|10.30.02 - The
Writer - Part V: A Profile by Alan Smithee
Once I had submitted my
freelance profile, Wendi wrote me to tell me she had passed it on to their
profile editor, who would proof it, let me know if any rewrites were needed, and
submit it to the client, Cathy, who would let her know if she was happy with
it. Wendi also asked me to submit an invoice so they could pay me. I
Then, I waited.
I've never done this before,
this whole freelance thing, and I guess I was expecting some sort of
thumbs-up/thumbs-down thing from the profile editor. I didn't get
either. I didn't get anything. Which was fine, really, but being as
paranoid as I am, I started worrying after a few weeks had passed and I hadn't
heard word one. Did it suck? Did it suck big time?
A few more weeks passed, and
still nothing. Also, no check. My contract specified payment within
60 days, and when the 60th day had passed without hearing anything or getting my
check, I finally broke down and called the publisher. I asked for Wendi,
and was told Wendi no longer worked there.
Doom! Disaster! Not
only did my profile suck, but they'd fired Wendi since she was the one who had
hired me! Or she had quit in shame! Argh! Yipes! Run!
I wrote Wendi, who had taken a
job elsewhere, and she assured me the profile had been good. I also called
the publisher, asked for the profile editor, and spoke to her for a few
minutes. She assured me that the profile was fine, there had been a few
minor changes from Cathy, nothing huge. Whew. I also talked to
Accounts Payable, who told me my check was due to be sent out the following
week. Also whew. And, the book was being printed up within the next
two weeks. Whoo!
So, there you have it. I
wrote, I wrote well, and I got paid to do it. The End.
At least, that was The End when
I started writing this ridiculously drawn-out story for my website.
Sometimes, though, a story changes while you're writing it, as this one
did. In fact, I was sitting down Thursday evening to write Friday's (which
became Monday's) installment, when UPS came by and delivered my promised two
copies of the Oakland book.
In it was my profile, which I
read. I noticed two very small changes, that's it. I thought it
looked good! The entire book looked great, in fact.
However, I also noticed that my
bio, a little three or four sentence blurb I had written about myself, was
absent. My name, as far as I could tell, and I looked for hours, does not
appear anywhere in the book. My profile is there, but there is no indication
that I am the one who wrote it.
Now. If I had known from
the outset that this was just a write-and-get-paid deal, it wouldn't be a
problem. I'm not attached to the profile I wrote, other than that it is
something that I can use in a portfolio. It's not art, it was just some
work I did. I can deal with that just fine.
But I was promised a bio
in the book. Hell, it was in my contract that I'd receive a
bio. I was expecting my name to be there, I'd told people it would be
there, and the first thing I felt when it wasn't there, was embarrassment.
I feel like a schmuck. After telling my family in friends that I'd appear
in a book as a contributor, now there's no mention of me. So, that in
And I'm pretty pissed
off. It was in my contract, dammit. What the fuck? I did my
part, they didn't do theirs. It's unprofessional. Sure, getting a
buzz on to conduct an interview probably isn't professional, either, but if it
had specified in my contract that I had to remain sober, I would have.
And, I guess I'm depressed
about it. I wanted to see my name in a book, y'know? A real
book. With a cover and everything. I think that would have been
pretty damn cool. I know there will be a next time, but this was my first,
and I wanted it to be perfect.
So. There it ends, for
now, at least. I'm going to call them this week and find out what happened
to my bio. I'm not sure what answer would satisfy me, really, but we'll
see what they say.
I am still incredibly grateful
to Wendi for the chance to write for the book. She was funny and helpful
and great through the whole thing, and I really appreciate her giving me the
opportunity, for trusting me not to screw it up, and for making me feel like a
Thinking about it, I guess
there is a bright side to the missing bio. Sure, something went wrong, as
something always, always, always fucking does with me, but hey!
This time it ain't my fault!
|10.29.02 - The
Writer - Part IV: Hurry Up And Wait
With my woozily-conducted
interview fresh in my mind, I slipped into writing mode. Namely: wait as
long as possible before doing any actual writing.
Hey, this is me we're talking
I'd had every intention of
completing my assignment early. Really! I had a few weeks before it
was due, and although I was working my temp job, I still had evenings and
weekends and time on the bus and, well, time at work, to get some writing
done. Having time to do things isn't the same as doing them, though, I
mean, I've had six months to wash my dishes, and have I? No. Not a
one. Hell, just five minutes ago I stirred my coffee with the handle of a
can opener. My plastic bowl of coffee, that is.
So, I let a week fumble by
before I even listened to the tape of the interview. I took about four
pages of notes, figuring if I could write 400 words per page I'd be set. I
also jotted down blurbs and quotes as best I could, although Cathy's
tense-shifting made that a little tricky.
My notes completed, I waited
another week and a half to actually draft the profile. In fact, I took a
day off work to do just that, thereby losing a day's pay which would ultimately
come out of my freelance check. Oh well! At least I was finally
starting to write! Sorta.
