Saturday, January 27, 2007

dismay, dyspepsia, and digital archiving

I’ve been flirting with dismay all week.

It’s not that anything important has gone wrong. To the contrary, everything’s fine, just fine. Everyone’s on their meds. No-one is suing anyone. Appliances great and small are functioning, including the replacement black Signature Gourmet Coffeemaker, the lid of which has hardly warped at all yet.

It’s more that there’ve been a maelstrom of aggravations, petty disappointments, and minor fuck-ups.

Let’s take Thursday for example. For the last couple of weeks, I’d been looking forward to the Digital Archiving Symposium slated to be held at the Berkeley Art Museum. It’s the right topic and so close to home, just across the Bay.

I was late to begin with.

I don’t think anyone would contradict me if I said I have a hard time getting organized and out of the house, particularly on winter mornings. It’s not as though Collingwood Hill ices up or I have to clear drifts of bay-effect snow from our driveway. In the winter, the yellowjackets aren’t even active.

It’s just that there’s so much more to find in the winter. Gloves. Both of ‘em. Hat. A different, less weird looking hat. Not that one either. No. Another hat, a less attractive hat, but one without moth holes. Oh, forget it! Who – besides indie rockers – wears a hat anymore anyhow? And they always wear knit caps with tassels and ear flaps. Ear flaps? Who needs that? Forget the hat.

Scarf. Ah, that one is easy. Until we reach the critical question. Scarf: on or off? Why would I wear a scarf in the car? The car has a heater. But I’ll be glad to have the scarf when I get out of the car, which I’m going to need to do, since I can’t take my beloved battered white Civic hatchback into the Berkeley Art Museum’s auditorium with me, even though it has very low emissions.

Sweater. Ah, now it’s getting complicated. You have to put these things on in the right order. If you don’t, you have to shed all of the layers and start again.

Then there’s the galvanic shoe response, an important electro-mechanical effect that occurs when you’ve got one shoe off and one shoe on. This results in unequal potential which forces you to play Spider solitaire briefly until equilibrium is restored.

And where’s my darned cell phone? I call it from the wireless land line hand set, which has somehow found its way into my jacket pocket, and hear a muffled sound emanating from… the refrigerator. Aha! There it is. I switch the land line into the refrigerator and the cell phone into my pocket.

It does take awhile to get out of the house.

And by the time I leave, I’m a bit behind schedule. I’m in luck though, however briefly, because the bridge traffic is not at all daunting. A few Denalis and Suburbans and Ryder Rent-a-Trucks weave a braid of unwise lane changes. I do my best to ignore them and limit myself to a few muttered epithets. I should’ve BARTed, but I just couldn’t deal with the idea of being underneath the bay; I felt particularly unseaworthy last Thursday.

Although – in truth – like all of the graduates of Miss Dawn’s Swim School on Avenue I in Redondo Beach, I am scared of water. They used a special form of pedagogy at Miss Dawn’s that guaranteed you’d leave the place able to swim, but paradoxically frightened of water. “If you don’t open your eyes underwater, I’m going to let you drown.” That was the magic incantation they used on us. It wasn't just me; Marcia remembers it too.

So now I’m scared of water.

Well, not scared of water as in, say, drinking water or bottled water, but scared of being underwater, even if the Transbay Tube is between me and said large volume of water. I have to keep my eyes closed down there. Squinched shut so no chlorine gets in ‘em. Call it a reflex.

My gloves, on the seat beside me, seem to me to be a harbinger of aggravation to come. Actually, only my right glove is the harbinger. My left glove is fine. Just fine. The nap of the suede is supple, with a nice matte finish. The other glove looks different. Not quite right. The nap is dull, as if it were a sick animal.

What happened is this: On Monday, my right glove impersonated a sock (quite tragically) and found its way into the laundry. And despite the Woolite, it came out looking pretty frowsy, more or less as it still looks on the seat beside me.

How did those gloves get separated? Why did the right one think it was a sock? Did it have a death wish? Why is it not scared of being underwater?

By the time I’ve lamented the condition of my right glove, fretted about whether it’s worth it to drive to avoid being underwater, and used my x-ray vision to determine that there are no explosives in the yellow Ryder truck beside me on the Bay Bridge, I’ve exited on the University Avenue offramp, and am jockeying for position with several dozen Subaru Outbacks and weatherbeaten Volvo station wagons.

