The woman sitting across the table from me is wearing sunglasses indoors. I’m not sure if it’s a fashion statement or protection from the glare of the brass trim that fills nearly every crevice in Trump Tower. We’re at an open casting call for NBC’s The Apprentice, and Aaron, a young, curly-haired show staffer in a black shirt, is moderating a group interview. Armed with a suit last worn two years ago when I was still an equity analyst, I join the six other would-be Bill Rancics at the table. The discussion: business ethics.
The woman with the sunglasses is named Mischa. I know this because it says so on her clunky gold necklace. She speaks in big, soothing yoga-instructor tones about the problem with business (people acting in their oooown self-interest raaaather than for the goooood of the community). David, an entrepreneur in a yarmulke, squirms, trying to interject a word of dissent.
“Martha Stewart!” cries Aaron, segueing into another question with Oprah-like exuberance. “Do you guys think she was unfairly prosecuted?” I launch into a verbose defense of Martha until Edward, a lanky, seersucker-jacketed man who puts his laundry in the hamper every night because he “likes things in their specific place,” protests that she should be punished—punished! Mischa says that Martha is part of “this insiiiider group of peeeeople,” making “insiders” sound like the Manson family. She argues that CEOs should never talk to one another (ever), and I involuntarily imagine executives cordoned off from each other at Dalton PTA meetings, silent.
Aaron interrogates us about whom we would fire or hire. Everyone likes Thomas, who’s mild-mannered and intelligent. Except Mischa, who says he has a chip on his shoulder. Those who are “fired” accept their fates as if they were divine judgments. No one protests.
“Elizabeth!” says Aaron. My heart stops. “Between Mischa and Lisa, who would you hire?” Lisa, a preppy brunette, hasn’t said anything since I arrived, so I say I don’t have any basis for comparison. “Sometimes you have to make split-second decisions!” Aaron insists. “But I’d never decide based on no information at all,” I argue. “Fair enough,” he sighs.
“Lisa!” Aaron continues, reviving. “Who do you think is the least business-savvy?” Lisa looks nervously around the table and stops at me. “Well, uh, I haven’t heard you say anything.” I find it remarkable that she hasn’t heard me say anything, given my Martha monologue—and my reluctance to fire her—but like the others, I don’t protest.“We’ll let you know in a few weeks,” says Aaron. I’ve argued with the moderator and gotten fired by someone who found my speech so mind-numbingly dull she immediately repressed all memory of it. This does not bode well. As I make my way past cases of Trump-aphernalia, Mischa waves, flashing a camera-friendly grin: “Good luck!”