Mon, 28 Dec 2009 20:08:00 +0000

The summer after my sophomore year at NYU, I applied for a job at Domino's Pizza. I enjoyed driving and cooking, so I figured I would be a versatile addition to the pizza industry.

I really needed this job. The only other job I'd ever held was as a math tutor, and I desperately didn't want to go back because I was a horrible math tutor. I would give homework to 10-year-old kids, and they would come back the next day and ask me, "Mr. Alvin, can you grade my homework right now?"

I would look over their work and nod mysteriously.

"Go do your class work,” I’d say. “It will take some time to grade this."

When the kids were distracted, I'd sneak to the back room, take out the answer sheet and check their homework.

I wasn't bad at math; these kids were math freaks. They were doing college-level calculus — without TI-83 calculators — and they expected me to know if they were right or wrong in my head. That part was OK, but when I marked an answer incorrect, they hung on my arm, sometimes drooling, and asked me to work out the problem with them.

Eventually, I skipped this entire process and gave everyone a 100.

I digress.

So I needed this Domino's job. I called up the store, asked for the manager and scheduled an interview. I wasn't sure exactly how to dress for an interview at a pizza chain, so I Googled "how to dress for a service industry interview" and it turns out someone had already asked the question on a message board: "Wear khakis and a blue polo," the guy online said, "unless you're interviewing at Best Buy."

At 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, I drove to the local Domino's wearing a blue polo and khakis. I parked my car. I took a deep breathe. I walked toward the glass double doors. As I pulled open the door, my arms felt weak and unsteady.

In the last few years, I've interviewed at places like the Boston Globe, ESPN and a multi-billion dollar hedge funds company — and Domino's has been the only company that made my physically ill.

When I walked in, the manager was waiting for me. His name was Brian, and he was a 40-some-year-old guy wearing a Domino's visor and a short-sleeved button-up shirt. I feared him. He shook my hand and he asked me to wait next to a woman who had just ordered four large cheese pizzas. A few seconds later, he came back with a sheet of paper.

"This is a short quiz," he told me. "There are no right or wrong answers. We just want to see where you fit with our company."

The test was basically asking me whether I would steal anything, or if I would report if my co-workers stole anything. I specifically remember one question:

If your best friend was working in the kitchen and you saw him eating a pepperoni during work hours, would you:

a) Report him to the manager
b) Tell him he shouldn't be stealing
c) See if he does it again and then report him to the manager
d) Do nothing

I envisioned myself evolving into "one of the guys" at Domino's, but I also knew stealing was, well, wrong — so "d" was out of the question. I also knew it would be bad for morale if all the employees were backstabbing each other, so I figured "a" was out of the question. It was between "c" and "d."

I don't remember what I picked. All I know is that, two weeks later, Brian called me and said, "We've decided to go another direction."

It hurt, probably more than the time I was rejected from my top college choice — on my birthday.

I never did get a job that summer. Boston Market turned me down. Applebee’s had no jobs. And the lady who ran the tutoring company apparently knew I wasn’t grading the students’ math homework, so that was out of the question.

I was bored out of my mind that summer, so I started to write these 800-word stories about whatever was on my mind. It wasn’t a journal as much as a personal column. I spent the summer finding my voice and reading other personal columns, and by summer’s end, I had about 10 of them on my computer.

Soon thereafter, I went back to school and resumed my job at the student newspaper as the features editor. The very first issue that semester, there was a gaping hole on my page and no story to fill it. Before anyone could say anything, I calmly said, “Oh, that’s where my column is going.”

I pulled a recent story I wrote, polished it up and submitted it to the copy desk. It made it onto the page and someone asked me what I was naming my column. I laughed and said “Life of Alvin — but I’ll rename it later.” Guess that never happened.