Tenspeed & Brownshoe

Monday, September 11, 2006

*This is a reprint of the very first post I ever wrote....(sorry, I'm in the middle of 2 different productions...)

It will happen or has happened to us all. It doesn’t matter if you’re an actor, director, producer, writer, or even a cinematographer. It has Death and Taxes beat hands down. It’s more of a sure thing than Papa’s Moustache in the third. It’s as inevitable as that big Texas-sized asteroid that’s gonna smash into the Earth and destroy us all (or something like that). It’s a scary, scary truth that is more of a reality than all those things combined. Ready for it?

So here it is…

At some point in your career you’re going to have to get a real job. You know, a real job just like your parents used to say when you first decided to get into this depraved, rejection filled, damned industry. I know it’s depressing but it’s the truth. An awful truth that plagues most Creatives as our numbers have soared to more than 4 million! That means you’re not alone so stop crying, get it together, and figure out what you’re gonna do. According to the trade paper, BACKSTAGE, the "real" job of choice is of course…a waiter. But what if you don’t have the patience to stand over a small rickety table while a 75-year-old woman decides if she wants the Potato Latkes or the Rigatoni Martino? There are alternatives. What are they? Well, I decided to use myself as a guinea pig and see what’s out there. I decided that my mission would be to work at two totally different places for two weeks each. The following is a positively true and positively frightening experience at both employment locations.

The first job I applied to was for a certain well-known 3-letter overnight delivery service. Getting the job was easy. From what I understand they’ll hire just about anyone. And I was just about anyone. So with the interview being just a technicality, I was ordered to work the following Monday. As I parked in that huge parking lot and stumbled out of the car (stumbled because my shift was 4am-9am) on the first day of my employment, I noticed a funny thing. Fences. Long sprawling metal spokes trimmed with barbwire on the top, sort of like an S&M Christmas tree. Upon my walk towards the security booth entrance, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this place reminded me of something. And as I emptied my pockets, walked through a metal detector, and had a magic wand trace the outline of my incredibly sleepy body, I quickly realized what it was. Prison. This place reminded me of a prison. So for $8.50 an hour I got to go to prison. This may seem like an exaggeration but the parallels can not be ignored. First off all, no one talks to you. Wait, let me amend that. No one even looks at you, is more accurate. When I walked through the huge emptiness of this building of at least 900 employees, not one person made eye contact with me. I couldn’t even get that customary "Negro nod" from the other brothers that worked there. So the 2nd thing I came to realize was that I definitely wasn’t going to make any friends and that anonymity would be my modus operandi. We were to report to a designated section of the building where our assignments were to be handed out. For instance, one day I would have to unload a truck, another I would have to scan in hundreds of pieces of inventory. It became clear, however, that whatever I’d be doing would require heavy lifting. Which was strange considering I was hired for a data entry position. But when they noticed that I work out quite regularly, major labor became part of the equation. It was like having 1000 friends and you had to help them move all day, every day. The 3rd and most shocking thing I noticed was how people would talk to each other. Now let me clarify something. I myself have a pretty horrible mouth. My parents and my son are the only people I don’t curse around. But this was different. Much different. Cool Hand Luke different. The supervisors (who I’ll now refer to as "guards") treated everyone like crap whether you did a good job or a bad job. Of course I realize that there are a lot of less than nice guards out there but do they scream in your ear? Do they berate you? Do they throw things at you? I myself witnessed one of the guards calling another one of the "inmates" a black retard who couldn’t read.
Wow. EOE my ass.

Being a fly on the wall in this type of environment was fascinating but I wasn’t going to learn anything unless I started asking some questions. I was really interested in knowing how long some of these people of have been there, guards and inmates alike. Within a week I was able to talk to about 85 people. Can you guess what the average length of employment (or jail sentence, whatever) was? Now I’m talking about the mathematical average here. Can you guess?


That’s right, days. Not months, not weeks, but days. 4 days, 7 days, 13 days. The truth is, I didn’t meet anyone who had served there more than 2 months. That’s an insanely high turnover. I couldn’t exactly blame them. I had agreed to work there for 2 weeks and it was 14 days too long. Were there other reasons for such a high rate of attempted escapes? I asked my senior guard if he had any idea why people quit so often and he replied, "When you’ve been here as long as I have, you get used to it". "How long have you been here", I asked. "3 weeks", he replied. It was honestly just too sad to be funny…but I laughed anyway.

A quick aside: Break time was surreal. At 6am on the dot a whistle would blow and everyone would literally drop what they’re doing and disappear like a strange Terry Gilliam movie. Ten minutes was all you got and you weren’t allowed to bring in any water or food from the outside; you had to buy it on site. Unfortunately, there was only one vending machine in the entire complex and it would take you 10 minutes just to get there. As I watched everyone try and scurry back in time from their break, it made me wonder if perhaps WE were part of some grand experiment. I don’t know, it was just a thought.

So after two weeks I escaped, collected my dough (I never broke the $100 barrier, by the way), and thanked God that this was just an experiment.

On to the next job.

