Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Year To Dismember

I've never been one to observe or put much stock in artificial demarcations of time, but I just couldn't wait for the lunar year 2006 to pass on like an expiring roman candle. So before old Father Time throws out Baby New Year with last year's bathwater, let us bask in the glow of 2007 as I enumerate the many ways that 2006 sucked for me personally. If it was good for you, then whoop-dee-damn-doo! But since it's my blog, I reserve the right to bring everyone down as I chronicle my ups and downs.

For those masochistic gluttons for punishment who want all the gory details, all they have to do is search through the WardensWorld archives and read uplifting posts like, oh, Maybe I Won't Have To Kill Myself After All, from late March; or Human Downers and Black Hole Sun from May of '06. The names of the posts give you an idea of my tenuous mental state at the time. Surefire crowd-pleasers these.

I started this wildly popular Internet Weblog back in late January of last year, with the post entitled Five months off, which chronicled my unemployment woes, having been laid off/downsized from my managing editor of production position at The Wall Street Transcript in mid-2005. So when I started this blog, I was literally contemplating what would become of me. I had about a month of unemployment insurance to go, no real job prospects, a easily ignorable resume that captured nothing of The Real Me. I was at a precipice, staring down at the abyss, down at the bottom of the valley, stuck knee deep in the proverbial Big Muddy.
I really didn't know what I wanted to do, so I registered with some employment agencies, including Lynne Palmer, the renowned publishing agency, which set up exactly one interview, back in October of '05, with an investment house for a copy editor position. I was actually invited back for two more rounds of interviews, which included an editing and math test, but that was it. I didn't get any more feedback from Lynne Palmer or the company itself, whose name I can't recall right now, otherwise I would also blast them to high holy hell.

I've blocked a lot of the real bad stuff from my mind, the other horrible agencies I flocked to in the misplaced hope they would actually help me in my search for gainful employment. I do recall my four- or five-week stint at the market research outfit on Union Square, nights from 5-11 pm, conducting in-depth seemingly endless surveys over the phone with people who really resented being contacted at home and asked their opinions on political candidates, local hospitals, etc., especially when it came time for me to ask them to give us personal information related to personal income, education, even marital status. It's all there in the archives, as I said, for those who want the minutia.

When that didn't work out, I heard through a friend of a friend that another friend was looking for a shipping clerk for her fledgling office supplies/novelties company. This was late February or so and the position involved standing in her freezing cold garage while I made up orders and boxed them for Federal Express. She agreed to give me a chance and at first I was grateful for the opportunity. Me, with almost 20 years in publishing, who paid my way through college, who won the P.S. 84 spelling bee in 6th grade (thought I'd throw that one in there because who knows when I'll get the chance again) -- me, a shipping clerk. But the truth is, my pre Wall Street Transcript career was filled with physical blue collar jobs, including working in the garment center, roofing, loading trucks nights in a Secaucus, New Jersey warehouse, being a messenger, liquor store clerk, even spent a summer at the South Street Seaport loading fish onto trucks and helping my friend Pete Lavelli on his coffee truck, working from 3 in the morning till 8 or 9am ... so it wasn't like performing meaningless, dispiriting work for a meager wager was totally foreign to me. But I digress...

Somehow it didn't work out at the garage with J., she said I wasn't catching on quickly enough, but I think she just wanted me to finish this huge bulk mailing project involving around 2,000 catalogs and several angry postal workers at the Long Island City branch who literally screamed at me when I showed up without having properly bundled said catalogs. And the irony was that she knew that I was gonna catch hell when I got to the P.O. because she never took the time to explain how to do it even though the postal dudes had warned her multiple times previously. But every time I asked her to explain that or anything else about the job, she would furrow her brow and relate to me that she was running a business here and couldn't stop to elucidate details for me. You know the type? Self-important, the world begins and ends with their fucking business?