Berkeley has some sort of topological anomaly that causes me to become extremely disoriented. It’s probably all those whirled peas. I overshot campus both to the north and east before I started looking for parking. The first lot I tried was over-filled and I ended up having to retrace my route backward out of the lot, in reverse, chased by an overwrought parking lot attendant who clarified that the lot was FULL.

FULL! He screamed. FULL!

I’m not used to backing my car through so many tight turns with an overwrought parking lot attendant flapping his windbreaker at me and yelling FULL through the whole ordeal. Not used to it. By the time I’ve located the entrance to another lot off of Channing, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m even interested in digital archiving anymore.

I should choose a topic with access to loads of free parking. Something with symposia in Bloomington, Indiana or Champaign-Urbana.

The second lot – a block-spanning multi-story public lot that empties onto Durant – looks promising. $1 back with validation. Pay in the lobby. But what’s the rate? I glimpse $4 as I enter. $4 is good. It’s suspiciously easy to find a space in this parking garage. Suspiciously easy. Here’s why: It’s $4 per hour I later discover, after I’ve racked up a $20 parking charge.

As I said, it’s a week for mild dismay, not full fledged upset. $20 is not a lot to pay for parking, but it works out to be as much – if not more – than parking in the short-term lot at SFO.

What I should’ve done then is parked at SFO and flown to Berkeley. That would’ve been more satisfying. I always feel satisfied when I walk out of the airport and right to my car. There’s something very efficient – if not particularly environmentally friendly – about this strategy.

Should’ve flown. Should’ve flown. Then I wouldn’t have been underwater and I wouldn’t have had a car to park in Berkeley.

Eventually I’m ensconced in an auditorium chair at the Berkeley Art Museum with an Imagine Peace button affixed to my scarf. There’s a Yoko Ono program on at the Pacific Film Archive, and there’s evidence of it here and there in the museum. I’m hoping the Imagine Peace button will make me feel more like a Berkeleyite.

I’ve scouted out the whole auditorium: there are neither power plugs for one’s laptop nor wireless connectivity, which I suppose will force me to pay attention to the symposium.

But during the first talk of the afternoon, I’m already drifting. At first there’s nothing that Kurt Bollacker (of the Long Now Foundation) says that I find controversial. He’s right. You’ve got to move the bits around (which ensures there are lots of copies), distribute them (which ensures they’re not all in one place), and store them in diverse formats on different media (which ensures that at least one of your bets might be right). That all makes perfect sense to me.

In fact, in many ways, physical archives are more vulnerable than digital ones. A few years ago, the photo archives of both the Weekly World News and the National Enquirer were lost to the anthrax attack on the newspapers’ Boca Raton, Florida headquarters. There were no backup copies of the documentary photos of alien encounters, bubble boys, or Elizabeth Taylor comforting Michael Jackson. This was an irreplaceable resource for those of us interested in truth.

Digital archives are seldom mistaken for socks and thrown in the wash with the dark colors; but that’s not what makes them less vulnerable. What makes them safe is that it’s easy to copy them; the same BitTorrent that sprays digital music and nasty viruses across the network is also capable of helping to preserve digital archives.

All of this is fine. But here’s where minor dismay comes back into the picture: by the time I’ve finished my little reverie about my gloves and the Weekly World News’s lost photo archives, Kurt is talking about emulation.

Emulation, at first blush, seems like a swell way to keep files fresh and clean-smelling. You basically build a virtual computer so your files live on under the illusion that original applications are running and the bits are being rendered in a computing environment of yesteryear. Completely lossless. If you’re careful, you can even preserve the temporal qualities introduced by the computer’s clock speed so that a piece of emulated software runs at the same sluggish pace that it used to, which may be very important if you’re preserving digital art or reviving long-dead video games.

You can’t play Crystal Quest at today’s processor speeds, especially if you’re using yesterday’s neurons like I am.

As a strategy, emulation drives me crazy. The vestigial computer scientist in me says, “oh, yes. Emulation’s great.” But deep down, I know emulation is an all but impossible strategy over the long run. And much of the time, it’s not even necessary, given what you want to save and how you expect it to be used. [nb: before you contradict me, I do realize that interactive art is a special case, and may indeed require emulation, re-implementation, or some pretty descriptive documentation.]

Here’s why I don’t think emulation is as viable as these guys say.

Our current computing platforms are horribly complicated and imperfectly maintained. For example, did you know that fonts have little bits of code in them so that they’re rendered properly? And that digital media like videos rely on software called codecs (which stands for compression/decompression) to make them viewable? And that many applications call software libraries, some of which may have been clobbered by doppelgangers somewhere along the way?

