Of the many terrible experiences I’ve had looking for work during the horrific Obama administration, this was probably the weirdest.
Learning of a new media company seeking a General Manager to lead their efforts to offer Indian movies and television programming to US consumers using a "proprietary set-top box technology," I immediately contacted the recruiter (member of a leading headhunting firm), who agreed that based on my very solid experience, I seemed to fit the bill.
The job was based in Philadelphia, which was ideal, and the position description contained persuasive demographic/marketing justifications, the usual impressive “hockey stick” financial projections, as well as world-beating founder and investor bios.
When interview day with the company’s founder/acting CEO arrived, I followed directions to an address that turned out to be a sketchy location on the edges of Philadelphia’s Center City district.
Entering unprepossessing offices belonging to law firm that appeared to cater to down-at-the-heels Philadelphia Chinatown residents, the dingy and peculiar rooms reminded me of Dickensian premises from London’s Bob Cratchit-era, and also, I’m embarrassed to say, sinister Fu Manchu opium dens. No receptionist was in signt, but I was finally able to locate a pleasant, rabbit-ish young woman in an inner sanctum of the room warren.
She seemed to know who I was and why I was there, and after a short interval she asked me to wait for a few minutes, saying my interviewer had been caught in an outside meeting that had extended too long.
This short interval turned into several long and awkward reverie pods and soon the bizarreness of my surroundings, with myriad older Chinese men and women weaving in and out, took hold. I was about to walk out (my most cheerful thought at that point being a suspicion that I was being employed in a Candid Camera revival show) when I was beckoned and summoned.
Led up and down stairways along endless corridor series on multiple building levels, each separate hallway branching off from the previous one at crazy angles, I recalled the cliché about scattering crumbs or cheese trails for mice to help them find their way. Eventually reaching a dilapidated beige and ochre conference room, I was greeted by a casually dressed, worried-looking young Indian man with a New Jersey accent sitting at a shabby, wobbly table surrounded by blank dark television monitors and what appeared to be worn and disused office computers.
After this unpromising start, the interview itself was fairly pleasant. My host outlined his venture following the rudimentary descriptions sketched on the company’s still “under construction” static-page website. He summarized Indian media market statistics, which I knew something about, and filled me in on the substantial and underutilized local, national and international consumer opportunities for Indian entertainment product. Dropping appropriate names of several prominent cable tv executives who he said might be my colleagues, he told me that I was being invited the following week to an estate in Princeton, New Jersey to meet with some big millionaire investors. Dispensing voluminous contact information so that we could be in touch during the week, he assured me that we were going to get this show on the road.
Eventually, my host said that he needed to place a scheduled telephone call and asked politely that I please show myself out, a task which I viewed with understandable trepidation. I reminded myself that in Tuxedo Park, a confusing place for both residents and non-residents, especially after dark, driving downhill is always the most predictable avenue to the exits. That analysis and God’s grace eventually led me back to the Chinese law firm and ultimately into the grimy Philadelphia precinct, a little confused, blearily dodging traffic.
Iwasn't that surprised never to hear from this man again. After many attempts, I was unable ever to reach him by telephone, email and letter. Fairly soon after the meeting, however, the headhunter contacted and abjectly apologized to me (a unique event in my life and possibly in history), saying he had heard the same weird "Help - I'm A Prisoner In A Chinese Bakery" story from several other candidates whom he feared would never speak to him again and who would surely take pains to blacken his professional reputation.
The mysterious Indian tv company simply disappeared from cyberspace and the phone book, but I still have Mr. Matt Rajan’s contact information on my mobile. He’s welcome to get in touch with me at any time to complain about this posting. I would even be willing to meet in Philly, New York or points in-between for tea and a lucid explanation. My treat.
I recount this story because it’s unusual and kind of funny, but I also feel it’s typical of what I’ve faced trying to replace a good corporate job during the endless, anti-business Obama Depression aka Job-Seeker Armageddon. I write this on the day the final Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report before next Tuesday’s presidential election was issued. The report showed, as you may already be aware, unemployment again rising, steeply in key sectors, including long-term unemployment, among African-Americans and for recent college graduates.
In the past, I rode out several very bad economic periods as one-half of a couple earning two excellent paychecks. Today, I’m embarrassed and slightly ashamed when I recall my obliviousness and lack of empathy with the sharp and chronic pain other, less fortunate people were feeling then. I didn’t yet know what it felt like to be regarded as "marginal”: a useless, mote-like nonentity who in the minds of prospective employers, so-called friends, and clients confronting modest, honest invoices, is probably regarded as better off dead.
This dog-eat-dog employment environment starring a president gibbering endlessly, falsely and often ungrammatically about "pivoting back to jobs," while dithering with unaffordable vanity legislation and engaging in serial and endless crony graft, makes me ponder the shocking Ray Davies lyric from "The Road" that goes: "Sometimes I get suicidal; Now everyone is a rival.” I identify with this.
I need to believe, however, that Delroy Wilson (who emerged from Trenchtown Kingston’s margins and succeeded against long odds) was right when he sang: “Better Must Come.”
May it please begin to arrive next Tuesday.
May our long disgraceful national nightmare finally end.
Delroy Wilson: Better Must Come (Link)
Alex Chilton: My Rival (Link)