First, an example of levity gone right: When I interviewed for the job of Dr. Zap (performer of science shows at schools all over Michigan) at the Impression 5 Science Museum in Lansing, MI, the fellow who was interviewing me (Harmon Everett, the original Dr. Zap) took me through his office. We had to snake our way through the dimly lit room, as it was cluttered with all manner of equipment, files, experiments, and habitats. I paused at one of the habitats, a modest aquarium, and read the label on the fish food jar. Harmon saw me smiling and asked what was so funny. I replied honestly, “I see here it says ‘Foil sealed for freshness.’ I’m so glad they do that, because when this stuff gets stale, man, it really tastes lousy!” Harmon thought that was funny as hell, and I ended up getting the job. I suppose it was kind of a goofy thing to say at a job interview, but Harmon was clearly an offbeat, iconoclastic sort of guy, so I decided to let it all hang out, and the two of us hit it off fabulously.
Now let’s zoom ahead a few years to the interview for the job I’ve had in Chicago’s Loop for over 13 years. I figure I can tell this story because the central characters in it, other than myself, left the firm years ago. After the primary interview was over, my boss-to-be sent me off to lunch with a couple of the people who would be my peers if I were hired, “… so that you can ask them any questions you might not be comfortable asking me,” as she put it. That approach impressed the heck out of me, by the way!
The more dominant of my two peers-to-be immediately informed me that there were only two men in the department, and they were both gay. She grabbed my arm and said, “Oh Chuck, please take the job! We need more men here!”
I smiled at her and said, “Especially single straight men.” We all laughed. It seemed an innocuous enough little joke, especially considering that the topic had already been broached.
When boss-to-be returned, the very first thing out of peer-to-be’s mouth was, “Did he tell you? He’s single AND STRAIGHT!” Mind you, we were sitting in a crowded lunch room filled with employees of this company, and it struck me as perhaps not the classiest way to make a first impression. Boss-to-be was clearly aware of the awkwardness of the moment, and she simply replied (quietly), “No, he didn’t mention it.”
Now I know that the main person who ought to have a bit more circumspect in their comments was peer-to-be. We’ll talk more about her another time! But I also tried to take a little lesson for myself from that strange and unpleasant moment. Of course, they did go ahead and hire me, so this bit of personal knowledge certainly didn’t hurt. Well, I guess there’s more than one way to build bridges between people . . .
I guess my ultimate feeling about it all is that I hope I can continue to get better at determining what is appropriate at a given moment, though at the same time, I don’t want to ever get too appropriate. There are times when a well-placed inappropriate comment can make people think new thoughts and shake them out of complacency. And let’s not forget the most important part of all – it’s fun!