work


338.5 Microeconomics
669.143 Scrap metal

I’m still collecting aluminum cans, which are never in short supply on these streets, and taking them to a redemption center for cash. It’s really a firsthand way to see how the economy is tanking. The first time I went there, they gave me about 50 cents a pound. The next time, I got about 40 cents per pound. Today, I gave them 16 pounds and got $4 back.

So I probably made back what it cost cost me to drive down there. On the plus side, the place has, as I have said, some interesting things to look at. There is the aforementioned beer can pyramid. Today, they also had a knight’s helmet sitting there on a folding chair, and other interesting discarded metalworks.

The Kinzie Industrial Corridor is not far from there. Obviously, I’m not the first person to realize the area’s photographic potential, but I plan to put my own spin on it one of these days.

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636.7 Dogs
331.7 Work

My time as a professional dog walker has nearly ended. Two nights ago at around 8:00 p.m., I received a call from a client informing me that his dog has a new collar, and he wanted to make sure I knew how to use it. I calmly told him I was familiar with the model he described before hanging up and throwing the phone across the toom.

I gave my notice today, somewhat warily, as I am not sure how long my book researching gig will last. But then again, who knows how long any job will last? I have said it before, but it bears repeating, the days of cradle-to-grave employment security are gone. We will not see their like ever again. Some of you, perhaps many of you, will say I sound like a broken record, but there is always somone out there who doesn’t know this. What always takes even me by surprise is just how much work it takes to find work, more so now that even the mighty city of Chicago is half a billion dollars in the red.

Regardless of the seriousness of the economic situation, the rules (I would hope) are always the same, and this is something I always mysteriously forget until someone gives me a dope slap: it’s a numbers game. Call, call, call. Network, network, network. Tell everyone you know you’re looking for work. Today, I magically remembered that elusive dictum and began my carpet-bombing campaign. A friend in New York may have something for me. An old boss gave me some tips. Hopefully, some people who have interviewed me recently will call me back to tell me how I did. And maybe, on my 100th call, someone will offer me something I haven’t seen in four years: a real job, with all the trimmings, benefits and paid vacation, retirement and dental. Does anyone remember those things?

And now, if you want to see some really good writing, surf on over to this page. Ya done good, Harvey.

364.164 Vandalism

Some stuff I saw written in the cement today at Damen and Thomas:

Flying cars yes
Cell phones no

Set your goles

Also, the price for scrap aluminum went down last week, from 50 cents per pound to around 40 cents. Doesn’t matter; I still can’t kick this obsession with picking up cans, even if it only nets me about $4 a month.

636.7 Dogs

Shortly after moving to Chicago last month, I took a job with one of the many dogwalking services here in the city. I hate it. I admire the people who can make a living at it, but I’m not one of them. My boss has told me so several times, probably without meaning to. He has said several times he wants me to be more outgoing. I have spent most of my life feeling miserable about not being the kind of person who lights up a room. Only in the past few years have I found books and Web sites that have made me feel that how I am — quiet, shy, introspective, whatever you want to call it — is perfectly normal and acceptable. And now this yutz wants to make me feel bad about it all over again. Tomorrow, when I give my two-weeks’ notice, I’m going to tell him exactly that, in addition to the fact that this job makes absolutely no economic sense.

And I am also doing research on smiling — something I’ve been criticized for not doing often enough. If anyone has told you you need to smile more, I’d like to hear about it. I’ll be posting some excerpts from some of the previous research I’ve seen on this topic. I had to cut it off at 800 hits.

You know you’re not working for a newsgathering organization when:

  • The owner of the company comes around and tells everybody to stop making so many long-distance calls.

Actually, that’s the only warning sign I can think of today. If that’s not enough to make you look for another job, you must be in a coma. I was in a coma.

You know you’re not working for a newsgathering organization when (and this is all purely hypothetical, mind you):

1. You pitch your editor an idea for a column in which you would review products for people who work in industry X. The pitch goes something as follows: “So, the way it works is, companies would send us press releases on their products, and we call up people working in the industry who’ve actually used whatever it is we want to write about, and we just print whatever they say.”

