Will Work For Free

by

06/25/2013

Neighborhood: Midtown

I didn’t come to New York City to work for free forever. But as a chronic unpaid intern, this had been my experience for the better part of four years.

The ability to do pretty much anything for little or no money is a precious skill for any intern, and I started honing this talent my freshman year at NYU. I was eager to build my résumé my first year on campus and therefore applied to an assortment of jobs that started with the word “intern” and ended with “no experience needed.” Eventually, I got an email from a Mr. M who wanted me to come in to talk about a marketing position.

A week later I arrived at the interview location in Midtown Manhattan, unfazed by the fact that the “office” building for the company was actually a residential apartment complex. I rang the apartment number, but before I got an answer on the other line, an elderly man with a dog opened the front door to the building for me. At the time, I wasn’t sure if he was with the company, or just a resident, so I treated him in the utmost professional manner. He shrugged off my gratuitousness and continued out the door with his Corgi.

Slightly confused, I walked to the elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. My stomach turned in anticipation with every lurch of the tiny, steel box. The gigantic climb, albeit only three floors up, felt like it took forever.

A tall, thin man with wispy blonde hair greeted me as soon as the doors opened. He seemed old but his energy felt youthful—a man composed of contradictory characteristics; a quality that many New Yorkers possess. “Hey there, buddy,” he said, his voice raspy with a hint of a British accent.

This was Mr. M.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” he asked as he led me down the hall. He opened the door to a one-bedroom apartment with a Macbook setup on the kitchen table, pointing to a chair opposite his.

I was actually dying of thirst but for some reason I felt like accepting the glass of water was a sign of unpreparedness, as if I should’ve been forward-thinking enough to bring a water bottle of my own in case I got thirsty. The question felt like a test.

“No, I have a water bottle in my bag,” I lied. “But thank you.”

He asked me about myself and about halfway through my robust description on the merits of my Student Council work in high school, I began to feel an itchy sensation around my waist. I couldn’t place the feeling and assumed it was my anxiety kicking into overdrive. But before I knew it, two cats jumped into my lap.

I stopped talking and Mr. M looked at me, seemingly unshaken by the feline assault, just adding, “You’re not allergic to cats are you?” Yes, yes I am, I thought. I’m allergic and I hate everything about the little satanic minions with whiskers.

But I didn’t say that. Not wanting to seem weak during my first internship interview, I told him that I was not terribly allergic to the two furballs nestling at the crotch of my Dockers.

Slowly, I could feel my throat begin to close. This was it; I was going to die right here on my first interview ever.

Before I actually passed out, Mr. M shooed the cats away and they retreated to the shadows where I could only assume they began a roundtable meeting with Satan himself, discussing how they planned to inflict harm on me next. I was pretty lightheaded at this point, and thankfully, Mr. M took over the conversation.

He told me about the company and turned his computer screen around to show me a list of the clients that he worked with. I recognized Lil’ Mama on the website’s page and immediately the legitimacy of the organization became slightly more real. So what if it was one middle-aged, British man in a one-bedroom apartment with two cats as satanic secretaries? The company represented Lil’ Mama and I’d heard of her and I wanted to make it in the music business so I was totally game.

Mr. M must have thought so too because he began talking to me like I’d already accepted the position. I was a little confused at this point because I thought most interviewers always said the canned line about how they were interviewing a couple more candidates and would get back as soon as possible, but Mr. M wasn’t doing that. He was asking me when I wanted to start and if I had my own laptop because there were obviously no spare computers in this apartment.

I wasn’t really sure what to say, but if he was offering me the position, I definitely wasn’t going to turn it down. I didn’t think about the cats or the state of office or the fact that I had no real idea what I’d be doing—I just said yes.

“Great!” Mr. M said, getting up from his chair. “I’ll see you next week.”

He extended his hand and I shook it. I got up from my chair and walked out of the apartment and waited for the elevator. My crotch was still itchy, but I didn’t want to scratch at it, fearing someone in the building would catch me scratching my crotch and tell Mr. M about how his new intern was an unprofessional crotch-scratcher.

I found my way out of the building and stood on the sidewalk, soaking in what had just happened. My watch said it’d only been 20 minutes since I arrived, but it definitely felt like days had passed. I turned the corner and looked for a Duane Reade in the vicinity. I was in need of a big box of Claritin if I was going to be working in this office for the rest of the semester.

Garrett Houghton is a Kansan, writer, and lover of all things deep fried. He currently lives in New York, and has yet to find a corned beef sandwich he did not like. Email him at with tunes, sandwich ideas, anything.

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§ One Response to “Will Work For Free”

  • Funny and wince inducing, Houghton perfectly captures that heightened anxiety of the job interview. Everything is a test, everything is riding on the proper response, like whether or not you’re sensible enough to have brought your own bottle of water! Plus his bio is great.

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