Michael Goldstiver Waits Neurotically and Maybe Forever


There’s little doubt that Michael Goldstiver was a good applicant on paper; he absolutely was. His résumé was an orgy of somewhat relevant work experience, glowing references, overstated accomplishments, and tenuous-at-best humble brags about things he was no longer good at. Like his year eight Geography Prize. And his best ever 50m freestyle time. And all of it was brought together with a sleek design and trustworthy font. Goldstiver was excellent on paper. And perhaps he would allow his spinal column a little elasticity and stop sweating so profusely and just generally mellow if he had any kind of confidence that he was in person the same as who he was on a piece of A4. He sat very upright. Like a flag pole. This is because some part of Goldstiver’s brain had convinced the Central Nervous System that the uprightness with which he sat was being somehow tested. 

The other parts of Goldstiver’s brain fired off a brand new destructive thought every two seconds. His brain was a fully automatic machine gun and he was shooting from the hip. Here’s a close-ish english approximation of the chaos in his head: 

This tie is making too much of a statement. I have intermediate experience with excel and I’m a fast learner. What’s force of mortality again? I should have gone stripes. My greatest weakness is that I work too hard, or maybe that I don’t actually know anything about excel. Ugh. I wonder if somewhere in the galaxy there’s a little alien actuary graduate sitting in a waiting room that’s just like this one only green instead of beige. Mum was right. I’m not a very hard worker, am I? Maybe I should start the interview with a joke. I feel like force of mortality has got something to do with annualised life tables. I’m never going to sleep-in again. Or maybe my weakness is that I’m afraid of any three digit number ending in nine. I hate beige. This tie is choking me. What if this is the only job I ever have? I wonder how visible this sweat is. A priest, an insurance salesman and an actuary walk into a bar where you pay compound interest on every sip you take of your drink... Oh God, did I brush my teeth? 

Goldstiver knew that each new thought did nothing for him, except for overstimulating his sweat glands. He desperately wanted to switch his brain off, and make his cerebellum go floppy, and start just openly drooling, and stare blankly at the beige office walls. But that was functionally impossible. Force of mortality has something to do with the cumulative distribution function of the continuous age-at-death random variable. His head was a screaming mess of actuarial information and bang-on self-criticisms and deeply repressed memories that had, out of sheer malice, chosen this exact moment to return to conscious thought. Like how he’d gone seventeen years having never heard the word ‘rendezvous’ said out loud, at least not in connection with its smug French spelling, and so he assumed it was pronounced phonetically, and then one day while trying to impress his teacher and classmates he’d slipped it into an analytical speech he was required to do on Kate Chopin’s coming of age story The Awakening. With disastrous results. He was really starting to sweat now. The air conditioner whirred and swirled his brain. The walls were so oppressively beige that it felt like they were starting to gang up on him, or at least inch closer together. The waiting room chair was made of harsh steel beams, and seemed, to Goldstiver, to be part of the whole malicious conspiracy. He felt like he was maybe internally bleeding and there was a phone ringing somewhere that no one was answering and his email address was his entire name followed by a random five digit number of no significance at all. ‘Ren-dez-voss,’ was how he’d said it.

The failure to be relaxed is quickly becoming Goldstiver’s biggest reason for failing to be able to relax. Force of mortality is… it’s identical to hazard function and it has something to do with the instantaneous rate of mortality but what’s the formula again? He wonders if maybe a cool and interesting approach might be to say to the interviewer, when he is finally let in, that he is in fact so overcome with nerves that he thinks he might die. Of course he’d have to say this harrowing truth in a light-hearted, funny kind of way. Best case: he’d seem quirky and self-aware and disarming. The worst case didn’t need to be said (but here it is anyway: total humiliation, employment forever at a second-tier fast food restaurant, sad and lonely death). Ultimately, he decides the potential backfire is too big a risk to take - and risk is something Michael Goldstiver is preternaturally gifted at calculating. Like the risk of him shitting his pants was 0.02%, but after even remotely considering it the risk immediately jumps to 8%. The possibility of crying is almost certain.

