Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Most Awkward Interview Ever.

One of my more prominent responsibilities as an assistant manager for Kaman's Art Shoppes was the interviewing and hiring of employees. Since most of the positions could be performed by high school students, the interviewing process was comparatively fast and simple: make sure the kid that you're hiring a) seems like they'll be happy enough at work to talk to people, b) won't prove to be a liability, and c) can draw, if applicable to the position. I don't think that I was all that difficult of an interview, which, I feel, was appropriate, considering that I was the first interview that a lot of these kids had ever had. I, for one, interviewed with Kaman's when I was 15, and I'm pretty sure I almost threw up when Sandy Fogel asked me what my name was.

I probably hired way over half of the kids that I interviewed during my four years at King's Island, and over half of those kids would work more that one season because they liked it. I still feel really good about the kids who we took on that ended up having a great time working at the park, because they prove to be stories about a successful hire. This is not one of those stories.

2004 got off to a rocky start for the Caricatures department at King's Island. Despite being in the capable hands of Nolan Harris, we had hired five artists from the same art school who had all gone through training and had either gotten fired within their first week, not shown up at all, or, in the case of one of them, whined enough about basic job responsibilities to make the rest of the crew hate the f#$% out of him. Keep in mind that a crew at full strength was somewhere in the 20-25 range counting part-timers, so this was a pretty sizable recruiting failure. So when Lisa (Evert, another KAS assistant manager at the time, and my girlfriend) called me, bragging about how she had set up a caricature interview for me, I was pretty relieved.

And so I walked up to Security Post 3 later that week to pick up my interview. I spotted her off of Lisa's description, and introduced myself. She said hello, shook my hand, and handed me her application, which she had already completed. As we walked back towards the office in Mining, I started reading her application while we were making smalltalk. I noticed several warning signs that this was not going to go well.

1. King's Island season passholders who a) are not kids and b) don't have kids of their own are to be handled very carefully.

2. AGE: ___22___ (do not fill out if you are over the age of 18)

3. When you interview high school kids on a regular basis, you get pretty used to misspellings on their apps. This was different.

WHY WOULD YOU LIKE TO WORK IN THIS POSITION? I love Kings Iland and i have always really liked drawling since I was little.

DESCRIBE YOUR BACKGROUND AS IT PERTAINS TO YOUR POTENTIAL POSITION. My art teacher has said that I was the best at drolling in my class this is when I was in Art 2.

Sure, misspellings are forgivable, even if the former copy editor in me (Editor's Note: Before I worked for a real newspaper, I thought I knew what copy editing was. I didn't. I can check for spelling and basic grammar. That's about it. I'm an idiot) shudders when I see them on a job application. But if you can't spell the name of the place that you want to work correctly, and you not only misspell the primary function of your occupation, but you misspell it in two different ways, then we're going to have some serious problems.

4. I know that we aren't interviewing you to put pieces of your artwork up in the Louvre. Having said that, there are many diverse and appropriate ways to transport your portfolio. Tossing it all in a garbage bag, even from a postmodern or Dadaist perspective, is not one of them.

You know when someone on television or in movies comes to the sudden realization that something is horribly awry, and the camera simultaneously zooms in on their face and zooms out on the background? Well, I actually had a brief out-of-body experience and saw this happen to myself as soon as my brain had quantified the above information and added it together. But, being the consummate professional that I was (I wasn't), I didn't have the option of cutting the interview off early, although I briefly considered faking a seizure or lighting myself on fire as a diversion. No, I decided, I should look at her portfolio, in case she's some sort of artistic genius. I had to give her that chance.

Penny and I (we'll call her Penny to protect her anonymity) walked in to the office and sat down at the desk, where John Roessner was working on one of his infinitely long inventory reports for the Rivertown Mining Shop. I introduced the two of them, and he dutifully reverted to typing numbers in as I sat down next to him. She took a seat on the other side of the desk, and we continued the interview.

ME: So, tell me more about yourself.

