Talent Search
Part 1

By D. Aviva Rothschild

Monday, December 27, 1993

Work sucked, as usual. Copyedited 43 NARBR reviews today. It's like grading papers, except these Ph.D's are worse writers than the freshmen were. Don't know why we can't drop some of those schmoes. I don't buy the argument that their BIG NAMES are valuable to the book. If I picked up the book and saw that Dr. X wrote such garbage, I'd think both him and the book were shams. But they never listen to me.

Yesterday’s Ability search tested negative. Fuck. GODDAMN! I DON'T WANT TO BE A BLANK!

I think they're on the verge of hiring someone (finally!) in editorial. I bugged Steve about it, and he said there'd probably be someone chosen by the end of the week. I told him we needed a guy, preferably a Blank one, for gender and Ability balance. He laughed, but I was only half-kidding. It really makes me nervous to be one of only two Blanks in an office of twenty (the three Deniers [bastards] don't count). Even if most of the Gifted have crap Abilities.

Tuesday, December 28, 1993

Well, I finally found out what Anna Grace's Ability is. It only took me four years. She can turn a glass of water yellow. It looks like urine. (I told her it looked like apple juice.) It grades out at a solid F—the feds don't count practical joke value. Well, if I had a dumb Ability like that, maybe I'd be a Denier too.

Who am I kidding? I'd kill for that damn stupid Ability. I'd cheerfully spend my days turning water into pseudo-piss. Anna Grace says it's not such a big deal, having an Ability, but she's never lived without magic. I mean, she can Deny all she wants, but when it comes right down to it, it's there for her to use, even if it's flat worthless.

Wednesday, December 29, 1993

Yes, they are hiring someone! A guy, Steve said, so there's half my requirements right there. (His name is Alan, and he'll be here on Monday the 3d.) As to whether he's a Blank, Steve said he didn't ask. No sense offending the guy if he's a Denier, I guess. Anyway, Gifted or Blank, he's a guy, which will make three in the office now. Maybe now I won't have to listen to incessant chatter about hunky movie stars and diets and boyfriends. At least, maybe it'll peter out a little.

By the way, I've got to write this down before I forget—Steve's Ability is making a phone dial by itself. Grade C- , although he thinks the feds are gonna downgrade it in the next biennial revaluation, because since practically everyone has touch-tone these days, he hardly ever uses it. In fact, he told me that he prefers touch-tone, because he can punch the numbers faster than a dial phone can dial them. Well, I'd use it.

I wonder why so many Abilities are nearly or totally worthless?

Thursday, December 30, 1993

It's a real pisser, having an office just off the lunch room. Today, about half the office had Chinese takeout for lunch, so I got to smell all the food, which I couldn't afford, and listen to them talk about their Abilities, which they could do because none of the Deniers ate with them. (Anna Grace was still in the office with me, but if she heard them talking she didn't say anything.) I jumped every time Louisa did her stupid crash—she can make a noise that sounds like a dozen pots and pans falling to the floor. (Grade D, it’s got vague burglar scare value.) Susie, the other Blank in the office, is only part-time, so she wasn't there, and God knows no one bothered to say, "Hey! Maybe Debby would feel bad if we talked about this right next to her." But I'm not overwhelmed with friends on the staff. Anyway, I fought back tears for a couple hours afterwards. Unfortunately, Anna Grace noticed I was upset, and I was a moron, I told her why, so I guess I deserved what she tried to comfort me with—all kinds of annoying religious bullshit about why God wants Abilities to be expressed only in the privacy of one's home, and how Blanks are chosen by God to develop their natural talents instead of their unnatural ones, so they'll ultimately be stronger than the Gifted. Yeah, right. I almost said to her, "Gosh, Anna Grace, you surely wouldn't have had to work as hard in this world if you'd used your Ability to help you along," but I need my job.

Friday, December 31, 1993 (and, later, January 1, 1994)

Well, I have four and a half more months for my <please God please God please God> latent Ability to show up, cuz when I turn 30, that's it. I mean, my chances of developing something between now and April 11 are pretty crappy, but after the big 3-0, fewer than one person in ten million (!!!) crops up Gifted. I've repeated this figure to myself so many times that I'm kinda numb to it now, but if I don't get a certain birthday present, I'm gonna be a lot less calm than I sound here.

