A Job Interview with a Fish
    Barbara Johnson-Browne
My interrogator's question was impertinent and illegal. Startled, I fought to fire up the searchlights and scan my brain, which at the moment was disguised as an artichoke. I needed an answer that didn't prove I'd flunked Corporate Communication for the Easily Intimidated. But first I had to stop thinking about his eyes. They were so close together his tear ducts could have made love on the bridge of his nose. This anatomical trademark would trigger old wives to whisper he couldn't be trusted. His eyes bulged like those of the huge stuffed fish staring at me from over his head. The juxtaposition of the bulging eyes proved the genetic link between this swordfish and his walking, talking cousin. 

The latter evolutionary outcome was a vice-president of the species Corporato animalia in the jungles of  Biotechnologia californianus. His lips were pasted into their most executive pose. When he opened the dam to let bubbles of sound escape, the words spewed around the room, bouncing off the designer chairs, bursting against file cabinets and kissing a bubble-gum machine that stood meekly at attention, doing its decorative duty. The speed of his verbal battery - and the spray that followed in its wake - meant I had to keep my auditory and dodging capabilities on red alert if I wanted to make any sense of its content and stay dry. 

Mr. VP tired of my effort and reworded his question, presumably to donate more delicacy to the proceedings. Was this a valiant effort to apply the skills of tact and diplomacy imbibed from the latest management seminar he'd nodded through? 

"Well? About this burden of family responsibilities...," he began, elbows on desk, nose on high, eyes on fly buzzing about the room.

Burden? Burden? Is he calling my twin pack of chocolate-coated cherubs a burden? 

"You're not unique, you know."

Ah,that's good to know. Someone else has suffered through this same interview. Someone else has sat in this chair praying for an act of God, who in His infinite wisdom and in a single blow for womankind could transplant the San Andreas Fault to a new home beneath Mr. VP's desk. Please, make the earth's stomach start to rumble and its granite mouth gape open and gobble up the inhabitant of that desk. 

"Bags of women must bare their souls, just their souls - ha, ha -concerning their struggle with child care."

Did he just call me a bag? Or are his deviant eyes too busy devouring my non-designer blouse? 

"The point is, do you really think you can, um...?" 

"Cope," I helped him. Nope, I wanted to say. Of course, I doubt I can cope, but you're the last person I'm going to tell. 

I tried an evasive leaning maneuver to the left, but my reflexes were too slow. A verbal bubble burst on the end of my nose as he fired again. 

"And why do you want this job anyway? Why not just continue to free-lance?" The suggestion was one of past and potentially future failure. 

I tidied up my besprinkled nose with the back of my hand. My belated answers were half truth, half avoidance of dangerous issues. "My husband had major surgery a year ago, so I've been the sole breadwinner since then." No violins, please, or maybe just pianissimo. "True, freelancing has its ups and down, as you can imagine, but advantages too, especially for the children." 

This initial response was laced with stoicism and self-reliance. But I shouldn't have mentioned the children. And then I made the mistake of looking Mr. VP straight in the eyes - they say you're supposed to do that at interviews- and I found myself wondering if fish had mind-reading powers. Hoping they didn't, I gave my meandering brain a swift kick in the cortex and ordered it back to work. But alas, it was too late. Beckoned by the truth, my voice was lulled into the land of "Ahs" and then petered out into a pathetic, "But really, my husb..., um, I think we need a more steady income." 

End of answer. I didn't talk about the other half of the story. A)That I wished to gracefully retire from the role of Mr. Bill Collector, nagging companies plump with profits to pay me for work completed in the first millenium. B) That yes, I was responsible for the upkeep of a refurbished husband, relentless twins and a reckless mortgage. C) That no, I wasn't sure I could cope, especially knowing my salary would hover near subsistence level unless I submitted to a sex-change operation and reapplied as Bruce. D) That my kindly uncle, the tycoon, had sent a charitable contribution to our mortgage fund. D) That the essence of the All-American "Make it on your own" gospel was wafting my way. E) That as a result, my confidence and self-respect were running off together to Tahiti, probably never to return.

