“Not going to lie, Champion. This role involves late nights, drinking, and women. You’d travel the world, earn a crack salary. Game changer, pure and simple. Question is, are you a feller who would fuck it up?”
Conor Fidelity studies me from across his uncluttered desk. He has dark hair, sharp features, and the remarkable ability to look formal while wearing the most simple of dark clothing. His eyes glint blue, then bluer the longer one looks at them. If he has a flaw, it’s that his ears jut out, though truthfully this only draws wayward glances back to his prankster smile. In short, he epitomizes why women fall for the Irish, and admittedly holds the power to inspire uncomfortable thoughts in otherwise surefooted heterosexual men.
He holds a fist to his mouth before continuing. The skyline sprawls behind him.
“Lots here gunning for Morris’ job. Got credentials. Right schools. Quote-unquote ‘golden goose material,’ you see. But, I consider meself a good judge of character. See things others miss. And, I’ll share this with you, half that lot show no loyalty. Whoever I hire’s got to be someone I won’t murder on the road, understand? Be traveling long hours, face of the company like. Not rocket science but clients know a fraud. Married?”
I loosen my tie, then tighten it again. “She’s asking for a divorce, actually.”
“Fuck her,” he says. “Apologies. You’re a handsome fuck. I’m sure you’ve got a backup. Your old man’s from Cork you said?”
“And you’ve never been.”
“Not really, um. No.”
“Take my word. Good thing to be young. You could spend your remaining days there, balance of time would still be in your favor.”
“Is this position — ?”
“No, yeah, based here, but you’d be over there enough to qualify as honorary Irish.”
“Huh,” I say.
“Shy like?” he asks. “Most men would cry ‘whiskey’ and that’d be that.”
“It’s. It’s a lot to take in.”
“That’s what the ladies tell me.”
The shock lasts a moment, then a laugh rises from my gut that I scarcely recognize. Stitches grab my side, I have to recline in my chair.
“There’s a laugh,” says Conor, leaning forward.
His assistant buzzes with a phone call, he signals for me to wait.
Each wall of his office lays claim to a large canvas, the kind of contemporary pop art knocked off by catalogues. Layers upon layers of newspaper clippings, paint, and lacquer create artificial depth. Big block text consume the foreground, articulating uplifting sentiments. Some letters are backward. I hold no doubt that each of these pieces cost a fortune.
Conor hangs up and says, “Don’t know your situation, kids or not. I have four, I’m afraid. Truth of the matter: experience is the only commodity worth a shite. Your life is yours and yours alone. Love travels oceans and all that.”
“I don’t have kids.”
“Class. Last part was a lie. Love works locally and don’t let anyone tell you different.”
I cross then uncross my legs. “Were there any questions you wanted me to answer?”
“Have we not been talking already?”
“I mean, about the job.”
“Alright, since you ask,” he says, reclining. “Why?”
“Why here? Why stay sixteen years? Sure there were opportunities.”
“Honestly? I think the work’s interesting.”
“No, I mean, some days are better than others,” I say, “but our stakeholders make for a really interesting variety —”
“Savage,” he interrupts, “screwing the cat with low fat milk.” He tosses a pencil, hits me in the chest. “What turns you on, Champion?! Sixteen years, downstairs. Life floating by. Go blind, those monitors. Why, for God’s sake?!?”
“Because data offers proof that the world makes sense.” I meet his eyes, glance away, return the pencil to his desk.
He rolls it toward him, looks ready to launch it again. “Does it?”
“It sounds stupid, saying it out loud, but… It’s like, that doctrine we’re all taught as kids — cause and effect, action-reaction, balance-imbalance — it all holds true when you look at things over time. So, that, plus the intersection of who we work with, is sort of what’s kept me here.”
“So, you’re either an incurable nerd,” he says, lowering the pencil, “or an artist choking at the collar, chasing whatever meaning he can find.”
“I’m sort of both, actually,” I say. “I mean, if time is our canvas, let us motherfucking paint, right?”
Conor rises to face the window, I wonder whether I misgauged the swearing. He looks out over a city of tiny people leading tiny lives.
He says, “Three lads meet in the pub one night for a lash. American, Brit, and an Irish. They have a few scoops, some good craic, and in walks this feek. Long legs. Soft eyes. Mouth that’s pure poetry.
“American makes his move. Sends her over a mixed drink, strides up. Tells her how sexy she is, what he’d like to do to her. Feek listens to this gobshite, tells him, ‘No, thanks,’ and sends him away.
“Brit tries next. Buys her a single-malt, shuffles over. Introduces himself. Asks the beour her name. Tells her what he does. Upstanding gent. Feek listens, tells him, ‘No, thanks,’ and sends him away.
“Now. Irish has been watching this from his barstool. Buckled, understand? Stocious, but can’t do any worse than his pals. Finishes his whiskey, stumbles over. Takes away the mixed drink and swallows it down. Picks up the single-malt, downs that as well. Then he turns to go.
“Feek cries after, ‘What do ye think yer doing?’
“Irish turns around, looks her in the eye, and says, ‘I’ve got a mother, three sisters, and a niece on the way. They raised me to respect a woman’s independence and look out for her safety, and as such I know that someone as beautiful as yourself should think twice before accepting drinks from strangers. And so,’ he concludes, sliding onto the stool beside her, ‘I promise that until you and I properly know each other, you won’t have to fear a single free drink from me.’”
“Well?” I ask, realizing that I’ve also risen to my feet. “Did it work?”
“Massive,” says Conor. “She took him home, they fucked just shy four minutes. He quoted her a bit of Yeats, they stretched out on her scratcher. Fell asleep in each other’s arms. Breakfast the next morning was lovely.”
His assistant buzzes again, this time reminding him of his next meeting.
As we shake hands, I say, “I think this is the first interview that’s ever made me want to drink in a good way.”
“You can hold your liquor, can’t you?”
“Well, I’m Irish,” he says, letting go. “We’ll put your tolerance to the test.”
“I’d like that.”
“Grand,” he says, digging his hands into his pockets. “Should warn you there’s one other feller I’m partial to and plan to give full consideration. Meantime, think this over. Whether or not this role suits you. Full-on qualify you as a company man, understand? Not something you’re ready for, no harm done. Come in, be honest, maybe there’s something else that fits your talents.”
I walk out of Conor’s office into a slate grey lobby bathed in sunlight. I float past men in expensive suits to the elevator.
Junior staffers arrive in my office, hunger in their eyes. The thought of advancing one of them into my present job makes me anxious. I close the door and track numbers on my screen.
I treat myself to a Jameson or three at lunch. The amber Irish liquid is warm and unassuming. The light in the bar is warm and unassuming. Even my reflection is warm and unassuming. I leave feeling like a poet.
Two of my junior staffers are at a pickup window ahead of me, eating something that resembles food. I beeline across the street.
I do not return to the office. The sidewalk tilts and I must follow. The poetry does not leave me — in fact, the city is my muse. I compose a stanza for a scaffolding, another for a homeless woman. My poetry is without reason or rhyme.
A plastic bag whips past my ankles. The wind carries it through traffic and above the street and without warning it is lofting higher and higher, past floor after floor of rigid office towers. I watch its silent dance, marveling at unseen forces, hoping it might somehow dwarf even the executive levels to touch the unclaimed sky.