About a month and a half ago, I dropped off an application at the video store a block from my house during my "apply anywhere there's an opening within three miles of the house" phase. I had done video store work before (at the store right across the street from the one I was now applying to) and am a massive film geek so it seemed like a good fit. Moreover, of course, it was close enough I would be able to walk to work thus making Al Gore happy, which is something I strive to do daily.
A couple of weeks after dropping off my application I got a call from a store manager (or maybe assistant manager . . . I'm not entirely certain because as it turns out, this place has a bigger hierarchy than Amway) and set an interview for the following week.
This interview was like none other I have ever had for a mindless, part-time customer service job (and I've had my share of mindless jobs and/or interviews). Having worked at a video store before, if I had to interview someone for the position I would ask things like: What letter comes after J? and what's the name of that movie where Christopher Walken plays an evil angel? and how much change do you give someone on a 99-cent rental when they give you $20.00? Oh, and how much do you know about adult movies, 'cuz people are gonna ask?
That's it. That's all you have to know to work in a video store. It's a nice job, don't get me wrong. You get to talk about movies all day and alphabetize things, which are easily my two favorite activities in the world. Sure, people skills are nice to have in that kind of environment, but no one goes into a video store expecting to see anything other than employees who are pimple-faced socially inept boys who recently graduated high school and do nothing but masturbate and play EverQuest in their parents' basement. In my initial interview though, I was asked things like: "Tell me about a turning point in your life," and "tell me about a mentor you've had," and "tell me about your home life," and "tell me where you'd like to be in five years." It's always a bad sign when a question begins with "tell me about" and doesn't end with a question mark.
But y'know what? It was a great interview. Or at least, I did very well with it. I'm a communications major, not to mention an actor, so I know how to do this kind of crap and I do it well. So, the manager/ possibly-assistant-manager told me he'd talk to the district manager and then give me a call to set up a time for me to take an aptitude test.
Aptitude test? WTF? But, whatever, right? I'm plenty apt.
So, the next week I have to skip out of the other job I've started in the meantime to go back to the video store and take an aptitude test. 'Should take about half an hour,' the guy told me. Wrong. Almost an hour and a half. And it's not that I was slow; it was a timed test, I wasn't allowed to be slow. And still, it was an hour and a half. You don't tell someone who's coming in to take a timed test that it's only half an hour when you know damn well it's almost three times that. It's a TIMED test so there's no excuse!
And, again, what do we need to know to work at a video store? The alphabet and how to type small numbers into a computer. And what was on the test? Among other things, hardcore math problems. Now maybe if I were not of the calculator generation I would have been able to do some of the math problems in my head or even on scratch paper, but as it stands I have not had to do any math aside from simple addition or subtraction without the benefit of an electronic brain far superior to mine since I was in fifth grade! I took my last math class ever two years ago and aced it without a problem. But asking me to do math without a calculator is like asking me to ready a printing press to publish this blog. I know how to do it on a computer; I should be able to do it without too.
Despite the math portions of the test (and wholly because of the reading and alphabetizing portions), I passed the test and was told that on Monday the district manager would be calling to set up an interview.
TWO WEEKS LATER . . . I finally get a call from a woman who I thought was the district manager but turned out to be something lesser but higher than the guy who asked about my goals and aspirations and made me take a fucking math test. We make an appointment for Saturday afternoon. I go down there, dressed to impress and ready to go. Now mind you, by this time I have another job (which doesn't pay very well, but it's still a job) and I'm a week away from starting school, and a month away from auditioning for a show that would pretty much rule out working nights so it's mostly moot. They've been stringing me along for the better part of the summer, I'm not in dire need of a job anymore and I really don't want to work until midnight during school because the evenings are the only time I'll get to see my wife, but I still go because maybe, just maybe, we can work something out.