The writing was a bit
tricky. I'm not used to working from notes, I'm used to just making shit
up or writing things down that happen to me, so I worked haltingly for a while,
until I gave up trying to make it sound pretty and concentrated on getting the
simple facts down in some sort of order. When I finally did, I had a word
count of about 900 words, a tad short of my 1,600 word goal. Damn.
I went back to the interview
tape and took some more notes, wrote a little more, and wound up with about
1,100 words. Still way short. Poop. I decided to take a little
break, stretch my legs, get some coffee, and a short six days later I was back
at it again.
Six days later, by the way, was
Sunday, the night before my deadline.
You know, when I found out that
I would be getting paid to write, I thought it would things would change for
me. I thought it would make me responsible. I thought it would
improve my work habits. I thought it would make a real difference in my
life. This wasn't goofy website shit, this was real writing. And
there I was, procrastinating, wasting time, and putting things off until the
last minute, just like I always did. All I could think was: Thank
God! Success hadn't changed me!
I managed to whip the profile
into shape by about 11:00pm Sunday night, and I sent it to my friend Bob, who is
an editor in Chicago, for a look-see. He kindly look-see'd, gave me some
helpful suggestions, and eased my mind by telling me he thought I had done a
good job. My final word count came to 1,587. Close enough!
Still, I was stuck on the
75-100 word quote I needed, due to Cathy's frequent tense-switching. I
knew I could probably tweak a few words here and there in some of the quotes I
had jotted down, but I wanted a real, word-for-word honest-to-goodness,
something-hyphen-something quote. I just couldn't find a good one,
and it was getting late. I listened to the entire interview again, start
to finish, sweating the whole time. Nothing. Crap. I was
boned! If only I hadn't waited so long, I could have called her back or
sent her e-mail or somehow gotten a nice neat clean perfect quote! Damn
But wait. I remembered
something. Something from my drunken haze... yes... yes... after the
interview, Cathy had taken me to another office to show me her awards and
plaques... hadn't I left the tape recorder running? I must have, I was too
potted to have turned it off. Hadn't we talked in there? I played
the tape past the end of the interview, listened to us walking down the hall,
listened to us making chit-chat, listened to myself tell her that I was doing
lots of freelance writing in the Bay Area (um, yeah), and then heard us talking
about her awards and honors. And then she started talking about how hard
she'd worked and the challenges she'd faced to receive those awards... not
speaking specifically, but generally... sort of an overview... sort of a
QUOTABLE overview! I listened, thinking "COME ON, STAY IN THE SAME
TENSE, BABY, YEAH, BRING IT ON HOME!"
And she did! I had my
quote; it was a good one, it was an inspiring one, and it was about 75 words
I submitted my profile, my
lovely quote, and my freelance writer's bio at about 1:00am, the day of the
deadline. Triumph! I had done it! I'd completed my very first
paid writing assignment! I was a writer! A real writer!
Hooray! Everything was
|10.24.02 - The
Writer - Part III: In Which Pooh Gets Sloshed And Interviews the
Taking a seat at the bar, I
ordered a Bud Light and a shot of Peppermint Schnapps. White trashy, sure,
but look where I was. I'd had to wade through knee-deep peanut shells to
reach the barstool. This was a bar where no one shouted "Norm!"
when Norm arrived, because Norm never actually left.
A few things dawned on me as
the bartender poured me a beer. First of all, buying drinks as I was, I
wouldn't be able to afford cab fare back to the train station. Not too
smart, considering it was probably a two mile walk, it was scorchingly hot out,
and I was already pushing the limit on how long I could be away from my temp
desk without being missed. Secondly, I only had about eight minutes until
the interview, so I was going to have to drink fast.
The bartender delivered the
beer and a glass of water, then vanished into the back, possibly to shoot some
rats. I wondered if she'd be back with my shot at some point, and as I
chugged my beer and the clock ticked, I figured I'd have to forgo the hooch
after all. I finished half the beer and took a sip of water, which wasn't
water. It was my shot. It was a huge damn water-glass sized shot of
Well, I was brought up to
always clean my plate, and seeing how there was no plate around, I finished the
shot, downed the rest of the beer, and headed off to interview my subject.
I walked into the lobby of the
security company, introduced myself to the security guard there, and took a seat
to wait. I was apprehensive, still feeling a bit like a fraud, still
worrying about the impending interview. Eventually, the president's
assistant came over and led me back to Cathy's office. She hadn't pointed
at me and screeched like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so I felt a
Cathy sat at her desk, stacks
of folders around her, not a computer, monitor, or keyboard in sight. We
shook hands, I turned on my tape recorder, and realized I was kinda
buzzed. Sure, I'd only had a beer and the one giant shot, but I hadn't had
lunch, breakfast had been a cup of coffee, and dinner the night before had been
some Pringles and a couple dozen cigarettes. I felt comfortable, though,
at ease, and started asking questions about the company and its history.
