(This one came before the one I mentioned in the previous post, actually.)
I decided that, since I’m thinking of opening a bookshop one day, I should look for a job in one, so I can see what it’s like. The ads I saw were all asking for younger people so they could pay them less money. Ideally for the bookseller, the employee should be someone who still lives with his parents and doesn’t need to worry about things like bills and rent.
I started looking through the paper. I saw that Compendium, the English bookshop at Syntagma, was looking for someone. I would have loved to work there, even for the small salary he was offering, but during the interview the owner said I was over-qualified and likely to quit after a while.
There was another ad. A publisher/bookseller was looking for “responsible people” from 30 to 45 and was offering 1,200 euros a month. That figure, of course, is ridiculously high for the kind of work he was offering, but who knows — it was worth checking out.
I called the landline number but there was no answer. There was a mobile number given too, and a guy answered it. I told him I was calling about the ad, and he asked me what sort of experience I had in sales.
“None, really,” I said. “But I’ve worked for publishers before.”
“Well, look. That’s not what the ad’s for, but we could use people in the publishing part. How old are you?”
He addressed me in the singular, but in a friendly way that made me feel comfortable and hopeful.
“Thirty-five,” I told him.
He told me he’d call me back in a couple of days about an interview, but when the time came I didn’t hear from him. I decided the best thing to do would be to show him how interested and motivated I am by calling him up and bugging him till he gave me the interview.
When I called back he said:
“I’m just on the computer here, trying to send out a message. Have got it yet?”
Wait a minute, I thought. I haven’t given you my email address.
“I’m trying to send it to your mobile,” he said, as if reading my thoughts.
Eventually the message came through, sent by email. The woman in charge of recruiting personnel, it said, was ill and would not be back till after the weekend. By the way it was worded, I could tell it had been sent out to several people.
The following week I still didn’t hear from them. I wrote to the email address. He told me to email him my CV and he’d get back to me about some writing as well.
But the days went by, and still no interview. I sent him another email. He told me they had just moved office and were waiting for someone to come and fix the lights and hook up the telephones. I told him I’d try to be more patient.
Eventually I got another email, sent to my mobile again, setting a date for a meeting. I had gathered by this time that it would involve a presentation to a group of us. (Not a good sign, of course.)
Their new offices were in one of the seediest parts of Athens (Πλατεία Βάθης). I arrived right on time, as always, and was the first one. The offices were two tiny rooms. In the front room he had a desk with a computer. Beyond that was another room with another desk and a longer table where the meeting would take place. He had set out some ashtrays.
Where was the woman in charge of recruiting personnel? Was this their only office? It seemed to be a one-man business. If there were other branches, why had I not been able to reach them?
I sat down and he gave me some papers to look at while I waited for the others to arrive. In an email I had asked him what kind of company they were, and he had told me they specialised in books that provided counselling for parents, how to raise their kids properly, that sort of stuff. That put me off a bit, but I was still hopeful. Now, I was looking at what seemed to be a script for a presentation, directed at parents. It was filled with statistics about how difficult it is to raise kids today, blah blah blah. However, it was fairly well presented, and I was somewhat interested to hear the rest of it.
He would come in from the smaller front office from time to time and ask me what I thought. I told him it was interesting.
“Of course,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for almost thirty years. Other companies have started doing it, but they don’t have the network we’ve built up.”
He told me that after the meeting I would stay behind and he would tell me about the writing and translation work.
We waited about twenty minutes and it dawned on me — and on him, I could tell — that no one else was coming. Without much enthusiasm, he sat down at the desk and started to explain to me what they did and how they operated.
From the sounds of it, they were a huge company with branches in Germany that provided parents with counsellors, along with magazines and books, summer camps and even classes in night schools for parents, where they could learn about child rearing. I was losing interest quickly, but kept nodding my head. For politeness’ sake, I was just hearing him out.
From what I can remember now, my job would partly involve going to the house of people who had already been approached and had agreed to join, had already seen a counsellor, and getting them to become full members. There was more to the job, but I can’t remember.
At one point during his spiel, he asked me if he could have one of my cigarettes, as he had run out. I said sure.
Then it got weirder. Apparently, members were entitled to discounts at various shops and to some Amway type of place called Clever Club. He showed me catalogues with kitchen appliances and air conditioners.
Air conditioners? Appliances? How the hell did this happen? The ad had been for a bookseller/publisher! As far as I could see, they didn’t even have books. Just a few magazines. I asked about them, and he said they were not available to the general public, only to members.
“And the schools?” I asked. I was wondering why I’d never heard of them. He told me they too were exclusively for members.
I nodded. The situation was ridiculous now, but I wanted some idea of how big this organisation was.
“And how many members are there?”
“Oh, lots,” he said.
“Any other questions?” he asked after I had sat looking at the papers and nodding my head some more.
“What about the writing and the translation?”
“Well, we’ll discuss that some other time. In the course of things.”
I could tell the meeting was over. He told me I knew his email address, if I was interested I could notify him and he’d set up some sort of training. As I was getting ready to leave, he asked for another cigarette and I gave him four or five.