Snub Part 6
By Robert Labelle
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
Every once in a while an event comes along that demands full attention. Life-changing, life threatening, earth shaking, earth shattering, here may be the key to what’s been keeping us afloat, or submerged; it’s what has made us into winners, losers, or sometimes winners, sometimes losers. In other words it’s the origins of that squishy, organic mechanism that makes us tick. It could come early on and be as dramatic as the sudden death of a family member– a parent, for example –and in its aftermath the wonder at the vacated easy chair, the shuffling of places at the dinner table, an older brother coming back home and for the first time offering a cigarette. Or it could be a more day-to-day kind of childhood trauma, such as a best friend, a trusted friend– as only an eight-year-old can trust– who jumps off the opposite end of a seesaw. It could be love, or the attempts at love: smouldering, quaking, with sweaty palms, watching someone in a crowded room while standing safe against a wall. Or it could be a simple conversation. Not even. Just a one-way exchange, a comment. A message with no accompanying actions, no deaths, no pitfalls. But one that sticks forever. A rusty fishhook stuck on a lip, always jangling, stinging, reminding.
“T’es un bouche-trou.” This was the barb that caught me. And it came neither from a close family member nor a would-be lover, but from Jocelyne Leclerc, one of the long parade of bosses from my scarred workaday life. She had just handed off to me a fax from a client (back before e-mails took over). It was a copy of the MacGillivray, Clark, White Funeral Home advertisement for the NDG Examiner I’d sent off earlier in the day. It had been done, so I’d thought, entirely to their specifications, but was missing, according to the angry scrawl, the correct font for the logo’s signature line, ‘Rest Assured.’
“Est-ce que tu veut être un bouche-trou pour la reste de ta vie?” she continued, wanting to make sure I’d understood what she was saying. And at first I didn’t. I was mesmerized by her eyes– big and framed in extensive maquillage and in possession of a consciousness of their own. They refused to blink, as if they intended to prevent– even for one microsecond– any interruption in the rays of truth they were firing at me. But my own shields had already gone up, a haze of denial, as I obsequiously nodded and took the sheet from her hand. My own little missiles shot out in unspoken thoughts: “Aren’t you overdoing it, you hot little account exec, current girlfriend of the president?” Our workplace was an ad agency made up of about a dozen people, half of whom were freelancers. Demeaning little romantic liaisons appeared overnight like mushrooms and just as quickly disappeared or were quashed by the very closeness of our situation. I comforted myself in the thought that I had never formed such ties. Even if you were at the top of the pile, I said to myself, it wasn’t a very big pile, and you weren’t, after all, very high up. Still, Mlle Leclerc’s poison-tipped dart had struck home. She’d hit the teeny, tiny bull’s-eye at the centre of my being. It stuck. The damage registered, but only just. And now, I have apparently reached that time in life when the effects of events such as these, like shrapnel, resurface, prompting those preliminary sum totals of accomplishments and expectations weighed against expected years left. Joselyne Leclerc’s words suddenly emblazon themselves like Abu Ben Adam’s name in the Book of Gold. A kind of signature line for my ultimate CV: “Bouche-Trou.” Hole stuffer.
It’s true. All my jobs have been gotten through friends, or friends of friends, or acquaintances of acquaintances, mainly as a replacement to burnouts, maternity leaves or just unexplained absences. I am never hired anywhere solely upon my own merit, only as a sort of stopgap measure. The phone rings and an unfamiliar voice will call out to me, a long stream of twine coming out of the receiver, wrapping itself around my ankle: “Your former roommate told me you might be interested in…” And, inevitably, I am drawn in. We all know why, so I won’t get into that: the fears of those of us who must pay rent, that and our gnawing addiction to food. And then there’s always the hope that this job will be “good experience,” will lead to something. Another shot in the dark, another space probe launched toward a distant planet. Jupiter, perhaps: very spread out, but made up of a mixture of frozen gases, enormous but unable to bear any weight, a vast, toxic Slush Puppy.
But all around me, others stand tall. Wherever I’ve worked, all my ‘colleagues’ seem intrinsically better suited to playing the role of superior, while I myself never get to be anybody’s boss. Student apprentices brought in for two weeks during the summer have me running for coffee. Young, disinterested secretaries have me under their desks, choking on dust bunnies (I have a severe dust allergy) to rearrange their power bars. Even during my longest-known working stint– seven years –I was never moved from a ‘temporary’ workstation which doubled as an overflow space for the communal photocopier, while I saw others enter and move directly on into private spaces with views, bookshelves, large potted plants and doors that closed. I’m sure it’ll be the same story at the end of my life. I’ll be one of those forgotten people in hospital hallways, passed on by while patients with more ‘pull’ get seen to first, or are at least granted the dignity of dying behind a screen.
Snub Part 6