I don’t remember what city this interview was in, but it was the very late 80’s, maybe early 90s, and I was up somewhere in this huge hotel hanging out in the corridor. Through the door you could usually hear them interviewing the person ahead of you; I didn’t like that so I would walk far enough away that I couldn’t hear. Now that was a funny moment—when the person who had just been interviewed walked out and the soon to be interviewed walked in. Most of the time the former and the latter wouldn’t even look at each other in spite of their shared misery or maybe because of it.
So I walked into this one and a couple of guys are sitting behind the hotel table, and what do my eyes behold but an ashtray. No, two ashtrays, and one was overflowing with butts. I couldn’t believe it. In all my interviews before and after, no ashtray and no butts. I relaxed all over just at the sight of an ashtray with butts. So few people smoked at these conventions that usually I stuck them out of sight in my bag or something rather than carry them in my pocket where people might notice. But these two guys were flagrant smokers or they wouldn’t have left the ashtray and the butts out like that.
We introduced ourselves and I waited a decorous interval so I wouldn’t seem overly excited and asked would they mind if I smoked since there was an ashtray right out there in the open with butts in it. They said, no, they wouldn’t mind. So I lit up and they lit up and there we were puffing away. Damn that was one relaxed interview. We even had some laughs. Usually I would try to make some little joke to get myself relaxed, but most of the time those people seemed impervious to laughter. But not these guys. They yucked away.
I left the interview as usual not knowing if I had done a good job or not. But I felt good after. I had a good time and when I left and said it had been a pleasure to meet them, I meant it. That made it alright for some reason. Even if I never heard from them again, it was OK.
By this time I had given up looking for jobs in literature. I had switched over to writing since that’s what I was doing and I had published a couple of articles in the area. So if the little job blurb said, Romantics or Romanticism, I just ignored it, even thought that’s what I had written my dissertation about. Instead I looked at the listings for “teachers in composition/rhetoric.” Usually it said PhD in Literature or Rhetoric required. That was because at that time they hadn’t yet started churning out ill-educated people in Rhetoric, so to get anybody for they job they had to say PhD in Literature too though you had to have a demonstrated interest in writing and plenty of experience at doing it.
The smokers had advertised a position for someone to head their little composition program. Mostly in their case that meant working with the Teaching Assistants and making sure they had some idea what the heck they were doing and other administrative chores with plenty of writing classes thrown in for good measure. After that interview, I thought well maybe I had a shot.
(to be continued)