Late September 2015
Job rejection had rarely come in the form of a personal phone call. Still, it was through this medium that I learned of the end of my candidacy with the insurer. Being aimless and without many responsibilities, it had become my practice to retire late at night and awake even later in the afternoon. On one such afternoon in September, I awoke to the voicemail notification blinking on my cell phone. Yawning unconcernedly, I fumbled with my phone’s lock screen and wondered which one of the many bill collectors was after me this time.
Instead, the tinny voice of the insurer’s HR representative was bidding me good morning and asking me to call her back. The topic of discussion was to be the position that I had recently interviewed for. I leaped out of bed and traversed the half dozen stairs to the kitchen in a single bound. My mother, pouring coffee, turned around.
“What’s up?” she asked, clearly sensing my excitement.
“Remember that insurer I interviewed with a couple weeks ago? They just called me back to discuss the position!” I grinned widely. “That’s gotta be good news, right?”
My mother’s masterfully honed poker face remained impassive. “See what happens. Give them a call and try not to get your hopes up too much.”
My happiness balloon felt as thought it had developed a puncture. “What are you talking about?” I asked, with more than a hint of annoyance in my voice. “If it was a rejection, they’d just have left me a message or sent me an e-mail. This has to be good news!”
Mom didn’t back down. “Not necessarily. Anyway, I hope you’re right. Go call them and we’ll talk after.”
I stared at her. “You don’t know nothin’…bout anythin’.” She grinned and returned to the newspaper
It sucks when your parents disagree with your sage predictions. It’s even worse when they turn out to be right. The phone call was mercifully short, at least. The HR representative gave me the whole spiel about being an “impressive” candidate with “superb” credentials. She also told me that, despite these accolades, they would be pursuing other hopefuls. But, lest you think that this entry is more doom and gloom, consider that the news was not all bad. I was informed that the insurer would be keeping my information in their file and would give me a call if anything else came along that fit my capabilities (nb: nothing ever did).
In the grand scheme of things, this rejection hurt a middling amount. It was a job that I HAD wanted and that seemed quite up my alley. The leading-on factor was not too powerful, although being called just to be told that I was SOL threw me for a loop. The most difficult part (like many other times) was going downstairs and letting my mother know that: a) I had lost out and (much more importantly) b) she had been right regarding my premature jubilation. With that said, she certainly did not (and hasn’t ever) been happy to see me fail. Her and my dad even took me to a gourmet Italian restaurant for lunch later that day as consolation. The unlimited caesar salad and garlic homeloaf at East Side Mario’s did little to alleviate the bitterness that came with this most recent failure, however.
October 1, 2016
The next week or so was more of the same. A lot of nothing mixed with a tiny bit of job hunting and application drafting. More recently, I had been searching on the LSUC portal specifically for job postings. This was often a lesson in futility. Many of the advertisements made it clear that the positions available were unpaid. Others offered paltry “honorariums” or subsidies for transit/gas expenses. As I have often said, beggars most certainly should not operate with the entitlement of choosers. Even still, I stayed away from the completely unpaid positions. In the meantime, I sent applications to every available position that promised something as compensation and that had some connection to my background.
One afternoon, my phone rang. The soft, polite voice on the other end informed me that it was a lawyer with a firm in North York that I had recently applied to. She invited me to come for an interview at 2 PM the next day (October 1st). This firm was a small, two-lawyer plaintiff personal injury firm. I recalled that their advertisement mentioned payment being “nominal”. Regardless, I was happy to get call-backs at all, and so I happily agreed to the meeting.
The next day, after being bid good luck by my parents, I set off for North York. This is an area to the northeast of the downtown core that is about 45 km from my home. I realized quickly that this would not be an ideal commute. I also realized just as quickly that, were I an attractive candidate with opportunities on the horizon, the overlong commute might be a relevant factor. Pushing pessimism away, I turned up the car stereo and enjoyed the cloudless, crisp weather and positive road conditions.
A half hour and several wrong turns later, I pulled into the parking lot of the firm’s office building. Even with my poor navigational performance, I had twenty minutes to spare. Not wanting to risk a sweat stain forming in the hot interior of my car, I wandered out and sat down at a bench in front of the building. The structure itself was about nine or ten stories, with dull aquamarine panels and grey stone. The surrounding area played host to several large highways and various urban sprawl. I reasoned, hopefully, that there would be plenty of places to go for lunch in this area if I was successful in obtaining a position.
With five minutes to go until 2 PM, I rose, smoothed out the pant legs of my suit and ventured inside the building. The firm was located on the sixth floor. I found my way down the corridor to the correct unit and pushed open the door. The firm’s office had a front waiting room, but no receptionist or greeter. Luckily, a passing-by employee noticed me. I provided my name and stated my business. The employee, who introduced herself as the firm’s office manager, asked me to take a seat and wait for a few minutes. I remember checking my phone and noting that I was right on time.
I waited a few minutes. Then, a few more minutes. I checked the magazine rack that lay adjacent to my seat for entertaining distractions. The National Geographics contained within were several years old. I decided to stick with browsing my phone. 2:15. From the general office area came a variety of voices. Some loud, some quiet, some belonging to what sounded like males and some from females. Most were in English, but I noted the presence of a conversation whose participants were speaking a language that I was unfamiliar with. 2:30.
By 2:40, I was beginning to wonder if I was in a real life version of The Sixth Sense where I had, in fact, died weeks ago without realizing it. The beautiful part of having no job, obligations or prospects is that you really can afford to wait around endlessly without running the risk of infringing on other commitments. As I reflected on this rather sad state of affairs, I heard a booming voice from down the hall shout:
“LISTEN, YOU TELL HIM THAT IF HE WANTS TO PISS AWAY HIS ENTIRE CASE OVER A FUCKING PARKING TICKET, THAT’S HIS BUSINESS. EITHER WAY, I’M GETTING PAID!”
