:: Article

Curriculum Vitae

By Kent Kosack.

Everyone says the economy is great but I’ve applied to fifty jobs over the last three months and received nothing but stock rejections in return. So today I had a meeting, a strategy session, with a career services counselor at the university I just graduated from. It’s a cloudy, humid, eighty-degree late May day in Pittsburgh and I haven’t worn a suit in six years but I wanted to look good, serious, reliable, hireable, so I squirmed into my discount navy sack that, if you squint, might pass for a suit, am wearing it now, in fact, sweating into it, the armpits of the white dress shirt yellowing but hidden under the jacket, my burgundy tie sloppily knotted because I haven’t had to tie a tie in at least six years and never had a good grasp of it anyway; I never had a job where I wore a tie often enough for it to become second-nature.

But the shabby suit isn’t why the strategy session didn’t go well, not chiefly why. The counselor, a chipper, sporty woman in her mid-thirties—my age but with the exuberant, elastic skin of someone a decade younger, casual in a lightweight, crewneck sweatshirt in the university’s colors, underdressed yet somehow far-more professional seeming—honestly seemed like she was in my corner, rooting for me to go out there and rip my ripe dream job from the tree of opportunity, making her and the university proud. Or maybe that affability, exuding that sort of high-octane support, is one of the job requisites and me feeding off of her like a parasite, selfishly, clearly not putting out similar energy, my own energy already sapped by months of rejections and this miserable, ugly, stiff suit is what derailed our strategizing?

After all, my resume, albeit plain, isn’t a total debacle. I have four degrees along with experience in higher education (teaching assistant, three years), experience working with people (project coordinator, not-for-profit agency, two years), solid grades, a smattering of obligatory extracurriculars. Still, when the counselor asked me to summarize my work ethic, my work style, in three words, I drew a blank, a blank that ballooned into two minutes of silence, a silence I finally broke with a long rambling account of every job I’ve ever worked (stock boy, sandwich smith, mover, backpack fitter, ski salesman, English tutor, building manager, ESL teacher, grant writer) that said more about my mental stability than my work ethic—and it was not in my favor. But the counselor was smooth, calm, a true professional. We finished the session. Two cordial, capable adults. And ten minutes later she was rid of me.


I had dressed up for this, shined my one pair of oxfords, forced my foot into the stiff leather, and my neck into the stiff collar, so I decided to make a day of it and visit the museum across the street—the Carnegie Art Museum. Here I am, then, walking through history, the history of human endeavor, of art, of artists across times and cultures molding matter, giving form to some inner intent or vision by harnessing the fleeting feelings, memories, and impressions that constitute a person, a temperament. I want to take my suit jacket off but I don’t think my yellowed pits have any right to parade past a Degas statue, a bronze ballerina checking the sole of her right foot or this huge Hockney painting, a five foot by five foot portrait of the drag queen Divine, only not in drag, but in a director’s chair against a purple backdrop alive with red squiggles, paint strokes swimming like Day-Glo sperm, when suddenly I find myself thinking about Divine eating dogshit in Pink Flamingos and how that would be described on a resume: consumed fresh dog feces? Ingested? Devoured? What active verb could encapsulate that?

I decide to leave because my feet are killing me in these fancy shoes, but just as I’m leaving I spy, in a little alcove, in what used to be the smoking area of the museum, a wall of framed garbage. I look closer, place my face next to the glass display and I see the garbage has been assembled into tiny sculptures. Rat bones, bare grape stems, cigarette butts, discarded gum, lint, clumps of hair, ripped rubber bands, crumpled candy bar wrappers—bits of the detritus of our stinky little species, set into the plastic sleeves of cigarette packs, stuck in place with resin, mounted on the wall in the form of calendars. One pack for each day. There’s a whole year here. I find my birthday and see a sculpture of Q-tips and a part of a bird’s wing, a miniature monument of ear wax and decayed flight. I find the day I graduated: an inch of purple fluid, part of a paper clip, the severed hand of a plastic soldier. Here, this is an art I can get behind, that speaks to me, is comprehensible, that I can champion: a rubbish sublime.

The artist, Yuji Agematsu, I read on the placard by the exhibit, lives in Brooklyn and wanders around picking up these scraps off the city’s streets. He smokes a pack a day and puts the scraps in the empty sleeves leftover from the packs, sticking everything in place with resin and he records, in a little journal, a sort of captain’s log of his daily adventures, what he finds. The museum has the journal on display too, opposite the sculptures. I think that perhaps if I do something like this as a CV, take all that I am, my experiences, accomplishments, personality traits, take it all and mount it on the wall, all of my inner garbage, then recruiters and hiring managers can stroll by at their leisure and see if it moves them. I’ll be an open book and an installation. But could I assemble it artfully? Is there anything within me arresting enough, meaningful enough, for someone to pause long enough to see it?


It doesn’t matter now. I need to get home before my partner, walk the dog, start a load of laundry and do the dishes, because if she has to come home to a deadbeat, she will at least find a deadbeat in a clean house with a well-looked after dog. I take the bus, feet throbbing, the leather soles skidding, tractionless, across the bus floor and then the sidewalk, but as I ascend the four concrete steps to my front door I realize she’s already home—there wasn’t much traffic, she says, work was slow—and I smell something cooking, an earthy aroma, mushrooms and onions maybe, and she says pasta, her intonation rising, and I say, great.

Once I’ve taken the fucking jacket and the fucking shoes off and think about all the beautiful garbage Yuji Agematsu is welcome to scavenge on my block, some of which is sticking to the soles of said horrible shoes, she asks me how the interview went, turning to me full on, across the kitchen table. Something about her face reminds me of our date night last week, of the movie we sat through (or I sat, she slept) at the row house converted into a theater down the street, Tokyo Story, a classic of Japanese post-war cinema, considered one of the greatest films of all time but long and quiet and slow in which an elderly couple travels to Tokyo only to be neglected by their busy, adult children, exhausted by the megacity Tokyo is becoming, saddened by the loss of their old world and their son to a horrific war. I think of their caring daughter-in-law Noriko’s stoic face taking up the whole screen when, in response to another character’s question Isn’t life disappointing?, she says yes, it is with the same smile she’s sustained the whole film, despite the loss of her husband, despite her shabby apartment, her busy schedule, her isolation. Yes, it is. I took my partner’s hand at that moment and she didn’t wake up, just shifted in her sleep.

The onions now smell great, fully caramelized, and I tell my partner about my day, the session, the counselor, the museum, and Yuji Agematsu. I doubt there’s any beauty in it, in all of this garbage I have welling up in me, the garbage I’ve dragged with me through life up until this moment, the assemblage that is me, but she’s looking at me, really looking, listening, and whether it’s because for the past few years so much of what I am, the little sculptures that populate the calendar of my life, the minutes, moments, hours, and days, have been jointly authored by us, or if there really is some beauty to it, some objective value or quality, I can’t say. But it doesn’t matter because life is disappointing, but that hasn’t stopped her, at this moment, from looking, from listening. Because at this moment, maybe, in some separate universe, brimming with its own burdens and woes, someone cares. Is taking a second to care. And if you string together enough of these little moments, no matter how rare, and preserve them in resin and set them up in an alcove somewhere inside you, and revisit them, draw courage from them—well, that might just be enough? Wouldn’t it?


Kent Kosack is a writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh where he teaches composition and creative writing. His work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Sonora Review, Tin House (Flash Fidelity), the Normal School, Hobart and elsewhere. See more at: www.kentkosack.com

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, January 14th, 2020.