Written October 2010.
Times are tough, right? I mean, here we are, college educated citizens, with a tiny window of opportunity for employment (or at least, respectable employment). I mean, I graduated Magna Cum Laude! Raised my hand profusely as an undergraduate, always ready with an exceptional observation about the text! I’m supposed to be going places, right?
Speaking of going places. Today I had a follow-up job interview with an ‘event marketing firm’ in Totowa, NJ. Sounds cool, right? Or at least ambiguous enough to seem cool.
I drive up frantically (sort of), lost on 46 West looking for this place on the busy, tacky highway in northern New Jersey.. Ah yes, it’s located right between Daffy’s and Blinds-to-Go. You can’t miss it. I walk into the office, which is nestled on the side of the building. It looks like a 1986 office building, yellowing with age, seemingly forgotten about by the rest of the working world. It looks like an office building where human roaches sit, or stand, lifelessly pretending to work, receiving paychecks every two weeks (paper, not Direct Deposit; they’re not ready for that yet). I walk up the corridor, toward the door, Suite 6, with the sign for ____ . I walk in, greeted by a front desk with a stringy-haired brunette, with rectangular black-framed glasses. She opens her mouth. “Can I help you?” Her nasal voice mixed with the dim male rock (Creed, for sure) playing from the iPod in the corner of the waiting room, is like pounding a Smirnoff Ice spritzer at Bar 9 in Belmar. (Vomit reflex).
“I’m here for a 10am interview.”
“Name?” She asks this as she grabs a clipboard, a pen, and a standard-looking form. She hands me the goods, as I mutter, “Jessica Lipman.”
I fill out the forms, legs crossed in my BCBG navy dress. Yuck, my foot is rocking to the beat of Evanescence now; I can’t even help the impulse. I smile. This is fucking great.
A 20-something year old guy walks into the waiting room, talking to the receptionist Nikki for a few minutes. He comes off as a guy; not a man. There’s something guy-ish about him. Nikki and he exchange their seemingly usual morning gossip. I love inconsequential gossip. I live for it. She rolls her eyes, looking down at her work, while the guy rattles off with a vomit-inducing machismo that tickles me a little. I crack a smile. I can’t help it!
His attention turns to me. All smiles. “Hi how are you, Jessica? Come right this way.” He motioned to an office 3 feet from Nikki’s post. I can still smell the sweet, chemical fragrance of her hairspray.
“So, can you describe your experience with management?”
I sound off professionally, steadily – nonprofit, internship coordinator, mentor, blahblahblah. I only say blahblahblah because Joey was nodding at me, looking at my eyes (or through me). He can totally hear me speaking; he is not listening to a word that I’m saying. It’s funny, actually. I feel like I’m a vessel, sitting here, waiting for something terribly sketchy to happen.
He explains the position’s potential, talking about how they’re looking for a manager of their Home Depot team, blahblahblah. I’m thinking to myself, ‘I still have no idea what this company does exactly, what my position would be, or what’s going to happen next.’
“Well, we’d like to invite you for a follow-up interview. Would you be interested?”
“Oh, yes!” I come off as enthusiastic; not a trace of skepticism. While I am completely skeptical of this guy underneath my skin, I play this weird word game with him. Saying all the right things; acting like I’m actually interested in this terribly sketchy position that I found on Monster.com not even 24 hours earlier. I am going to this follow-up interview, not with the prospects of potentially working here in mind, but with a sense of adventure driving me. The opportunity to travel down their yellow brick path of gem-like, commission-hounding check-points. Who would pass this up? Oh, and there’s (3) interviews as part of the hiring process. I realize that I’m already overqualified (at least intellectually) the second I walk into the office; I get (2) more screening processes before they offer me a gig as a sales slave in Home Depot? Can’t WAIT.
I get up this morning, groggy, alarm sounding at 8:30am. Ugh; today is real after all. It’s always like I wake up from dreams to a reality that is comical at best. I crawl out of bed at 9am, relaxed, smiling. These are conditions in which I usually do not bask on the day of a job interview. I’m usually wired from all the coffee I’ve been drinking in preparation of this big day, popping around the house collecting all of my study materials, a healthy breakfast, etc. etc. etc. No, this morning was completely relaxed. I have an interview at 10am about 15 minutes from my house. No rush. No shower, even! Fuck it. I throw on my slate slacks, button down feminine ruffle top from Club Monaco, and a black cuffed blazer. Effortless.
I walk into the office at 10:05am. Four other recent grads (you can tell) are sitting in the dim, lifeless waiting room, Bon Jovi and Nikki greeting me immediately.
Almost immediately, a woman with long, chestnut brown hair and caked foundation on her beautiful face, strides out from back and calls my name. I feel like I’m in a doctor’s office run by dim-minded, smiling 24-year old guidos clutching (barely) Associate degrees in something totally practical and lifeless. I follow Rebecca to the corridor near Joey’s office, and linger there while she dumps a shpeel onto me about my on-site interview today at Home Depot.
“Aisha will show you around the store today, give you an idea of what your job would be, and answer any questions you may have. Sound good?” And with that, the creases in her foundation from that lovely smile of hers began to grow as she offered me a short-lived, standard grin and headed back to the waiting room for the next victim.
Aisha stood there, about 5’2”, a cute Rhianna haircut, and about 60lbs overweight. Very valuptuous, rounded, yellow eyes, and absolutely no sense of humor. She is decked out in a blue and white striped (vertical, thank GOD) shirt that is spilling haphazardly out of her dress pants. She looks half-alive. She greets me robotically and I follow her out of a side entrance of the building. As we get into the hallway, I prepare myself to be bagged over the head by Joey; I prepare for this to all make sense. Where’s the catch? Am I the catch? What is going on? This is great.
