A Scene

“Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit producer of ‘Sesame Street’ and other kids’ programs, is cutting about one-fifth of its work force because of the economic downturn. The New York-based company said Wednesday that it’s eliminating 67 of 355 staff positions.”

—Associated Press, March 11

A Scene

>> Next.

>> Hi there! How are you today?

>> Fine, thanks. Mister—

>> Bird.

>> Bird. Right. Have a seat.

>> Why, thank you! Don’t mind if I do!

>> My god, can you fit in there? There’s a couch in the lounge, if—

>> Just made it! A-OK!

>> Good God, look at you. Your legs have giant rings on them. I’m sorry. Okay, it says here, Bird, Big. Well, you’re not joking, are you?

>> No, sir!

>> Well, I’m Arlen Knudsen, your employment agent. Thanks for coming in to RandCorp Temps today.

>> Great to meet you, Arlen! Your name starts with the letter A! Like apple! And annnnnnnchovie! Do you like anchovies, Arlen?!

[peculiar silence]

>> Okay. Um, let’s start with your details. You’re 44. 6 foot 6. A yellow canary. You didn’t put down a social. I’m gonna need that.

>> Today’s job search is brought to you by the number seven!

>> What?

>> And the letter M!

>> Mr. Bird, could you excuse me one moment? I’m just going to check in with my supervisor.

[Knudsen smiles falsely, gets up, crosses the room, and leaves, with a stiff back and bulging eyes, trying to appear normal and calm, hoping that it can be proven that the recent long hours and endless interviews with applicants have caused a delusion and in fact there is not a overlarge canary sitting in the chair before his desk which, he reminds himself, has been occupied recently by a series of delivery drivers, accountants, hedge fund managers, and so on, all of whom were perfectly real and not imagined. In the kitchenette, he drinks three paper cones of water in succession, and takes a deep breath. His supervisor would actually be annoyed to be consulted, and anyway doing so might put Knudsen on the other side of his own desk, should his brain be playing tricks on him. When he returns to his office, the bird is singing happily to himself in a nasal voice, neither exactly male nor female, far too loudly and cheerfully.]

>> Sunny day! Everything’s right as rain!

>> Okay, sorry about that. [Knudsen sits again.] It’s been a bit crazy around here lately.

>> That’s okay, Arlen! I’m glad you came back!

>> Where was I? Residence? It just says “Sesame Street.” No city, no state?

>> Won’t you tell me how to get! How to get to—

>> Just the street is fine. How about qualifications, Mr. Bird? The nitty-gritty, eh? Tell me about that.

>> I like to sing songs, and talk to my friends, and read books and learn!

>> Mm-hmm. And your work experience. Do you have any? Lemme guess—coal mine, ha ha?

>> I don’t know what you mean! I’ve been singing songs about the alphabet and talking to my friends and going to Mr. Hooper’s shop and learning about shapes and colors for all my life!

>> Is that so?

>> Right as rain, Arlen!

>> Great, great. [Knudsen speaks with a degree of condescension now, thinking if he can just pacify this fantasy until reality returns, or until maybe it is revealed as a practical joke perpetrated by his coworker Jim, intending to be a stress-reliever, something to break up the monotony, then he’ll be fine and not have an actual full-blown crack-up.]

>> That IS great!

>> And what kind of work are you interested in, Mr. Bird? These are very tough times, you know. Demand is high, we’ve got Ph.Ds on the books with nothing for them.

>> I was thinking something federally mandated! You know, get a piece of those stimulus dollars! Maybe paving roads!

>> That’d be perfect, Big B! I have dozens of positions like that. They pays four hundred dollars an hour, have full benefits, and a company car—a BMW 530. I tell you what. I’m going to need some references. Is there a former boss I could call, maybe some letters of recommendation?

>> Today’s job search is brought to you by the letter M!

>> No, no, not those types of letters. Who are your friends?

>> Gosh, there’s Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Grover. So many! But my best friend is Snuffle-upagus.

>> Snuffle-upagus?

>> Yes! The only problem is— [for once, Big Bird hangs his head and speaks in a sad tone] — no one else knows he exists. No one else has ever seen him. And no one believes me when I say he IS real!

>> Oh, don’t worry. We get that all the time.