Hannah Wu, A’22
In a land very very close, Polkadedot focused hard on keeping eye contact with the tree outside while waiting for a job interview. In order to appease both herself and the observant office occupants, she maintained a sense of professionalism and calm. The five candidates slouched and tensed as the back office creaked, signaling that they could be summoned at any moment. Only judgemental gossip, for hiding nervousness, was heard in select conversations. Even though the receptionist smiled warmly at them on occasion, his nonstop keyboarding only intensified the sterile environment’s cold grasp. Between glances at each other and the speakers playing muzak, the candidates directed attention toward their plates. Each one supported a magical gem, which served as a physical representation of its owner’s experience and number of acquired accomplishments.
Most newborns in the world of Spikedegem were gifted with a gem at birth during The Ceremony, which encouraged each individual to work nonstop towards covering the surface of it with grandiose spikes. Some spikes were gifted at birth, while others were grown through years of effort. But some individuals did not even have gems, so they had to work even harder to obtain one before growing their accomplishments on it. Only gifted spikes could be registered, others just existed with no record. Registered ones were notable for being the largest as their size indicated the gifter’s immense resources and automatically marked the giftee with a high status, despite having put no work into earning the spike. Years of PR aimed at preserving the power of generational spike giving by The Department ensured that its donors stayed loyal. Spikes earned by individuals who grew their own varied in size, but were always smaller than gifted ones. The Department wasted no energy in registering earned spikes since plebs do not donate building floors at the same frequency as those with inherited resources. Their operating system allegedly only had enough space to hold the registered spike owner’s forum, message board, and discussion site-- nothing else.
Spikes, however, were not the only distinguishing feature as there were also customizable plates. One day, a top executive was eating dollar pizza topped with store bought caviar, but forgot to throw away the greasy paper plate in the same trash can as the tin to symbolize their integration. When his superior commented on it, he feared how being caught eating just cheap pizza would make him and his palate seem unrefined. He quickly grabbed one of the gold plates from the display cabinet and explained that he was merely testing the use of different platforms for holding gems. Despite his incoherent reasoning, his superior liked the idea so much that she stole it for merchandise purposes. Not only would The Department handle the registering of gifted spikes and hiring of those with enough spikes, they also ushered in a new era of needing plates. Paper plates of course are not valuable pieces of dishware, so that model was scrapped and a different default was introduced. The new program gifted all children not just with gems, but also new metal plates which could be modified with more purchases. Some added gold coatings, others went for bedazzled looks, all while the majority had no choice but to keep their plates bare. Highly garnished plates brought upon both veneration and ridicule to its keeper.
But this wasn’t always the case. In a land far far away on the intermediary island of De, gems were gifted to every single newborn, and spikes were grown through acts of kindness towards oneself and one’s community. After The Department illegally acquired the land of De for building new offices, they also co-opted the custom to make it profitable. Everyone became so obsessed with gaining spikes, decorating their plates, and allowing The Department to dictate their lives, that they forgot about De’s existence, whose inhabitants and original gem principles were scattered few and far between.
The gemless of Spikedegem were rarely considered for interview opportunities, as The Department focused their efforts on recruiting those with the most spikes and making sure others knew about their high standards. The Department just started hiring those with less than ten spikes for diversity, equity, and inclusion purposes. Giving opportunities to the gemless was labeled on the whiteboard of inclusivity as a “future endeavor and solution” for the next time “the youth get upset.” The Department was confident in the candidates they selected for the next phase of the upper internship interview and had high hopes that the new hire would boost their public image.
Suddenly the door opened and the candidates straightened up. The Recruiter stepped out, wagged her finger at the closest one, and waited only a moment before walking back into the office. He slid through just as the door closed, leaving the others concerned about their upcoming interview. Neither his gem nor his plate quivered as he confidently walked behind the frosted glass and asked The Recruiter about her son’s acceptance into an esteemed private university. Even if he had an unsteady saunter, the sheer magnitude of piled-on plate embellishments would have secured the spike. The door slammed shut and the receptionist gave another cheeky smile. Right on cue. Sitting at his desk right in front of the frosted glass, his amusing expressions did well in being a well-constructed facade. All the candidates were encouraged to relax at his influence, letting their guard down mere meters away from The Department as they settled back into their gossip routines.
“Have you read his gem profile?” asked Joiedevivre with a tattling tone as she turned to face the others. “About how his father is the twelfth generation to inherit this company and how many people in The Department actually gifted him with registered spikes and gem plates? That Recruiter was probably there for his gem ceremony.”
“Carpedediem definitely has an advantage. He was even joking with the receptionist about how long the trek was- four elevator levels down from his current office” Joiedevivre continued on as Polkadedot got lost in thoughts of self pity. If only your parents owned one of these companies or had enough resources to give you infinite spikes. Imagine having job paths and opportunities not just available, but lined up for you from the moment you had your gem ceremony. Oh to be shot out of the womb into a cactus field in springtime. How could you possibly have a spikier gem than him? It’s almost smooth! We’ve researched everyone here from the CEO to the janitor, and they’re all more qualified than you. Maybe once you grow this current spike before your interview, then you won’t waste their time.
