The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber has been accused of having a bit of an… obsessive personality. Each week in Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and most obscure bits of comics and pop culture that he can’t get out of his head.
We’ve all had bad job interviews. To varying degrees, it’s one of those universal things. Sometimes the job isn’t what you expected, or sometimes the vibe just isn’t right, or sometimes you just blow it. Sometimes it’s all three, or something completely different. And sometimes the interview kicks off with a really bad Batman take and just gets worse from there.
It was October of 2015. I had just completed my year of Americorps service in Silver Spring, Maryland, and despite my best efforts* for months to get my first “real” post-college day job, found myself unemployed. My paternal grandparents were kind enough to let me move in with them for a few months while I tried to figure my life out.
(*I had even interviewed for an extremely minor White House role in the Old Executive Building, which may sound like bragging but I promise it’s less impressive than it sounds. It was a data entry gig in the Office of Records Management. Even if I got that job I wouldn’t have lasted long. They had a strict rule against speaking publicly about politics, and even if I could manage to do that as a writer I would’ve quit the moment Trump got elected despite the hiring manager’s insistence that it’s an “apolitical” role).
Even setting aside my career and financial woes, those 5 months or so between leaving Americorps and getting my first “real” job were extremely difficult. My father was diagnosed with throat cancer and was left temporarily disabled as a result of an unrelated injury (he’s fine now, thank goodness). Meanwhile, my paternal grandmother was suffering from an extremely painful illness as I was living with her, and it took her life by that December. I don’t mean to be a bummer, but it’s important for this story that I illustrate why I was… perhaps not in the best mental state to make wise decisions.
So there I was, somewhere between immobilizing depression and feral survival mode, applying wildly to just about any job posting I found in the New York Metropolitan area that looked somewhat entry-level and would involve writing or editing. It was bad enough two years earlier when I had just gotten my bachelors, but now I had a few years of real-world work experience under my belt in addition to several internships and a few freelance gigs. What was wrong with me that I still couldn’t get hired? Did I need a Master’s degree? Was I actually a bad writer? Maybe they just didn’t like my face?
So by the time I was asked to attend the interview for a company called Next Level Associates (I included the dead link to their website to demonstrate that the company no longer exists), I’ll admit that I knew it seemed shady from the start. The job posting had more details about all the perks of working there than what kind of person they’re actually looking for, which seemed like a red flag. And while I believe “writer” was in the title, the job description didn’t mention much writing. But whatever it was seemed better than being poor, so I put on a suit and tie, borrowed my grandfather’s extremely-on-its-last-legs Acura, and made my way to an extremely cursed office park in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
It was about as “middle of nowhere” as you can get in the most densely-populated state in the union, although at least it was just a mile or so away from Medieval Times. Do people in other states know about Medieval Times? It’s a literal castle where people take their families to watch knights joust and eat food with their hands, and you don’t get silverware because that wouldn’t be historically accurate. The last time I went as a child, they had a special torture museum that you could pay extra to go into. I wasn’t old enough anyway, but I did get a peak at the iron maiden (the torture device, not the heavy metal band). If you ever wondered why I am the way I am, growing up in New Jersey may explain like 13.2% of it.*
(*Ed. Note: You might want to up that by about 50%, Greg. -JG)
This is a real thing.
Anyway, when I walked in, the office was filled with other early-twenty-somethings who had the same “what am I even doing here” look that I did. I was greeted by a young woman with a Harley Quinn Funko Pop on her desk, so of course I complimented it and told her I was a huge Batman fan. She seemed delighted.
We chatted about comics and superheroes for a bit, and I was starting to feel pretty good. Then the hiring manager, a well-dressed 25-year-old named Andrew, walked in. Yes, he was literally 25 years old, just a year older than I was at the time, and he clearly thought he was hot shit for it. He moved and talked with the energy of a rich young white man who listens exclusively to rap songs about being a boss.
“Andrew, this is Gregory, your next appointment!” the secretary said. “We were just talking about superheroes. He’s a big Batman fan.”
“You can call me Greg.”
“Good to meet you, Gregory,” Andrew said, shaking my hand. “I have a question for you though: is Batman really a superhero?”
“Hey, nice to meet you too,” I said. “I mean… yeah, he definitely is a superhero. He’s actually my favorite.”
“But Batman doesn’t have powers. Aren’t superheroes supposed to have powers?” He said this like it was extremely clever.