This is not to say that emulation can’t be done. But rather that it’s expensive and relies on a very good assessment of what’s valuable and what’s not.

You don’t want to be following the wrong You Tuber down the wrong You Tube, so to speak. That’d be like loading your potato gun and shooting it at Dan Quayle. It’s just not cost effective, and it only serves to irritate the target.

And an emulation may be just as impermanent as the platform that’s being emulated if you make the wrong assumptions.

By the time Jeff Rothenberg walked through his canonical example, “Renewing the Erlking,” my dismay was growing; it had even spread to Ben Gross, who was sitting next to me. Our computing platforms are considerably more complicated than the one hosting the 1982 mixed media piece Jeff described. Programs and operating systems were svelte back then. Barbie as opposed to Jabba the Hut.

Of course, Bruce Sterling gave a fabulous (if slightly inscrutable and dystopian) closing keynote. According to my notes, he talked about Thaddeus Cahill. Sappho. The dairy product theory in which media is like milk. Cosmic rays. Extinction 6.0.

But I still left the auditorium brushing off the psychic residue of dismay. It was not what I’d hoped to hear about digital preservation.

After I’d ransomed my car from the $4.00/hour lot and remembered that exiting on Durant is stupid because it’s one way the wrong way, I decided that the only way to soothe my frayed psyche was to buy one of those banana sticky rice cakes at Tuk-Tuk Thai Market and eat it while I was weaving my way back home across the Bay Bridge, wondering if this Ryder Truck was the one with all the explosives.

I really like banana sticky rice cakes. They’re not cakes; they’re more like tamales. Except instead of corn husks, they’re wrapped in banana leaves. And instead of corn meal, they’ve got sticky rice. And instead of meat, they’ve got coconut milk, red beans, and bananas. But other than that, they’re just like tamales. I’m very fond of them. Very.

Tuk-Tuk is on University, just shy of Sacramento. It’s even on the way to the bridge, once I’m pointing in the right direction.

There’s something amiss at Tuk-Tuk. I can tell right away. First I look for my favorite Korean salty seaweed snacks. The ones that are deep fried. They’re hailed as “A Delightful Taste You Never Expect From Sea Vegetables” and they are, in fact, a fine illustration of how deep frying and large salt crystals trump everything else when it comes to food. There aren’t any on the shelves. In fact, the shelves are suspiciously empty. And when I head over to the cooked food counter, there are no Thai tamales. Not a one.

When I ask, the guy who always smiles tells me they don’t make them in the store any more.

I try to hide my dismay and pick up another item that’s roughly the same size and shape, but is wrapped very tightly in saran wrap instead of banana leaves.

Drat. I love those sticky rice cakes. But I’m hungry and I’ve gotta buy something to eat while I’m inching my way across the Bay Bridge. My blood sugar is too low to be driving a car.

The smiling guy is manning the register when I check out. He’s not sure how much the saran-wrapped item costs. But he trots back to the cooked food counter (where I probably should’ve paid for this item) and finds out how much it is. $2.00. That’s twice as much as the banana sticky rice cakes; whatever this is, it must be twice as good.

I pay for my groceries and walk out into the twilight. In the low light, I can’t really see the unknown food item as I wrestle with the saran wrap encasing it. It sure is tightly wrapped; it’s hard to peel the plastic away from the edible stuff inside. I’m anxious to get at the food, whatever it happens to be. I briefly contemplate eating the plastic.

The smell is unfamiliar, but strong, possibly even unpleasant. I’m beginning to doubt that it’s sweet like the banana sticky rice cakes. I launch into it anyway; I haven’t even started the car I’m so hungry and eager to eat this tidbit. The Tuk-Tuk parking lot has all the atmosphere I need.

But what’s this? The rubbery texture is a little too familiar. I grew up in LA; I’ve had menudo. This, this outer stuff that’s been so tightly encased in plastic is TRIPE. Ick. I can’t even imagine what the ground up material inside it is. It looked pink in the store’s fluorescent lighting through the partial translucence of the tripe. I’d originally thought it was one of those red bananas. But now I know I don’t want to know. ICK. ICK. ICK.

ICK. I’m just not that hungry. I cast about through my purchases to find something to kill the taste that lingers in my mouth. I cannot drive all the way back to San Francisco with those tripe molecules stimulating my taste buds. I rip open a package of wafers and cram one in my mouth. It is dry. The wafer shatters and fragments go everywhere.

