I Am Not a Robot

It was as if the world had run out of quirky, charming, and memorable names for grocery stores. And fate gave me this cashiering job, for the sole purpose that when people asked me what I did for a living, I could look down and say, “Well, I was working in software development for a while, but now I work at a grocery store called That Sounds Delicious!” The prospect most definitely did not sound delicious. On second thought, it was probably best that I didn’t mention my last job, because that would give the impression that I had fallen from grace, wherever that was (probably an incredible height), and I didn’t want to stoop that low.
The worst thing about it all was that I knew I was incredibly lucky to have even gotten the job. I discreetly took a job application from a rack near the front of the store, filled it out, returned it, and got a call three days later to schedule an interview. What’s three days in the life of the unemployed? Nine greasy, unhealthy meals? Three overlong sleeps? One hundred and forty-four episodes of Family Feud? Unfortunately, the call arrived three months after I moved back home with my mom.
During my That Sounds Delicious! job interview, it couldn’t have been clearer that I was over-qualified for the cashiering position for which I was being considered. And of course, this fact was brought up almost instantly by my overly made-up, poofy-haired interviewer.
“It says here that you have a degree in computer science at the University of Texas at Dallas?” She asked it even though it wasn’t technically a question. I had already forgotten her name by that point, but I had resolved to continue with the interview and hope it never came up.
“Yes, I do. A bachelor’s degree,” I said. I didn’t want to sound too pathetic or too cocky. I wanted to strike a delicate balance between the two.
“So what brings you to That Sounds Delicious!?” She said the name of the store as if it wasn’t absolutely idiotic.
I wished I could have told her I had always been passionate about groceries, or that I had a longstanding interest in the world of part-time cashiering. Or even that I thought I could work my way up in the company, as if that was something even remotely desirable. Instead, I just went with the truth (kind of): “I was working with a software development company in Dallas, but I decided to leave it and I moved here because it’s much closer to my family.”
“I see,” she said, and ominously wrote something down on the clipboard in her lap. I got the distinct feeling that she could see right through me, not like I was invisible, but like I was transparent. “And what would you say is your greatest strength and what is your greatest weakness?”
Great. A two-parter. My greatest strength: I’m delightfully cynical. My greatest weakness: I have a propensity for getting laid-off. “I would have to say my greatest strength is my attention to detail. I have a good eye for details. And my greatest weakness is also my attention to detail. Sometimes it makes me work a bit slowly. But I figure, why do something if you’re not going to do it completely?”
I had just given this mind-reading superhuman a stock answer to that question. It was something I’d come up with years before, while I was on my post-graduation job hunt. I thought, why not make even my weakness seem like a strength? I just hoped my answer hadn’t come out too smoothly, for fear of sounding rehearsed. I wished I could have sounded more nervous than I was. But then again, I didn’t want to sound like I had no idea what to say. So in other words, I didn’t want to be there at all.
“I see,” she said again, returning to her clipboard. While she wrote, I noticed that her stubby fingers, with nails coated in neon yellow polish, were perfectly proportioned to the stubby rest-of-her-body. “And where do you see yourself five years from now?”
Another stereotypical interview question for which I had an answer tattooed onto the inside of my brain. How a tattoo artist would reach that, I don’t know. But when I came up with said answer, I was applying for my dream jobs, not dead-end ones. So I said the thing that came most naturally to me in the moment: a lie.
“I just hope to be working in a job that will allow me to interact with people and stay close to my family here in the community where I grew up.” It was the perfect answer for people with no goals, no dreams, and no aspirations. Are dreams and aspirations the same thing? I guess not, because technically no one goes to sleep and has aspirations. Or says, ‘Hey, Jim, I had the weirdest aspiration last night.’ Side note: I hate interacting with people, and I hate the community I grew up in.
The interviewer (whatever her name was) ate that answer right up. She even looked like she wanted seconds, so I gave her my best give-me-the-job smile, which she returned times ten. “Okay,” she said. “I think that’s all I needed to ask. Do you have any questions?”
The only questions I had were all related to money, and I thought that would be tactless, so I just said that I didn’t think so and smiled again.
“Then I think that’s it. We’ll give you a call later in the week to let you know when orientation will be.” She didn’t sound unsure about whether or not I would be hired. She didn’t say they would consider me. She didn’t say she would give me a call “whether or not I had been selected.”
And landing that job was the highlight of my year, unfortunately.

