Saturday, September 7, 2013

The funemployment incident

Job hunting sucks.

Job hunting fresh out of college, in a new city with a high unemployment rate, without a soul-crushing internship to drag you into an office drone position, sucks you into a hazy endless despair devoid of self-worth and runneth over with expensive coffee.

I found myself jobless last year after abruptly quitting a job as a server-ish at a sketchy bar. And by "ish," I mean I was paid under the table for four weeks, seemingly random sums of money. I don't suggest quitting with no backup plan. However, I also don't suggest telling your employees they "really need to dress more bar-sexy-cute-club-girl" when their uniform already consists of booty shorts and shirts "artfully" shredded to just a few strips of fabric. I would say the shirt only covered the necessities, but I found mustard in places that I certainly hope wasn't visible to the public. Eek.

So I embarked on the adventure of finding a new job in Los Angeles. My first one was super easy to get, so obviously jobs would just rain out of the sky onto me. I had a college degree! I had marketable skills! I had an A+ resume and quirky, eye-catching cover letter! The applications began and I realized...

I had... nothing to offer. Sure, I had a degree and relevant work experience and an internship once, but who cares about that? I'm pretty sure everyone at my corner Starbucks has no less than a Master's degree and have been working in coffee for 5+ years. I can't compete with that. Furthermore, 99.9% of the office/reception/etc jobs I sought out required "1-2 years of industry experience," which you can only obtain by... already having an entertainment industry job. It is an endless loop of YOU'RE NOT GETTING HIRED.

I applied to roughly 5-6 places a day, at least five days a week. That means by the beginning of October, I'd applied for over a hundred jobs. Besides one or two "thank you for your application" emails, I had nothing. Now this was the calm before the holiday storm, so retail and food/bev places were dead, but still. Over one hundred not-even-worth-responding rejections can do a number on one's self-esteem.

I am not a special snowflake.

At least in all this struggle and doubting of self-worth, I had the uncommon luck of amassing a really tight-knit group of friends. To keep our spirits up, we started an elaborate prank war on social media. I came back from running an errand to find no less than eight facebook statuses about feces and my bowel movements one day. Really high-brow humor. The worst/best at this prank war was a certain friend whom I will call the Buffalo, because he's actually a centaur-like creature - half-man, half-buffalo. That may seem hard to believe, but my life in Los Angeles is pretty much a magical realism fantasy, so just go with it.

Finally, finally, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I got a phone call! Not an email, not an automated response, but an honest-to-goodness HUMAN BEING who wanted me to come in for an interview the next day. I would be interviewing for a receptionist position at a talent agency less than a mile from my apartment. Seriously, the best possible job I could find and it was within my fingertips!

In my excitement I told everyone - my soon-to-be gentleman caller, my redheaded twin, my roommate, the Buffalo. I would finally be a productive member of society! I would finally be able to order drinks when we went out!

I wore my best professional chic black dress - pepulm and peter pan collar and HIRE ME heels. ("Hire me" heels are like "F-k me" heels, except slightly more subtle). I carried my designer bag that my aunt got for me after graduation, specifically so I would look fab for interviews. I reviewed potential interview questions with my friends beforehand. I splurged on a *grande* latte as I got ready that morning. I walked in to my meeting with the two main agents with my head held high. That job was mine.

They proceeded to tear apart everything on my resume, as if they hadn't seen it before calling me.

"So two years in a performing arts box office... you haven't *really* been a receptionist before?"

"So you don't have industry experience?"

"So you don't have advanced Excel knowledge / mutli-line phone / weird specific human resources software experience?"

"So... you have archery listed as a 'Special Skill'?"

The first three I managed to stammer through justifications and explanations of how my other traits transferred over, but the last question got me excited. We were always encouraged in college to throw in a hobby or outside skill on your resume to show well-rounded and drawing connections. TIME TO SHINE.

"Oh yeah, I'm pretty handy with a bow and arrow! It'll cut down on your security costs, ha ha. It requires attention to detail and focus, which are traits I will definitely bring to this position. And also I'm really good at 'hitting my target' goals, ha ha ha..."

They didn't laugh.

They proceeded to explain that they didn't like to hire anyone who had any interest in acting whatsoever, because they'd had trouble with girls stealing breakdowns and submitting themselves for projects. However, they really liked me (maybe the archery jokes won them over), but they were skeptical and did I have anything to say?

Did I have anything to say?

You can reject me. You can not laugh at my jokes. You can think I'm unfit, and a loser, and not right for the job. But don't question my integrity.

I stood up in the office and eloquently argued that my journalism training forbid me from compromising secrecy of information, that journalists had been imprisoned for protecting the anonymity of their sources. I stated that I was a Christian, and maybe that didn't mean much in LA, but that I strove to adhere to a strong moral code of honesty and truth. Never has a receptionist position been held with such a sense of duty and responsibility.

When this was my only job prospect for weeks, I really did treat it as if my life was on the line.

They loved it. Their whole demeanor changed and they continued talking with me for a couple more minutes in a much more relaxed, pleasant manner. They told me that I would definitely hear from them soon about scheduling a follow-up interview. SUCCESS. Kinda.

