They reached a small meeting room, one of at least a dozen such rooms in a row. Why on Earth would they need so many meeting rooms?
The fat, nerdy man in the super thick glasses suddenly reappeared in front of Arwin before they could enter.
Arwin stumbled while trying to avoid hitting the sweaty individual.
This time, the nerd looked up at the man who was about to do the interviews. He fumed. “Excuse me. I think you have my stapler.”
The interviewer rolled his eyes. “No, Morton, I don’t have your stapler. Nobody has your stapler.” He was visibly holding the bright red stapler in his left hand. M-O-R-T-O-N was labeled on the top of it in bright white letters.
“B-b-b-but…” Morton helplessly pointed at the stapler.
The interviewer spoke with a bored voice. “Oh, and Morton, I had your desk moved.”
Morton stepped back, aghast. “Again?”
The interviewer nodded, not entirely suppressing a smile. “Yeah. Down to sub-basement three.”
The interviewer lazily nodded. “Yeah. We converted an old broom closet in the parkade into a nice, cozy office for you. Enjoy.” He waved Arwin and the other two interviewees into the room.
“B-b-but my stapler!” Morton cried out just before the door slammed in his face.
Arwin felt bad for the man. He couldn’t believe the guy had just been bullied like that. He’d heard of office politics, of course, but holy Hannibal Lector. It was worse than elementary school!
The interviewer waved the job applicants into chairs at one end of the meeting table. “All right. Let’s get started! Now, I want to tell you guys that you are very lucky to be here. This is such a great company, a great company, best company in the world. Working here, you have a bright future ahead of you. Because at this company, we do things better. We’re smarter, more innovative, more competitive. The people here, all those people you just walked by, they all have one thing in common: they understand what it takes to succeed in the modern world. They know how to work harder and be better than the competition. They know what it takes to win at life.”
This speech set off red flags to Arwin. He wasn’t sure that life should really be a competition. But he saw that the other two applicants were on the edge of their seats with excitement. He shifted in his chair, uncomfortable at feeling so out of synch with everyone else.
The company man got into details. “Now, I’m sure the three of you have been through interviews before. Usually it’s a one-for-one process. We pick one of you for the position and you’re hired. The others lose out and go home empty handed. But that’s not how we do things at Fanri-Talbot. We are all about competition and proving ourselves. We believe that competition is at the heart of success and we encourage it in everything we do here. Sure, we’re a team, but within our team, and especially in sales, which is the division you’re applying for, we’re hungry sharks, always ready to devour the person next to us as we strive to help this company grow. Fanri-Talbot is made up of people who will do whatever it takes to win.” His charming, toothy smile resembled the underwater predator he apparently strove to be. “After all, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and we’re in competition with a lot of other companies for the same customers. We have to train ourselves to be smarter, faster, and hungrier than they are.”
Both Yolanda and Jun grinned, eager.
The company man continued. “So, in the spirit of competition, you’re actually all going to be hired today.”
Arwin perked up. Really? He had the job? That was great!
“But, over the next three months, you’re going to battle it out with each other and some of the other newer members of our team. Your sales results will show us the true measure of who you are. Prove yourself as the hungriest and best, and you’ll become a permanent member of the winning team here at Fanri-Talbot.” The interviewer gave them another shark-like grin.
Arwin raised his hand. “I’m sorry, perhaps I misunderstood. Are you saying there’s a probationary period?”
“Yes, sort of!” the company man assured him with a plastic smile. “You’ll be working here full time. And after the first three months you could be a permanent member of the staff. And I assure you that our hiring package is amongst the most competitive in the industry. If you make your sales targets each week, you’ll be very happy indeed.”
Arwin, uncertain, glanced at the other interviewees, but they didn’t seem to share his misgivings. “Wait, so even though we’re working full time, we’re not actually being hired until three months from now? So, the first three months are an internship? Or a reduced salary or something? And at the end, we might be let go?”
