Sunday, October 11, 2009

Interview for a cold day in ... London

You might know him as the co-owner of a trendy London bowling alley chain, or the man behind a popular Notting Hill club, but he’s more than that to me – he’s the guy who wants a naked personal assistant. And he's hiring.

"First, I want you to understand; it's nothing sexual," he said ten minutes into the interview.

Keeping his eyes fixed on mine, he lowered his head and cocked a brow. I braced for the 'but'.

He was handsome enough to expect to get away with it, dishevelled enough to be non-threatening, and posh enough to reveal his unconventional lifestyle as little more than an egoistic echo of boarding school rebellion. But really, why shouldn't we all get everything we want?

The justification he made easily. Since I'd work primarily from his home office, and since he occasionally prefers to be nude in the privacy of his own home, he'd appreciate an assistant who would be comfortable with that.

Fair enough – I'd found the ad on Gumtree (the UK's answer to Craigslist), and the internet is bound to live up to its reputation now and again.

“Very interesting,” I said, and promptly lost my battle for composure to a smirk that carved clear across my face. While I wasn't quite right for the job, what with my preference for clothing while ironing shirts and drafting letters, I couldn’t wait to retell the story.

But I had this sneaking feeling he’d only just scratched the surface with his peculiarities, so I resisted the urge to run off and regurgitate the story, straightened my face and did what I had to do – waited for the juicy bits.

“Again,” he reiterated, “I want you to understand it’s nothing sexual.” There was another ‘but’ in the air. I could feel it. And I wanted to hear it. And I egged him on because I knew the story would be better for it.

When it came, I began looking for hidden cameras.

The scene was too contrived, too scripted – something was fishy. I’d inadvertently stumbled into a gag for a British reality TV show – something akin to Candid Camera, but with a desperate job-seekers theme – I was sure of it. Timely, I thought, for the credit crunch, if not a bit cruel. The air vents, I suspected, was where they’d most likely be, and I gave them all an I’m-onto-you squint, just in case.

I thought back to the ad. He described himself as the owner of clubs and entertainment venues across London, looking to expand his business to the realms of adult dating, and required a personal assistant to help him stay on top of it all, someone open-minded and willing to dig right in and take care of whatever needed doing.

Spotting three red flags in the text – club owner, adult dating and the much-abused term ‘open-minded’ – my initial questions to him during my phone interview were direct. “What exactly do you expect from a personal assistant?” I asked, drawing ‘exactly’ out as long as I could without suggesting I had a speech impediment. Anything as menial as ironing a shirt before a meeting and helping him bounce ideas around for his business, was his tempered, professional answer.

“So there are no specific skills you’d expect that I might not have?” I asked, satisfied with his response and now wanting to clarify, thinking HTML or catering. He barely stuttered and went on about how the one-on-one nature of the job requires above all that we get along. Agreeing to meet, we scheduled a face-to-face interview in Notting Hill the next day. In hindsight, the stutter was either a blazing scarlet-red flag or a guardian angel intervening on my behalf to choke him.

“And because it’s really, really important to me that you are absolutely comfortable with me being naked,” he went on, “and that you know it’s nothing sexual…”

Brow cocked, dramatic pause engaged, he was about to deliver the payload. This, I knew, would be the biggest ‘but’ yet.

“I need you to demonstrate your comfort by occasionally being naked, as well.” And then he let out a little burp. Seems my guardian angel went deep.

As far as collecting stories goes, I couldn't believe my luck. But I had to think of something to say, settling on, “I get where you’re coming from,” as the groundwork for my own enormous ‘but’.

In a small way, I felt sympathetic to him. He’d been pleasant, up-front and maintained appropriate physical distance throughout the interview. He told me what he wanted, and asked me how I felt about it. It was an extension of the classic secretary fantasy cum affair. The difference being that he incorporates it into the interview process.

I’ve always questioned social norms – which might have something to do with my degree in Cultural Anthropology, or just having lived in liberal Montreal for a decade – and I do consider myself to be open-minded and non-judgemental. Lifestyles that buck convention have never personally offended me, so long as they’re consensual and respect basic human rights. The lines I draw for myself are, however, very clear.

“But, that’s just not something I can do,” I concluded for him, in case he couldn’t already tell from the look on my face. Had he stopped talking then, my opinion of him would have cemented at the extreme end of ‘quirky’. But making the same mistake as billions of his forefathers, he went on to justify his desires.

While he appreciates her naked body, and is very certain she appreciates his, he’s never “f*cked” his current assistant – despite being in an open relationship – because that would ruin the professional dynamic. I think he’s right about that.

And it went downhill from there.

A telecom blessing, his mobile rang and it was time for me to go. Leaving the club, I still expected a production assistant might jump at me with a disclaimer to sign, so I could make my first appearance on low-budget British reality TV. But that didn’t happen.

The only person outside the club on the posh Notting Hill street, was a high-heeled, bleach blonde in her early twenties, wearing a little too much eye make-up – the next interviewee.

Looking her over I thought, "She's about to make herself a lot of money."

All Star bowling alley, originally uploaded by Will Cheyney.

(Note: I got this photo from Flickr, and for the record, the photographer has nothing to do with my story, nor does use of his photo here express any opinion he may hold, whatsoever, about the story or people involved. He's a talented photographer, but is in no way related to the aforementioned events.)


miss. chief said...

wow. seriously? wow.


i'm at a loss for words here.

Kate Savage said...


Someone asked me if I'd started writing fiction on my blog now. That's how weird my life's become.

noelle said...

Just when I think your stories can't get any more bizarrely entertaining... absolutely hilarious!!! Thanks for sticking out the interview to get an even better story out of it.

Kate Savage said...

I have to admit, I never thought THIS would happen, so of course I had to stick around and see it through. One for the team!

wyliekat said...

It would be the fear of random personal smells (theirs or mine) that would really send me screaming for the hills. Do I really want to know what my boss' sweaty nutsack smells like - simply because he dropped a file off on my desk?

UnBob said...

Hey, you answered his ad.

While I wouldn't work naked (furniture, body, computers, paper -- too many things would stick to, slip on, scratch, or otherwise annoy too many other things) I can totally envision an underwear-friendly environment. I recently designed, built, and launched a business website in my boxers.

Mind you, it's nothing sexual. But to demonstrate your comfort with this arrangement...

Jessica said...

Kate, have you ever thought about writing a book (with short stories)? Your post are really fun to read.