Week 46: Why You Should Never Settle For Their First Offer

How often do we really haggle with someone? Maybe when we buy a car. Or a house. Maybe once every couple years. We’re always told not to settle for the first offer, but man do we do a lot of settling. But this week I decided to start asking. Asking if I could have things for less. Here’s what happened.

The Cable Company

When my roommates and I started with Comcast, we paid 113 a month for cable and internet. Unfortunately cable bills increase along a sort of exponential curve. If you ever took a math class where your teacher asked if you’d rather have a hundred thousand dollars every day for a month, or double whatever you had the first day for a month, starting at one dollar, then you are familiar with the pricing model cable companies employ. 113 became 140, then 160. Starting next month, we will be mailing them blank checks so they can fill in whatever amount they choose.

“We’ve had Comcast for about a year.” I explained to the person who I reached after twenty minutes on hold because, you’re not gonna believe this, they were experiencing a larger than normal call volume at the time.[1] “I’m wondering if there’s any way that our bill can be less?”

“Umm, you just want to pay less?” She asked as though I had called her up and asked something absurd like “Can I have lower prices for no reason?”

“Yup!”

“I mean, what you have is already a lot cheaper than if you got it retail.”

I was ready for my request to be met with semantics, but these were semantics I didn’t even comprehend. What the hell is a retail cable bill? Does that mean it’s cheaper than if I got my monthly cable service at Sears? “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand.”

“If you got those two services separately, then the total package would cost more.” So you’re offering a discount over what I would find if I bought these items separately but both from…. you?

It was time to change tactics. “So, we’re considering switching to another cable company. Are you saying that if we find a lower price you won’t be able to match it and we should go with them?”

Suddenly her tone got frantic. I imagined her scrambling and shuffling papers uncertainly. “Well I didn’t say that,” she said. “Let me transfer you to someone in customer solutions.”

This time, I wasn’t on hold long. An agent named Rob picked up the phone, and I again asked if I could pay less.

“Well…. let’s see.” I could hear Rob typing in the background. People you haggle with over prices always start typing. I’m not even sure their keyboards are hooked up to anything. I think it’s just the go-to sound effect for “Let me see if I can get a special deal, just for you.” “So,” He explained, “If you signed up for our triple play, which is basically the cable and internet you have now plus a phone line, it would be about 40 less per month.”

My brain started misfiring as I tried to figure out the math behind this. “So if I add additional services, I will pay less?”

“That’s right.” He said in a voice so nonchelant I assume he didn’t realize that my brain had just exploded across my desk. “And then in a month, because you’re a triple play customer, you’ll be eligible for the X1 box to replace your DVR for free. It’s a nicer interface, you can record four shows at once instead of two, and it hooks up to Pandora and Facebook.”

“So we’ll get a nicer DVR box for free in addition to our lower prices and added phone service?” I felt like Rob was splitting the atom right before my eyes.

“Yeah.”

“So is there any sort of catch?”

“You’ll lose a few of the higher channels that most people don’t watch anyway. Channels like Oxygen, Encore and the Oprah network.[2] Maybe a couple of sports networks. Are you a sports fan?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll tell you what, I’ll throw in a free package that’ll give you a bunch of sports channels and also NFL Red Zone for the next six months.” If this had been a TV show, my mouth would have been comically full of some drink which I would then have spit all over the person standing next to me. For those of you who don’t know, NFL Red Zone is to football fans what blue crystal was to the meth community of Albaquerque, New Mexico.[3] It constantly cuts to the most exciting/important play happening at any moment in any football game with no lag in between. It is football on crack.[4]

“So I’m going to get a phone line, NFL Red Zone, and a better cable box added to my current package and only pay 120?” I asked him as I used my free hands to work out sketches for the Rob statue I planned to erect in downtown Boston.

“Actually, I may have made a mistake.” Don’t toy with me Rob. “It’s showing up here as 110 a month.”

“What?!” I asked as I looked up the rules for submitting Rob’s name for consideration for a national holiday.

“Yeah. Guess it was cheaper than I realized.”

Excitedly, I pulled up my list of monthly bills. I was going to call everyone.

Car Insurance

Car insurance came in at 103 before the calls, but Christine was happy to inform me that yes, I could pay less. She knocked off 3% for switching to a paperless statement and then explained that having AAA would improve my driver rating and save me another $100 a year. The moral, as always, AAA membership grants benefits only a step below what you get when you become Pope.

Gas and Electric

Liz at National Grid told me that while she couldn’t magically lower my bill like Rob and Christine, she could offer a free service where someone comes to my house and assesses ways to improve energy efficiency and save me money.

“Let’s do it!” I told her.

“Okay, I just need to get some information first about your home. What year was it built?”

“I have no idea.”

“Do you have a guess? I can’t go to the next page of the form without an answer.”

“Let’s say 1950.”

“Great. And how many square feet is your apartment?”

“No clue.”

“I’ll put you down for 1000.”

“Sure.” I was feeling very good about National Grid’s rigorous home evaluation system already.

“And what are your energy concerns?”

“I don’t have any specific concerns, I’m just trying to cut back on bills. I’ve been calling everyone, asking if I could have lower prices.”

“I’ll put insulation.”

Clearly, this was a very worthwhile form we were filling out.

By the time we were done putting wrong answers to every question on the form, I had an appointment scheduled for December 12th.

Parking Tickets

While I didn’t have the same success with my phone bill, credit cards or health insurance that I did with my other phone calls, I was still feeling pretty emboldened. It was probably this feeling of hubris that led me to call the entity perhaps least likely out of any in the world to lower my bill. Perhaps the most evil, unforgiving force in the universe.

