Even the foyer of the building felt right. A painting depicting the 2006 Cardinals championship celebration on the mound stretched across one wall. Across from it was the receptionist, a pleasant enough woman considering the number of solicitations she probably deals with each day.
It was my third and final interview. The first two were facilitated by the company’s VP of Sales and both went remarkably well. She and I had met offsite, with both meetings lasting nearly two hours. We had already talked money, benefits, and the other kinds of details that generally lead to employment. She was a sincere, kindhearted woman, and she had prepped me – something she admitted she wouldn’t normally do – on what to expect from the company’s CEO and how to behave.
He was Notre Dame Alum and a swimmer while he was there.
That’s great! We can share some athletic commonalities!
He’s an analytical type; he has the bean-counter mentality common to those in an executive position.
Navy blazer and traditional vertical-striped tie…got it!
He may ask a lot of the same questions I’ve asked, but he’ll be looking to gather thoughts of his own. And he will likely make poor eye contact and bore quickly of your responses, so make certain he is listening when making any points of particular importance.
Communicate effectively and efficiently. Piece of cake!
But don’t worry. You’re a great fit and I think you have the capacity to do very well with us. He’s really just a good, conservative, Christian man.
Look, I don’t necessarily have a problem with any of those things. They are personal affiliations that every individual has a right to embody, but addressing them in the interview process? Red flag.
But I was in the homestretch. And in this job market, when you find a position in an industry you have some familiarity, and one that promises a livable wage, I suppose you have to deal with the quirks.
So we met. He asked the tough questions she promised he would, and upon answering them to best of my ability, he acknowledged that I had held my own.
The tough part was over.
So, you’re a writer?
The tough part was not over.
While I do have some writing accomplishments on my resume, I keep them vague for obvious reasons. They are also at the bottom where I list, among other things, that I am a health & fitness enthusiast and the proud father of an amazing little girl.
I gave short, professional replies that most socially-adept men would have respected and moved past without forcing lengthy answers. This man, however, did not relent. And I am honest to a fault. After ample needling, I finally gave in.
I write a men’s interest column for InsideSTL.com. Not really something I discuss professionally, unless it’s in regards to a copywriting job or in front of an assuredly indifferent audience. It’s something I enjoy…a creative outlet. That’s about it.
While I did not wish to have to defend my personal, creative, and for the most part discreet endeavors, I am certainly not embarrassed by them. Still, I watched apprehensively as the “good, conservative, Christian" man jotted InsideSTL.com onto his little pad.
I’m familiar with that tidy moniker, and in my experience it seldom represents open-mindedness. With a backup plan in place and my optimism tempered, I remained hopeful; the position was still a good fit.
I also learned the company had done business with InsideSTL.com partner KFNS 590 “The Fan”. If I were denied the job for “ethical” reasons, at the very least I’d be able to call this guy a hypocrite and take solace in the fact I probably would not have enjoyed working for him anyway.
When the phone rang the following week, I was prepared for either scenario:
CEO: Do you have a few minutes to talk?
I relaxed a bit. Surely, if he was calling to deny me the job, he would not need “a few minutes”, nor would he care a great deal about my time to begin with.
J: Absolutely. What can I do for you, sir?
CEO: Well, I checked out your column…you’re an excellent writer, but there sure is some interesting stuff there...
CEO: Would you mind telling me why you choose some of the subjects you choose to write about?
Still not sure where this was headed, I went on to detail the nature of the site and demographic, the fact that it is a men’s interest section and that we try to have fun with it. I explained that I hoped to use my passion for health and fitness, and whatever knowledge and experience I have in the realm of sex and women, to enhance my readers’ lives in some way, whether it be on an entertainment level or something more profound. I told him the truth.
CEO: (Interrupting with a tone suddenly more indignant) I am more interested in the…sssse…
The arrogant, stuttering prick couldn’t even say the word “sex” comfortably.
At this point I am realizing why he called. I am not getting the job, sex scares him, and he likely wields a tiny penis in a very dull manor. I think about his wife. I feel sorry for her and wonder if she’s attractive. I wonder if she needs her pool cleaned. I consider a number of jobs she would probably give me in a heartbeat. She would probably give them to me all night long. I smile inside. I remove my little “interviewee” hat and help him out.
J: Uh, Sex? The Sex & Women section?
CEO: Yes. Wh..wh..wh..why write about those subjects?
