I wrote the story below in response to the writing prompt ‘It wasn’t funny.’
It’s a true story.
Back in our barren apartment my sister and our friend laughed hysterically. It wasn’t funny!
It was 1986. I was twenty two(ish). I was living in Savannah Georgia with my sister Nina and our friend Linda. We had been there for about a month. We each moved down with a small stash of cash. We rented the empty apartment and bought three beds.
Linda had a teaching job already lined up. My sister picked up a job pretty quickly. I was not having much luck.
My work experience was limited.
One summer, I sold the NY Times at the Queens’ entrance to the Midtown Tunnel. I was good at running and weaving around slow moving traffic. And making change.
Another summer I made change and sold tokens for the self serve toll booths at the Throggs Neck Bridge. Again, I could do traffic.
Oh, and I spent two months in hell at a button factory. I sat at a sewing machine type thing all day. All day. With a foot pedal, I secured buttons to the little cardboard things on which they’re sold. Some cardboard things got two buttons. Some got four. Depended on the button. Yeah, so I could do that. Buttons.
In Savannah, the jobs I was applying for didn’t involve traffic or buttons.
I did have a brand new college degree. So that’s what I led with.
The interviews weren’t going well. We just need somebody to do this or that. They would say. We’re not really looking for somebody with a degree.
I was getting worried. My cash stash was dwindling. I had planned on it lasting two or three months but I hadn’t factored in happy hour. Or food.
Then came a promising job prospect. It was down by River Street. Something to do with shipping and receiving. Whatever. An office type job.
The guy seemed nice and I thought it was going okay. He didn’t seem hyper focused on the degree thing. He rambled on. I was nervous. It was almost over.
He said “Do you have any questions? Anything you’d like to add, before we wrap it up?”
Here’s what I wanted to say. I wanted to say “I appreciate you taking the time to interview me. I value my college education, yes, but I realize it’s only the beginning. I’m eager to learn all there is to know about the business. That said, I realize this is an entry level position. I’m not above doing busy work.”
Something like that. I meant to say something like that. Busy work. I meant busy work.
That’s not what I said. I was nervous. I was uncomfortable in my JC Penny pencil skirt suit, my hair pulled back into a braid. Amateur makeup. Everything felt tight and itchy. The outfit drained me of what little confidence I had.
Here’s what I said “I know I don’t have much work experience. I can learn the job though and when business is slow I don’t mind doing hand jobs.”
It went something like that. Those last six words though, they’re exactly what I said. I’ll never forget. I meant busy work.
Within seconds, I realized. Oh crap. Oh god please no. Get me out of here!
He didn’t know what to make of me. I didn’t have the finesse to back the truck up ,make a joke about my poor choice of words and ease our mutual discomfort. I just sat there. Dying.
He nervously wrapped up the interview. Quick. Also dying.
Inside the safety of my car I screamed. I peeled out of the parking lot. I didn’t mean to peel out. But I did. Screeching tires and everything, right past the interview window.
I raced home. Screaming. I burst into the apartment and ripped off the stupid JC Penny’s suit like it was to blame. What happened my roommates pleaded and finally I told them about the excruciating last four minutes of the interview. They rolled on the floor laughing. It wasn’t funny!
Thirty years later I wonder if the interview guy has gotten as many laughs out of that story as I have. I hope so. It’s funny.