I arrive twenty minutes early to my interview.
As I wait for the manager to come interview me I make sure to not look like some insecure basketball-short-wearing douche who puts their ankles on their knees to make an obtuse triangle, like they’re stretching their hamstring. Those types don’t come to fancy coffee shops like Van Gogh’s Vase.
So instead, I sit cool and hip with one knee on top of the other because I am a man who isn’t afraid to be deemed feminine.
Another benefit of sitting with this posture is it makes your dong bulge look twice as big. Sporting a severed fist shoved in the front of my pants.
A healthy pang of anxiety zaps me when I see that all the customers are deadbeat liberal art students who work freelance jobs. Social media windows and page layout applications fight for dominance on their screens.
I need to move out.
Last year during winter break, when everyone was off work, I confined myself to working out my karma only in the bathroom, the place where I learned how to do it. It’s like recidivism.
But with my roommates at work I can look at vids anywhere in the house now thanks to wireless internet access. The way skateboarders see staircases and handrails and planter ledges as mediums for co-creation, so do I see all the surfaces and furniture of my childhood home as new and exciting spots to work out karma. It’s a new house.
Those old desktop-and-tower-combo computers were like being chained to a wall. Same as sword and hammer, mobile phones are devices that liberated us.
When your parents die you don’t have to pay off their loans or credit cards. If the child did not sign or co-sign on their parent’s debts they are not legally responsible for them. So my parents took my student loans out in their name and I planned to defer on them as much as I could, making payments only when I must. Until they finally die. Then loaners and creditors would just have to eat it. Which will make it seem like the loan never existed. But since I’ve been booted out of school—and my parents are unfortunately alive—that means the loans are due proximately.
I’d have to live at home to save money. And not as a temporary solution.
The energy of this interview has changed entirely.
I check my breath in my hand.
The manager says her name is Brittney and she’s holding seriously like seven clipboards in her arms. She says it’s nice to meet me and just as a heads up, wants to let me know that she’s getting moved to a new VGV location next week and that their current shift leader will be in charge of training me.
I nod and listen.
All the noises from all the mouths talking in the café form a hazy cloud of buzz. It’s so hard to keep my eyes open. Life has been feeling like a stage drama unfolding lately.
Brittney’s hair is tied back so tight. I wonder. When she gets home does she unpin the back of her body suit? And does her skin and everything fall right off her skeleton? She looks like a poorly sewn puppet trying to keep up the appearance of liveliness without the required amount of stuffing inside. Barren in a way. I scanned her edges quickly looking for a seam or a leak.
When possible I dart my eyes to different corners of my frame of vision to try to find where the DPZ video was filmed if it was made at this location.
The fact that my employment decisions are influenced by the pornography I enjoy doesn’t feel as incorrect as I thought it would when the idea emerged. But I am aware of how irregular it is. Conscious of it or not we are all drawn to something.
Without a college degree the only thing I specialize in is porn. And I can’t do adult acting as a career because my parents are still alive. Being a college flunk out is plenty thank you. I don’t need to be disowned by my parents as well.
Brittney’s voice has the ability to screech through the barrage of sound coming from the mouths around us. She flaps a white sheet of paper like she’s fighting off a swarm of killer bees and grips it on top and bottom like a scroll.
I felt like I was being introduced to the court of the king of the dumbest kingdom in history.
She read my accolades and prior work experience—aloud, back to me, in public.
“So I’ve got your resume here. You’ve got custodial experience from a couple of years ago at another coffee shop. When you were in high school. No clubs. And…yeah.” She looks up and smiles. She says, “Tell me a little about yourself.” She smiled so fast I wasn’t sure it happened.
“I’m sorry.” I say. I lie, “Well I go to state.”
Isn’t denial one of the stages of grief? Can’t we grieve the death of a life path cut off from us?
“Oh okay. So this is like a summer job thing for you?” She peeled her eyes and teeter-tottered her hand while lowering her chin. She said, “Something like that?”
I give a nod vague enough to claim deniable plausibility; just a general acknowledgement; neither in the negative nor affirmative in accepting my reality.
Then Brittney reads every single bullet point on the seven-page document listing the duties of the open barista apprentice position. She read it with the enthusiasm of reading anything over again for the one hundredth time. Effortless and devoid of life.
