I read most of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America a few months ago. I didn’t finish it because it was depressing and hit a little too close to home. In it, she details the stupid questions employers ask when applying or interviewing for a job. “How many dollars’ worth of stolen goods have I purchased in the last year?” (my answer: none, since I’m forced to apply here to pay off my Sears credit card debt) and “Would I turn in a fellow employee if I caught him stealing?” (my answer: it depends on how much I like the person). These inane inquiries reminded me of the time when I sought a job at Target for during the Christmas season after I moved back from Baltimore.
I figured I would apply there as seasonal help because I had experience in the industry years ago. I worked for the discount retail chain Roses for soul sucking seven years until I was fired for using the f-word within earshot of an elderly customer (obviously her hearing was still good). You name it, I did it there – stock guy, department manager, cashier. Despite my less than stellar job past, I still felt I was a shoe-in for a job at Target.
I went to our local Target weeks before the holiday rush began in earnest and applied using one of their designated computer terminals. I muddled through the standard questions: my current address (embarrassingly my parents’ house), work history (a bit spotty but okay), and availability to work (I was unemployed, so my schedule was pretty wide open). I then moved on to the apparently more “psychological” ones and was asked a question that still baffles me to this day: how rebellious are you? I believe there were three possible answers: 1) Not at all…2) Somewhat…3) Very. I’m sure I put the middle one because I didn’t want to lie, but I also needed a job.
The words rebel/rebellious conjure up many images in my mind, none of which fit my image: James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (I’m not dramatically brooding and am a safe driver), Marlo Brando in The Wild Ones (I’m not into motorcycles or leather), and Alberto Korda’s icon Guerrillero Herico of Che Guevara (the beret is not a good look for me). I do, however, have a problem blindly following orders. It’s not so much the commands themselves, but rather the people giving them. As long as I respect (don’t have to necessarily like) the person giving them (i.e. their intelligence and common sense) and generally understand the logic behind their request, I have no problem doing what they ask. If I don’t, there’s a problem. My hesitation has more to do with their inability to lead and less about my disobedient attitude. Moreover, I’m not one to adhere blindly to stupid rules – I view them (rules) as subjective and make judgment calls. I’m so glad I never decided to go into the military because I’m sure I would have been court martialed and been dishonorably discharged – and wouldn’t that have looked great on the Target application? Or thinking in more societal terms, did it mean rebelling against the whole management/worker/capitalistic system? Who am I? Norman Rae? I can barely rally myself to get to work five minutes late every morning. How in God’s name am I going to organize the proletariat to throw off their yoke of oppression?
About a week or so later, I received a postcard from Target telling me to come in for an interview, training, or testing. I drove the twenty plus miles up there, showed them what I got in the mail, and was ushered into the back. I showed it to the girl at the desk, who checked a list, checked it again, then went into another office to confer with her superior. She came back and said to me, “Oh, you shouldn’t have been sent this card.” I felt like responding, “So, apparently, you can be blatantly incompetent but not dare question the powers that be?” I said “okay” and left. If they had suddenly had a change of heart and summoned me back to offer me a job asked me I know what I would have answered #1…Not at all.