I sit down with not-so-much-the-actual-district-manager Chris and she asks me to 'tell her a bit about myself." So I do the whole song and dance, 'I live just down the street with my wife and cat, I'm in school, going to be a teacher in a couple of years yadda yadda yadda.' She asks me about my availability, I tell her that I'm currently working another job during the days, but that might be gone once the summer rush is over etc. Then, she too asks me about my home life. What do people want to hear when they ask that? And why is it any of their business anyway? What, do they think I'm going to say 'My wife is really supportive in helping me kick the crack and so is my girlfriend'? I really wanted to turn it around and say, "Tell me about your home life," but at this point, I still had reason to be optimistic.
Then she says to me: "I think that's all the questions I have to ask, but could you wait here a moment?" Of course I can. She walks away. Comes back a few minutes later with the ever-elusive Actual District Manager Chris who sits down and says very directly that if I were to work here I would have to adhere to a strict dress code. I said, "No problem, I like dressing up." "You see," she says, "this is a conservative company [my skin crawls] and we expect out male employees to be clean shaven and have short hair, I just want to make sure that that's not going to be a problem because I don't want to waste your time," which is funny, of course, because if they had been paying me for all of these tests and interviews I would have earned a descent paycheck by now.
I told her that that's hard because I do act and sometimes that requires me to have facial hair or grow my hair out like you presently see it, and moreover, I haven't had my hair as short as the male employees here since I was their age. Then she tells me that if I wanted to work there, I would have to "conform" to their standard, and if I couldn't "conform" then I may not be a good fit there . . .
I think it was the word "conform" that kicked in my stupid gene.
My life flashed before my eyes. And I explained, using a great measure of restraint, that I wasn't sure I was willing to "conform" to their 1950's ideal of what a good citizen looked like and that though I would be willing to cut my hair from what it is now and trim the facial hair, I thought it was ludicrous to ask that I have to keep it that way. Moreover, this 'conservative' company that is apparently offended my male genes which produce facial hair offers a wide selection of adult films and wasn't that a little hypocritical? So my hair is longer than you'd like, what do you say to applicants who are too fat? Must they be turned away as well? (Turns out, they have no officially policy on fat) I asked why she was allowed to have hair that touched her collar and how she would feel if the company dictated her hair length. She explained that she would have to decide which was more important to her and that it wasn't that they wouldn't hire me because of my hair; it's that I was choosing to not be hired by not getting a shave and a haircut. I told her that in every other way I would be perfect for this job. I know how to do the work, I know movies and I'm damned good at customer service. Isn't it absurd that my personal appearance clean and well dressed albeit kind of hairy is the only thing keeping me from getting a job for which I'd be a perfect fit?
I kept my anger in check though I was fuming inside. I acknowledged that I was cognizant that it was not her rule; she simply had to enforce it but that it was a terribly unenlightened rule and that hopefully someday the powers that be will break out of their '50s mentality. I apologized for having wasted their time, which I only did in the hope that she'd reciprocate and I could tell her just how much of my time she had wasted but instead she told me that I hadn't and she was sorry that the company and I weren't a good fit.
What I've come to conclude is this: throughout all the preliminary interviews they were trying to figure out if I would fit into their conservative christian ideal (we'll just ignore the porn in the back) by asking about my family and my aspirations etc. and so on. Of course they couldn't ask me right out: Are you some kind of godless vegetarian pinko peacenik and none of my answers betrayed the fact that I deny the holy spirit, vote democratic and my wife didn't take my last name so they just assumed I was a 'good christian' sort.
What it all boils down to, though (vast right wing conspiracy or no) is that if I had just shut the hell up and gotten a hair cut I'd have a nice mindless job that was close to home and would help pay be bills. Sure, I would have been a sell out, but is that so bad? Must I wave my freak flag? It's one thing when my ideals keep me from eating meat, going to Mel Gibson movies or letting people slide when they assume everyone has an imaginary friend named Jesus, but long hair doesn't even qualify as an ideal. My wife likes the hair, but in asking me to cut it, it's not like they were forcing me to bow toward Mecca or eat a baby.
I guess what I'm saying is: I feel like a real ass.