The Department of Traffic and Parking.

I had a number of back, unpaid parking tickets to my name that, for argument’s sake, we will call five. I long ago lost the tickets. Figuring out what I owed became a daunting challenge that involved calling an organization I knew would put me on hold for hours, and then giving the government money, two things I hate more than almost anything else. So every week for the past few months, I had chosen to put off calling them until the next week.

At this point, it had been three years.

“Hi, I have a couple of unpaid parking tickets.” I explained to the woman on the phone.

“Okay.” She spoke fast and dismissively.

“I was wondering if there’s any way the amount on those can be lowered.”

“No, once you get the ticket, you have 21 days to pay otherwise they become late tickets and a fee is assessed.” In her mind, she was already moving on to the next call in her busy day.

“Yeah, I understand, I was just wondering if there’s anything we can do to lower the total amount.”

She didn’t even pretend to type on her keyboard. “Sir, I’ve already told you the answer to that question is no.” It was a hard argument to counter.

“Well, that’s true,” I stipulated. This wasn’t the same as talking to Rob or Christine.

“Okay, I’ll connect you to the billing department and you can pay your fine.” She dispatched me and I reluctantly paid my fines. I suppose those tickets were something I was going to have to pay at some point or another and I guess it was good to get them taken care of. But this certainly wasn’t a victory.

So it was that I completed my day of asking for discounts, defeated by the most immovable of forces: the government. Still, all in all I had knocked over $60 off my monthly bills. That’s $720 a year. And even my disastrous call to the government reinforced they key lesson of the day: It doesn’t hurt to ask.

 

________

Odd Job: Asking to pay less

Pay: Savings of over $60 a month

1.  Whenever I call one of these companies, I am always struck by that phrase. If every time I call, you are experiencing a larger-than-normal call volume, then doesn’t that mean that you’re actually experiencing a normal call volume? Shouldn’t the message say, “We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing a totally normal call volume right now, so this could be awhile?” 

2.  If you had told me five years ago that Oprah, the closest a celebrity has come to King Midas in the last few centuries, was going to launch her own network, and that network would eventually be used in the same sentence as something called the Oxygen Network and Encore I would have said you were crazy. Every book she endorsed became a New York Times bestseller. Her TV show was worth billions. She was so powerful that she even convinced us Dr. Phil was likable. And I forget exactly how 2008 went, but I’m pretty sure textbooks will recognize her decades from now as the reason Obama was elected. Now her TV network is the go-to example for channels you won’t miss if you change your cable service. It’s a weird world we live in.

3.  It would be a lie to say I know anything about drugs. But I sure have watched a lot of Breaking Bad. I assume that all crystal meth is shitty because it’s not 99% pure or blue like the stuff Heisenberg makes, but that’s probably because those dumb chefs are doing sudo cooks instead of using methylamine, eschewing tube furnaces or phenal acetone and putting in dumb stuff like chili powder. Also, I should say that I know what none of the words in the last sentence mean other than chili and powder.

4. Or so I imagine.

 

 

Week 45: Why You Should Never Make Balloon Animals Professionally

The real victims of the time I learned how to make balloon animals were my roommates. Our apartment overflowed with deformed flowers and guitars that looked like strap-on dildos. The constant nails-on-chalkboard sound of balloons rubbing against each other was only interrupted by the gunshot sound of balloons bursting. The place stank of rubber. But perhaps most annoying was my newfound habit of giving away my practice creations as gifts. Not just to my roommates, but to everyone I could find.

“Thanks,” a friend would say, trying to be polite as I handed him what looked like a mutilated horse in desperate need of a nose job.

“It’s an elephant,” I would explain as he calculated how long he had to hold onto this monstrosity before he could politely throw it out.

“Oh I can tell,” he would say, in that way that parents pretend they know exactly what is going on in the pictures their five-year-olds draw.

For two weeks, the apartment was my laboratory. I poured over YouTube how-to videos and cranked out practice attempts. Dozens of puppies and swords and crowns stacked up beside my chair as I tossed my finished figurines to the side and started new ones. The math seemed simple enough. At $2 a piece with the occasional five- or ten-spot thrown in from a generous patron, making 8-10 per hour, a ten-hour day of balloon-twisting in a public space could easily generate $200 in untaxed cash.

Or, at least, that was the thought.

At 11:30, on a beautiful Thursday in August, I arrived at Boston Common, a public park in the heart of the city, ready to launch my career making balloon animals for kids. I set up shop at something called the Frog Pond. The Frog Pond is populated exclusively by children, because they are the only people with active enough imaginations to imagine a scenario where the Frog Pond could actually be any fun. It is a pool of water that barely rises past your ankles, and it is presumably infested with the bacteria of the homeless people who bathed in it that morning. For some reason, adults tend not to go in.

But the kids love it. They race through the water and splash around with their friends, while their parents sit strewn about on the sidelines with that war-torn-refugee look that all parents get when they spend entire days with small children. As the kids giggle and play, the parents spend their time asking themselves why the hell they didn’t just spring for summer camp this year.

For children and parents, it is an oasis. But for balloon vendors, it is a literal teeming pool of potential customers. I set up my stool and inflated demo balloon animals. I planted my tip hat in front of me and a greaseboard (on which I had written catchy advertising phrases like BALLOON ANIMALS!! and SWORDS!! and MONKEYS!!) to the side. All that remained was to wait and let the business roll in.

And so I waited.

And waited.

