My final date with the American Dream came over Christmas Vacation of my second year of business school. I was interviewing for an internship that half of my classmates offered their left testicle and future firstborn child to be considered for. I sat in a giant germless lobby of a high rise building surrounded by bright faced well-dressed individuals, who probably farted intelligent statements out of their ass. Still I knew somehow I belonged, not because I was gassy, but because I had always been the guy other people considered the smart one. It was the place I always expected to be, but the tumultuous journey through the humbling experience of under-employment left me significantly short on confidence.
I was about to interview for one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world. It was a corporation that registered profits greater than the gross national product of Montenegro. Yet, I couldn’t shake the thought that less than eighteen months ago, I had been a minimum-wage employee long enough to believe it was a permanent career choice. My self-deprecating thoughts were draining my confidence at an intensity level more grueling than a Jack Bauer torture session. Internally I was screaming at the top of my lungs, because I couldn’t develop the perfect back story for all the holes in my employment history. My palms were moist enough to be declared a national wetland reserve. My foot was tapping so furiously it might have been diagnosed as the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Still, I saw this moment as my chance to eviscerate my previous job struggles if only…
“Kevin Saunders?” I looked up to see a crisply dressed brunette roughly the same age as myself.
I stood up like a cadet standing at attention, “That’s me.”
“Good afternoon, Kevin. I’m Marcy Rowe. I’ll be a part of the panel interviewing you today for our internship program,” The gauntlet of potential interview miscues was laid as she extended her hand to greet me. Did I go with a firm handshake or dead fish it up to avoid crushing her hand? Did I completely avoid all eye contact so she didn’t get the wrong impression? Did I call her by her first name or address her as miss or misses or maybe even mam?
Luckily Trevor had taught me a long time ago how to quickly assess whether or not a chick was wearing a wedding ring, “Kevin Saunders, it’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Rowe.”
“Pleasure as well, follow me.”
The interview team was already assembled when Ms. Rowe and I arrived in the conference room. The fluorescent lighting beamed down upon me intensely like sunshine at the equator. My forehead was collecting sweat puddles like a hardwood basketball floor in an air condition-less gymnasium during summer league. Meanwhile, a self-assured panel stood in front of me completely at ease. Ms. Rowe began to speak as soon as she sat down, “Please have a seat Kevin. So we are happy to have you with us today. Let me introduce you to my colleagues. On the far end of the table we have Bradley Mason, and it is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to the head of our cloud technology department and next in line to be the CEO, Farrell Silver.”
“Well pleasure to formally meet you all,” I made a motion to get up to shake everyone’s hand, but instead stayed saddled to my chair based on her previous instruction. Every interview felt like an out-of-body experience where I helplessly listened to poorly rehearsed yes man jargon roll off my tongue. Not to mention I was god awful at manufacturing a persona that suggested I was in just the right amount of love with myself.
The two other members of the panel nodded their heads hello. Mr. Silver couldn’t even muster up a smile. It was as if common courtesy was an annoyance well beneath his pay grade. Ms. Rowe continued her introduction, “I won’t bore you with the details of the prestige of our company. I’m sure you assiduously researched everything you did not already know about us.”
“Ahem,” Mr. Silver interrupted. He had styled his gray hair into this kind of controlled carelessness to create an illusion of reasonableness, but his wrinkle-free polo suggested that he preferred to surround himself with like-minded minions, “Well there is plenty to learn, Marcy. We were the first technology conglomerate to crack the fortune 500 within in three years of our inception. You won’t find those kinds of results anywhere else. I encourage you to look. Besides we’ve got to permit Mr. Saunders the opportunity to make an impression on us. Explain why he deserves to be a part of the most successful company on the planet.”
Ms. Rowe quickly fell in line, “Of course. Mr. Silver. I apologize for being reticent about the success of the company. As you know Kevin, we have a hand in every type of media and technology known to man. We are always on the cusp of the latest innovation, and we pride ourselves on employing only the best and brightest. The perks here are endless. You’ll find everything accessible onsite from a gym to a food court to napping bunks- should your workload cause you to put in a few late nights on the job.”
I must say I appreciated the dedication of tech companies to creating an environment where the employees never wanted to go home. It was a step up from the all too common management trainee programs. Those companies that thrived on cherry picking hopeless unemployed college grads with a promise of upward mobility in a frat-like atmosphere, “Oh I have no problem putting in the hours. That’s the idea right? You invest the time and you get the results you desire. I think hard work and long hours are a prerequisite for any profession worth pursuing.”