PENNY: Well, I really, really like King's Island, and I love drawing. My teacher said that I was the best in my class!

ME: Yeah, I noticed that on your app, that's great. So, you're talking about high school, which was a few years many years of art classes did you take?


ME: ...uh...huh. Right on. And this "Art 2" class you were talking about...was it more geared towards illustration, or...

PENNY: We made pottery! And I drew Garfield! It's in my portfolio...I'll show you in a minute.

ME: Ah. Right. Yeah, let's go ahead and get started.

She opened her garbage bag, rooted around in it for a minute, and pulled out her first portfolio piece. Any hopes that I had that this girl was some sort of artistic idiot savant disappeared rapidly, as I realized that it was a series of cat heads drawn on lined notebook paper, complete with torn fringe on the side. She handed it to me.

ME:, these heads?

PENNY: Yep. Bobcat heads. I like bobcats...not like, a pet or anything, but like...I don't know. I just wanted to draw their heads. Not their bodies.

ME: Yeah, I can see that. Um...yeah. Very nice. Let's move on.

Now, I realize that those of you reading this that aren't caricature artists, or never have interviewed caricature artists, probably think I'm some kind of elitist asshole, but let me assure you that I'm not. Please understand that a typical interview portfolio for this job contains art projects, typically completed in either a high school advanced placement course or a college-level drawing class, that show a definitive understanding of facial anatomy, or at least human heads in general. A lot of kids actually give caricatures of celebrities a shot and bring them to the interview. Sure, there are going to be projects in there that show a broadness of talent; a pastel landscape drawing, or a first crack at oil painting that won a Gold Key award, or something to that effect. Point is, most of the people that we interview show us original, completed pieces. There have been many notable exceptions. Again, this isn't one of them.

She pulled out another sheet of paper. This time, I was relieved that it wasn't drawn on notebook paper, but I was again perturbed by the subject matter. It was a vertical green oval with two horizontal black ovals on top of it, drawn in crayon. I recognized it as a crude drawing of an alien head, but, in retrospect, I really didn't have to put that together myself, because she had scrawled "Alien" next to it and drew an arrow pointing to the head.

ME: alien...head.

PENNY: Yeah. I draw aliens sometimes!

ME: Really. I''ve always been kind of scared of aliens.

PENNY: I'm not!

Next, she confidently handed me a cut-out piece of paper. I unfolded it and saw that it was a pencil drawing of an elephant, again on lined notebook paper, that she had cut out with scissors.

ME: Wow, an elephant. made you cut it out?

PENNY: I don't know...the rock, I guess.

ME: The rock?

PENNY: Yeah, the big rock at the end of his trunk.

ME: Ah. right. What about it?

PENNY: Well, that used to be a baby elephant, but I cut it out so it was a rock instead. Check this one out!

ME: Oh. It's Snoopy.

It was about this point that I noticed that John had stopped typing and was staring wide-eyed at the computer screen. I looked at the drawing of Snoopy, which had been drawn off of a sticker. I know this because the sticker itself was stapled to the drawing.

Next came the Garfield drawing that I had heard so much about. The drawing of Garfield was probably the most accurate reproduction that I had seen thus far, but she had gone through the trouble of adding Jon Arbuckle, Garfield's owner, who was now portrayed with a lazy eye and a prominent hunchback. I began trying to think of questions to ask about her drawings, just so I could feel confident that I had conducted a full interview once this was over. This was probably a mistake on my part.

PENNY: Look, here's Garfield. He hates Mondays!

ME: Yeah, I...uh...I remember that about him. You also wrote it on here, "I hate Mondays." Very nice. What's next?

PENNY: Here, it's Tweety Bird.

ME: Oh, right on. Uh...why did you choose to draw this one card stock?

PENNY: (visibly excited), Oh, I'll show you in a minute! But first, look! A horse!

