Twenty: The Interview – Part 1

Posted: November 26, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

I walked through sliding doors in to the reception of Skechers Corporate Headquarters. It was exactly how I imagined it to be: shiny and metallic with a robo-receptionist who smiled so hard it was only a matter of time before she tore a muscle in her face.

A few days earlier I got a phone call out of the blue from a guy called Sven. He said he liked my application and invited me for an interview. I had sent off for so many jobs I completely forgot I even applied to Skechers. Now here I was, Skechers HQ at Manhattan Beach.

Everywhere I looked the room glistened. The sheen of a corporate building is the architectural equivalent of airbrushing a model to perfection. The same fantasy is played out again and again. A café attendant wears a perfect smile, with perfect teeth and the whitest shirt – all so he can carry rotting food out to the alley or scrub shit from a toilet bowl with a flimsy plastic brush. Corporate sheen is equivalent to Milan Kundera’s definition of kitsch: “the absolute denial of shit.” Focus on the smile, forget the toilet bowl.

Talking of shit, I arrived early so I had enough time to check out their toilets. Toilet tourism is a little hobby of mine; whenever I go somewhere, I like to visit their loo. I caught the toilet bug when I lived in Japan, the mother land of decadent johns. I became a connoisseur of the different brands and models: Toto represents reliability and stability for example, whereas Inax represents sophistication – hence why they play Op. 62 Nr. 6 Frühlingslied by Felix Mendelssohn each time you drop your draws.

Skechers’ bog was predictably cold. Black marble walls, low lighting, dark cubicles – I felt like I was taking a piss in an asteroid. Having gained a better sense for the place, I air dried my hands and walked back to reception.

Sven was waiting for me. Clean-shaven, wearing a shirt, glasses and a falsetto grin, he shook my hand enthusiastically and asked about my journey. We walked to the café, the area I was going to work if I pulled off my audition. He offered me a seat and showed me some paperwork to fill out – an application form, the same form I filled out online the week before. Only a monstrosity like a corporation would happily waste time by making me fill out the same form twice.

When I finished he sat next to me and flicked through the form like it was the first time he’d seen it. Maybe it was the first time he’d seen it.

“Before I ask you any questions, let me tell you a little about why this cafeteria is so important to me.”  I held my breath, expecting the worst.

Sven spoke gravely with the sincerity of a devotee about the history of the cafeteria, how he had been brought in as a consultant to build the thing and now he was hanging around to ensure his baby grew up right. I practised my listening face and nodded at ten second intervals.

“And you know my vision is… well, do you know why I love Starbucks? And it’s not just because they’re trading at $49.50 and I own stock.” Cue nod, suppress animosity.

“It’s because of their uniformity. They deliver the same service and the same product in every branch in the world.” Nod again.

“They are friendly, but not overly friendly. And their business model is just amazing…” Half nod and smile.

Sven eulogised the genius of Starbucks for ten minutes before finally leaving. He was handing me over to Dan, his “right-hand man here at Skechers.” So far so good, I thought to myself. I’ve been here an hour and they haven’t asked one question yet.

Tune in on Thursday for the next installment of The Road to Skid Row.

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