Not your standard issue late twenty-something's blog.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Will Work for Penguin(s)

Today I interviewed for a publicist position at the Penguin Group.
I take a cab downtown due to the rain and my lack of direction. The cabby quickly takes me to Houston, instead of Hudson. A six-dollar cabride turns into a ten-dollar cabride. I enter 375 Hudson at 9:10 a.m. and take my place in the security line. Apparently my name isn’t registered with building security and I’m to wait till “someone” comes down to meet me. Not HR’s Sue Valentine, with whom I have a 9:30a.m. interview, but someone. According to security, Sue Valentine is out of the office until August 2. I know this to be bullshit.
At 9:25, some woman named Marisa takes me up to HR. She seems wary of me, in my tired black slacks and battered pumps. I always hope well-coifed hair and a delicately made-up face will compensate for the hip young professional clothes I lack but I seem to disappoint every time.
 “Sign in and let me see your building pass,” a loud young receptionist bellows at me.
“They didn’t give me one. I came in with-“  I point to the fleeing Marisa.
“Oh, yeah. Kathleen. You here to see Sue?”
“Yes. I have a 9:30 interview.”
 I didn’t bother correcting her. Why people can’t say the name Katherine is beyond me. After years of going by Kath, I thought going by my full name would clarify but it never does.
“Alright, darling, fill this out and give it back to me.”
I sit down. I’m surrounded by other women who look like me. Maybe younger, maybe a little older. They’re certainly happier than me. I’m cranky. The coffee I drank in the cab is kicking in. I reference my cell and my Palm to complete the application. Perhaps I at least look the part, I tell myself. Will I be able to fudge my way through this interview? Pretend that all the freelance work I’ve done in the last couple years has garnered me impressive contacts and clips?
The receptionist is having a bad day.
“They be giving me all this work. And it’s a Monday! I tell you! I coulda taken off today. I coulda! But I didn’t. Should’ve, though. So it’s Monday and I got some chaos goin’ on, girls. So if any of yous  need to use the ladies, you just tell me now because I am overwhelmed here!”
The girls around me laugh. I glare into my Palm. Why can’t a trade publisher find a receptionist who a)speaks perfect English and b) can handle wearing a headset and handing out a bathroom key at the same time? I flip through the Young Readers catalog. These are the books I will be promoting. The Boyz vs The Bratz is one title. Oh, sweet Jesus.  Another title promises the reunion of Strawberry Shortcake and Blueberry Muffin. Strawberry Shortcake. I can get behind Strawberry Shortcake.
A plump, middle-aged white woman with short hair in a hideous green and blue pantsuit greets me and we go to her office. I have found, in my month of job interviewing, that middle-aged women in HR carry a lot of authority. Or at least think they do. Sue Valentine was no exception.
“So, we’re training a new recruiter. She’s going to sit in on our interview. So, I’m gonna have to be on my best behavior. What does that mean, you ask, Katherine? I’m usually pretty informal. I’ve been doing HR for 20 years. I could interview you with my eyes closed but today I’ll be on my best behavior! Let me just get her.”
I take a seat. Sue’s office is smaller than I expected. Mariah is the recruiter. She’s a pretty, non-threatening blonde with a mild sunburn and a soft voice. She hits me with the chair she brings in with her and apologizes profusely. I like her immediately. I wish she were interviewing me.
“So, Katherine. I’ve taken a lot of notes on you and you have a very interesting background but I’ll let you talk. Let’s start with your most recent job experience and work backwards.”
I tell her about my freelance work, my time at Comedy Central and Columbia University Press. She wants to know about acting school, which I include in my resume to clarify what may appear to be a job gap.
“I went to acting school to study the other side of playwriting,” I begin. This isn’t completely true but it is a little true. I went to acting school to study acting.
“It actually honed my public speaking skills and writing skills as well. I have no desire to act.”
“Really? And why is that? You need to eat, right?”
“That and there’s no shortage of women like me in the entertainment industry. There are plenty of attractive twenty-somethings out there.”
Mariah agrees but Sue laughs. It occurs to me that maybe I shouldn’t have said attractive. Maybe I shouldn’t have said twenty-something. Maybe Sue thinks I’m ugly and much older than my 27 years. I feel the warmth in my armpits, the blush creeping up my cheeks. I’ve fucked up the interview. I look pompous. I seem to speak with authority.  The thing is though . . that’s my personality! I do know what I’m talking about! She asked me why I didn’t want to pursue acting and I told her!
“Doesn’t it feel awful to be a failure, though, Katherine? To give up on your dream?”
Fucking bitch. Did she not hear what I just said?
 “Actually, acting was never a dream. Writing was and several of my plays have been produced.”
“Really? And what are your plays about?”
“Office revenge, mostly.” Fuck me. Now she thinks I’m psycho.
“And dating. I wrote one about online dating. They’re comedies. They’re funny. They’re dark comedies.”
Sue has me by the balls and she knows it. I’m squirming.
“So, tell me about this legal consultant job. How did you fall into that?”
I tell her that it was a part-time gig when I was in school and I continue to work there in between publicity gigs. Again, not entirely true. But a little bit.
“There are lots of personalities there. Opera singers, writers, people in between jobs.”
“People like you.”
“Well, no. I’m looking for something permanent and most of them are content to be temps.”
Mariah excuses herself. She has another interview. How I wish she could stay. Sue Valentine fingers the Star of David pendant that hangs on a chain around her neck and looks at me like an injured puppy. She proceeds to tell me about the job. Yes, I would be publicizing titles with the word Bratz in them. Yes, I would be promoting Strawberry Shortcake. Suddenly, almost any job, outside of a law office or PR situation, sounds appealing. I wonder if I should meet with a copyediting acquaintance I have at Penguin or meet with my dad’s exgirlfriend’s brother who is a novelist, composer and architect. Someone, somewhere, has to be able to tell me I’m qualified to do something I might be remotely interested in and Sue Valentine is not that person.
I give her a couple press releases. She looks at them and laughs gently, the way a mother might look at her kid’s first finger-painting attempts. I wonder if she’s married. Sometimes the single old ladies are the most condescending.
“I’ll copy these for Katrina. She had a funeral this morning so she won’t be in. I only found out about it this morning. Otherwise, I would have re-scheduled. Talk to you soon!”
I thank the  now-chipper receptionist and get in the elevator. So many women in publishing. One of the two chicks in the elevator stares at my reflection in the door. She misses her stop. I don’t know why she’s staring at me but somehow it is comforting.
That someone else, not me, is awkward for that moment.


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