Monday, March 24, 2008


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #14: Magazine Man--Year Three

(For other stories in the Resume series, go here.)

The summer of 1993 was positively brimming with good things. I had, after no small effort (and not a few near-fatal screw-ups that were my own damn fault) become engaged to Her Lovely Self, with a wedding date set for less than a year away. My career as a freelance writer was taking off in a way it never had before: I had a summer's worth of gear to test for Outside and had furthermore just sold my first story to Men's Health, which was (not coincidentally, I like to think) on the cusp of becoming the magazine phenom of the 1990s.

As positive and forward-looking as these developments were, I have to admit that in the moment they paled beside the pure, stark relief I felt at knowing that finally, after two long and scarring years, I had thrown off the yoke of oppression that was my first magazine job: I had been a lowly staff editor for Asset Systems and Security--the infamous ASS Magazine. Only a month earlier, I had kissed ASS goodbye. Alas, I was also saying goodbye to Chicago, a city I had come to love. Only three years earlier, I had arrived here in the middle of the night with 43 cents in my pocket, knowing not a soul and having no place to stay. Now I was leaving with a hard-won knowledge of the city, an abiding fondness for its parks and museums, a lust for Vienna Beef hot dogs smothered with tomatoes, relish and celery salt (not to mention Italian beef sandwiches with extra juice), and a forlorn admiration for the Chicago Cubs (which was not something I developed so much as transferred from my beloved Red Sox for a time). I was departing with more important things too, of course: a fiancee and a Rolodex full of dear friends and valued colleagues. Speaking of whom, Her Lovely Self had decided to come with me on the long drive east, and she wasn't coming alone. Behind us would follow my roommate, Jeff.

I had met Jeff in graduate school and had come to think of him as my doppelganger. And believe me, after the sorts of things that tended to intertwine our lives, you would too. In school we had all the same classes, which led many a casual observer to make side-by-side comparisons and wonder if we were related. Like me, Jeff had red hair (although his was thinning rather a lot more than mine). Like me, Jeff had glasses. Like me at the time, Jeff often sported a red beard. And the similarities didn't end at the cosmetic. Later, Jeff ended up getting a job at the very same company where Her Lovely Self and I worked. About this time, I decided to move out of my apartment on the edge of the city, and get a place a little closer in to Wrigleyville, where HLS lived. Guess who ended up taking over my lease?

It was around this time that I started sharing with people my theory that life was like one big situation comedy put on for the enjoyment of...who knew? Extra-dimensional beings, I guess. There were occasions when my life certainly felt like a series of episodes that built up to random punchlines, and there was no shortage of charming friends and supporting characters in my life who always seemed to have studio-audience applause following them wherever they went. Jeff fit into my scenario rather neatly as well. After all, wasn't there always a point in some long-lived sit-com where the original actor decides to leave the show and the producers, in desperation, hire an actor who looks almost exactly like the original actor, then write him into the show--often even into the same apartment set--but change a few details, such as making him the cousin of the original character? Well, I used to joke, clearly I was being written out of my own show and Jeff was moving in. All I needed to do was leave town for my own spin-off and the scenario would be complete.

And then, about a year later, I got a job offer to work for a trade magazine just outside of Washington, DC. By this time, incidentally, Jeff had moved out of my old apartment and into the apartment I currently occupied. I had decided I needed to really start saving money for an engagement ring, and Jeff was strapped for cash too, so he proposed that we become roommates, which led us to rent a second-floor apartment on Eastwood, not far from Lincoln Square. Six months later, I was leaving yet another apartment for Jeff to take over. And that wasn't all.

