Backhand Stories: The Creative Writing Blog

There’s a copper-toned Queen in New York Harbor who, until recently, happily greeted visitors to the shores of our promised land. She now sits on Ellis Island politely checking green cards and work visas, reminding the huddled masses to wipe their feet on the way in, worried they might stay too long.

One of my roommates, Eimear, arrived in America three weeks ago from Ireland. She didn’t arrive by boat and has yet to visit Lady Liberty. In fact, Eimear isn’t even planning to say long, but would like to work while she’s here.

In order to work in the United Sates, however, non-citizens need three things:

1. Valid identification
2. Work visa
3. United States social security number

Even though she has an appropriate passport and visa, Eimear is having as difficult a time being issued a social security card as many of us will have collecting social security benefits.

This is especially unfortunate because Eimear might have found a job at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, a toy store where children design and construct their own stuffed bears. Build-A-Bear is the salad bar of toy stores, and as soon as she’s issued a social security number, Eimear will begin walking children through their bear buffet in Times Square.

(Times Square is an exciting chaos of light and sound where most tourists take their first bite from the Big Apple. Like the strip in Las Vegas, the French Quarter in New Orleans, and the McDonalds in Montana, Times Square is the social center of our city. Sinatra once sang that “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” The same holds true for a child wanting to build a bear at the Build-A-Bear Workshop in Times Square. Can he/she make one there? Yes. With over 200 locations in malls nationwide, can he/she also make one anywhere? Same answer. Yes.)

After completing all the necessary paperwork, Eimear arrived at the Build-A-Bear Workshop at 10:45, fifteen minutes before her scheduled 11:00 interview. Eimear didn’t realize, however, that you don’t interview to work at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, you audition. This audition is held for a group of twenty candidates andincludes, but is not limited to:

• An oral recitation of the Build-A-Bear pledge, from memory.
• An improvised group presentation entitled: “Build a memory. Build a Bear.”
• A personal testimony covering “my definition of teamwork,” “a time when I touched someone’s life,” and “what makes me special.”
• A 150 question ethics exam meant to evaluate whether or not the potential bear builder might one day qualify for relocation to Santa’s Workshop.

One applicant was so overcome by her own “a time when I touched someone’s life” story that, weeping, she had to be escorted from the room. Perhaps behind closed doors the interviewer told the girl that the Build-A-Bear Workshop would probably be too emotionally demanding an environment for someone with her sensitive temperament.

Or, she might have immediately been named employee of the month.

Eimear wasn’t as fortunate. After the three hour audition / interview, Eimear arrived at our apartment emotionally exhausted.

“How did it go,” I asked.

“I didn’t offer to work for free like the crying girl did, but I think it went quite well.”

“The crying girl? What crying girl?”

“The one who told a story about how she touched someone’s life by shaving her head because her friend went bald. I don’t know. I was fighting a wicked hangover and was having quite a hard time paying attention through her blubbering.”

“You interviewed at a toy store with a hangover?!”

Despite her condition at the interview (and after two subsequent call-backs), Eimear was offered a job at the Build-A-Bear Workshop – and she should have been. Even at her worst, Eimear is magnificent.

Even Eimear, however, doesn’t deny the irony of her own story.

Arriving hung-over at a Build-A-Bear interview is like showing up pregnant for a Snow White audition. The same rules apply.

In a world where image is everything, smile. It’s what’s on the outside that counts.

You can read more of Bryan’s work on his blog,