The worst campus interview I ever had was at Michigan State University, which is located in the sad city of East Lansing, Michigan. I was living in Indiana at the time, and I made an executive decision to drive through a snowstorm (instead of flying through a snowstorm) to get there. Despite leaving as early as I possibly could, I still arrived at the scheduled welcome dinner 45 minutes late, and the search committee was not happy with me. Things went downhill from there.
I made it through the three-day dog and pony show of the campus interview by telling myself that there was a comic book store in East Lansing that I would visit once everything was over. MSU has a strong Visual Arts program, and the university library has the largest collection of zines in the United States. Many comic book stores sell zines created by the local community, and I was excited to see what sort of cool things the store right next to MSU would have.
So after a great deal of misery this awful, harrowing process is finished, and the last lunch has filled me with so much anxiety that I spend a good fifteen minutes crying in the restaurant bathroom after everyone else has left, but finally I can go to the comic book store. I get there, and it turns out to be a small box of a room with stained carpet and fluorescent lighting and a few cheap particleboard bookshelves from Target displaying a depressing collection of the most mass-market graphic novels you can think of, like The Complete Far Side and the first five volumes of Naruto.
Thinking that it’s rude to walk in only to then immediately walk out again, I go to one of the shelves and pretend to look at the titles. I start counting in my head, like, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi,” reasoning that maybe it will be okay to leave after three minutes. I pick up Watchmen or something, and I begin to zone out, replaying some particularly mean thing someone said to me during the interview or some cringeworthy thing I said in response, and then the store clerk comes up to me.
“Do you need any help?” she asks.
“No,” I reply, panicking. “I already have everything in the store.”
She looks at me, and I look at her, and then I suddenly become aware that I smell like I just spent fifteen minutes crying in a restaurant bathroom. I put down the book I’m holding and walk right out the door. I already have everything in the store. I wonder if she still tells people that story sometimes, you know?
Anyway, sometimes I get nervous about the first day of class, but it’s comforting to know that at least it won’t be as awkward as this one exchange I had with a clerk in the comic book store of East Lansing, Michigan.