I tried to stay positive, but it was impossible not to notice that no one was coming over. I could almost hear the parents mind-melding with each other, sending messages like, “Don’t you dare buy one, because if you buy one then that kid is going to want one and then they’re all going to have one and I’m gonna wind up shelling out fifteen bucks just so my kids can have a few piece-of-shit swords which will pop inside of ten minutes, and next thing I know, my beautiful day will be ruined and filled with crying and broken latex, just like my prom night!”[1]

My optimism started to melt away. My estimates of $20 an hour plummeted. That I had positioned myself amidst a herd of my target demographic and was making nothing was bad enough. But to make matters worse, with each moment that passed of no one talking to me, I seemed less like a street vendor and more like a creepy guy sitting on the outskirts of a pool full of half-naked children, just kind of hanging out.

It was only a matter of time before Chris Hansen showed up to cart me away.

At around the 40-minute mark a woman mercifully approached me with her daughter. “Can she have a flower?” The mother asked.

Yes!! Yes you beautiful, wonderful woman, I could hear my brain shouting as I turned to her. “Of course.”

I inflated a long green balloon and, with a few simple twists, turned it into a perfect stem with elegant leaves extending from the sides. It looked so nice that if someone had walked by in that exact moment, they might have actually thought I was competent. I handed the stem to the little girl while I pulled out a pink balloon for the petals. “So what brings you to Boston Common?” I asked, determined to be the guy who was not only an expert balloon maker, but also a charming conversationalist.

“We’re visiting for the day from Connecticut.”

“Oh wow, you came all the way from Connecticut just for some balloon animals?” I joked.

The woman stared at me blankly, her face unchanging.

This was my best material.

“So you like flowers?” I asked the little girl.

“Yeah.” She said, her face as stony as her mother’s.

Good. Great. Definitely nailing this charming conversationalist part. I lowered my head and kept on working. After not too long, I had created what I must say was an awesome set of flower petals. I seamlessly attached the stem to the petals then threw myself an internal parade for making a beautiful flower on my first try.

I had decided to copy the pricing model of a balloon artist I had talked to a couple weeks earlier. He gave the balloons away for free, then wrote on his greaseboard “Gratuities are appreciated.”

The mother pulled out two dollars to hand me in exchange for the flower, which is about what I would have charged if I had made up my own prices. “Believe it or not,” I told her as I took the money, “you are my first ever customer. I’ve never done this before.” Again, her face remained a stone wall as she nodded. It appeared that she did in fact believe it. She then walked away.

Over the next couple hours, I made another sale or two, but business was slow. Things only got worse when a rival balloon artist set up camp on the opposite end of the pond, in a spot I quickly realized was far better than mine. By the time people saw me, their kids were already in the water and so engaged that they weren’t going to get out of the pool for anything. Meanwhile, he was getting kids before they ever reached the water and, in turn, before they ever reached me.

After three hours of telling myself there was no money in the balloon business, I watched this guy sit down and immediately start cranking out creations and raking in tips. He was destroying me. I wondered for a moment if he would come talk to me, if we would have turf wars, but I quickly realized that to him I wasn’t even competition. As far as he was concerned, I was just some guy who liked to sit on stools with balloon animals attached to them. He never once even looked my way.

I decided to switch things up. I found a new spot by an entrance to Boston Common. But business was even slower. Not only did the new place have fewer children, but it was also overwhelmed by a horde of flies who, apparently, are attracted to rubber. But the flies were the least of my worries.

“Hey man, can I get one?” An adult with no kids came up and asked me. Instantly, I got the vibe that he was messing with me, but who was I to turn down a customer?

I inflated a balloon. “What would you like?”

“Just the balloon is good.” He said and took it out of my hands.

“You’re supposed to tip him,” his friend grunted as he walked up beside him.

“Tip him? Man, I’m homeless. I ain’t got no money for no balloons.” I was beginning to regret my pay-what-you-want policy. “But don’t worry,” he turned to me, “I’m gonna make this into something fly and then it’ll be like advertising and you’ll get mad business.” Did he just use the word fly as an unironic adjective? There are people who still do that?

The man then proceeded to make one of the shittiest and most phallic swords I have ever seen. Actually, I should rephrase. The sword itself wasn’t all that phallic, it was really just made phallic when he held it against the base of his pelvis and started thrusting excitedly into the air. Somehow I didn’t think this would be the boon for business that he had predicted.

More people started coming over with no intention of paying for anything. “Hey man, I’m just trying to catch the bus, do you have some spare change?” One guy asked.

“Sorry, I can’t,” I said. “I’ve barely made any money today.”[2]

“Ya gotta do more to get peoples’ attention, man. Dance around or something.”

Yeah, that’s my problem. Not enough dancing. “Thanks. I’m thinking of going down to the Aquarium, trying my luck over there.”

“Yeah man! You should go down to the Aquarium,” he said as though he had just come up with the idea himself. “I just came from there and it’s really busy, and I just walked over here to tell you you should try there.”

“Okay thanks.”

“No seriously man, go check it out.” What happened to the dance proposal? I thought that had legs. “That’s why I came over here. To tell you you would make bank down there.” This guy was really trying to sell me on the notion that he had come up with the Aquarium approach, not me.

“Yeah, I think I’ll give it a shot,” I said, packing up my stuff. Even if it wasn’t his idea, his presence was definitely going to be the impetus that drove me there.

There was a feeling of despair as I left the Common. Until that moment I could still delude myself into thinking I could somehow make money on the day. But as I paid my garage fee, a price that, at $18, represented twice my earnings so far, reality finally set in. Combine that 18 with the 20 I spent on the stool, 20 more on balloons, seven on the greaseboard and fifteen on lunch and this day was an unmitigated disaster.

