Even Mr. Carlyle’s face looked like the face of a wealthy man. It would seem that a face shouldn’t be able to reflect the wealth of its owner, like all faces should be made of pretty similar stuff across the board. But something about his face made it look like it was made of a more expensive material than mine. Age had wrinkled it a little, but it was still vibrant. Maybe that was because the innovative business man was always thinking, always moving, always trying. Plus, he was tanned. Not a cheap tan, like one belonging to someone who just got back from a whirlwind vacation they really couldn’t afford, but a weathered, ivy-league kind of tan belonging to a man who loves to sail and has spent many happy summers on a beautifully restored sailboat. It was a natural tan, slowly accumulated over years of slipping across shimmering seas to new horizons, both metaphorical and literal.
And now he looked at me, a slight smile fluttering at the corners of his mouth. His hands were folded across a shirt that fit him well and crisply, unlike mine that screamed the word “generic” and clung to me awkwardly like a lonely person I’d just met.
“You want a drink?” Mr. Carlyle asked.
Stunned, I told him that I was on the clock, instantly feeling stupid that I had since he was my boss.
“I appreciate that,” he said. “But I think we’ll make an allowance this time.”
He rose to his feet and walked over to a small decanter that sat on a side table. He walked like he owned the place which, in fact, he did.
I admired his office while his back was to me, boyishly drinking in the model tall ships on the shelves that decorated his walls, the giant captain’s wheel that was mounted to the front of his hardwood desk, and the paintings of mariners in terrible plights that silently screamed to me from inside spiraling colors of sea-foam. Pictures of his family, leather chairs with deep buttons sitting in the corner, an old map, a…
“Here we are,” Mr. Carlyle said, handing me a short glass of something amber colored.
“Thank you,” I said awkwardly. Suddenly I wished I knew how to drink this properly. I felt clueless, like there was some protocol that I didn’t know to follow, some unspoken rule that people of class lived by. Mr. Carlyle held his glass effortlessly. I tried to, but I just felt like a little boy trying on his dad’s ties.
“I guess you’re wondering why you’re here.”
I nodded, and sipped my drink a little. It was good. Very good.
“I will cut to the chase because I know you are a busy man.” Mr. Carlyle leaned forward a little in his chair. “When I see you I feel like I am looking in a mirror.”
My mind couldn’t comprehend these words, so I just blinked and continued to stare. I tried to take another sip but my lips couldn’t find the glass.
“Not now, of course,” he continued. “I’m getting older and you’re still young. What I mean is, I sense your ambition. You may clean the floors, but what I see is someone who makes sure there is not a speck left behind them. Those floors are polished, beautiful.”
“They’re just floors,” I mumbled, trying to sound humble.
“But that’s just it! They are just floors, but they stand for something more. They are a resume to me. They say, ‘I am a young man who takes his job seriously, works hard, and takes pride in what I do.’ I hire all these young bucks right out of the big name schools, and you know what their work tells me?”
I shook my head.
“Their work says, ‘Hi, I’m one of a graduating class of world-class snots. I have been coddled, taken care, and privileged to death since I was born and gently placed in a golden cradle.’ That might be an exaggeration, but you get my point.”
I wasn’t sure if I did. What I did manage to do was spill on my pants.
“Take this.” Mr. Carlyle pulled a monogrammed handkerchief out of his pocket and tossed it to me.
I took it and dabbed gingerly at my pant leg. At that point I didn’t know what to do with it so I hung onto it with my fingertips and tried to make it seem like I still needed it.
“I just get so tired of working with these elite kids. I want someone who has some blue-collar spirit and knows the value of a buck.”
The spot still on my leg felt like a pinpoint of cold. I looked at it and it silently reminded me of everything that was wrong with me.
“That’s why I wanted to talk to you,” Mr. Carlyle said. “What do you make an hour now? Ten, eleven bucks?”
I nodded and shrugged. He was close enough.
“How about starting at sixty-five thousand a year? I’ll give you an office next to mine and begin showing you the ropes. You’d be my protégé, so to speak.”
“Sixty… five… thousand? Me?” I asked. My head began to swim with the implications of this. I could own a house, buy a car, pay off what I owed for last year’s Christmas presents… An office?
“Just to start. I’d give you some stock options too, and an allowance for a car and some clothes. Let’s face it, you look as good as you can, but you need to kick it up a notch to swim in the circles that you will be in.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Vomiting was a very real possibility.
“Just shake my hand,” Mr. Carlyle said. “I’ll consider you hired and post a notice that we need a new maintenance man.”
His browned hand extended toward me. As I rose and reached out towards it I could see his face: crooked smile, small grey eyes, thin-rimmed glasses, the knot of his tie. He…
“Hey! How much longer ‘til this opens up again, buddy?”
I turned away from the mirror in the men’s bathroom, my mop dangling in my hands. The voice belonged to a young man who looked at me intently over the wet-floor sign that I had used to prop open the door. He was just a handful of years younger than I.
“Mr. Carlyle wants me up in his office in five minutes. You can finish up after I use it,” he continued as he shouldered his way in. “Hey,” he added with a grin, suddenly pointing somewhere at the floor. “Missed a spot.”
He was one of those who had graduated from a class of world-class snots. He had been coddled, taken care of, and privileged to death since the day he was born and gently placed in a golden cradle.