“He probably started off with ten spikes and then got dozens more per year by his parents’ friends and employees. There isn’t a single spike on that gem smaller than the size of his ego. I’ll bet he doesn’t even know where to put all those extra spikes,” sneered Joiedevivre. “I could be his new proctologist and show him. All this corporate climbing I’ve done and it still doesn’t compete with The Department’s favorite son. Don’t you agree? Isn’t it unfair? None of your gems have as many spikes as his, but I’m sure if you all worked hard enough, then this position would definitely be taken away from him. But it seems I have the most spikes here, so I guess it’s up to me”
Look at her gem, what a perfect balance of small and large spikes being accentuated by that encrusted plate. She knows. People like that can spot people like you, they know who hasn’t worked hard enough. Why are you even wasting our time? You only know the receptionist’s third niece. Joiedevivre has worked for more years than we’ve been alive and she has more connections than you have spikes! She doesn’t consider you a threat. I guess you haven’t read her self published books closely enough. If only you were capable of being even remotely literate and actually absorbed what she wrote in How to Gain a Spike in Ten Days, then we wouldn’t be ashamed to be here. And this spike you’re growing would exist! The Recruiter guided Carpedediem back out while chuckling at his latest joke and disrupting Polkadedot’s inner thoughts. Joiedevivre slapped a polite grin back on before marching to the back office for her interview.
“What a character. Can’t believe working brings her joy,” remarked Carpedediem while slouching into his seat, waiting for the wrap up meeting after all the individual upper internship interviews were finished. “I’m not sure if that kind of … personality would be the right fit for my parents’ company. The Department needs new ideas and The Recruiter has just heard so many of mine.” He tried to roll his gem around his plate, but it was a difficult endeavor as the embellishments made it stop constantly. Each clink echoed through the waiting area as eyes flitted from his gem to their gems, comparing them to justify their underdog status. “How can you even enjoy life if all you do is work, work, work. Sometimes spikes are just … given to you. You feel? It’s not that serious.”
Mementodemori across from Carpedediem nodded in agreement, not caring that his gem only had three spikes. One big and two small. They continued on the conversation while Polkadedot’s thoughts drifted after finally noticing his gem. Three?! How does Mementodemori only have three? I gain three a month. Minimum! A slacker who is so much better than you that he doesn’t even need spikes to justify how fit for this job he is! How could you compete with that? If anything, you two should probably swap gems. Even he has decorated his plate in a stylish manner. You don’t even know a thing about art. That plate probably has more spine than you’ll ever have. It’s not like you can actually justify any of these spikes. I wouldn’t be surprised if yours just rusted off and crumbled before the interview given how you can barely contain me, your own inner voice, much less all those acquired spikes. You’re up for the same job as a single digit spiker and yet, you’re still the most unqualified.
“Am I? Are you?” Polkadedot whispered to herself, questioning the inner voice’s barbs. The inner voice held its tongue.
Polkadedot looked over at Coupdegrace, who was not focusing on the main conversation. Instead she was serenely listening to the muzak and making sure the small crevices between spikes were absent of dust and that each plate embellishments shined. Look at her. A gem full of small spikes which she earned with hard work and grit. Same circumstances as you, yet she’s fighting alongside her inner voice and making sure her gem is the best. A skill you still have to learn. If you can’t manage me, how can you manage to show these people you’re capable of working for them? They'll shred you to pieces, even without this gem.
“Carpedediem, why waste your time thinking about Joiedevivre’s work ethic. It has nothing to do with you. We’re all here for the same job with different skills. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all get hired,” quipped Mementodemori in a light tone. Carpedediem offered a tight smile before moving the conversation along to the details of his current office. Joiedevivre briskly strolled out with a satisfied expression, and The Recruiter motioned Mementodemori to join her. He tossed his gem from plate to hand while advancing. The receptionist looked at him in shock and The Recruiter tightened her smile, yet he was not affected. We could learn from him. Only three spikes, yet he isn’t wasting time being harsh to himself or others. He even seems to enjoy decorating his plate. What does it take to have three unregistered spikes, yet still confidently stay in this room for an interview? It’s impressive.
Mementodemori walked out of the interview room almost as quickly as he entered. His calm demeanor had not changed, but The Recruiter’s flared nostrils were not unnoticed. She angrily waved Coupdegrace in while keeping her displeased eyes at Memendodemori exiting the waiting room. The candidates were shocked, but masked it with concern. They averted their eyes from the tense scene and redirected their attention to their gems.
I suppose we’re up next. Can’t mess up as badly as Mementodemori… but we’ll do worse than the previous candidates so perhaps we share the same ladder rung. Sure he might be out of the upper intern position race, but he was never real competition. Even if you were the only candidate available, you would still be the most unqualified and undeserving! And with that last barb by her inner voice, Polkadedot stormed out of the waiting room, cycling through feelings of incompetence, all the way to the terrace. She then held her gem over the railing and asked it in a fit of wounded rage, “How did I end up with the only gem that doesn’t support me? How come I have to work so hard to appease not just The Department, but also you? I could just drop you.” But you won’t. Because you wouldn’t last a moment in that waiting room or in that interview room without me to show off your spikes.
Polkadedot stared at the looming horizon. “I suppose, and then I will be gemless … ” her voice drifted off, but her hands actively pulled her gem back from the edge. Exactly, we have to work together. As we always have. I’m covered in spikes, and you created them. So completely covered that I’m almost smooth again. Polkadedot took the gem’s words into consideration as she slumped down against the terrace walls. Her eyes zoned out on a tree while The Recruiter called her name from inside to no avail.
Just as her gem finished growing another shiny, new spike.