A few of my friends once earned slightly more than minimum wage as clerks at a now-defunct Crown Books in West L.A. Their manager, Ned, a Crown employee for five years, was earning almost twice minimum wage. I had a full-time job at an art gallery that paid fully twice minimum wage, so I was living out of a 1979 Honda.
"Ned," I said to Ned on an afternoon's visit to Crown, "any chance you might need someone part time?" I wasn't sure whether I actually wanted to work there, but filling out a job application at least seemed like an interesting way to kill some time while waiting for my friend to finish his shift.
Ned said that he might in fact be needing someone in a month or so and encouraged me to fill out an application by placing one in my hand. Crown Books didn't provide chairs (increases browsing time, cuts into profits), so I sat cross-legged, inconspicuously enough, on the floor in the children's section and, using my half-unglued, half-petrified leather briefcase as a table, began filling out the form. Job applications often ask, "Why do you want to work here?" as if someone's motivation to work at an application-style job might be other than financial. Keep your money! My passion for periodical inventory must be sated! They'll ask if you've been convicted of a felony, but not whether you've committed one -- if you got away with it, welcome aboard. This application wanted to know if I'd ever used any illegal drugs, but not whether I'd had a good time.
"Have you ever used any illegal drugs?"
"If yes, which ones?"
"Marijuana, hashish, psilocybin mushrooms (psilocybe semilanceata, psilocybe mexicana, psilocybe . . ." There wasn't much room, so I drew a little arrow and continued on the back: ". . . cubensis); LSD, cocaine, Benzedrine, methamphetamine, opium (mixed with marijuana), and half a Quaalude (not recommended)." The rest of the application went equally well. I brought it to the front of the store, turned it in to Ned, thanked him, and returned to the magazine rack to wait for my friend's shift to end and to pretend not to be interested in Penthouse, Gallery and Club.
A moment later, Ned arrived beside me, twisting his brow. He handed my application back to me and said, "You can't turn this in like this."
"You know what I mean. You can't list all those drugs."
"But the application said I had to. Which is it?"
Ned was usually patient, but not now. "Look. Suppose you worked here, and then one night some money was missing from the drawer. With all those drugs on your application, guess who they'd fire first?"
"Look. Just fill out another application, and when you get to the drug question just say no."
"So if I don't lie, I can't apply?"
"I get the idea you're not really interested in working here."
After I thanked Ned for letting me try, my friend and I went down to Poppa Pete's for one of the worst cups of coffee imaginable. Coffee shops always have the worst coffee.
If only there'd been an Internet back then, I would've known. I could've gone to the "Application ABCs" page (www.wdsny.org/common/abcs.htm) at New York State's Workforce Development site and learned how to fill out a job application right. The "ABC" stands for, respectively: "Attention -- Employers use applications to screen people out, not in!" "But, there is no standard application form . . ." "Completing an application for a job is not a guarantee that you'll get the job . . ." Other valuable tidbits: "Print neatly, in pen. This tells the employer you take pride in your work." "Do not stretch the truth!" "Make sure your reason for leaving each job is a good one. Never write fired."
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