I was absorbed by the two V’s on the front windows of the café.
I’d been getting fixated on symbols and shapes like my life depended on it. Like I’d die if I looked away from it.
I’d have to tear myself from it.
An unknown force straightened my posture. My brain became a giant magnet compelling my hairs to stand towards it. Bowing in reverence in reverse. Arched back.
I did not fight it. Tried to remain normal looking.
Two Vs. Two…
I say, “Yeah…. Yeah.”
She asks me why I chose not to work at the VGV closer to my house.
What I want to say is: I can’t be a barista in the town I grew up in after bragging about leaving. I might as well be doing porn and hand delivering it to my old high school teachers and their students.
What I tell her is: I like the bus.
I felt a mental shift a week before Christmas break last semester. I was in office hours again with Les — the graduate student who taught Calculus I — who explained to me that every single thing in the entire world is made up of triangles. Even circles — down at the microscopic level — are built out of various types of triangles.
You can triangulate anything.
It’s crippled me since. A new lens on my experience on the World. The triangular girded structure of everything has been revealed and now I feel I’m receiving secret messages from the universe. I can’t find a motive or reason for these feelings so I never follow my ideas to their ending because I don’t know if they’re genius or psychotic. So far my only technique for stopping the psychosis is applying for jobs or working out some karma in my bathroom.
God I want some soda right now.
Manager Brittney breaks through my concentration and brings me into this present moment by answering a question before she asks it. She says, “I think you’d fit in well here. Don’t you?”
I snap out of my trance. I feel like I’m in a foreign country and I don’t know the language. My unconscious mind speaks for me in ways that make me feel valid. I say, “I have Calculus II next semester. A lot of hard classes.”
Brittney nods in that I’m-gonna-agree-because-I-can-tell-you-have-no-confidence sort of way where you know she feels bad for you.
She says, “Right…very cool.”
The condescending spike in octave on the “e” in “very” was heartbreaking.
Then she bobs her skintight head for a long silent minute. It looked like a skull-shaped balloon.
I try to correct my robot speech. I say, “I’ll be out by August. I gotta get back to school.”
She keeps doing that bobbing head thing.
“Right.” She says, “Of course.”
Then she exhaled while relaxing her lips. Then says, “You know what. Can I just be straight up with you? Is that cool? Because I feel like I’m speaking a language other than English. Are you cool with that? I don’t want to offend I just think it’ll be a lot easier.”
“Yes.” I say, “Please.”
“I will hire you right now. I don’t even need to see a resume at this point. For real. You just have to show up. Our turnover rate—” Her eyes rolled across the ceiling and it seemed she was struggling not to smile. “—isn’t great.”
She gives in and laughs a couple times. Then goes, “Seriously I can’t keep a single person in here except that guy behind the counter.”
I turn around and I see their back reaching into the fridge for another carton of milk made from a nut or vegetable. I turn back to Brittany.
“I don’t know what goes on here. No one’s told me anything specific. But that’s probably because. Well. People don’t really quit…they just. Stop coming.”
Thanks to the television shows I’ve been streaming on my device my mind without delay jumps to maybe they’re all women and they’re all being killed by the one guy who stays because he’s a secret barista serial killer. I picture the steam wand hissing at full blast into their victim’s eyes as they’re mercilessly beaten to death with the Portafilter. Murder with the flavor of a fair trade Ethiopian and Guatemalan blend.
She says, “You’re hired if you want the job. But I just wanted you to hear that up front in case that effects your decision. Since it costs more money to train a new person who doesn’t stay. It’s like taking out a loan you can’t pay.” She said all this while winding her hand forward in front of my face visually displaying the rhythm.
I say, “I’ll take the job.” I don’t care I can’t stay at home.
After the words were uttered my tongue and lips and lungs calmed down, and I took a deep breath not knowing whether I had opened a door or closed one.
James Jacob Hatfield is a displaced engineer, a painter, and many other contradictions. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Barely South Review, Chaleur Magazine, Havik, and others. His ekphrasis poem “torrents of lahar, No. 36” was anthologized by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He is a Sterling Fellow and a Weymouth Fellow. He is the creator and curator of the Gemini Sessions Substack. He lives in Durham, NC.