Monday, January 11, 2010

Definitely a Ten . . .

I interview for my job at 3:00.

I didn't leave the apartment all weekend. Saturday we hosted company and Sunday was just too fucking cold to do anything. I romanced the thought of walking some videos back to the store. A two-hour nap ended up defeating that notion.

Two in the morning and I'm tossing about and turning in the sheets. I don't know if I'm unable to sleep for the nap, or is it the interview tomorrow afternoon? The one I'll arrive at baggy-eyed and sluggish from the lack of sleep. My boss has told me personally not to worry, and I know who I'm up against: The rouge's gallery of crumb-bums I've been writing about for the past several years on these pages. But the recent economic downturn has put a lot a good people on the streets, looking for anything that guarantees a paycheck on the first and fifteenth -even if only for a few weeks. It's the things you can't see that really fuck you up.

I keep telling myself, "You've never lost a job in the interview. If you can get in face-to-face you're fine."

I moved to Hays in the winter of 2002 for no real reason at all. My friends in Lawrence were rounding out the third year of just hanging out, and I knew that there was something I should be doing, I just didn't know what. So like anyone in their late-teens/early-twenties who just has to break free of the apathy they see looming over them, I packed up the car to a place that held no real history or consequence but was populated by a few friends.

Hays rests on the western outskirts of Kansas. Located off I-70, it serves as the last junction before Colby, a town whose billboards promote it as an Oasis on the Plains. It's the typical small college town in the middle of nowhere. Peter Bogdonavich filmed Paper Moon in this town two decades earlier. The people of Hays still talk about it.

A friend put me in touch with a landlord who rented me an apartment that could be used in Pictionary to define the word dank. The rent was $150 a month. To cover the stay and base expenses I needed to find a job. Having worked data entry for the Department of Education the prior year, I wanted a job where -at the end of the day - I could hold in my hands the product of my work. Such manufacturing jobs didn't exist in Hays (or anywhere for that matter). So I decided on a job that required craft, patience, and offered the reward of that tangible good: Baking.

Of the two in town, one called me in for an interview.

I arrived at the Golden Coral Buffet eager to get behind the desert station and start whipping up some fucking cakes. The interviewer was a nice guy, but also kind of a tool. He graduated from Fort Hays State with a degree in Psychology. I mention that I planned on focusing my studies in the same (I wasn't),when I enrolled at Fort Hays (which I wasn't going to do). The conference proceeded swimmingly. He pulled from his file folder a scantron sheet and a number two pencil.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being 'Not At All' and 10 being 'Always,' would you say that you are organized?"

If he hadn't pulled out the scantron sheet I would have been modest and given myself mostly eight and nines. The occasional ten. Maybe a seven. But that scantron sheet meant this interview was being recorded and a score would be calculated. They needed above a certain percentage to hire me on. Anything below that and they'll give me a call when something opens up.

"Organized? Oh, most definitely a ten. In fact, let me tell you how organized I am. It's actually quite comical . . ."

"Punctual? I'm gonna have to give myself another ten on this . . ."

"Some would say I'm diligent to fault, so I'll say ten. . . "

For fifty questions, I gave myself a ten along with some anecdote I made up on the spot. At the conclusion of the interview he scanned the sheet, "I've never seen this before."

I was offered and accepted the job on the spot. A friend who worked the steak buffet came up to me as I was leaving. Seeing my apron and training manual in hand he asked if I was hired. When I told him I was he gasped. "Man, nobody has ever been hired in the interview. We all had to wait two weeks."

I became the winged horse of Golden Corral lore. The man hired in the interview. They say he transferred in from one of the Kansas City locations. That he ate three steaks during the interview. Some even said he was never once seen washing his hands or wearing the required gloves.

The desert station ended up not offering the vocational prestige I thought it would. Everything was some chalky box-mix that I added water to before baking. The icing was a sugary coagulate that arrived in paint buckets. It never spread well and tasted like something made in an elementary school. The girl that worked the station with me was a complete and total bitch (she wouldn't sleep with me) and worst of all; it was a stupid fucking job that was beneath me and I sucked at it. And that's the worst. The Red Velvets looked like they were iced by Dick Clark. The German Chocolate cake would go out with the baking sheet still between the layers. Nothing would be labeled properly so when the diabetic lady during the lunch rush asked if the blueberry pie was in fact sugar-free, I would hesitate. Stammer a few seconds. Then offer a high-pitched, "maybe?"

I worked the Golden Corral desert bar for two weeks. Maybe three. I was supposed to cover a Saturday shift for someone when a friend swung by and invited me to go shooting in the field. How could I say no? I returned home that night with ringing ears. The voice mails on my phone followed the obvious pattern.

"Just reminding you that you're scheduled to come in at noon."

"Where are you? It's three? Give us a call and let us know what's going on."

"click."

"click."

"You'll need to come in tomorrow. We need to talk."

I lived in Hays for a little over two months. The earnings from that job left me comfortably well off during the stay. In December, I planned on moving back to Lawrence. As I drove to town I felt like I was driving to a job I hated. I turned around and headed for Dodge. There I made a phone call and booked a one-way ticket on the Amtrak. Destination, Chicago.

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