In a turn of events that could only happen in my life, my departure from ASS Magazine coincided with a round of layoffs at the company where I had worked. When the cuts were announced, it was determined that people should be removed using a time-honored system: last-come, first-leave. Jeff had been hired only six months earlier, and so his head was one of the first to roll. However, just two days earlier, I had turned in my resignation, and so when Jeff was brought to the human resources office, he was given a choice: He could take his miserly severance pay and seek his fortunes elsewhere, or he could take advantage of a rare opportunity, and move over to ASS where it just so happened his friend (and coworker. And roommate) had just quit. Despite what he knew about my boss (and I had spent many an evening regaling my roommate with the worst of my boss's behavior), Jeff felt anything was better than unemployment, and so he became an ASS man.

As far as I'm concerned, this event all-but-singlehandedly confirmed my sit-com theory of life.

At the rate he was going, no doubt Jeff would have gone on to date and marry Her Lovely Self, had she remained in Chicago. But as soon as she finally agreed to marry me, HLS began sending off resumes to various publishers based in the DC area. My fiancee had spent the previous three years working for an environmental trade magazine, and I felt this experience would put her very much in demand among various trade publishers and news outfits around the Beltway (and I was right. By October, HLS would get a job as a reporter for an environmental news service and would end up covering Capitol Hill--she still keeps as a souvenir her way-cool press pass that granted her access to Congress). Thus, she would be joining me in my, er, spin-off show.

My last day in Chicago, I have to say, was a real event, a very-special-episode kind of day. At the last minute, when I belatedly realized that I could not attach any kind of ball hitch to the back of my Toyota (the better to pull the U-Haul with, my dear), Jeff decided to follow me all the way to Washington. His Ford already had a trailer hitch in the back, and moreover he could drive Her Lovely Self back to Chicago (since she would be staying there another few months, until a job prospect panned out in DC), thus saving her train or plane fare. So, with a great sigh of relief, and a last round of hugs and handshakes with the few friends who had come to see me off, I hung my mountain bike on the rack on the back of my car, trundled Her Lovely Self into the passenger seat and, checking the rear-view to make sure Jeff's white Ford was in formation behind me, headed off to the expressway, beginning the long trip east.

Back then, if you had asked me if I was the kind of guy who planned ahead, I would have said no. When I began my career at ASS, I had been so grateful just to find a paying job in my field that I gave almost no thought to what the next step would be. And by the time I realized I needed a next step, I was already so desperately sick of my job that I was ready to quit and go back to being a temp, or even hauling garbage for my uncle.

Now, I realized, as I began to settle my mind into that contemplative groove that all long-distance drivers find themselves in, I had managed by a great stroke of luck to get a job at a different trade magazine, one that promised to be infinitely more enjoyable than my last job. For one thing, I'd been offered the job on the spot, something that had never happened to me. For another, I already knew the editor. I had freelanced for her for a couple of years and so we were familiar with each other's workstyle. But more than that--and again I was reminded what a sit-com my life really was--the editor was the sister-in-law of a woman I had briefly dated back when I was an intern. No, this wasn't Her Lovely Self, but another woman, someone I'd remained friends with, at least long enough for her to introduce me to her brother's wife. It turned out that I got along with this person WAY better than I got along with the girlfriend, and I was looking forward to working with her.

And yet, I thought, as I finally made it to the expressway and hit the gas, it was time to start thinking about the next step, lest I find myself in the same pickle I was at ASS. I didn't want to be in trade magazines for the rest of my life. Nor did I want to freelance full-time. I wanted a real job at a real consumer magazine. The trade magazine I was going to work for was an association publication, the official magazine of a professional association for young doctors. Much of the content was pretty dry stuff from a layman's perspective--all about taking exams and repaying loans and seeking out the right medical specialty. But there were some fun and interesting sections too: They had a strong news department, in which they covered all manner of health and medical topics. They also had a page devoted to personality profiles, both of young doctors and of well-known men and women from the world of medicine. Finally, their back page was devoted to amazing, amusing and just plain bizarre medical facts, and that was a page I had high hopes for indeed. If I could make that page fun enough, I thought it would be a nice clip, a solid foot in the door when I finally decided to break into consumer magazines. After all, most general-interest consumer magazines had at least one page devoted to health and medical tips for their reader, and a staff editor who specialized in health. And that would be my in-road: I would groom myself to be a health editor, first at this trade magazine, and then at a consumer magazine, like Men's Health.

