I kind of want to start this story with, “So here I am, surrounded by fire.” It sounds tough, right? You don’t get to be surrounded by fire if you’re just some office drone. You’ve got to be doing exciting stuff — if you want to be telling the story afterwards, anyway. And here I am, so obviously exciting stuff was the order of the day. But there’s a lot that happens before that that’s important, and a fair bit afterward, too. So I think I’ve just got to get to it in order.
I’m Dan Everton. Three months before this story starts, I would have called myself a lone wolf type: alone, aloof, uncaring. Other people might have chosen words like “dull,” “unmotivated” and “uninteresting,” but that’s just sour grapes. Everyone’s always jealous of Fonzie, right?
That’s what I would have said three months ago, anyway. These days, I’m a little more introspective, and a little more willing to admit that a guy who works the security night shift in a fossil museum doesn’t actually have all that much going for him. I mean, I could have. I could have been writing plays in my down time, or making art, or coding up the next killer app. But I wasn’t. I, personally, was just sitting around, letting life pass me by.
Also, I had a chance to catch up on Happy Days recently, and you know what? Turns out no one was jealous of Fonzie. Everyone always loved him, and no one ever seemed to mind how much cooler he was than them. I don’t know where I got that idea. Just one more thing I was wrong about, I suppose.
Anyway, out of the blue I suddenly got hit with powers, honest-to-goodness superpowers. They showed up one at a time, without warning, and went away just as abruptly. And as with any good superhero, every power came with a ready-made nemesis. When I had super-strength and invulnerability, I went toe-to-toe with a mutated ape-man who was out for my blood. When I had super-smarts, I fought…well, another ape-man, actually, but that one was brain-to-brawn, and I made it work out in my favor.
That specific pattern broke when I got the ability to influence my own magnetic field. With that one, instead of getting matched against a big hairy guy, I got a lady who could call down lightning and direct storms, which is frankly kind of skewed in her favor. I won in the end, but it cost me a couple of pints of blood and maybe a square foot or so of skin. And also my job, since the whole thing went down at the museum and my boss was less than happy about that.
That all ended a couple of months ago, though. I got two months’ severance pay and I used that time wisely: sitting on the couch, sleeping late and luxuriating in my freedom. Honestly, it was a pretty good time to be me. I was rid of my obnoxious boss, I’d gotten the cast off of my foot, and although the superpowers had faded, each one of them had left me just a touch of their abilities. I’m not impossibly strong anymore, but I can bench just shy of 400 pounds, and do reps of almost 300. My cognition is significantly improved from what it had been. And I can still make metal stick to me, if I concentrate hard and it doesn’t weigh much. Not all that useful a skill, but a pretty great party trick.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, so let’s skip ahead to about two weeks back. Here’s my situation: I’m suddenly noticing that the numbers in my bank account are dwindling to uncomfortably low levels. I may be living in my parents’ spare house, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be unpleasant questions if the rent checks are late, and so the job hunt begins.
You know what doesn’t look good on a resume? Superheroism. I legitimately saved the city — basically saved it, anyway; it was taking a lot of water damage, so I saved a bunch of taxpayer dollars for infrastructure repair bills, if nothing else — but there’s no box to check for that on an application form. I have an idea of taking this opportunity to actually start a career path, instead of just getting into another dead-end job, but evidently people want actual related skills, background and experience, not long-forgotten schooling and a job that won’t provide a reference.
Also, it turns out that I don’t know what I want to do, which I hadn’t even realized. I’m in the middle of an interview for an administrative assistant job at a law firm when I spot this, which is not a great time for deep personal revelations. I’ve come in for the interview with this vague idea that I can start there, learn how things work and get a feel for the flow, and then work my up to paralegal or something. Eventually I’ll be a partner and have shelves of leatherbound books in my office, which I’ll sit in front of and look seriously over my glasses at clients while I bill them a thousand dollars an hour.
The dream has a couple of holes in it, I admit, but I figure I have time to work them out in the intervening years. But when the interviewer asks me, “So why do you want to work here?”, I’m caught totally flat-footed. I’d prepped an answer, of course, about the prestigious nature of this firm and the excellent opportunities it would provide me while I’m answering phones and arranging schedules, but when I open my mouth to respond, I abruptly realize that I really have no clue. I’m here because it seems like a good idea right now, and I have no idea where it’s going or even where I want to end up.
I manage to get through my canned answer, but I can tell by the interviewer’s face that too much of my confusion has come through. The whole bus ride home, I’m spinning my gears trying to come up with a five-year plan, or even a one-year plan, but I’m getting nothing.
When I get home, I spread out all of the jobs I’ve applied for and all of the night school classes I’ve been looking at on the table and look for a pattern — and there isn’t one. Every one of them, I’ve just marked down on a whim. And maybe they’ll turn out well, but maybe they won’t. And once I start down any one of these paths, I’m locking myself into it. I’m already 30. Whatever I pick now is what I’m doing, and if I pick wrong, it’s what I’m going to hate doing. For the next three and a half decades.
So I panic and retreat into what’s comfortable: low-level, low-commitment grunt jobs. I go out the next day and I apply at every sandwich shop, bowling alley and burger joint that’s within walking distance of my house. And after a few days, I’ve got a call back from one of the fast food places.
I may not know where I’m going in life, but now I know where I’m going in the mornings, at least. And although I’m not looking forward to this job at all, that’s actually a weird source of comfort. I’m used to having a job I hate. I know how to deal with that. My panic subsides with this entry into a familiar pattern.
So here it is, orientation day at Børger. And here I am, surrounded by fryers.
I should’ve gone with the fire thing after all. It just sounds so much cooler.