AVENUE OF AMERICAS, 1935
It was the year of the Black Sunday, when a great cloud of dust rose like a choking blanket and smothered the human spirit. All throughout was disorder. The bridge between hand and dollar dissolved, the banks squeezed blood from their last turnip, and the countries that were once our neighbors cut their mighty cables, and were silent across the blue.
You could feel it here in the city–no longer a city, but a whirlpool, a whirlpool that sucked down to the under-drain of despair.
They stood feverishly in their grubby clothes, lining up to fight their way into an open door-somewhere, anywhere to gain a day’s work, or a scrap of food.
Rubin was just a man like any other. He scoured street after street looking for opportunity. Most anything was acceptable. He hadn’t eaten in almost three days, and he could feel a new layer of filth hardening on his unwashed skin.
The majority of businesses remained locked with the curtains tightly drawn. It was dangerous now to leave themselves vulnerable to non-employees, or unknown customers.
The few doors that were open were charged by the crowds, hoards of people eager to prove that they alone were the ideal candidate. They clenched aggressively to their documents to prove their credibility, or barged through with nothing more than the sheer willpower to survive.
Rubin was someone who did not have much of a chance. He was a mild-mannered and soft-spoken man, not yet twenty-three, and had little employment history under his belt. When the stock market crumbled, his family left the city to seek refuge with other relatives. In his vain pride, Rubin stayed behind. He later admitted he couldn’t have made a bigger mistake.
He stood now on the sidewalk and watched as the mob moved like a formless monster. He began to doubt if he even had the strength left to be a part of it.
In the hub of this madness was a simple, but glorious sight. There was something that marked the long wall of a factory-styled building, a gift that Rubin’s disconcerted, and weary mind could not at first appreciate. It was a sign, and its letters were painted in fresh red:
“HELP WANTED, INQUIRE WITHIN.”
He stared at it for several seconds. This couldn’t be. It hung in the surrounding grey like an abstraction, like a precious jewel from an aristocrat that had been discarded in foreign territory. Though the traffic was heavy on the crowded street, no one else had acknowledged its presence, and the long, factory-styled building remained uninvestigated.
Someone must have just put this up, he suggested to himself. That must be it. Such luck!
He looked for a business name, an open display window, anything that might give him an indication of the nature of the position, but there was nothing but the red-lettered sign, and a small, inconspicuous door below it.
It makes no difference!
He bolted forward and twisted the knob, in hope that it wasn’t some hallucination born from his suffering.
It opened easily, and Rubin found himself in the confines of a narrow hallway. There was an immediate, unexpected relief–a certain womb-like contentment, as if he were submerged in thick cotton. The painful sounds of the city were replaced with warm silence, and this was a sensation he found hard to shake off. It was the urgency of his dilemma that pushed him onward.
The hallway had no light except for a glow emitting from an open door approximately twenty feet from his position. He stepped quietly, for though he was anxious to discover what opportunity lay ahead, he knew he would only get one shot, and this could very well be his last chance.
Rubin peered warily into the glowing room, and bore witness to a strange and peculiar man. He sat behind a large oak desk, and wore a very thick set of black-lined bifocals. A suit of maroon velvet was enwrapped around his meager frame, which appeared awkward and unfit for his measurements. His charcoal hair was parted symmetrically, and it laid with such a flatness that it resembled a skull cap. He was leaning backwards with his fingers crossed, and had a smile that suggested the expression had not been altered for hours. Rubin felt the urge to laugh at the mere sight of him, but withheld the outburst due to his predicament.
“Well, hello to you,” the strange man said generously.
“Good morning,” Rubin replied. “I saw the sign outside, perhaps I should have knocked first.”
“Oh, good heavens no,” the man said warmly. “Most likely I wouldn’t have heard it all the way down the hall, especially with all that racquet going on. Looking for work, are you? Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr. Darva.”
The man outstretched his hand, and his flesh felt like warm rubber.
“Please, have a seat.”
Rubin lowered himself onto a cracked leather chair that moaned sullenly against his body. He already decided that he didn’t like this man. There seemed to be something underneath him, something crawling behind his crooked smile and rubbery handshake. He appeared to be pretending, as if he were acting a role and his benefactor was hiding and watching behind a curtain.
“Rubin’s the name,” he offered. “I didn’t see what kind of business you represent.”
“We’re an independent, foreign enterprise,” Mr. Darva replied. “We deal primarily in extended relations, and as of this crisis in the United States, as well as the rest of the world, we have become a new light that is helping generate success.”
Rubin stared blankly. Mr. Darva hadn’t really told him anything, and there was a slight pricking of the hairs on the back of his neck.
“It’s been rough out there, hasn’t it?” Mr. Darva inquired, as he eyed Rubin carefully.
“Yes, you could certainly say that.”
“Been listening to The Fireside Chats, have you?”
“Well, yes, we all have.”
“Ah, good ol’ F.D.R. trying to save the day….”
Rubin detected a flame of hostility. This man was mocking him, he could feel it.
“Mr. Roosevelt tries hard, but his philosophy is all wrong regarding this crisis.”
“What do you mean?” Rubin asked suspiciously.
“There is much more to fear than fear itself.”
Mr. Darva’s voice suddenly became thick and murky, and his stare was pinpointed.
Rubin shifted back and forth and rubbed his feet together. He could not understand Mr. Darva’s words, and felt like a squirming specimen beneath a microscope, being examined with cold scrutiny.
“So you are looking for work,” Mr. Darva began again. “Tell me about what experience you have.”
Sighing inwardly, Rubin saw the hint of a possible foothold. “I worked at a factory for a few years near Broadway and Fifth,” he said proudly. “I helped with packaging and shipping.”
Mr. Darva stared and said nothing.
“Is this a factory?” Rubin asked, when the silence became too painful.
“In a manner of speaking,” Mr. Darva snorted. “Anything else?”
“Well, I was also an assistant to my father’s business as we tried to get it off the ground. He’s an entrepreneur, a real….”
“And what business was that?”
“Designer lapels!” Mr. Darva barked. “Sounds charming….”
Rubin rubbed his feet together again.
“I can assume that you came from a wealthy family, before the crisis, of course,” Mr. Darva said smugly. “That, to me explains why a man of your age has such little experience to speak of, and your dear father had enough money to burn on an idea that obviously lacked imagination or purpose….”
Rubin dug his teeth into his bottom lip until there was a slight taste of blood.