Tuesday, July 26, 2011

No Furniture at the Shoppes

Last week I was interviewed by two large men in polo shirts who looked like they spent most of their free time at the gym. The job was one for which I was neither particularly well- nor particularly ill-suited in that it required basic competence but no specialized skills, and I wanted the job because A)It paid money, B)It would be a stepping-stone to something else, and C)It probably offered some form of health insurance.

Salem North Shoppes is a small shopping center off the interstate with individually-sloped roofs and natural-colored siding that attempts to evoke the architecture of a bygone era when in reality it cannot be more than a decade or two old. Brittle trees (one of which afforded me some shade to park my car under) grow among thin sections of mulched land sloping out of its half-empty parking lot, for these are professional offices far removed from the retail and residential sectors. A single pizza place services the plaza; a poor substitute for the lunchtime options of a mixed-use downtown area.

A girl in a hooded sweatshirt was working behind the front desk when I walked into the office. It must not have been her desk, because next to the computer was a large and very ‘80s photo of a middle-aged woman with bright, obviously-dyed blond hair. There weren’t any other pictures or pieces of furniture in the room, so my eye was repeatedly drawn to the photo. Inside the owner’s office, the entire back wall consisted of large windows, evoking that of a powerful executive’s office in a tall skyscraper. Unfortunately this room too had only a desk and a chair for furniture, destroying the architect’s vision. An office can hardly be called professional if there is not enough furniture to fill it.

This was a relatively new company whose owner did not seem particularly experienced in giving interviews. I could almost see him glancing over at the sample interview questions on his computer, often interrupting the flow of a conversation to move on to the next one. He seemed confused about why someone from the education world wished to enter his field, and I spent a long time explaining how my skills were relevant to any line of work, real or imagined as this argument may have been. There was also a very noticeable attempt throughout the interview to see how I would fit in at such a place. He asked me what I did for fun, and I said that I enjoyed reading, movies, and hanging out with friends when in reality my hobbies are so numerous that I often have trouble listing them. What did I read? My mind flew to the very dry book on Russian history I’d been reading that morning. That may have been a bad answer for this situation. A better answer would probably have been something physical or sports-related.

At any interview there is always that extremely awkward moment of saying goodbye when applicants resort to excessive politeness in an attempt to make up for their shortcomings. I thanked the owner profusely for his time, bowing from force of habit as I walked past the girl at the front desk (the middle-aged woman’s photo still smiling at me), again saying that it was nice to meet him, and it was nice for him to meet me, and I looked forward to seeing him again, and he was thankful that I had come, and I wished him luck in his business, and he told me to have a safe trip home, and I told him to stay cool on the hot day, and then the door was closed and I was free once more.

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