The company man spread his hands. “Well, I suppose technically it is an internship to start. You won’t be paid anything for your first three months, but you really shouldn’t be focusing on that. You should be thinking about just how much money you’ll be making during your career here at Fanri-Talbot — after those first three months. Why, some of our sales staff have made over a hundred thousand dollars in their first year!”
The other two applicants’ faces lit up at the idea of so much money.
Arwin just nodded and tried to smile. So, this was not a job interview after all; it was a chance at a job, with a possible pay check four months from now, after working for free for three months. But he’d only get paid if he beat the others out of the job, doing whatever it took to win. Could he wait four months to get paid? He doubted the people collecting his rent and car payments would be that understanding or patient.
Arwin suppressed a frown. Three months of free labour? The VP of human resources here was probably laughing at the ingenious way they suckered people into giving away free labour. How were internships even legal?
One of the applicants, Jun, raised a hand. “So, if — I mean, when—”
The interviewer smiled and pointed at him. “I like that attitude.”
Glowing, Jun continued, “—when we’re hired on, what is our starting salary?”
“Your starting salary is twenty-five hundred per month,” the company man began.
Arwin felt like he’d been punched in the gut. Twenty-five hundred? That was less than he made now. How could he survive on that after paying taxes and all his new bills?
The man continued. “But don’t focus on that number! This is a sales position, so most of your income comes from commission. And don’t worry, it’s not like you’re here to do everything on your own. We’re here to help. We’ll train you in cold calling until you can sell snow to…um, people who live where there’s lots of snow. We’ll help you build the best leads. We’ll—“
Arwin interrupted the man, surprising both the interviewer and himself at the spontaneous interruption. “Excuse me, but, those people in the glass offices we passed on the way here. How much do they make?”
The manager paused at the unexpected question, then smiled. “I like where your head is at!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Yes! Focus on the future. Have goals, big goals, here at Fanri-Talbot. When you move up the ladder at Fanri-Talbot, I promise you the rewards scale exponentially. Most lower level managers clear over two hundred thousand a year, and things just get better from there. Lower execs make over half a million and top execs all clear a million annually. And that’s just base salary. There are still stock options and bonuses on top of that. And one day that could be you!”
The other two applicants literally bounced up and down in their chairs with excitement. They were already champing at the bit to be hired on by Fanri-Talbot. Arwin pictured cartoon dollar signs glowing in their eyes. Maybe dollar signs shaped like carrots.
He did a quick calculation. At twenty-five hundred a month, that was thirty thousand dollars per year: minimum wage, just like a barista. That meant that a lower level manager making two hundred thousand per year was equal to about seven guys in cubicles. The people clearing a million dollars annually equaled about thirty-three bottom-rung peons.
Exactly what could any one person possibly do that was equivalent to the labour of thirty-three others?
Feeling his anger rise at the idea of so much undeserved and unhealthy inequality, Arwin found his negative thought process spiralling further out of control. It was only making him more frustrated.
Meanwhile, the other two applicants were ready and willing to join the team right now, looking happy and excited about the opportunity in front of them. Arwin half-wished he could feel the same, but half-didn’t.
Surely the problem had to be with him and the way he thought, right? The corporate world was everywhere; capitalism reigned supreme. Billions of people bought into this culture every day. It didn’t make sense that so many people were being unwittingly manipulated into supporting a system that was not actually in their best interests, did it?
Surely our entire culture wasn’t being screwed over by a few greedy, selfish people who cared more about personal profit than their fellow man?
Surely billions of people weren’t just unwitting pawns in a massive international pyramid scheme designed to make the people at the top rich while the vast majority suffered?
Surely the foundation of civilization itself wasn’t flawed by our inherent selfishness and greed, causing widespread pollution, global warming, a pandemic of loneliness and depress, and the breakdown of social health and security?
The scale of such a thing was too big to contemplate. Right? Right???
Arwin mentally face-palmed. Then he sighed. Then he shook himself and tried to pay attention again. Could he really accept this job opportunity? He knew that Kelli would want him to, and he enjoyed making her happy. But what did he want for himself?
