Flasher Lands a Job
New York. 1987.
Suzie and I had arrived from New Zealand six weeks before, to start our new life in America. We had no money. We had no job. We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor of Andrew’s apartment on Seventh Ave.
It had been a rather inauspicious start.
I had been borrowing money from Andrew for weeks and I knew it couldn’t go on forever. He didn’t mind, though, Andrew had plenty of confidence and figured he could always get more money. Easy come, easy go, that was Andrew, but I could tell it was starting to get on Terri’s nerves. Fair enough, I thought, she didn’t know me from the old days like Andrew did, maybe I was just a bum, and besides, it reduced her own standard of living to have her boyfriend giving away his money like that.
Of course I promised to pay it back.
A promise that to this day I have every intention of keeping.
With no animation work in sight, and desperate for some money, I decided to apply to Empire Messenger Service for a job as a messenger.
No experience needed, read the flyer taped to a lamppost.
That was good because that’s just what I had.
The headquarters of Empire Messenger Service was in the Empire State Building, so it was easy to find. They had a special hiring office in the basement. It was very crowded and noisy down there. After filling out a poorly xeroxed, nearly illegible form, I sat on a wooden bench with many others and waited my turn for an interview.
As usual I had a book with me, so the time spent waiting was not time spent wasted.
Not that I feel every second of one’s life must be put to good use.
Who could possibly do that?
Just that I like to read whenever a spare moment presents itself.
That day I was reading The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata.*
“After he became the Master,
the world believed that he could not lose,
and he had to believe it himself.
Therein was the tragedy.”
Ah, Kawabata-san, you magnificent bastard!
That meant me, so I rose and walked through the door into the manager’s office, not forgetting to knock first as I’d seen others do. I stepped inside the tiny office and seeing no chair, stood where I was, facing an overweight, balding man sitting behind a messy desk.
“Where’d you get the suntan, buddy?” he said. He was suspicious from the start.
“Suntan?” I answered. “What suntan, mate? I’ve been freezing my bloody ass off since I landed in this godforsaken city!”
That answer threw him. I didn’t mean to answer that way, it just popped out of my mouth! I really wanted a job. I needed a job. I should have simply explained how I got my suntan… that I was from a land on the other side of the world, a land down under where summer was winter and winter was summer.
I had been in New York for weeks now, hunting for animation work and getting nothing but rejection for my trouble. Oh sure, they liked my work, those that deemed to glance at it, but they couldn’t use me at present. Maybe in the future. Just leave your name with the girl at the front desk and don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out!
Hear me, struggling Artist! You had better love your art and be strong in your love of it, because sometimes it will seem that it is all you have.
“You’re not from around here, huh?” he said. “You speak English? That was English, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I answered, attempting to gather myself up mentally. “That was English.”
“It says here you’re an artist?”
“Yep. I’m an animator.”
“Well,” he said magnanimously, “I think we can overlook that.”
“Healthy?” he asked. He looked me up and down, squinting to focus his good eye, presumably assessing my physical ability to do the work.
“Yes,” I answered. Sure, I was healthy as an ox, unless you counted occasional weakness from hunger and these recurrent dizzy spells, also from hunger. I was feeling a little dizzy as I stood there.
“Criminal record?” he enquired.
“Not in this country, mate,” I joked. “I just got here last month! Haven’t had the time. Hahaha, er, ha?”
He didn’t appear to be getting the joke.
“What?” he said. He looked suspicious again.
My kiwi accent must be throwing him, I said to myself, refusing to accept the possibility that my jest had fallen flat.
Yes, although it shames men of my generation to confess it... I’m rather flat jested.
“So, you do have a record?” he persisted. “I thought so.” He leaned back in his chair, almost bumping his head against the wall behind him, the office was so small. “Felony or misdemeanor?” he enquired. “You don’t look too dangerous, and that’s what counts. The customers don’t like it when you look too scary. Let me see if I can guess.”
Before I could protest, he held up his hand. “Don’t tell me!” he demanded. “Let me guess!” He looked at me and cocked his head, while his good eye gave me another critical look.
“Arsonist?” he ventured. “Naw, you’re not an arsonist and you couldn’t be a murderer, either. You’re too goggle-eyed for that.”
“I’m what?” I said. “Goggle-eyed?”
He ignored me, continuing his critical appraisal, “Yeah, and you’re kinda skinny, too. Hustler? Dealer? Second story man? Wait a minute! Don’t tell me!”
He closed his eyes and thought a moment, trying to match my image with a felonious past from the files in his head.
I stood there, somewhat fascinated, and said nothing. He had probably encountered, in his daily working life hiring and firing messengers for Empire Messenger Service, an extremely broad range of humanity, mostly from the lower socioeconomic order. And not a few of these would have been fellows with a felonious past. His office was so small I could almost hear the wheels turning inside his head. After a minute, his eyes opened and he leaned forward across his cluttered desk.
“I’ve got it!” he said in triumph. “Flasher! Yeah, that’s it! I’m never wrong! Flasher, right?”
Again I tried to protest, but he mistook this as a natural desire on my part to keep it quiet. “I never…” I began.
“You never flashed kids, did ya Flasher?”
And another nickname was born.
“Of course not!” I insisted hotly. “Please don’t call me Flasher.”
“Sure! I can see why you’d be sensitive about it. But don’t worry, we’ve got all kinds of perverts working here.”
“But I’ve been trying to tell you I’m not a …”
“Okay, Flasher. Okay. I don’t care what you do on your own time. Just keep it zipped while you’re working for the company, right?”
“Wait a minute!” I protested.
“It shouldn’t be a problem if you can keep from dropping your pants and waving your ...”
“Hold on!” I said again to get his attention. “Sorry. No criminal record.”
“Oh?” He seemed disappointed. “You’re sure?” He gave me a minute to reconsider, maybe I could come up with something if I thought hard enough.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m sure. Sorry.”
He looked at me and considered.
For about twelve seconds.
“Okay,” he said. “See the girl out front. Ya start tomorrow.”
He handed me a slip of paper and I turned to go, pausing at the door.
“Thank you,” I said. “You won’t regret …”
“Sure pal,” he interrupted. “Good luck. And for god’s sake Flasher keep your dick in your pants! Okay?”
“Okay,” I laughed. “I’ll try.”
I stepped through the door.
“Next!” he yelled past me into the waiting-room.
Then it dawned on me… I had a job!
* Go is a board game for two players. It is said that it takes a few moments to learn, a lifetime to master... but isn't that true of many things?