Not good enough! Not good enough! The second bag I rip open is wasabi peas. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Tears well up in my eyes, but I can no longer taste the rumen. I speed off into the evening, chastened by my lack of gustatory sophistication. ICK!

My inner vegetarian is crying out, like it did when I heard about the Leaf Cutter Ants Julie sprinkled on Morgan’s birthday pizza.

When I get home, I look at the cash register receipt. David Levy’s fine account of his tuna sandwich receipt has made me acutely aware of the documentary power of even this most homely and minor of scraps.

So what was the mystery tripe tube? What was it called? How will I know never to get one again? Okay. I bought an Open Frozen, a ROASTED HOT GREEN PEAS, a KASUGAI LYCHEE, a CHOCOLATE WAFER, a SPICY BEAN SAUCE, a MAESRI RED CURRY PASTE, and an Open TOGO.

That’s what it was then: an Open TOGO. I’m not going to be having one of those again soon, those Open TOGOs. Open TOGOs are, well, offal.

I’m more saddened and dismayed that my favorite Thai market is going out of business though than I am about my bad snack choice. I’ll either have to brave Irving Street in the Sunset or 99 Ranch in Albany, where shoppers more aggressive than me clip my ankles with their shopping carts while I squint at labels, trying to figure out what I’m buying.

Minor dismay is hard to quantify. There are no units by which to measure it. No joules, watts, amperes, ohms, or liters for counting out an accretion of minor dismay. Express it too often as a qualitative emotional state, and people’ll peg you as fussy.

There are no greeting cards for it either. Greeting cards that say: “Sorry you feel vaguely disheartened this week. Your right glove doesn’t look that bad and parking is oftentimes expensive. Someday you’ll be a better swimmer and your feelings about emulation will be vindicated.”

Minor dismay is not a legitimate emotion like rage or sorrow. Nor is it a legitimate illness like the cold that replaced it and left me sniffing and snuffing and rasping and wheezing.

But, in the end, I sit here in a snit and that’s what I am: a little dismayed and not quite dyspeptic enough to chew on a Tums.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

write when you find work

I had a job interview last Friday.

A real job interview, one that found me changing my clothes in my hotel room at 9am, when I decided I really should wear something nicer than my usual jeans and long-sleeved black t-shirt. Something that included gray flannel and cashmere. And high heels. I’d brought high-heeled boots with me, but I hadn’t put them on yet.

I had to be at the interview at 9:30, and there I was at 9, in my hotel room changing clothes.

But you gotta wear high heels. High heels show that you’re trying. High heels show that you’re sufficiently self-aware to realize that you’re short and need to work on it. If you were a superstar, you’d grow; but if you’re me, you just try to pass by wearing heels. High heels demonstrate that you’re willing to suffer for the grander principles of capitalism, that you understand pain and will do what it takes to get the job done.

Yes, I’d brought the high-heeled boots with me, but my first morning impulse was to put back on the jeans I’d worn the day before – nothing wrong with them – and skip the high heels entirely. It was only these last minute misgivings that caused me to reconfigure my outfit.

I confess that I’ve always found job interviews mystifying, even though a great portion of your life is dedicated to coaching you for just such an occasion. There’s plenty of collective wisdom about what you should and shouldn’t do, and how you should answer the trick questions.

“Think of examples where you have successfully used the skills you've acquired.”

This helpful hint brings to mind the time I used the scientific method to determine whether a bar of Irish Spring behaves like Ivory soap when you microwave it. In case you’re wondering, a bar of Ivory will expand like one of those Fourth of July snakes when it’s microwaved for a couple of minutes.

I performed such an experiment in the Pod 25 break room at Xerox PARC. And in case you’re wondering further, microwaved Irish Spring does not expand like a Fourth of July snake. Rather it just makes the break room smell like – and this should be no surprise – Irish Spring soap, only more so. A lot more so.

In fact, if you microwave Irish Spring on HIGH for 2 minutes, 30 seconds, the smell is so strong that tears will well up in your eyes. And tears will well up in your co-workers’ eyes too, the co-workers who have popped into the break room for a spot of afternoon coffee and half of the last doughnut, only to encounter the results of your inquiry. They’d have been impressed with my command of empirical methods if modesty hadn’t compelled me to duck into the Ladies Room across the hall.

That’d be a rather good example of the successful combination of several skills, I’d think. Formulating tractable research questions. Employing empirical methods. Using the resources at hand. Surprising one’s colleagues with one’s inventiveness. Escaping blame.