She stumbles down the stairs, clearly wearing the WRONG shoes for today, or for walking in general. Poor thing. I walk ahead of her and diagonal down the stairs, in preparation to catch her fall.
“You have a car?”
“K. Meet me at the Home Depot down the street.” We walk outside to the back parking lot, where the other “Leader” (that’s what Aisha is; a Leader) is inspecting her hunter green 1995 Jeep Cherokee, cigarette dangling out of her mouth. She’s standing there with another job candidate/victim, who looks completely confused and amused. We exchange a look, smiling. This is so great. I am immensely thankful, in this moment.
Aisha and I descend the next set of stairs, watching this strange car inspection scene unfold. She says, “Meet you there. I’m going to ride with them.”
“Sounds good!” See you there.”
I start walking toward my car, feeling as if I’m fleeing a crime scene or something. Almost immediately, the impulse to get in my car and drive home, starts to make its way into my psyche in a very real way.
I’m curious, though. I want to see Aisha in action. In Home Depot. Selling something. At this point, I still have no idea what this marketing firm does, exactly. I’m kind of excited.
As I stand outside of Home Depot (I arrive about 5 minutes earlier than the Cherokee), they pull up and start piling out of this car. The other leader spills out of the driver side door, clutching a cigarette between two fingers. Her wispy brown hair flies in the wind, as she pulls on a blazer over her white top, delicately switching the cigarette to her other hand to accommodate her movements, and that lovely blazer. Her skin is very wrinkled, almost hanging off of her face, permanently brown from years of tanning at the Jersey shore. She looks like a Point Pleasant kind of gal; a family lady. Aisha emerges from the other side of the SUV, kind of limping and dragging her right leg toward the Home Depot, stone-faced with a dainty cigarette hanging out of her fingers also. She gets closer to me, takes two more drags and drops the cigarette right near my feet.
“Let’s go.” Smoke billows out from her purplish pink lips as she stumbles ahead of me. I follow, trusting her. I love that I trust Aisha today; that she’s my guide through this mysterious ‘training’ of sorts, at Home Depot. My eyes are stuck on her waistline, where her shirt is coming out of her pants on one side. She has no clue; she looks high or something. Pills, or something. I can’t put my finger on it; but if she’s sober, then I would feel even worse. No, I think she’s high.
We walk in, surrounded by sprawling brown constructs, smiling personnel, and the smell of freshly cut wood. It’s the beginning of a great day! I’m dressed in my best, and stand out like a sore thumb in this establishment. Aisha sure as hell doesn’t fit in, either. We must stick together.
We start walking around the store, Aisha disclosing impartial tid-bits about the job ladder shpeel that Joey dropped on me only a few days earlier.
She interrupts herself, ‘So, are you, like, looking for a job or a career?”
“Oh, a career,” I quip knowingly, confidently. I’m good at this game. It’s too easy. She stumbles around the store, me tooting alongside her, for about 10 minutes, while she oscillates between talking about the ambiguity and sketchiness of the position, and asking me standard interview questions to which she couldn’t begin to understand or respond. Then she breaks out into action, you know, to show me the ropes. She approaches a Home Depot customer, slender woman brown hair thrown skillfully up, wearing gym clothes. She grimaces at the sight of Aisha’s approach. I stand back, taking in the magic; Aisha asked that I stay back during her approach, so as not to startle the customer. Um, bitch, these customers do not want to be sold something at 10am, let alone from a hobbling, disheveled, intoxicated woman. Or maybe they do?
“Hi Miss! How are you this morning? I just want let you know about our offer for a free Home Depot kitchen consultation right in your own home! Are you a homeowner?” The words fall clumsily out of Aisha’s mouth, kind of the way the smoke tooted out before. She is still approaching this poor woman, who is clearly trying to find an ‘out’.
“Um, I’m not a homeowner; I’m a renter.” And the woman walks on without a second glance. Aisha calls back to her, “Oh, alright Miss! I understand; I’m a renter too.” She laughs a little, with what seems like invisible slumjuice dripping out of the left side of her grin. I stand back from the crime scene, my insides in their own little giggle fest, while I give off the demeanor of a watchful apprentice, a student, respecting every movement and prompt of my Leader.
Then the penultimate question arrives – “What’s your availability?”
In my head? Response: I’m not available for this. I will NEVER find the time to begin this. Rather than saying this to Aisha, though (because let’s face it — I’m not interested in ruining Aisha’s day any more than it already is), I went with, “Hmm, well I’m in transition from another position, so maybe a month, month and a half? “
And, with that, I fail the test. Relief. Weightlessness.
She doesn’t bat an eye; she kind of looks like she’s on an opium high. “Ahh, the position would start tomorrow. I’m sorry.” She moves quickly into her handshake. She hands me only her fingertips; it’s like a tiny-hand kind of handshake, an inadequate grip that expresses a 50% commitment. I’m more of a gender-neutral kind of handshaker; polite, but firm, whole-handed embrace, paired with strong eye contact. She wanted nothing to do with my hand, or my presence. Oh, Aisha.
I almost felt weird leaving the store without paying her, or Home Depot, for this experience. I felt like saying, “Now Aisha, how much do I owe you for that ride?” I mean, she gave me a horrifying glimpse at my potential future. And I love horror. I usually pay $10.50 to see two hours of it in a dark room. It’s just instinct to reach for my wallet in times of such entertainment and suspense, ammiright?
Shortly after this bottom-feeding interview — this horror-infused reality — I was hired by a newspaper corporation in Knoxville, Tennessee to do some pretty cool video stuff. And I went, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. And it’s only gotten better from there. What makes it sweeter, though, is knowing that it started in that hopeless, embarrassing interview with a sketchy marketing firm in northern New Jersey. It started with Aisha.