A Job Interview
The provost for the small, private college seemed nice enough during the interview, was polished, and had a small head and long neck, like Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck. When Dr. Margaret Hamilton stood, I followed her out of the office, and like most males, I watched her behind swoosh in the tight black skirt and hose. Her behind resembled a heart with rolls moving up and outward on both sides and then back in, tapering off near the knees.
As a newly minted Ph.D., advised by my own professors at a land grant university to apply to private colleges and state universities and avoid community colleges because of the lack of admission standards, I’d applied to a private college in hopes I could get full time experience and then move on to a public university. On my vitae, a high falutin academic resume, I’d listed several conference presentations, publications, excellent community service (Salvation Army bell ringing, serving at the soup kitchen, volunteering with the homeless), experience in advising, and teaching through my assistantship at the university. I felt I was about as close to the perfect candidate as one could be, though not quite Christ-like, was thrilled when I’d received the short-listed call for an on campus interview, and interviewed well with the department faculty, the department head, dean, and provost. I even gave a creative colloquium, using Prezi to show off my technology skills, and had provocative questions and feedback. At the end of the afternoon, faculty in the hallway whispered to me behind cupped hands, “You’re our pick,” before flowing down the hall to surround Dr. Hamilton. One faculty member even told me, “The department head and dean said you’d be their recommendation.”
I called my fiancé Rachel on the four hour trek home and said, “Looks like this is it. They have a beautiful campus. It’s an arboretum. Some famous people even attended there. Did you do searches for a house or apartment?”
She responded she’d looked for small houses in the downtown area on Realtor.com and Zillow and found a few she thought would be suitable—quaint Cotswold cottages built in the 1930s and 1940s within walking distance of the college, the river walk, and shops and restaurants on the square. “How long before you hear?” Rachel asked.
“Hopefully, this week, but it may be first of next. Said it all depended on their President.” I didn’t get to meet their ghost of a president, as he’d been away at a political fundraiser one faculty member said, adding, “He’s never here.”
I felt good and relaxed, probably the first time in over three years I hadn’t felt anxiety from the research papers, doctoral comps, and foreign language exams. I didn’t hear by Friday, and we spent the weekend looking for homes online, checking destinations we could visit on weekends, and looking for jobs for Rachel.
On Monday afternoon, my cell rang, and I held up a finger to my class and stepped in the hall. I hoped the provost would make a good offer, something I could accept immediately and not have to talk with Rachel about, and something that didn’t require bargaining. Confidently, I answered. “Good afternoon, Dr. Hamilton.”
“Yes, uh, hello. This is Jill in Human Resources at the college.”
“Oh, yes. Hello. Thanks for your call.”
“I’m calling to let you know that a more suitable candidate was offered the position and has accepted. We wish you the best and hope you’ll consider our college for future employment.”
“Okay,” I said. I turned off the phone. I felt like I had bounced off a trampoline, landed on the ground, and had the breath knocked out of me. I went back into the classroom, told them to get into groups, and answer the questions at the back of the chapter. I stepped back into the hall, called Rachel, told her the news, and that we’d talk later. In the meantime, my thoughts were random, like a pinball in the game being flipped and knocked from one bumper to another. What the hell just happened? Did I hear her correctly? Did she call the wrong damned person? She didn’t even use my name. What happened to “I was the one recommended”? What about my experience? Geez, I was great. That stupid bitch thinks I would consider them again. Seriously? Damn them. Never trust a long-necked witch administrator with a heart-shaped ass. I ought to sue.
It took a few days before I calmed. It took a call inviting me for an interview at a small university in a nearby state that finally turned me around. I told one of my professors in the hallway. He congratulated me on another interview, said he’d bumped into a faculty member from the private college at Kroger, and she’d shared they’d hired a minority, someone who only had a Master’s degree, someone who had no publications or presentations, and very little teaching experience. She’d also told him the faculty were upset and it was another item on their laundry list of complaints.
“Probably got him cheaper than you,” the professor said in a reassuring way. “Need to boost their affirmative action numbers before they get sued is what I suspect.”
There had been no class in Graduate school to adequately prepare me for dealing with the job process or the resulting emotions. I stayed positive and chalked the experience up to a lesson, preparing me for something even better. It worked when I landed the faculty position at a small university. I later learned the private college had been on life support, and the fellow they hired got laid off right before the college began the bankruptcy process. The college eventually closed, some faculty retired, and some faculty who had become comfortable and hadn’t done a lot are still searching, but Dr. Hamilton and her ghost of a president got promotions in another state because of connections.
Jason knew the trees alongside Pleasant Plains Road. In fact, he knew more than the trees. After years of driving it back and forth, he had the ability to pinpoint anything off kilter from someone’s mailbox being askew to a roof shingle missing from a storm on someone’s home. After thirty inches of rain in the past month, Jason noted some of trees in wooded areas had begun to lean and he knew some of them would topple at some point. The ground was simply too saturated and could no longer hold the root system in place. One tree, in particular, leaned toward the road, bothered Jason, and he called the city.
“There’s a hackberry leaning toward the road.” He told the administrative assistant in the Mayor’s office. “It’s a matter of time before it comes down and blocks traffic, or worse, comes down on a car and hurts someone.”
“I’ll report it,” she said. As soon as she hung up the phone, grabbed a pin, and a yellow Post-it note to jot it down and radio a road crew, the Mayor walked in, rain-soaked, and barked orders about the day. The Mayor was mostly smiles and handshakes, except when he wasn’t in the public and needed something. Then, he called on kingmakers, local fat cats who slinked around town throwing dirty money at projects and people like the Mayor. Mostly, they supported things that supported them and if they needed the votes, they managed to get them from long planted voters in the city cemetery. The non-existent voters were also attending college classes at the local religious college, who needed to ramp up numbers so board members and alumni would donate to growth projects. The administrative assistant was so flustered with the Mayor that she forgot all about the hackberry tree.
The next morning, Jason could see the tree leaned even more toward Pleasant Plains Road, and he told himself if the city employees didn’t get it down today, he’d call again, but Jason didn’t have to. About 9:30 in the morning, long after rush hour, the Mayor’s wife was driving down Pleasant Plains Road in her Lexus on her way to pick up a tray of pimento cheese sandwiches from a caterer and some ferns from a nursery for a charity luncheon she was hosting. She was running behind and also had an appointment to get a cut and color at the beauty shop. She was listening to the one hit wonder Norman Greenbaum on the oldies station sing “Spirit in the Sky” when the Hackberry toppled, smashed the roof her Lexus right behind where the driver’s seat was. She never knew what hit her. The force severed her neck vertebra and killed her instantly. The Lexus tires exploded and the engine revved until her muscles gave way and her foot slid off the petal.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in eleven collections and in over two hundred literary magazines all over the world including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Cheap Pop, With Painted Words, among many others.