It was three weeks since I recovered from being stoned out of mind at the Boston Freedom Rally. The fall semester at Umass Boston was already underway and in full swing and I was back where I belonged after paying off all of what I owed. Not to mention I got employed as a mail clerk for Harvard University through an employment agency. Everything seemed to slowly fall into place as I settled into better days. It was an interesting process on how I got the job and what’s even more interesting is finding a person who helped me refocus my perspectives.
SunSummont Inc, an employment agency that had a business that covered all over the country with branches in all major metropolitan cities emailed me with a job offering to interview for various job assignments at Harvard University.
Dear Sharmarke Aden, We’ve reviewed your resume and are interested in having you become a part of our team for various positions that can use your polished skills in communication and well-rounded team oriented mindset. Are you available to meet for an interview this Thursday at 11:30AM? I’d like to discuss more about which position will match your skill set. Reply to this email so I can confirm our appointment. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Best regards, Rhonda Cumberland Department Hiring Manager at SunSummont Inc
It’s always a coin toss whether an employer would reach out after I submitted countless applications. I was fortunate this time around to have it land right on head. I wanted to cover all bases before I would be asked for information that I didn’t have readily available, so I decided to ask for help. I asked Isiah to be a reference of mine on the application. He would provide a detailed description on why I would be a good candidate for hire. If questions were to arise on how he didn’t sound like a manager, he would simply state that he was a colleague of mine. In a sense we were because I would co-write short skits that he would upload to his Instagram and Facebook page.
“I’ma need you to do me this favor.”
“What’s good?” he asked.
“Can I use you as a reference to complete a job application? I’ma need you as one because I don’t think my other managers are gonna have anythin’ positive to say”.
It was long shot but I needed it. My last sales job at Worldwind Marketing ended in termination. I was glad I left that controlled nightmare. It felt strenuous being a spectator in a barrage of office politics and the favoritism which put me at a disadvantage for recommendations for future employment because even though I was a decent worker compared to the rest, I would barely hit the sales quota by the end of each month.
Since this favor did not involve money that Isiah had to relinquish, I had an inclination he would agree.
“Aight, I’ll be a ride or lie.”
“I’ll can even put on a white man voice like the way Dave Chappelle does it.”
“Well hello their sir, yes Sharmarke is an astute young gentleman and an exceptional hard worker that demonstrates the commitment to finish an assignment through.”
I was amused by his nasally tone and steady pace in speech.
“They sometimes contact the references beforehand, sometimes afterwards so be ready if they do call.”
“I gotchu, how you feelin’ after that edible you had, shit must have had you tweekin’ for hours?”
“Shit hell yeah, I’m never doin’ that again.”
“I don’t want anything to jeopardize my chances of gettin’ this job if there is a drug test.”
“Man, that ain’t nuthin’, you’ll be straight you don’t even blaze that much. A guy like Rashaun would definitely fail that shit, all this niggah ever does is wake and bake” he said.
“True, but check it, I need to write a response to this email they sent me and need to concentrate so we’ll talk later bro.”
“Aight, stay up.”
Reverting my attention to the e-mail Ms. Cumberland sent me, I read it again, and again and one last time trying my best to develop a response that sounded professional but didn’t come across as desperate. After my blunders in past potential relationships one thing, I learned from my mishaps was to be patient. That whole you live and learn bogus did not apply to me because every botched opportunity caused my self-esteem to be suffocated to death with lessons on communications 101, both written and verbal. In the past I usually replied to or sent out texts quickly which sounded as if I was more into her than she was into me. All I had to show for whenever “The Wolfpack” asked if anything came about after “spitting game” was me explaining how she buried me knee deep with red flags causing me to hold onto nothing but my blue balls. I felt it applied to everything in life, so I waited until night to reply to the email.
Dear Miss Cumberland
I appreciate you considering me for this position and look forward to becoming a vital asset to any team. I look forward to meeting you on Thursday.