There’s so much advice like this for the well-prepared job seeker: sample questions, things to do in advance…

And forgodssakes spit out that gum! No gum-popping!

They tell you that too. Clean fingernails. Firm handshake. No gum. Good posture. Promptness.

But then – leveling his sights on a century’s worth of self-help books, everything from Dale Carnegie’s seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People through that modern job-seeking classic What Color is Your Parachute and the practical stylings of Help! My Job Interview Is Tomorrow! – in his New Yorker article “The New Boy Network”, Malcolm Gladwell made the claim that it’s really all over in the first two seconds, while you shake hands and look each other in the eye. After that, it’s all about helping the interviewer support the decision he’s already made.

In other words, I’m doomed from the get-go, high heels or no.

It all started in fifth grade, when Mrs. Perkins went around the room and made every kid answer that soul-deadening question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

They do this, fifth grade teachers, in hopes of eliciting naive and charming answers. We were too old to say things like “fireman” or “ballerina” and this took place in LA, so no one would’ve been so blatantly unsophisticated that they’d cop to wanting to be a grocer, a farmer, a nurse, or a mechanic. And we were too young for any of the girls to say “rich divorcee,” although certainly that’s how several of my more attractive classmates realized their ambitions.

David, a chubby freckled Jewish boy, wanted to be a producer in Hollywood; smooth-haired Laurie wanted to be a realtor; Dana, a girl who drew hyperrealistic horses, wanted to be an illustrator; Jeff, a loud-voiced flirt, wanted to be a race-car driver.

There may’ve been a few doctors and a veterinarian or two among the other horse-y girls. Perhaps there was a painter or a poet or two among the kids who’d already tried Kools or Marlboros, a clear sign of an artistic temperament. Most of the pro athletes we knew were tennis players, golfers, or surfers – no-one had basketball or football written into their future. We were little white and Asian kids, college bound, secure, with no shortage of self-esteem.

When Mrs. Perkins got to me, I said, “I want to follow in my father’s footsteps.” This was just the kind of sweetly naive thing she wanted to hear, the perfect hook.

“And what does your father do?” she asked.

“He’s unemployed,” I said, hitting my stride. “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.”

I’m sure that bit of smart-assery went into my Permanent Record. Everything else seemed to.

Unlike Malcolm Gladwell, I’d always assumed that the make-or-break part of the job interview was the interview meal (or meals if you’re on one of the multiple day interviews or you’re from out of town and your host takes you to dinner). That’s when you let down your guard and everyone figures out what you’d be like to have around for years on end. If you’re a loud chewer or you talk with your mouth full, everyone will know. Eating disorders, inflexibility, dyspepsia – it’s all there for ready examination.

You’re supposed to be agreeable, I suppose, and demonstrate your adventurous and catholic eating habits. My college boyfriend didn’t eat cheese in any way (whey?), shape, or form. He had a thing for Hamburger Helper, but only the flavors without cheese, of which I remember there being perhaps four. [Note: there are far fewer now – most flavors are prefaced with the word “cheesy”, as in “Cheesy Hashbrowns”.] So he went to his first job interview out of college and they took him out for pizza. He ate pizza. In four years, I’d never seen him eat cheese. He chowed down on that interview lunch pizza though.

You take one for the team. You declare your love for salmon. You suddenly drop that dislike for oak-y chardonnay.

For the last decade or so, companies like Google and Microsoft interview by asking the applicant to solve programming problems at the whiteboard. I’ve never had to perform in such a way, thank god. I’m much better at pop culture trivia and word games.

“Each of the points on Lady Liberty’s crown represents a condiment. Name them.”

“Catsup. Mustard. Mayonnaise. Relish. Jalapenos. Um… Secret Sauce. And… Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me. Um… Ranch Dressing.”

I know Ranch Dressing is a miserable guess, but it’s become a major condiment group in the Middle West. Everything is served with a generous vat of Ranch Dressing.

“We like you so much that we’ll let you get away with that answer,” the interviewer in my daydreams tells me. “Just this once. Because you're our kind of trophy hire.”

It’d be better to have interview questions like that. You’d know right away what kind of lunchtime companion your interviewee is, whether they’d be fun to talk to even if that loud chewing is going to drive you nuts. And you’d know whether they’d be able to help you with the crossword puzzles that you do when you’re feeling droopy in the mid-afternoon.

