This was not the morning to be in a fog. This was not the day for all those damned drugs—those very things that were supposed to help him and control the waves of his moody seas—to instead make it impossible to think. This was the day of his latest interview with the Academy Museum. And he felt that, though awake, his mind was sluggish and as if all intelligence and wit had left him.
If he had been a religious person, he would have prayed. If he had been someone who easily trusted others, he would have called friends for support and encouragement. But X had knocked that out of him. Though Damien was kind and supportive—he had already sent Levi a “You go get ‘em! You’re going to blow them away!” text message that was on his phone screen when his alarm went off—Levi’s instinct was to not bother him. Levi felt he had already whined too much about how much he wanted this job and why. Now was the day to go and simply get it. But with his mind so slow, its gears turning so painfully slowly, he knew the ending long before it began.
He dressed in a suit and tie they hadn’t seen, just in case anyone interviewing him today had been among those present on his previous interviews. He had pressed his shirt the night before, laid out his resumes, made his notes about bits and pieces to throw into the interview so they knew he was their ideal candidate. Damien had wanted him to stay at the house last night but had understood that Levi needed to focus, relax, sleep, and prepare in his own way. Damien had instead spent the night reading stories to Track by the fire pit overlooking Runyon Canyon and Hollywood, while Levi, a few miles away in a building that was, from Damien’s house, a sparkling series of lights in the Hollywood basin, had rehearsed answers to possible interview questions.
He tried to control his breathing. He hadn’t even left the apartment and he could feel it was anxious, loud. Funny that his heart should pound so quickly yet his mind turn so slow. Those fucking pills. Better, he thought, to be wildly manic and brilliant than to be this mess of stupidity and inability to concentrate. And so he had skipped taking his medication that morning, knowing as he awoke that he was in a medicinal haze. This was such bad timing, he though. He knew he could win this job—if only his brain was free to be what it would be without a psychiatrist drowning it in chemicals.
You have to go in now. It’s an ugly building. Used to be ABC’s headquarters. The Newlywed Game was filmed here. Some other game shows. But it’s ugly. So what? Just go in. Smile. You can do this, Levi. You know you can. You want this job. You deserve this fucking job. You are smart enough to be superb in this job. Come on.
Get out of the car.
“So, I’ve heard great things about you. Really. The others who have met with you are all setting up your fan club in the lobby,” the interviewer told him. “But I’m going to ask you that question anyway. You know the one; we all hate it:”
“Tell you a bit about me?” Levi laughed with an engaging smile. “Isn’t it funny how we all do just dread that question?”
“Worst question ever. And no one ever likes their answer.”
“Well, I’ll give you my take—my audition, if you will.”
The interviewer laughed.
“I’m someone who is hard on himself. That’s because I’ve always been—even when I was a child growing up in Atlanta or a student in school—competitive with myself. I had to be the best. I had to be the best mentor. The best manager. My stores had to be the best experience. When I worked at the museum in Atlanta, the exhibits, the visitor’s guides, the gift shop, the docents and volunteers—they had to be the best. And I had to get them there, develop them. Show them what I wanted and teach them how to be. So I’m driven to always be the best in what I do and make the best of where I work. But I’m also a lover of film. I gravitated toward film in my teens; the classics like ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘All About Eve’, and ‘Gone With the Wind’. And each film and each star in each film, and each director and producer—they all became worm holes that brought me deeper and deeper into film history. So, while on one hand you have this person who understands the importance of story-telling in the experiential world of a visitor experience—whether that be in a store or in a museum—you have this other person who loves film and is a bit of a historian in that regard.”
You fucked that up. You fucking idiot. What the Hell was that? What the Hell type of answer was that? You know what she’s writing in her notes? “Idiot. Couldn’t answer the question everyone knows is going to get asked.
“Why the Fab Friends Factory? Don’t take this the wrong way, but it seems like a bit of a drop from what you were doing before.”
