Thursday, January 18, 2007


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #12: Outgoing Intern

It was late April, 1989, about two weeks before I would graduate from college and a month before I would turn 21. It's hard to explain the mingled sense of excitement and dread I felt during those last few weeks, and I'm just lazy enough of a writer to hope that most of you will reach for a similar cusp-of-fucking-big-change moment in your own lives that will allow you to nod your heads in instant identification.

But I think it's fair to say that for most of April, dread was really winning out over excitement. By then, the only thing confirmed in my life--besides the fact that I was going to be out of school for the first time since I was four years old--was that I had no plan for the future. None. I'm not kidding. Sure, I had my dreams, my goals, but without a plan for achieving them, my dreams and goals were so many baseballs overzealously swatted onto a rooftop, and me with no ladder. Just a bat to beat myself over the head with.

Now, it wasn't for lack of trying that I had no plan. My plan had been, of all things, to stay in school, to pursue a Master's or a Ph.D. In something, although what that something was depended on my mood. I had applied to several schools over the previous winter, some to study English, some to pursue a degree in literature, some to study advanced composition, and some to ply my academic way in the world of creative writing. If you were to ask me why I did this--especially in such a scatter-gun fashion--I'd have been hard-pressed to give you a convincing answer. My life is filled with moments where I've done the right thing for the wrong reason--or sometimes for no reason at all. At some later point, when the tumblers align and something great happens to me, I look back and convince myself that this was actually part of the plan all along, I just hadn't been able to articulate it at the time. But over time, I've come to realize that I have a really good gut about things I need to do, paths I need to take. Either that, or I'm just lucky in the most circuitous possible way.

In either case, my desire to pursue an advanced degree (which I would eventually do, and which would figure largely not just in my industry, but also in my future goal to teach college level full-time. Not any time soon. Not with three kids and a dog to support.) had by that late date in April become somewhat, er, academic. Every single college or university to which I had applied had rejected my application. Never mind that I was hundreds of dollars out of pocket in application fees; I was out of a plan. I had no ladder. Just a bat to beat myself over the head with.

Although I am generally an optimistic fellow, it began to dawn on me that I might need a Plan B back in February, when the first of the rejection letters rolled in early, perhaps even enthusiastically. So I had trotted down to the college placement office and began to search for job openings. Unfortunately at that time, in the magazine industry as elsewhere, there was a bit of a recession going on, and the pool of job openings had become more of a cracked, desert riverbed. Indeed, on the day I went to the placement office, I was stunned to discover there were absolutely NO listings for entry-level full-time positions at any magazines.

And so, on the spot, I conceived of Plan C, which consisted of looking for internships at magazines, or newspapers that had Sunday magazines. Unlike nearly all of my classmates, I had never had a professional internship. At that time my school didn't require it as a condition of graduation. Nevertheless, it was understood that before you graduated, you really ought to have an internship under your belt. Which is why my academic colleagues had largely served theirs during the traditional time--the summer between junior and senior year.

The problem there, which I had learned last year to my open-mouthed dismay, was that many of these internships were unpaid. And not just unpaid, but unpaid and based almost exclusively in New York. And since you worked normal business hours, there was no way for you to get a second job that made ends meet, unless perhaps that second job was prostitution. In truth, most of my classmates came from fairly well-heeled families, well-heeled enough that they were able to spend their summers gaining valuable professional experience thanks to an endowment from the Mommy and Daddy Foundation. That was a practical impossibility for me. My parents were already killing themselves to help put me and my brother through school, at a time when my dad had been in and out of detox and so we had a very modest collective income indeed.

So here I was, late in the season, looking for an internship that

A: Still had an open deadline
B: Accepted applicants who had already graduated (many didn't)
C: Paid some kind of wage
D: Were based in a part of the country where that wage could get me at least a straw-filled mat on the floor of some flophouse
E: Were even tangentially associated with the magazine industry

And to think I had ever chided my roommate for being disorganized or leaving things til the last minute.

As you can imagine, that left me with a pretty short list of likely candidates. And as I walked out of the placement office, I began to think a little more blithely about Plan C. Surely I would get into graduate school. I mean, so what if three schools had roundly rejected me? It was early in the year and I had plenty of time to hear from others.

Just the same, I dashed off a scant application packet to each of the places on my list--each got a jaunty cover letter, an old, fuzzy photocopy of my resume (such as it was), some yellowing clips from the school paper (some even torn off my wall, where I often posted them)--and a few hard-to-read samples of the comic strip I wrote with my roommate.

Looking back, I'm appalled at how cavalier and slap-dash I was about the process, all things considered. You can see I really didn't think Plan C through. In fact, by April, when the last grad-school rejection letter arrived to complete the collection that had grown on my wall (far eclipsing my posted newspaper stories), I had completely forgotten about Plan C.

So you can imagine my surprise a few days later, when I moped back to my apartment on the far edge of campus and discovered a message on our answering machine.

It was a surprise for two reasons. First, my roommate and I almost never got messages anymore. We were overcome with our own cleverness and had taken to leaving really long outgoing messages--once it was a lame, white-guy rap ("You've reached 555-9352/ So here's a little message/ From us to you/ Huh Huh!"); another time we blasted Mission: Impossible music in the background while my roommate left a caper-type message ("The number is 555-9352. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the phone system, leaving behind your name, number, and a message...This tape will beep in five seconds.")--the overall effect of which was that most people would hang up in annoyance before ever leaving a message, unless it was either of our moms calling, or someone to whom we owed money.

But the second reason the message was a surprise was exactly because it wasn't my mother, or a bill collector.

"Hey, MM, this is the Hiring Editor at the Upstart Visionary Media Company Down South where we are in the midst of the biggest magazine launch in the history of the industry. Liked your clips--the comic strips were fun--and thought someone with your attitude and sense of humor might want to come down and work for us this summer. Here's my number before the tape self-destructs..."

You could have knocked me over with considerably less than a bat. All of a sudden, I had a plan.

Of course, there was more to it than that, although I didn't realize it at the time.

See, that was no ordinary message. That was my future calling...


Tangentially related to your post...I have blogged about this before, but the best prank I ever pulled was when I changed my friend's answering machine to say "I'm too drunk to come to the phone right now, but if you leave your name and number, I'll call you back as soon as I sober up!" He didn't notice the change for several months. I think that's my best practical joke ever...and, of course, he wasn't job hunting at the time, or I wouldn't have done it.
Your post both brings back that end-of-college excitement/dread and heightens my awareness of needing some A, B, C plans now.

You should start teaching sooner, then applying for another master's program could be one of my plans. :)
Oh god, don't even get me started on plans. I feel like I'm beating myself with a bat all the time.

You're going to make one hell of a teacher, that's for sure.
I love the way you look at things. A toss of the dice- fate. Good stuff.
Hi MM,

I love the new Masthead look. I also love reading about your adventures in pursuing the writing life, because it gives me hope for my own.

And I can't believe you met JD Salinger.
That was fun reading that old post again. It's always been one of my favorites. You should rewrite all of your early HLS stories as a romantic dramedy screenplay. You have the story and the characters - I mean you have a great story and great characters!
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?