Monday, January 05, 2004

Job Hunting Torture: My First (of Probably Many) Confessions

The new year finds me hot in pursuit of a job. I have taken seriously the advice that I've been given to "apply for EVERYTHING". So I am applying for everything, even jobs that I will loathe.

When I think about my inability to find a job, to even inspire a glimmer of passing interest in my abilities, I become depressed. I end up staying in bed for an extra hour in the morning, trying to gather the courage to face the day. And then, when I finally drag myself into the shower, I discover that my neighbors, no doubt the same ones who were dropping bowling balls onto my ceiling at 203am and again at 218am and 241am, have hogged all the hot water so I am left to suffer through a COLD shower.

To keep myself motivated enough to get out of bed one hour earlier thereby avoiding any more repetitions of cold showers, I have devised a little game. The game -- it has a sort of Bart Simpson theme -- is called "rejection is FUN!" The purpose of this game is to collect as many rejection notices from as many countries as humanly possible. In honor of this goal, I have even dedicated an entire wall to my little project, to proudly display the results of my efforts to myself and others. The premise of this little game being that this is yet another character building event that will make up for my general lack of character that I mistakenly thought I'd gained from my LAST character building event -- an event that I am convinced was sufficiently humiliating and devastating to last at least one, and probably two, lifetimes.


I mentioned my new philosophy to my drinking pal, RL, on New Year's Eve, in an effort to formalize this as some sort of New Year's attitude adjustment. RL immediately began to brainstorm ideas for how I could at least maintain my income level, with the unlikely possibility of increasing my income somewhat as time goes on. Job possibilities that were immediately abandoned because I had already been rejected for hire include a french fry chef at McDonald's (or should I instead say "freedom fry chef"?) and shelf stocker at my neighborhood liquor warehouse.

We then discussed various jobs that I've already interviewed for. At that time, I had bombed my interview at the Princeton Review three weeks earlier and was just starting to lick my resulting wounds aloud (these things take time, you see). This was a teaching position that -- had I been hired -- would have paid $20 per hour (of course, this IS taxable income, which means I would really be earning somewhere closer to $12 per hour after all the fed, state and local taxes are sucked up, so I am not as upset about my failure as I was a week ago. Besides, I remind myself, cat sitting pays better).

But my failure still stings because it is a matter of pride. Since most of us know that I CAN indeed teach, I think my pitiful misadventure in front of the Princeton Review panel deserves some sort of elaboration. Or maybe "explanation" is a better word. Besides, this is actually a funny story, or so RL assures me after an evening of beers with scotch chasers. Even though my drinking habits are not nearly so liberal or expensive as RL's, I am inclined to agree with him, especially because the passage of time has reduced the sting somewhat. Unfortunately, I haven't drank enough to manage a hearty laugh over it. Yet.

Anywho, it turns out that Princeton Review sent an email message to all their applicants, warning them that, as part of the interview process, we were to teach a five-minute lecture about some topic of our choice to all our fellow applicants. We were to practice our mini-lectures and to bring whatever props we needed to the interview.

But, as it turns out, I never received this email message because my employer's recent server crash resulted in a partial emptying of my nearly bursting email box. It took our computer geeks here two days to rebuild the server from old parts, and some email messages were lost forever. Apparently, one such lost message was from Princeton Review.

So I arrived at the Princeton Review interview in south Brooklyn (I've never been to Brooklyn before), pleased that I managed to navigate my way there successfully, a feat that required an hour and a half, three different subway trains and a six block walk to the Princeton Review office.

Because I did not get lost, NOT EVEN ONCE, and because I arrived in good time, I should have known that humiliation and disaster lurked ahead of me. Halfway through the group interview, disaster struck in the form of the announcement that, after our potty break, we were to return to teach our lessons.

"Um," I gulped to our fearless leader as everyone else vacated the room. "Lesson? What lesson?"

"Oh, didn't you know? It was in one of the email messages we sent last week." Said the group leader.

"No, I did not know. There was a server crash and ... " I started to feel like I was giving one of those elaborate modern-day "my dog ate my homework" excuses shamelessly stolen from one of my students. My voice trailed off. I felt absolutely stupid.

The group leader brightly suggested that I teach about something I do every day. CLONING A GENE? I was incredulous. Well, she said, maybe not. How about something easy, like teaching everyone how to tie a shoelace?

I decided this idea was simple enough that I could do it, despite the misgivings clamoring away in the back of my mind. So I spent a few minutes hiding in the bathroom, contemplating how to resolve this crisis successfully. I finally -- reluctantly -- rejected sneaking out the back door only because I'd stupidly left my coat in the interview room where everyone else was now assembled. I gave myself a mental pep-talk, reminded myself that things are not as bad as I think they are, and went back into the classroom, with what I hoped was a smile on my face.

To make a long and humiliating story somewhat shorter, I FORGOT HOW TO TIE MY SHOES. Oh sure, I made a good show of it, twiddling my shoelaces and whatnot, but nothing happened! They drooped unceremoniously onto the table repeatedly, revealing my incompetence to everyone. Yes, folks, this is the truth as reported by the cockroaches clinging to the wall: I was standing up there in front of a classroom full of generously-proportioned businessmen in three-piece suits, the Princeton Review panel, and GOD HIMSELF, and I forgot how to tie my own damned shoe, despite the fact that I had successfully tied this very same shoe only a few hours earlier. Despite the fact that I'd JUST found my way to Brooklyn successfully, which is much more difficult than tying one's shoelaces.

I was so embarassed that I could have passed out. I forgot to breathe. I turned red. Then I turned white after all the blood rushed from my head. Then I opened my mouth and strange things began to pop out. In short, I would have been right at home if had I been trying out for a Saturday Night Live comedy routine. My audience's unabashed hilarity -- no polite laughter, this! -- confirmed my budding comedienne status. Perhaps I was easy to "laugh with" because I confirmed these businessmen's suspicions that all skinny blondes really ARE stupid bimbos who truly cannot find their way out of Macy's.

Needless to say, other humiliating things followed, but I played along as if I meant things to happen the way they did, deciding at the same time that there was not enough marzipan bars covered with dark chocolate in the world to soothe my bruised ego; there were not enough warblers in Central Park to make me forget the agony I was suffering; there was not enough beer in the world to pickle the neuron that will forever remember this horrible character building event, and then I wondered when that happy day would dawn when I would no longer have more character building events to look forward to in my life.

Whew. I was getting a little light-headed just writing this to you. Excuse me while I breathe into a paper bag for a couple minutes.

Anyway, to finish the story, I could not get out of the room fast enough (despite my supposedly nonchalant exit) when the interview finally, mercifully, ended. As I left, I heard our fearless leader for Princeton Review say to my retreating back, "we'll call all of you with our decisions by Monday."

It is many mondays later, I still haven't heard from them and I am too ashamed to call them to ask what their decision might have been. Besides, cat sitting pays better than they do.

Maybe I am just too sensitive about this sort of thing, but the reason that I got a Ph.D. in the first place was so I would never have to seriously grovel for a job again, so I would never have to worry about unemployment, so I would never have to face homelessness again. Instead, now that I have the doctorate, I've found that I am overqualified for everything I'd previously ever done to feed myself, and I am underqualified for everything else.

Those generously-proportioned businessmen would laugh harder if they only knew this.

Happy New Beers.

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