Cathy worked through the entire
interview, processing paperwork. She talked a lot. I asked my lame,
elementary questions, and she answered them at length. She was
intelligent, funny, interesting, and even inspiring as she talked about the
obstacles she'd had to overcome to own her business and make it flourish.
She spoke of hard work, determination, and beating the odds, and I was moved
nearly to tears. Sure, part of it was that fact that I was kinda loaded
and thus feeling sappy and emotional, but I was honestly impressed with her.
There was however, that other
concern I'd had when we'd talked on the phone. Part of my writing duties,
as specified in my contract, was to provide a 75-100 word quote, for use in a
sidebar. And as I listened to Cathy speaking, the concern returned.
Cathy is from Nicaragua.
As a result, her English is, well, not quite perfect. Don't get me wrong,
she was well-spoken, articulate and, while she did have an accent, she was still
very easy to understand. Her main problem was one of tenses (sort of the
same problem I have with my writing). She'd start in the past tense
("I went to Los Angeles ") switch to the present tense ("and
everything is great") switch back to the past ("so I went to apply for
a job") back to the present ("and so now I get the job") and then
slip into the past modal pluperfect progressive tense ("and I were to have
been the happiest since tomorrow.") So, I found myself leaning
forward when she started saying something seemingly quote-worthy, praying she'd
stick with a tense and save me from having to present a bracket-littered sidebar
quote. Often, she'd get almost all the way through something before her
tenses changed or some other little word-usage problem would crop up.
Still, I was taping everything,
so I relaxed a little and decided I could listen to the interview later and pull
out a usable quote. We finished the interview in
about forty-five minutes, and I spent some time in an adjacent office, looking
over her awards and honors and plaques, noting each of them in case I wanted to
mention them in the article.
I stepped back outside a few
minutes later, feeling good about the interview, except for the blurb part. I felt like I had enough
to run with, and she'd said I should feel free to call her with any follow-up
questions I had. Still tipsy, I started walking towards the train station,
fervently hoping Cathy wouldn't drive to lunch and pass me along the way. Isn't
that the freelance writer who just interviewed me? Why is he walking along
the side of the freeway like a person who isn't a real writer? SCREEEEEE!
(That's an Invasion of the Body Snatchers screech, not her tires
screeching. Although, it could be both, I guess.)
I made it back to work, sober
and sweaty, around 2:30, and sat at my desk for a few minutes, waiting for
someone to ask me just where the hell I'd been for the past three hours.
When no one did, I went to lunch.
Tomorrow: The Writing
|10.23.02 - The
Writer - Part II: It's A Small World After All
I moved to California about five or six years ago, I wasn't exactly sure where I
was going to end up. I had started the cross-country drive from Florida
fully intending Los Angeles to be my final destination, but somewhere along the
way, I decided to come to the San Francisco Bay Area instead. I'd visited
San Francisco a few times as a kid, but really didn't know much about the city
or surrounding area.
My first night in California
was spent in Oakland at a Motel 6 next to the freeway. Oddly enough,
though I eventually settled in Marin County and later moved to Portland, Oregon,
I now live in Alameda, just across the bridge and less than two miles from that
same Motel 6.
The night I arrived, not
knowing any better, so I took an innocent evening stroll in search of someplace
to eat. Wandering the dark, empty streets, I eventually found a little bar
and grill by the water that was still open, a dingy dive named something like
"Cap'n Salty's Seadog Grille And Saggy-Breasted Barfly Pub."
Years later when I was living in the area, I could always spot the Motel 6, but
I could never again find the pub I had eaten in that night.
So. My writing gig.
For phase one, I needed to call the president of the security company, a woman
I'll call "Cathy," to set up an appointment to interview her.
Phase two would be the interview, and phase three would be the actual writing of
the company profile. It was July 22nd when I picked up the phone to
schedule my appointment, and my deadline for submission of the profile was
August 12. I figured that would be plenty of time.
Getting Cathy on the phone
wasn't quite so easy, however. I'd leave a message for her, then she'd
leave one for me, then I'd leave another. A few days passed like
this. I was working a temp job in the meantime, and I didn't want to give
her my work number since I didn't have access to voicemail. The problem
with giving her my cell number was that I had my phone turned off while I was at
work, except during my half-hourly cigarette breaks. Naturally, she'd only
call when I was actually upstairs doing some work.
I finally managed to get her on
the phone and we arranged a time to meet, but I finished the conversation with a
few misgivings. First of all, Cathy wasn't overly talkative on the
phone. She didn't seem at all chatty or eager to talk at length, not
something I'd normally complain about, but this was someone who I was going to
have to interview. I'd interviewed a few people face-to-face in the past,
and as you might guess, it's generally helpful if they do most of the talking.
The profile I was hired to
write, by the way, needed to be 1,600 words long. That's not a whole lot
of words, really (my "Fired"
essay, for example, is about 1,700), but I was trying to keep in mind that all
1,600 words would have to be about a security company. What the hell can
you really say about a security company? "They guard
stuff!" Well, that's three words down. She was paying to have
her profile in this book, so I hoped she'd be a little more generous with her
words in person, but still, I was a little worried.
