopard was not hiding the tape.
"Don't worry about it."
"Very well then, where were we . . . ah yes, we were searching for a common thread. You have heard Spinning Wheel, so that's something, but not enough, no, not nearly enough."
"Well, between that and the hat and the race thing, we might be getting somewhere."
"No. You know, if it were a particular type of hat that we were both wearing this instant, then maybe I could see that, but as it stands, I don't even know what type of hat you own."
"Many hats. I own baseball hats, knit hats with flaps, knit hats without flaps, a baseball cap with built-in sunglass, a baby cap I've kept as a keepsake, a joke sombrero. . ."
"Oh no, that's worse then. Own one hat and wear it, that's what my old man used to say. I think he meant something by it, too."
He grabbed the brim of his brown leather hat and pulled it down slightly, the same way I saw Kevin Costner do in the movie Open Range before he spit tobacco on the ground. Kevin Costner's movies always seem to be on in the middle of weekday afternoons. It is as if the television executives know that he rates well with the unemployed. There is something likeable and unimpressive that resonates with us.
"I guess I fail on both accounts," I said.
"You own many hats and wear none?"
"You're logical. At least we have that in common."
"There you go."
"What's your girlfriend like?" he asked.
"She's nice, blonde, pretty face, broad shoulders, though."
"There you go, that's my type, save for the broad shoulders," he quickly pointed out, as if he'd solved a difficult puzzle.
"I mean, they're not that broad. She played lacrosse in high school."
"Lacrosse then . . . no, that won't do. Not a fan. I feel like her shoulders just got broader." He put his arms up and turned both his hands inward so that, with his head, he made the shape of a 'W.' I think he wanted to indicate how wide my girlfriend's shoulders were. If so, he was fairly accurate.
"So we've got our logic, skin color, hats generally, Spinning Wheel, pretty blonde girls. To me, that seems like enough."
"No. We disagree on our skin color, and you like to own multiple hats for show, while I like to wear this hat. I'd say we've got a long ways to go to reach something as definite and substantial as my first observation."
"That we're both successful men of color?"
"You see, that really says something, doesn't it."
"It's not true, though."
"All the same, it's a model. We need to find an equivalent truth."
"Ever think we just don't have something like that in common?"
"No, we do. I believe we have that exactly in common, but since you don't, we'll find something else."
At this point, he did the one thing I had no reason to expect: he looked at my resume.
"Let's see here. What font is this?"
"Times New Roman."
"Interesting choice, not my favorite, but it gets the point across."
I scrunched my nose and looked around the room, having no idea what to say. The leopard was no help.
"You ever use one of those unreadable fonts and then go back and switch to a font you can read to check your typing errors?"
"No, I can't say that I have."
"That's fun sometimes. You should try it."
"Where's your computer?"
"Ah, well, you know, it's under repair. I caught a bad virus a week back. It turned all my icons into rubber ducks. I didn't know what I was clicking."
"Did it change the text, too?"
"The text? No, but who has time to read? If I wanted to read, I wouldn't be on my computer, now would I?"
"See, there's the logic again. I like that about you, let's see, ah yes, Nornten." He looked down on the resume to find my name.
"Nornten Scuzzlebut, that's an odd name, almost sounds made up. Is it made up?"
"It's all too real, sir."
"It's sir now, is it? I wonder what I did to earn your respect. Please just call me Dano, or Mr. Somperton, or even the Sultan of Spraysee."
"All right, Sultan. Can I ask you about the company?"
"Absolutely, absolutely. What do you want to know?"
"Well, I've never heard of you and, though the on-line brochure was helpful, I could still use a general explanation."
"Where to start?" he said and then stopped for a good two minutes. I assumed he was going to start, as is the custom when people are asked a general question and then say "Where to start?"
"Is that a genuine question?" I finally said when I could no longer take the awkward silence.
"No, I'm just thinking out loud. . . . Spraysee is a spray that enhances the quality of images. It doesn't smell like much and rarely irritates the skin." He seemed extremely annoyed all of a sudden, as if answering questions about the company I was interviewing for was a tremendous and uncalled-for burden.
"That's good. Who uses it?"
"Not much of anyone nowadays, but still enough." The topic had seemed to sap Dano's enthusiasm entirely. I knew I had to change topics to maintain any hopes at landing the job (if there was a job). However, I was unable to.
"How long have you been here?"
"At the company? This job? This office?"
"Any of the above."
"Seventeen years. How old are you?"
"Let's see here." He looked back down at my resume, presumably to verify my age. I was relieved we had successfully transitioned.
"You graduated high school, I see. Was in show choir, huh?" he asked.
"Yeah, freshmen year. My mom thought I had a good voice."
"My mom thinks I have a good voice, too. There's another point in common, but still not enough. Why'd you quit?"
