“Late.” Mary Salt remarked. She crossed her arms and stared, letting her eyes rove over me, “and you look like hell. This is not the way to make a good impression on your new boss.” Each word she spoke emerged in a bubble and then hung, in slimy drips, on the rungs of her metal headdress. She wobbled forward on the tottering shoes and just before what looked like an imminent fall she lurched into a chair. Her slender body landed with enough force to roll the chair into the side of the table, so that it shuddered. Once settled, Mary slung out a slim arm, extending her hand for me to shake. Her fingers were dry as winter twigs.

“In case you’re wondering,” Mary patted the bird cage around her head, “my dentist makes me wear this contraption.” Mary sucked on the mouth bit, like a lizard panting between succulent mastications. She was awful to look at and I easily pictured myself running away. Instead, I handed over my resume. The typed words were in a huge font listing education, summer jobs, likes, dislikes and hobbies.

Mary took the resume in her hands, and as she read it she massaged the page with desiccated fingertips. And then she barked, spitting, “Is this a joke?”

I was stunned by her response. Nausea flooded my senses. In spite of desperately wanting to run all the way home, equally I had not considered rejection. After all, I had no contingency plan. “Please,” I begged, “you don’t understand, I really need this job. My whole life depends on…” I could not control my voice from cracking.

“Your name is Santa? For real? And what’s with the phony Brit accent? Is that for my benefit?” Mary’s narrow frame began to shake and she started to guffaw, hee- hawing like a donkey.

I took a deep breath, steadying myself for the audition of a lifetime, “my full name is Santa Maria Astral Smith-Hawthorne.” Heart rattling, I felt I was clawing my way back from some invisible brink. “I’m American, born on Long Island, but I was raised by a very English aunt and uncle. It’s complicated.”

“Whatever!” Mary crushed my resume into a ball and lobbed it over her shoulder. “Follow me.” She commanded and darted from the room.

Down a corridor and through a constant spray of drool Mary chattered, moving surprisingly fast on her towering shoes and I had to hasten my gait to keep up. “Office supplies in there.” Mary flicked a hand toward an open door we sped by. “Over here is the copy room. You know how to use a copy machine?”

“Of course!” I said. In truth I did not, but now was not the time to divulge trifles.

“Pay is six hundred dollars a week, not including taxes, and I’ll give you vouchers for the cafeteria on the fifth floor.” Mary outlined the duties of my job as her assistant and she explained how I would very likely become frustrated because my responsibilities would be rote while her own job, a developer of children’s television programming, was scintillating. Spinning her wedding band around her finger, Mary said, “I’m a lucky lady, great husband, great kid, great job…” Mary droned on and I spaced out, that is until I heard her say, “…in about six months you can look forward to developing projects of your own.…’ Mary paused and winked at me, saliva-spume twinkling.

Six months, I laughed to myself, while conveying nothing of my thoughts, in six months I’ll be long gone. Six months from now I hope to be irretrievably lost somewhere down the path of adventure.

Having fully circumnavigated the eleventh floor Mary and I were now standing in the foyer. “Consider yourself hired. I expect you here at ten sharp tomorrow morning. Get your parking ticket validated by the receptionist.”

The reception area was an oval in shades of beige, with a desk dead center. The man at the desk was talking on the telephone so I leaned against a wall and waited. The man was big and soft, young yet balding. The man was speaking softly, his torso was curled forward and hunched. But his words were just loud enough that I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. “I love you too,” he was murmuring, “I love you more,” he cajoled and then delicately hung up the phone.

“Sorry to bother you Mr. uh… Cannelloni?” as I approached I quickly glanced at the name plaque conveniently placed at the lip of the table ‘Gianfranco Canneleoni’.

“Pain in the ass!” The man shouted, and as he did so he picked up the telephone receiver and slammed it hard several times into the cradle. “It’s Canne-LEO-ni. My mother calls me Gianni. You can call me John.” He smiled at me and the furrows on his brow relaxed. As he spoke he took my parking ticket and thumped it with a rubber stamp. “That was my girlfriend I was talking to. We’re getting married soon and she’s all freaked out. Pain in the ass!”