As for my other concern, I'll
mention it in detail when it comes up later. At the time of the phone
call, it just popped into my mind and then popped back out. Later, though,
as it completely kicked my ass and made me eat dirt, my worries would prove to
be fairly well-founded.
Now that I had my interview
arranged, it was time to dig up what I could about this company and its
president. I'm not much of a researcher, but I wanted to be prepared, and
besides, I could do this research online at my temp job, and therefore get paid
for it. Not a bad deal.
The security company didn't
have a website, unfortunately, but I found tons of stuff about Cathy. She
was very active in the Oakland business community, had won an amazing number of
awards from an amazing number of groups and panels and committees for an amazing
number of different things. I made some notes and started listing some
questions I wanted to ask her. I looked at a few other security company
websites to at least get a feel for what these companies actually did, and how
they did it, and how this sort of thing might be parlayed into 1,600 words.
It hit me the next morning as I
got up. My interview was scheduled for noon, and I hadn't asked for time
off work that day. I ultimately decided not to, mainly because I didn't
want to lose pay for being off the temp job, which would, as I saw it, deduct
from the money I was being paid to write the profile. So, I just went AWOL
for about three hours. I snuck out of the building at about 11:00am, got
as close to the security company as I could by BART train, and grabbed a cab for
the rest of the trip. The cab fare was about seven dollars, and I had
another nine left in my wallet for the return trip. Perfect.
I had my pad of paper. My
pen. My back-up pen. My list of notes and questions. I had my
tape recorder, which I had tested approximately 700 million times the night
before. I was early, by about a half-hour, so I strolled around the area,
enjoying the extra time I had to get incredibly nervous about the whole thing.
Shit. What am I
doing? I can't do this, can I? I'll walk in there and say "Hi,
I'm the writer," and they'll look at me and say, "No, you're just some
tiny twit with a website consisting primarily of toner humor and fart
jokes." I'm not going to be able to do this. Something is going
to go wrong. I'll ask the wrong questions, or lose my notes, or the tape
will get erased, or, most likely, I'll fuck up the writing part.
My stomach was a knot. I
needed to get a grip. I needed to calm down. I needed to
relax. I needed, well, I needed a drink.
Whoever invented booze invented
it for people like me. People who can't function, talk, think, or act like
normal human beings without a nice buzz on. I decided if I had a beer, I'd
relax enough to be talkative, should Cathy turn out to be as uncommunicative as
she was on the phone, and should I need to drag the information out of her a bit
at a time. I'd be at ease, comfortable, something I never am with people,
especially people I need to interview professionally. Just a drink, and
things would be much better. I walked down the block, looking for
somewhere to get a beer. A deli, a restaurant, a bar, or, you know, Cap'n
Salty's Seadog Grille And Saggy-Breasted Barfly Pub.
There it was. After all
this time, I'd found it again. It was my first stop in this fair city,
years ago, and here I was, walking back into it on the cusp of my first real
writing job. It was a sign. An omen. This was meant to
be. It'd be okay. I'd do a good job. It would go
smoothly. Everything was going to be just fine.
Once I had a beer,
anyway. Well, as it turned out, a beer and a shot.
A big shot. Like, a
really, really, big shot.
|10.22.02 - The
Writer - Part I: Secure In Oakland
It's a conversation I've had
hundreds of times. In elevators, hallways, copy rooms, parking lots, and
cubicles, it's the first conversation I have with the people I'm working for and
among. The four questions, and my answers, are like a script, rarely
deviating from the following:
Q: "Are you a new
A: "I'm a
Q: "Are you in
Q: "Looking for
Q: "What do you do
I hate answering them.
The question about school pisses me off, because it seems like they can't
believe I'd be a temp without some special reason behind it. And the
question about permanent work is annoying. Can't they just accept the fact
that I have no ambition? Can't they buy the idea of a guy who will work
for low wages and no benefits? Don't they know I'm an idiot?
As for the last question, I
guess they don't see temping as being particularly fulfilling. There's
gotta be something else. They're right, there is, and I'd love to be able
to say: "I'm also a writer."
Thing is, I don't feel like a
writer, really. I mean, I know I am a writer. I love writing, it's
the only thing I've ever felt I was any good at, it's the only thing I've done
steadily for any amount of time, and it's the only thing I've done without pay
(save for the extremely generous and much-appreciated donations I've received),
without prompting (save for the gentle "UPDATE YOUR FUCKING SITE ALREADY
ASSHOLE" e-mails I get, sometimes even from my own parents, when I don't
produce new content), and without any real reason except that I enjoy it.