“Well, not necessarily. It’s more about genre tropes than anything. He’s a costumed vigilante who fights colorful supervillains. Although I guess some people would say his superpower is being rich.”
“But by that logic, wouldn’t Warren Buffett be a superhero?” He smiled like he had stumped me, and I tried not to roll my eyes. I wasn’t having fun.
“I guess some people might say so. I don’t know. Anyway I brought my portfolio if you’re interested…”
Once I was one-on-one with Andrew in his office, we got to know each other better. He told me that he was a wedding DJ before starting his own business. He also told me that he thought it was cool that I was into comics and geeky stuff like that. “There’s nothing wrong with having your own thing. For example, I like Spanish music. Some people think that’s weird.”
I don’t recall him asking many questions about my career history or qualifications, but he did ask me how I’d rate my work ethic on a scale of 1-10. Clearly this was a trick question.
Then he launched into his pitch. In essence, the job was about going door-to-door trying to get people to sign up for Verizon Fios in neighborhoods where the service had recently been made available. It was starting to sound familiar because I had been duped into interviewing with a similarly scammy job two years prior. I even shadowed one of their sales people (not that they used that word) as she went door-to-door.
Andrew could tell that I sensed danger, so he emphasized how much money I could make. He took out a sheet of paper and started writing how much the average sales person makes in a given week. “And that’s just the average person. You said your work ethic is a 10, so think about how much more you can make!”
He went on to insist that the business was expanding, so if I was successful as a new hire, I could have my own office within a year.
“Name a place and I’ll tell you whether you could start your own business there.”
“I don’t know–”
“Come on! Anywhere in the world.”
I sighed and settled on my hometown. “Hawo–”
“YES!” Andrew interrupted.
I was getting sick of the bullshit. “How much writing would be involved? I applied because it was my understanding this would be a writing role. I’m a writer, you know.”
“The only writing you’d have to do is the paperwork.” He said this like it was a good thing.
Andrew continued trying to sell the role, emphasizing how motivated and energetic their company culture was. He even opened the door to show me where employees were hooting and hollering over their latest sales as EDM blasted. If I wasn’t interested in joining a frat in college, that certainly wasn’t the culture I was looking for in my professional life. And besides, as desperate as I was for a job, the realization that this role would have been straight commission was a dealbreaker in its own right.
“Are there any benefits?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Andrew said.
“You know, medical insurance, dental, vision… that kind of thing.”
“Are you an unhealthy person, Gregory?”*
(Ed. Note: Pretty sure asking this is illegal. Almost hard to believe this company isn’t around anymore. -JG)
When I returned to my grandparents’ home, they were eager to hear how the interview went. I told them the truth: that it wasn’t what I was looking for, but they seemed to like me and I was seriously considering taking the role if they were to offer it to me.
I’ll never forget the disappointment on my grandmother’s face. “Greg, whatever they tell you, they’re looking for a door-to-door salesman. That’s not who you are. You know you’d hate getting all those doors slammed in your face.”
“Something better will come along eventually. But you don’t want to do this. You know that.”
After dinner that evening, I watched the news with my grandparents, which was their nightly ritual. Something terrible was happening to some unfortunate people in the world that made me say something to the effect of “those poor people. I don’t think I’d be able handle that if I were in their shoes.”
My grandfather shot me an intense look. “What’s your name?”
“Your last name.”
“That’s why you’d handle it.”
I suppose you can say I did handle it. It got worse before it got better – I was so broke that I had to take a minimum wage job at an AMC movie theater, and my grandmother passed away that December – but by January, I had gotten my first real salaried role as a writer (albeit writing clickbait for a content farm), and was able to move into a Brooklyn apartment with three roommates by the following summer. Sure, I wasn’t exactly living the dream, but I certainly had pulled myself out of a rut.
It makes me sad to think that I was still at such a low point the last time I saw my paternal grandmother, but I like to think she’d be proud to see what I’m doing now. She was a high school English teacher and an avid reader. While she never shared exactly the same tastes as me, she always encouraged me to continue pursuing my writing career, including helping me write my college admissions essay about how Batman shaped my personal code of ethics.
She also hated bullshit. I think she’d be proud to know that while I’ve yet to find significant fame or fortune as a writer, I’ve made an honest living with my writing from being true to my own interests and ideals.
As for Andrew, if you’re reading this… I hope you were able to get onto Obamacare after Next Level Associates went out of business. You’re not an unhealthy person, are you Andrew?