Monday, October 24, 2005

 

In Which A Certain Offer Is Made and Accepted...


In 1993, as I was in the midst of trying to escape my first job in magazines, I got a call one day from an editor at a trade magazine in Washington, DC. The magazine was devoted to the healthcare industry, but being inside the Beltway, it had a lot of political coverage. At the time, Bill Clinton was trying to pass new and sweeping healthcare legislation. Although it eventually fizzled out, at the time it was very exciting stuff and it sounded like interesting news to cover. Plus, I figured doing any kind of health and healthcare writing would help me transition from trade to consumer magazines eventually. After all, nearly every consumer magazine had some kind of health coverage, so having that kind of experience made sense.

To top it off, I loved the idea of living in Washington. I'd been there a few times on business and it always struck me as an incredibly vibrant, exciting place, especially for twentysomethings.

To my delight, Her Lovely Self agreed. In fact, I remember well her coming up to my office late the day I got the call. I can see in my mind's eye the moment that I told her about the job possibility in Washington. Her eyes got big and she began to babble excitedly about how much she liked Washington herself.

"Quick question for you...should I apply?" I asked her, using her favorite phrase by which to preface any query.

"Oh, abso-friggin-lutely!" she said, using my own favorite exclamation (I told you we were a nauseating couple at this point). "I think you should definitely apply." She gripped my arm and looked at me in what I thought was a meaningful way. "I would move to Washington in a heartbeat."

Well, that seemed to settle it, as far as I was concerned. Her Lovely Self hated to talk about our relationship or its future, so to say this much sounded like more than a ringing endorsement; it sounded like she was making a certain commitment.

I called the editor back and we set up an interview for the very next week, on a Friday. I made my plane reservations and had even asked HLS to come with me--we could make a quick getaway of it. But she had already made plans to go to Ohio to see her parents that very weekend. So I simply promised to call her once the interview was over and off we went to our respective destinations.

I know in movies and on TV, someone's job situation is always made more interesting and exciting than it is in real life. People are forever making profound impressions on future bosses and next thing you know they're offered a job on the spot or given a corner office or have scads of money thrown at them. When as you know, in reality, this pretty much never happens. You get offered a job only after weeks of deliberation. And then you're offered something at the low end of whatever pay scale they've set for your level of experience. And if there's a corner office, your boss's boss's boss is the one who occupies it. That's just the way it goes. And it's a good thing. If real life were as whirlwind-crazy as popular culture makes it out to be, we'd never have a minute to collect our thoughts or do our jobs or discuss things with significant others.

The same was true of this opportunity. My interview was conducted in a sterile corporate park somewhere in Virginia. Everyone worked in cubicle--there was no corner office. The job paid crap--I made $1,500 more a year at my current trade mag job than what this one was paying (on the other hand, the content I'd be working on was infinitely more interesting, and I'd get a title change, from lowly assistant to associate editor).

See? Boring real life.

I had spent a long morning meeting the editorial staff. Then I had lunch with the president of the small company that ran the trade magazine. He had been impressed with my freelance efforts, especially some recent pieces I'd managed to place at Men's Health and the fledgling Men's Journal. In fact, I think it's fair to say we got along pretty well. I just didn't know how well, until I had finished interviewing with the editor. That interview had been pretty much a joke, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I'd been freelancing for this editor for years and I knew her well. So well, in fact, I had once dated her sister-in-law and, thankfully, she didn't hold that against me (but that's a whole other story).

So in the middle of us whooping it up in her cubicle, her phone rang and she answered it. Her tone got immediately serious and hushed and she excused herself. I occupied myself by rummaging through past issues of the magazine. Presently, an assistant came to my office and said, "They need you in the conference room right now, please."

Despite myself, I was vaguely alarmed. I had been working in such a toxic environment lately, I half expected to find my crazy boss sitting in the conference room, with the news that he'd followed me from Chicago and was accusing me of embezzlement.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. I walked in, and there was the president and the editor. Both smiling.

"Well," said the editor. "This is a first, but the president here and I really like you. We've interviewed several candidates already and truthfully, none of them touches you in terms of your experience. Plus, we've worked together forever. You know the magazine inside and out."

"Well, that's nice to hear," I said, sort of uncertain. "So..."

"So we want to offer you the job," said the president. "Right now. Today."

In the same breath, the president quoted a figure that actually matched what I was making at my current job. Then he threw in a small amount of relocation money to help me make the move from Chicago to Washington.

"I know you're here for the weekend," the editor said. "If you say yes today, you can spend the time looking for an apartment." The president nodded.

