Hard Up, The Interview
The difference between butter and margarine is huge. Butter is made of cream. It is stirred until it hardens. That's all - pure. Margarine is processed from oils that no one wants to use in anything that anyone might recognize the flavor in. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, and random fats. Twirl the oils, add hardeners, mix. Cook, process, add salt. Stir, shake, add butter colored dye. Add more hardeners. Mix.
Serve and enjoy.
My life is like margarine. Just keep adding falseness to make it look normal and tweak it till it's in good taste.
I'm finding out the hard way that all of those little dreams and aspirations that make people strive are just additives. All of the promises people make are just butter colored dye. I stir, I mix, I shake - everyday until a new, oily dream bubbles to the surface. It makes me really believe. I'm really convinced for a moment.
Yeah, this is butter.
I am sitting in an office lobby in downtown Seattle in my $200 suit, nervously reviewing my interview questions. The shoulders and breast of my navy, fatherly cut, suit coat with outdated elbow pads are rain soaked. My hair with its new, short, generic cut is plastered to my forehead. Seattle - and I can't afford an umbrella. It was sacrificed for my $11.99 tie. The ink from the marker I used to cover the scuff on my old dress shoes has washed off in the rain. I arrive at Western Wave with only five minutes to spare. In case I am late, I just sit down and do not make a trip to the restroom to freshen up. Instead, I take a seat and read my soggy notes.
In walks butter. That's all - pure. Sporting the square jaw seen on the heroes in Marvel comics and the icy blue eyes to match is the tall and clean man of the hour. His entrance is complemented by a perfect, effortless smile that boasts of dental bleaching and thousands of dollars worth of orthodontist work. It's a smile that meets everyone in the room knowingly as they turn to look at him. He holds their attention as he lowers his umbrella and shakes his head in a winking fashion as if to say, 'Hey, the rain got me; you know what I mean - wink.' Everyone smiles, bonding in the experience and some even laugh softly. As his last act at the entryway, he shakes his $1,000, charcoal shoulders and the tiny drops that lay there fly off of him twinkling before they hit the ground.
He approaches the receptionist and promptly, I tune out his deep, refined voice. A few moments pass and he sits beside me. Instinctively, I look up and meet his eyes before I can stop myself. He smiles patronizingly as his eyes scan down my suit like the judge and jury. My smile, when his eyes reach it again, is mocking and challenging. He looks away and straightens as my smile turns to a sneer. He pulls his resume from his snakeskin attache case. I realize that this is the guy I'm interviewing against; the only other candidate for the job.
Mr. Perfect vs. The Idiot.
I contemplate sneaking out or faking my death. I imagine drool coming from my dumbfounded mouth. The answer to my first question will be, 'My Mom likes me.'
Just as I decide to ask where the restroom is and sneak out the back, the hiring manager comes out in her pink suit. Last week, it was purple. Pink. I am reminded of the inside of a Pepto Bismal bottle. I am reminded of Strawberry Shortcake. Blond hair, lots of make-up, and a French manicure. A silk, baby pink, mini-skirt suit, hot pink shirt, and shoes with dots of both.
Mr. Perfect and I both stand up to greet her as she approaches. She smiles at us both with her aura of self-deprecation and her hectic-life hairstyle.
"Bob, John, glad you could both make it for this last interview. Sorry to call you both here yet again, but we just want to introduce you to the team and then we will make our final decision."
I say nothing, not because I can't but because Bob cuts me off. He compliments her outfit feigning surprise at how it brings out her striking eye color. Of course she's flattered.
Elaine leads Bob and I into the conference room overlooking a view of Puget Sound on one side, and our intrinsic traffic problems on the other. Traffic... too many cars. I take the bus. Welcome to the twelfth floor.