As I was thinking my long-range thoughts, I was jolted back to the present day by a sea of red lights, which suddenly flashed to life on the road ahead of me. I wasn't quite out of Chicagoland yet, and it was only 9:30 in the morning, barely past morning rush hour. Clearly, some yahoo down the road had tapped on his brakes, causing a cascade reaction among all the cars behind him, and in front of me. Stopped traffic was such a regular feature of my commuting life in Chicago that it is scarcely worth recording here. But this particular instance was worth mentioning for a few reasons:

For starters, I had just accessed the expressway by way of the Addison St. ramp, the selfsame ramp where, nearly three years earlier, I had almost been killed in a spectacular highway accident involving me, my old car, and an enormous Mack truck. It was not lost on me that I had escaped death that night and was now using the same stretch of highway to embark on my new life.

Secondly, while I was plenty used to stop-and-go traffic in Chicago, this particular stoppage was more abrupt than usual. We had all been driving along at a good clip--somewhere above 60 miles an hour--but then somebody up ahead must have really been jumping on their brakes, because all around me, cars were almost screeching to a halt, their rear ends raised up a little higher than normal from the momentum. I myself had to almost stand on the brakes, bringing my car to a hissing (but not quite squealing) stop just behind the BMW that was in front of me.

I had a brief second to catch my breath, and to look over at Her Lovely Self, who had fallen asleep almost as soon as she buckled in. Evidently, my sudden stop hadn't even wakened her.

Thus, and thirdly, before I could congratulate myself on this, I heard another noise. Unlike my tires, which had emitted the barest hissing sound as they came to a stop, this was a loud squealing of brakes, almost exactly like the kind of standard brake-squealing sound you hear on TV. I looked into my rear-view mirror, and there behind me was a white Ford, coming on fast. I could see the driver's features clearly, his red hair (so much like mine) all wild and askew; his mouth in the wide "Oh shit" phrasing position. It was my roommate, my doppelganger, unable to check his momentum, especially since he had several hundred pounds of my crap in a U-Haul trailer behind him, pushing him forward, ever forward.

Thus it was that when he hit the back of my car at at least 40 miles an hour, waking Her Lovely Self with a screech and sending us forward uncontrollably into the traffic in front of us, I had time for one coherent thought:

Wow, I mused, if my life really were a TV show, this would make one HELL of a season-ending cliffhanger…


Season ending, blog ending...
All I can think is that HLS is going to wake up and look groggily over at Bob Newhart...
YAY, an ellipsis! That means we get another blog entry soon. C'mon everybody. And no I end this comment just as I was about to...
edit in a needed "w" and...
ARGH! And the cliffhanger is BACK!

I remember reading about this accident previously, though, so I know everyone survived (including you, of course.)
nice, the ...'s are back!

Thanks MM.
Long time lurker, first time commenter here. So, let me get this straight. In previous entries we learned you were the "Sex Man", now we learn you were the (or an) "ASS man". Oh, nevermind. I can't even bring myself to even put the two together, in reverse order that is. *GRIN* (Sorry, I know I'm new here, but I could NOT help it. I meant it in jest I hope you know.)
Having been to Chicago only once and riding w/my son...ahem. I know of which "the clip" you are speaking...

Holy Moses, the King of Cliff Hangers is back :)
Like anonymous up there, I'll deal with the cliffhanger if it means there'll be another episode. (It meant that, right?)
"... lest I find myself in the same pickle I was at ASS."

There are very few writers who can work both "pickle" and "ASS" into the same sentence and make it work without the least bit of prurience. I've been contending for some time that you are the best writer on the internet and this confirms it :-)
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