The Greatest Story [I’ve] Ever Told

I so rarely have a really great story.

Most of my stories are about:

  • Running through airports
  • People at the library
  • People at the coffee shop
  • People at the grocery store
  • I cooked a thing

But there’s one story that I swear by. It’s the story of how I got my job.

It was December 2013, the month my loan provider started expecting me to answer for my decision to go live in New York for two years. I still didn’t have a job. I really needed a job. Where were all the jobs? Job? JOB!! JOOOOOOB!

After 6 months of applying for jobs, 6 months of inching through cover letters because there is nothing worse than writing cover letters, 6 months of silence and wondering if something was wrong with me when in fact online job applications are a broken system, I broadened my search. “I’d love a job in my industry, or a job adjacent to my industry, or a job that looks like my industry if you squint, or a job that is not at all in my industry.”

I applied to a software company on the advice of a family friend. And lo and behold, they were the only company to contact me for a phone interview.

Obviously they had excellent taste, and it definitely wasn’t some oversight in HR.

Being my first, only, and endlessly treasured nibble, I leaped at the chance to interview, but the emails arranging the interview were increasingly and suspiciously intense.

I hadn’t had any post-graduate job interviews, but I had previously interviewed for internships, summer jobs, and grad school. People mostly talked like people, but these emails seemed as if this company was actually the government, and there was a secret team of assassins deployed when people waste their time in the interview process.

And no, I’m not being dramatic.

Make sure your phone interview will not be interrupted. Make sure your signal will not be dropped. When they call, pick up the phone quickly. Be prepared with your standardized test scores and GPA starting with high school (“I was told those wouldn’t matter after college!”), and going through your most recent education (“I was told no one cared about GPA after graduation!”). Tell us when you’re available to call, but it’s best if we call at 1:00 or 4:00. (Weirdly specific, team!)

But, guys…job. I’ll follow the rules.

I arranged with HR-Tracy, as I called her in my head, to interview on a Tuesday at 1:00 Central Time, 2:00 where I was.

I was in North Carolina. I was living with my parents and being aggressively unemployed, broken up by small bouts of dog-sitting for family friends. And it just so happens, I was dog-sitting on this Tuesday.

Gadget, a squeak of a dog, belonged to a family friend from church. Church-family-friend did pretty well for himself, so his house was, to the eyes of an unemployed textile historian, pretty impressive.

It was nestled on the side of a hill that it shared with four or five other houses. At the base of the hill, there was a large flat stretch of grass- I would later learn that field was used as a runway for their two seater airplane and the field was speckled with these giant bulbous hay bales.

This is Gadget. Also a hay bale.

I would never learn the origin or purpose of these hay bales in the field. I wasn’t on a farm. I’ve seen those. I’ve seen a lot of those. The only other option is aliens. I was, after all, watching Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura on the couch of this man who actually made something of his life for most of the morning of my interview.

The house I was manning was the closest to the base of the hill, while still having enough space for a view: grassy fields, hay bales, a distant but pretty populated two lane road, and then the rolling green hills you find in the foot hills of the Appalachians on the opposite side of the road. The back of the house had a long, winding patio where you could sit and appreciate your surroundings.

this lake will become important

It was quiet and peaceful and late Fall, so the air was crisp from the rain that fell the day before. This, I decided looking down to make sure the dog is still alive as it seemed like it had been comatose for at least two hours, is where I would conduct the interview.

I was sitting at the outdoor table, wearing a navy cable knit sweater, and navy and maroon plaid silk pajamas pants, the pants from a set that I got for Christmas the year before.

Let’s remember that it was roughly 1:30 in the afternoon. I just finished an episode of Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura, eating the homemade Chex Mix from another family’s kitchen, and I was still wearing pajamas.

In hindsight, I think that says so much, and by “so much” I mean it says “unemployment.” At the time, I sat on the patio, looking out over the saturated green, distinctly thinking, “This shall be what I wear when I am a writer, living in a hideaway of my own. Sipping coffee, wearing silk pajamas, and writing my books. Real writers don’t wear flannel polka dots.”

…what?

  1. They probably do. And FYI, past-Meredith, you currently own a matching set of flannel gingerbread man pajamas that you love because they keep you warmer than any other pair you own, a fact that’s important because of where this interview will eventually take you.
  2. It’s okay to write wearing pajamas of any kind. I’m doing it now. It’s less okay to write wearing pajamas at 1:30 in the afternoon. Or do most things wearing pajamas at 1:30 in the afternoon.

In preparing for the interview, I tracked down even my most obscure test scores. I took notes on the company. I took notes on my grades, my previous jobs, and my major school assignments. I took notes on the CEO of the company. I took notes on Wisconsin. I had a pencil and paper in case I needed more notes. I had tissues set out in case I sneezed. I had water set out in case I was parched.

The dog continued to be alive, yet comatose on the patio beside me.

I was ready for the 2:00 interview. Just try and shake me, Interview-Efficiency-Assasin-Army.

“OKAY!”- Interview-Efficiency-Assasin-Army

At literally 1:59 p.m., Gadget, the same dog that had been sleeping in a tiny black mound for at this point two and a half hours, lifts his head, sees something (I’m still not sure what), and as fast as his tiny little chihuahua legs will take him, goes flying towards the two lane road.

Over the course of the next five seconds, my brain crunched the numbers, and came up with the following: “Theregoesthedog,Ibethe’sfine,butthosearedefinitelycarsandhe’sasmalldogGADGET! GADGEEET!!!”

I grab my phone, and go sprinting after the dog, still in my pajamas, but no shoes on my feet. Gadget and I make it a collective 50 feet before my phone starts to ring.