This outburst at least broke the monotony. Inwardly, I hoped that the source of the voice would not be a co-worker that I would be spending much time with. Seconds later, I heard my name being called. This time, the voice was the same as the one I had spoken on the phone with previously. It belonged to a young lawyer by the name of Samantha. She was the firm’s junior associate and who I would be meeting with first. We walked a short distance and entered her office. I took a seat across from her, blew a strand of hair from my eyes and put on my best, “professional” face.
She gazed at my application and then hit me with a bombshell. “So, I guess you must have really hated tax, huh?” I must admit, I was taken off-guard. Tax law is a memory that I had worked hard to suppress and had, by far, been my lowest mark. No one had ever asked me about it. I took a breath and decided to go for a jokey response. Complaining about the early-morning session in which that class had been offered, I opined that I was not much of a morning person. Samantha didn’t laugh or smile, but she did seem to be paying close attention.
“Yeah. The truth is, I enrolled in tax law and then almost immediately dropped it. It seems like I made the right decision.” I made sure to quickly agree with her while simultaneously wondering if my jokey response had come off as something that a lazy asshole might offer as an explanation. Samantha pressed on, asking me about my experience, what I was interested in and some questions about how I liked law school. The conversation was easy enough and certainly improved after the tax law ambush. Even still, I didn’t feel as though I had wowed her much.
After about twenty minutes, the conversation reached a lull.
Samantha folded up my application. “Well, it was very nice meeting you. Paul wants to talk to you, as well. He’s the firm’s principal and has final say. I think that he’s in the middle of drafting something, but should be with you shortly. Would you mind waiting out in the front room?”
I certainly had no problem with doing so, but the feeling of being kicked out of Samantha’s office to wait even longer had a certain kind of bleak comedy to it. Shaking her hand, I thanked her for taking the time to speak with me before heading back to the waiting room. It was about 3:10 PM by the time that I had finished meeting with Samantha. I figured that I would only be waiting a few minutes, especially after the long wait that I had initially. Foolishness.
It was after 4 PM when I heard the booming, loud voice again.
“NOW, LET ME SEE STEVE!”
I awkwardly rose, unsure if I needed to be invited before strolling down to meet its source. Instead, Paul came to me. He pumped my hand and apologized for the wait. He led me further down the hall to where his office was. Shutting the door behind him, he took a seat behind his desk and leafed quickly through my application. We must have sat in total silence for over a minute and a half before he looked up at me.
“So, what do you think is going to happen in the election?”
Realizing that safety was key, I elected (ha, what a fucking clever wordsmith I am) to respond safely.
“Well, I think it’s gonna be a minority government, whatever side ends up winning.”
Almost before I had finished my sentence, Paul had launched into an in-depth, impassioned lecture about the state of politics of Canada. No facet of our apparently awful political system was off-limits or inappropriate. I got an earful about Kathleen Wynne, about Trudeau, about Harper, about the utility of teaching sex-ed to high schoolers and even about Paul’s own, short-term brush with local politics. I nodded and smiled until it felt like I had severed a vertebrae. I quickly got the impression that Paul was not a man who liked to be interrupted, so I let him go. It was about 4:40 PM by the time he took a breath and glanced back down at my application.
We chatted for about two minutes about my relevant experience and past jobs. Paul explained that his firm was a start-up that he alone had funded. He had been at it for about four years and was still in the red, financially speaking (I marvelled at how any of this was even remotely my business). As it turns out, this economic discussion was the preamble to the explanation regarding why he could not afford to pay much. I assured him that this was not a problem and that I understood his position.
He asked whether I was into sports. I said that I wasn’t, but that I still somehow managed to be a decent human being in the absence of athletic pursuits. He guffawed good-naturedly and rose from his desk. I rose as well and we shook hands. Leading me to the door, he mentioned that he would be in touch and that it was nice to meet me. I thanked him for his time and was in the elevator seconds later.
My drive-home was the typical rush hour hell. This was a blessing in disguise, however, as it afforded me a lot of time to think about the interview. The entire experience was fairly unique and more than a bit amusing. I had no idea whether I had done well. If I am to be totally honest, it was not a position that I had a large amount invested in emotionally. Still, I knew that securing SOME kind of articling gig was the key. Whether it was a position that I was passionate about had long since ceased being a relevant consideration.
I was about fifteen minutes away from home when my phone rang. Being a careful, law-abiding driver, I picked up my phone and looked at the screen. I recognized the phone number of the firm as being the one I had just left. A small jolt of excitement went through me. Had I managed to lock down a second interview? I decided to double-down on my careful driving and answer the call.
It was Samantha. She greeted me and asked if it was a bad time to call.
“No, not at all,” I said, as cars whizzed by me in several different lanes.
“Okay, good. Well, are you able to start tomorrow?”
The rest of the universe seemed to go silent. All I heard was my own heartbeat.
Samantha chuckled. “Yeah, I know. It’s a bit short notice, but we were wondering if you’d like to start tomorrow.” I wasn’t sure if this was real life, but I knew that driving off the road and killing myself might end up being real.
“Uh, listen, can I call you back? I’m just in the car and almost home.” Samantha assured me this was fine and I hung up.
The rest of the drive seemed to pass at light speed. I careened into the driveway and ran inside my house. Neither of my parents were home. This was momentarily infuriating, until I realized that this was a decision best made alone. I paced like a manic around my living room for about five minutes before I picked up my phone and hit Redial.
Samantha picked up.
“Hey, Samantha. It’s Steve. What time tomorrow?”