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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 did.

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.

Gulp.

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 itself sucks.

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.  Probably.

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 real writer.

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!

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

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 about.

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 me!

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 long.  Perfect.

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 great!

Tomorrow:  Shit!  Everything sucks!

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

10.24.02 - The Writer - Part III:  In Which Pooh Gets Sloshed And Interviews the President

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 Schnapps.  Oy.

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 little better.

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 Begins... Eventually!

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

10.23.02 - The Writer - Part II:  It's A Small World After All

When 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.  Shit.  Shiiiiiiit.

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.

Tomorrow:  The interview!  Hic!

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

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 employee here?"

A:  "I'm a temp."

Q:  "Are you in school?"

A:  "Nope."

Q:  "Looking for permanent work?"

A:  "Not really."

Q:  "What do you do besides temping?"

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 to offer.

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 birthday.

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 writing assignment.

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 lines of:

"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?

More tomorrow!

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

10.18.02 - InBoxed In

If 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 then..."

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 stuff.

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 thing.  Delete.

"RE:  Ooooooh, 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?  Bad temp!

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!"

"Ooooooh," I thought.  "Time to go home."

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

10.17.02 - "I" is for Invoice

Still Another Not My Desk Mystery
(previous NMD Mysteries here and here)

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, Soron Industries

Hm.  Well, now I have the "who" behind the hit.  But what about the "why?"  I read the next line.

Comments:  Hit ordered because he temped for me for six months and never did any work.  That's why.

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," pooch?" 

"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 your pocket."

"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' office.

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."

"Yeah, well..."

"And then again, when you couldn't spot the house number."

"I know, but--"

"And then when you couldn't find the dining room."

"Okay, fine."

"And then you cooked me this dinner."

"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 work."

"Right." I fix him with a gaze. "But before I call the cops, there's one little thing I don't quite get."

He waits.

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?"

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

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 something else.

There's the problem with writing.  Writing something else.  Why the hell am I writing something else?  Why isn't what I wrote yesterday (or last week (or last month)) 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 playing it.  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 Store is 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.

e:mail: temp@notmydesk.com

Last Week on Not My Desk!

Alas, Alack, Alarm
Bag Reel
A Hyena ate my Dingo Baby!
Missed Connections
Prefont-Pain

My Desk Archives

.
Smurf Rescue
Donkey Kong
Space Panic

More VotF

.
Mary Jo Pehl Interview
Kids Page
The Temp Test

Hall of Henchmen

Memos

TempCam
Art Page
Message Board
.
Publishing Progress
NMD On Paper
Chapter One
.

All material 2000 - 2002 by Christopher C. Livingston.

This website is a work of non-fiction.  The events and characters depicted on this website are not fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is totally intended.  Please, someone, sue me.  I'm begging you.  Or daring you.  Whichever works.  Really, it would make a good update or two if you sued me.  C'mon.  Do it.