|Sorry, hon, you can't pay me enough to do that...|
In the course of trying to make a career of doing what one loves, we are often forced into making sacrifices and working odd jobs to make ends meet. Being a writer is no exception. People tend to have the misconception that being an author means you make heaps of money, live in a secluded manse, and hobnob with the intellectual elite. Not so much. If you need convincing, read Robert Brockway's hilarious (and depressingly too real) account of what it's like being a writer. And keep in mind, Brockway is a fairly successfully author. Those of us writers who have yet to find ourselves on a bestsellers list are even worse off.
About five years ago, I left my career in the health & safety industry to become a “real” writer. I was writing before that, of course, but simply didn't have enough time to write as much as I needed. So, I quit my job, picked up a few writing classes to teach part-time, and got to writing like mad. The writing has been good, and the classes fun to teach, but the money hasn't exactly come pouring in, and that's meant taking on whatever jobs I can hustle up—oftentimes jobs a one-armed hooker with no teeth would turn her nose up to. What follows is a sampling of the soul-sucking jobs I've worked over the years. Please share your own shitty jobs in the comments section below. It'll be fun to commiserate together in our collected misery!
Valeting Cars: This is what I'm currently doing for the summer. When I got hired I envisioned parking sweet cars at a high-end hotel—if not Lambos, Ferraris, and Porsches, at least BMWs, Mercedes Benzs, and Lexus, etc. Instead, I'm parking mini-vans and beat up Corollas with 300,000 miles on them at a little inn across from Disneyland. Pay is minimum wage plus tips, which are essentially non-existent. My co-workers are all great, though (and most have college degrees, by the way, which says something about our current economy). Plus, the people watching is fantastic. My co-workers and I have decided, after much observation, that Disneyland should change their slogan from “the happiest place on Earth” to “the fattest place on Earth.” The parade of obese people shuffling in and out of that place is astounding. Fat husbands, fat wives, fat kids, fat grandmas, people so fat they can't walk... (Hint: If you wanna get rich, start a wheelchair/scooter rental company near Disneyland.) The worse part is watching these debilitatingly fat people go into the McDonalds next door and wheel themselves out carrying a BigMac, super-sized fries, a tub of soda, and a milkshake. Go, America!
Delivering Past-due and Foreclosure Notices: This was the most depressing job ever. Sometimes I'd find homes already abandoned, the residents having taken all their possessions and skipped town before the bank could seize everything. Other times I'd find the residents still there and have to look them in the face while giving them their letter. A few of them were angry and yelled at me, but most just looked at me with sad eyes, broken and stripped of all pride. The irony of it all, from my perspective, was that the company that hired me was continually short-changing me and mailing my paycheck late. And mind you, this company's clients were some of the biggest, most well-known banks and home loan lenders in America. I think I speak for all American people when I say to the mortgage lending industry: go fuck yourselves.
Doing Air-exposure Monitoring During the Gulf Oil Spill: Damn, I might have to take back what I said about delivering foreclosure notices—seeing the devastation of the Gulf might have been the most depressing job ever. Read my previous Blog entry here for all the details, and as long as I'm telling off faceless entities: BP, you can go fuck yourself too!
Teaching On-line Classes for the University of Phoenix: This sounds like a good gig, right? Stay at home and teach a class on the computer from the comfort of your own home. That's what I thought, too, then I had to go through several weeks of unpaid teacher training, during which I got a taste of University of Phoenix's on-line learning platform, i.e. inane busy work. Read this article, post a one paragraph response, comment on two of your classmates' responses, then comment on someone's comment on your response. I learned absolutely nothing. Seriously, I could have learned more about teaching by running naked through the reference section at Barnes & Noble and hoping I absorbed knowledge from the books via osmosis. Once I actually started teaching my own classes, it only got worse. For one thing, I didn't actually teach anything. I moderated the discussions as the students read and responded to the canned curriculum. The only thing I did beyond my teacher busy work was break up petty arguments between my students and listen to their excuses for turning work in late. One lady told me her homework was late because she had to go to the doctor on account of her vagina being “busted up” from giving birth to a baby with a real big head. Another woman said her work was late because she had to send her grandpa to jail for molesting her kids. I can only assume these excuses were legitimate because they're way too fucked up to be made up. In any case, between the impersonal nature of the classes, the total lack of real teaching, and the mind-boggling stupidity of most of the students, I simply couldn't take it. I made it through only one term of classes before quitting because I was turning into a raving madman who cursed and yelled at my computer.
Pulling Labor Gigs off of Craigslist: When I'm real hard up for cash, this is where I go (and this happens more often than you might think). I've helped people move, I've hauled random crap into storage units, I've done yard work, house work, and I famously low-balled a quote to cut down a thorny bougainvillaea “bush” that turned out to be the size of a 100-year old oak tree. That little incident left me looking like I'd gotten in a scratch fight with a really pissed off cougar, and after paying to dispose all the green waste at the dump, I only netted only $20 and multiple sessions of first-aid care at the hands of my disapproving girlfriend for my seven hours of grueling work. Most of the time, the people I meet for these gigs are pretty nice. Sometimes not. I had one lady cancel a check on me (and my bank charged me $25, bastards). Another time, a guy was so lonely he tried to either befriend me or lure me into a murderous trap—I'm not sure which. He offered me a beer after delivering some furniture for him, which I accepted, but when he offered a second beer and invited me to look at his “wine cellar” I high-tailed it out of there. Too close to a real life Edgar Allen Poe story for my liking.
Pulling Writing Gigs off of Craigslist: Here's a little lesson you can learn at my expense: writing gigs off of Craigslist are bullshit 99% of the time. Most of them are phishing scams, the rest are people trying to get you to write them something for free. My most infamous incident was with Rev Ed. This looney offered to pay me $1400 to write the screenplay for an animated short. This guy was the nuttiest zealot I've ever had the displeasure of communicating with. The goal of his proposed short film was to somehow glorify and praise Christianity by depicting the holiest figures of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism sodomizing each other and doing naughty things to farm animals. I knew the guy wasn't going to pay me, but I wrote his nonsensical screenplay anyway, just so I could make the crusading hero of his story flamboyantly gay. Rev Ed never picked up on the nature of his hero (Rev Ed wasn't real bright, in case you can't tell), but my hope is one day he'll try to get his movie made, and when someone points out that his fictional Christian prophet is a homosexual he'll be so mortified that he throws himself off a cliff.
Ghost Writing and Copy Writing: These jobs actually aren't all that bad in comparison to the others, but as a public service, I want to make it clear that all my legitimate freelance writing gigs came from referrals and professional networking. Ghost writing and copy writing isn't exactly fun writing, but if you're a shrewd business person and can hustle up some good clients, you can make good money—probably more than you can make from writing poetry, fiction, or essays. But then again, money isn't why most writers write, and that's why more often than not, I'll choose to park cars or do yard work when I need the money.