I scooted out of the tight parking lot on cloud nine. A few hours later, my phone lit up with a call to them. I shrieked to my roommate that "THIS IS IT / it's happening / a real job / a grown up job / time to start shopping at J Crew / I'll have my own desk and everything / la la la."

I answered to a very strange, very angry voice.

"You hit my car in the parking lot today / I saw you / White car / my car is ruuuuuined"

Oh. No.

I was almost a gazillion percent certain I hasn't sideswept anyone, but then doubt crept in. It was a tight parking lot, after all, and they had the description of my car. If it was something like a BMW or a Porsche (stupid Porsche drivers), then even the slightest mark could be cataclysmic. Especially since this person had a really weird accent and sounded very hoity-toity important Hollywood type. My entire career could be over.

I started to apologize and they hung up abruptly. The Agency. My job. Car insurance. Oh no oh no oh no.

I called them back immediately and began apologizing as soon as the current receptionist answered.

"Um... whaaaat." She stopped me with the Southern California vocal-fry that makes my ears bleed.

"Someone from the agency just called me on this number and said I hit their car when I was leaving. I interviewed this morning for the reception position, I'm R.Grace. I was just their a couple hours ago. Um, um, please connect me to whoever called / I am so sorry / I didn't think I hit anybody / but if I did I want to apologize / and I'll fix it / I'm so sorry / I've never hit anybody before / omg omg"

She put me on hold to check with everyone in the office. Werk that multi-line phone, girl.

"Uhhh like no one here called you?"

"I... but... I got a call from this number. They knew my car from this morning."

"R. Grace? From this morning? Like... let me check again."

After an agonizing two more minutes, she confirmed that like, no one there had called me. Unless someone had left early. But she didn't have a record of a call to me anywhere in her system. I hung up, shaking and on the verge of a complete meltdown, and saw a missed call from the Buffalo. I immediately called him back to relay my tale of misery and woe.

The Buffalo:  "Hey R. Grace, how's your car? Heh heh." Wait, what?

Me: "Oh my gosh were you near the agency / did you see something happen / I just called them back / I don't know what happened / omg omg omg / life ruined / how could I have hit someone's car / omg"

The Buffalo: "What do you mean, you called them back?" I detected a slight note of concern in his voice.

Me: "I got a really weird call from their number so I called them back / I hit someone's car / but they were gone from the office / oh no oh no / I have ruined my chances / I am a failure / might as well move back to North Carolina"

The Buffalo: "R. Grace, didn't the voice sound super weird and fake? Wasn't it strange that someone would freak out on you on the phone without giving any personal information? And then I called you immediately after?"

Me: "I mean yes but this is Hollywood. People are weird. Some agent wants to sue the pants off of me."
The Buffalo: "R. Grace... the agency didn't call you. It was me."


Apparently, there is a nifty little app (I had a dumb phone at the time) that will disguise your number as another number for less than a minute of call time. Our friends had discussed this about a week before but I hadn't paid any attention, because it wasn't something I could use. He chose a number I would recognize so I would pick up, and then adapted a terrible accent and an outlandish story just to rattle me for thirty seconds or so before he called to laugh at me. However, he didn't take into account two things:

1) I take everything literally.

2) Crazy situations like that ACTUALLY HAPPEN to me all the time (see: any previous story on my blog.)

Had I taken a minute to think about the situation before calling, I would have realized how fishy the situation was. I was deeply embroiled in a prank war. I *knew* I hadn't hit anyone. The voice was laughably weird. There was no actual information exchange or way I could have contacted the angry car owner. I just so happened to get a phone call from the Buffalo immediately after. And yet. I fell for it. And I fell hard. In the midst of processing this, I realized:

The agency had no idea about any of this. they just had a nearly-hysterical interviewee call them about a call that they CLEARLY didn't make, that the entire office now knew about. I could see them marking my name off of the list.

Cue: complete sobbing breakdown


Yelling, sobbing, yelling, sobbing. This was very dramatic.

He offered to call the agency and explain that it was a joke gone awry, and that he never imagined I would call them, and it was all a silly, silly, misunderstanding.
I wonder which is more undesirable, a crazy girl who thinks someone called her in a rage, or a crazy girl with crazy friends who play elaborate games? My guess is both get a big red line through the name.

 I told him it wasn't worth the effort, and stormed out of the house, absolutely convulsing with tears. My life was an abyss. I was never going to get hired and would have to move home with my parents. My mean ex-boyfriend would be proven right, and I would live out the rest of my pitiful life in obscurity.

The next day, I heard from the super cool bakery that I'd contacted back in MARCH, that they wanted me in for an interview. And shortly after that, two retail stores called me to say they were starting their seasonal hires early. My funemployment was drawing to a close.

I decided to look up the agency online to wallow a bit longer, and found terrible reviews of shadiness, additional fees, and dishonesty.

You know, all the things I so ostentatiously orated against.

Well nevermind then.

The Buffalo (after much apologizing), points out that he inadvertently saved me from possibly getting tangled in scams and who knows what else. What seemed awful in the moment was actually a saving grace.

Meanwhile, I'm looking into pursuing a Master's in British Literature so I can move up in the world and start serving coffee.

No comments: