Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reading to the Faded - Part 1

After about 75 million tries over the years, I finally received a response to my response to a craigslist job posting last week, and it’s singlehandedly made up for the years of disappointment, the years of thinking that, after having drafted a snazzy little email to a prospective employer, I might as well have clicked DELETE as SEND.

The posting read as follows:

Retired star of stage and screen, 84 now and nearly blind, seeks handsome young man to read to her and to run occasional errands.

She was offering $1000/week and both medical and dental benefits. You’d have imagined that one who had pretty much lost her own sight would have offered vision benefits as well, but I wasn’t going to quibble, not this time. A grand per week isn’t a fortune, but it would certainly keep the mortgage and heating and insurance bills paid until someone down in Manhattan decides that what his company really needs is an over-60 non-team player who reflexively corrects others’ grammar and often doesn’t smell that good. I sent the advertiser an email saying that I believed my background as both an actor and a writer made me abundantly worthy of consideration, and rhapsodized how the job would enable me to catch up on some of the classics I’ve been putting off reading since my freshman year in college, when having to read Beowulf and The Iliad left me with a fierce distrust of any literature that’s Good for Me, except I left the last part unsaid. I attached a photograph of myself in my early thirties, when my physical beauty was such that I regularly caused fender-benders in the streets of West Hollywood.

After sending it — after clicking SEND yet again, rather than DELETE — it occurred to me, though, that my prospective employer’s taste might tend less to the classics than to crapola like John Grisham or Danielle Steele, so I dashed off a second email saying that I was also eager to experience the work of popular contemporary authors.
Not two hours after I’d sent it, a Ms. Jamison, who described herself as a Mrs. Tourneau’s secretary, called to invite me in for an interview. Quite the chatterbox, she informed me, unbidden, that she’d be doing the reading herself except for the fact that she had been losing her eyesight even longer than Mrs. Tourneau, and wasn’t getting the hang of Braille nearly as quickly as she’d been led to believe she might. Given that both of them had severely impaired vision, I wondered if I needed to wear a coat and tie. In the end, I decided that I’d better, just in case.

Mrs. Tourneau turned out to reside just across the river, in Newburgh, on a street that had apparently been quite elegant at one point, but which is now largely crumbling, and peopled almost entirely by malevolent-looking young people in hooded sweatshirts and dilated pupils. I was let in by a manservant who reminded me of the service manager of a Porsche dealership where I used to take my Porsche when I was young and rich enough to have a Porsche and foolish enough to have a Porsche. The service manager had made no attempt to conceal that he hated me on sight, and the manservant wasn’t trying much harder, remarking as he took my hat and cane, “The gentleman looks rather more mature than in the JPEG he attached to his email.” It was funny hearing the acronym JPEG — for jammed pixels eschewing grandiosity, if I remember correctly, coming out of so ancient a mouth, but of course I’m longish in the tooth myself lately.

“If the gentleman will follow me,” he said, not bothering to specify what might happen if I didn’t. He led me into the office of Mrs. Jamison, who put on her spectacles to get a better look at me, remembered her spectacles had ceased to do her much good, squeezed my arms, apparently satisfied herself that I am one of those old people who works out dutifully, and asked me to read a few paragraphs of Jane Austen to her. I gathered I had to please her before I would get to meet my actual prospective employer. She seemed satisfied, and said, “If you’ll be good enough to follow me,” not bothering to specify my reward. I was led into what I think might be termed a sitting room, in which sat Mrs. Tourneau, who was wearing rather more perfume and more and more vivid makeup than became one of her age, and listening with eyes closed to Jack Jones, sort of the Barry Manilow of the very early 1970s, but not nearly as hated. “Do sit down,” she said, and I sat.

[To be continued.]

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