J: Subjects like the one calling on men to be confident and using that confidence along with a sense of humor to impress women the right way so that they might meet someone special and build positive, lasting relationships? That column? Or the one where I turn a story about a midget stripper into a message of self-acceptance and persevering over our own abnormalities and insecurities?
CEO: (Still stuttering) Yeah…like that last one…and…uh…the adult…film…
J: The porn star? Yeah, she was pretty cool, actually. Honestly, I, nor the majority of our readers I assume, are offended by such material. It makes for a good read. Not only that, but I’m of the belief that sometimes capturing the attention of an audience and delivering an important message are two different things that must be woven together artfully. And, like I said, we try to have fun with it.
This went on for a while before he – perhaps seeing I would not be attending church with him on Sunday – withdrew the ace from his monogrammed sleeve.
CEO: You mentioned that your daughter means a lot to you…that she is your driving force…how are you going to explain your writing to her when she gets older?
J: You know, you’re asking me a lot of personal questions. How does any of this relate to the job?
CEO: You know what, you are absolutely right. That answer is enough for me.
J: Oh, no…I’m going to answer it.
I proceeded to explain that I prefer an honest approach to parenting. That with so much in the world being difficult for little minds to understand, my greatest fear is that my daughter would feel a subject was too “taboo” to talk to me about, and that she would try to figure out such confusing subjects on her own, without my unconditional love and support and in a potentially dangerous or reckless manor.
I told him the truth. That no matter how uncomfortable the topic, my policy is to answer my daughter’s questions, and that while I do not curse in front of children or wish to broach sensitive subjects prematurely, the word “fuck” cannot possibly do more damage to a child than the repetitive use of the phrase “because I said so”.
And I explained that there may simply be a time when all I can say is, “Sweetheart, boys are gross and stupid sometimes. Even your dad.”
We debated a while longer the reasons I was not a good fit for the culture of his office, him occasionally, feebly attempting to fill in actual, business-related concerns, until finally I ended the call.
J: Thank you for your consideration, but the fact that you would judge me in the way you are judging me is a pretty strong testament to the fact that you are right; I am not a good fit for this job.
And I hung up the phone.
But, like his wife, I remained unsatisfied. Not only did the VP of Sales deserve my sincere thanks, but I believed she should know why her efforts went unrewarded. I would kill two birds with one stone and send her an email, copied also to him.
Omitting their names, here is that letter verbatim:
(Mrs. VP of Sales & Marketing),
I want to thank you for your part in the interview process, and express my disappointment in not being offered the position. Especially, given, per (Mr. CEO), that it had for all intent and purposes nothing to do with professional reasoning, but almost solely to do with the content of my column The Man Hole at insideSTL.com…a column that is regarded as one of the best columns on the site…a site that ranks among the top-five most viewed in Saint Louis. Honestly, not something I am ashamed of.
You were truly a pleasure to meet and I wish you the best of luck in your search for a good fit to your sales team…and in turn, that person luck in meeting (Mr. CEO)'s holier-than-thou personal expectations. By his self-assured judgment of me as a man and father (something I am sincerely shocked/appalled/amused he would feel himself qualified to express on yesterday’s absurd phone call), I suppose I am to assume him to be quite the saintly individual, and any corresponding hire to be quite the profound printing sales representative quarry.
For what it is worth, I am proud of myself as a writer, as a man, and damn proud of myself as a father. My column requires me to perform creatively, with courage and integrity, and without regard to the judgment of others. I sincerely pity the fallible, hypocritical ass who is so arrogant as to believe his virtue superior to another man’s in context of subjects he is either embarrassingly ignorant, or simply of differing opinion. Either way, I can think of no philosophy less worthy of respect.
In any case, (Mrs. VP of Sales & Marketing), I wanted to thank you for your consideration and for the kind and professional manner with which you carried yourself, and for the genuine, enjoyable conversation that we shared throughout the process. That part was a pleasure.
You see, integrity means something to me, just as it apparently meant something very different to him. But while we all have to make concessions in life, for ourselves and for the ones we love, at some point we have to reclaim our souls (and our balls) from those who would eat them whole were their collars not buttoned so tight.
I believe this is how to live, and die, a happy man. Rest assured, you will die one day. How much of yourself and your life will you have given up? And for what in return?
Beyond that, I can’t say that I have any specific message to emphasize here. Only that I hope you will consider whatever the fuck just happened to me and my response to it in the context of your own situation, whatever that situation may be.
Because there is work and there is life….and not necessarily in that order.
J. Adams is the stone that the builder refused. Follow him on Twitter @Intangiball or send your questions and comments to him to firstname.lastname@example.org