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Nut, meet shell: Power is back on, cable is out, can’t access photos, this post is all words.

OK, now that we’re all caught up (I’m sorry I can’t show you photos of big trees laying down in places where they ought’nt be) I have one or two observations on life that I’ve learned in the past week.

One: If you have a choice between getting stung by a yellow jacket either at breakfast or at dinner, pick dinner. Because if you get stung at breakfast you’ll have to spend the whole day putting an ice pack on some inconvenient body part; whereas if you get stung at dinner, you only have to wait a few hours before you can take a sleeping pill (ooops, sorry: sleeping aid) and when you get up the next morning you’ll only have a big fat red welt that itches like crazy.

Two: Every now and then, I don’t know, something gets into me and I think that I really have to get out of the house more often, interact with grown-ups, show some maturity and responsibility. So I go on a job interview.

I was browsing Craig’s List and I saw an ad for a receptionist for a law firm in a nearby Gold Coast town and I thought, well hey, that sounds fun. I like sitting at a desk, meeting and greeting; and I like the leather-sofas/dark mahogany walls/ Gentlemens’ Club atmosphere that this particular Gold Coast address promised. So I sent an email and less than 30 minutes later I was invited to stop in for an interview.

When I got to the office, it turns out that the law firm isn’t actually in the boundaries of that Gold Coast town, it’s more like on a side street of a shabby neighborhood past which the cars that are heading for the Gold Coast town drive by. And it’s not so much a law firm as a process-serving place that handles paper work that law firms are too bored to do.

The interview was going quite well until the very end, when the office manager (a woman in her early 30s) asked me, “Do you handle stress well?” I must have looked slightly puzzled (I thought the conversation had suddenly taken a philosophical turn, which surprized me) because she added, “We have five phone lines and sometimes they all ring at once.”

And I laughed. “Five lines?” I said; then I assumed my serious, interview face: “I think I can handle five phone lines”, I assured her.” We shook hands and the woman said she was still interviewing and that she’d be making her decision on Friday.

I had to keep laughing about that last question all the way home. It seemed to me the kind of question that only someone under the age of 35 could have asked, of someone under the age of 30, that question about stress and five phone lines.

What I wanted to say to that question was, “Honey, five phone lines isn’t stress.

Stress is when your kid gets diagnosed with leukemia. Stress is trying to care for an elderly parent who refuses to move into a nursing home. Stress is making mortgage payments when you’ve been out of work for a year. Stress is worrying about a bleeding mole when you don’t have health insurance. Stress is getting a divorce. Stress is having to stay married to someone you can’t stand because you can’t afford a divorce. Stress is being broke and 40. Stress is the regrets, two or three decades old, that keep you awake at night.

Honey, stress is not five phone lines ringing at the same time.

One day, when you’re older, you’ll understand that.”

Three or four years ago I got the idea that working in a bookshop would be fun, and I applied to the local chain store. A skinny, 20-year old assistant to the assistant store manager interviewed me, which meant that he read from a list of questions on his clip board, the usual job interview questions about describing a challenge that I successfully overcame and listing my weaknesses (I’m much, much too dedicated to work; and I used to be a crack whore in the Meat Packing District).

When he asked me to describe a situation where I had to deal with someone greatly different from myself, I laughed. Then I realized he was dead serious. Because when you’re 20 years old and just back from your Junior Year Abroad you think life is full of profound cross-cultural enlightenments. And I didn’t have the energy to explain to him that when you’re 50, and you’ve had pretty much the same ups and downs as everyone else in the Getting Along With Difficult People department and that by now, after all the travel and jobs and roommates and bosses and family issues and financial issues and wins and losses, you think that being married is about all the cross-cultural adventure a person needs. I didn’t have the energy to  tell him about how I was a Brownie Troop leader in a Harlem battered women’s shelter, about how I lived in France, and Africa, how used to visit  the rich and famous to discuss Faberge, how I volunteered to screen the crazy people applying to adopt cats at a local animal shelter, how I am 50 freaking years old and have not gone crazy myself: I didn’t have the energy to make up an answer so I could impress him enough so he’d hire me to shelve books. I think I said something like, “Hmmm. I can’t think of anyting, not right now.”