Best regards, Sharmarke Aden
Early afternoon the next day I was given a response by Miss Cumberland to provide a resume, ID and a references page to our 11:30 AM meeting. I noticed the address to the email was a street down from Alewife station in North Cambridge that held a landscape of the city’s elite condominiums and prestigious businesses in technology that rivaled Kendall squares innovative conglomerates. I couldn’t ask for a more convenient location to handle business, and if circumstances didn’t pan out during the interview, I could take a short stroll back home to rest my mind from my shortcomings.
Wednesday night I gathered my professional attire of a striped, black suit with matching pants, a sky-blue dress shirt, a blue and black striped tie, an Italian leather belt and lastly my newly acquired black monk straps that I bought used for fifty dollars. I left them still in the box to the side of my bed. I had an organized layout to be on the quick move. At 8AM I woke with intentions of printing out all required documents. As I made my way downstairs to the end of my building’s lobby where the door to computer lab was, the draft of overwhelming ripe sewage emitted from the boiler room. Holding my breath, I found refuge from the filth in the computer lab. I printed four copies of both my resume and references. Time was of the essence as I took a shower, shaved, and put my professional attire on so quickly that Dapper Dan would have been proud of my record time of under twenty minutes. Putting a final touch of a few sprays of Versace cologne I grabbed my distressed leather black messenger bag and made my way out, but not without first checking to see if my mother was still asleep, and she indeed was. It may sound peculiar, but I had to spread my arms slightly apart from my waistline in order to create breathing room for my armpits to not be drenched in cold sweat. To stave off embarrassment I chose not to take my suit jacket off until the interview was over therefore allowing me to have privacy to air out the sweat stains in a bathroom hand blower. SunSummont Inc on Cambridge Park Drive had grass that glistened even during gloom. The two titanium black office buildings that both had revolving doors would’ve swirled you into an expected professionalism upon entry. Clutching my messenger bag after the one eighty spin I centered myself into an interior that resembled something out of I Robot. Silver, blue and black made-up hues in the building which allowed me to camouflage in plain sight as if were already an employee there. Upon entering I was approached by a light skin middle aged man in secret service attire without the earpiece to step the side and go through a metal detector.
“How’s it goin’ man?” I didn’t see a name tag on his suit jacket, so this nameless enforcer was an unknown face like those kindergarten gangsters I came across with the Wolfpack who fought over small things like beer.
“Good” he said deadpan as ever.
“Please take your bag and any metal items you have and place them into the tray for inspection.”
“You’re not gonna ask me what I’m even here for” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter to me, it matters that you put any metal items through that conveyor belt.”
“Right” … I did what I was told and asked which floor career services was on.
“Third floor, walk through the detector, go straight and then take a right to the elevators.”
I made my way through the electronic gate only to be denied.
“Do you have anything metal in your pockets?” he asked.
Sliding my hand into my pocket I pulled out three quarters and a dime. This small piece of security intrusion caused me to grin.
“I can hold onto the change until you pass through once more” he said.
Round two, I went through now with silence. From the streets to the boardroom, I collected my change and made my way towards the elevator to the third floor.
The third-floor office to SunSummont Inc had a spacious waiting room with peach colored carpeting, a medium sized fish tank and a flat screen TV that hung in the center of the waiting room. I noticed a wood grain coffee table that held a mountain of magazines. I looked forward to seeing if there were any to keep my attention occupied until my name was summoned, but first I had to make my presence known.
“Hi, how may I help you?” the cordial receptionist who looked to be in her early thirties asked. She was of slim build with porcelain skin that brightened the freckles she had around her nose. Her attire reminded me of Pam from the office, an opened burgundy button up shirt under a cream-colored cardigan.
“Good Morning, I’m here to see Ms. Cumberland for an interview at 11:30.”
“Can I please have your name?”
“Yes, she booked you in her schedule. She’s on a conference call at the moment but she’ll be right with you. You can wait, and I’ll let you know when she’s ready to see you.” she added.
“Thank you, um I didn’t get your name.”
“It’s Melissa” she answered.
“Where can I find the restroom?”
I wanted to know so I could rush there to dry the swamp under my armpit.
“It’s to the right of the break room, both men’s and women’s.”
“Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome,” her answer ended with a smile. It was something to truly appreciate, perfectly aligned teeth that whitened, all squared without the mamelons that I had since growing my adult teeth.
I ditched staying in the waiting room and made it into the Men’s bathroom. An old Latino woman in casual clothing except a navy vest was in the middle of wiping and drying off the areas around the sink. Giving a halfhearted smile that she reciprocated I placed my messenger bag on the countertop and pulled my suit jacket to the side to see how much sweat accumulated and as expected a pool of made it almost to the bottom of my armpit. The electric hand blower was towards the end where she continued working and taking off the shirt would cost more time and create awkwardness which I didn’t want heading into an interview. Making my way back to the waiting room a middle-aged white woman stood waiting in front of the receptionist desk Melissa occupied. Her face had a friendly but authoritative presence. It was too thin to be considered ugly and too structured for me to believe she was indeed a real person and not some dirty blonde blue-eyed mannequin. She fit the description of a “Boss” wearing a no-frills white button up shirt that had the top button undone. It laid under a solid black suit jacket and matching pants. Her heels stayed close to the ground barely giving her any extra inches for her short height at what seemed to be around 5’6.
“Hello Mr. Aden, Rhonda Cumberland, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she greeted me with much attention. She held onto eye contact even after our handshake. It had put an extra pep in my step whenever a white person referred to me as mister. Maybe that was due to knowing that whites didn’t matter where you were from during segregation, whether that was Africa, the Caribbean or America. Blacks were subjugated to refer to them by Mister and Misses and not the other way around.
“Likewise,” I didn’t know what else to say as she asked me to follow her into a well-lit office. I wondered if the heater was on because it felt warmer than room temperature, but maybe that was the nervousness that was causing my body to overheat in anticipation.
“I’d like this to be more of a conversation than a boring question and answer interview that makes the interviewer seem like a robot,” she stated.
“Sounds good to me.”
“Before we get started can you explain why you chose to apply here?”
This seems to always be a trap that most employers want the interviewee to stumble and say something they didn’t intend to say. I didn’t want to show my true intentions and tell her “well I found out you were hiring, and I need a damn job because I fucking broke”.
“Well when I came across that SunSummont has a vast array of job assignments that I could feel I can fit into; I jumped at the opportunity and look forward to becoming a part of any team I’m a part of.”
Expressing an answer that insightful without hesitation probably caught her of guard as it did with me. I say, probably because her eyes slightly squinted as I noticed the beginnings of crow’s feet forming around her eyes as she tried registering how to respond to my answer.
“I’m glad to hear that, do you mind if I take a look at your resume and letters of references?”
“Not at all, I do have a question about the references.”
“Yes?” she asked eyeing and sorting the pertinent documents.
“You see the thing is I don’t have a lot of references to contact. The last job I worked at we parted ways on terms I didn’t like”.
“How so?” she asked this time moving her body forward in order to judge my next answer without any jury to sympathize my wrongdoings.
“Well, I came to work late on two occasions due to issues in my commute, the train had been backed up and I was still written up because of my tardiness. What finally did me in was clocking out of work early due to a family emergency without contacting my supervisor even though my shift ended in a hour. It was a sales job outside a store mall where we had kiosks and I had no other coworkers to cover for me so I packed my workstation and rushed home. If being somewhere to aid a person in dire need is a crime then I’ll admit my actions were not professional, but I won’t admit I did anything wrong for the wellbeing of another life.”
Staring at a guilty soul she paused for a few seconds as she took me in for a moment.
“We’ve all been there before” she said.
“I can go on for days about decisions I made that I wish I could take back during my high school and college days” she said.
“After leaving a small town in Kansas and going to NYU for college I had some serious readjusting to city life. I did a lot of acting out in my first two years there because I was home sick, but it turned out well at the end.”
She piqued my curiosity, but I held in the urge to ask her to elaborate on her statement.
“What I can say is that I cannot pass judgement for what you’ve done in the past if there was a good reason behind it.”
“Thank you for understanding.”
She reverted her attention back to my resume.
“I see you did work as a youth counselor after finishing high school and a daycare assistant before that, can you tell me about you experience in both?”