John Roessner had stopped moving altogether and was visibly shaking, presumably trying to try to contain inappropriate laughter. I looked at the drawing of the horse. It was a comparatively accurate pencil drawing of a horse in the sense that it had a head, a tail, and four limbs. What disturbed me about this particular piece was that she had obviously drawn and erased the horse's penis multiple times, and at varying sizes.

ME: Yep, that sure is...a horse. You like horses, don't you, John?


PENNY: Look!

Penny had pulled out a picture of a reclining Mickey Mouse, also drawn on light blue card stock to match up with Tweety. As I wondered what these two might have in common besides being a "Cartoon Characters That Adults Really Like When They're Off Their Meds" diptych, she grabbed the Tweety drawing off of the desk. As she picked it up, I noticed that it had handwriting on the back of it. She held the two drawings side by side, one in each hand, and began reading dialogue off of the back of them, moving them up and down as each one "talked."

PENNY: "Hey, Tweety, could you help me get up?" (pause) "No, Mickey, I won' get up yourself."

(a good five seconds of silence)

ME: ...

JOHN: *cough COUGH...cough* w...WOW.

ME: Oh-kay!....we're good. Thanks for showing me your stuff! Lot of good stuff in there.

PENNY: So, am I hired?

I thought for a moment about how to respond. The normal thing to do would be to give an honest critique of the portfolio, tell the interviewee why you don't think they're quite cut out for drawing strangers for money, and tell them what they need to work on. That's what you do when you're interviewing someone and you think that, if they work on a couple of things and come back, they have a shot at getting hired. Penny here was a notable exception, because she, for whatever reason, seemed to have an emotional maturity level way, way, WAAAAY below what would be normal for her age. I could see that being honest would likely result in seriously hurting her feelings and, possibly, severely damaging her self-image.

Plus, I didn't want her going to the park to complain that we didn't hire her, resulting in an angry inquiry as to why we would interview a barely functioning adult to perform an extremely specialized job involving relatively high and complex levels of customer service. What would happen to Penny the first time she drew a $30 sketch of a couple as Garfield and Jon of Notre Dame? People are only nice to a point, and typically that point falls well short of shelling out $30 bucks for a drawing that doesn't look like them. Amusement park patrons would uncaringly devour her, whether the park understood that or not. So I did what I thought was the right thing: the wrong thing. I lied through my teeth.

ME: Uh, actually, we're pretty...uh...full in Caricatures right now.


ME: Yeah...yeah, we did. I'm going to keep your resume on file here, and if a spot opens up, we'll call you.

PENNY: Okay! I really want to work here!

ME: I know...well, do you want me to walk you back out to Secu--

PENNY: No! I'm going to go on the water slides! And the Vortex!

ME: Okay. Thanks for coming in, it was really nice meeting you!

PENNY: Yeah. Bye!

I shut the office door. I looked at John, whose face was completely flushed. He looked back at me. I opened the door, looked out, and shut it again to confirm that she was gone.

JOHN: *GUH!!!* (gasp) keep a straight face that whole time?

ME: God, I don't know. That was completely retar...oh. I...I mean, ridiculous.

JOHN: Nice.

ME: Oh. Oh, I a total asshole?

JOHN: *cough* I don't think so. Do you think that she would have been able to do the job?

ME: Of course not.

JOHN: Then you have nothing to worry about.

ME: Yeah...I guess so.

And so ended the worst interview I have ever conducted, and certainly one of the most awkward scenarios that I was privy to while I still worked full-time in the parks. And that's saying something. I, of course, wind-sprinted over to Portraits, Roessner in tow, to yell at Lisa for what I had assumed was a mean practical joke of some sort. Lisa thought the whole thing was pretty funny, but amidst her laughter, she told me that honestly thought that this girl was on the level. "Stop yelling at me! God, she said that her teacher told her that she should draw here. How the hell was I supposed to know?"

Obviously, I still feel pretty awful about the whole experience, but I still can't put my finger on why. Some things just stick with you, I guess. I'd like to think that Penny promptly forgot about coming in for an interview minutes later while she was enjoying the mind-numbing speed of the Vortex. I can only hope.