Ed. note: “The Miss Jobless Chronicles” is a weekly series written by Caitlin O’Toole. Read the rest in the series here.
I should know better by now than to respond to craigslist ‘help wanted’ ads. But, being a craigslist addict in every sense of the word, I can’t resist. (I still scour the pets ads and the free sections.)
I answered a job posting last week — this time, to be an executive assistant to someone “prominent” in the entertainment business. Sounded feasible, fun and right up my alley.
I have no personal assistant experience, but I have enough experience in the entertainment world — mostly as a writer — to be able to fudge it.
My cover letter reads as follows:
“To Whom It May Concern:
I’m interested in the Executive Assistant position and I’d love to be considered for it.
I’m a seasoned journalist with many years of experience in the business, so you can count on me understanding your busy schedule and keeping you organized. I work hard, am smart, savvy, creative and funny. I’m also extremely detail oriented.
I hope to hear from you. Resume is attached.”
I got a response the next day from the very curt assistant of a very prominent executive rabbi. He lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. I figure I have nothing to lose — and decide to go see him.
I put on my Sunday best — a greenish tweed jacket that looks kind of like a riding jacket, black pants, and black “flats” (my mom’s favorite word). It feels weird to be out of sweats. But it feels good, too.
The interview is at 1pm, so I leave at 11am — which will leave me enough time to get to the GW bus station and catch bus number 171 to Paterson.
The bus ride is kind of fun, but I figure if I get the job, the novelty will wear off soon. I get off at the Fort Lee stop, right over the bridge. I have no idea what kind of structure I am looking for — an office building? A temple? A house? I just have an address scribbled on one of my old business cards from people.com.
I manage to get lost for about 20 minutes, walking, trying to find the address, a blister stinging my right foot. Finally I find it. It looks like OJ’s Rockingham estate. A gated mansion obscured by autumn-colored trees. There’s a Bentley in the driveway. And a lime green VW bug. I buzz the gate and a female voice answers, asking my name. I say I am here to see the rabbi. I am let in.
At the back door, there is no sign of life — not a barking dog, not a radio, not a footstep, not a sound. My ears are ringing. I knock unsurely, then twice, and finally a woman answers the door — Nadine, she says, and tells me it’s nice to meet me. She has the personality of a wall, and I imagine she’s the personal assistant I would be replacing.
She leads me down a dark corridor and apologizes — the rabbi is not “back yet” and I can have a seat at the computer and wait. The energy in the room is heavy and depressing. I try to imagine myself working every day in such a quiet, remote place. I can’t. But I am desperate.
Nadine gives me a writing assignment.
“We just want to get a sense of your writing style,” she tells me, and I’m wondering what kind of ‘style’ is needed to be an executive assistant to a rabbi. The assignment: Write a letter to him, telling him about yourself. I go to it.
We haven’t met yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to meeting you soon! In the meantime, I wanted to tell you a little about myself.
I’ve had an interest in journalism since I was 12. I delivered the Washington Post for three years. I remember sitting on the stoop, folding my papers in my quiet neighborhood, imagining my very own byline. Well, years later, my dream came true…”
I went on to tell him about my published clips, TV jobs, and my blog. I tell him I’d very much like to work with him. I kiss ass as much as possible. I need this job.
Nadine comes back with a very well-dressed woman named Nancy, who is also a candidate for the position. Nadine tells me to get up from the computer so Nancy can also write a letter to the rabbi about herself. I am left standing in this dark, musty, depressing place, waiting for the mystery rabbi to come back from wherever he is. My blister stings. Nadine disappears around a spooky corner, then pops her head back out.
“Caitlin, thanks for making the ‘schlep’, as we say,” she says.
I stand in the corner awkwardly for about ten minutes, when I hear signs of life in the other room — the rabbi, I am told, is back. He emerges from around the corner dressed in shiny black running shorts, a turquoise ‘Just Do It’ hoodie, Nike Shox and a yarmulke. His beard is overgrown and greying and there is a sort of cunning, all-knowing twinkle in his eye.
“I’m Rabbi Michael,” he says, extending his warm, dampish hand.
“Nice to meet you, Rabbi –”
“Call me Mick,” he says, not even cracking a smile.
“OK, Mick, thank you, sir, it’s a pleasure.”
“I need five minutes to dry off,” he goes, and I’m thinking — um, gross. But completely intrigued, slightly amused, and eager to see what ‘Mick’ has in store for me.
I go stand back in my musty corner and wait for Mick to cool off. There’s no sign of Nadine or anyone else in this strange place.
Five minutes later, he beckons me into a large, bright “office” that looks more like a greenhouse full of cheap faux-leather furniture from Staples. It’s full of plants, books, and a purplish tweed couch from the ’70s. I can see the lime VW bug out the widow. I imagine him driving it and smile to myself.
“So,” he says, glancing at my writing sample and resume, “you’re a writer.” Read more