Monday, January 29, 2007


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #12: Outgoing Intern

Somewhere in the midst of having my tender jaw sanded with a power tool, the laughing gas seemed to be wearing off and I alerted the student dentists and the attending by moaning louder than the dental sander. They stopped and when I informed the dentist of my resistance to novocaine, the kind man left the room and returned with a small syringe. "This ought to help," he said, injecting me in the arm with it.

Man, was he ever right. I don't know what was in that shot--could have been heroin for all I was able to determine--but let me say right here and now that it was fucking great. It was to the laughing gas what an atomic bomb was to a hand grenade. I don't even remember the rest of my time in the chair, although they obviously sanded down the spur and stitched me shut, because the next thing I knew, I was handing 40 dollars in cash to the receptionist and stumbled out the door, clutching prescriptions for antibiotics and painkillers, which I was able to fill downstairs at the pharmacy in the student health center.

I was pretty loopy, but not so far gone that I didn't realize I should remain on foot. So I left my car in the lot and, after a swaying moment of appraisal of the campus map, I set off across the grounds, feeling that if I could just maintain a straight line, I could walk all the way over to the dodgy side of town where my apartment sat.

All went well until I stepped off campus and encountered an old man with a long gnarled beard and extremely dirty sweatpants and shoes (he was unencumbered by a shirt of any kind. No doubt he was insulated from the elements by the layers of grime and dried sweat that he had accumulated over the years). He was swaying just as much as I was, staggering across the sidewalk in my general direction. I thought he might pass, but it is a universal law that when one drug-impaired body comes within 50 feet of another drug-impaired body, the two will exert a powerful attraction on one another and ultimately collide. And so the man jostled me as he passed.

"Sca-yoose me, suh!" he cried in an exaggerated Southern accent. "Maht ah impose on yew fuh the loan of a dollaw thutty-seven?"

I will say this about my neighborhood; it had the most charming bums. They had the most impeccable manners, and they never asked for spare change, or a dollar, or five bucks. They always asked for an oddly specific amount, as though they had almost enough money to make a crucial purchase, but had come up short at the last minute and needed to rely on the kindness of their fellow man.

After parting with 40 bucks at the dental ER, a buck and change was about all I had, but in my state, I was an easy mark for this man's gutter charm, so I dug into my pocket and when I came up with the money, I noticed the man was hoofing it in the other direction, fast.

Maybe the policemen behind me had something to do with it.

I don't know how long they had followed me, but these good ol' boys had evidently seen enough of my behavior to inquire after it. And I had to remind myself that I was in a state where public drunkenness could earn you jail time, even if you weren't behind the wheel of a car.

"You all right, sir?" one of them asked me, while his partner walked in a semi-circle behind me. "You have something to drink with lunch, sir?"

I imperiously (well, sort of) stared down at the officer and informed him that I had just come from the university dental clinic and wanted to walk home so I could rest.

"And where's home?" the other officer asked.

"Why, over on the end of 13th Street," I said, and as soon as I gave the street name, the two officers looked at each other as though a certain piece of their private puzzle had clicked into place.

Then I remembered: The crack house. These gomers probably thought I was heading over there to get loaded again.

"Maybe you should come with us," the first officer said, directing me to his car. "And while you're at it, we'll want to see some ID."

I stopped and began fishing around in my wallet for my license--although being out-of-state, it wouldn't confirm my address--when I saw someone across the street, taking in the scene. I was about to give this looky-loo the stink-eye, when I saw who it was.

Her Lovely Self.

"Hi!" I cried, waving and dropping my wallet at the same time. Cards flew and as I bent to pick them up, she walked across the street. "Are you okay?" she asked, looking at the officers as she said it. They asked her a few questions. While they did this, I opened my mouth to show one of the officers the bloody gauze wadding that I thought should prove that I had just received outpatient surgery. Between my display and the obvious level-headedness of Her Lovely Self, in the end the officers decided to leave us alone (but I couldn't help but notice that they drove right by the apartment complex a while later to confirm that that was our eventual destination).

"Wow, you sure are good timing," I slurred as we walked back together. "How come the office isn't with you? That you're not there."

"I had some research to do over at the university library. But what happened to you?" she asked, eyeing me warily. So I told her about my dental odyssey as coherently as I could, which wasn't very. She seemed most horrified at the thought of Dr. Rancher chomping his candy while he tended to me.

"That is the grossest thing I've ever heard," she said, and indeed that image would remain so in her mind until years later, when I would introduce her to the term "ass strep." But that was some time off, far into a future neither one of us would ever have predicted at that moment.

I'd love to tell you we had a special moment, my future wife and I, but all she did was walk me home and then head back to work. That's how it went. We were part of a larger group of interns who were friends mostly because of circumstance. Take away the circumstance, and it was a group of people with whom I had very little in common. For example, Her Lovely Self, like so many of my fellow interns, was going back to campus in the fall to reconnect with her friends (and in her specific case, a boyfriend. Actually, two boyfriends, but that's her story to tell, not mine) and enjoy her last year of college.