At my side, a restless woman, the marketing manager and my prospective supervisor, squirmed. Was she suppressing amusement or sympathy? It was lunchtime - maybe she had an amorous appetite for Mr. VP or just had to go to the restroom. I know I did, the last choice that is. God forbid the other. Her eyes were true blue and the ideal distance apart. I trusted them. I should have known better. I always joked that I was a naïve girl from Wisconsin. In fact, I was. And being so was the flaw in my corporate character. After all, this was California, and being a woman from the land of cheeseheads in the land of fruits and nuts was no less challenging than being black or Latino, fat or flat. There aren't any laws for the protection of midwestern WASPs who buzz out west on a cloud of hope. The clouds over California are thin. You either fall through quickly or get blinded by the sun and sea so you can't see what you're really in for.

At this point in the interview, we had reached Dead Woman's Gulch. There was only one direction to trudge now. It was show-and-tell time. I uncorked my portfolio and passed around fizzy samples of my work. Impressive grunts of satisfaction had begun to flow when the office door was flung open so hurriedly after a courtesy knock that one wondered, "Why bother?" 

Two male bodies fell into the room, one dressed to impress in shorts and T-shirt and topped with a backwards baseball cap, the other more corporately attired but minus a tie. They barely maintained the upright stance of advanced creatures. The detonation of their giggles slapped a
startled gag over every other mouth in the room. Suddenly, after an exchange of elbows in ribs, their trunks stood erect, their arms straightened at their sides, and their voices joined in unison. The melody was Howdy Dowdy, but the words were, "It's Bubble Gummy time! It's Bubble
Gummy time!"

Mr. VP's eyes bulged even further, as did every vein on his head, which now glowed like the entire Sierra National Forest was on fire. 

The dam burst. "I'm conducting an interview here!" he bubbled over and over. 

Undaunted, the duet blossomed into a chorus of a dozen hairy-legged eggheads and surfers dancing through the door Indian-style, complete with war whoops and chest thumps. With nickels raised in triumph, the tribe encircled the unsuspecting bubble-gum machine. The climax was imminent. But someone tripped. Then they all tripped,gasped and grasped, and finally tumbled into a heaving heap that toppled the slim purveyor of gum balls, severing its glass head from its body and scattering its rainbow-colored brains across the carpet. In the fray, one collection of writhing limbs lunged in my direction and flopped with a screeching snort of laughter on my lap. This time my eyes bulged.

Ms. Marketing slapped a thin hand over her smirk, while the ashen face of Mr. VP stared silently, consumed by shock. I extricated myself from this unexpected advance by standing up. In the sudden calm that always clings to the heels of a great storm, the entangled arms and legs collected themselves and returned to the vertical position. The ones that had found themselves intertwined with mine were at least the most suitably clad. One of these cuff-linked arms reached out to me. Its grinning mouth opened and uttered, "Hi, I'm Will Saccham." A little pregnant pause. "I'm the president of Tweaky Genes."

Dawn broke over the disheveled horizon. So this is how corporate America behaves! I had worked for the unsuccessful flavor of bio-tech company, the sour, boring variety that invites investors to a scape-goat-of-the-year competition and fires the winner. When that doesn't work, they celebrate by firing the president, flogging the product or folding. Ah, but not this company. Here they actually made money and had great products. So it must be a great place to work. 

As I tiptoed through the sea of emancipated bubble-gum balls, I caught one last glimpse of my friend the fish. I could swear his lips were moving, at least the lower one. I blinked and heard a long, low, gurgling "B-e-w-a-r-e." I flopped the word over in my mind as I made my exit. 

Now, I have always made it a firm personal policy to ignore the advice of any fish. So when the job was offered, I took it.

In Posse: Potentially, might be ...