Friday, April 29, 2005

A Snark Job Interview

You have to keep trying. You have to keep auditioning, hitting the right notes at the right time, in the face of an often tone-deaf world. Persistence will eventually pay off. So I borrowed a friend's laptop and applied for a job at Nameless Hardware Superstore. The minute I logged off, I put it out of my mind. "All My Children" was on.

Two days later, in the late afternoon, I was sitting in my parents' basement poking through the musty box that held my comic book collection. Between ages 10-13, I was a comic book fanatic. Consumed them like bubble gum, I did. Dropped them completely at age 14, the year I discovered girls. Fickle youth.

The Fantastic Four was always terrific. I was leafing through a 1982 issue of this, my favorite Marvel Comic, drawn by the great John Byrne. This particular issue featured "Invisible Woman," AKA Susan Richards, who was then wearing her blond hair in a short, streamlined 'do that resembled Florence Henderson's on "The Brady Bunch," circa 1971. Yum! Sue was a stunner, clad in the nifty blue F.F. uniform that revealed just enough. . .

Luckily, the phone rang. It reminded this 34-year old man of how sad it was to be having X-rated fantasies about a comic book heroine. I ran upstairs and took the call.

"Hi!" chimed a perky, honey-smooth female voice. "Is John Left there?"

"In the flesh," I answered.

"This is Tammy from Nameless Hardware Superstore," she said. "We got your application. Are you still interested in a position?"

You know what I said.

"Great!" Tammy said. "Could you come to our Anytown store tomorrow morning at ten for an interview?"

You know what I said.

"Great!" Tammy said. "I'll see you tomorrow morning at ten, then!"

"Yes," I said, "I'll be there! 10AM! See you then!" Did you ever notice how much of phone conversation, especially business phone conversation, is such literal and obvious horse poop? It sounds like two old coots yelling into them new-fangled talkin' machines between Eddie Albert's farm and the General Store on "Green Acres".
But I digress. . .

The next morning, I did my by-now established pre-interview prep. Newly fresh and clean, I jumped into my "Interview Casual" ensemble: navy blue V-neck sweater, black Dockers and black loafers that were still shiny from the last time I polished them, for great-Aunt Bertha's funeral. The shirt and tie, I figured, were too "uppity" for Nameless Hardware Superstore. Had to look like a Regular Guy. Whoever he is.

As I drove off to my appointment, I was calm, cool and optimistic. Employment would soon be mine. But unbeknownst to me then, I was steaming straight into the dark and forbidding waters known as the Snark Interview!

I surprised myself by getting to the store on time. I only do that, it seems, when it's not required. Like when I'm employed somewhere. Upon entering the store, I told a teenybopper handing out ad flyers why I was there.

"Yes sir," he grinned. "Let me take you to Tammy's office. Follow me." The kid led me through the airplane hanger-sized building to an office area in back. The place was crawling with customers, mainly gray-haired guys in bib overalls or jeans and lumberjack shirts. The smells of cedar and machine oil hung heavy in the air.

Damn, I thought as I trailed him. These kids today(at least this one) are so polite and industrious. Why can't they be like my generation---lazy, smartassed and sullen? If they were, I'd have found another job weeks ago.

The flyer-hander-outer escorted me to a closet-sized office just off the salesfloor. The office door was closed. The kid disappeared as I peeked through a tiny window in that door. A young woman, no more than 23, was seated at a small desk strewn with papers. She, the aforementioned Tammy, had turned her chair to face the door. She---wait for it---was the spitting image of Susan Richards from The Fantastic Four! Except that Tammy's hair was brown, not blond. And she was wearing a green Major Hardware Superstore shirt, not the nifty blue F.F. uniform. And, I assume, she couldn't turn invisible or move stuff with telekinesis. Yeah, like coincidences never happen to you.

For a moment, I thought it was sweet of her to sit staring at the door, waiting for me to arrive. But she wasn't waiting for me. She was talking to some guy whose back was facing the door. The reversed Yankees cap perched on his head told me that he was about as old as the flyer-hander-outer. Tammy was interviewing him. Okay.

What did I have plenty of, if not time? So I plopped myself down in a chair, conveniently located outside's Tammy's office, and I waited. And waited. According to my watch, an hour passed. Then twenty minutes more. I started getting pissed. American Movie Classics had advertised a "Billy Jack" kung fu film marathon for that day, slated to kickoff at noon. It would take me about a half-hour to get home. Cruel woman! Had she no heart?

