“I get this job, and everything’s gonna get better. I just know.”
I turned toward the speaker, immediately staring at a face younger than mine. Some black kid, fresh out of high school grinned at me, his dark lips stretched across his white teeth showing a genuine excitement I would not have expected. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and thrust it into my hand. I looked at it: “What’s this?”
“It’s my resumé! Went to the library and had one of them ladies there help me with it.” He pulled it back out of my hand, folding it up carefully before pushing it back inside his pocket. “I’m sure you want this job too, my man, but I don’t think you gonna get it.”
“Maybe. But what makes you so sure you’re going to?”
“I just got that feeling, you know? Everything’s gonna look up, I know. Just like they say in church: ‘God’s always looking out for you.’ I think He’s got my back this time!” He turned, looking back at the long line that snaked behind us, going up the block and disappearing behind the gray concrete building we were standing in front of. I knew what it was going to be like, standing here, waiting for an interview. But this made me realize I did not comprehend exactly what was happening.
It was a powder keg: hundreds of men and women standing in line for roughly two dozen jobs. I knew, like me, that most of them had no experience and no chance of getting it, but were here out of the same desperation I was. Behind me, the black kid continued talking to specifically no one. I smelled cigarette smoke as up the line, a grizzled man with grey streaks across his black beard was staring intently at me. Well, through me, rather. At the black kid, who just wouldn’t shut up.
“Go home, boy. This is men’s work. You ain’t got no shot here.” He left his position and walked back, almost directly in my face as he breathed smoke across my pressed and ironed shirt. I craned my neck to stay away from the line of spit that flew from his mouth as he barked at the kid behind me. “I’ve welded for goddamn 20 years. Plenty of these guys have. Just get the hell out of here.”
“Hey, I got as much a right as anybody! I’m gonna get one of these jobs!” I shuffled to the side of the two men, still somewhat between them, but not completely out of the situation as it developed. The smell of desperation clung to all those around me, and as if we were all back in elementary school, anticipating a fight; a circle of applicants surrounded us, curious as to what was going on in line. I half-expected someone to begin chanting the time-honored ‘FIGHT’ as the grizzled man confronted the kid. The crowd grew denser as the young man pointed a surprisingly gnarled, mangled middle finger towards the beer gut in front of him; “I’m not gonna leave. I’m gonna take this resumé, give it to some boss in there, and then I’m gonna get me a fucking JOB!” His finger jabbed forward, catching the grizzled man in the gut, before withdrawing quickly as the kid flinched. I had to give him credit: he did not want to actually start a fight.
The rotund, grizzled man dropped his cigarette and stamped it out quickly with his work boots. I could tell the seriousness of his venture here: dark blue work shirt, complete with matching pants, meticulously washed and ironed by what I only assumed was his wife; a man like that does not do his own laundry. He breathed out the last vestiges of smoke from his lungs, scowling deep, the wrinkles in his faces creasing in a drastic matter: “You think you’re owed shit, huh? What, you waltz out of high school like two months ago? Now you want a big boy job, huh? You ain’t gonna get one, get the hell outta here!” He barked the words at the kid in front of him, his arms shaking wildly, knocking into my shoulder as he threw them back attempting to emphasize what he was saying. There was a large, oval scar on the top of his left hand; I was fairly certain I knew what it was from. He was not lying about his experience, and I looked around at the rest of the crowd that had gathered. The two men were making an anxious group of people worse: everyone wanted a job there, and everyone feared they weren’t going to get one. I knew my chances, and started to move through the crowd, no longer paying attention to the heated words between the two men. When I got past the crowd, yelling started and I knew immediately what it meant, and so did the lone squad car sitting across the street. The officer sprinted out, yelling into his radio as he began to shove his way toward the center of the crowd. I crumpled my own resumé, made without the assistance of the ladies at the library, and threw it into a storm drain. As I walked down the street, I could still here the faint sounds of yelling in the midday heat.