The Accidental Peach Tree

LOS ANGELES

Sitting in heavy traffic on the 5 freeway for two solid hours, my wife and I munch sunflower seeds and pass the hull cup back and forth. The stream of vehicles increases with every on-ramp merge and we wonder when this will ever end. Not anytime soon, apparently. The radio informs us that President Obama is in town and that some of the local streets have therefore been closed. And the long-distance travel to job interviews just keeps on coming. This trip: 850 miles for what turns out to be a 40-minute interview.

I am the last candidate of the day; it is easy to see that the panel has been at it for hours and is ready to go home. The questions are printed on a laminated sheet that is taped to the conference table. It must be boring to have to ask the same questions over and over again to wannabe employees, the management detritus of God only knows how many companies’ staff reductions, washed up on the shores of unemployment. When I ask about their timeline for making a decision, I am told that they will still be conducting interviews for several more days. “It’ll probably be several weeks before we notify candidates about who has been selected to continue on to the next phase of the process.”

I know what this means, and it puts me squarely between a rock and a hard place. Either I will receive a rejection email or I will be asked to make this expensive trip again to participate in another round of interviews. This was already our second trip to southern California for this position; the first occurred in April when the employer invited me to take a series of tests. The expense and stress of these trips does not seem to blip on their radar. Some days, I feel like a TV game show contestant. “Uncle Guacamole, come on down!” I think I’m supposed to go screaming down the freeway with excitement, waving a flag or something. Someone please tell me when it’s my turn to open Carol’s box or spin the plinko wheel.

To break up the trip, we stayed over at my parents’ house in the Central Valley last night and will do so again tonight. This allowed us to do only eleven hours of driving today rather than nineteen.

In the morning, it will be a three and a half hour drive to Sacramento to sit for testing to derermine whether I am worthy of an interview for another in an interminable lineup of positions for which I have applied.

This morning, I was shocked to discover that I had received a voicemail from an employer that wishes to schedule an interview with me for next week. This very thoughtful employer plans to conduct the interview by phone so I don’t have to go to the expense of traveling. I am so grateful for this generosity, particularly since this job is located in Chicago, nearly 2,000 miles away. My wife is very unhappy about the prospect of relocating so far from both our families. I feel that her view is valid. No employer, however, is tripping over itself to hire me. I cannot stress out over a decision that it is extremely unlikely I will ever have to make.

Meanwhile, we get to visit my parents, whose home has been serving as our way station. My mother took me out in the garden to show me her “accidental peach tree.” She had thought it was a wild, weedy thing that was choking the life out of her rose bushes, so she cut it down two years ago. Much to her chagrin, the unwanted visitor returned last summer. She cut it down again. This year, the tree made its third appearance, twisting among the thorny branches of her roses. Only this time, it triumphantly returned in all its fruited glory, displaying dozens of huge, juicy, sweet orange-yellow peaches.

My mother also pointed out that a mourning dove has made a nest in one of her hanging baskets on the back patio. Two fledglings recently left the nest and now, she told me, the trespassing bird that has proceeded to make itself right at home has laid another egg. When I took a peek, lo and behold, two eggs were now sitting in the basket! Looking out the kitchen window, one cannot help but notice the mother bird returning to the nest every few minutes to check on her babies-to-be.

When I arrived at my parents’ house yesterday, among the first things I noticed was the hooting of an owl. But it’s not an owl, my mother corrected me. It’s those damned mourning doves. And indeed, a cursory glance revealed that an entire flock has taken up residence in my parents’ back yard.

My mother is sick of all the mourning doves. She says there’s only so much you can put up with, particularly when you’re constantly accosted by avian grieving and every day sounds like another funeral.

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