"But this road doesn't go anywhere," I told him.
"That doesn't matter."
"What does?" I asked, after a little while.
"Just that we're on it, dude," he said.
So writes Bret Easton Ellis in Less Than Zero, and so writes Noah Cicero – without ever writing those exact words – in his new novel Go to work and do your job. Care for your children. Pay your bills. Obey the law. Buy products from Lazy Fascist Press. Philosophical but not condescending (nor pretentiously, needlessly mystifying), Cicero deals with what is most definitely, most grimly 'reality': with people's choices, or lack of choices, and the the true modern deficit – the deficit of empathy.
I was nervous. I was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a button-down, long-sleeved dress shirt with a tie. The tie looked great. I looked great. Everything seemed wonderful. I was a man interviewing to get a job working for the government, but I was nervous.
I walked up to the entrance and hit a buzzer. A man replied, “NEOTAP.”
"My name is Michael Scipio,” I said. “I’m here for an interview with Rachel Heidelberg.”
The door clicked and I entered, only to find myself facing another door.
Now there was a door behind me and a door in front of me. A man stood in this space between the two doors. I looked at the man. He looked polite, slightly overweight, but still constructive and useful to society. He looked like he had never committed a crime, came from a good family, a family where no one went to jail, where people were educated and got jobs that required skill and hard work. He had lived a normal life, been properly educated. He was responsible. A responsible man doing a responsible job. I said to this man, “Can I enter?”
The man looked at me and said, “You cannot ask to go beyond that door.”
“How do I get beyond that door if I cannot ask?”
“The door will open or it will not open, then you will go through it or you will not go through it. The door behind you is now locked. You can’t go through the next door unless it opens.”
“So I cannot ask to go through the next door.”
“Then how do I get to my interview?”
“I am not allowed to answer any of your questions because you are not allowed to ask any questions.”
The door clicked and I passed through it.
I entered another, bigger room.
There were two chairs and three doors here. A hallway led somewhere, but I did not know where the hallway led.
I walked up to one of the doors. It led to a room that was all windows. I told the people inside I was there for an interview.
A man came to the door. He looked to be in his mid-twenties. He didn’t smile or frown. He didn’t ask me who I was. He simply said, “Please wait. Take a seat.”
So I sat down in one of the two chairs.
No one came into the big room. I was alone. There was no music, almost no sound at all.
Ten minutes must have passed before I heard a woman’s clatter along the hallway, approaching me. She was a tall woman, mid-thirties, with long red hair.
She smiled at me. The smile was false. She was smiling because she considered it the thing to do when meeting someone. I smiled back. My smile was false. I was just trying to get a job.
She introduced herself as Rachel Heidelberg, and then gestured for me to follow her. We walked down the hallway to a small office.
She sat at a small roundtable beside a bald man who must have been close to her in age.
The man with the bald head introduced himself as Bruce Veits. He told me to sit down at the table with them.
They did not explain why Bruce was there or who he was. He was just there, staring at me.
I stared at them, Rachel and Bruce, waiting for the interview to begin. Both of them wore wedding rings.
“Tell me something about yourself,” Rachel said.
They wanted me to tell them normal things, things that made me sound like a good, reliable employee. I had to make things up. I was applying to work in a prison/treatment center. The men and women in there were criminals. It occurred to me sitting there that I had partaken in many criminal acts.
I felt compelled to tell them about the terrible things I had done, but I knew that was a bad idea. I started to feel like trying to get to a job in corrections was a bad idea, but I needed a decent job, needed health care, needed to start rebuilding my life.
I responded, “I enjoy hiking in the forest. I’ve been to the Colorado Rockies National Park three times. I have hiked up several of the mountains in the park and found it a great challenge to get up those mountains. I love to do community service, like volunteer work. I’ve helped with community gardens and the Christmas festival downtown. I enjoy spending time with my family. Without my family, you know, life wouldn’t be worth living. My family is very supportive of me and I am very supportive of them.”
Later in the interview, Rachel asked me, “What do you think causes crime?”
I sat there, recalling what I had learned in sociology class. I said, “Crime is caused by a person who grows up in a situation where the value of obeying the law is not fostered. Commonly these are low income people who the law did not favor. The poor whites, blacks and Hispanics grow up thinking that the law is not for them because the law did not help them get what they wanted out of life, so they don’t value the law because they perceive the law does not work for them. But there might be other reasons. They might be chemically imbalanced. And also there are economic reasons. Since America has lost its manufacturing base and the manufacturing jobs that remain do not pay well, the people of the lower class have fewer opportunities for decent-paying jobs, and since most of the jobs available to them hardly pay well enough to support their families, they do not receive any positive reinforcement from their employment. And some of them resort to crime.”
“No, crime is a choice. Do you not believe that crime is a choice?” Rachel said. She sounded offended by my answer.
It occurred to me that maybe I had never thought seriously about crime.
I wanted the job, so I replied, “Yes, crime is a choice.”
Rachel seemed pleased to hear this. She said, “Yes, crime is a choice. These criminals commit crimes because they choose to. We have to redirect their choices. Their choices are bad. Their choices and thoughts are incorrect. Society cannot tolerate their choices. They choose to commit crimes because they want to commit crimes. We must repress their criminal motivations. We must take their criminal thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. Thoughts that lead to good things. Do you understand?”
I didn’t understand a thing she said, but I nodded and told her I did.
“These are career criminals. They live to manipulate. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about me. If they cared about people, they wouldn’t have stolen from other people. They wouldn’t have done drugs or neglected their child support. They will try to manipulate you in every way possible. They will try to get things from you. They will try to win you over so they can manipulate you. They have spent their lives complaining and crying like little babies. They are crybabies. They aren’t men or women. They are children. This is what they have chosen. They choose to be children. We have to make them into adults. Do you understand what a career criminal is, Mike?”
“A person who manipulates and steals.”
“Yes, and America needs good citizens.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“Good, then you agree with us.”
I didn’t know what I was agreeing with. According to her, people commit crimes because they want to commit crimes. They don’t steal because they want an X-Box and can’t afford it. They steal because they want to steal. They don’t do drugs because they want to escape reality or repress something, but because they have such little regard for other people that it’s criminal.
The interview was over.
I hoped I got the job.
I needed money.
I needed health care.