And your editor responds: “What if the companies don’t like what we write?”

2. The company won’t run ads in its newsletters because it says that would compromise the publications’ objectivity.

3. Your editor makes you rewrite a story so that it matches the marketing copy for a new product your company is trying to sell. Your company says the product can do X. Your editor tells you to write a story about doing X. You call three sources and ask them if they think people need to do X. Two say no. One of those two sources knows your company’s reputation (bad), and he says, “People don’t need to do X, and even if they did, your product wouldn’t help them anyway.” A third source says maybe people should do X, but only if doing X won’t cost anything.

You write a story saying what your sources said. You show it to your editor. She gets mad and tells you to call someone else. You don’t have time to do it, but you do it anyway. Your fourth source says people can do X if they want to, but they don’t have to. You think that seems a little closer to what your editor wants to hear, so you run it by her. She gets even more upset.

Finally, you hear from a coworker that another company is working on a product very similar to your company’s product. You think, this may be my ticket out. You call someone at that company and ask her if people need to do X. She says, “My god, yes, it is absolutely essential that people know how to do X.” You add that to your story. Your editor is relieved, but when she does your evaluation, she notes that you sometimes had a hard time coming up with appropriate material.

4. Newsletters have no news.

5. “Editors” have no reporters working under them.

6. Your boss actually says, “There’s no ‘i’ in team.”

331.7 Employment

In late 1997, I had an informational phone interview with Tom Scocca regarding Stuff@Night magazine. This was two months after I married my wife at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Rockville, Md., hopped in my car and drove with her up to Boston, completely disoriented and overwhelmed. I still feel that way. Maybe it was the food we ate at the James Fenimore Cooper rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike. That was our first meal as a married couple.

Scocca worked for the Boston Phoenix at the time I spoke with him. Now he lives in Beijing but still manages to write for The New York Observer. He did not mince words with me about Stuff or the people running it. I got his name from a woman who edited MSN’s now-defunct Washington Sidewalk, for which I contributed club reviews. She worked with Scocca at the Baltimore CityPaper. I got her name, which I can’t remember, from this guy named Chip Py, who lived in the Georgian Towers apartment complex in Silver Spring, Md., when I lived there. He wrote for the Montgomery Journal. He also went to the same junior high as me. I thought he was a jerk as a kid, but when I met him again, he actually seemed like a cool guy. A very cool guy, as a matter of fact.

In March of 1997, I lost my job at a newsletter publisher in Silver Spring, and so I was looking for freelance work. I remember I told Chip Py my hard-luck story, and he said not to worry. One time when he was a kid, he told me, his dad came home and said, “I just lost my job. Don’t worry—I’m gonna write a book.”

I remember once in gym class we had a test on first aid. We had to name the two kinds of shock. The correct answer was “physical and mental.” Somehow, I ended up getting Chip’s copy of the test. We must’ve had to grade each other’s papers. His answer to the first question, “Name the two kinds of shock,” was, “Bad, and not-so-bad.”

I eventually got an interview at Stuff, but blew it after I told the interviewer, some guy named Ahern, or Ahearn, that I hadn’t gone to the clubs I reviewed for Washington Sidewalk before I wrote my articles. If he had let me finish before he threw me out, I would have told him that the Sidewalk editor asked me to review clubs I had already been to, to save money. I tried calling him about a half-dozen times to explain. I got his voicemail and left a message each time, but he never returned my calls. So, that was my first job-hunting experience in Boston.

It didn’t improve much after that. In 1998, I got a nine-month contract job with a state agency to write pollution prevention manuals as part of a toxics use reduction program. I liked that job. In fact, I hoped the state would renew my contract. Instead, the legislature up on Beacon Hill killed the funding for the program at the behest of the chemical lobby, which had little enthusiasm for pollution prevention. My boss said she felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach.

I really did go to all the clubs I reviewed. Hell, I even played at a couple of them.

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