20090529

A Tense Situation and a Chainsaw

Everyone in the office stopped talking and leaned forward a little to hear what was going on. Job interviews were always exciting.

“Here’s my first question,” asked Mike Hutcheson who was conducting the interview. He looked down at the notes in his hand. “Actually, that’s not my first question. My first question is why did you bring that chainsaw with you?”

“Since I moved to New York, I always bring a chainsaw with me to any tense situation,” said the Immigrant. “It helps people focus their aggression.”

“Don’t you think the chainsaw makes the situation more tense?” asked Mike. “Aren’t you afraid people will think the wrong thing?”

“That has never been one of my fears,” said the Immigrant.

The Immigrant stared at Mike until Mike looked down at his notes, trying to find his real first question again. They were seated in the main conference room, a glass-walled freestanding structure that was central to the buzz and hubbub of the surrounding office.

“So where are you from?” asked Mike.

“It’s a hot country,” said the Immigrant tentatively. “I don’t like to say which one because people get the wrong idea about me and then that’s all we talk about. I’d rather be judged on my own merits rather than spending time dispelling generalizations about my homeland.”

“Has this been a problem before?”

“How would I know?” asked the Immigrant. She snaked her leg around and brought the chainsaw closer to where they were sitting across from each other in hardback chairs at the short end of a long, smoky glass table. “No one tells you the truth about why they are slamming doors in your face. I find it more rewarding to assume that people are denying me opportunities based on other reasons than my country of origin. Otherwise, how could you get through your day without being angry all the time?”

“You don’t have an accent,” said Mike.

“Yes, I do,” said the Immigrant. “I speak words that are more important to me more loudly, and I try to rearrange my sentences so that the most powerful things I say come at the end of long speeches.”

“I mean, I can’t tell where you are from by the way you speak.”

“You don’t know where I am from because I didn’t tell you,” said the Immigrant, smiling. “It sure seems important to you.”

“I’m going to assume it is some place like Mexico or Brazil.”

“I’d like to talk about something else if you don’t mind,” said the Immigrant. “For instance, I don’t know what your company does.”

“We are a shoe freight-forwarding company,” said Mike, leaning back in his chair and twirling a pen. “We make sure that shoe supply-chains operate smoothly, and we make deals with warehouses around the world so that the warehouses don’t spend a lot of time empty and that time isn’t wasted by haggling over manifests and taxes.”

“So what job am I applying for?” asked the Immigrant. “The ad only said three things: what you are paying, where to come, and what time. The money was for far more than a secretary, but for far less than an executive. Could be anything.”

Mike Hutcheson leaned forward and grinned.

“If you tell me where you are from, I’ll tell you what the job is,” said Mike.

The Immigrant reached down and picked up the chainsaw. Mike Hutcheson fell out of his chair and then scrambled to his feet. The Immigrant set the chainsaw down on the glass table with a clang and crossed her arms.

“What’s the fucking deal with the fucking chainsaw!” screamed Mike.

“Don’t you want to know my qualifications?” asked the Immigrant.

People ran in from the back offices and gathered around the conference room windows.

“Is everything okay in here, Mike?” asked Phil Putnam, a graying gentleman executive who wore his spectacles pushed up against his high forehead. Phil picked up the Immigrant’s resume from off the table and started to flip through it.

“She brought a chainsaw to her job interview and she won’t tell me what country she is from!” bleated Mike.

“He won’t tell me what job I am applying for,” said the Immigrant. “If I were conducting this job interview, that’s the first thing I would make clear so that I wouldn’t be accused of wasting anyone’s time. Time is money when it comes to freight-forwarding -- and really -- to any business.”

Phil nodded his head.

“You went to college,” said Phil.

“I did,” said the Immigrant.

“Mike didn’t, you know,” said Phil.

“It was a valuable experience,” said the Immigrant.

“Where’d you get the chainsaw?” asked Phil.

“My apartment is next door to a lumberyard out in Queens,” said the Immigrant. “It was in the trash one day as I was walking home late at night and so I picked it up for protection.”

“Do you keep it gassed up?” asked Phil.

“I don’t think this is an appropriate place to operate a chainsaw,” said the Immigrant.

“How much is it worth to you?” asked Phil.

“Pardon?”

“How much is it worth? If I gave you fifty dollars cash right now, would you give me your chainsaw?”

“This is an old chainsaw,” said the Immigrant. “But it still works and it is still in good repair. I keep it oiled and I have replaced the drive-belt twice. I removed the iron bolts on it that were causing snags and replaced them with rounded copper knobs that I keep polished.”

“A hundred dollars,” said Phil. “Cash.”

He lowered his spectacles down over his eyes and reached into his back pocket to pull out his billfold. He brought out five twenties and lay them down on the conference room table. Mike Hutcheson twirled his pen and watched his boss.

“You can have the chainsaw for two hundred dollars cash,” said the Immigrant quietly.

“Deal,” said Phil.

He snapped out five more bills into the pile of cash. Then he handed the wad to the Immigrant and they shook hands.