10 thoughts on “I Am Not a Robot

  1. gainford says:

    I like it. I’m not sure where it’s going or what’s going on. It’s a strange opening to a book with nothing much happening but the voice it excellent and the writing flows. It was an easy read full of smart witticisms and I would have easily kept reading for another half hour if there was more.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I like this a lot. The conflict inherent in the MC being desperate for the job, while knowing it is way beneath his capabilities and qualifications, works well. I worry that it goes on a bit and I would probably look to shorten it a bit because presumably the interview is a pretty minor part of the story. I think your first paragraph is too long-winded and could be cut right down, or even cut out. It might be more interesting if you just dived straight into it, and then used his asides to give the information as you do later. I would open with ‘My overly-made up, poofy-haired interviewer ….’

    You write well, and like Gainford, I like the voice and the character that comes through in the asides, and I think it’s a set-up lots of people will relate to. Loads of potential. Good luck with it.

    • David De Alejandro says:

      Thank you for your feedback. I know what you mean about this scene feeling minor, and that’s sort of how I feel about the first four chapters, so I’ll probably look into shortening it.

  3. JRyan says:

    Great voice, and very well written. Already nailed two of the hardest things! I don’t mind intros that meander a little bit, as long as the voice is strong. So I’m hooked. Just one thing I thought I would note because it struck me as interesting: I assumed the protagonist was female, while Jennifer seems to assume it is a male. I wonder if one or the other of us missed a cue, or if you need to introduce one earlier. Great job!

    • David De Alejandro says:

      The character is a male, and I thought about throwing in his name somewhere, but I couldn’t find a place to do that without it feeling cheesy. Hopefully I can think of something. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Sofie says:

    I like it, even though the character seems a bit ‘distant’. I’m not saying he doesn’t have any emotions, because it is clear that he/she has them (you convey the emotions of desperately looking for a job really well). What I mean is that it’s almost as if this narrator is telling the story from a distance; or without being attached too much. More like an observer. But it didn’t bother me and the writing kept me intrigued.

  5. Gentle Reader says:

    Nice voice, but I’ll pick a few nits.

    Opening sentence:

    “It was as if the world had run out of quirky, charming, and memorable names for grocery stores.”

    I’d trim it to:

    “It was as if the world had run out of quirky names for grocery stores.”

    A “robotic” character would tend to use more terse descriptions of things. Then again, if you’re trying to show he’s not robotic, just the opposite would be true. Even if your character is verbose, however, you still want to edit and tighten the writing a bit. I’d go through and trim the fat. For example:

    “During my That Sounds Delicious! job interview, it couldn’t have been clearer that I was over-qualified for the cashiering position for which I was being considered.”

    I’d trim it to:

    “During my That Sounds Delicious! job interview, it couldn’t have been clearer that I was over-qualified for the cashiering position.”

    The “for which I was being considered” isn’t needed and detracts from the writing. So, my advice would be to go through the writing and look for places that can be tightened.

    Good luck, and continue writing!

  6. Noelia says:

    It was very long because a lot of parts had side comments that seemed like you were saying instead of the protagonist. This was because they were questioning the overall story which is not something a protagonist does making it seem distant. But in this case it’s not a big deal because it’s part of the protagonist voice since they are narrating the story. I would go over and trim it because some parts are excessive.

    I would continue reading to find out why he left his dream job and moved into a place he doesn’t like. A job interview is great for introducing the character but as a reader I expect some new, bigger problem to reveal itself in the next chapter (something that gets the story moving). The way I see it, you can either continue with the mystery of why he moved, or answer the question of why he moved and go on to something else.
    If you add a chapter of his daily life then it will get boring but if you add a couple of paragraphs of his daily life and then bring something new to the table or emphasize something already known it will keep the story moving. What I mean by this is that you should focus on the timing of events in the story.

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