Goldstiver hated what happened to his body when he sweat. It made him feel particularly betrayed by the machine elements of his body, the enzymes and glands and so on, which he had assumed were on his team. It made him think of his body as a supermassive corporation, and individual beads of sweat like disgruntled, low level employees. Seeping out angrily, spitefully. He imagined his beads of sweat did the kind of invisible, thanklessly industrious, poorly paid, paper-pushing, busy-working, entry-level grad-job that he was sitting in this room waiting to be appraised for. If I could have dinner with any actuary from all of history I would probably choose James Dodson. He also hated the idea of what his nose must look like to other people, especially in profile. There was a sharp crook in it that looked particularly grotesque and eagle-like from the side. He would go out of his way to face front-on when talking to another person so that they couldn’t see crook in his nose. Sometimes he would become so overwhelmed by trying to visualise what he looked like from the perspective of the person who he was talking to, and using that visualisation to make minute adjustments to the angle of his head’s position so as to remain perfectly front-on and mitigate his hideousness, that he completely forgot to listen. Force of mortality is an extremely precise calculation of the likelihood of death at any given moment.

After a brief and stifled struggle, he regains control of his breathing, and militantly forces his chest to inflate and deflate in a calming (but, like, still militant) rhythm. He forcefully pictures a serene body of water. It is blue-grey and completely still. Hauntingly still. It’s a little freaky, actually. So he pictures the water lolling gently, and imagines it being disturbed from below by mighty fish. This is a mistake. Fish imagery is very pungent. Multi-sensory. I believe risk assessment is more art than science. He breathes slowly. But I still very much understand the science. He closes his eyes and tries to watch the ephemeral shapes form on his eyelids without looking at them. I am an ideal candidate. I am an ideal candidate. I am an ideal candidate. He remembers all the people in the building he locked eyes with on his way in. I am a pretty good candidate. He wonders if they could see or even feel the true, frantic terror that lay beneath his eyes, like maybe the actual liquid surface of his eyeballs were lolling and rippling as if disturbed from below by mighty fish. Again with the fish. I am an okay candidate. And if they could see this true, frantic terror, why didn’t they do anything to help? I’m certainly not a bad candidate.

Force of mortality is a really terrible name for a maths equation.

He wiped his sweaty palms on his pant leg and then raised them to the humming air-conditioner in an attempt to air them out. I should get a cup of water. He’d been told once by his father that a wet handshake was as good as a punch in the face. These two things didn’t seem comparable at all. But would a cup of water make me sweat more or less? His father had once recommended an article about how shyness is a by-product of intense narcissism, and that being shy was all about overestimating how much people care for and look at and generally notice you. Goldstiver often thought about this article, in between thinking about what other people thought of him. Maybe it would be best to completely sweat out every particle of moisture inside of me right now.

He felt like he had somehow fallen deeper inside his own brain. I am a good candidate. Like his eyes had zoomed out and he was watching his immediate surroundings from far away. I am a candidate. Like he was somehow separated from himself and the world by an ultra-thin piece of glass. I think I am a candidate. Like he was the smallest doll in a babushka doll. I think I am a candidate, and therefore I am a candidate.

Do I even want to be an actuary?

He noticed that the minute hand on his watch hadn’t moved in some time. Immediately, unthinkingly, he calculated the probability of his watch dying at this exact moment versus the transportation of his soul into some kind of actual, real purgatory. Fifty-fifty, he reckoned. 

And there, in the timeless moment he writhed in, impatiently, Goldstiver found himself confronted by the fact that he was a real human person for the first time in a while. He became suddenly, serenely aware of all of his thoughts cascading around him. They were proof that he was real, alive, conscious. Proof of his personhood. And he found that at the root of all this sweating in waiting-room-purgatory was the fear that his real human beingness might get lost somewhere in this office. That he might be swallowed up by this world of numbers. Or painted entirely beige, like the walls.

Thank you for reading this story. Or maybe, thank you for just scrolling down to the bottom. I don’t know which one you did. I’m not a cop.

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