At first she was promising how we would be almost partners, the company was gonna really take off, and then it was, you really are overqualified for this menial task, I'm gonna get a college kid or an intern to fill the position. Great, that's what I needed to hear.
I had about a week or two left of checks at that point. And I started the blog right about that time. So one good thing to emerge from that depressing era of my life is WardensWorld, and I am proud to say I've kept it up. I wanted to give myself a year and see where it would lead, and as any blogger will tell you, it's not easy to remain inspired and come up with new stuff. Look at all the blogs that come and go. If I had never gotten the ax from TWST, I doubt I'd have ever started this enterprise.

But again, I digress. I was regularly rifling through the Village Voice and the Sunday New York Times help wanted sections. It was in the Voice where I espied the Columbia Proofreader ad that promised I would be mad with work if only I took the two-day course for a couple hundred bucks I couldn't afford to expend. But I called anyway and the woman speed-talked her way through her pitch, telling me rudely to hold all questions and comments until the end. I wanted to reach through the telephone at one point and rip out her larynx, but other than that I remained civil and tried to appear interested while steadfastly maintaining my silence. Then at the end, this nutcase tells me that I was being rude and couldn't keep my mouth shut and so the instructors would probably have to gag me during the class sessions. She was not joking! And then she laid the whammy on me, telling me I would be hearing from her lawyers for a sexual harassment charge. She hung up the phone on me and my head was spinning. I drew a big X through the ad and then crumpled up the notes I was taking and tossed it in the general direction of the wastebasket.

I also recall flirting with the idea of becoming a professional bartender. Seriously. I thought my recent foray into the foodservice industry could be parlayed into that dream high-tip-generating gig where I could make a couple-hundred bucks once or twice a week; every male has entertained that fantasy, believe me. So I called up a number in an ad I found in the Village Voice for a bartender school, no experience necessary, will train, yada yada yada, left a message, a like a day later I was making an appointment to see Anthony at one of those shabby rundown Midtown office buildings that seems like it has always been there and always will be there giving off creepy vibes. Turns out that there is a class run by professional bartenders on the premises, with the promise of giving you more work than you can handle if you pay the 300-dollar fee and complete the course, but mama didn't raise no fool and so I cursed myself for my delusional fantasies and beat it out of there as soon as the guy finished his sorry-ass pitch.

Then there was the one-day job at Cornell Medical Center I got through another agency, where I was supposed to call doctors' offices pretending me or another family was afflicted with various ailments, maladies and diseases, including cancer, gout, infertility & migraines, and then rate the responders from 1-5 based on apparently quantifiable metrics like courteousness, promptness, professionalism, and then note whether I was put on hold, how long it took to answer the phone, etc. That was another low point, but at least it was a paycheck.

I must have been commiserating with my friend John the fireman when he told me of a girl he knew who lived next to his firehouse on Canal who was a freelancer. He was telling her about my situation when she suggested I call an agency she had dealt with on West 20th Street. So I called up and arranged a meeting. Unfortunately, it didn't go all that well, as I met with a rather sullen, joyless woman named D. who could barely curb her unenthusiasm during our interview. I took the proofreading test that day, however, and she looked it over and said no one does well on this test -- another encouraging personality, I thought to myself -- before informing me that indeed I did score well. But then a few weeks went by and I heard nothing back.
Shortly after this, my friend Tony who owns a catering business must have read about my tribulations on the blog and asked me if I wanted to work as a coat checker at an upcoming party. I said sure, I'm game, having done some catering years and years before. So I showed up that night and nobody got hurt or even seriously injured by my hand and thus little by little began my accidental career as a caterer. I would work, oh, 40 or 50 parties throughout 2006, displaying my overall versatility and resourcefulness to all concerned.

Then it must have been late March when I heard back from the Agency. D. was no longer with the agency and someone else was taking over my account. That someone was K. and she looked over my resume and had some things in mind. Unfortunately, there was an incident where she was unable to contact me for a few days, had the wrong number or something, and I lost out on a possible full-time proofreading gig at V magazine. Shortly thereafter, however, I had my first freelance gig at a downtown advertising agency on Varick Street, S.Communications, and I have never looked back. Well, maybe once, when I thought I saw a speeding wildebeest gaining on me, but that turned out to be a flashback.

But seriously, A. is the best thing that ever happened to me -- except for that time with Maria Herrara after I won the P.S. 84 spelling bee -- because it allowed me to keep at least one foot in the publishing biz. Soon my reputation spread far and wide throughout Publishing Row, and I know can count four clients in my rotation

In between, I accepted and then rejected a position as an audit clerk at a small but posh East Side hotel that entailed working from 11pm to 7am and going over the day's books. I lasted for two days of training back in June before I realized it just wasn't a good match at all, and before all my freelance contacts dried up, I let the manager know I wasn't gonna stick it out. On top of the irregular hours, there was just so much to learn about the computer system at the front desk, and the money wasn't all that great, even if the benefits were top-notch.

Well, the same week I quit the hotel job, or more precisely the week before, I started my proofing gig at Lifetime, and that has been more or less steady ever since. Most weeks I get four days in, although some weeks I worked every day and others only three days. That's another reason I couldn't wait for December to be over: all those short weeks mean even shorter weeks for a freelancer, because they're not gonna need someone on the Friday before a holiday, and then the holidays themselves, well, you're not gonna get paid for those. See Beast, Nature of the...

Wow, this has become a ramblin', often-meanderin' post, but I wanted to go back a little and kind of encapsulate the past before movin' forward. You can get an idea of what I was going through, all because some bitch at the Transcript complained to the boss that I chastised her once or twice for hanging around my department and distracting my desktop publishing operators on the very busy days when we were going to print with an issue. Once she decided to ask everyone in the company whether they were dog or cat people, with a running commentary on what that said about you depending on your response! True story! On my mother's grave, I swear that all I said was, Look, don't you have any work to do -- we're busy here today. That's it. Didn't yell or scream or throw anything. But for whatever reason she had it in for me and probably shed a few phony crocodile tears and all of a sudden I'm the bad guy. All of a sudden I was out of a job I held for 17 years and everyone was too worried about their own sorry asses to stick up for me. That's cool, though, because karma's a bitch.

Also, last month the gals at A. told me they had some good matches for me and were sending out my resume to 3 or 4 spots and by the beginning of the new year they would be hearing back from them. And yesterday I got a call from C. telling me that she heard back from one of them and did I have time to see them this week. The upshot? I have an interview with them today and they're right in the neighborhood here, mere blocks away from LT here on West 49th. In fact, M, my supervisor here, just said next week looks slow here but he expects things to pick up in a few weeks. So he may need me only 2 or 3 days next week. That might be fortuitous as I can use the other days to dive right into the new assignment, should I be officially offered it. M. has always been upfront with me, and so I told him I may have a new client; he said whatever hours I need to work, he can be flexible and I would be able to come in later or earlier, whatever works for me. If all it works out, and I don't wanna get ahead of myself (we know how painful that can be), I can juggle the new gig with LT. Then I will be in demand and my life as a freelancer proofreader will indeed be where I thought it would be as a young boy growing up in idyllic Astoria in the late 1960s.

So to reiterate, I have reason to be optimistic as the new year unfolds. I was almost gonna give up on freelancing if things didn't pick up, because it's hard to make ends meet when there are so many gaps in the work week. Plus it's mentally draining. Furthermore, I haven't heard from S.Comm in a few months, haven't heard from V since the one-day project in November, and I last worked at CB in early November. Thank goodness for LT.
I was feeling down about things one night after work late last week as I slowly trudged to my train station, a combination of the work situation and also the sight of so many bloated tourists clogging the streets, when I saw a bus roll by with a giant poster that I had just worked on. For some reason that buoyed my spirits and made me feel things were gonna be okay. I'm not usually a big believer in corny harbingers or symbolic presentiments, but I'm willing to make an exception in this case.

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