Phil picked up the chainsaw and walked over to the far corner of the room. He pulled the ripcord three times. The chainsaw sputtered and then roared to life with a shaking shudder. Phil revved the chainsaw and grinned.

“NOW IT’S MY CHAINSAW,” shouted Phil.

“YOU SHOULD REALLY HAVE GLOVES ON,” shouted the Immigrant.

“SO TELL ME,” shouted Phil. “DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE WITH FREIGHT-FORWARDING OR WITH INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GENERAL?”

“FOR THE PAST TEN YEARS, I HAVE BEEN WORKING AS A BUYER FOR AN INTERNATIONAL COSMETICS COMPANY,” shouted the Immigrant. “MY DUTIES WERE TO NEGOTIATE FAVORABLE CONTRACTS WITH FOREIGN NATIONS THAT HAVE CLASSICALLY BEEN HOSTILE TO THE INTERESTS OF WESTERN ECONOMIC CONSORTIUMS.”

“I SAW THAT IN YOUR RESUME,” shouted Phil. “WHY DID YOU LEAVE?”

Phil put one foot on a chair and raised the chainsaw above his head. He revved it and shut his eyes as if the power of the chainsaw was flowing into him like some kind of ecstatic drug.

Mike Hutcheson shrieked, shielded his face, and burst out of the conference room, turning back around only after he could cower safely in the threshold. The entire office was gathered around the transparent walls of the conference room with their faces pressed against the glass.

“I WANT TO SETTLE DOWN AND RAISE A FAMILY,” shouted the Immigrant. “I AM LOOKING FOR A JOB THAT WILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MY TALENTS AND ABILITIES BUT THAT WON’T MAKE ME TRAVEL AS MUCH.”

“ALL OUR WORK IS IN-HOUSE,” shouted Phil. “OUR PARTNERS IN OUR FOREIGN OFFICES HANDLE OUR INTERNATIONAL CONTRACTS, ALTHOUGH FROM TIME TO TIME WE DO RUN UP AGAINST PROTECTIONISM AND CULTURE CLASH.”

The Immigrant dug into her purse and pulled out a pair of thick leather gloves. She tossed them across the room and they landed on the table in front of Phil Putnam. He put the sputtering chainsaw down on the table and it spun around in a half-moon while Phil put the gloves on. He picked up the chainsaw again right before it fell off the table and he saluted the Immigrant with it.

“THANK YOU,” shouted Phil.

“YOU WILL HAVE TO GET YOUR OWN GLOVES,” shouted the Immigrant. “THAT WASN’T PART OF THE DEAL. BUT YOU CAN BORROW THEM UNTIL I LEAVE.”

“WHO SAYS YOU ARE LEAVING?” shouted Phil.

“ARE YOU OFFERING ME A JOB?” shouted the Immigrant.

Phil revved the chainsaw again and sliced a table lamp in half. Sparks flew over his shoulders and his teeth were bright yellow as he grimaced at his work. He swept the pieces of the lamp off the table with the flat part of the chainsaw blade, and then advanced two steps closer to the Immigrant. The Immigrant remained in her chair staring coldly at Phil with her chin in her hands.

“WE ARE LOOKING FOR AN ACCOUNTS MANAGER FOR CHINA,” shouted Phil. “HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT CHINA?”

“I AM WARY OF CHINA,” shouted the Immigrant. “BUT I AM NOT OUTRIGHT HOSTILE TO THEIR AIMS, BUSINESS METHODS, AND ECONOMIC SYSTEM LIKE MANY OF MY COLLEAGUES.”

“Excellent,” said Phil, letting the chainsaw die. “We are offering forty thousand a year, plus health insurance, plus stock options, plus a guaranteed raise every six months, in addition to a paid two-week vacation every year.”

“Fifty thousand,” said the Immigrant.

“Forty-nine,” said Phil.

“That’s pretty good,” said the Immigrant. “I’ll take it for now.”

Phil and the Immigrant shook hands. Mike walked back into the conference room, stunned. His “twirling pen” dangled from his fingers like the limp tail of a defeated dog.

“Did you just offer her a job?” asked Mike.

“Is there something wrong?” asked Phil.

“But you don’t even know where she is from!”

“I wouldn’t know where you were from either if you didn’t brag about it so much,” said Phil.

“She could be from anywhere!” shouted Mike. “She could be a felon!”

“Where am I from, Mike?” asked Phil. “Where did I grow up?”

“I don’t know,” sputtered Mike. “Upstate? Connecticut?”

Phil fondled the chainsaw while the Immigrant introduced herself to the other people in the office and was given a tour of the amenities and accommodations.

“Mike,” said Phil. “Let me give you a piece of advice. If you want to get anywhere in life, get yourself a chainsaw and carry it around with you to any tense situation. But you can’t have this chainsaw. This chainsaw is mine.”

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really love this story. It has a good point. Its a story with excitement in a simple way. I love the plot and the idea. Its amazing.

kaboom! said...

Thank you very much. I wanted to write a story about Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" but also about a chainsaw. You can hear this story performed live here, if you want:

http://fictioncircus.com/shows.php

I think the May 29th show has better sound quality than the June 21st show.