I'd like to say I nodded too, but my head was spinning so fast, nodding it might have caused me to topple over. I was absolutely floored. I mean, who gets offered a job on the spot? It certainly had never happened to me before (and likely never would again). What's more, it was a great job, working with some cool people. And I wasn't taking a pay cut. And I was moving up the masthead, title-wise. It was win-win-win-win.

Quick question for you... I thought. What would Her Lovely Self say?

She'll be thrilled, said some unidentified voice in the back of my head. Remember how she said she'd move to Washington in a heartbeat? Think how impressed and excited she'll be.

As I've mentioned before, though, I wasn't a complete and irredeemable moron. I knew you really weren't supposed to go off and accept a job--even one you'd been offered on the spot--without first talking to your girlfriend about it. As cardinal sins went, that was, like, the cardinalest.

"I, I don't know what to say," I said. "I'm so flattered and overwhelmed. I--"

The president looked at his watch. "We have to run to a strategy meeting. You don't have to answer right now--"

Oh thank God, I thought. When I get back to Chicago, Her Lovely Self and I can discuss it. And by then, maybe I can mention my little plan--

But then the president finished his sentence. "--so why don't you take a walk, get some fresh air, think about it, and meet us back here in an hour with your answer."

To my credit, I didn't say "Eep." But I was thinking it.

I kept my composure intact until I reached the elevator, but as soon as the doors closed, I hopped up and down, screaming in a voice that was mixed with both excitement and fear (much to the chagrin of the little old lady who was sharing the elevator with me). When I got to the lobby, I dashed for the payphone and called Her Lovely Self at her office. No answer.

On the second try, I zeroed and pounded my way to the office assistant, who informed me that HLS had left early for the weekend. Of course, she was on her way to her parents. I asked when she left and tried to do the logistics in my head. She'd been gone a couple of hours, which would put her somewhere in Indiana. This being 1993, neither one of us was quite in the financial bracket to afford a mobile phone yet. But I had to reach her somehow.

So I did something crazy. I called information and got the phone numbers for every rest area on the Indiana Toll Road. Two of the rest areas didn't answer, but the other three or four managers actually took pity on me and placed an emergency page for Her Lovely Self. It was a long shot, of course, and she didn't answer.

Finally, after some deliberation, I called her parents. Her mom answered the phone and asked me how my interview had gone. I didn't want her to be the one to tell Her Lovely Self, so I just lamely said it was fine.

"But listen, if she calls to check in or something, could you please have her call me at this number?" I read the pay phone number to her. "Or this number?" I added, giving her the magazine's main number.

"Umm, okay," she said. "Are you sure everything's--?"

"It's fine. Fine! Just tell her I have a quick question for her."

With that I hung up and spend the next 45 minutes hunched over the payphone, drumming my fingers so hard I left indelible prints on the top of the phone enclosure.

As the hour crept by and the phone continued not to ring, I wondered what to do. I had been presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here. And while I probably wouldn't offend anyone by asking to wait to answer, I didn't want to cheapen their gesture by making them wait either. An on-the-spot offer deserved and on-the-spot answer, I felt. And the editor was right: if we sealed the deal now, I could spend the weekend looking for an apartment. This was an important consideration. This was a small magazine after all, and what little money they'd offered for relocation would barely cover gas and rental for a U-Haul, certainly not another round-trip ticket and hotel accommodations for a later apartment search.

And besides, Her Lovely Self had said she'd move here. And she knew how much I had grown to hate my job. She was none too happy with hers either. Granted, because the way our relationship was conducted we had never really talked seriously about what we would do if one of us had to move.

What to do?

Well, my lovelies, you who know me from my romantic recounting of the treasure hunt adventure can surely guess what I did: that I went upstairs and thanked them nicely for their offer and said that, as much as I wanted to accept the job on the spot, I had to discuss this with my girlfriend back in Chicago, and could they give me a couple of days to think on it and talk about it with her?

You can guess that I did that.

But your guess would be wrong.

Instead, I marched back into the conference room after an hour and, full of excitement and youthful exuberance, I accepted the job on the spot and shook hands all around and went off with the editor to gather up some newspapers and a couple of apartment guides she had in her office. We made plans to meet up for dinner tomorrow night and I bade them goodbye.

Head still spinning, I took the elevator back down to the lobby and tried to concentrate on the guides I was looking at. My new boss (my new boss!) had said Arlington was a good place to start looking. That was where she had lived. And--

At that moment, I stumbled and the papers went flying. It shattered my concentration, although I'm not sure that was good thing.

For, as I stooped and gathered the papers, I realized the payphone across the lobby was ringing.

And then, everything I had just done came to me in a flood and I felt my fillings turn to water. Ice water.

I dashed to the phone and picked it up.

"Hello?" I asked tentatively. It could be anyone.