Everyone keeps telling me to read Blank Slate: Making Magic with Your Nonmagical Abilities, which is apparently by some guy who went through the same kind of shit that I'm going through, almost committed suicide after his 30th birthday, got prevented by some cop, and became a successful writer. Yeah, sure, I wanna pattern my life after his. God, I hate inspirational literature.

(Added at midnight) That girl in the first-floor condo who makes blinking lights around her head (grade D+) has been running up and down the parking lot. Trashed out of her skull, probably. I played Sweeney Todd to celebrate the new year. It fit my mood perfectly.

Saturday, January 1, 1994

Dull day. At least the Rose Parade wasn't "Celebration of Ability" or "The Glory of Magic," like it was two years ago. I think a Blank-Denier coalition protested after that one. What a scary thought—being allied with Deniers.

The only interesting bowl game was the Rose Bowl. One of the running backs for Ohio State did backflips across the end zone after he scored a touchdown. The announcers didn't say whether he was using an Ability or not. Probably not—anyone who's got any kind of magic that could unbalance a game is barred from sports, except the Open Ability Leagues, which are more like pro wrestling than real sporting events. I guess that's one good thing about being a known Blank—if you're successful, everyone knows you got where you did on your own. Of course, if you're not going anywhere much, like me, you're S.O.L.

Sunday, January 2, 1994

My first Ability Test of the new year. What can I say? Bupkis. Debby the Blank. The Ability Technician, whose Ability is making stuffed animals move—grade C+, and she's got a profitable side business doing kids' parties—gave me the usual spiel about how I'm wasting my money, but THERE IS NO FUCKING WAY THAT I'M GOING TO CHANCE MISSING THE PRIMARY MANIFESTATION! Of course, I couldn't put it quite like that. I just went into my act, which consists of a heavy sigh and a resigned look and "Yeah, I know. But it's something I gotta do, you know?"

Anyway, she shouldn't bitch; she gets paid, doesn't she? Not that she does a whole lot to me, besides stand by the machinery and put all the little rubber cups on me. (There are at least three A.T.s in Denver who can sense magic without the machine, but at least with the machine, I don't have to watch someone using their Ability. Besides, their talents grade out at B, so they charge more, and my insurance won’t cover them.)

Speaking of insurance, April 10 will be my last test no matter what—no insurance will pay for tests after the big 3-0, and I sure can’t afford them otherwise.

God, I hated writing that.

Monday, January 3, 1994

Back to work. The new guy, Alan, was taken around and introduced. He seems decent. He's a tallish, lanky dude, about my age, going a little bald on top already, and quiet. He ate in the lunchroom after everyone else, so I got a chance to chat with him a bit. Turns out he's single and does his own cooking. I didn't bring up Abilities, but if he had one, he wasn't using it. And no, he's no Denier—or if he is, he's the loosest-assed one I ever met. I think I could like this guy. Too bad he's on the other side of the building. But I should see him at lunch.

Nothing else, except I copyeditied 62 reviews (whew! I hate year-end!) and we got in a book on the musical theatre that turned out to be reference, so I get to review it for next year. (I offered to take it home and write a review tonight, but Anna Grace said no. At this stage, she only puts in new reviews if they're on some major topic, like that one-of-a-kind book on soybean diseases last year. I still have that thing lying around somewhere. Someday I'll remember to donate it to the library. Debby Wachs, agricultural expert. I swear, I get so many last-minute weirdies to review, one day I'll have a review in each chapter, even religion.)

P.S. Tax breaks for Blanks! I wonder if I could get a petition going?

P.P.S. (or is that P.S.S.? I can never remember) Mom called. She was checking the family tree for me and found some great-aunt or other on her side who Manifested five days before she turned 30. I HAVE HOPE!

