Breakfast at The Cottage: Interview Curveball

The production company building… across the street from the beach

“Hi, is this Matt?” said a woman’s voice. 

“Yes,” I said. 

“This is Karen from Tapestry International Productions. We’d like to bring you in for an interview for the Production Assistant job.” 

Well holy shit. (Notice there are no quotations marks around that statement) I couldn’t contain my excitement. I hung up the phone and ran circles in my apartment room as if I’d won the lottery. I didn’t say holy shit to Karen over the phone. Not that I remember. So after about an hour, I calmed down and made my first ever phone call to Norman. At this point, we had only spoken in-person or through email. 

I dialed. Admittedly, I half-expected it to be a fake number. Again thinking, why would someone so important give me his real number. 

“Hello,” said Norman. 

“Norman.” 

“Oh hi, Matt.”

“I got the interview with the production company. It’s in two days.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “Where is it again?”

“Sea Bright.” 

“That’s not too far.”

“I know, I know. I’m driving to find it tonight.”

He laughed and then paused and I could feel his mood change. “What are you going to ask?” he said. 

I had held a few jobs, as you may remember – production assistant, boxing promoter, spa boy – and I had interviewed for each of them. But I also remember them being fast, one-way, and uneventful. “What do you mean questions?”

Then Norman said something that has stuck with me since – “You’re interviewing each other. They want to know if you are a good fit for them. But you should be asking questions to gauge if you really want to work there.”

“Thanks, Norman. I never thought about that.”

“Of course. I can’t wait to hear about it at breakfast next week. Now get yourself ready.” 

We hung up and I started thinking about my questions. As a Production Assistant, how much coffee would I be fetching? Would I have to pick up any dry-cleaning? How do you take your coffee? It wasn’t the writing job I wanted but it was a first step. I figured they had writers. So I’d bust my ass for a while and try to work my way into the role I wanted. 

Then I got serious. I thought about the only real production experience I had and skipped over my boxing promoting career. 

Between junior and senior year in college, I moved to Orlando, Florida with my sister and brother-in-law because it seemed like a fun idea. The ordeal was fun minus having all of my clothes stolen out of the bed of my truck the night I arrived. I spent the next two months staring at people’s shirts trying to solve the crime. 

First I got a job as a busboy at Outback. But my real goal was to intern at a production company and get school credit. So I opened the yellow pages (remember those?) and thumbed through businesses. One morning – phone book in-hand – I walked into a production company, looked at the receptionist, and said “Do you need an intern?” 

She shook her head as if to say what the hell? and then said, “give me a minute.” I stood there in the lobby wearing the only shirt and pants I owned. Damn thieves. After a few minutes she came back smiling. “Just talked to the owner. You’re in luck. One of the interns no-showed yesterday. You’re here. Welcome. Can you start tomorrow?” 

For the rest of the summer, I went on to help write, edit, and shoot PSAs and commercials for Disney and for the government of Florida – their largest clients. The owner and a handful of employees treated me as an equal. I didn’t get coffee once. And so I figured my interview with Tapestry would focus around this work. 

I prepped for a while, wrote down my questions, and then drove to Sea Bright. The town itself was a narrow stretch of barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Navesink River to the west. One main road ran north and south. A huge seawall protruded from the ground on the ocean side. On the river side, only a block or two of homes fit until you hit the river. You could walk from the river to the ocean in two minutes. I found 3 Church Street, turned around, and went home. 

Two days later I pulled back up. The morning sun revealed the character of the building I hoped to work in. It was an old, all brick firehouse. I still had thirty minutes so I parked and walked into a small diner across the street. It wasn’t The Cottage but it would have to do. 

It was an older place, the walls and floors had been white but were now more yellow. Aqua blue plastic covered the booth seats and counter stools. The counter was a cracked white plastic edged with a gray wood. A man behind the counter approached me. “You’re not from around here,” he said. 

“No. Just stopping by,” I said. “I have an interview across the street, but I’m a bit early.”

“What time?” I can hurry your meal.”

“It’s in thirty minutes,” I said. 

“Wow. I’ll tell you what, you don’t get the job there, you can have one here. Coffee?”

“Sure,” I said.

“You should get some food in you.”

“I’ll take an omelette.”

He cooked behind the counter and I peaked at the skillet, wondering if he used a separate cooktop for the eggs. I ate, paid, and walked across the street to the old firehouse. A young woman greeted me and walked me through the building. Plastic covered everything because it was still under construction. But it still looked like a firehouse inside, except a few desks lined the top floor. Offices had been constructed. And along the back wall, editing suites were set up. A spiral staircase twirled between that top floor and down to a kitchen, a full bathroom, and a garage. The woman walked me outside to a patio and I sat at a metal table. 

After a few minutes by myself another woman came out. “Sorry to keep you,” she said, “I’m Nancy.” We shook hands and sat. Then I handed her a printed resume. I assumed that’s how it worked. “Oh, thanks. I honestly didn’t look ahead of time,” she said. I guess she felt obligated now that I pushed it on her. She glanced down the sparsely filled page. 

“Interesting,” she said and smiled. 

“Yes?”

“Tell me about this boxing promoting. How’d you get into that?” 

You have got to be freaking kidding me.

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