Ever have one of those job interviews that goes too well, like you're just waiting for your prospective boss to tell you that you'll be working a nine to five in their Sri Lankan office and that you'll need to pay for your own tetanus boosters? I just did, and I'm still trying to figure out what the catch was.
For those unfamiliar with New York City museum culture: the Museum of Modern Art (or MoMA) is far more than an art institution - it's a retailer operating three design stores in Manhattan that cater to the trendy, pseudo-art crowd, the kind of people who think salt and pepper shakers in the form of two hugging people, one black, one white (racial tolerance! Get it?!?) are worth plopping down thirty bucks for. The stores also have extensive book departments, which is what drew me to them in the first place, having done that particular job a few times before.
I get called in for an interview. Meet with the manager in the Soho store's break room. She asks me how the trip down was. I tell her that I live in Gramercy Park (about fifteen minutes away by train with no transfers - as straight a shot as one can hope for in the city) and she smiles, presumably because that means I won't be calling in from Brooklyn unable to get to work, or that's what I thought - turns out, she's just incredibly friendly.
Right off the bat, she says 'unfortunately it's retail, so we can only give you 24k a year.'
I blink at her, trying to keep my jaw off the table. Apart from the directness of her approach (most HR people I've dealt with hate talking about money, as if that were only a side effect to working instead of the reason most people get up in the morning) I begin to think that she's looking at someone else's resume - the last real job I had paid me 6.50 an hour (barely above minimum wage for a job that, let's be honest, requires a certain level of intelligence to pull off - you can't sell books if you don't read), was part time, required me to work until midnight and generally just sucked the life out of me. And then it hit me, and my jaw did hit the table.
She didn't say 'twelve bucks an hour'. She said '24k a year'. That means I'd be...I'd be salaried. That means...vacation days. sick days. Benefits. Oh dear god, benefits. And...she was apologizing.
She went on to explain that she needed someone with a heavy retail and art background, which I've got. I offered to sketch her to prove it and she laughed. She also mentioned that my schedule would be fixed from week to week, that I'd be automatically considered for a promotion to a desk job at 30k a year after 90 days, and that the job entitled me to a full museum membership at MoMA and a few museums in Washington D.C. - The Corcoran, the Phillips, the Museum of American Art. When I told her that I'd spent a good portion of my childhood running around the Smithsonian and playing frisbee on The National Mall, and that I had considered going to the Corcoran for college (it's a school as well as a museum) it was her turn to blink.
This was the point where I really thought I'd been duped - it was too good to be true. Had to be. I waited for the death blow, the thing that would make the job totally unbearable - Hot coals in the bathroom maybe, or extremely stupid uniforms, or a dude with a whip behind the registers (it's SoHo - it could happen). Maybe picking up my paycheck required the sacrifice of a virgin to the god of the fire mountain. But no - She set me up for an interview with their HR department on Monday. No "I have a few more people to see before..." and no "Don't call us, we'll call you." It was like she had decided to hire me before I even stepped through the door.
Maybe I'm just used to being kicked in the shins by potential employers. Maybe it's all the sleep I haven't been getting recently or possibly it's my ingrained New York City cynicism, but I have a hard time believing that the rug isn't going to get pulled out from under my feet. I'm trying not to think about it.
Suffice it to say, it's not working.