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Boomer Fairy Tales: The Liability Of Experience

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I had the strangest job interview the other day. After 30+ years in the workforce, this interview was by far the most enlightening, embarrassing, revealing and thought-provoking 30 minutes I've ever spent at the interrogation table.

(You might have read about my rather bizarre exit interview a few months ago where my boss momentarily mistook me for her recently deceased father, followed by a few awkward moments where I was offering her the Kleenex rather than being offered the Kleenex.)

It started with me, alone in a conference room 24 floors above SOMA in San Francisco. The weather was classic San Francisco Indian Summer: wisps of fog curling up over the skyscrapers to the west against a cobalt sky, a small garden-variety earthquake rattling the artwork on the wall every 10 minutes or so...

Wait. Let's back up.

It started with me, alone in my bathroom and using my wife's blush on my 58-year-old schnozzola, my hands shaking as I tried to disguise the telltale busted capillaries and tone down the eggplant hue while also brushing a little over the similarly colored bags under my half-closed Dali eyes, though had I really thought about it the red of the iris against the purple of the bags would probably demonstrate a hip sense of contemporary style. But I chose the old fashioned, honest look. Why should I need to try and hide my age? It's illegal to discriminate based on age, right?

Age, as I learned over the conference table 24 stories above SOMA, was not the issue my interrogators had with me. Experience was.

But before the gang of four even started their cross examination (the gang of four being a perfectly balanced politically correct hiring committee in all aspects except AARP qualification) a lone admin in orange Converse hi-tops, denim overalls, a black swimsuit top, and pink hair in pigtails walked into the conference room, offered a curt nod, then turned to the whiteboard where she wrote:

  • Job Change
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Personal Injury
  • Death

The gang of 4 filed in and sat opposite me. We exchanged pleasantries:

"How about those Giants?" I offered up.

"Yes, isn't it exciting? I hear she's writing Hagrid's whole family into the script!" the pink pigtailed admin retorted, tittering, referring to the big news that J.K. Rowling was writing a screenplay about Magical Beasts.

"Cool," I said, quick on my feet as ever, "I hope there are some Blast-Ended Skroots in there, too."

"Oh, without a doubt," one of the guys in the gang said with measured enthusiasm, then added: "So you know a little something about Blast-Ended Skroots. That's good. Not that we're looking for a generalist, but it's good to know what's happening with our audience." Before I could properly process that little nugget they launched into the official interrogation, starting with the 5 items on the whiteboard.

"Okay" began the apparent leader of the gang. Though he didn't wear a coat, he had what looked to be a very expensive cashmere cardigan over a plain white T-shirt, along with the standard ratty beard, close crew cut, horn-rimmed glasses. He looked at the board. "Job change. I guess that's why you're here, isn't it?" I nodded and he asked: "How many different jobs have you had, Mr. Harrison?"

Thinking broad-based experience to be a plus that not many younger candidates could stand up against, I said "oh, more than I can count!"

"Take a guess," he said, quite seriously. The admin stood up with her whiteboard marker, and when I said maybe 10 she wrote it down next to "job change".

"Now, what about divorce? You ever been through a divorce?"

I wanted to say "now listen here young man that's none of your business" but I didn't.

"Nope, still married after 30 fun-filled years."

He smiled when he picked up on my sarcasm, then said "Ha! Well we'll figure you've had a few affairs just to be on the safe side. They say that a secret affair can be just as stressful as a divorce if not more stressful."

And down the list he went, the admin diligently recording the numbers on the whiteboard. When we had finally recorded all of the deaths in the family, all of my various surgeries, my son's cancer... even the one marriage was stressful, considering all we had been through together. Before tallying the numbers he stood up and gestured to the list.

"You know what these are?" he asked. I shook my head, not because I didn't know what they were but because I couldn't believe what was happening.

"These are the top 5 most stressful events a person can have in his or her life. We use this rating system with all of our job candidates to check on their intrinsic vitality levels. It's been scientifically proven that the higher the number of these life-changing events -- the more an individual has been kicked in the teeth -- the higher the likelihood that they've got a lot of false teeth, and everybody knows that false teeth are less effective at chewing than the originals, if you catch my drift."

Though I could have feigned complete idiocy over the chewing business, I played it straight. Can I honestly say that life's top 5 stress events don't apply to me, that I am strong like a bull, that what hasn't killed me has only made me stronger? Can I make the claim that my professional experience trumps whatever battle scars I've sustained on my psyche? On my energy levels? Can I honestly claim that my "get it done at all costs" mentality is just as idiotically and slobberingly committed as it was when I was 35? If a job description requires 6-9 years experience, can I make the claim that my 20+ years of experience will make me twice as effective as someone with the required 6-9? Am I then saying that whoever thought 6-9 years experience was going to do the trick has got their head up their proverbial human resources butt? Hardly a recommended endearment strategy!

I must have looked like someone who got caught on the wrong end of a Blast-Ended Skroot when we were finished, because the boss invited me out for a drink. He even let me choose the bar, a real Irish pub in the financial district just crawling with barely pre-AARP action. We hunkered down in a relatively quiet booth and ordered up some real adult beverages and... well, I don't know how it happened but 2 hours later I had a 30-hour-a-week contract doing an updated version of what I had been doing for the past 30+ years.

Lesson learned? (It takes a boomer to know) There's always more than one way to skin a Skroot!

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Jeb Harrison comes from deep in the left field bleachers, bearing non sequiturs, rants and musings of little redeeming social significance. Novel #1, Hack, has been an unqualified disaster in civilized nations around the world and is equaled only by his loony blog, "Adventures in Limboland", where x-rated versions of similar thematic material can be found panhandling "likes" and "shares" like flea-bitten street urchins. Follow at your own risk.

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