I’m still amazed I wrote this back in 2013, one year after I arrived in Chicago from Florida.
The paratransit driver lurches to a stop outside the Tribune Towers in downtown Chicago, but I don’t hear the driver bark my name because I am deep in a book, as I have been ever since the two-hour site-seeing tour began. When I finally hear the driver barking my name, I immediately spring up, grab my cane, portfolio, and waltz down the bus steps onto pavement. From past experience, I know that the drivers drop me off at the entrance, plus I see masses of colorful blurs opening something ahead of me where a cool breeze tickles my skin. I follow the breeze until I am in the Chicago Tribune lobby, my portfolio ignorant of the opportunity I’m advocating for. If my resume hadn’t been so flashy, I never would have landed the job interview. If my letters of recommendation didn’t warble with the practiced fervor of a songster, the interviewer would not have considered me. I’m glad my old age of 24 doesn’t hold me back from epic chances to prove I have the chops to write without a bachelor’s degree.
As I take a step closer toward this different world, the world of big time news, I think to myself, “I know these older folks are wishing they had as wicked of a hairstyle as I do.” As I tap my way inside, leading a marching band that only I can see, I begin to wonder what my blindness will do for me. I saunter up to the handsome black security guard and wave my state ID at him like a baton. My cane pines for attention as well, as it decides to linger upright in my armpit. I want him to marry me. He looks dashing.
“Welcome sir. How can I help you?”
“I’m here for a job interview with Tracy.” There’s a pause where the guard contemplates how he will handle the fate of the future by letting me through to the waiting room.
“A job interview?” he asks, knowing my blindness better than I do.
“Yes, I’m here to see Tracy D for a 1:00 job interview.”
“Really?” he asks, able to predict how my blindness will be the death of the Chicago Tribune.
“Yes. Really. I even dressed up!” I say gleefully, silently thanking the gay gods for a gay friend who is darker than this man, cuter, and smarter about fashion than I am. The guard makes a few phone calls and when he, indeed, learns that I am here for a job interview, his voice drowns in apologies as he helps me to a chair in the lobby. I notice that there’s new paint and this becomes more apparent the longer I sit in the waiting room. People clip clop their way past me. A few editors are barking into their cell phones yelling at their writers about deadlines. Perfumes and colognes keep wafting past my nostrils every few minutes as I tap my cane on the wood floor, learning all the emergency exits and procedures and policies thanks to a repeating training video to my left. I wonder if it’s closed-captioned. The longer I sit there, because I’m early, the more astonished I am at how many different perfumes and colognes someone can drown in. I don’t smell the same fragrant twice. I think I’m going crazy. I’m nervous. I don’t know if I should be a blind guy and jam ear buds in my ears and continue reading Star Wars or if I should concentrate for different pairs of shoes. Surely, the hiring manager would have shoes that sound more elegant as they tap the wood.
I hoist my writing portfolio in my lap, wondering if I have too many letters of recommendation and not enough clippings. I wonder if I should have even brought paper clippings, because I sent links the other day when they gave a small email interview, because I have a stutter. I’m wondering if people are staring at my youth as they walk past, wafting every fragrance in the United States with each step.
I suddenly decide that I really want to finish this chapter, so I jam the ear buds into my BookSense, refusing to care about how stereotypical I look. Besides, I had another gay guy dress me up this morning, because I would have also stereotypically walked in with mismatched shirts and sweaters. I wonder why braille is so confusing. Who will I meet here? What kind of questions will they ask in the interview? Why did I skip the tea this morning despite Jamaal’s urgings? How can I get him to think of new racial jokes?
Just as the chapter finishes, and Luke gets captured, elegant sounding shoes step towards me with purpose and slight hesitation. I know this is the woman interviewing me because her perfume is the best I have smelled all day and it doesn’t want to make me write an editorial. She steps closer, thinning the visual thread, allowing me to see what she looks like. Her face makes me believe she smiles for a living.
“Robert Kingett?” she asks, wondering if I will be the downfall of the Chicago Tribune because of my lack of cologne.
“Yes,” I say, standing up and smiling wider than a final contraction before shaking her hand. I’m thankful my teeth are white. I’m also thankful I sent her links to my work and my resume the day before. My print portfolio feels heavier than it did a minute ago. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here!” I boast. Her smile competes with mine. We’re in a smiling contest. I will lose because she’s an expert and I’m an intermediate.
“I’m really excited to have you here, too! How do you want to do this? Do you want to grab my elbow or follow me?” I decide that the world can be safe from me bumping into things today and take her elbow. As we walk into a carpeted hallway, I excitedly listen to my possible future as we navigate various turns. Phones ring, air swooshes past me at random intervals, people are saying that the coffee needs more sugar even though it’s 1pm, people laugh at funny quotes, and atmospheric and furniture smells trickle in and out of my nose as we race towards the finish line, with her explaining that we entered different parts of the newsroom. Doors halt our steady march for a few seconds but we continue onward talking as if we’re already in a clique. She tells me she really likes the articles that she’s been reading and sharing, and I manage to say much more clever things than “thank you” repeatedly.
We finally make it to the room that will decide my future and she and I sit in very comfy chairs that I want to steal so I can watch Netflix on them. A few more people come into the room, including a few more editors, an assistant, and laptops. Before long, the interview begins. She’s read about me online, so she has different questions for me than I expect.
“Your letters of recommendation were utterly glowing! You’re only 24?”
