Picasso, Janis Joplin and Kafka in the Job Interview

From “Finding Work When There Are No Jobs.”
Copyright 2010 Roger Wright

Excerpted from Part Seven: Pictures of People Finding Work

In the tightly knit world of the autobody business in Los Angeles, they called Ron “Professor Painter.” Everybody knew him. Respected his skill in the paint booth. Gave him grief about always lecturing somebody on something. Telling stories. Bringing up some obscure fact. When the TV show Cheers was at its height, Ron was often compared to the know it all mailman Cliff Claiban.

Truth told, Ron was just curious. About pretty much everything. His amazing skill as a paint man in the shops had allowed him to make a comfortable living his whole life. He was born to do flawless work. And he did it in LA where the standards were very, very high. But the other advantage of his trade was it allowed long hours of pure thinking time. In the paint boot, Ron’s skill took over while his head circled the universe of all the literature he had read late at night when no one was around, all the music, all the art. Ron had finished high school. And then he’s really started learning.

And then he started learning. Learning was like a giant bag of crispy potato chips to Ron, when he started munching, he just couldn’t stop. And the result of this massive input of fact, fiction and imagination were stories. Some he kept to himself. When he could get someone to listen, he shared them.

But the other thing he did with them is that he used them to help work out whatever problem, whatever challenge he was having. Sometimes he found that if he could just make up a story about a problem, the story itself would bring the solution.

And the fact that body shops were shutting their doors faster than a tricked out 1962 cherry red Corvette Stingray on a desert road when no one was watching was a problem. Even a top tier paint man like Ron couldn’t find work. He’d spend his days going from shop to shop. Ron was a paint man, he was thorough. So he’d hit every shop. And no one said yes.

The Professor was starting to believe that it was true. That there were no jobs.

So he turned to story. And he thought, as he drove on to the next shop, what if 3 of history’s great artists went looking for a corporate job?
Ron had spent some time working for a corporation when he was younger. So he knew a bit about how they worked. In fact he had first discovered that making up stories was a terrific alternative to banging your head against a power point presentation when he worked for a corporation. So Ron had his three artists looking for jobs in corporations.

And as the story unfolded in his head, Ron wondered, “If I can figure out who, among these three, gets work first—maybe I can figure out how I could find work?”

So on that Tuesday morning, driving from one shop to the next, Ron began to say his story out loud,


An aging Picasso opens the door that says Human Resources; and peeks into the office. From behind the desk, a young woman of perhaps 23 stands up and motions for him to sit.
“Thanks for coming in Mr. Picasso. My name is Kristie. Any trouble finding the place?”

Picasso shrugs.

“Alrighty then. I’m going to be asking you a few questions about your background and experience. Then it will be your turn to ask me questions on this new role we’ve just put in place here at United Informers Equity. Then we can talk about next steps. “Okey doke?”

Picasso shrugs.

“So, I understand you are some sort of an artist? Do I have that right?”
Picasso reaches for a piece of paper on her desk. Turns it over and quickly sketches a dove. Pushes it over the desk to Kristie. He has yet to say a word.

“I see.” Kristie stands up and says. “Well, as you can imagine, we have lots and lots of people applying for this job. So we’ll be in touch. I don’t think we need to take any more of your time. Can you find your way out? OK then. Have a great day.”

Picasso shrugs and leaves the room.

One door down, in the next Human Resources Office; Janis Joplin knocks and a young man named Timmy, who is also Kristie’s special friend at work, says; “Why yes Ms. Joplin. Thanks for coming in. Any trouble finding the place?

Janis Joplin coughs. Clears her throat and says, “Got any coffee? Rough night last night.”

Timmy frowns, cocks his head and says, “I am so sorry. Fresh out. But if I may? I understand you are some sort of singer? Is that right? Do you have a resume?”

Janis Joplin shakes her head no. then says, “All I brought is this.” She reaches over, runs her hand along the top of Timmy’s monitor, and a video of her singing “Try, Just a Little Bit Harder” begins to play.

“Well,” says Timmy when the video ends. “That certainly was something. We will certainly let you know if anything comes up. These are hard times you know Ms. Joplin. So we’ll let you know.”

And as Janis Joplin leaves the sterile little office here’s what happens.
The lights blaze on bright in every single Human Resources department.
In every country in the world. No matter what time it is.
No matter what year it is. No matter what century.
And a stoop shouldered brooding young man with a very, very old soul named Franz Kafka coughs as he sits down for the first time inside a giant stone building in a Prague of a much earlier time.

Outside the sign on the building reads “The Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia.”

“Ah Herr Kafka,” says Human Resources Director Getz. So glad you could come in. It says here you are a writer?”

And Kafka replies

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself in his bed transformed into a giant insect.”

Director Getz slaps his palm on the polished oak top of his desk and says,
“Splendid Herr Kafka! You know that just this morning; we had a man go missing. A writer. Who knew we’d need another one! Herr Kafka? You’re hired!”
Ron laughed to himself, remembering how he always loved that line. Aways loved that line about the guy turning into a bug. Then he started thinking, “How come Kafka found work? Why didn’t Janis Joplin or Picasso?

And that was when it hit him It was so simple, that the Professor never saw it. Not till he started playing, making up stories.

Kafka was replacing a missing person.

Ron was going from shop to shop because he knew people. But mostly because he was methodical. Liked to do things in an organized, logical, thorough manner. He was talking about his experience. Even before he found out of the shop had any missing persons.

Ron skipped the next shop. Pulled over into the parking lot of a Carl’s Jr. hamburger joint. And started punching numbers on his cell phone. In an hour, he had contacted 10 shops. Something that would have taken him a day if he had gone to all 10 in person. One of the shops, a nice operation run by an old friend named Lori who used to train shop owners in East L.A. back when they both had corporate jobs, was in panic mode.

Lori’s painter had just stormed out. She had 5 vehicles to get out right now.

Ron told her not to panic. 15 minutes later he was at her shop. And instead of trolling for jobs, Ron had work.

3 Responses to “Picasso, Janis Joplin and Kafka in the Job Interview”

  1. Robin O'Brien Says:

    Ha! I laughed out loud when Picasso sketched the dove.

  2. Dale Says:

    Indeed, yes. Course, you’d think that would leave plenty of real opportunities now . . .

  3. Ted Schneider Says:

    The story makes a lot of sense – look where there is a need, an open spot or vacancy and if you are targeting the right companies and are focused on the skills you posess and can provide them it should be a match or win-win.

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