As if going on an interview wasn’t degrading enough, Martin Anderson had to contend with the unwanted task of “arriving.” Itself at least seventy percent of the ordeal when it came to interviews and the surfeits of stress and anxiety that could build up before them. All this pressure put on it—especially when one’s bank account was ever-dwindling. Getting down to the last precious few dollars. Or, in Martin’s case, euros. He had arrived in Paris with no plan, other than to “wing it.” That hadn’t been working out so well for the past month, though he did enjoy his days of languishing in various cafés and parks where he could “process.” There were many things that needed to be “reflected upon,” after all. For a start, the fact that he was thirty-six years old and starting over for the first time in his life. Considering his status as a millennial, that was rather unheard of. Because at this point, most millennials were accustomed to dying and reanimating in different “careers” (or, more accurately, “gigs”) as consistently as the moon cycles.
But, for whatever reason, Martin had managed to avoid the various economic shocks the world kept throwing millennials’ way thanks to working at a seemingly recession-proof construction office in a small town in Louisiana—specifically Breaux Bridge (which might as well be called Bro Bridge for all the intellect one was liable to find there). As the administrative assistant, he was a catch-all for every task that the owner of the company didn’t want to take on himself, which meant Martin had remained useful for the past decade. Although living in Breaux Bridge had its charms, Martin could feel himself growing increasingly dead inside from the boredom, the lack of stimulation. Both mental and physical. For there was nary a girl in town worthy of what he viewed as his Gaston LeGume-level good looks. And, possibly due to being the descendant of French-Canadians (therefore making him another Cajun in Breaux Bridge), he felt some kind of pull toward French territory. Though certainly not Canada. It got way too cold there for his taste. Whatever the arcane reason for Martin’s abrupt decision to quit his job and use his savings to flee to Paris, it was out of his hands. As though some invisible force was guiding him to do it, and he was hopeless to fight it no matter what.
Martin never much subscribed to all the “voodoo mumbo jumbo” that went on in Louisiana, with the Creoles profiting when they could from white-bread interest in the practice. But to Martin, that’s all it was: a tourist draw. Especially after The Skeleton Key came out in ’05. Hoodoo, voodoo, whatever it was, Martin didn’t want any part of it, and he hated when people from other cities asked him about it. As though it was a “go-to” topic that could ignite a conversation with any Louisianian. Why not just bring up Britney Spears at that rate? The point was, Martin went out of his way to think of the voodoo “religion” as little as possible. Perhaps because some part of him was inherently afraid of ending up like Kate Hudson’s character in The Skeleton Key—if you didn’t believe in things, they couldn’t hurt you. But he would turn out to be so wrong on that front. In the meantime, before the Louisiana “curse” came to visit him in Paris, he did his best to enjoy himself. For, like most Americans, he hadn’t taken a proper vacation, well, ever. A middling ten days once a year that usually required more trouble than it was worth in order to get back to work “on time.” Thus, his meandering month in Paris with no plan was his first real taste of what most people in other countries experienced all the time: a true vacation. With no requirement to check emails or answer to anyone other than himself. If he wasn’t starting to get so worried about money, he might have experienced something tantamount to pure bliss. Instead, he started to spend most of his time trolling the scant job opportunities for Americans with little working knowledge of French. If he didn’t find someone foolish enough to sponsor his work visa soon, it would be back to Breaux Bridge in no time. And that was truly the last thing he wanted—or so he thought…
After firebombing at least fifty places with his resume (there weren’t really more jobs showcased than that for his limited skill set without speaking French on his side), Martin was relieved to find a lone reply in his inbox one day asking him to come in for an interview. The catch? The office was located in Poissy, several train stops outside of Paris. He would need to leave with plenty of time to spare. And then, if he actually got the job, he might need to consider moving to Poissy to avoid any commuting issues that so often arise as a result of that favorite French pastime: going on strike. But he couldn’t think about such intricacies now—the first step was just to go on the interview and see how it played out.
Making certain to arrive at Gare St. Lazare thirty minutes before the train was scheduled to leave, Martin couldn’t have accounted for the fact that his ticket wouldn’t scan in a timely fashion, and he would end up watching the train leave just as he got to the door. This meant he would have to wait another thirty minutes for a fresh train to come and spirit him away. He decided to go to the Burger King and wait, as it seemed like the establishment that would be least likely to notice any errant “customers” not actually buying anything. Although it might have been “wrong” to take up a table, Martin was so irritated that he had no room in his mind for something like “consideration of others.” As if anyone else in the public space ever did the same. So he took his opportunity to sit at the only unoccupied table. As it transpired, however, there might have been a very good reason it was vacant. And that was because of the woman he had to sit next to in order to use the table. Yes, she was Black, and, no, he didn’t want to “make a thing” about that later, when the damage had been done. But he was convinced no white woman could have inflicted what she did upon him. It was racist against both races, when he thought about it. But anyway, there he was, trying to self-soothe as he stressed about being late to an interview with the one employer (apart from nanny agencies and English-teaching operations) in the greater Paris area that didn’t seem to mind he didn’t speak a viable lick of French. He had to get there. It was imperative.
While these anxieties swirled around in his head, the spiral was interrupted by the sound of a burp so loud and grotesque, the only thing it might be comparable to was the “wet” roar of a lion. At first, Martin tried to ignore it. But the third or fourth time that it happened, he finally looked over to see the woman, about his own age, staring directly at him as she did it. Her expression was one that could best be described as the embodiment of sadism. She was so clearly getting off on emitting these loud, smelly burps crafted solely to horrify Martin. To get him to leave from his seat. Maybe she had done it to every person who had sat there before him and that’s why the table was empty in the first place, and yet, something about this attack felt tailored. Maybe she was funneling all her hatred for the white male oppressor straight into him. And, although a part of him wanted to stay so as to take a stand against being intimidated out of a place that he had every right to be as much as her, he was also completely disgusted and just wanted to get the hell away from her so that she might stop adding to his already fraught vibe.
As he got up and walked out, he could have sworn he heard her chant something in his general direction in some foreign tongue that definitely wasn’t French. But he would never know for sure. All he did know was that the moment he left her side, the same burps she had been emitting were now coming out of him at intervals of every three minutes. It would have been one thing if they “sprung forth” every thirty—that was long enough to get through an interview. But three minutes was no time at all. How would he be able to convince anyone of his “aptitude” if he kept spewing burps during whatever inane questions were asked of him and his “capabilities”? It was a bona fide nightmare. The only positive was that everyone on the train cleared the way for him to take a seat. Nobody wanted to be near Martin in that state—just as, apparently, nobody wanted to be near the burping woman at the Burger King. He should have interpreted that empty table as an omen rather than a blessing. Seats in public places are always empty for a reason. And now, he was the “Burper King.” Would it ever stop, or was this to be a permanent state? Perhaps the only thing to do was to return to Louisiana and find his answer from a voodoo expert, someone he would have steered clear of at all costs up until this development. But he would have to do it after he finished grossing out a prospective employer, consequently forcing him to wrap up his all-too-brief sojourn.