I pulled into a spot near the Aquarium with resignation. Really, I just wanted to go home. To soak in the misery of all those wasted hours and dollars. But I forced myself to get out and try one last spot.

The Aquarium isn’t like Boston Common. You can’t just show up and start selling your wares. You need fancy things like permission from the venue. But I wasn’t there to play by the book. I was there to make my money back. I defiantly set up my stool and my sample balloon animals and my grease board. Fuck the man. I was going to make some money if it killed me.

“Sir, you can’t do that here,” a guard said as she walked up to me.

“Oh sure.” I said and packed up my stuff.

Yup, totally just stuck it to the man right there.

My day was a waste. This was going to be my most costly odd job yet. I threw my stuff into my car and slinked into the driver’s seat. Perhaps there wasn’t quite as much money in the balloon industry as I had thought.

________

Odd Job: Making balloon animals in downtown Boston

Pay: -$70

1.  Or so I imagine. 

2. I spent about ten minutes trying to write this sentence in a way that implied I am normally very charitable and give away tons of money to the homeless and that this was one isolated moment of selfishness induced by a slow day of business before I finally decided, “fuck it. Who am I kidding?”

In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. Like, really hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.

Week 44: Why You Should Never Reveal Your Shortcomings in a Craigslist Job Posting

Perhaps the best job listing I ever saw was from a man who needed help scheduling a time for a doctor’s appointment. It read, “Please take a doctor’s appointment for us. Take 2-3 times from the doctor and check with me to see what works best. Once confirmed with me, confirm with the doctor and let us know.”

Now let’s break this down. This man needs to schedule a doctor’s appointment. For the average person, this is not an insurmountable task. He calls the doctor’s office with calendar open, figures out a time that works, then goes on with his day, almost as though this was a really easy task that took almost no time. Not this guy. First, this guy wanted to filter through e-mails from a bunch of people interested in working for him and find the right candidate. Then he wanted said candidate to call the office for him, find multiple times that could conceivably work, then call him back, check in on those times with him, then call the doctor’s office back, hope those times were still available, book one, then call him back and tell him that his time was successfully booked. Presumably, sometime around 11:00 that night, he would finally have himself a doctor’s appointment without all that hassle of talking to the receptionist.

At some point, you have to ask yourself, how much time are you really saving?

My job is to look for jobs. Several days a week for several years, I have sat down and combed through listings, hoping for that next column. And, as hard as this is to believe, I don’t apply for all of them. But just because I can’t apply for the jobs doesn’t mean I can’t use them in a column. So this week’s story is a handful of job postings I never applied for but that I still wanted to share. The original text of the post is in italics. While some information has been cut for spacing reasons, none of the text has been changed and everything is verbatim, because, as you will see, why edit perfection? My reactions to the gigs follow in regular font and, of course, in the footnotes.

 

 

Female needed for sexy Trivial Pursuit gig – $1000 (Boston)

I’m a mid 30s overworked finance professional living and working downtown with a fun gig to offer the right girl. I’m looking for a beautiful, refined, and fiercely intelligent girl to play Trivial Pursuit with, with cold hard cash as your prize ($1000). But we’ll play with some twists on the rules to make things more interesting:

* if you miss your question, you have to either remove an article of clothing or down half a shot of your liquor of choice.
* if you miss your question after you’ve run out of clothes, you have to either down half a shot or receive three bare-bottomed spanks.

The game finishes the usual way, when you’ve filled up your pie piece[1] with all the colors and make it to the center of the board.[2]

That’s all there is to the gig. Good clean fun. Must be attractive and fit and send a clear picture with your reply.

 

I think it’s safe to say that the ship sailed on “Good clean fun” with the introduction of the phrase “Three bare-bottomed spanks.” Regardless, certainly we can all agree that wanting a girl who is refined and wanting a girl willing to strip and be spanked for money are mutually exclusive goals. As are the goals of finding someone who is fiercely intelligent and someone who thinks that signing up for this is a good idea.

 

Also, he is consciously ignoring the elephant in the room. You can’t post an ad like this and not reveal which Trivial Pursuit genus you are using. If this is one of the newer Trivial Pursuits then this is one type of job. But if this is one of those Trivial Pursuits from 1960 with geography questions written back when West Germany was a hip, new country (I.e. if it’s the version that almost everyone has), then even the most fiercely intelligent women will find themselves naked and drunk in a strange man’s apartment faster than my ex-wife.[3]

 

LOVE WORKING OUTSIDE – BE A VALET PARKER (Greater Boston)

OPEN THE DOOR TO NEW HORIZONS

Spread your wings and come park with us. . .[4]

 

Click Here to Apply Online

Ultimate Hospitality is looking for valet parking attendants to join our team of parking professionals. We have positions available in both our Hotel (shift is 3:00pm — 11:30pm) and Restaurant Division (shift is 5:00pm — 12:00am). Compensation is based upon business levels of the location assigned to you and range from $6 – $10 per hour, PLUS tips!

 

It takes a certain level of audacity to promote your job as a valet with the phrase “Love working outside.” Somehow, I have trouble picturing rugged, outdoorsy whitewater-rafting enthusiasts finding fulfillment parking cars.

 

Also, I left out the text that tells you that this is a gig in a downtown Boston shopping mall. For those of you who have never been to Boston, allow me to inform you that there is no mall overlooking a pristine body of water with elegant jagged rocks jutting out to create a picturesque companion to the beautiful blue sky.