Tuesday, January 4, 1994

Dull day. Discovered that I'd pretty much found the mother lode of conversation with Alan yesterday. Today I asked him where he was from, what he used to do, stuff like that, and his longest answer was, "Uh, Baltimore." Still, I think he's just shy.

Wednesday, January 5, 1994

Today we got in the office the 1994 Federal Catalog of Abilities for review. Since we don't do government documents, Anna Grace said I could make off with it, just like I've made off with the last two FCAs. Hotcha! Naturally, I spent the day surreptitiously peeking into it to see what changes they've made. The main change seems to be in the reclassification of C and lower grades under what someone considers "larger" categories. For example, Anna Grace's Ability used to fall under "PIGMENTATION—LIQUID—SINGLE COLOR" Now it's under "LIQUID, PIGMENTATION OF—SINGLE COLOR," and there's a cross-reference from the old classification. I dunno—I could argue with this decision. Oh well.

At lunch I spent some time looking through the listings of A and B-level Abilities, which is like browsing through the Neiman-Marcus catalog. God! the stuff I can't do! "FLIGHT, WINGLESS." "INVISIBILITY, EXTENDED." (A guy who can turn himself and others invisible.) "FIRE, CONTROL OF." "TELEKINESIS." (That's the one I'd kill for.) "SHAPESHIFTING—MULTIPLE FORMS." (Sigh.) Although I'm not sure I'd really want to have an A-level Ability, because those guys get swallowed up by the government. An F-level would be just fine with me, thanks.

What's funny is that there's this new little disclaimer on the title page of the A section: "This listing represents the complete catalog of all A-level classified Abilities registered since 1890." It had to have appeared because of all the rumors about secret government classifications that sprang up last year. It's hard to imagine that someone's Ability could be so powerful that the government wants to keep it a secret. "EXPLOSION, NUCLEAR"? "MIND CONTROL, EXTENDED—CONTINENT-WIDE"? Or, the one to set politicians quaking: "BUREAUCRACY UNTANGLING."

Thursday, January 6, 1994

Alan has a really nice smile. (God, listen to me! I sound like I'm trolling for husband.) I discovered this when I gave him half a candy bar and he smiled broadly for the first time since he came. It was a funny, astonished kind of smile, like no one had ever been nice to him before. Since, as far as I can tell, he's smart, he's probably gone through some of what I have: too smart to truly feel comfortable around other people. And if he's a Blank, that makes him even more like me. Still haven’t found out for sure; all I know is that he hasn’t used any overt Ability in front of anyone here. I’m positive he’s not a Denier, though. Haven’t seen or heard a shred of religiosity from him.

Friday, January 7, 1994

Nothing much of interest today, except I finally finished all the copyediting, and we’re still waiting on about a dozen important reviews. TGIF, of course.

Sunday, January 9, 1994

Ability Test. Nothing. CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP. Did I mention, CRAP?

Monday, January 10, 1994

I can’t believe it—Alan offered me a piece of homemade cake at lunch today! It wasn’t very good, but of course I said it was. I wish he’d hung around while I ate it, but he just sort of handed me this plastic-wrapped wedge, and after I unwrapped it and took a bite and said how great it was, he grinned and hurried back to his desk.

I chatted with Louisa later, and she said that except for work-related stuff, Alan doesn’t talk to anyone, much less share cake with them, so I’m feeling a little proud of myself for successfully chipping away at the ice.

Friday, January 14, 1994

Whew! Can’t believe I haven’t made an entry for four days. It’s been a busy week. We got all of the reviews we were waiting for, so I edited them and the typesetters entered them into the database, and now the proofreader has them. She’s a really terrible proofer, but we don’t have time to look for anyone else right now, so I will, as usual, proof her work when we get the reviews back. Hooray. Anyway, I spent most of the week compiling the chapters and spellchecking them—you’d be surprised how many mistakes slip past us. I also have to quietly proof the author/title and subject indexes that Anna Grace generated. She doesn’t know I do it, she thinks they’re perfect as is. A Denier through and through.

Haven’t had time to see much of Alan this week, but he did give me another piece of that crappy cake. And I did get a chance to ask him to go to lunch next week. He blushed and said, "Maybe." I hope he’s not uncertain because I’m too fat for him. I hope he understands I’m just being chummy.