Meanwhile, I was facing life in the so-called real world. As this little incident had so amply demonstrated, I had some grown-up issues to begin resolving. For one thing, I had no insurance. For another, I would soon come out of the grace period on my enormous student loan debt and would have to begin paying that in a hurry, on top of the car payment I now had on the car I’d gotten to replace the one I'd wrecked. Which would be quite the neat trick to pull off, since I didn't have a full-time job. These were the sorts of thoughts I had to contend with, beginning pretty much the next morning, after the shot had worn off.

Much as I was enjoying the internship, it was clear I was on borrowed time and needed to get my ass in gear. I had taken this job in gratitude because it meant I had a plan for my future. But really, I'd been kidding myself. All this job had done was buy me a little more time to get a real plan that would help me achieve my dreams. And what had I done towards formulating that plan? Nothing.

But for the rest of that summer, let me tell you, I didn't let the grass grow under my feet anymore. I polished up my resume--now including my vast editorial experience as an intern--and began applying for open jobs as they came up within the company. I had a brief glimmer of hope with that plan. About two weeks before the end of the summer, I applied for an editorial assistant's job at the magazine where Her Lovely Self was interning. I met her boss and must have made a good impression, because he offered me the job.

However, in a stroke of what would come to be a signature example of my bad timing, the company had imposed a hiring freeze between the time I applied for the job and the time it was offered to me. A bit embarrassed, the hiring editor informed that I really was his top pick and he really could use the help, but unfortunately all the company would allow him to do was to extend my internship for another six months. I was a little annoyed about this, although it wasn't the editor's fault. I thanked him nicely but told him I'd prefer to get a full-time job, so I turned him down, not knowing that was the only magazine job offer I would get for the next two years.

So I started sending resumes to magazines on the East Coast and began to make plans for my return home. I didn't leave empty-handed. One of the minor bonanzas the company oversaw was a lively group of regional magazines and newsletters, including one that was sponsored by the Connecticut phone company, and which was sent in the monthly bills of all subscribers. My girlfriend Gretchen--with whom I'd officially had on-again-off-again status all summer--had come to visit me and during that time we resolved to be on again. She invited me to stay at her parents' house in Connecticut (in her brother's room, since he would be off to college).

Her visit also shut the mouth of my roommate Langston. Over the summer he had become annoyed by the fact that I continued to be unruffled by his endless attempts to embarrass me with sexually explicit questions, to the extent that he was now telling anyone who would listen that it was obvious that I wouldn't talk about sexual issues with him because I was impotent. And being impotent, I was too embarrassed to discuss anything of such an intimate nature, lest the truth of my affliction be revealed. As usual, I ignored Langston (although at this point in the summer, I dearly wished to clout him a good one). And then, on Gretchen's first night, I inadvertently got my sweet revenge.

I'm not one to kiss and tell, but at this juncture in the narrative, let me just say that Gretchen could be a bit, um, vocal, when in the throes of passion. This is not me patting myself on the back; it's just a fact. In college this hadn't been terribly noticeable because Gretchen's apartment was in the basement of an old house and was practically soundproof because of the old stone walls of the place. Plus Gretchen had a really nice, really loud stereo. My apartment, however, had paper-thin walls and not one of us had a sound system more powerful than a Walkman. Everyone could hear everyone else.

And absolutely everyone heard Gretchen.

So while I was on the receiving end of some generally good-natured you-go-guy ribbing by my colleagues, Langston became the object of ridicule for having all of his claims about me end up being so, er, vociferously refuted by my girlfriend. It was a sweet moment. In more ways than one.

(Although it would come to bite me in the ass years later, when I was began dating Her Lovely Self. She often threw that incident in my face, and could occasionally be counted on to be retroactively jealous in that way that only girlfriends can be.)

You'll be pleased to know that I completely recovered from my bone spur--those student dentists did a fine job indeed. And I repaid Jim's giving me the day off by working like a madman for remaining weeks of my internship. My stock rose considerably and I soon found myself invited to planning meetings and spending more time with our managing editor, a minor legend among rock critic circles for her groundbreaking work with Rolling Stone in the 1970s. It was during my talks with her that she mentioned a former colleague of hers from those days was now in charge of a master's program in magazines out in the Midwest. I took only polite interest in the information then, not realizing I would be eventually applying to and attending that program.

Andy eventually found his way out of Africa. He got home my last week on the job. He looked seriously sick and underfed and was still in the throes of raging dysentery (for which I had nothing but sympathy, having contracted the same thing myself in Africa). While he spent a long while swearing he'd never travel again, all in all, that trip was a turning point for him. He wrote about his experiences for a travel magazine. They rejected it. But National Geographic didn't. And so began his long career as a travel writer. Pick up most any big travel magazine these days and you're likely to see his byline.

It's a good thing Andy found his niche, because not long after that summer the wunderkind visionary boss who founded the company ended up defaulting on a $100 million line of credit and his two biggest investors ended up taking control of his burgeoning video and broadcast efforts as well as several of the more profitable magazines. The hiring freeze that prevented me from working there full time was never lifted and in fact just a few weeks after that summer ended, the layoffs began. The company's large stable of magazines folded on the average of one a month.

