Will Write for Food

Like Toto pulling back the curtain to expose the Wizard of Oz for who he really was, every now and then I am given a glimpse of the folly that is my so-called career. One particularly vivid moment occurred as I sat in a meeting with four wastewater engineers – turd herders, the people whose job it is to keep us from becoming buried in our own filth. You see, the firm I worked for at that time was attempting to land a contract to build a new septage receiving facility, or what normal humans might refer to as a poop processing plant.

Now, the breadth of my knowledge in this field extends only so far as the ability to distinguish between shit and shinola, albeit just barely. Yet, as the Propaganda – sorry, make that Marketing Coordinator, my presence was required in order to help prepare the proposal my company planned to submit. I was little more than an observer, and a reluctant one at that.

The others were quite enthralled by the subject matter, though, talking pointedly and at length about things like influent and bio-solids and sludge cakes without once cracking a smile or otherwise acknowledging the fact that five grown men were sitting around a table discussing feces: brown bombers, mud puppies, that which plugs the porcelain fixture. Don’t get me wrong. The world would be a much messier place without these people around to make sure all this stuff continues to run downhill, but even Shakespeare would have to agree that a turd by any other name still smells like a turd.

Eventually they paused to watch a video presentation that highlighted mounds of festering human waste and the various techniques used to neutralize them. Looking back over my notes later, this would appear to be the point at which I scribbled down a line from a song by The Talking Heads. …and you may ask yourself, “How did I get here?”

Good question.

This same company sent me to a seminar in Atlanta a few months later, where I sat bleary-eyed in the hotel conference room, listening to a marketing consultant with the communication skills of Quasimodo review, in excruciating detail, tips for making business proposals look more appealing (something of a challenge when your subject matter can include things like poop plants). Much of one morning was given to weighing the benefits of a landscape presentation over the more traditional portrait configuration, followed by a role-playing exercise wherein we took turns interviewing the “client” – Quasimodo – in order to hone our ability to better understand his needs. By the end of the second day I was praying for death, whether mine or the bell ringer’s made little difference.

Then there was that time I found myself in a corporate boardroom full of bean counters, seventeen floors above the streets of Detroit. I was part of a strategic meeting at one of the larger financial partnerships in town, which is odd only because I was a radio announcer at the time. More accurately, a friend had done me a favor and found me a charity job with his accounting firm while I was “between” broadcasting gigs – exactly how much fudging of my thread-bare employment records it took to accomplish that feat was never revealed. After several hours of stupefying statistical presentations on billability and overhead cost-per-annum comparisons and something that sounded like “effectualized client dungarees,” I again found myself looking down on the proceedings with a detached curiosity, wondering who the hell all these people were and what language they were speaking.

The topper came while I labored as the Propaganda – damn, I’ve done it again – Marketing Coordinator for a manufacturer of park equipment. The old man who ran the place, fast approaching his eightieth birthday, had apparently reached the age where he no longer felt the need to abide by basic social tenets. At least when it came to flatulence. We were having a conversation shortly after I started there, me seated at my work station and he leaning up against my desk, when he simply discharged in mid-sentence. And not a little squeaker that could have slipped out by accident given the man’s age and what I assumed to be a corresponding decline in bunghole control, but a regular cheek-slapper. He even tilted slightly to one side to facilitate its passage. Without an “Excuse me” or even so much as a “How do you do,” he finished his thought and stepped away. As I sat holding my breath and quietly reflecting on my career path there came, from the other side of the cubicle wall, the disembodied voice of the guy at the next work station.

“Welcome to the company.”

They are surreal milestones from one man’s convoluted pursuit of happiness, but in all honesty I have only myself to blame. More than simply not growing up to be what I wanted, it’s doubtful I ever really knew what that was to begin with. About the only thing I remember from high school (other than Gigi Freidal’s come-hither cleavage) was a counselor’s ominous view of what lay ahead. “Decide what to do with your life,” he told us as if he were revealing launch codes for a ballistic missile strike, “or life will decide for you.” After drifting aimlessly through a series of unrewarding jobs, I have come to the annoying conclusion that the man was right.

So now I’ve decided. Ever since first reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a teen, I’ve nurtured vague aspirations of cruising through life as the next Hunter S. Thompson. But like George Costanza’s fake architectural career, it was always easier just to say I was a writer than to actually be one. Well, this seems like as good a time as any to get started, except for the fact that no one reads anymore – at least nothing more than can be squeezed onto the screen of our smart-phones. I guess my first order of business should be to find out how long it would take to tweet a novel, one sentence at a time.

At this late stage of the game it may seem somewhat risky to chuck everything for an author’s life, but that’s really not the case. As an aging hippie with a checkered occupational history, my retirement prospects were always a distant hope, thanks to a complete lack of fiscal responsibility at a time when it would have actually done some good. And should the Social Security system collapse in the interim, then it’s a fair bet my golden years will be spent in a paper hat and Depends, asking people if they’d like fries with that. Unless, of course, that three-book deal with Random House comes through. Anyone seen my thesaurus?


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