I can't sing or play sports or use power tools, I can't paint, draw, sculpt,
dance, kick-box or waterski. I'm too small to be a bodyguard and too large
to be a professional jockey. I don't communicate well enough to deal with
people and I'm too timid to be in charge of people and I'm not charming enough
to con people out of millions of dollars. Writing is the only thing I have
Still, I've always felt that to
consider myself a writer, a real writer, I'd need to be getting paid to
write. Most musicians I meet don't say "I'm a musician," they
say "I'm in a band." I hear "I write poetry" more
often than "I'm a poet." Unconvicted child molesters tell me
"I fondle kids" rather than "I'm a pedophile." So, if
I did tell someone at work about myself, I'd usually say, "I do a little
writing." Part of it is that I don't want to tell coworkers about my
website because, chances are, I've written about them unflatteringly the night
before, but mainly it's that I've always thought boldly proclaiming "I'm a
writer" would have to wait until I was offered a job writing something for
money, which finally, thankfully happened this past July, shortly after my 30th
I received an e-mail from a
woman named Wendi, who was the Editor-In-Chief of a publishing company in
Alabama. According to her e-mail, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce was
sponsoring a coffee table book about Oakland, which would include a section of
corporate profiles. Basically, certain companies in Oakland were paying to
be promoted in this book, and, while the Alabama publisher's writers would
normally interview the companies over the phone, there was one, a security
company, who had asked to meet with their writer face-to-face.
Wendi told me that normally
when they create these coffee table books (which they do for many cities), they
will send a writer out to whatever city they are covering to interview all the
companies that want an in-person meeting. In this case, since there was
just the one, they thought that instead of flying someone out, they'd look for a
local freelancer. Me! Whoo-hoo!
Wendi's e-mail made it clear
that she read and enjoyed my site, that she knew I lived in the San Francisco
Bay Area, and that she was aware I absolutely despised Oakland. So, who
better to write something complimentary about Oakland than myself? Much
like Josh, the reader who was brave enough to hire me to do some bookkeeping and
filing for him, I admired Wendi's choice to look past everything I've said about
being a shiftless slacker, a horrible procrastinator, a thief, a masturbator, a
back-stabber, and a cutter of corners, to offer me my first ever freelance
I was thrilled. Someone
was going to pay me, me, to write something! It would be in a
book. A real book! With a cover and everything! I'd get a bio
in the back, a couple copies of the book, and a check. And I'd be getting
paid to write! Paid for it! Man, I was happy. Nervous, sure,
but incredibly happy.
I called Wendi the next morning
while walking to work, on the noisy, feces-strewn streets of Oakland. Over
the sounds of passing buses and gang warfare, we discussed the project, and I
asked the questions I'd asked my friend Nikki to tell me to ask. I'd
called Nikki in an excited rush, looking for advice on what sort of stuff I
should ask Wendi as to appear professional and not like some inexperienced putz
who'd caught a lucky break. Basically, would I get a signed contract
(yes), would I have to wait for the book to be published before I was paid (no),
and a few other things. At the time, since I was working, I wasn't
concerned about the money at all (this would change), but I was ecstatic about
having something to put in a professional portfolio, as well as to be gaining a
contact in the publishing biz.
On the phone, Wendi was like
her e-mail; pleasant and humorous, and seemingly just as excited to have me
involved as I was to be involved. My professionalism disintegrated fairly
quickly as I thanked her profusely, gushing about how great it was to get a
paying writing job and how much I loved her and wanted to marry her. Hey,
I was happy. It doesn't happen often and I don't know how to deal with
it. I told her I was standing in Oakland that very moment, and we joked
about how much I hated this disgusting, smelly city.
Over the past few months, by
the way, the city of Oakland has been running an ad campaign, aimed at keeping
the streets cleaner of trash and refuse. I say "cleaner" rather
than "clean" to be realistic; I mean, it's Oakland, after all.
I'm not the only one with doubts, either: the ad campaign itself seems
downright pessimistic. One sign I recently saw read something along the
"We understand throwing an
apple core on the sidewalk... but a sofa? Keep Oakland Clean!"
Hm. Well. This, to
me, doesn't seem particularly ambitious. It seems to be saying, basically,
we know you're a bunch of disgusting littering slobs, but try to limit the
refuse you hurl in the gutter to five pounds and under. It's not
"Just say "no" to drugs," it's "Just try to think about
saying "maybe not" to drugs, if you feel like it." I expect
to see future signs reading:
"We understand urinating
on the storefronts of local businesses... but in the lobbies?"
"We understand vomiting in
the middle of the street... but shitting?"
"We understand tossing
corpses in the Dumpster... but in the library?"
"We understand drive-by
shootings at elementary schools... but two drive-bys in the same day?"
So, as you can see, I was the
perfect candidate to write something nice about Oakland. In truth, I was
looking forward to having at least one happy memory of the City of Light Assault
Weapons, and hey, what could be more ironic than writing about security in a
city I don't feel safe walking around in?
you're a good temp, a really good one, temping is more than just filling in for
someone who isn't there. It's becoming that person, an exact copy of them,
not just doing their work but being them, knowing what they know and acting how
they would act. No one wants to hear that you're new, that you've just
started, that you don't know where the person you're replacing keeps their forms
or supplies or documents. They want to hear what they'd hear if the
regular employee was actually there. Which is why, when I fill in for
someone, the first thing I do is try to figure out who they are, how they think,
and not just what they do but how and why they do it. I
usually start by poking around on their computer, looking for porn.