Sunday, January 16, 1994

A-test. Do I have to spell out the results? I dunno—maybe I’m blocked somehow, and I need some sort of Ability Ex-Lax to release my latent magic. There ARE people who can cause other people to take a shit (grade B, a useful Ability for a number of professions), but no one’s ever developed a method to hurry along actual Abilities. Believe me, if they had, I’d’ve gladly gone into debt to use it!

Monday, January 17, 1994

God, that proofer is SOOOOOOOOO dumb! She KNOWS we use the serial comma, yet she took them out of the entire last batch of reviews we sent her! ARRRRGH! I wasted a hour STET’ing them back in so the typesetter wouldn’t remove them. We have GOT to find another proofer. Anna Grace left a polite but unhappy message on the proofer’s answering machine.

Tuesday, January 18, 1994

Well, shut my mouth. Our proofer called today to apologize, and we found out why she’s a clod: she’s an Unfortunate. She’s got one of those "Subtle Gremlin" Abilities; it changes little details on things around her. Not often, but just enough to make her life incredibly annoying—books she owns get changed, CDs lose bits of information, etc. She can’t even own a computer, because the software and the hard drive eventually get all screwed up. She can’t hold any kind of permanent job, so she freelances so the chances of her gremlin interfering with her work are minimized.

Now THAT’s an Ability I can do without. Luckily the Unfortunate Abilities are really rare—the proofer is only the second person I ever met with one. I take back all the nasty stuff I wrote about her—except this: She’s a terrible proofer with or without Ability, and now that Anna Grace knows she’s Unfortunate, we’ll probably be stuck with her forever. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 19, 1994

Lunch with Alan, finally. We went to Olive’s, which is kinda pricey, but it’s just about the only edible pizza around here, and anyway, he’d never been, so it was cool to watch his face when he saw their "Wall of Beer." Turns out he’s a microbrew connoisseur, and he actually spoke at length about some of his favorite local brands. Yawn, but at least I got him talking. When he was done with that, he asked me about myself—the usual crap. I didn’t mention anything about Abilities or Blankness, and he was polite enough (or wary enough) not to bring up the subjects. In fact, the woman at the next table spilled some water on her suit and then made it dry up a moment later (at least grade B-, depending on how much she can evaporate at once), and I swear he noticed it and quickly averted his eyes. Can’t prove it, though, and didn’t ask.

Anyway, lunch seemed to go successfully, and he agreed to do it again in the near future.

Friday, January 21, 1994

Not much to report except more boring work-related junkola, and two more pieces of Alan-cake based on brownie mix. Too bad he doesn’t have "FOOD, POSITIVE FLAVOR ENHANCEMENT—BAKED GOODS." On the other hand, if he did, he likely wouldn’t be here. That’s one of those Abilities that’s worth mucho bucks in the right places.

Sunday, January 23, 1994

See the 16th above.


Tueday, January 25, 1994

Lunch with Alan again. Arby’s, because this was a quickie thing—we both had to get back ASAP.

Friday, January 28, 1994

Long, dull, busy week, but—ta dah! The 1994 edition of North American Reference Book Review has finally been put to bed. 2156 reviews this year, including 15 of mine on subjects ranging from Broadway musicals to science fiction to cat breeds to slang terms to coins. Also over three dozen reviews that should have been dual-credited to me, considering how much I had to fix them to make them readable.

Now we get to start on NARBR 1995. We’ve already got something like 200 books piled up, waiting to be input into the system, assigned reviewers, and sent out. Maybe this year I can convince Anna Grace to let me do some of the assigning.

Hoo ha! Alan asked me to go out to dinner tomorrow to celebrate NARBR 1994.

Part 2 coming soon!

Copyright 2002, D. Aviva Rothschild

About the Author

Read about my thrilling life on the Editor page. This story is one that I've been kicking around since 1994. It was sparked by a true event: the hiring of a new guy at my office. And yes, I used to work with reference book reviews.

Tell Aviva what you thought of her story!

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