I wanted to try something a little different this time. The 1st job really didn’t have any discretion in their hiring process so I wanted to try something that wasn’t such a gimme. I immediately ruled out retail and fast food joints. Telemarketing was also out. I wanted to try and get a job in a more controlled environment. Kind of like an office job. No, exactly like an office job. I scoured my local paper for jobs and found three categories that I could possibly work within. Clerical, Receptionist, and Administrative Assistant. That’s when I hit my first snag. They all wanted resumes. I didn’t have a resume. Nor have I done anything that remotely translates to what an administrative assistant does, whatever it is they may do. The closest I’ve come to computer work is making up stories for screenplays. And that’s when it hit me. Make it up. Make up another persona. Make up a work history. Make up a list of skills and abilities that I didn’t have. In other words…lie. So that’s what I did. The only real thing on that resume was my name. I even decided to make up companies that had conveniently went out of business so they couldn’t be contacted. I cheekily went as far as to include the company that my brother owns called ARBO Pictures. And I said I worked there for 5 years (ha!). So what would my job responsibilities be at these fictitious companies? Easy. Whatever my prospective employer needed, I would simply cut & paste that piece of their ad right onto my resume. Could this really work? My theory on giving people what they wanted to see was pretty thin. Still, it was worth a try so I sent out 7 resumes that Friday.
On Monday I had 4 responses.

My first interview was, in a word, hilarious. Not because of the interviewer but because of the interviewee. I laid it on quite thick. I told her I wasn’t really a 9-5 guy and that I only leave the office when the work was done. I told her everything she could possibly want to hear. I was a whore and she was my "john"—ooo, no one does it better than you mami. Looking back, it was more than a little gross. Didn’t matter anyway. There was no way I was getting the job. One phone call and she would immediately find out that my entire resume was BS. If she typed my name in any search engine, a million things would pop up from martial art fan sites to my own movie’s official domain. I was going to be found out and it was going to be really, really embarrassing. The next day she called and offered me the job.

As I drove to work the morning of my first day, I couldn’t help but think of how easy this was going to be. I mean, it was a mid-sized company that sold security tags to retail stores. How hard could this be? I assure you, I’m not being cute here or leading you to a funny little reversal. The job really was going to be easy. All I had to do was some light filing, a little computer work, and answer the phones. Simple, simple, simple. I did not, however, take into account my co-workers. More specifically, the attitude of my co-workers. I was completely blind-sided. When I was interviewing, my future employer warned me about the head boss, the owner. She said he was pretty boisterous and a little difficult. Turns out he was the best of the bunch. He was just a salty old dog that likes to mix it up a bit. I really liked him. It was like working for Milton Berle without all the cross-dressing. My co-workers, 2 females, were a completely different story. By the first second on my first day, they made it perfectly clear that they did not like me. How could they have come to that conclusion so quickly? Usually it takes people weeks to figure out that they don’t like me. As far as I can decipher, I was the "new guy" and I was invading their fine-tuned clique territory. New Guy, by the way is what they continued to call me throughout the entire two weeks. Never Kevin, always New Guy, as in "Hey, new guy!" It took me about fifteen minutes to make up a nickname for them. Shrek and The Ewok . The resemblance was uncanny.

It was interesting how they would treat me horribly in completely different ways. Shrek would treat me like her retarded second cousin, constantly reminding me to file things in alphabetical order. The Ewok would just ignore me. All day. Every day. Despite that, I did learn a few things about office etiquette. For instance, if I left for lunch and neglected to ask anyone if they wanted anything, that was considered rude. Also, whoever called the office was immediately deemed an idiot. The phone would ring, Shrek would talk for a couple of minutes, hang up, and shout, "Idiot!" So how did they treat each other? It didn’t take me long to figure out that Shrek and the Ewok did not trust each other. Or really like each other. They each thought the other one was trying to destroy them. Destroy them? How do you destroy someone? This wasn’t exactly Lord of the Rings. Nonetheless, I slowly started to lose it. The nicer I was to them, the meaner they were to me. I didn’t like it and I didn’t deserve it. By the 4th day I had to call my friend and co-director Larry Strong who knew about my little experiment and well…vent. I told him about Shrekâ and the Ewokâ . I told him about how everyone was deemed an idiot. I told him that I felt guilty every time I went to lunch. I told him about how they were trying to destroy each other but most of all, I told him how mean they were to me! Larry listened to all of this (I don’t think I was very coherent) took it all in and asked me one very simple question. Why do they have to like you? Hmm. Good question. Hadn’t thought of that. Why did they have to like me?
The answer was just as simple as the question.

They didn’t.

At the end of my two weeks and with the experiment at an end, I had two very different results. The first job, the penitentiary, was a complete wash out. It was a horrible job, filled with horrible people, for horrible pay. 2+2 equaled 4 on that one. If you’re an out of work Creative, this is not the job for you. I’m not sure it’s the job for anyone. With the crazy hours and the borderline abusive atmosphere, I can easily say that this is the worst job ever. And for a union gig, it pays amazingly low. But the results of the 2nd job were much different. I learned something about myself. It’s the same issue that plagues all Creatives.
The insatiable need to be liked.
That’s why we’re creative in the first place. Because we want people to like what we have created. And more importantly, to like us. When you work in creative environment it’s hard to notice that trait because everyone has the same affliction. But when you work with Norms (regular folk), they don’t have that disease. They’re there to work. Period. They don’t feel the need to engage in a popularity contest like we do. It’s a job, not a prom. Which is something you’re really going to have to deal with when you get a real job. It’s not your career. It’s a job. To make money. Everything else is just like Microsoft Windows; pretty little pictures that have no real purpose.

So what’s the verdict on the real job issue? Office jobs are the way to go. They’re easy and the pay is decent. You may have to embellish a bit (please also see: lie) but you’ll get over it. The most important thing to remember, however, is that you must drop all the baggage that comes from being a Creative. If it helps, think of working at a real job like an indefinite experiment. Or research. Or whatever. Doesn’t matter, whatever you need to tell yourself to get through the day is sufficient. Get over yourself, get a job, and make some money. That way you can afford to pursue your creative endeavors. And if your co-workers are mean to you? Well…maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to get revenge by giving them nicknames like Shrek and The Ewok .