Friday, May 05, 2006

Out of Place

Six years ago, I didn’t bother attending my own college graduation. I just didn’t care. I went straight looking for a job because at the back of my mind, I was intrigued and curious about how somebody like me would fare in the “real world.” I already had a vague idea: maybe I’d last two seconds as somebody’s employee. I’ve always been a jaded kid. I’ve always hated routine; I’ve never found comfort in well-established schedules. Throughout those years, I was rarely present in my classes. But that was okay; I was lucky I worked as editor of the university’s student paper, which somehow made my professors more forgiving of me. I was friends with most of them, and some of them would even ask me what grade I'd want.

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Surreal, yeah. To be fair, I rarely abused that kind of privilege; I’d break the barrier only when I really, really had to, such as when the afternoon heat was enough to keep me holed up in the student paper’s airconditioned office, or when Blizzard’s Diablo magically made me forget the passage of hours.

But Adamson University was the proverbial small pond; I probably seemed “big” only because of the smallness of its world. So I was curious about testing my hypothesis: What would happen if you’d drop me in a barren place where nobody knew of my crazy reputation? Far from friends who understood my weirdness?

You see, I’ve always laughed at the wrong jokes. I find cruelty and violence exceedingly funny. I cry over small things that would otherwise delight other people. I have a misplaced sense of real things. So what would happen if you’d put me in a workplace where weirdness was a crime, and where everybody had to dance to the tune of small-minded politics?

One of my first prospects was this copyediting company in Paranaque. The company’s location was already hellish: it lay sprawled in hectares of what felt like the Gobi desert, and its kind of sunlight and heat made me sorely miss my old airconditioned nook in the penthouse of St. Vincent building.

The morning I arrived there, there were ten billion of us. We were herded into a room with endless rows of chairs, and were given instruction sheets and pencils.

This was already bad; I have to tell you I hate being treated like “one of the kids.” I was thinking, If this is the deal I’m getting from this company—this company that had the same level of respect for its hordes of applicants as what Nazis had for Jews—then I won’t take this seriously.

I sat through the qualifying exams simply because I wanted to see how the exams looked. But I was disappointed; the whole thing seemed so easy it felt like an insult. Near the end, I was grumbling; I was telling this girl seatmate, “I don’t see this company existing ten years in the future.”

She smiled uncomfortably.

I said, “This is crazy. This is the same exam they gave me in first grade.”

She said, “You’re the shining font of humility, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

So I finished the test, and when we were all done, the lady who had given us the exams asked us to pass all the pencils to the end. And because I sat at the farthest end of the row, all the pencils ended up with me.

Then the lady told me without even looking at me to “just put the pencils over there.” She pointed at a corner table.

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I didn’t. When nobody was looking, I shoved the more than five dozens of pencils in my bag. And as I walked out, I told myself I’d never come back to this sty of a workplace ever again.

Two days later, the company called to tell me I was hired. I politely declined. The woman on the other end of the line could not seem to comprehend that I would say no, so she sort of was making some small talk. She asked me to recommend anybody I knew who might be interested with the copyediting job. She asked me why I changed my mind.

I just told her, no, I don’t know anybody else. I told her I had to decline because I recently started some small business.

I told her I was selling some used pencils to a local school to make ends meet. Then I laughed.

She laughed, too; she thought I was kidding.

For similar posts, see Backtracks and Fast-forwards.

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