“I agree; it would look that way,” Levi laughed in agreement. “The truth is, I was moving to Los Angeles and needed a job. It was not my dream job at the time but they were and have been a wonderful company to work for. The reason I’ve stayed so long was because they were so good to me: full relocation, a fairly good salary for retail, and a great environment where I’m not micro-managed. They just asked that I stay a year; I’ve stayed almost three. But also, I mentioned the story-telling, experiential bit a while ago. That appealed to me. Like in film, how a director guides an audience into a story, through the story, and up into the climax and end credits, that store is an emotional experience for children—and adults. You enter, we welcome you into the store—our world—we introduce you to your cast of characters—all the bears, dolls, and toys you can make—you relate to one, just like you relate to a character in a film—and you go on a journey with them, picking them out, giving them their personality, their stuffing, their clothes, their name. It builds up until the end, when you get to adopt them and you leave with your own happy ending—a new best friend. To me, that was the allure—to make a mini-movie starring each person who came into that store.”
So fucking long-winded. Think! Think faster! You are blowing this! Three interviews in–the job is right there, right fucking there!–and you and your fucking bipolar mind are gonna lose this!
The interviewer nodded, smiling. “Nice answer,” she said. “What is your favorite part of working there?”
“The challenge. Each guest is different. Each one has their own expectation of what they’re walking into: they may have little expectation or they may have had their mind blown the last time they were here and they want you to do it double now. So you have to treat each guest as an individual. If I have a customer who’s been in before—I’m thinking of this one woman who brings her granddaughter in every few months—I know she’s been wowed. So now I have to amp it up even more. For example, this woman has brought relatives in to show off the store and so we have to sort of put on a sshow, if you will. I want her to be glad she not only came back, but you don’t want this latest experience to be a pale copy of the one tha made her fall in love with the store in the first place. So there’s more dancing, more laughing, more playing. If someone rents us out for a party—we do children’s parties, companies sometimes do team-building exercises there, the El Capitan Disney premieres sometimes include us in some post-premiere parties as an option—I have to really dig and decide what the guest is looking for. Then you figure out how to deliver it and add some extra on top of it.”
You moron. You kept that store from closing. You should have mentioned that. They can find a smiley face anywhere in town. You know how to take a property and make it win and you talk about a fucking grandmother?
“So. . .why did you leave Atlanta?”
Think. Say something. Say something. Stop staring at her. Say something. Say anything. You didn’t think to have an answer? I know it didn’t come up before. But it might have. Why don’t you have an answer? Say something. Oh, God. Say something!
“Um. I’m sorry. I—I could lie and give you a pretty answer. I won’t do that. It’s a personal reason but I want to be completely clear. Because I want this job and I don’t want you to think I’m avoiding an answer.”
“If it’s personal, we can—”
“No. It’s a question I’m sure everyone else you might ask a similar question of would answer.”
He took a breath and could not look at her. His eyes watered over.
Don’t you fucking cry. In a job interview? You fucking idiot. What is the point of these fucking drugs if you’re going to cry in a job interview? Just blurt it out! You can move on after you blurt it out.
“I moved here because Atlanta had become. . .” He started again. “I used to love Atlanta. I still do. I wish sometimes that I could go back. But I can’t. It had reached a point where I couldn’t live there anymore. It had become something ugly and repulsive. And I had a choice—I let that become my life or I up and leave. So I left. And I came to Los Angeles not because I knew anyone—I did but not anyone I liked enough to move here—but because of the movies. The movies always brought me calm—”
Hurry it up. Do not cry. Blurt it out. You can not cry in a job interview. Tell her!
“After–I’m sorry; it’s hard to even call it by it’s name–It took me about a year to learn how to walk again. And while I. . .while I recovered—which is a funny word because you don’t really recover, you just. . . you re-learn how to walk but you’re never who you used to be. Never again. Well, anyway. . .all those movies I loved just seemed to say, ‘Come to Los Angeles and start over here.’ So I did. I came here.”
The interviewer herself became a blur in front of him. He could not see her but her voice was stunned.
“You were in that attack?”
“The shooting at Piedmont Park.”
“Oh, I’m so. . .sorry. You were—”
You fucking idiot. Wipe that tear off your face. You just blew this fucking job. You’re fucking useless. Might as well say it all. Nothing matters anymore.
“I was shot five times.”