Being a writer is tough and the competition is fierce. Imagine how hard it is to be a Hollywood actor, where your salability is directly related to your “look.” Triple that difficulty and you’ll get a sense of the struggle a fledgling writer goes through to get published. See, most people know they don’t have the “look,” but everyone thinks they have something to say. So, like an actor, you work a shitty day/night job to pay the bills and double-barrel-buckshot your résumé all over the Internet when you get home and pray you catch.
One day, I get this call from some chick who says that she’s “recruiting” for an Editor’s Assistant for Flynt Management. I was stoked and worried at the same time, since it sounded like a temp agency. I called her back and was candid about my ignorance.
“What company is this?”
“It’s the publishing side of Larry Flynt. Is that going to be a problem?”
“I just came in my pants.”
The next day, dressed in a smart looking suit, I drove to LA.
The Larry Flynt Publication building is pretty cool. It’s all black and is designed with a hard-on curve. I walked in and a friendly lobby guy directed me to the proper floor. The 9th floor reception area is as you would imagine most posh executive vestibules: shag carpeting, rich mahogany wainscoting, cherry pine furniture, etc. I signed in and pulled up a chair next to the magazine rack full of Larry Flynt material. While I waited, I passed the time with this month’s Barely Legal. I wanted to show the company that I was interested in their product. This wasn’t just a job. It was a passion.
After a few minutes, the HR Lady, a squat Latina woman, opened one of the ogre-sized doors and called me into the back. We walked down the curving hallway and she sat me down in a room with no windows, which was obviously her assistant’s office because it had the barest of office space, with the rest of the room reserved for wall-length cabinets labeled “Terminated Employees.” Alphabetized.
Anyway, I sat down and filled out Larry Flynt HR paperwork. HR Lady’s assistant must get bored throughout the day, because I saw a pink rubber eraser doodled on to look like the APC in the movie Aliens, complete with turret on top. I drove it around the desk a couple of times and made sound effects with my mouth before knocking on HR Lady’s doorjamb.
Together, she took me down to the 3rd floor, but it felt more like going into the basement. The elevator lobby had cold, fluorescent lighting and cheap linoleum: the kind of decor in the Offices of the Damned. Meeting us at the double-doors was the guy I would potentially be replacing, Mr. H, a young guy, dressed casually, like everyone else, because it’s casual Friday (which means that I stick out ridiculously like a stiff cock through thin underwear). So I make small talk with him while he photocopies my résumé. I curiously noted that Mr. H carried around a small spiral notepad with notes scribbled furiously over every inch.
I thought I was going to be interviewing with him, so I was fairly confident in getting the job. Two young guys, shooting the shit. I was a shoo-in. But then we walk through the cubicles and I’m ushered into some stuffy office where some Old Dude is reading MAD Magazine. Old Dude ignores me and turns to Mr. H.
“This cartoonist is pretty funny,” Old Dude taps the MAD mag with his index, “She’s probably part of the cartoonists’ guild or whatever.see if we can get her.”
“Sure thing, Old Dude,” scribble, scribble, “This is René.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Old Dude.” I shake his hand, but he doesn’t get up. Old Dude is the kind of person who has never seen a happy day in his life. He has the opposite of a poker face, meaning he communicates through his facial expressions. If he doesn’t like something you say, he’ll roll his eyes. If he’s disappointed in you, he’ll sigh and look down and away. If he can’t understand something you’ve said, he’ll squint, shake his head sharply, cup a hand to an ear and gape his mouth in a silent, “Wha-?” Even if he was capable of smiling, it would be lost beneath the folds of his trumpet player’s cheeks; the ones that hang down the sides of his mouth like a bull dog’s and stripe the sides of his chin with the mandible lines of a ventriloquist dummy.
In order for me to succeed in a personal interview, I have to be able to build a rapport with the interviewer. In this case, I had nothing to work with. Behind Old Dude was a floor to ceiling window and the view of the city. I couldn’t even pull a Keyser Soze.
Whatever ground I had walked on to get me here started to tremble. And then it cracked when they busted out with my résumé. An oppressive, choking silence crashed into the room and a bitter scoff escaped Old Dude’s craw. His eyes scanned down the paper, disgusted. Through the crack in the ground I could see millions of would-be writers beckoning me to join them in the 9th level of Unemployed Writer’s Hell.
I leapt to more stable ground.
“I realize my résumé is not impressive in the least,” I piped up. Old Dude stared at me through his wire-rim glasses with eyes blacker than my heart. “In fact, none of my previous experience is even related to this position.”
“That’s exactly what I was about to ask,” Old Dude started, “Why do you want to make such a big leap?”
I was in the air and I needed to spike my landing. “Customer service is not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I want to write. I went to school to be a writer.”
“What did you major in, again?” Old Dude flipped to page 2 of my résumé.
“Creative Writing, non-fiction. Most of the jobs you see there are jobs I took just to pay my way through school.”
“Wow,” Mr. H chimed in, nodding his head in approval.
“How long you been writing?” Old Dude asked.
I wanted to say, “All my life,” but I read Old Dude like the Skyclimbers reader in a 2nd grade class and I knew that he was a man who functioned in a world of absolutes and definitive, quantitative figures, so I said, “10 years.”
“Who have you written for?”
“I’ve mostly done freelance work for Valley Scene Magazine and write restaurant reviews for In the Scene Magazine.”
“Valley Scene Magazine?” Mr. H was scribbling again.
