The winning entry in our ninth annual short story contest is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Alan Sincic’s “Dear Mr. Gottlieb” is written in an absurdist, stream-of-consciousness style that has shades of Hunter S. Thompson and James Joyce—but a voice all its own. Based extremely loosely on the format of a job application, the piece is a funny, nonsensical satire of corporate life.
It’s a fitting selection by this year’s guest judge, Fernando A. Flores. Flores’ work is also gleefully strange: His most recent book, Tears of the Trufflepig, is a borderland dystopia featuring bioengineered animals in neon colors. When asked what he looks for in a short story, he said, “The ones that stay with me take some kind of risk, strive for something greater, unknown, undefined, and afterward leave you lost in the woods of what you read.” That’s definitely true of “Dear Mr. Gottlieb.” After the story, writer Alan Sincic shares a few thoughts about what inspired him. We’re also celebrating all our finalists and honorable mention awardees, whose names are listed after the story. —Rose Cahalan
No, you do not know me, but let me assure you that I’m not like any of the other people who write to impress you with the force of their personality. It would hurt me, Mr. G., to think that you could view our relationship in such an ungenerous light. Gratitude alone compels me to seek you out, and I plead with you not to take time from your busy schedule to offer a reply to this letter. If you were to stop right now and to shred this letter into a thousand pieces, I would be the first to stand up and applaud. I am deeply humiliated at the thought of this continuing any further. Enclosed please find a can of Sterno and a box of matches—no, no—do not say another word. The mere thought that such a company as yours exists is more than enough to sustain me.
This letter is about you, Bob—Bob’s needs, Bob and Bob alone. Ignore that rabble of so-called job-seekers, employees, “family”: To them you are nothing more than a wheel to be greased, a pot to be stirred, a stray rhino charging across the veldt with a tranquilizer dart in his flank and a high-powered radio transmitter pinned to his collar. “Just whoa on up there,” is what I say. It’s high time somebody put a stop to this stampede across the flowerbed of Bobby Gottlieb’s heart. Thank God, Bob, that in this high-tech world of subepidural DNA antipersonnel devices and globe-spanning petabyte servers, we can still turn for love to that quarter pound of tenderloin sliced out from the thundering herd, the individual. And hey. Double thanks to God, Bob! That individual just happens to be me.
With an opposable thumb, eight pounds of cortical tissue (fully loaded), and a 357 eight-cylinder fuel-injected engine, I come fully equipped for either work or play. Pressed for time? I cut overhead by downsizing hourly, doubling my memory even as I pack more of myself into a smaller and smaller space.
Zap. I am the size of a grapefruit, and fit quite nicely tucked into the corner of your attaché case or anchoring that stack of invoices on your credenza. Zap. I am the size of a bumblebee and perch inside your left ear whispering sweet nothings as day gives way to night. Zap-zap. I’m an ICBM sprouting up through an Iowa cornfield, a million pounds of thrust sucked into a bright red button quivering beneath the manly but well-manicured thumb of Robert H. Gottlieb. Zappitty-zap. A plate of linguini Alfredo in a white clam sauce. A—zap—hand-tooled leather sombrero. Zap—a kitten—zap—a samurai sword—zap—a candy-red Maserati convertible. Do you like breasts? I can grow breasts. I am all that you have ever wanted and more.
Hobbies and Special Interests
Like you, Bob, I am a winner. I have a winning attitude. I never lose at any of the games that I play. Yes, I used to lose, but that was before I became a winner. I have the look of a winner. My hair is always flying straight back behind me like I am rushing rushing forward into a high wind. My teeth are clenched, clenched in the wind, clenched down hard on a slab of raw, bloody meat. I slash and burn. I shoot to kill. I am a winner.
Not that I am a winnier winner than the Right Honorable Hrrrrrobert the G, Winner of the Winners, and that battalion of winners you gather to crush the barbarous horde. Semper fi, E pluribus unum, Ich bin ein Berliner. Teamwork is the motto of the Extraordinarily Gigantic Corporation. We is the word that makes the world go round. There is no “i” in winner, Bobby-Bob, Bob-a-loo, no, aside from that little “i” with the little dot on it, that being the “i” that I am, the little dot on the “i” floating up there like an egg, a little egg adrift and spinning, a child of the universe, a single point of light in a field of a million billion stars, a pinch of salt in the casserole of life, a fleabite on the finger of God, a tiny enzyme in the great digestive tract of the big-city grid. You are Mr. Robert Gottlieb and I am a molecule, I am less than a molecule, I am an infinitesimal speck of undistinguished protoplasmic matter, an evolutionary outrage, a sexless, inarticulate slime. Prostitutes refuse me. Cripples make fun of me. I scrabble crablike under the bleachers at the big game, savor the rain of the popcorn kernels and the flick of the foam of the beer as I climb, I clamor, I climb to kiss the bottoms of a thousand thundering feet.