“As a youth counselor I worked with fellow counselors at Frisoli Youth center, coming up with daily activities for the youth and daily team exercise for ourselves as counselors during the early parts of the day. Being a daycare attendant helped me become patient and understanding towards taking care of toddlers with the supervision of the primary daycare workers.”
I had a good inclination that through my honesty about my past transgressions and ways of improving in the workforce in the future that I’d have an opportunity to be hired for a position. Taking a look at my new blue gunmetal watch that I got as gift set for my mother and I, it was half past noon and I wondered how much longer I’d be sitting in my sweaty dress shirt that at this point stuck into the crevices of my armpit.
“Since you’ve been involved with working on a team, I do have a temporary assignment as a mail clerk at Harvard University that will run for six months, does that sound like something you would be interested in?”
“Good” she said with the birth of a smile exiting the side of her right lip.
“I’ll need to hold onto your resume and ask you to complete a new hire application and set up a payment option plan on the onboard hiring site.”
I decided not to say anything and nod to compose my excitement.
“If you could email me the days you are available then we can go from there and start you working there hopefully next week.”
“Sounds good” I replied.
“One last thing, I know I mentioned the references earlier…”
She interrupted me, but it was an answer I found no need to argue.
“I only need it on file for future contact if you were to ever become permanent stay at a location you were once a temporary employee.”
After pleasantries I was glad how the interview went as I made my way back to the lobby where Paul Blart office cop stood beside the metal detector. I gave him a head nod as a farewell salute but didn’t receive one back as I noticed employees were walking towards him to go through the metal detector. As he safeguarded his alarmed sanctuary, I made my exit from Sunsummont Inc onto Cambridge Park Drive and towards Massachusetts Avenue.
Massachusetts Avenue or as I like to refer to it as “infinite avenue” was my next stop. I dubbed it “infinite avenue” because I never knew where it ever ended due to connecting cities all over greater Boston. A cheerful breeze on that a cloudy afternoon whistled its high notes as I stood on the avenue’s intersection staring north at Cambridge House of Pizza and Arlington on my east. Starvin’ like fresh off the boat Marvin, I headed north to grab a hot meal. Cambridge House of Pizza was to “the Wolfpack” what the diner was for the characters in Seinfeld, a whole bunch of shenanigans would usually ensue. The pizzeria wasn’t packed but still had a good amount of traffic for the afternoon lunch specials to be purchased. Antonio “Ant” Costas, his co-manager Stephen, and Ant’s cousin the prep cook Antonio were hustling in the steam engulfed kitchen to take and cook orders. When first meeting Ant he had trouble pronouncing my name Sharmarke since it’s a name from the Somali culture, so he decided to call me Mark instead. He was only one I gave permission to call me that. The pizzeria had a Greek style that I never knew until one day Ant corrected me from thinking he was speaking Italian to his father who co-owned the pizzeria, but it was Greek. Ant stood at around 5’6 of slim build and was quite white for a man of Mediterranean descent. He was around his late forties maybe fifties. His balding crown gave the appearance that he was older than he was. Comparing Cambridge House of Pizza to a place like local black barber shops I’ve been to that hung up memorabilia portraits to exemplify black culture, Ant hung up sports and pop culture icons that held significance in his generation. A vintage Marilyn Monroe portrait in a seductive pose sat above the refrigerator of sodas while a flat screen TV was in the corner above the fridge usually showing sports game, but sometimes Ant would surprise me and watch the Bachelor to see a flock of eye candy that his married ass would never be able to taste. As I made it to the counter Ant came out of the kitchen in the back and as we made eye contact, he gave me a disappointed look that I was all too familiar with growing up.
“Hey Mark, what the fuck is up is wrong with your friend that’s always here with you!”
“Which one?” I asked thinking who could have upset him to the point where I noticed a vein forming in the middle of forehead.
“The free loading one that always carries a heavy backpack and hasn’t seen a shampoo in days for his crusty dreadlocks”
I knew good and well he was talking about Rashaun but there was no placating Ant’s anger.
“What did he do, man?”
