“Do you want to meet your dolphins now?”

(Photo: All wet at the Shedd Aquarium. Credit: nouQraz.)

Riding the #10 bus to the Museum of Science and Industry with Uptown Boy a couple of weeks ago, the conversation turned towards cetaceans. I was venting to Uptown about the hard time I’ve had looking for a new day job that doesn’t involve a paper hat (and at this point in the economy, even those that do.) Making matters worse was the fact that in Chicago, the status quo–and one’s propensity to go along with it–tends to rule the day.

“I just can’t bring myself to kiss another nonprofit executive’s ass,” I told him, “just to be told three months later that their highly repressed, glacially paced corporate culture has decided to reopen their search for a needle in a haystack.” I paused. “Or hired the E.D.’s nephew.”

“I know what you mean,” said Uptown. “I can’t work for a boring, traditional company either.”

“It’s not just the boring,” I responded. “It’s the way nonprofits in Chicago do business in general. The idea that taking five or six months to hire for a position is normal, and that no one should suspect that maybe with admin practices like that, generic social-justice nonprofit X might just be a little ineffectual in actually getting its other business done, too.”

I told Uptown I’d decided to concentrate my job search in the private sector, where urgent economic reality is shared in a much more immediate sense by both applicant and hiring manager. In other words, you get hired or not but at least you know it faster, and no one tries to make you believe their organization is forward-thinking when it obviously isn’t.

Uptown thought for a minute and said, “No matter what, you’ve got a right to choose where you work. Years ago, before I settled into my current gig in Chicago, I was up for a job managing a show in Florida. It was a high-profile aquarium park show. I figured, ‘Florida, sunshine, warm weather, the beach,’ right?”

For a winter-native Chicagoan like Uptown, this story was obviously not going to have a happy ending. He continued.

“They flew me down to the facility. I interviewed with several people. They loved me. It all seemed to be going very well. And then they asked me the question.”

I bit. “What question?”

“The manager looked at me said, ‘Would you like to meet your dolphins now?’ ‘Excuse me?’ I said. ‘Your dolphins,’ he said, ‘from the show you’re gonna manage, would you like to meet them now?’”

Hard splashdown. Broken flotation device. Uptown continued.

“And I thought, ‘Dude! Wake up! You didn’t get an Ivy League stage-management degree to spend your life cueing the spot on Flipper three times a day.’”

Capsule sinking fast. No hope of retrieval.

“So,” I asked, “what did you do?”

“I bailed,” said Uptown. “When I got back to the hotel, I changed my ticket and came home the same day. I didn’t even tell them.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “They probably thought anyone would consider a gig at a big-name place like theirs to be the chance of a lifetime.”

“Exactly,” said Uptown. “Just not in my lifetime.”

I could see the profit in knowing one’s limits like that. And impatient beings that they are, I’m sure the dolphins appreciated not waiting ninety days for a decision, too.

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