But is this enough? Of course it is not enough. It is never enough. I wield my clout. I flaunt my clout. I fondle my clout before a crowd of astonished onlookers. Out of a yen to impress? Out of a show-offy notion to sugar the tribe? No. It is not for my own sake, Bob, nor for the sake of the public I baptize the pigeon that bears your name, nibble the bark of the pencil embossed with the logo of the EGC, suckle the nub of the eraser, inseminate the soil that bears the seed that springs the tree that timbers the hook that holds the hat that tops the head of the inimitable Robert H. Gottlieb.
For you I flurry skyward. For you I tunnel earthward. For you and for you alone I hide in the woods at the back of your Omaha warehouse and in the morning leave an offering on the doorstep for your plant manager—the dented chrome dial of an old automobile radio, nuts and berries and boiled tree roots. I conquer your inventory control system and FedEx myself into the lobby of your Boston subsidiary, cling to the skids of your chopper as we lift off from your country estate, trot naked across the rooftops to wave to the stenographers in the windows of your Manhattan International Headquarters—oh gigantic square statue full of people, oh tremendous glass-covered unbreakable piñata, oh solid slab of TVs all tuned to a different channel and no commercial interruptions!
Buster says the EGC is about money but no, Bob, no. Money is small and green with dingy little pictures of dead people on it. The EGC is about people who are alive! Hive after hive I—zap—I huddle them into my heart, gather them into my elevator arms, oh, the air we share as I hum them—their musical bodies, smell of soap in their hair—higher and higher. There. I’m a—zap—a newborn baby coffee cup they cuddle and soothe and lift to their lips. I’m a—zap—a sip inside them, sweet inside, side by side their secret sighs, their very breath…
sShhh. Midnight I break into your office. Climb onto your desk. Dictaphone in hand, cigar in mouth, I dictate a memo to your secretary asking her what became of the Anderson file, asking her where she found that wonderful perfume, begging her to run away with me to a far country.
Not that you should be jealous, Bob. No doubt you’re feeling an impulse to fling this letter aside and to seek me out in person, but not to worry, not to worry—there’s more than enough of me to go around. Don’t be so hard on yourself! There’s no shame in this, in these natural feelings we feel when we feel. You find yourself drawn to that blend of pluck and charisma which is my Distinctive Personality. You find yourself impressed with my can-do spirit. You find yourself locked in the trunk of my blue ’67 Chevy Nova, duct tape over your mouth and a Roy Rogers red bandana over your eyes.
Naturally a man in your position might fail to spot new trends in entrepreneurship—spin-offs, outsourcing, right-sizing. I can tell you’re anxious to make up for lost time. How eagerly you kick to the beat of the happy heart, kick at the latch, kick at the lock, kick at the wall of the womb. Energy is what they call it, this animal urge to wiggle up into the breathable empty, but no, no—I’ve got just one word for you, Bob: synergy. A coming together. By paring the EGC down from 838,000 (old economy) to two (2), we achieve economies of scale unthinkable under the old brick-and-mortar business model. You and me, me and you—the you becomes a me, the me becomes a we, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, forsaking all others! Godspeed and fare-thee-well you beautiful bubbling billion-fingered pissants in a pepperpot scrumble of Bobsters and Bobsters-to-be! You cannot bottle the Bobness of Bob with your titles and your trophies and your perky-breasted receptionists, your bloodhounds and your bullhorns and your Kevlar-vested VPs and VPs-to-be! Carpe diem, Bob. Tempus fugit.
So off you go. Zap.
Thanking you again for your consideration
I’ve got only a compass, a rusty spoon, and a half-eaten sugar-frosted doughnut, but the stars are clear and the night is young.
Your prompt reply would be greatly appreciated
Your footprints are still warm. Go, Bob, go! Ah, ah, ah—no, no, no—downwind! Go downwind! I can still smell your cologne.
I am presently fielding a number of offers and it would be very helpful if
Ollie-ollie-in-free? No, no—not on your life. Skin shine! Heart jump! Blood thump! This is what I call living!
We are at the present time engaged in a number of ongoing negotiations and it is to be hoped that
Love. This is what love is, Bob! From now on out, I’m changing my name to “It”!
Looking forward to hearing from you soon, I remain, Yours sincerely
98… 97… 96… 95… 94… 93…
Alan Sincic on “Dear Mr. Gottlieb”:
This piece bubbled up over the course of a year at open mics and other disreputable venues in-out-under and around Manhattan. At the West End Jazz Club on a stage the size of a shoebox. In the basement of the chapel at Columbia, dead of winter, the radiator stuck at a hundred, the crowd all glossy as a rack of ham in a smokehouse oven. On the back of a handbill I scribbled it, on the subway, at dawn, in the overlap of the bankers and the bums, and I smuggled it, a work in progress, under a stack of memos in a cubicle.
“Dear Mr. Gottlieb” is not so much a sendup of corporate America as it is a worm’s-eye view of what we all encounter when called upon to win our way in a world utterly, implacably, brutally indifferent to the love—and the hunger for love—that maybe, just maybe, could make us into something more (what would be the word?) human.
How do you preserve the personal touch in a letter engineered to lever your way into an immensity? Do you grovel? Do you strut? Behold. The song of the haughty amoeba, the offering at the altar of the God of Mammon, the Sacred Dance of the Seven Veils: the employment application letter.