An eternity later, the office door opened. "Thanks for coming in! Take it easy!" Tammy's voice sounded even sweeter in person. Watching the guy leave, I confirmed my suspicions---baseball cap, puberty mustache, ratty Slipknot T-shirt and filthy cut-offs---typical j.v. doofus. He'd probably be my manager.

"John Left?" Tammy asked, looking deeply into my eyes. She had a heart-shaped face, ice-green eyes, full red lips---she was Invisible Woman sprung straight out of the comic book. "Come in and have a seat!" Oh, what I would've given for a bottle of peroxide just then.

I thanked Tammy and did as she asked. The chair was still hot and sticky from Puberty Boy's rump. Tammy sat at her desk. She pulled a file folder out of a desk drawer and opened it. "Thanks for waiting, dude. Sorry about the delay."

STRIKE #1. "Dude"? Have you ever heard your doctor, dentist, accountant or anyone who was supposed to know what they're doing say "dude"? If you do, run for the hills. "Dude" is the mark of a single-digit IQ.

Tammy glanced over my application. "Your work history is impressive. How long have you been in retail?"

"About ten years," I said. "Didn't plan it that way. I just fell in love with serving the public." Actually, I could never find that Real Job I was always looking for. Oh, and I feared change. And failure. "I have extensive experience in both small and large stores---"

"Ever drive a forklift?" interrupted Tammy.

"Uh, no. Did I check that box on the application? I shouldn't have."

She pointed to a spot on the page with her index finger. "Nope, you didn't. So that means you have no forklift experience at all?"

I crossed my legs and wiped the flopsweat off my brow. "None. That's why I didn't check that box on the application." Keep Manhattan, just gimme that countryside.

"Wow. You never drove a forklift. That sucks!" Tammy was scaring the crap out of me. But her lips moved sensually when she talked.

"It does? Why?"

Tammy closed the file folder and leaned back in her chair. "Dude,'cause this opening is for a forklift driver."

Pregnant pause.

I cleared my throat. "But Tammy, I applied for a sales job. I'm a salesman---I wrote it right on my application. Why did you call me in here for a job I'm not qualified to do?"

Tammy wrinkled her perky little nose. "It's an opportunity to grow. You would be selling sometimes, outside in our Garden Department. You'd get plenty of fresh air, and think of the tan you'd have by August! But mostly, you'd be using a forklift to move, like, 100-pound bags of peat moss and stuff."

"Maybe you misunderstood me. Why did you call---"

"'Cause I figured you could do it, all right?" Tammy was actually pouting. "It's not like we won't train you."

STRIKE #2. She used the T-word. In retail, "training" is an abstract concept, much like love---frequently discussed, rarely experienced, and often hazardous to those who seek it out. What's a good analogy for the typical retail training program? Imagine you can't swim. Someone puts you in a motorboat and drives you 5 miles out into the ocean. They throw you overboard and shout out instructions for doing the dog-paddle, just before they drive away. You're left to swim back alone. In a typhoon. Get back to shore by Friday or you're fired.

You're right. I should've bolted right then. But I needed the paycheck (who doesn't?), so I tried reasoning with her.

"Tammy, I'm a veteran salesman. Put me anywhere on your salesfloor and in a week, I'll be selling drill bits and furnance filters like they were ice cubes in the Sahara. I can make lots of money for you."

"Awww, John, you're being a pain in the butt!" Tammy pulled a push-pin out of her desk blotter and used it to clean her nails. "We only hire Can-dos for the Nameless Hardware Superstore team! We're allergic to Cannots! Which one are you?"

I breathed deeply and thought hard. My car insurance and health insurance would be due soon. "Well, I'm a fast learner and you promise to train me, right?"

Tammy's pillowy lips bloomed into a wide smile of gleaming white teeth. "Certainly! We want to help you help us!"

I chuckled nervously. "Then how could I refuse a growth opportunity like this? I'm sure I'll figure out that forklift in no time!" Tammy didn't realize it, but she was talking to a guy who, in junior high school, was known as Mr. Fumblethumbs, because he carried all his textbooks with him in a dufflebag. Mr. Fumblethumbs, you see, never mastered the combination lock on his locker. But forklifts aren't combination locks, are they? Are they?

