by Ian Birnbaum
"Exactly how much do you know about my project?"
My face tightens. We're sitting in his small, dark office. Books line the perimeter of the room like a dusty mosaic-styled wallpaper, and the cracked venetian blinds show a gray North Texas sky brooding, like Christian Bale on a bender.
"Erm, nothing, unfortunately. It was rather hard to find anything," I say, a bit meekly. Shit.
"So let me get this straight... it looks to me as though you're hiring me - free of charge - to help you with a class assignment. And it seems, further, that you've arrived at this interview completely unprepared, expecting me to just tell you everything you need to know. And how could you even know that what I'm telling you is true?" His words sound angered, but his face just looks exasperated.
His well-receded hairline has been trimmed to a buzz cut, and his thin, angular face is hidden behind glasses big enough to be a pair of Aviators. Such glasses would surely eclipse the face of anyone not endowed with such a beak-like nose; it looks like it allows him to look down on everyone he meets. Behind those glasses, though, the eyes are kind - like the eyes of your father when you both know that you've done something very stupid.
He continued to ask me questions he already knew the answers to, including "you are supposed to do research, right?" and "Do you have any idea who "Emil L. Fankenheim is?". Shit.
"Tell you what," he says, folding his long hands and placing them on his desk as he leans forward, "I've got my office hours again at 11, at 1, and at 4, and you can come back any time you need," It wasn't a suggestion.
I "yessir"d myself straight out of the room and into the hallway, where I had a quiet moment alone to reflect on my hatred of everything (including, but not limited to blue-tooth earpieces, very small dogs, "lite" beers, Modern Art and bees), then I walked quickly down the flights of stairs, out the double glass doors and into the stifling humidity.
I had just been taught a lesson in doing things right.
Before every interview, no matter with whom, I always do about an hour's worth of background. I always know where they're from, what schools they went to, basically everything that Google can possibly turn up, and as much as possible about whatever they want to talk to me about. Always, that is, except for last Friday, when deadline crunches had me doing four interviews a day for three days in a row. The young Indian man I'd interviewed the afternoon before had been kind enough to happily enlighten me when I'd asked what his student organization's name stood for -something I could have known with a passing glance and 4 seconds on the Internet.
But this man, this man had been around the block. He'd taught in universities in Israel during wars, he'd had parents and relatives taken up in the Holocaust. He'd been teaching for approximately twice as long as I'd been alive.
And he wasn't going to take my shit.
I'm sure there was a point to this story, in that kind of "the moral of the story is to always..." kind of way, but I'd be lying if I said I could remember it now. I just thought we could all get together, crack a beer, and reflect on the lessons we've learned, and the assholes we've hated for teaching them to us. Cheers.
One day, Ian will get it right. In the meantime, at least he has Lite beer from Miller