Hey, I'm not a really good
temp. You should know that by now.
Your average office worker
doesn't know a lot about covering their tracks, as far as computer use
goes. You can see what websites they've visited, what they've downloaded,
what pictures they've saved to their hard drive, and the best part, read their e-mail.
I've found that hardly anyone I
fill in for uses webmail, like Yahoo! or hotmail; instead, they use their work e-mail to do most of their personal
correspondence. And, while they often delete the mail they receive, few of
them seem to realize that most mail programs save everything they route to the
trash, as well as saving a copy of everything they send. Even better, a
lot of assistants can access the e-mail of their boss, meaning I can too.
Man, there's noting more entertaining than reading a few months worth of
personal e-mail to make the day fly by.
At a recent job, I had been
enjoying some nasty trash-talk between two employees, via e-mail, while also
reading some horribly written pornographic e-mail between the employee's boss
and his apparently much younger boyfriend. A taste:
"And tehn I would go to
the kitchen! And get some oil! And tehn come bask and rubs it on
you! All over! And tehn I woulds climb on you! And rub
you! With teh oil! And Then take off my pants! And
Hot enough for ya?
I was in heaven! Not only
did I have something to do besides work, I had tons of potential blackmail
material. I was a little sad, since the employee would be back at the end
of the day, and I'd have to leave her desk and work at a less entertaining
computer, but it had been fun while it had lasted.
While I was sitting there,
though, reading the incredibly exclamatory porn, a new e-mail came in for the employee I was filling in for. It
was from someone I recognized as having sent some embarrassingly flirtatious
e-mail to this employee before, and I really wanted to read it, especially since
it had a subject line of "Ooooooh, baby." I figured it would be
nice and juicy. Problem was, if I looked at it, it would no longer appear
as "new" mail in the employee's inbox, instead, it would be marked as
"read" and the employee would know I'd been poking through her
I remembered, though, that with
this particular mail program, by forwarding the e-mail, I could read the contents
without actually opening it. I'd done this in the past at a prior job, and
it had always worked. I could forward the mail to myself, then read it,
and it would remain "new" in the employee's inbox. Sweet!
So, I forwarded it to
myself. Turns out, it was just a dumb forwarded internet joke of some
sort, not a personal mash letter, so I was disappointed. Also, it had
been sent not just to the employee I was filling in for, but to approximately
5,678,940 other people, as these things generally are. Lame. I
deleted my copy of it, and went back to poking around.
That's when I saw that it had
been marked as "read" in the employee's inbox after all.
Um. Huh. Damn. Looks like the old forward trick didn't work
anymore. Damn software upgrades! Well, now what should I do?
I decided to simply delete the "Ooooooh, baby" e-mail, figuring the
yutz who had sent it was the type who forwarded every single joke/urban
legend/inspirational religious story/virus warning/remember 9-11 schmutz that came his way, and there was no way
this one would be missed. Click. Deleted.
A few minutes later, another
new e-mail appeared. Subject line: "RE: Ooooooh,
baby." Hm. Well, someone else on the mailing list had
"replied to all," not a particularly shocking occurrence. I
deleted it as well.
New mail. "RE:
Ooooooh, baby." Da hell? Some other putz did the same
baby." Gah! What was with these people? Were they
morons? Delete. "RE: Ooooooh, baby." Dammit!
Delete! Delete! Delete!
The day was coming to an end,
and I knew the employee would be back soon. The replies kept storming in,
and I realized they must actually be discussing the e-mail, mailing-list
style. Shit. What if they kept replying into tomorrow? Or for
the rest of the week? If this employee returned to find a bunch of replies
but no original e-mail, would she know I'd read and deleted the original?
They were coming even faster
now! "RE: Ooooooh, baby." "RE: Ooooooh,
baby." "RE: Ooooooh, baby." "RE: Ooooooh,
baby." I clicked like mad, deleting every one of them, ignoring the
actual work I was supposed to be doing, thinking "Ooooooh, shit, ooooooh,
shit." Finally, they seemed to be slowing down, and by the end of the
day, they had stopped.
The employee showed up a few
minutes later, and I left her desk guiltily. As she sat down, she said
"Oooooh, I've already got new e-mail!"
thought. "Time to go home."
Not My Desk Mystery
You know me. You've seen
me around. You've probably smelled me. You may have even hired me at some point.
I'm a temp. A temp who
solves crimes. Sometimes, however, the crimes... solve me. That's
actually not true at all, but it sounds kinda cool, so I'm going with it.