Instead, these days they watch you try to figure out how to use the new one-cup coffee maker. It’d be a swell intelligence test, except that often the interviewer also fails and both parties end up with a steaming hot cup of what looks to be dishwater.

The real test is to figure out how to get rid of the steaming hot cup of dishwater without looking like an assclown.

Is the drain in the kitchenette sink clogged? Does the cup go into the recycling bin or into the trash? There's much to be revealed in the ditching-the-poorly-made-coffee process. Unfortunately, you haven't had any coffee yet, so you're likely to feel a bit sluggish.

A bit slow.

Lucky thing that there are Starbucks around almost every corner. I almost expect to find a mini Starbucks store in my briefcase this time. Maybe I would if I upended it and emptied it out. There’s something in there that’s awfully, awfully heavy. Very likely a Starbucks. And a barista to make the coffee.

During my first real job interview at Tough Shit Corp, Bill Liles asked me how I’d write a Fortran subroutine that calculated the quadratic formula. I don’t remember what I told him, but it must’ve been satisfactory. I got the job. I didn’t wear high heels then. I wore tatami flip-flops and thrift store jeans.

I didn’t know how good I had it. Didn’t know.

I wore my boots on Friday and tottered around like a not-quite-competent transvestite.

I had a salad from the salad bar for lunch, choosing nothing too large nor nothing too round so that I’d have no fork mishaps. Cherry tomatoes? Bad idea. They’re squirters. Spring mix? Bad idea. Unless you saw up those lettuce leaves with your plastic knife, you’re apt to look like a dinosaur with greens dripping from the corners of your mouth. Garbanzo beans? Bad idea. The little devils roll. And roll. Once they get started, they know no boundaries. You’re apt to send one halfway across the cafeteria. Celery? Bad idea. They don’t call it nature’s dental floss for nothing. Carrots? Uh-uh. Can’t approach them with a fork. Pickled beets? They stain.

Basically what you want to do is make a salad entirely out of tofu cubes and sliced black olives.

So I did. It looks nice. Geometric. Tidy. Black-and-white. Artistic.

Marcia has told me that a date is a job interview for sex. Ever since she told me this, it has interfered with my conceptualization of a job interview as an interview for a job. Which is what it is.

Often we forget that part: that once you’ve snagged the job, it’s only the beginning.

Then you have to do the job. Whatever it is. And it’s never as good as it sounded when you interviewed because the people you’ve talked to have left out the everyday stuff. The annoying bits. The translation from the job title and the good office to the reason why every door on your corridor has one of those awful Dilbert comics taped to it. The email that you have to read and respond to. The meetings you have to attend. The PowerPoint decks you now own. The phone calls you have to make. The fact that the cafeteria’s been going downhill steadily for the last 3 years. All that stuff that makes a job a job.

This is work, not play.

It was easier when I was fresh from grad school, when my major concern was to stop doing what I’d been doing and start doing something else. Anything else. All that mattered was that it had a paycheck associated with it so I could pay off my loans and that I could commute to it by bicycle because I wanted to. The commute, I decided, should not involve any steep hills either.

I ended up with a job in a SCIF. For those of you who don’t know what a SCIF is, let it suffice to say that you have no need to know what a SCIF is. During that job interview, they couldn’t tell me what the job was about, nor would they show me where the offices were. All I remember is my interviewer’s giant RIT class ring, his big pink fleshy hands, and his thinning blond hair: Malcolm Gladwell’s two second impression. I didn’t much like him and had no idea what the job entailed, but it was only 4.5 miles from where I lived and there were no steep hills involved in my commute. I took the job, whatever it was.

And I never saw Mr. RIT Class Ring again.

This is often true: you’ll never see the people you interview with again, even if you get the job and subsequently work at the place for a decade or more. Even if you got on with your interviewer like gangbusters and you felt like you were going to be the best of friends. Friends: from mailroom to boardroom. You can envision the docudrama that is optioned from your best-selling autobiography; the dust jacket photo shows the two of you with your arms around each other’s shoulders in an acceptable man-hug.

But what you need to understand is that these interviewers are wholly imaginary; they are the product of an HR focus group. So the guy who interviewed you? Forget about him. You’ll never see him again. I promise. It’s just bait.

And in the long run, when they ask you if you have any questions – because they will invariably ask you if you have any questions and you really should be prepared to remove your hands from your mouth and ask an intelligent question – all you have to remember is Jimmy Carl Black’s classic line from 200 Motels:

“Where’s the beer and when do we get paid?”

That should do it.

Then you can support me. But whatever happens, write when you find work.