Bradley Mason likely the resident specialist in fake personalities and collar popping interjected some bullshit of his own, “Kevin, great point! Hard workers are essential to our culture. I’ll tell you what Kevin, I just can’t say enough about the great opportunities …”
“So moving forward,” Every syllable fell tersely off Farrell Silver’s tongue, “Marcy, why don’t you start with the first question?”
I started to get the feeling my interview was a mere formality, and they had preselected their choice candidate, “So Kevin, please tell us about a time you were faced with adversity and how you handled it?”
Good thing I only had two cups of coffee. Otherwise I would have blurted out something about the world’s most innovative company coming up with better questions. Still, I knew this interview was a reach and I had to do something to stand out. Unfortunately I lacked the douche bag proficiency to survive in a professional world flooded with old-manisms and corporate tag words. Instead, much like a gay child at a Christian Summer Camp, I couldn’t control my urges, and let the bad jokes fly, “Can I say this interview?
“You could but then your resume would go directly to the bottom of the pile,” Farrell Silver quipped without raising his head from his smart phone.
I took a deep breath trying not to get rattled, “My apologies. Well I think that handling adversity…”
I proceeded into a monologue touching on every talking point I believed the panel desired to hear. This was the unavoidable abandonment of individuality that the corporate world insisted upon. The Borg like demand for assimilation. I liken it to becoming a Darth Vader of the corporate world. Someone who is either feverishly frightened by what made you unique and is hell bent on purging your former self. Or more fittingly, you become unaware that a difference ever existed. Soon there’s only a shell of your former brilliance. Suddenly you’re an imprisoned soldier who forgot there ever was a war. You’re so hypnotized by your captors that you find it unfathomable to question the uniformity of thought; as if it were an anomaly that anyone would resist the logic of the machine. It’s almost as if to be successful in this society you have to mimic how money is made. Fall in line like freshly minted bills straight off the press at the US Reserve- all equally identical, equally valuable and equally replaceable.
“Great, great, great Kevin that was great to hear how you dealt with your mother dying of cancer. Wow that’s really touching,” Marcy seemed to be sincere. So much for mom being invited to the Christmas Party. What could I say? White people problems don’t score high on interview questions about adversity.
“Wow, Kevin you just blew me away partner. I did not expect this interview to convey that type of emotion. Well now that we know about your past, what do you say we explore your future?” I nodded my head in the affirmative to Bradley’s question. He sat smiling at me with a mischievous look that made the sleaziest used car salesman look like a Buddhist monk on a hunger strike, “Well Kevin where do you see yourself in five years?”
He may as well have asked me what cult I would like to join. Or how great a fascist dictator I might make given the opportunity. Or maybe he was just trying to assess my long term goals and whether they fit nicely with the company mission statement? Either way, I found each option absolutely detestable and a bloody rape on the originality of the human spirit. Still seeing that I was little more than a box to check off their to-do list, I decided to throw all my creative talents into the question.
“So let me get this straight you anticipate becoming a department head in five years, which includes the six months you have left in business school? Then once you achieved that measure of success with our company you intend to start your own business?” I nodded my head slowly with the somber realization I may have went slightly overboard. Two cups of coffee was probably too much. Ms. Rowe proceeded to recap the rest of my five years plan, “A business that will enable free wi-fi access across the continents of Africa and Asia. Then this business will send all excess profits to create an institute to cure cancer? Is this where you see yourself in 5 years?”
“Basically,” For a moment I thought I saw Farrell Silver’s face take the unnatural shape of a smile. My last answer may as well have been accompanied by a 60s guitar solo with footage of napalm destroying a forest. No doubt I was on my way to becoming another unremarkable grad student racking up student loan debt, while the exceptional two percent of the class dominated the summer internship scene.
Ms. Rowe was about to ask another question when her cell phone lit up. She took a moment and readjusted in her seat, “So I believe we mentioned earlier that this is a highly competitive position. Due to the quality of the candidates that we have interviewed today we are considering an additional unpaid internship. Is that something you would be interested in?”