A group of young people sits around a great table all feeling the camaraderie of twelve-hour days. They don't know it yet, but they don't really matter. This great machine of a company still clinging to the fading dotcom splendor is a malicious grinder preparing to gnash its teeth. Right now, they are all company men and they matter. Right now, they believe themselves to be the innovators of their generation - the talent keeping this start-up afloat. For now, they will stave off the inevitable for one more day until the grinder chews them up and spits them out. Then, they will know they are all the same. Today, I am the same.
But not Bob.
Bob says hello and good to see you again and it's raining cats and dogs. Everyone laughs as he shakes hands and makes eye contact. They are in a group; I am separate. I try to divert.
"I think Bob ran through the raindrops," I say with a tinge of desperate and a splash of regret.
They stare at me politely. That's okay. Bob to the rescue.
He straightens his wursted wool and silk blend jacket and makes his way in. We are sat at one end of the table. People begin to quiet down and grow uncomfortable. They are a reflection of twenty-something, fresh-out-of-college inexperience. I smile and delight in the silence. I am not a college man, but I know how to conduct a good interview. This is my seventh one in two weeks, after all. I smile and as my mouth cocks to relieve their anxiety. Bob's voice comes out.
"It was so wonderful when I received Elaine's phone call for a third interview. This is such a dynamic and energetic team; I can hardly wait to get started."
Dynamic Bob. Energetic Bob. Team Bob.
I can see his very recent past clearly. Bob: up until all hours. Bob: researching the website. Bob: preparing notes, talking to people, looking up stock quotes. Bob: preparing language and practicing in the mirror. Bob: memorizing important names.
His and my recent past is identical, but mine is margarine.
I have still said nothing. I am still a wallflower. Non-inventive, shy, and non-aggressive - perfect for a tech position but terrible for commissioned ad sales. I am a programmer but this is my last resort. This group interview against the number one candidate is all that stands between me and an eviction notice. I am probably only here because of some inane company policy that dictates that these people are required to have more than one eligible candidate. They probably did not choose the top two people being considered but the top and bottom of the Bell curve. I suddenly realize I have no chance.
I suddenly realize that I am here to make Bob look good.
They usually take a photo of some one before a makeover or some great weight loss and then they take a photo after.
I am the before picture.
I look over at the after photo and smile.
I think about the hours and hours I have spent prepping, sending written and rewritten cover letters and resumes (as if a few words would change some one's opinion), calling, stopping in, talking to contacts, and staying awake nights just to get a good interview. I think of the other interviews and how I was never even called back. I think of the rent I sacrificed for this cheap suit. I think of my pile of past due notices. I think of my last job. I think of the people who raised me, their hopes for me, and how thankful I am that they died before they could see how I've turned out.
I want to get into a fight.
And so goes this grueling hour-and-a-half long interview. Every question answered is answered by Perfect Bob first. Sometimes, they even forget to ask me at all and move on before I can speak. That's not good enough for Perfect Bob. He is even more perfect than the people he is trying to get hired by. He stops them at one point and reminds them of me, courteously, as if I am a charity that folks just forgot about.
"Oh, but that's beside the point," he says after an award winning joke, "I feel like I've been doing all of the talking... What do you think, John?"
I want to kill you.
"Urn," I stumble. "Well," I falter. "I uh," I flop.
My answers are always two steps below his. I am feeling around in the dark for simple words I use everyday. Bob quickly uses up all of the company vocabulary from the website leaving no creative words behind. The best I can hope for is that I am mimicking Bob. His etiquette is flawless, his manner superb.
I can't wait to go back to my problems at home. Anything is better than this. Gilligan's Island, year seven, is better than this.
Then suddenly, I realize that Bob has already become one of them. He asks as much as they do. After an hour-and-a-half, Bob has congealed to become a part of them. They are one brain with fourteen sets of eyes, twenty-eight limbs, and one big prick.
I say my goodbyes and hope to God I never see any of these people again.
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J Kovach is a writer, artist, musician, and sociologist. Born and raised in the rough parts of Portland, her inspiration started from the tiny bits of color and beauty that were imbedded all around her in the gritty streets. She now resides in Seattle where she studies sociology and forensics.