“Yes,” I say, not knowing if I should add to this. I add to this by saying, “I’m thankful they wrote so much about me! I’m also very happy about the work I’ve produced. I’m very passionate about my quality.”
“I know! Do you know how many times I’ve shared your articles and interviews? A lot! Now, you’ve said that you are still in school, yes? Community college, right?”
“Yes,” I say, wishing I had Denzel Washington there to stroke my hand and still my screaming heart. The stutter draws all of my answers out, as if I’m stretching vowels because I’m marveling at my own sentence structure. I want to go on a date soon. I wonder what question she will ask. Chairs produce noises of shifting bodies. I’m wondering if any of these African American men think I’m attractive. Should I say less, more? Should I stop imagining myself in the newsroom?
“You’re only a freshman, judging by your resume. How did you get to be published in so many venues?” I’m about to have a heart attack. I think my hair is utterly wonderful.
“I’m just a diligent person. When I set my sites on a goal, I do everything I can to achieve it, including learning from my past mistakes, such as with editing and the like. I just worked very hard and learned because I wanted to achieve my goal. I want to be a valuable reporter anywhere that I go.” My cerebral palsy is making me jerk slightly as I talk. I hear typing on keyboards, knowing that the other editors are taking notes on what pizza they want to have tonight. A few look my way as if I’m the chief reporter. Perhaps I will be. I imagine myself going out with one of them. I think I have said too much.
“Well, can I just say I am amazed at how calm you look? Usually college students are sweating bullets in here.” I smile.
“Thank you! I’ve learned that everything works epically with a collective noggin. Otherwise, pizza delivery guys would get lost.” There are a lot of genuine chuckles that dance around the table as if we’re doing a microphone test.
“I totally agree,” Tracy says, wondering why I am so young. “So did you learn AP style on your own?”
“Well, yes. I had to. I know that’s a style I will use, so why wait for someone to teach it to me? For example, I know that…” I forget what I’m going to say. “I know that with states, there’s a three letter abbreviation instead of the two letter abbreviation, among other things. AP style is a standard and I want to be the best I can be, so I just decided to learn it.”
“Interesting! How many times are you out in the field?” She means interviewing. Should I tell her about the BookSense I have? I think I will. I brandish it as I talk.
“I’m usually out in the field interviewing people rather than doing email and or phone interviews because I’ve had stories where, say, an email interview wouldn’t give me the information I needed for the story. When I write human interest stories, I want to tell their stories how they tell it, in their own voices. I record interviews on this BookSense. It’s a really cool player that will allow me to listen to books, recorded notes, and documents.” I show them the player, playing a Star Wars excerpt, knowing any professional journalist would never describe something as a cool device. I’m sure I won’t get the job. I imagine myself going on an assignment, telling someone I’m with the Tribune.
There’s a collective gasp around the table as if I’m doing brain surgery.
“Oh my god! I need one of these!” one of the editors says as I demonstrate the recording function.
A few minutes later, the serious questions start hitting home.
“Who do you read, as far as news outlets?” I have no idea how to answer this one.
“I read a lot of different articles from a lot of different publications, but I don’t religiously read the same publication. I’ve read a bunch of articles from a number of writers on a number of websites, including the Tribune, USA Today, The Herald, BBC, and a bunch of other stuff.” I conclude with a smile, my nerves straining to be rational.
“That’s great! Diversity is really great; it means that you have different angles to the same story.”
“I know,” I say before I can stop myself, but then I quickly add, “I just enjoy all kinds of news in all places. I like examining different perspectives.” There are smiles spreading throughout the editors like they are a tidal wave.
“That’s wonderful! With all this experience, have you ever been in a newsroom before?”
“No, I have not been in a newsroom before, at all,” I say, feeling the tension shift in the room. There’s a long pause, and then Tracy says, “A newsroom is very hectic. You have a lot of people running around and the like. Boy, I tell you, sometimes it’s difficult for ME to navigate around there.” I smile because I know I’m doomed, but I want to leave them with a quote, at least, that they will remember as they are hiring someone else. I imagine myself sitting in a newsroom and Tracy approaching me, giving me a medal that touts employee of the year on it. I don’t think I will get the job. I will be the best reporter at the Tribune.
“I can imagine. I’ve been in a newsroom for meetings and stuff, but the way I look at it is, if I can fill out a tax return than a newsroom shall be no match for me!” There’s a collective chuckle and this makes me feel good. She will tell me that I’m hired in a few days and then I will be a reporter here. I know this will happen, because I won’t order pizza tonight and everything will happen smoothly if I don’t order pizza. My heart threatens to rip out of my skin a few times before the interviewee goes,
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“Yes. I I want to know, Tracy, why do you work here?”
After she tells me she likes her team, shocked I’d ask her about her motives rather than the job, There’s a pounding sound in my chest. It takes me a second to grasp that it’s my heart. Everyone stands up and shakes my hand hard, marveling at my hair and choice of clothes. The interview lasted an hour, and I wonder what happens next in the Star Wars book.
A few days later, I receive an email from Tracy telling me that, even though I was stellar, they have chosen to go ahead and hire someone with more experience. I listen to the email several times, glad that I don’t have to worry or think about it anymore. It’s done. The stellar interview is over, and I’m still a freelancer who doesn’t wear cologne. I decide to order pizza that night, because pizza makes everything better. I order one with peperoni because I want to have cold pizza tomorrow. The Tribune didn’t hire me because I didn’t have epic cologne on during the job interview. Ah well, at least they got to hear a bit of Star Wars