Interview with Peter: a short story

“James?” A wispy voice informed me that they were ready. As I followed the gray-haired admissions counselor to his office for the fateful interview I tried to mentally prepare myself with a deep breath and a flash-prayer, “Oh Lord, Lord, help me”. Ever since I had heard about this prestigious college I had longed to spend the “best years of my life” here. I had studied hard in high school, taken all the advanced courses offered in my po-dunk town and participated in virtually every extracurricular activity and sport. I had received a 1520 on the SAT and was extremely qualified to be a member of this admittedly prestigious community. As we entered the simple yet awe-inspiring office, furnished with a smooth rich mahogany desk and matching bookshelves, he told me to sit down, and I did. Lowering myself onto the leather seat I glanced around the office for any object that might give me insight into my interviewer. On the desk was a single red pen, a single book and what appeared to be my file. The warm blue walls were covered with inspirational paintings and the bookshelf contained an extremely diverse collection of new and old literature in more languages than I could recognize. I was considerably nervous but couldn’t find a clock to pacify my anxiety. “James, my name is Peter Davidson,” he said as he stretched out his right hand and gave me a hearty handshake. “I’m in charge of admissions here. I’m excited to have you here today. Part of this process includes an interview in which I get a chance to know you and you get a chance to learn more about our little kingdom here. So I’m just gonna ask you some standard questions if that’s all right.” As he mouthed “kingdom” a little smile appeared on the corner of his lips that allowed me to take it in jest. Throughout this monologue Peter’s blue eyes were staring intently into mine, making me somewhat squirmish. “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine” I responded and with a pearly smile I added, “That’s what I came here to do.” “That’s right, of course,” he said as he lifted my file off of his orderly desk. “Well James, having reviewed your résumé, student profile, GPA and standardized test scores it’s evident that you’ve been working hard”, a pompous grin welled up from my soul but I managed to bury it beneath a yawn. He continued, “So there is no problem there, you’re certainly qualified numerically to be admitted anywhere, but as you probably know we don’t conduct our application process by the typical point scale.” As I remembered hearing this said once, my proud heart skipped a beat. Quickly a reassuring confidence came as I thought of all the hours of miserable volunteer work I had put in at the local nursing home. “So, James, tell me about your family.” I’d already had numerous interviews and this question came up regularly, particularly at institutions with a religious heritage. In addition, I had read the latest edition of Getting In, and had laid out articulate yet sufficiently personable answers to each of the interview questions denoted “frequently asked”. So I dove confidently into my spiel. “Well Pete, my father is an accountant and my mother teaches kindergarten. I have a younger sister who loves to play all kinds of sports. She’s a social butterfly and, well, basically all the guys like her.” Peter didn’t smile as I had hoped so I got more serious about winning the good impression. “My parents and I get along great. My dad and I go out to coffee every Tuesday morning and talk about what’s going on in my life. You know, I tell him about girls and friends and school, and he gives me solid advice from his wealth of experience. Ha, ha.” The chuckle was premeditated but didn’t come off as stale. “He loves to remind me that ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. So yeah, we’re pretty close. I’ve been to his office several times just to see what he does and to get a feel for corporate America.” This talk of bonding with my father was connecting better so I milked it. As I went on about the times we had fished together and wrestled and played soccer and the times we had been to the ballpark to see the Mariners play, I could see that Peter’s countenance was warming up. I spoke extensively about the cabinet that we had designed and built ourselves out of the old tree that we had cut down in the backyard. Though Peter was well amused by my stories I had run out of things to say, so I moved on. “My mother and I also get along well.” Peters’ expression remained positive. “I have my most vulnerable talks with her. Of course, she knows how to really make me feel loved and appreciated, which is why she makes such a great teacher. Once in a while I’ll visit her classroom and talk to the kids about growing up. Once in a while we go out to lunch and catch up with each other.” I shifted my weight and lifted my left ankle onto my right knee as I continued. “Basically my mom and I are friends.” I wanted to say more but there really wasn’t anything more that I could say, so a beaming smile would have to suffice for elaboration. The truth was that my mom and I told everyone we got along but only did so because we almost never saw each other. In fact, the lunch dates I’d mentioned were actually just one lunch, which had ended poorly. For mutual convenience we conducted ourselves as if we were chummy. My relationship with my sister was the easiest to describe in a way that made me look good. “And my little sis, she and I are pretty tight.” I let a smirk grow as I went on. Yeah, I know all about who likes her and who she likes, and I know how things are between her and her girlfriends. I know when she’s not getting along with mom, and I know when she’s frustrated with her coaches. A couple of years ago I started coming into her bedroom after she had gone to bed, and sitting at the foot of her bed we would talk. We called it a “date”. Those are really some good times.” Peter didn’t seem quite so interested but I had so many more advantageous things to tell him of this relationship that I continued. “We also go on other dates, like to a movie or out to dinner. It’s pretty funny ‘cause we know that everyone is thinking we are boyfriend-girlfriend, and it’s kinda fun letting them think it. Anyway, Jenn and I are really close, and I thank God for her.” Peter had been looking disinterested for a while and was now attempting to interject, so I let him. “That’s great, James, that you are so well rooted in your roots. It’s always exciting to hear about a young man being integrated in his heritage. Could you tell me a bit more about your family; about your father’s father? This caught me off guard. No one had asked me about my grandparents before, but I was generally quick on my toes and was pleased with what I was able to produce on the moment. “Well, my Grandfather lives in Arizona, but we keep in touch by letter. He really loves building models, especially of WWII planes. He fought in the war and likes to tell me stories about his service in the marines. I have a lot of respect for him.” It seemed that respect for my heritage was a buzz-item so I intended to work it. “He married my grandmother just before he was drafted and sent away for 3 years. They sent letters back and forth every month for that whole time. Yeah, they are really an amazing couple.” Despite my efforts to tickle Peter’s ears he was obviously discontent with my answer. “James, I want to hear how your family ties into the greater Christensen story.” “I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand,” I said in utter bafflement. “Can you trace your father back to the great Father?” Now I was utterly lost. What did my heritage have to do with admissions anyway? Why should it matter whose son I am? Nonetheless I knew I had to appease my interviewer and responded feebly, “Uh---well, I believe I’m of German descent. I think there was some nobility on my mothers’ side, but other than that I’m not sure.” What he meant by “the great Father” I had no idea. “One moment”, Peter said as he opened the manila folder that contained my application. After nothing more but a quick glance upon the first page Peter’s face became quite solemn. “I’m sorry James; I mistakenly assumed that you were a Christensen. I apologize for the misunderstanding and need to have you step outside and find the exit to the left.” “What? I don’t understand. Is the interview over?” His abrupt rudeness produced from me a biting tone. “Yes, James. It is over. I’m sorry we cannot accept you.” “WHAT?!” I almost yelled. “You haven’t even considered me. I’m more qualified than half of your students!” “James, remember, we don’t operate on the generally accepted point scale for admittance,” Peter said calmly. “We only accept the children of alumni.” Now convinced that some legal discrimination was afoot I became much more boisterous. “You can’t be choosing your students based on their heritage alone! I am qualified as an individual! I deserve to be here more than some of the slackers who are Christensens.” “As I just told you James, we do not take into consideration individuals. Only descendants of the great Father are admitted, and all are admitted, regardless of their point value.” “HA!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Well then you can keep to yourself for all I care. With that kind of logic your community is going to hell pretty damn fast, that’s for sure!” “James, I need for you to step outside and exit to the left.” Peter’s words faded off as I stormed out of his office and barged through the black door to the left.

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