“He was here an hour ago high rolling a goddamn joint in the back.”
“Did he get to finish?” I asked.
“You think this is fuckin’ funny, I have families that come here every day and I can’t have that type of bullshit fuck up my reputation!”
“He thought he was clever trying to hide it” Ant added.
I pictured Rashaun who could roll a joint in less than five minutes get caught for a skill he mastered.
“I’ll talk to him, I never thought he would pull this kind of bullshit because he likes comin’ here and is cool with you but man,”
“You know you’re always welcome here, but that type of shit is not gonna fly up in here. What’s up with the Wall street look?”
“I just came from an interview; it went well, and I think I landed a job at Harvard.”
The look Ant gave me resembled Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction, astonished by an answer that also amused him.
“What are you going to be doing there?” he asked as he started to douse the flattened dough with tomato paste on the will be pizza.
“The position offered was a mail clerk.”
“Sounds interesting” he said finally putting a pepperoni pizza in the oven and sliding out a large cheese one from the bottom.
“What’s the pay?” he asked.
“I didn’t ask because I thought it be unprofessional.”
“Doesn’t hurt to ask though” he sliced the large cheese into quadrants, his attention on me while still cutting the pizza in 8 slices.
Maybe he was right, but the prospects of payment slipped my mind due to the discomfort from perspiring armpits and Ms. Cumberland’s commanding presence.
“I just forgot to ask, but I’ll find out soon enough.”
“Hey, I gotta run so if you don’t mind, can I get a small cheese pizza, steak bomb, and one baklava?” I asked.
“You can take this large one that’s fresh.”
I accepted the offer due to sensing footsteps lining up behind my back. Stepping to the side I waited for my sub and dessert as the restaurant now gained momentum with traffic. Stephen was the one who handed me my full course meal, said my farewell, and headed back home where I could eat, shower, and put some much-needed anti-perspirant deodorant, possibly the entire canister if need be.
Have you been charged with a felony? If so, check off yes or no. I answered no. Do you agree to a drug test if asked to perform one before final hiring? I had nothing to hide so I answered yes. Do you have any relatives who have work with us before? No. The onboard application from SunSummont Inc took forty minutes to complete and on top of that a PSA video on safety in the workplace caused me to want to violate any peace in my heart and give my laptop a straight right punch from the mundane psychological torture. As if it couldn’t have gotten any more strenuous, I had to complete a twenty-five-question behavior assessment. Who the hell goes through this shit and truthfully answers? Does someone sit down and review all the responses and analyzes them for competency? I mean we’re all going to lie in order to see a paycheck in our hands weekly, so until management notices something off I’m going to lie. All electronically signed, dated, and completed by 9PM, the mental and physical exhaustion from an active day led me to calling it an early night.
Everything progressed faster than I expected. It was Friday morning, at around 10AM I got a call from Ms. Cumberland with my next course of action.
“Good morning Mr. Aden I’m calling to inform you about details regarding the mandatory orientation you’ll have to attend on Monday at 12:30PM at Harvard Mail Services in Allston. Is that a location you can get to?”
“Yeah, I can manage” I said closing my eyes and trying my best to locate where she was talking about.
“It’s across the Charles river and a few streets down from Harvard Business School.”
“Oh, yes then I know where that’s at.”
“Okay, if you have any questions you can call this number or email me if I cannot be reached through phone. The email I’m going to send soon gives all the details of where, when, and who you’ll be reporting to once there.”
“Got it, thanks for calling.”
“You’re welcome, have a nice day.”
Even though everyone anticipated the weekend, I looked forward to the most dreaded day in the week for a lot of Americans, Monday.
I find words are my specialty and it has been ever since I took a creative writing class when I was attending community college. I perceive poetry as strength of mine and it allows me to be creative off the cuff sometimes without even writing anything down and that’s why I find it a pleasurable hobby. I create poems out of topics that spontaneously come into my mind, and I think it’s helped me not only become efficient with my writing but getting my point across. Anyways I digress if you’re into poetry and storytelling check out what I have to offer and hopefully it’ll make you think, smile, or just appreciate this type of art.