“Wait, so the additional position would be entirely unpaid?” I didn’t exactly have the mommy and daddy bucks that afforded me the financial flexibility to work for free over the summer.
“Of course it’s an unpaid position. This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Farrell Silver looked me in the eye for the first time in the interview, “You’re a business school student you should understand supply and demand. We have so many candidates willing to work for free that it behooves our company to follow the market. Families raise their children on ten to twelve dollars an hour. Why can’t you work for free for a summer at the best company in the world?”
What a fucking douche bag! My face flamed up like overgrown shrubbery on a California hillside during a dry season. I bit deep down on my lip as I felt the walls pressing in on me. I tasted the blood on my tongue. I tried to internalize my rage directed at the pomposity and ignorance that flowed so freely from the egocentric existence of Mr. Silver. I wanted to fly across the room and slap him repeatedly until he apologized to all the work families struggling to make ends meet. I couldn’t work for free if I wanted to! I dug my nails into the back of my clasped hands in a desperate attempt to calm myself down with self-mutilation. Then I proceeded to tell one of the most difficult lies of my life, “Ok. Ok. Well, I understand what a great opportunity this is, and I would be willing to accept an unpaid position. After all it is your company, not mine, and it’s not my place to make those types of decisions. I can forego a few months’ wages for the shot at a long prosperous career with this company.”
Mr. Silver exhaled in annoyance, “Well glad we have your permission.”
The room fell silent, while the air conditioner squeakily serenaded the tension filled space. I felt like a wayward miner slowly watching the tunnel sink in around him. I sat painfully and furiously recognizing that there was no escape from my impending demise. My million to one shot at getting the internship had just shot up to a trillion to one. Bradley Mason decided to reconvene the interview, “You know Kevin. I’m a marketing guy, so I appreciate your creativity and willingness to shoot for the stars. I think maybe your talents lie in persuading people on the sales floor.”
“Ok, I’m open to everything.” Mr. Silver shook his head as Bradley Mason rose from his seat.
Bradley approached the table where I sat and laid a rather opulent pen down on the table, “Now Kevin, I want you to take that pen and I want you to sell it to me like I was a blind man. Tell me about every detail and every benefit. I want you to sell me on it as if nothing in the world were more beautiful.”
I took the pen in my hand caressing its contours in an attempt to dig deep into my soul. I needed to find some sort of genius that suddenly showcased a well-spoken and employable candidate, “Well, I just can’t tell you enough about the feel of the pen. It’s a great weight, very manageable and high quality material. Plus the button at the end makes it extremely easy to tell when the pen tip is out- which is a huge plus for a blind man. The way the ink just glides along the page…”
I paused as I tried to recall the last time I had seen a blind man using a pen. Bradley encouraged me to press on, “Go on Kevin. You’re doing well. What is it?”
Time stood still. I had spent two decades indoctrinated with stories of success, chasing the smell of it through the elaborate maze of higher education requirements, only to discover I was just another lab rat in the control group, “Well, I don’t think blind men use pens. They use brail right?”
“Jesus!” Farrell Silver sprung to his feet in disgust, “Did you even check his background? If I’m going spend my valuable time in an interview you guys really need to screen these candidates. I’m running a business here. I don’t have the time to waste on brainless slabs of meat like this fucking character!”
Mr. Silver rushed towards the exit like a spoiled brat carrying an air about him as if I was a blip on the food chain. I felt so completely invisible and inconsequential. I had succumbed to the temptation of sacrificing my dignity to be defined as a successful person. I shameless lied throughout the interview due to my desperation- only to be discarded like a gum wrapper thoughtlessly flying out a car window. Now Mr. Silver and his ego were about to glide out the door back into the fantasy land of the capitalist bourgeoisie. So I decided to escalate my failure to one of epic proportions and ensure that he remembered me, “Wait, you’re just going to walk out of here before the interview is over? Insult me and walk out? That’s professional!”
Silver’s eyes widened, “I think you need to know your place.”
