On Thursday, I attended a networking night sponsored by my college.
Don’t go yet. It gets worse.
I had attended these things in the past because, as a young and gainfully employed alum, I thought it was a nice way to give back. This time, however, it was a purely selfish endeavor. Among those countless resolutions I have is to find a new job. I figured this was the perfect opportunity to make some connections. I decided I would bite the bullet and spend two hours putting my best phony foot forward.
Unfortunately, I forgot two very important things. One, nobody from my school works in the fields I’m interested in. Two, even if there had been alumni from my industry, nobody’s hiring. One older alum I spoke to briefly said she actually felt bad being there, talking to students when she clearly had nothing but cliches of encouragement and a friendly smile to offer them. It felt mean, like she was teasing them. “Well, I’d be happy to pass your resume on to someone in my department. Psych! Oh, I got you good, didn’t I?”
The event was at one of those mysterious university clubs, in a giant musty room that once upon a time was probably a library or smoking room for some monocled blue-bloods. I arrived on the earlier side, but there was already quite a crowd. I didn’t know anyone there, so I circled the modest spread of unidentifiable finger sandwiches, overripe fruit, and carefully arranged legions of cheese, sliced scalene style. Clearly, there was a Healthy Choice microwavable dinner in my future. Also, not a drop of booze in the building. Come on, people! Everyone is here to do one of two things: blatant grovelling or shameless self-aggrandizing. How, I ask, do you accomplish either without a little liquid fortification? If you want this engine firing on all four cylinders, Mr. Alumni Association President, you gotta grease the gears!
While I stood in the corner, trying to transubstantiate my Canada Dry into a Heineken, more alumni from my age bracket began to arrive. I started seeing some familiar faces in the crowd. The only thing worse than being alone in a room surrounded by people that you don’t know is being alone in a room surrounded by people that you do know but don’t like. Soon, I was awash in a sea of Under Fives. Under Fives are the people you know who you can only talk to for under five minutes. Any longer and you’re looking for the fire escape.
The first Under Five I spoke to was one of those people for whom nothing is never not going perfectly. When, as polite gentlemen do, I asked how she had been since I last saw her, I was treated to a breathless laundry list of life-affirming accomplishments. New job, new digs, new ring on her finger, and on and on and on. All of it delievered with a shit-eating grin and the stench of condescension on her breath.
With the shot clock winding down, I ditched Little Miss Perfect and approached another Under Five who I like even less. At least with this one–we’ll call him Red–I knew I could control the conversation. I recently learned that Red had spent a week in job training with a friend of mine from high school. When I asked Red if my friend’s name rang any bells, he drew back as if I had spit in his mouth and said, “Are you really friends with that girl? She wouldn’t shut up. She just kept trying to talk to me the whole time.” “Really?” I replied, “I can’t imagine why.”
It wasn’t long after this that I was trapped with the worst Under Five of all, a gal who we’ll call Triceratops, because I’m fairly sure that’s her most direct ancestor in the fossil record. Triceratops is actually the one person from my school who works in the same field as I do. Triceratops is under the mistaken impression that she and I are in some kind of competition. She’s believed this since we first reunited at one of these clusterfucks two years ago. When a doe-eyed undergrad approached us to inquire about our careers, Triceratops took every opportunity to one-up every answer I gave. Brandishing her brow horns and shaking her mighty head shield from side to side in that ritual display of saurian dominance, she persisted in her attempts to make me look like the lowly incompetent >gasp< assistant while presenting herself as the shining beacon of hope for students not studying finance or engineering. After all, she has her own assistant now. Well, triumph all ye cherubim.
I eventually got tired of this and left the conversation–possibly while the student was asking me a question. By now I was losing my voice, losing my patience, and losing all feeling in my legs because Jason had me do squats that morning. It was while I was reattempting to perform a miracle on a soft drink that I was approached by an older gentleman who turned out to have the asbolute hands-down worst breath I have ever encountered. It was a mix of pickled herring, sour grapes, and Fixodent. I’m telling you, I couldn’t look the man in the face because that would mean putting my nostrils on the same plane as his rotten piehole. I tried to pay attention to what he was saying, but it was difficult; not only because of the stink, but because most of what he was saying made no sense. I held my breath and took a decent look at him and decided something about him was not right. His posture was sloped, it looked like someone had helped him get dressed, and he wasn’t wearing one of the college name tags that everyone was handed at the door. I really think he was just a crazy person who wandered in from a neighboring asylum.
My salvation from Stinky McCrazypants came when I saw an actual friend of mine across the room. I blatantly interrupted his conversation with a student and begged for him to throw a little normal my way. We talked for about ten minutes. I was feeling better by then. Just when I was about to wrap things up and make my exit through this assemblage of toxic humanity, my good friend did the one thing that I think no friend should ever do. He pitched at me.
I understand that this is a networking night; but you should not ever, under any circumstance, sales pitch your business–or worse, yourself–to a friend. It’s just not something you do, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t mix business and pleasure, or the personal and the professional. This would be like having a date end with the other person saying to you, “Listen, tonight was okay. I guess I like getting to know you. But hey, if you ever really want to fuck–and I mean really, really get down–call me.” It’s just not how things should be done.
My faith in humanity shattered once again, I all but ran for the door. I couldn’t taste freedom before someone asked me to join them for the–and I cringe just repeating it–official alumni after-party at a neighboring bar. I threw my coat on, may or may not have made a remark about preferring a communicable disease to spending another minute with these people, and then left.
There was one good thing to come out of this debaucle, though. On Friday, I was never happier to go to work.