This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
Jessica, late 20s
I had just finished grad school and was looking for a job in a market that was already saturated. I’d spent months going on “informational interviews” with people I found in varying levels of willingness to help: many of them fluffed themselves up like a peacock in heat, dangling their contacts and opportunities in front of me but just out of reach; others made promises of people in high places they could connect me to—“oh, you should meet so and so,”—followed by a deafening silence or a noncommittal, “I’m just so busy,” response to my follow-up e-mail; and most just took the coffee or drink I’d offered and were never heard from again.
So I was surprised and hopeful when I woke up one morning to a message on LinkedIn from someone with a business account. “Job,” the subject of the message said. He introduced himself as George, told me that he was retired but still active in my field, and explained that he’d coincidentally come across my profile—I had indicated on LinkedIn that I was a recent grad looking for work—and that he wanted to help me find it.
“Let’s meet and chat,” he said, and we set a date even though I inwardly questioned his motives and readiness given how hard of a time I’d already had tracking down helpful resources. He was in his seventies, I presume, and we met at midday, at a restaurant he suggested. A big part of me hoped that he was a jolly grandfather-type who was just looking to pay it forward. He had a bit of an oily voice but he seemed nice enough, and offered to connect me to a few people—three, to be exact—who could be of help in finding a job. He told me, in conversation, that he is married and that he has a son that’s about my age—“you’re…what…25, 26?” he asked, appraising me.
I met with his contacts—a former associate of the Koch brothers (he made sure to mention that a few times), a diplomacy consultant, and Martin, a big shot lobbyist who’d just started his own firm. The former two were more of the same—big talk and not much else, but the third seemed more determined.
“I just hired this guy for a spot in my firm, but you have an impressive background,” he told me, “and you’re certainly more pleasant to look at than he.”
I smiled politely. I’d been on the scene long enough to know that this was par for the course—that you’d have to grin and bear a certain amount of sexism and misogyny to get ahead in this world—and he continued talking.
“Listen,” he said, “let me do some digging. I’m sure I can find something for you.”
In the meantime, I met with George again and he took me to a business event where he introduced me confidently to a few people. He offered to drive me home afterwards and I stupidly consented. While he drove, he caught a look at my phone and said, “you’re due for an update, aren’t you?” I said I was, and just hadn’t gotten around to it.
“I can write that off as a business expense for my company,” he told me. “I’ll make you some business cards and put you down as a director of something or other.”
“No, really, it’s fine,” I said uncomfortably. “It’s a perfectly fine phone.”
The next day, I heard from Martin, the lobbyist, again. He invited me to breakfast at the Four Seasons, where he showed up wearing track pants and a t-shirt wrapped tightly around his rotund belly. In that morning light, he looked a little sinister, like Danny DeVito’s take on The Penguin.
He ordered himself a coffee and waffles with eggs. I had a bagel with some tea. We talked about work and he name dropped incessantly. I told him I felt a little jaded—that I hadn’t expected to have such a hard time finding something appropriate for work. He dismissed what I’d said and told me about the Porsche he’d driven to the hotel this morning—“I just got it detailed,”—and when the bill came, he told me that the bagel cost $8—”these mornings are nice little luxuries, aren’t they?” I offered to pay and he waved it away.
He said, “In this business, it’s all about who you know. It’s all about relationships. If I wanted to, I could get you a job tomorrow. Now, the question is…” he put the check down next to my hand and brushed it with his, “do I want to?”
I left the second I could, feeling completely humiliated. While I walked to the subway on my way out of the hotel, he sped past me in his Porsche. I never saw him again.
The next day, I opened the front door and sat down on the front steps with a cup of coffee. It was already mid-afternoon and I’d spent all morning crying. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small white package hidden behind our 90-gallon rainwater barrel. On it, a post-it note said, “for you,” with a small winky face scribbled next to it. It was a brand new iPhone.
Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at email@example.com. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.