 

Single girls job/personal assistant (Oceanside)

Hi! I’m gonna be blunt…I am a single guy, 33, live alone, i work a lot and I’m willing to pay…I need companionship and personal assistant combination…I don’t discriminate but you must be a female[5]…chores: cleaning, laundry, some cooking, pampering me, taking care of my need. IM LOOKING FOR A WIFE WITH A AGREEMENT. JK no marriage just the responsibilities that a homemaker wife would have…email with responses. Looking forward to meeting you

When you say, “IM LOOKING FOR A WIFE WITH A AGREEMENT,”[6] then throw in the “JK no marriage just the responsibilities that a homemaker wife would have,” you’re kind of confusing the issue. Isn’t wife with a agreement exactly what you’re looking for? Because it really sounds like it. You start off saying you need companionship, add that the applicant must be a woman and then mention taking care of your need (which just has to be your penis, right?). Anyone who would do the homemaker stuff but is disgusted by the sexual servicing part has already stopped reading this ad well before the phrase “JK.” At this point, you’ve done the hard part. You’ve admitted that you’re looking for a prostitute-housewife combo, and all the JK’s in the world can’t convince someone that this is a wholesome butler-type position. And whoever is still reading saw that and didn’t immediately ex out of their web browser to go take a shower. So why are you backing out now? For a guy who starts off by saying he’s gonna be blunt, it sounds like you’re being pretty ambiguous and not totally forthcoming. The moral, as always, never trust whatever someone says directly after they say, “To be honest with you,” or “To be blunt.”

Need Help Making a Quality Robot to Cyborg Aerial Strip Tease Costume

Description:

I am performing an aerial piece for the extreme future fest and need a quality old school robot costume that I can both wear on the static trapeze and strip off to become a semi-nude, burlesque styled cyborg. I am looking for a quality costume. Need by Dec 1. Initial thoughts are to use 80′s looking computer and electronic parts for the robot and attachable cyborg skin pieces and or body paint stencils for the cyborg part. Further creative ideas totally acceptable.

Okay, I know you think I’m going to make fun of that one, but actually it sounds pretty fucking awesome. Rock on man.

_____

There’s a story about Ernest Hemingway, that he made a bet with a man once that he could write a novel in six words. He then took out a pen and very simply wrote, “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” I don’t know exactly what the stakes of the bet were, but since this is Ernest Hemingway, I’m assuming that the other guy had to buy him some amount of booze, which Hemingway immediately drank, then wrestled an alligator in the street, then wandered off to go do other awesome Hemingway things.

The fact is, there are stories everywhere, even in the headline of a newspaper listing. I saw an ad posted by a man whose pregnant wife had been out of town for a week. He was drowning handling simple tasks like doing laundry and cooking and wanted to hire someone to do the work for him. Just reading it, I knew so much about him and the fact that his wife would end up doing all the work raising that baby. Another ad simply read:

 

I lost weight : Need My Blazers Altered

 

And I instantly had a feeling of happiness for where this man was at in life. Even the ad by the guy looking for a sexy trivial pursuit partner tells a story. One of loneliness and horniness that is ultimately pretty sad. (Not sad enough to stop me from spending several hundred words making fun of the guy, but sad nonetheless). The guy afraid to contact the doctor’s office himself, I dunno, maybe that’s the story of someone who slept with the receptionist, then never called and is now afraid to talk to her.

These listings are not just ways to earn money, they are glimpses into other people’s lives. Stories of their triumphs and failures. Not every job listing may be a column. But each one is a story.

_______

1. Please don’t let filled up your pie piece be a metaphor. Please don’t let filled up your pie piece be a metaphor. 

2. There’s a lot about this job post that upsets me, but perhaps nothing more than the fact that this guy thinks that this is the usual way for a trivial pursuit game to end. I mean what kind of animal are we dealing with here that thinks the game ends when you simply make it to the middle? 

3. Okay, fine, I don’t actually have an ex-wife, and that’s a good thing. But I often feel like I’d be a better comedy writer if I could make that kind of joke in earnest. 

4. Yup. Spread your wings and park with us. Because nothing says freedom from the grind of life like parking cars. 

5. Discrimination.

6. [sic]. A thousand times [sic]. 

 

Week 43: Why You Should Never Be Famous

You may not believe this, but I’m not famous. I know what you’re thinking: A 27-year-old who spends a rather inordinate amount of his time in pajamas, cranking out blog entries that are primarily read by his friends and family, how is this guy not famous? I know. It’s crazy.

Like all Americans, I dream of being famous with the blissful security that comes from knowing it will never actually happen. I get to picture the Daily Show interviews, and cheering up kids in hospitals, and out-the-door lines of hot women dying to service my every sexual desire.[1] And I get to do all that while safely knowing I will never have to deal with stalkers, with every mistake being covered by the national press, and with the out-the-door lines of paternity suits and positive STD tests that will inevitably follow.

But June 16th, 2013, was the Bunker Hill Day Parade. And for that one day, I was famous. If you’re from Boston, you probably know the Battle of Bunker Hill as the turning point in the American Revolution. If you’re from anywhere else you probably know it as, “Wait, which one was that again?” Historically speaking, there are several problems with celebrating the Battle of Bunker Hill, chief among them that it was a fight the American forces lost. Yet here in Boston, we’ve invented new ways to commemorate it on a seemingly annual basis. At this point, we are up to a monument, a bridge, a parade and a day off from school.[2]

So, every year, we celebrate the most successful loss in US military history with marching bands and firetrucks and Ms. Massachusetts winners parading through the streets of Boston. And this year, I marched alongside them. Three other people and I were asked to dress up as stars of the fictional universe: Spiderman, Cinderella, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse. For my part, I played the role of Mickey, the planet’s most beloved giant-eared icon.[3]

Like most people, I grew up adoring Mickey. I wore the hat with the fake ears and even convinced myself that Fantasia was a good movie. So when I first got the assignment, I was actually pretty excited.