"They changed the name. Not enough boys volunteered. It became a woman's choir, and my father wouldn't let me stay in it."
"That's too bad. I remember our woman's choir had several men in it." He rubbed his chin, as if he were trying to remember something. "We always laughed at them, though; maybe it was for the best."
"And you went to community college?"
"Me too. We're getting warmer. I didn't go to the one you list here. Is that the one you went to?"
"Yes, Van Buren Community College."
"Never heard of it."
"It's all too real."
"You majored in communications. What does that mean?"
"I don't know. I took a few English classes, a few business classes."
"I've taken business classes, but they were through the mail back in the '80s. I guess they don't have that today."
"No, they don't."
"If they did, would you take one?"
"No," I said definitively.
"It really wasn't that bad. There were index cards and graph paper. I think you had to provide your own ruler."
"That would be a problem."
"You don't own a ruler?"
"Not a proper one."
"Shame," he said and shook his head disapprovingly.
"I've always wanted one, but could never afford it."
"Listen," he suddenly changed tone, "if you're not going to take this seriously, we can stop right now. But if you want to find our common thread as much as I do, we can continue. I have already offered a perfectly reasonable and deep suggestion, which you denied immediately. I am trying to find one that will satisfy us both, but if you are suddenly opposed, let's end this."
"Oh no, I'm sorry. Let's continue." I was more submissive than I would have expected, given that I had serious doubts about whether this was actually a job interview or if I was simply having a conversation with a stranger for no reason. However, his change in tone stunned me and I momentarily became convinced that this project of finding a legitimate point in common between us was really something important.
"Great. What day of the month were you born?" He returned to his previous pleasant tone and innocuous line of questioning.
"No, that's not right. What was the last sport you played?"
"I've played bocce before, too. That's shallow though."
"Do you play mixed doubles bocce?" I asked.
"No, I always play with men."
"You should try it. My girlfriend and I are in a league."
"What's her name?"
"That sounds like a real name. Did you make it up?"
"No, her parents did, I think."
He gave me a wry look of disappointment, but continued without comment. "Under interests, it doesn't say bocce. Are you sure you play bocce and not squash?"
"Does it say squash?"
"No, but I played the other day. You don't need broad shoulders to play."
"They have shoulder pads for certain sports, but not all."
"They have shoulder pads for certain women's suits, but not all."
"How does your logic wrap its way around that?"
"I'm not sure anything follows from those two things."
"Precisely! Well done. I tried to trip you up, but we are both logical."
"Isn't that enough in common?"
"No, not quite enough. It is still too shallow."
He looked back down on my resume, but sadly he had already touched upon the most interesting aspects. I looked at the leopard on the wall and it almost looked back. Suddenly, I saw a sparkle in Dano's unremarkable brown eyes as he tapped the paper three times with his index finger.
"It says here you live on Henson Avenue, is that right?"
"That's right, I live on Henson, across from Zebbo's bakery."
"Zebbo's is on the street where you live?"
"Yeah, it's across the street, pretty good bagels."
"I have often walked," he paused rhythmically and continued, "down this street before, but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before," he spoke in time and began to snap his fingers on his right hand at a medium swing tempo. "All at once am I . . . several stories high, knowing I'm on the street where you live."
"Are there lilac trees . . . in the heart of town?" I took my cue, keeping his tempo and lilting my voice such that I was very nearly singing.
"Can you hear a lark in any other part of town?" he eagerly recited, snapping both fingers now.
"Does enchantment pour out of every door?" I was genuinely singing now and almost got up.
"No, it's just on the street where you live," he sang loudly and slightly out of tune and pointed to me.
"And oh, the towering feeling, just to know somehow you are near!" I got up from my seat and started to snap my fingers in time.
"The over-powering feeling that any second you may suddenly appear!" He rose up out of his chair and started to tap his feet and bob his head, maintaining the tempo with his fingers.
We finished the song, both standing and tapping in a galloping unison, "People stop and stare, they don't bother me. For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be. Let the time go by, I won't care if I . . . can be here . . . on the street . . . where . . . you . . . live!" Dano conducted the last three words, causing us both to hold on to "where," "you," and "live" as if there were a fermata over each word.
We both grinned. He extended his hand towards mine, as if he were an actual business man. "We are both lyrical men of logic . . . and we both work for Spraysee," he said and shook my hand vigorously.
About the Author
Brian Conlon is a short story writer from Rochester, NY. His fiction has recently appeared in The Montreal Review, Write From Wrong, Knee-Jerk, The Fiction Week Literary Review, Storychord, The Write Room, Hobo Pancakes, The Green Bagand EST. Brian holds a degree in History and Comparative Literature from the University of Rochester and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School this past May. He currently resides in Rochester, where he practices law and jazz saxophone.