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My favorite job interviews, during the hellish nightmare that was graduating during the largest economic apocalypse since the Great Depression, were any that took place near the coast. I could stand on the beach for ten or fifteen whole minutes, watching the water lap the sand and marvel at the constant change of the tiny landscape. Soil moved in, soil rushed out, carried by minuscule and easily timed flash floods on a microcosmic scale. Every wave brought with it a new life I could be living right now if only my real life could begin.

For each new life I was a little fuzzy on the details but I knew I had a paycheck, a domicile, some kind of social group, maybe a glass of wine in my hand or a martini, I don’t know. To get there, I needed a job. Any job.

To date, the strangest and most delightful job interview I have attended on the coast was for a junior sensory scientist and it involved a critical aspect of my daily life. You might think I had it in the bag. I mean, I eat all the time. Very common things, too – like fruits and vegetables and okay, at that time in my life, a distressing amount of ice cream, but I was also familiar with the particular range of offensively bright and floral scents favored by both my mother and Bath and Body Works.

A really well trained sensory scientist, one who can taste a sauce and immediately declare all six herbs and nine spices, commands six figures. Easily. The trade off is the years of apprenticeship where you become intimately familiar with the scents and flavors produced artificially the world over. You could work for a perfumery, a flavor company, a beer company – I’m not really sure about that last one. I am not an expert. The only thing I guarantee is that I try hard.

So the interview portion goes well enough that I get to come back and sit through several tests, such as the duo-trio or the ever popular triangle test. At the heart, these tests are about small differences. The step from 0.01 molality sugar solution to 0.025 molality only looks big on paper. Were all my real lives imagined on the beach to come true, the distance between one to the other would only look big on paper.

Would I live inland? Would I live in a studio? Would I have roommates? Would I get a bicycle? Would I like the fog as I loved it in England? Would the gloom hang differently in Southern California, would the blue sky drive me mad as it did a Welshman I once knew, would the agonizing detail of effortlessness demanded by life on the beach turn my sunny days into a relentless slog? Would the difference of a real life beginning be so monumental that I would recognize it when I saw it? Or would it feel like waking up in the morning and going to a place and then going to other places and then going to bed at night – would it feel exactly like it did now?
In a small sterile room so close to a real life I advanced onto the final test, at least on paper. Differences are one small part of the delicate analytical work required by the human body that is highly trained to identify multiple components of scent bouquets.

The last test was identification of samples, not to see if I was trained, but if I could be trained. My ability to try hard had taken me through five years of schooling in my second hardest subject, had gotten me into a grade level higher in my weakest subject (math) than I had any right to be. My sheer ornery work ethic took me through all the math required by my undergraduate before I left high school, even though I had to attend classes at the local community college to complete them all. What I’m saying is that trying hard becomes a very hard habit to break, and it isn’t one you’ll recognize on the cons list until you do what I did.

The first scent was something easy. Cinnamon tickled my nose in a haze of warm lights and hot cocoa and old Christmas ornaments. The second was a floral scent that snuck up on me over and over again. I remembered smelling it in my mother’s vast soap collection, again at my grandmother’s house in her randomly hidden sachets of potpourri, and again in her garden. I could remember tall thin stalks bent over with bud like flowers that tickled my hands as I walked between them. It was nothing more than the simple comfort of lavender.

The third one though. All the questions I asked and they were never going to be the right one. At first I thought I was simply smelling too closely. I saw the interviewer look out the window at the horizon of blue sky and tumultuous blue water that I, too, would enjoy if only I could get this job. A job. One that paid and did not involve scooping ice cream. I tried harder. Was there cardamom? Did I know what cardamom smelled like? Was there maybe pineapple? Or coconut? Something smooth and tropical. The interviewer sighed. I didn’t know an internal candidate had already gotten the offer. I tried harder.

Have you ever tried to identify the scent bouquet that makes up banana? I’ll give you a hint. There isn’t any. It’s called banana.

So I didn’t get that job, either, though not for lack of trying.

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