Right up until I saw the costume.

While the Mickey Mouse character is a symbol of childhood joy and innocence, the Mickey Mouse costume is a symbol of agony and trauma.

My bad back struggled with the fake head, and my cheek developed an itch that I had no way of scratching within minutes of arriving at the parade. Meanwhile, the costume combined with the 90-degree day to create a level of heat usually only experienced in small nuclear explosions. But the biggest problem was a lack of vision. I have worn mascot heads before, and apparently there is an industry-wide directive that eye holes should line up perfectly with the actors’ chins and provide zero peripheral vision. This outfit was made to spec.

But as we stepped into the parade and started marching, all that faded away. I didn’t care about the heat or the discomfort, because all around me was unadulterated adoration from the spectators. Suddenly, we were the Beatles coming to America. The newly crowned Super Bowl champs returning home from victory.

People cheered and shouted that they loved us. They stormed the parade like an invading army to take pictures with us. We doled out high fives and hugged little kids. The people on the sidewalk let out warm “Awwww”s, and the kids hugged back with all their hearts. For that moment, we were celebrities of the highest order. And I, for one, was egotistical enough to soak up the adoration as though it were aimed at me, and not the most-marketed character of the last century.

As the day wore on, the parade ran long, and we fell behind schedule. The directive came for us to pick up the pace, and suddenly, we didn’t have time to stop for pictures and hugs.

Luckily, people acted rationally and completely understood that we couldn’t pose for pictures with every single person on the side of the road because, you know, it’s a fucking parade and that’s how parades work. People went apeshit.

“MICKEY! JUST STOP FOR ONE PICTURE!!” Shouted a parent.

“Mickey! What the hell? You don’t have time for a little kid?”

“Sorry guys,” explained someone in the parade. “We gotta keep moving.”

“No! You really don’t.” Said an intoxicated resident who apparently had a better understanding of the parade schedule than us.

People hurled insults and character attacks. Parents literally ran down the street for several blocks to catch up with us, then forced children into our arms to take pictures, not even pausing to make sure we had firm grasps on their kids in our awkwardly oversized gloves.

Clearly not caught up enough, the parade accelerated even more. We had to start running. I nearly trampled several small children who I didn’t see rush into the parade. The vitriol grew louder.

With the adoration of the crowd no longer distracting me, the feelings of heat and weight came rushing back. By the time we reached the end of the parade, I felt like I had been through the Battle of Bunker Hill myself.[4] We ducked into a side parking lot, pulled off our costumes and downed about a gallon of water.

As we waited for our ride, our bodies covered in sweat and our psyches frazzled, I marveled at the dark side of people. Who gets upset when they’re not allowed to walk into a parade and take pictures with the marchers? I mean, who does that? And if you’re so worried about making things special for your kids, then why are you displaying such ugly versions of yourselves to them?

Looking back, I now realize that we went through the entire fame cycle in the span of a few hours. Starting as unknowns, then donning our costumes and becoming adored heroes before finally ending up the subjects of scorn and hatred. It’s always seemed to me that the cliched fifteen minutes of fame is actually the perfect amount. Enough to enjoy the attention and ego-boost, but not so much that you fall into the darkness.

Our ride showed up and we hopped in the car. As we drove away, I tried to remind myself to be grateful for the few hours when I was famous and adored. But all I could think of was how grateful I was that, at the end of the day, fame was a mask I got to take off.

 

_______

Odd Job: Marching in the Bunker Hill Day Parade

Pay: $100

1. Note to the girl I’m currently dating: You must have misread that last sentence.

2. The story as to why we’re so proud of the battle is that the British forces were so badly depleted that they realized a few more wins like that and they would lose the war. Which sounds to me kind of like when your five-year-old loses the soccer game and you lie and tell him that winning isn’t everything. But whatever. 

3. Narrowly edging Goofy, Dumbo and Will Smith.

4. Which side was I on in this analogy? I guess it doesn’t matter, because we fucking lost. Seriously, this doesn’t bother anyone in Boston. When I found out that we spent all this energy celebrating a military loss, I felt roughly the same way I felt when I finally watched Rocky and realized that he lost at the end too. And don’t even get me started on that one. 

In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. Like, really hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.

Week 42: Why You Should Never Discount the Value Of Placebos

“So what is this?” A mousy woman asks as she peers into our display at a local Whole Foods.

“It’s called Origins,” says Pete, the man training me for my latest odd job. “We sell cold-pressed, organic, non-pasteurized juices.” Cold-pressed means the beverages are formed by applying an extreme amount of pressure to produce, then bottling whatever juice comes out. Organic means we can sample the product at Whole Foods without fear of being stoned by their clientele. And non-pasteurized is another way of saying incredibly expensive. Like $10-a-bottle expensive.

“Oh my. Non-pasteurized.” The woman says. She places her hand on her collar-bone. Pasteurization is a method drink companies use to preserve juice that ends up compromising its nutritional value. At Whole Foods, using the phrase non-pasteurized is also a mild aphrodisiac.

“Here, try some.” Pete pours her a cup. We don’t work for Whole Foods, we work for Origins. Our job is to sell, and Pete is good at his job. He can tell what people want to hear, and he knows how to give it to them. “It has ginger, which, as you know, has been used for centuries to settle upset stomachs.”[1] Internally, I roll my eyes. Ten dollars for an upset stomach? I think. What are you? Five? If I had an upset stomach, I’d want it to go away, but if I was told it would cost ten dollars for something that might work, I’d fucking tough it out. But this sales pitch isn’t for me. It’s for her. And she eats it up.