“And I’ve written for Switch Magazine which is a fashion and entertainment glossy that never got off the ground. I interviewed Tatyana Ali for them and now I just have this article taking up space.”
When I said, “Tatyana Ali,” Old Dude gave me his “I don’t understand what you’re saying” expression so I repeated her name for him and said where she was from. I landed on shaky ground, but it bought me time to see my next move. And for the briefest of moments, Old Dude’s eyes gleamed. “Does she say anything interesting?”
“She talks about her upcoming movie, Glory Road.the basketball movie.and her singing career.”
Old Dude’s eyes impaled the back of Mr. H’s skull. “Can we use her?”
“Sure, maybe we could do a sexy spread.” Then to me, “She’s good looking, right?”
“Oh yeah.” I felt vile, selling off Tatyana Ali, who is far and away above the likes of Larry Flynt, just to buy me more time.
Silence filled the room again, but now it felt natural and for a moment I thought the world would stop rumbling. Then Old Dude picked up my résumé again.
“This is an entry level position and you’ll probably have to take a pay cut.” He paused, “How much were you looking to make?” Fuck. Totally unprepared to answer this one. I mean, how much does “pay cut” mean to this guy? I threw out a figure and he rolled his eyes. “Well, you might be able to bump it up to that, depending on how well you write and that’s strictly on a freelance basis, of course.not to be done on company time.” I prepared for another leap. He put the résumé down. “LFP is about adult content and politics. Do you know what’s going on in the world?” I knew that the world was starting to quake something awful since politics has always been my weakest of weak spots. Before I could answer, the ground beneath me gave way. “When was the last time you read the publication?”
Mother fuck. You mean before sitting down in the lobby?Â I hadn’t read Hustler in God-knows-how-long! And yeah, I know. I could have fucking swung by the convenience store and picked up a copy and boned up, but Larry Flynt Publishing could have meant anything! Like I know every fucking thing they publish. And what am I going to do? Read every fucking variation of “Cum on her face” articles in one night? Right. So, I’m fucking unprepared and the writing devil named Failure looked up at me and sharpened his horns.
“Not since I was a kid,” I confessed. Old Dude gave me his “put a number on it” face. “Not in several years.” Old Dude looked down and away. “With the Internet, I haven’t had to pick up a magazine for adult material.”
“I’m not so much concerned about the adult material as I am about the politics,” he still wasn’t looking at me. “I was hoping you would have commented on that instead.”
“And I would have asked you what you would have done to improve the magazine.but I can’t since you don’t know anything about the magazine.”
I nodded. This time I looked away as the ground crumbled farther and farther out of reach.
“Well, knowing you haven’t read the magazine, I’ll ask you anyway, what would you like to see in the magazine?” I reached out for some weeds dangling from the precipice. Below me, the writing devil named Your Shitty Day Job walked up to Failure and they placed bets.
“Well, uh.what about an article about interesting or new positions.uh, sex positions that might spice up a relationship.you know, things couples can do to bring back the romance after the mystique of a new person wears off. You know, something you might read in Maxim.”
“Are you sure guys want to read about that?” One of the weeds snapped.
“Sure, I think guys ultimately don’t want to be alone and they realize that getting a girl is hard.”
“That’s sounds more like Cosmo to me. Isn’t Maxim more about the cool guy, one night stand?” The other weed snapped and I was in freefall. Old Dude looked to Mr. H for approval.
“I think you’re right, Old Dude,” Mr. H confirmed. With that I watched as anything else I might grab onto–branches, roots, etc.–get sucked right into the cliff face. This was it; I failed on almost every level. Getting up and leaving would have been a nice change of pace. I knew I could do that successfully. But then I guess they decided I had had enough. “But,” Mr. H continued, “We haven’t done that before, so it might work.” He nodded at Old Dude.
In turn, Old Dude reached down from the heavens and carved out an outjutting in the cliff wall and placed me firmly on it. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “We’ll send you home with some of our magazines. I don’t expect you to read them cover to cover, but come back Monday with 4-5 pitches for articles you would write for us and we’ll go from there.”
“I’ll do that,” I said. Then we stood up and shook hands and I left.
Mr. H gave me his card so that I could contact him with my pitches. Then he asked me for my clips so that he could photocopy them. “You know,” he opened, “You shouldn’t sell yourself short. You have a lot of good multi-tasking experience.” I accepted his patronizing comments gracefully and then got the hell out of Dodge.
On the way home, thinking that if I got the job it would be in spite of myself and just glad that I hadn’t done anything else to ruin my chances, Mr. H called me to tell me that I had left his card behind.
That weekend, I scanned through the magazines like I said I would. I looked at the articles and the political cartoons that littered the pages and I couldn’t think of anything on par with what was already there. The political shit I came up with was light-weight, moderate fluff that would have been swallowed up by the vicious left wing articles. How do I compete with “Fuck you, Mr. Cheney!” and do I really have the political gusto to a) write something as compelling and b) spew out enough liberal nonsense to fit in?
No. Times two.
So, after much contemplation and soul searching, I e-mailed Mr. H and told him that I wasn’t interested. I threw myself off the outjutting and joined my fellow unemployed writers below where we wallowed in self-doubt.
There’s another level of Unemployed Writer’s Hell that scares the shit out of me the most, if only because of its reality. It’s packed with would-be writers who are little more than 9-5 grind slaves who just talk about becoming a writer. They constantly bombard their friends with their story ideas and treatments, but when it comes down to it, they just don’t have what it takes to make it. Frighteningly, everyday that passes, it’s looking more and more like home.