The Connecticut magazine that gave me a freelance assignment was a particularly bittersweet casualty for me. I wrote a story for them about a halfway house for kids from abusive homes and sent it to them in September. A month later, I got two surprises in the mail: a check for $495--my fee for the story (and good money even by today's standards); and a separate letter from the editor telling me the magazine was being cancelled. Their October issue would be the last one. My story had been slated to run in November. So while that moment marks my first official payment as a freelancer, it was a bit of a hollow milestone because I didn't have a clip to show for it. Glad as I was for the money--and I think many writers will understand exactly how I feel when I say this--I would rather have had the clip.

Dotty quit before they could lay her off and ended up writing edgy columns and features for the city's alternative weekly, but last time I saw her name on a masthead, she was at the very top, launching a brand-new magazine devoted to natural and alternative health. I spent several years writing health stories myself and always figured we'd bump into each other one day, but so far it hasn't happened. And if it did, she'd probably still call me "NN." That's if she remembered me at all.

Jim, my boss, the man who hired me, the man who I consider to have given me my start in magazines, quit the same week that Andy came back, my last week on the job. And he was leaving magazines for good. Turns out he dabbled with script-writing in his spare time and had just sold a story idea to the Newhart show, a sitcom that was extremely popular at the time. He had to option to script the story, so he was packing up and heading West, hoping to use this one chance to get into the business. His Newhart episode never aired, but he enjoyed some success as a screenwriter before jumping over to the business side of the television industry. Last I heard, he was an executive VP of programming at one of the major broadcast networks. He never sends me Christmas cards.

My managing editor was laid off when the magazine she edited--yep, the one that was part of the biggest launch in the history of the industry--folded, part of the overall implosion of the company. She was pretty unfazed, though, as she could return to music-writing. She has since produced several highly entertaining biographies of some of the biggest names in the music biz.

Although we all traded addresses, I never kept in touch with the bulk of my fellow interns. Lee went back to California and continued to win friends and influence people. Last I heard, he was designing political flyers and posters for congressional candidates.

Langston went back to school in Connecticut, not far from where I was staying with Gretchen's parents. He threatened to visit me a couple of times, but during my few months there, I always managed to be away on a job interview. Last I heard, he was going to pursue a Master's in creative writing. He also wanted to do a dual major in sex therapy, no doubt so he could be licensed to ask people intimately invasive questions.

You pretty much know my story. I spent the fall in Connecticut, sending out resumes by the bushel, going to job interview for anything remotely related to magazines. While I was waiting I used my amply free time to earn my keep, doing yardwork for Gretchen's parents (and living on Connecticut's Gold Coast as they did, they had quit a bit of yard that needed seeing to) and working for a temp agency that fed me secretarial gigs one or two days a week. I failed to get any kind of magazine job. Heartened by that one $495 check, I did embark on a quest to do lots of freelance, about which I'll tell you when I recount my life as a hack.

While my freelance efforts were just getting started, I managed to distract myself by breaking it off for good with Gretchen, moving back home to my parents' house, and sharing the tiniest of rooms with the biggest of brothers. Eventually, I would apply to that graduate program my managing editor had told me about, I would get accepted and I would make the move west. Eventually, I would get a job at the very same company where Her Lovely Self was working and we would end up spending a lot of time together--like, the rest of our lives.

For a while there, it didn't seem like I was any closer to having a plan in place than I was during those last exciting yet fretful weeks of college, when I was calculating the distance between my current location and my dreams and seeing if I had the strength to leap the gap.

What I didn't realize was that even then, in that summer of 18 years ago, pieces were being slowly, quietly laid into place, components of a bridge that would eventually span that gap and enable me to reach my dreams. It wasn't an easy or speedy process. It was slow and often agonizing. But looking back, I have to say that I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Except for the bone spur. That's one hard knock I could have done without.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Fantastic story (as usual)!

Reading about your experiences really gives me hope that one day I'll get out of this "supply teacher" status and find a permanent job in my field. (Hopefully while avoiding nightmare dentists and crack houses - which I'm sure I couldn't write about quite as eloquently.)
I've so enjoyed this group of entries. Thanks for recounting the memories in the way only you can.
Damn it, MM. Now you've got me itching for #13 and I bet I won't see it for quite some time. Good tale.
Damn it, MM. Now you've got me itching for #13, but I bet I won't see it for quite a while. Good tale.
Damn it, MM. Now you've got me itching for #13, but that's probably not going to be here for quite a while, is it? Good tale.
Well, obviously I enjoyed this story so much, I had to say so three times! Sorry!
Cool Anecdote, MM. I always wondered where you got all of your medical knowledge from...after reading this, I realize that you got it from researching for those medical articles you wrote. That, plus all your personal experience in hospitals.
My teeth have ached in sympathy since you started this story. I think it's fascinating that you know what happened to all those people that you knew for such a short time. Great tale as always!
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