She slurps loudly. “Ooohhh, yup.” She says as though it just settled an upset stomach that, moments before she met us, she presumably didn’t have.

“And it’s also been found to improve the circulatory system.” Improve the circulatory system? Is that something we’re worrying about now? Our circulatory systems?

The woman sips again. “Oh yeah.” The circulatory benefits are too much for her to handle. She is now bobbing back and forth on her feet like an excited child. “Gotta take care of that circulatory system.” You can tell that she now feels the blood racing through her circulatory system at maximum efficiency. “How much does it cost?” She asks.

This is where we lose her. No one is going to spend $10 on a juice. I mean, who’s ever heard of such a thing?

“Right now, it’s only $9.99 a bottle.” He says.

Yup, $10. For juice. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you have mortgage payments that are cheaper than that. But hey, I don’t blame y-

“Great, and what aisle do you sell it in?”

Seriously?

-----

Over the next couple of months, I become an expert myself. I use visual aids to show just how much produce we cram into every bottle. I talk about the cold-pressing and the non-pasteurization and the wonders it does for your circulatory system. By the time I am done, it seems amazing that we can sell these drinks for as little as we do.

And as I stand at my booth, talking to customers and employees, I stare out, observing the Whole Foods ecosystem. Everyone who shops or works there is attractive and educated. They gush when they see terms like organic and locally-grown, and they recoil when they see terms like “high fructose corn syrup” and whatever the word is for non-locally grown.[2]

“Who do you work for?” A slightly older woman asks me.

“FarmFresh.” I answer. “We’re a company dedicated to selling healthy, organic food in ways that are ethical and environmentally friendly.”

“Okay.” She leans in closer, fixes her right eye on me, and asks warily, “But who do you really work for?”

“The same company I just told you about the first time you asked the question.”[3]

“So you’re not owned by Coca Cola?” She almost spits in disgust as she says the name “Coca Cola.”

“Nope, we’re an independent company.”

“Good.” She smiles. Now that she knows I’m on her side, she drops the aggression and talks like we are old friends. “I met a person doing a demo for healthy drinks once and it turned out that her company was owned by…” She pauses to build suspense though I feel it’s pretty obvious at this point that she’s about to say Coca Cola. “Coca Cola.” NO! OMG!

“I don’t get it.” I say. I do get it, I just like to be difficult.

“Well, here they are, claiming to be this healthy drink company, but they work for the unhealthiest drink company of them all.” She speaks like she is revealing someone’s plot to assassinate the President.

It occurs to me that Coca Cola presumably has one of the largest, if not the largest, drink manufacturing and distribution infrastructures on the planet, which is probably how the drink companies they own can sell beverages at such affordable prices. And while Origins is great for the rich shoppers of America, the fact that lower class people now have access to healthy drink options is actually a good thing. “Oh wow,” I say. “That sounds terrible.”

At first, I mock. But, as time goes on, I find myself becoming one of them. After all, if everyone who shops here is educated, then buying these products must be a smart decision. And if everyone who shops here is beautiful, then healthy products must make you look better.

Meanwhile, the food is delicious. And who wouldn’t want to buy from a company that supports the environment and treats their workers well? I find myself shopping there and checking labels for things like omega fatty acids which I’m told are good for you despite sounding like they are bad for you, all the while having no clue what they do for you.

I start to feel better. I sleep better and have more energy when I’m awake. I don’t groan like a 40-year-old when I get out of my chair. I don’t know whether the effects are real or placebo. But hasn’t science resoundingly proven over the years that placebos are really effective?

And as I become one of them, I realize that more than products that are actually good for them, people are looking for products that they can tell themselves are good for them. That we come in hoping to find a drink that costs $10, because just by pure math, it has to be five times as good for us as that crappy $2 drink. Because it feels good to tell ourselves that we’re spending ten dollars on our health.

I’m not saying that Whole Foods food doesn’t actually make you healthier. I’m just saying that I’m guessing there’s a gap between how much good it does for you and how much good you convince yourself it does for you. But maybe the positive feeling that fills that gap is part of what you pay for. And maybe you get your money’s worth.

 

One day, instead of a juice, I am sampling bite-sized pieces of a chewy, almost gummy product. They claim to be a natural energy boosters. Though I am working on four hours of sleep and have been downing these things like M&M’s all morning, and I don’t feel a difference. A woman who looks so tired that she might topple over walks up to me. She skeptically tosses a handful into her mouth, eying me as she chews, then swallows.

“Oh wow!” Her face lights up. “I do have more energy. I didn’t believe it at first, but this totally works.” She happily tosses a bag into her cart and walks away. I watch, speechless as she disappears on the horizon. While I doubt that anything short of snorted cocaine could work its way into her bloodstream as quickly as she thinks that food did, it is undeniable that she is no longer as tired as I am. And as she walks away, I can’t decide if I pity her or envy her.

_______

Odd Job: Sampling Health Products at Whole Foods

Pay: $1300 over the course of a couple months

1.  Somewhere on the path to eating right, the phrase “used for centuries” became synonymous with “healthy,” presumably under the logic that if we used a product at a time when we had minimal understanding of our bodies and when the average person died at 55, then it must be good for us. 

2. I believe the term is “affordable,” but I’m not positive. 

3. Okay, I didn’t actually say this. But that was the gist of it. 

In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. Like, really hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.

Week 41: Why You Should Never Go All Out in a Student-Faculty Basketball Game

It was one minute to game time and my heart was racing. My hands shook and my stomach turned. I hadn’t felt this nervous in years. I was moments away from a showdown with the eighth-grade girls basketball team.