The interviewer gave them a smile and said, with forced enthusiasm, as if he actually cared, “So, why don’t you each say a little something about yourselves. Let’s get to know each other a little bit.” He was obviously pretending to make them feel special and involved. He’d probably already forgotten their names.
Arwin looked at the other two and saw that while Jun and Yolanda were obviously excited and happy to engage, Arwin felt the complete opposite. This was not good. His future was at stake here and his polar-opposite attitude was seriously jeopardizing it. Maybe he should be the one to change. He readied himself to accept the internship.
“So, you all look pretty pumped up,” the company man enthused, ignoring Arwin’s unenthusiastic face and the fact that he hadn’t wanted to introduce himself. The exec clasped his hands together. “You all ready to start on Monday?”
“Yes!” the other two applicants chorused together.
Arwin hesitated. He tried to say yes, but something else came out instead. “Actually, I’ve got a couple of other interviews scheduled for next week. Could I give you an answer the week after?” Maybe he could buy himself time, think about this some more.
The company man frowned, sucked in his breath and looked pained. “Ooh, I don’t know. Fanri-Talbot is in the middle of a big hiring push right now. We’ve got some key positions to fill, but they’re not unlimited, you know. Lots of competition.”
Jun looked at Arwin with wide eyes, like Arwin was nuts. “Why would you hesitate? What’s to think about? They’re a fortune five hundred company. Have you seen what their stock is doing lately?”
“Yeah,” agreed Yolanda. “This is a dream job. A chance to get your foot in the door. Half my friends would kill to work here.” She glanced at the company man as she spoke, seeking his approval, and beamed when she got it. Perhaps killing each other was looked upon favourably as part of climbing the ladder here. Cannibals.
Arwin hesitated again. Anxiety sunk its claws into him. This was a chance at a job. Not a very good one, sure, but he imagined the look on Kelli’s face if he turned it down. He needed a better job. He needed a bigger paycheque. Being a teacher meant a lot to him but working in a place like this meant there was room to earn more later. He should take this.
He glanced at the red stapler next to the interviewer. Morton’s stapler.
He sighed. He couldn’t bring himself to accept the opportunity. This place just wasn’t right for him. His mind had been shouting that at him the whole time; he needed to listen to it. “I’ve already made the commitments to those interviews. I feel like I should at least go and listen to what they have to say.” Besides, wasn’t it fair to him that he explore all his options before choosing where to go? Why was the man so insistent in taking his choices away? What if one of the other jobs was a better fit for both parties?
The company man shrugged. “Well, you know, it’s good to see someone, um, exploring their options. But the fact is, you know, time is of the essence. Why don’t you take the weekend, think about it, and if you’re here at eight Monday morning we’ll see how you feel, ok?”
The interview came to a close. Interview? Arwin felt more like they were trying to initiate him into a cult. The other two stayed to fawn and ingratiate themselves with the company man, but Arwin snuck something into his bag and then headed for the exit. He thought of Kelli and felt like a failure, the guilt in his gut heavy. The elevator doors closed and he began to descend.
A sniffle jolted Arwin out of his thoughts. He looked next to him and was surprised to see the nerdy guy in thick glasses standing next to him. “Hey. Morton, right? I was just coming to see you. I stole your stapler back from that asshole.” He pulled out the stapler he’d taken when the interviewer had been distracted.
The man’s eyes lit up. He accepted the stapler with reverence and gratefully beamed at Arwin.
Arwin patted Morton on the shoulder. “That guy’s a real jerk. You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”
Morton nodded. Rage contorted his face. Slobber spilled out of his lips as he tried to speak but couldn’t form the words. Then, with great effort he got himself back under control. Head twitching, he went silent.
Arwin shrugged. The elevator beeped and he stepped out through the open doors and into the lobby.
Just as the doors began to close, to take poor Morton to sub-basement three, the man murmured, just loud enough for Arwin to hear, “I could set the building on fire. Definitely. I could definitely set the building on fire. Definitely. Definitely. And then go buy boxers at K-mart. 400 Oak Street. Yeah. Ten minutes to Judge Wapner. Buuurn.”
Arwin shook his head. Man, the corporate world was crazy. Definitely.