Because of course it does.

I am not a person who is in shape. I prefer a steady mosey, or even a purposeful stomp to running, so 50 feet later, I am already winded and know that I can’t keep this pace. Luckily, having the leg-length of a human woman and not a tiny dog, I already caught up to Gadget who had now decided to happily prance through this muddy field, his previous mission since forgotten.

The phone is still ringing. I looked down at the phone. I looked at the dog who is almost cartoonishly hopping above the dewy grass. If I keep this dog within 10 feet of me, close enough to interfere if Gadget got any crazy ideas, I think I can pull this off. I answer the phone.

Almost three years later, I know the type of person the company choses to conduct phone interviews. They’re typically very lovely people. At the time, all I heard from Marissa, my phone interviewer, was an aggressive geniality that aspires to phone-based efficiency and absolutely no dead zones. No dead zones.

I’m only now realizing it wasn’t aggressive at all, but it just wasn’t quite on my “STOP MOVING, DOG!” level because I was now winding my way through a grassy field that on closer inspection was mostly mud from the rain the day before.

A recreation of the route Gadget and I took:

Just a really great map drawn by a professional cartographer.

For the next 45 minutes, Marissa asked me about my previous positions. What I did. What I learned. How I think a job doing historical research for some costume designers translates into writing technical notes for customers consuming our software.

Spoiler: It doesn’t, but Marissa didn’t need to know that.

And for the next 45 minutes, Gadget continued to prance, and I continued to hover, roughly ten feet behind him, trying and failing to dodge the mud.

It was when Marissa asked me if I would be willing to travel that Gadget discovered we had been circumventing a fairly sizable lake. And he promptly tried to prance directly into it.

It was late Fall, almost Winter. I just saved this dog from running into the road. I was not about to let him go swimming when it’s mid forties outside.

I was able to scoop him with one arm, but didn’t get a good enough grip to put our field trip to an end. I was, however, able to redirect him away from his impromptu pool party/potential-puppy suicide.

Marissa and I began discussing company culture, and Gadget was, surprise, still prancing and dancing and, if we’re being really honest, laughing at me, and as she was telling me “we have a slide! We have fun!” I look up to discover Gadget and I have wandered from a sprawling residential field into a construction equipment parking lot.

I would have been less surprised if we wandered into Narnia.

I have never been more acutely aware of my place in a space than the moment a man came slowly strolling out of the open garage to see a small pipsqueak-dog, standing no taller than a foot dancing around his construction equipment, while a 25 year old wearing pajamas (at this point it was 3:00 in the afternoon) and muddy feet, speaking on the phone about  employee retention, mouths, “I’M SO SORRY!” jogs up behind the dog and tries to scoop him up with her free arm, almost dropping him only once thanks to a well-timed squirm. The man looked confused. I didn’t blame him.

I finally get a grip on Gadget, and of course that’s when the interview starts to wrap up. I should hear something in two weeks. If they think I’m a better fit for a different position, I may have to take tests for that position as well.

“Yes, that’s fine. Thanks so much. Ok. Please just let me get off this phone.” Now that I could tell the interview-heavy-lifting was over, my sentences were getting shorter, my death grip on Gadget tighter.

I was finally and blessedly allowed to hang up the phone, and on the vastly-less circuitous route back to the house, I saw that Gadget’s lake also had a very small pier.

The dog still in my arms, I sat down and I sighed. I sighed twice. I took a selfie with the dog, and then I sighed again. I am a member of my generation, after all.

I was certain that I bombed this interview. I was not getting this job, and it was at that point, my one and only chance at being a card-carrying job-haver. Later that night, when I met my grandparents, my aunt and my uncle for dinner at Ruby Tuesdays, with a plate full of salad and ham cubes that only the Ruby Tuesday salad bar can provide, I would tell them I wasn’t going to get the job, and I would cry.

I would cry into my ham cubes.

But as Gadget and I got up from the pier, the dog immediately trotting in the direction of the house, because of course he did, and I saw my pristine notes, tissues, pencils, and water still sitting where I left them an hour ago, shoes sitting beside my chair, I could only think, “well, there you go.”

After stuffing my muddy feet into my shoes because I knew enough not to walk in someone else’s house with muddy feet I grabbed a handful of Chex Mix and found an episode of Ancient Aliens. I sat back down and I watched TV.

Did you guys know that there are underwater structures that were definitely constructed by ancient aliens? The science is there.

Much like the ancient aliens, I’m a big believer in sticking the landing. When I’m working on a project, I can stumble. I can mess things up. I can take a long time and ask a lot of questions. I can get stuck trying to catch a dog on a phone interview. None of that matters because I know that I’ll also put in the time and the effort and the energy to get something right. I’ll stick the landing.

I type this from my bed in Wisconsin because I evidently stuck the landing and I got the job. And I realize now that slow-speed chasing a dog through a field while remembering what originally interested me about Scottish folk culture as a thesis topic and gauging the distance to the road and assessing Gadget’s mischievous gleam in his eye was really great practice for my job.

I have to make choices, and I have to prioritize on the fly. I have to chase down some weirdos, and sometimes I wish I was dressed more professionally.

I guess the takeaway here is: just worry about sticking the landing, and if you don’t land just so, I bet your landing is still on the way. Your flip is just a really long one. Till then, stuff your muddy feet in your shoes, get some Chex Mix and find some horrible TV show on History Channel. You’ll be amazed what you can learn about the Denver airport actually being a front for the Illuminati. Or something like that.

Just don’t cry into your ham cubes. They don’t need the extra sodium.

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