Saturday, February 18, 2017

You Aren't Special : Part I


About two years ago my husband and I moved to Southern California, initially settling in San Clemente.  I immediately started applying for jobs (I tend towards depression when I'm not working), quickly landing my first interview at a local tech company.  They had a solid reputation and the position (project manager) sounded pretty interesting. I arrived for my interview at a large, industrial building.  Very sleek, with lots of stainless steel, glass and hard edges. Like a fancy morgue. After waiting for a few anxious minutes pretending to look over the resume I had brought along, I was called into a conference room with my interviewer.  We'll call him Mr. D. 

 Mr. D was underdressed in jeans and a t-shirt, seemingly reveling in the juxtaposition of the setting and his casual indifference to it.  This meant that in my new pantsuit,  I was extremely overdressed.  So in addition to standard interview nerves, I felt sort of silly.  Like I was trying too hard.  He sat back in his chair, relaxed, and started the interview.  He had an accent but it was difficult to place.  Somewhere between British and over-enunciated English.  (Like Madonna, post-Guy Ritchie). The motion sensor conference room lights did not turn on automatically, so after we sat he stood back up and flapped his arms around to activate them.

     “So…tell me about yourself.” 
     “Well…I just moved here from Japan.”
     “Oh Japan! I love Japan!” He says.  “International experience is so important for Americans.  What were you doing there?”
      “My husband is in the military, so we were stationed there for three years.” 
      “Ehh.  A military wife.”  There is so much blatant disapproval in his voice I almost think I must be imagining it.  No one would be that rude. 
      “Question.” He says, abruptly. “Would you rather kill or be killed?”
I think for a moment, then reply, “Kill. If my life is in danger.”
He shakes his head in disappointment. “No. Wrong.”
      “Um…okay.”
      “Do you think it’s okay to invade a country preemptively because you think they might eventually attack your country?” He doesn’t care about my response.  I can already see him formulate a rebuttal to whatever I might say.
      “Well…I guess if you have evidence---“
      “You don’t.” He interjects.
      “Okay.  Then no.  I don’t think it’s okay to invade a country without just cause, because you think that at some unknown point in the future they might turn against you.”
He’s not listening to me as he continues.  “Preemptive is the most dangerous word in the English language.  Americans use it to justify all sorts of horrific acts of war.”

[At this time the motion-detecting lights went out and Mr. D stood and waved his arms vigorously.  This would happen three more times over the course of the interview.]

      “So…I see here on your resume that you worked in the psychology department of a university in…Indiana? What were you doing there?”
      “I grew up in Indiana.”
      “Oh God.” He sighs.  “The Midwest. Is there a more horrible, ignorant place? And now you’re here.  Girl from the Midwest in sunny California.  You’re probably like, (He puts his hands up to his cheeks, widens his eyes and raises his voice) 'Oh my God! California! I can't believe it!' I hate it here.  The traffic is terrible.  The people all so superficial and stupid."
      “Well, it’s not as though I grew up on a farm.  I was actually born in LA.  I grew up in Indiana, but the town is large and fairly liberal.”
      “Liberal FOR THE MIDWEST.” 

I have to get out of here.  I can’t breathe.  If I stay much longer I will die and he'll stand over my body shaking his head, saying something horribly condescending like, “Small town girl in the big city.”

      “But a psychology department.  That’s interesting.  The human mind is so interesting, don’t you think?  Have you read ‘De Anima? By Aristotle?" 
      “No." I admit.  "I didn’t study psychology.  I worked for the department’s PR department.”
      “But how can you not be interested in the human mind?!?  How can you not want to know why you do the things you do?” he asks, incredulous. 
      “Did you major in psychology? I ask.
      “Okay, okay, let’s get down to business.  Do you know what this job is even for?  Do you know what you’ve applied to be??”
      “Project---"  
He interrupts me. "It’s a project manager position.  Software developers are lazy.  They don’t like deadlines.  You have to make them finish their work on time.  Can you do that?  Can you be assertive and tough?"
I tell him that I think I could, to which he dramatically raises his eyebrows and stands over the table to mock asses me from head to toe.  "I doubt that very much."

And so it went, for nearly two hours, until he stood abruptly.  The interview is over and I have no idea how it went. 

He shakes my hand and says, "You're not special.  You must know that?"
And I say, "Yes."  Because I can't think. 
      "You see, I've interviewed probably twenty girls exactly like you.  Twenty girls who think, like you, that they could do the job.  But you can't.  I think you know that.  It's above you. But thank you for coming in."

And he was gone.  I walked out to my car, just sort of shell shocked.  I called my husband, who assumed it must have gone really well, since I'd been gone for so long.  After I told him what had happened and convinced him not to defend my honor with a good old fashioned midwestern stabbing, I drove home with the radio off.  I was mad, but mostly with myself.  Yes, he had treated me like garbage, but I let him. Why didn't I walk out after five minutes?  Why was my response to being told I was a nobody to AGREE POLITELY?! 

There were many times in the following months when I would hit a low point and hear his voice in my head.  "You're not special.  You must know that?"
And my response, "Yes."