Needless to say, I did not get that book shop job. And I didn’t get the receptionist job, either. I must learn to keep a straight face at these interviews.

Does anybody else have a job interview story they’d like to share? Do they bring out the worst in you, or are you a genius at making the great first impression?

7 comments to Still laughing after all these years.

  • August

    Hell, -one- phone line is stressful. I’m with you on people different from yourself, though. You know who’s different from me? A person who wakes up five times in the night, sucks on his toes, and shits in a diaper.

    The last job I applied for was as a night clerk in a motel, for I think $6/hour. They made pretty clear they were mostly interested in someone who wouldn’t steal customer’s credit card information or piss on the lobby floor. I’m still not sure why they didn’t hire me. I -wanted- that job.

  • Deborah

    I think I applied to that same book store chain…and didn’t get hired. Hard to keep the game face on when asked if I’m “a team player.” Nostrils flare, eyebrow raises — all involuntary. At least I didn’t roll my eyes.

    The most grueling interview I ever had was for a library aide position in a local school. I knew I was in trouble when the receptionist looked like Vanna White — the fact that she was wearing plastic gloves and inspecting a kid’s head for lice notwithstanding. We had to read to the kids, take a computer test, etc. plus have the interview with a table full of people. I was working part time at a public library branch & my boss there knew someone who was doing the interviewing, so I heard through the grapevine that they were put off by the fact that I didn’t wear make-up (I don’t wear make-up). It made me want a do-over, so I could go in made up like Emmett Kelly.

    Loved your list of what stress is. It reminds me of something Scott Russell Sanders said in an essay: that adult grief grows exponentially, like the national deficit. When I read that, I thought, “yep. That’s what separates us (adults) from the young’uns.”

    Glad you’re back online, even without the pictures.

  • Shelley

    Even though they can’t legally ask your age, the high school graduation date on the application should provide some sort of a clue.

    I graduated in 1971. When applying for a job in 1997, my interviewer, who could not have been a day over 19, checked his clipboard and asked me “So, what did you do when you graduated from high school? What was your first job?”

    I told him, and guess what he asked then? “And what was your next job?” he inquired.

    I told him that I certainly was not going to recite the entire list of every job I’d had for the past 26 years, but that we could discuss something a bit more current.

    Apparently that was a dealbreaker because the interview ended abruptly!


  • Nadine

    Oh, man, August made me laugh out loud. I gotta remember that the next time I’m explaining to a sincere co-Boomer that I’m childfree by choice. But I’ll never be able to keep a straight face.

    Thank you, August, for the best laugh I’ve had all day.

  • Deb

    I’ve given up on job hunting here. You need a masters degree from janitor school to clean toilets. Good thing I can sponge off my husband.

    Btw August, I can no longer look at an asterisk without chuckling. It’s kind of reinforcing people’s opinion I’m mad.

  • Spike

    Wow. Lessee, the most fun I ever had with a job search came right after I read an ad in the paper for this place that exactly suited my whack-ass sense of humor. It was written in a cross between adopt-a-greyhound copy and a law firm looking for an assistant. Such a dramatic change from the usual blah blah blah. I laughed, reading this thing.

    I sat down and wrote a cover letter in the same vein. Then Sunday night at about 10:30 p.m., I got that sneaking hunchy tickle you get when something’s too good to be true. I called the phone number.

    The place–my dream place–was a farkin’ temp agency.

    I cried.

    Then I decided to use that cover letter. What the hell, right?

    Best red velvet rope EVER. Anyplace that can’t handle that rodeo clown of a cover letter has no reason to employ me–they won’t get what I can do for them with my ability to make connections between the unrelated, or my rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities. I’ve received better interviews where I DON’T get asked “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?”

    Now I have another goal on the bucket list–to be able to support myself so once in a while, I can go interview for fun, rather than “oh my god I have to get this job because ramen’s too expensive.”

  • Deborah

    Feel compelled to tell you that I’ve been entertaining myself imagining how you would illustrate Chelsea’s wedding. oooh la la!

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