"I hear that congratulations are in order," said an HR lady with whom I rarely cross paths at the current temp gig, using a phrase which, now that I think about it, seems quaintly archaic, vaguely Victorian or something.
"Oh, uh... really?" I replied, in pretty much the most inept attempt ever at prodding someone for additional information. "I mean, I was sort of unofficially given a thumb's up, but I haven't heard anything official."
She seemed only slightly taken aback. "Well, I think it's unofficially official. But you didn't hear that from me."
And so it goes at the most bureaucratic workplace in all the land, a week since I underwent my sixth job interview for a full-time marketing-writer position within the organization where I currently manage Intranet content over in the HR department of rule-makers and professional tattletales.
I'm pretty sure I got the job... but I don't actually know for sure. Nor has there been, during any of the six face-to-face interviews or e-mail communications with the guy in "Talent Acquisition," any mention of a salary range. That's mostly my fault; somehow it feels rude or presumptuous to ask about how much the job pays when I don't even know for sure that they want me. And then there's this weird self-protective element -- I worry that if I ask, and the number is high, it will unnerve me and make me want it too much, and that I will somehow subconsciously sabotage myself in any future interviews or communications. A couple years ago I interviewed for a writing position that paid more than sixty thousand dollars a year; during the whole interview process, I could not get my mind off that figure, which is a lot to me. Later, when I got the polite e-mail saying they'd gone with "a candidate" who was "a better fit for [their] needs," I had fixated on that number, feeling as if I'd somehow squandered or gambled it away.
What I'm saying is that I have my dumb, mangled psychological reasons for not asking such obvious and pertinently lifestyle-relevant questions.
It's been quite the roller-coaster ride this past week, starting with last Monday morning when I went into my last interview, this one with a chick in Talent Acquisition. I'd already interviewed with everyone I'd be working with on a daily basis in this role, as well as two VPs, including one so high up that he inhabits some sort of celestial realm in the organization's outer reaches. I mean, I was sitting there in his office, and dude had sunbeams shooting out from behind his head. (OK, he was sitting in front of the window on a bright late morning.) I had assumed (assume = making an ass out of u and me, as I learned from the Bad News Bears) that this "interview" was more of a formality, a ruse. Like the work equivalent of a surprise party. "All right, Christie, get all dressed up in your trusty old interview suit and bring your portfolio; you have yet another 'interview'... uh, yeah, right... an 'interview,' that's the ticket." And then I go in, and some cannons shoot confetti from off to the side, and there's a big sheet cake, and somebody hollers, "Surprise! You're hired!"
But there were no cannons shooting confetti, and there was no sheet cake. There was only the stern-faced Talent Acquisition girl, whose mention of "other candidates we're considering for this position" (candidates! plural!) was so dispiriting to me that I'm still pretty sure I bombed that last interview, croaking out work-related anecdotes and responses (to the same questions I'd been asked five times before) in a gravelly monotone. Like some sort of depressed hobo.
I walked back to my desk in a daze, all suited up like a fool. I'd been so sure that the Talent Acquisition girl and I were going to negotiate a salary, that I'd get to bustle out and text my boyfriend to let him know that I was now going to be a more financially stable partner for him. I had already been mulling over how many exclamation points to use in the "I got the job" Facebook announcement. (Sadly, yes, I'm serious.) Part of why I've waited so long to say anything here is that this has been hanging over my head, and I honestly didn't know which way it was going to go, and therefore I didn't really know how to feel.
Suddenly, after Monday's anti-climax, it didn't seem like such a sure thing. And as nearly a whole week dragged by without word one way or the other, I descended into just about the poutiest, brattiest case of sour grapes you ever saw. "I hate this stupid place! It's so bureaucratic! The future's wide open now... I'll find a place I like even better!" I thought this as I played my "I don't have a job but that's OK" playlist, which consists of songs such as Cat Power's "Free." I conjured the sense of possibility I'd had when I drove out to California after getting laid off in 2008, when everything was crazy and uncertain but at least I felt alive.
I thought all of the dumb stuff you tell yourself in order to make a loss not hurt so much.
Emotionally, I bounced around all over the place. I thought crazy (in the context of my life, at least) things, like, "Fine, then; I'll just stay home and have a baby." (?!) I thought about all the people I know with "real," full-time jobs, and I wondered what tragic flaw in my DNA or character has prevented me from attaining this basic thing for more than two years now. I felt the reverberating sting of rejection; I obsessed over the ways in which I could have answered certain questions better. I lamented not sending thank-you e-mails (normally I always do that, but with this job I had the odd sense that sending such e-mails to people who are technically my co-workers would seem like cheating somehow, unfair to the other candidates [plural], like having too much of a homefield advantage).
But the whole time, I had this sense that I was lying to myself. At the very least, as the Cheap Trick song goes, I wanted them to want me. The truth is that, so help me, I like the place. Yeah, it's giant and corporate and so bureaucratic that it's like something out of a sitcom. But the people are nice, and I've been given opportunities to stretch and do stuff beyond my ken (write a new ~30-page CMS training manual virtually from scratch; conduct three-hours-long, classroom-style training sessions using a manual that I wrote). And maybe best of all, it's in DC, a block away from my beloved Union Station. I like getting to read books on the Metro for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. I like the rhythm I've got going now, and would be sad to trade it for working in another NoVA office park and spending so much time in my car. Honestly, the commute is maybe my favorite thing about the whole set-up, even if I am up before the sun is on weekday mornings. (Even this I find calming; the neurotic in me is soothed by showing up to places early, and when the sun hasn't even come up, it feels like you still have all the time in the world.)
So maybe congratulations are in order. Or maybe they're not, and when my temp contract is up in a month or so I'll have to say good-bye to certain beloved characters who people my mornings and lunch breaks, like the pan-handling guy who tells everyone, "God bless you, have a nice day," all day, every day. (His saying this kept me from crying during my lunch break immediately after the bombed Monday interview.) Maybe I'll have to say good-bye to the long line of quirky lunch trucks that forms in front of the Irish Times pub, whose wares I have yet to sample (the trucks and the pub). Maybe I'll have to say good-bye to the familiar blinking circular lights set into the ground to let you know that the train is coming, the dull tolling of the mechanical chimes just before the doors slam shut (and the authoritative, vaguely sexy-librarian lady saying, "Step back -- doors closing," bleenk-blonk, bleenk-blonk). Maybe one day it will all merely be the mental detritus of just another temp gig.
Or maybe not.