I guess I should have said: sometimes
the crimes find me, as one did this sultry October afternoon. (Again, not true; it's
October, so it isn't sultry at
all, but it just sounds better). I'm sitting in my office, working on The
Case of the Stuff In The Fridge That Is Probably Too Old To Eat But Possibly
Not, when suddenly, there's a knock at my door. I reflect on the fact that
knocks at the door are always sudden, I mean, how can they not be? What
could you precede a knock with to make it less sudden? I guess you could
announce "I am preparing to knock" before actually knocking.
That might work. Anyway, it doesn't matter, as a sudden (!) kick sends the
door flying open, and a large man dressed all in
black lumbers into the room, brandishing a huge scimitar.
"Is this about the
rent?" I ask. His answer comes in the form of a swing of the blade at
my head, which I nimbly duck under. At least, that's what I'll tell people
later, since the only reason I am able to duck is because my knees give out in
fear. I scramble away, shrieking like a toddler, my hands groping for
something, anything, that I can use as a weapon. Stapler, paper weight,
empty whiskey bottle... anything! Ah, here we go, a TOS-1 220mm Multiple
Rocket Launcher. I turn and blast my attacker into red glop.
Hm. Someone was trying to
kill me. Not unusual in my line of business: I'm a temp, after
all. But who? And why? I go through the remains of the
attacker's clothing. I suspect someone has hired this would-be killer,
and I find proof in an invoice in his wallet. It reads:
For The Services of Killing
Christopher Livingston With a Huge Scimitar: $13,500.00
Paid By: Joe Reynolds,
Hm. Well, now I have the
"who" behind the hit. But what about the "why?"
I read the next line.
ordered because he temped for me for six months and never did any work.
Well. Now I know the who
and the why... um... crap. What kinda mystery is this, anyway? That
leaves the where, the when, and the how. Well, here, just a second ago,
and with a huge scimitar.
I poke a cigarette into my
mouth. This mystery has too many
questions. Answered questions. I don't like it.
Could be a frame job.
Maybe this Joe Reynolds is innocent, just a pawn in this little game of Yahtzee.
I reach for the phone, grinding my cigarette in the ashtray, which is somewhat
foolish since I hadn't actually lit it.
Reynolds answers on the first
ring, and I identify myself. "Oh, hey, Chris. Huh,
I guess the assassin I paid to kill you with a huge scimitar didn't actually kill
you. That sucks."
I slam the phone down. I
know everything about this case, now. Well, that might be enough for some
detectives, but not for this one. There must be more answers to
find. Er, no. Questions to find. I grab my coat, determined to
leave no stone unturned in finding some vital clue that doesn't lead
anywhere. Some evidence that will make this case harder to
understand. That one final puzzle piece that just doesn't fit at
all. It was time to find out the word on the street.
I know him only as "Diamond Dog."
You know how these streetwise sources are... shady and mysterious. And I
needed a little mystery right about now.
"Well, well," I say,
sliding up to him. "If it isn't Diamond Dog. How are the "mines,"
"Excuse me?" he says,
turning to face me.
"Just wondering if you've
dug up any valuable "rocks" lately," I say. "How about it,
Dog? Got any "gems" for me?"
He sighs. "Look, do we
have to go through this every time? My name is Albert."
"Sure, sure, Dog, I
understand. Keeping it on the down-low, I get it."
"Uh, yeah. Anyway, how can
I help you?"
"The same way as always,
D.D. Just tell me what the word on the street is, and maybe this portrait of
Benjamin Franklin," I slip him a folded bill, "will find its way into
"Look, I'll say this
again. This is a Kinko's. I don't know anything about the word on the street. If
you need something copied or bound, I can do that for you, otherwise, I'll need
to help the next customer."
He handed my bill back to
me. "Also, that's George Washington," he adds.
Since Dog wasn't playing fetch, I
left, making a mental note to find more helpful and cryptic sources in the
future. It was clear I had only one option left: to stake out Reynolds'
I sit and wait for hours
outside the building, drinking cheap coffee, eating fast food, letting the trash
pile up around me. Finally, I spot Reynolds. He hops into his SUV
and speeds into traffic, and I follow, losing him in a matter of seconds since
I'm on foot. Well, that's okay. I know where he's going.
Wait. I... I don't know where he's going. I have no
idea! Finally, after searching for hours, I've found a question I don't
know the answer to!
"Where was Mr. Reynolds
going?" someone asks from behind me. I turn and see two employees
leaving the building.
"Oh, he was going home, to
his house at 1517 Canyon Drive," the other employee answers. I leave
while they're discussing the easiest route there.
A few hours later, I confront
Reynolds' in his dining room. "Surprised to see me?" I ask as he
looks up from his dinner.
"Well, no, you me called a
little while ago when you couldn't find the street."
"And then again, when you
couldn't spot the house number."
"I know, but--"
"And then when you
couldn't find the dining room."
"And then you cooked me
"Yes, yes, that's all well
and good. But do you know why I'm here?"
"Yeah, because I tried to
have you killed for being on my payroll for 6 months and not doing any
"Right." I fix him
with a gaze. "But before I call the cops, there's one little thing I don't
I stare him down.