"There you are!" a familiar voice answered. "I just stopped at this rest area and called my parents. They said to call you right back. So, quick question for you... How'd the interview go?"

I told Her Lovely Self that they offered me the job on the spot, expecting her--well, not to squeal exactly--but at least to show some excitement as she had when I first told her about the opportunity, and to recognize the offer for the compliment it was.

But instead, she said, very quietly, "Oh."

In the moment, I chalked this up the fact that that was how Her Lovely Self was. Not emotionally demonstrative, especially about big things.

"Well? Isn't that pretty cool?" I asked.

She didn't agree. "So they really offered you the job? What--what did you tell them?"

All of a sudden a large, testicle-crushing boulder fell from a great height and landed directly on my crotch as I realized, too late, the enormity of the mistake I'd just made.

I took a deep breath. "Um, well. I, um, I took it."

There was a long pause. But I could hear heavy breathing, like in an obscene phone call. Only this was the exact opposite of sexy.

When she finally caught her breath, Her Lovely Self said, "You...you WHAT?!!!?"

I couldn't answer. All the oxygen in the lobby suddenly vented into space. My tongue fell out of my head. I couldn't answer.

"You decided to quit--quit and leave Chicago--quit and move across the country--just now?!? Today?!? Without even talking to me about it? Don't you even CARE what I think?"

I found one tiny sip of oxygen. "But-- but you agreed this was a great job," I squeaked. "You said you'd move to Washington."

"And you took me at my word?" she bellowed.

Well, she might not have said that, exactly, but it came down to the same thing. I had totally violated one of the most sacred tenets of boyfriendhood: Check first. Hell, I often cleared my daily schedule with her to make sure it didn't conflict with anything she was doing. I didn't even make dinner reservations without asking her if it was okay. And now? Now...

Oh shit.

"Listen..." I began.

"I can't--I can't--listen to this--anymore," she said, and she sounded more upset than I'd ever heard anyone sound, and this is coming from someone with a long and storied career of upsetting people. She was trying to get the words out but she was sobbing into the phone. The tremor in her voice practically caused the handset on my end to vibrate with pain and rage.

"But--we should talk--"

"Oh now!" she cried, finding her voice. "NOW you want to talk! Just shut up! Shut up! I was so stupid to think you actually gave a shit about me. That I actually thought we had a future. Just shut up! I hate you for doing this to me! I abso-friggin-lutely hate you!!" And on that rather shrill note, she slammed the phone down on me.

I didn't have to look at my reflection in the mirrored glass of the lobby then to know I was ashen-faced. I could see my hands trembling. If I ever thought I had fucked things up before, I now had a new benchmark by which to judge all fuck-ups (a benchmark that exists to this day, by the way).

I stood for a long while, staring into space.

Finally, I came to a decision, picked the phone back up and dialed a number.

"How'd the interview go?" my dad asked when he answered.

"Oh, just great," I said, dripping sarcasm all over the phone. "Listen. I've got a little emergency here."

I took a deep breath.

"I'm driving up to New Hampshire tonight to get the ring..."


Comments:
MM, I'm loving your posts, man. You've definitely set the bar high for the rest of us men, but then again, that's probably where the bar should have been in the first place. One question, any particular motiviation for your recent excess of posts on your courtship? Great blog posts... stopping by is definitely always one of the high points of my day.
 
You know what?

I can't take a piss without double checking with my love of life now a days. Whipped.

So I can totally understand how you ended up with the current situation that you are describing.

It is one of the most painful thing one would ever endure.

Imagining holding your piss in for hours because you can't get a confirmation from the supreme commander.

I have learned my lesson as to speak.

The last time I got offered a job imeadiately, I listen to my gut and told him that I will have to go back and consult with my other half.

The employer understood with recognition in his eyes.

I worked for that person till the end of my contract term.

Empathy goes a long way.
 
Maybe it's because I got very few hours of sleep last night...but this one had me in tears. I can't wait to see what happens next (although I have a pretty good guess, I can't wait to hear you tell it!). You made my morning!
 
Ballsy man, ballsy. That ranks up there with the ballsiest of dating maneuvers. The best part is that this was pre-cell phoneubiquity, so you have to sit and stew in your mistake and that awful gut-wrenching feeling of fucking up. I'm the guy who can barely handle the slightest amount of phone dissonance with my better half without calling back to make everything OK (think Mikey in Swingers), so I can only imagine your predicament.

I see the ring making everything somehow work out though...
 
Oh, god - ouch. The worst feeling in the world = when you did something with the best of intentions and you suddenly realize it was SO wrong. Although we know it worked out in the end, I'm rather nervous for the young MM right now...
 
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