Five minutes ago, it was just another day in the after-school program where I work with elementary school kids three days a week. We were making popsicle-stick pilgrims or whatever the hell it is we do, when the gym teacher came bursting in, desperate to fill out the teachers’ side in a student-faculty basketball game. While I was not part of the daytime faculty, and we were playing against the middle school that was attached to our elementary school building, the gym teacher was desperate for bodies and wasn’t going to split hairs. So now here I stood, in front of the entire student body and all my co-workers, praying I wouldn’t be the guy who missed every shot he took against a bunch of 14-year-old girls.

Our team was hardly the ’96 Bulls. Mr. Milton, the chemistry teacher, was already gasping for breath just from the pregame practice shots. And Mr. Reagan, the English teacher, had braces on both his knees and a third one on his shin– a place I didn’t even know people put braces. At 27, I was the only guy under 30, and perhaps the only one who had worked out this year.

But while we left something to be desired, the game was clearly ours to lose. Lined up across from us was the varsity girls basketball team. And while they were probably better at pure basketball fundamentals like shooting, dribbling, and being able to run the length of the floor without needing a hit from an oxygen tank, it was pretty clear that all that paled in comparison to the fact that we were twice their size.

And as I glanced back and forth between our team and theirs, a second fear started to emerge, just as strong as my concern about humiliating myself in front of the kids I taught. How were we going to make sure that we didn’t humiliate them in front of their peers? Were we going to duck whenever they shot? Score on the wrong basket? Intentionally pass to the other team?

Before I could voice any of these questions, a girl with pigtails was dribbling up the court and calling out the game’s first play. Her teammates ran with military precision to preassigned spots, and she zipped a pass to the open player who dropped back and took the shot. It occurred to me that these girls, though smaller than us, had spent all year practicing together and maybe we weren’t going to waltz in here and annihila–

WHAM!! The French teacher leaped to the sky and unleashed a thunderous, Dwight-Howard-like block, swatting the ball halfway across the gym. Another teacher blitzed down the court, picked up the loose ball and completed the easy layup. The answer to the question, “How would we go easy on this team of 14-year-old girls?” had been answered definitively. We wouldn’t.

I checked to see if the teacher who made the initial block, and did everything but give the Dikembe Mutumbo finger wag afterward, felt any contrition. But he was smiling from ear to ear. Meanwhile, the teacher who had completed the play was doling out high fives to the kids in the crowd. We weren’t just going to destroy the other team, we were going to embarass them.

The thing was, none of us were all that good at basketball. We just carried ourselves like we were. The next ten minutes was a rarely-seen combination of showboating and ineptitude.

One teacher tossed the ball off the backboard to himself, apparently intending to catch it in mid-air and slam home a dunk. Which I guess means he got so lost in the moment that he forgot about his bad knee. He leaped about three inches off the ground as the ball sailed back over his head. Another teed up a shot from about five feet beyond the three-point line, then held his follow-through triumphantly, only to see the ball fall about four inches short of the basket. No-look passes sailed out of bounds and between-the-leg dribbles clunked off of thighs.

But all the while, we fought hard for rebounds, swarmed on defense, and hunted down every loose ball. As the game clock ticked down, the scoreboard read 16-2, which, if you think about it, says so very much. That we gave up two points in ten minutes tells you that we played our asses off and showed no mercy to a team of eighth-grade girls. And that we scored eight times in ten minutes of playing our asses off and showing no mercy against a team of eighth-grade girls tells the rest.

I glanced at the student spectators who cheered us on like bloodthirsty fans at a gladiatorial match as the staff soaked in the adoration. For the faculty, this was their Super Bowl.

As the buzz of winning wore off, you could see the grind of the game taking its toll. Guys put their hands on their thighs and panted heavily. The inevitable aches settled in.

“Okay!” The gym teacher shouted. “We’re gonna go right into game two.”

Game two?! My head spun around as onto the court marched our next opponent. The boys team. They were spry and cocky. Chomping at the bit, eager for a chance to humiliate the teachers who spent all day telling them what to do. I looked back at my teammates who, in their minds, were already busy scheduling an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to help recover from the game. Suddenly, playing all out for the last ten minutes wasn’t just poor sportsmanship. It was poor planning.

The next game seemed to move faster than the first one. The boys flew across the court, made hard, dirty fouls, and strutted after every made shot. We pulled heavily from our first-game strategy of “Be a lot taller than them,” but with poorer results.

With six minutes left, we were trailing and fading fast. That’s when we went to the bench and brought in a substitute who had only just shown up. He was 25 and carried himself like he belonged on a basketball court. He had certain things that the rest of us lacked. Things like biceps, a functioning cardiovascular system, and a jumpshot. And no one seemed to be mentioning the obvious elephant in the room: I had never seen this guy work for even a day at our school. I believe he was one of the younger teachers’ boyfriends. We had somehow found a way to stoop even lower. We had brought in a ringer to a student-faculty basketball game.

Without even warming up, our new teammate started doing his best Lebron James impression. Defending everyone on the court, corralling rebounds, and taking the ball to the rack. With his help, we hung on to a 16-15 victory, narrowly avoiding the loss we so badly deserved.

We limped off the court, heading back to our classrooms. It was 3:30. There were still two hours left in the after-school program’s day and we had to get back to our job of teaching the kids how to be good, responsible people.

__________

Odd Job: Participating in the student-faculty basketball game

Pay: When you consider my hourly rate and how long we were on the court, probably about $12

In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. Like, really hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.