"There's... one little loose end I've got to wrap up."
He waits some more.
I glare at him piercingly.
"There's one little question remaining."
He goes out to a movie, comes
back, and keeps waiting.
I look at him in a way that is
different than the other ways I've looked at him previously. "You,
uh, need any office help this week?"
|10.16.02 - Cleveland!
Are You Ready To Read??
I realized the other day that
writing really sucks. It's a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of
time. It requires the use of both of my hands. I should have chosen
to do something easy. Something really easy. Like music.
Before I hear from a lot of
pissed-off musicians saying how darn hard it is to be all musicy, let me explain my position. As a writer, I sit down
at my desk, and I write something. I stick it online, it is read, hopefully
enjoyed, and then the next day (or week (or month)) I sit down and write
There's the problem with
Writing something else. Why the hell am I writing
something else? Why isn't what I wrote yesterday (or last week (or
good enough to get by on? Why do you people require new stuff? Why
can't you read the same damn thing every day? Huh?
Now, musicians. They sit
down, and write a song. They practice it a lot, with fellow band members,
if they have any. I understand this process takes a lot longer than it
takes me to write something for my website. But then! Then, the
musician lets people listen to the song. If it's a bad song,
people probably won't want to hear it again (except in the case of Billy Joel), but if it's good, people will listen to it
over and over again.
Now, I'm not saying no one
reads the things I write more than once. I've been told by readers that
they've gone back and re-read some of my stuff. My essays, particularly,
get a second look from time to time. Still, it's not the
same. When I hear a song I like, I'm content to listen to it over and over
again, many times, in succession. Sometimes I'll play it for weeks.
I'll learn all the words, the tune, I'll sing it or hum it even when I'm not
And here's where we start getting into the real difference between being a
writer and a musician.
If I like a song a whole
lot, I will pay a shitload of money to go to a crowded place with tons of other
people who also like the song, and listen to the musician or band play the same song,
the one I've listened to over and over again, in addition to a bunch of other
songs. And it's the same song. Same words. Same tune. I
know it by heart. I have it at home. It's NOTHING NEW.
This doesn't happen with
writers like myself. If someone likes something I wrote, they won't read
it over and over again, simply starting from the beginning right after they've
finished, the way people listen to music. No one will learn one of my
essays, word for word, and recite it while they're driving or in the
shower. They won't find themselves mumbling it under their breath, and
going "dum-de-dum-doo" over the words they can't quite remember.
No one will ever get one of my updates stuck in their head and have to
read some other writer's stuff to get it out. I'm lucky if people read my
crap once, and even if they do, well, I just have to crank out some new shit the
next day (or etc (or etc)). What a gyp!
I know there are writers who
have their stuff read over and over again, even memorized, taught in classes,
and what have you. People memorize poems and Shakespeare.
And successful writers, authors, can go places where people will pay them to read
their writing live and in person, word for word, which seems to be the same
thing that musicians do, but it isn't. Reading something you've written
aloud isn't writing, it's reading. The only way it would be
the same as what musicians do is if the writer went and wrote live and in
person. Wrote something he or she had already written. And that
never happens, as far as I know.
So, here's what I
propose. If there's an essay of mine you particularly like, I will sell
you tickets for about $35 each. Using the tickets, you can come to an
auditorium along with hundreds or thousands of other readers, and watch me write, WORD FOR WORD, the SAME EXACT
ESSAY YOU'VE ALREADY READ. I will
not READ IT TO YOU. I'm not a READER. I'm a WRITER, so I'll sit
there, hunched over the desk on stage, writing my essay verbatim, while you
cheer and throw panties and hotel room keys at me. I'll write some other
old essays, too, maybe a few previous updates, a couple sections of my Field
Guide, and jot down the URLs of a few Diversions. Then, I will get up and
leave, and if you cheer loud enough, I'll come back on stage, sit down, and
write a Vision of the Future or a movie review. Not a new one, mind you,
just one of the ones I've already written.
Sound good? 'Cos it
sounds good to me. I can travel the country, more or less copying my old
essays in front of live audiences everywhere! It's a hell of a lot easier
than coming up with new stuff. And who knows! You might even get to
see me write today's update! Again! And again!
Hi! I should
mention that the NMD
now selling jerseys!
Check 'em out and buy a few dozen. I thought I might also rattle my tip
jar, as I've been
having a lot of trouble locating any sort of temporary employment for the past
month or so. I know I haven't been doing a whole lot to deserve free money
from you fine folks, but just thought I'd ask! If you can spare a buck or
two I'd put it to good use. Thanks a lot! Finally, I've added a new worksafe
page, as I assume you've seen, and I'll try to keep those coming.
Diversions for this
week: Swron! It's like that Tron motorcycle game thing.
Fun! Also, Crab Volleyball, which is a lot like Slime Volleyball
was, but still fun. Finally, a neat game called Yard Invaders.
Fun! I dig it. Links in the left-hand bottom box.
Week on Not My Desk!