Tammy reached into a pile of papers and pulled out some forms. "This is the paperwork for the drug test and directions to the clinic where you'll take it. Be sure to drink lots of water, 'cause they'll need a big sample---"

"Wait," I said, pointing at her. "What about salary, hours and benefits?"

Tammy looked like she wished she could turn invisible. "Uh, you'll discuss payment in your follow-up interview with the store manager. The forklift driver works the early bird shift, 4-11AM. We don't have benefits for this job."

I nearly choked. "What? 4AM? For a full-time gig with no benefits?"

She pressed the drug test forms to her chest. "Sorry, but this isn't full-time. It's part-time. . ."

I shook my head. "But I checked the full-time box---"

". . .until August," Tammy continued. "Gardening season is over by then. If you work hard, I'm sure you might get picked up by another department. Maybe."

STRIKE #3. The old switcheroo. Wave full-time bait under unemployed guy's nose and reel him in for seasonal labor. Work him like a dog for three months and then, kick him out when the leaves start to turn. Nameless Hardware Superstore was out. Maybe.

I still had one trick up my sleeve. If I played it right, I could parlay it into a full-time indoor sales job. I locked my hands behind my head and glared at Tammy.

Her eyes widened and she slumped in her chair. "You okay, dude?"

"Am I okay, dude? OH, I AM A-OKAY, DUDE! You drag me in here for a job I'm not, I AM NOT, qualified to do! I offer you my skills, MY PROVEN SKILLS, you offer me promises of training. TRAINING YOU SAY!" I raised my voice with each repetition.

Tammy cupped a hand over her nose and mouth. "John, chill, please!"

"I said full-time! FULL! TIME! FULL-TIME! Do you say part-time? NOOOOO, Invisible Woman says seasonal. SEASONAL!" I had seen the king of the slow burn, Andy Garcia, do this in a bunch of films. It looked so cool and intimidating. And Garcia always got his way. Why couldn't I do it?

"John, please pipe down! The customers will hear you! Maybe we can work something out," Tammy said, with a finger over her quivering lips.

It was looking good for me. Then, I had a moron attack and revealed my hand.

"Is this, IS THIS, how Nameless Hardware Superstore has kept its good name for umpteen years? By hiring sweatbags like Puberty Boy for the cushy jobs and dumping the sh*t jobs on skilled, SKILLED WORKERS LIKE ME?!"

My eyes met Tammy's. She was giving me the Look. It's that subzero, laserlike gaze a woman hits a guy with when she's figured out the guy's bullsh*t. I froze instantly. Tammy gathered up the drug test forms and my file and put them back in the drawer. In doing so, her eyes, hard and merciless, never broke away from mine. This wasn't the movies and I wasn't Andy Garcia.

"To answer your questions, Mr. Left," Tammy said coolly, "I don't know how Nameless Hardware Superstore has kept its good name for 'umpteen' years. I've only worked here six months, since graduation. And I didn't hire 'Puberty Boy.'"

"N-no?" I stammered. The Look had stolen my Garcia voice and my guts.

"No. He wasn't even an applicant, just a customer. His sister and I went to high school together. He stopped in to say hi and we were just talking about old times and mutual friends."

"You were?"

"Yes. Now, Mr. Left?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Get your ass out of my office."

I was moved, out the door and through the building, by an unseen and unyielding force. Invisible Woman's telekinesis was pushing me across the floor. I was helpless against it.

The flyer-hander-outer was still stationed by the exit. He was still grinning, too.

"Looking forward to working with you, sir!" he chirped.

"Bite me," I grumbled, as an invisible hand shoved me through the door.


For clarification: This, friends, was a snark interview. It occurs when an employer ropes in an unemployed applicant under vague, but essentially false, pretenses. Once inside, the employer tries to snooker the applicant into taking a position, typically a short-term sh*t job, the applicant is unqualified to do and can't succeed at, mainly because it's a short-term sh*t job nobody else wants. This way, the employer is complaint-proof in firing the applicant at the end of this short term. Like the "snark hunt" it's derived from, the only thing accomplished in a snark interview is wasted time---the applicant's, of course. Beware. Don't get snarked.

I did, incidentially, get home in time to see "Billy Jack." It was a Saturday and that was my third interview that week---all of them snark interviews. I wasn't desperate. Yet.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad, but pretty funny. Read like a scene from a comedy movie.

9:57 AM  

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