My place? I thought my place in the world was supposed to present itself a long time ago. Long before I ended up in that boardroom. I thought some time, somewhere, it would say, ‘Hey here I am your fucking purpose in life. This is what you’re supposed to do, and this is how you are leaving your mark on this insufferable fucked up world.’ But that day never came because I had always been chasing what other people told me defined success. Still, I knew my place was much bigger than that silver haired freak’s five year plans and personal quotas. I knew I didn’t want to suffocate the joy out of life with attention to detail. I knew I didn’t want to forego all pleasure just to get an extra syllable in my job title. I knew getting an extra zero on my paycheck just to drive a nicer car to and from work didn’t reflect my self-worth. No more measuring up to the Jones or the Smiths. My world was about to become a much bigger place. I stood up and threw the silly fucking pen on the floor, “My place, Mr. Silver…”
“Probably something your parents should have taught you. Let me remind you sir before you say something I think you’ll regret deeply- I’m the gate keeper to your future. One word from me to your professors and you’ll be bagging my gardener’s groceries for the rest of your life.”
There was no going back I had just shattered any hope I had at building a career. He was right. No professor would ever respect me as a student after news of this incident got around. So I decided to go next level on the representative of the gray haired ruling class and all his egotistical cocksucker glory, “Really dude? I mean fuck this! You act like I haven’t bagged groceries before? We all start somewhere, but the smart ones, people who have high emotional IQ, they remember where the fuck they came from.”
“You watch your mouth, son!”
“You watch my fucking mouth, because I got something to say. What do you have that I need? Fucking financial stability? A B-M –fucking-W? Maybe a Bentley? They’re just things man.”
“Things you don’t have…”
“Things I don’t fucking need! What do you really have that I don’t other than a psychopathic need to prove you’re smarter than everyone? I mean shit dude does anyone even like you here?”
“That’s an absurd question Saunders! Of course I am adored by my employees. My reputation cannot be impugned! I set the standard for which other measures their success…”
“Oh dude you don’t see it,” I started laughing at the insecurity underlining Mr. Silver’s WWE worthy rant. The man’s childlike social skills caused such a severe disconnect with the realities outside his office walls. None of this world would ever be mine. I would be a permanent outcast. Yet, I felt a sense of relief skipping along my spine as I began to bath in the joy that this was not my future. This was not my rat race. I would no longer worship at the altar of the American Dream. The whole sorry fucking scenario was on permanent hiatus for me, but it didn’t mean I was above saying one more final fuck you to the man, “Holy fuck you must have a small dick. You treat these people like dogs and they love you like a dog, simply because you bring them food and give them a place to piss and shit every day. You small dick mother fucker. You’re fucking clueless dude! You’re missing it man. You’re missing it.”
I thought I saw a blood vessel rip out of Mr. Silver’s overly fake baked skin. Bradley Mason rushed in between us patiently trying to escort Mr. Silver away from me, “Missing it? You are seriously out of line! Seriously! You need to get the fuck out of my building! You are fucking finished before you ever started you brain dead fucking loser! You know you should’ve tried to fucking plan out a thing or two in your life! I got to where I’m today because I planned-what the fuck are you laughing about?!!!”
“I’m just relieved man,” I proceeded to find my own way out the door as Mr. Silver stood tangled in the cautious arms of Bradley Mason. His brow furrowed like a walrus, while his jaw hung down like an excavated pirate skull on the verge of decomposing. I stopped to turn around for one last look, “You know it’s the oldest the profession and all, but I doubt anyone ever started whoring themselves out because they’d like the idea of being fucked up the ass a lot. But at least you pay a whore. Now go fuck yourself and your fucking unpaid internship you fucking opportunistic thief!”
“You ungrateful sack of shit!!! I’m make sure you never hold a fucking job outside a fast food chain. You’re ruined! You’re fucking ruined!!! You’ll be back apologizing on your fucking knees in no time. Security!!! Security!!! Escort that man out! Escort him out!!
My outburst earned me a security detail out of the monument to American capitalism and a sea of voyeuristic attention from the candidates still seated in the lobby. I felt like a remorseless bank robber finally caught by the police, proud of my last stand, and relieved to give up the charade. I felt no real sorrow for destroying my chance of joining the local country club, registering republican, and complaining about entitlement programs. I cared about doing something bigger than dollar and cents. I wanted to make a difference in the human condition-somewhere, somehow, doing something important. I just was clueless on the logistics of it all. I knew one thing for sure. I just incinerated the value of my degree in less time than it takes to fill out a financial aid packet.
My date with destiny was canceled. The late nights studying were suddenly all for nothing. My diploma may as well have been used to start a forest fire, because I had went down in flames, and had taken my entire future as it was intended to be with me.