run while you can

Agency and the Self

Boston Public Library. Copley Square. Winter 2014.
It was a big room, mostly empty, with windows lining one wall and waxed wood floors. Luis sat with his back to the vast open space. He was facing a young man, probably half his age, who was seated opposite him. The window wall stood beyond the young man. They had just shaken hands, but Luis had already forgotten the boy’s name. He adjusted his posture and focused on maintaining eye contact.
“My father worked nights as a janitor, you see. I used to go with him, at nights, and clean office buildings in the city. I am from this place. I have lived here all my life.”
The young man nodded twice, slowly. “On your resume here, it looks like there’s a gap in your work experience.”
“Oh, yes. Two years. I was a college student.”
“You didn’t finish? No degree?”
Luis positioned his hands atop his knees. “I didn’t finish. My funds ran out.”
The young man’s face contorted. He made some notes. His pen moved quickly across the paper in front of him. He looked up and caught Luis off-guard. “What were you studying?”
The question seemed to have little bearing on the position to which he had applied. “Well, I was a liberal arts student. Eventually I became interested in computer science.” Luis straightened. He recalled the name of the interviewer, Jared. Jared had begun smoothing his hair. He was leaning back in his chair.
“Well, Luis, I have to say, you’re overqualified. What are you doing here? This is a job for people with criminal records, no work history, little education. Sure, English isn’t your first language, but we’re doing fine. Don’t get me wrong, I worked as a janitor myself for a long time. I understand about your father too.”
Luis withheld from blinking his eyes, and he noticed them starting to sting. “I want to go back to school. I want to finish my degree. Look at my experience. I have cleaned the laboratories of chemists. I clean everything. I can learn fast, and I will work hard. You should not worry about my qualifications-” His stinging eyes widened.
“Not worry about your qualifications? It is my job to note qualifications.” Jared righted his own posture. “Sometimes the best candidate is not the most qualified. And some jobs are better left to the under-qualified.”
Luis looked to his left, his right, the empty room waiting at his back. His feet were already on the floor. “When I would go to the offices with my father, I would watch him all night. I was young, eight years of age, nine perhaps. And I watched him.” Luis stared at Jared. The boy’s head bobbed along with his story.


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