the lawyer writer

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Regular Job

I do not have a "real" or "regular"job. Instead, I have several schemes to bring in money. I do not want a regular job. This does not mean I am lazy. On the contrary, I work very hard to avoid a regular job.

The last time I had a regular job was over two years ago. I worked as an assistant to a literary agent, known as Agent. Now, if you could look into Agent's soul, you would see a fat, cigar-chomping, narcissistic chauvinist who chased secretaries around sofas got a Porsche for his mid-life crisis and did shady deals. But the dawn of the new millenium brough forth a new breed of man: the Faux-vinist. The Faux-vinist knows what trouble sexual harassment suits can be. His ex-wife has taught him that women can be easily offended. The Faux-vinist is just sensitive enough so that his true mercenary nature is not revealed. The Agent was a prime example of a Faux-vinist. He was a one-man agency, though Secondary Agent had a desk in the office.

Now, I did not want to be a literary agent's assistant. I wanted to be a literary agent. But while everyone outside of publishing was saying "you should have no trouble being an agent, you're a lawyer," everyone in publishing was saying "you have no practical experience, you'll have to pay your dues." It is very hard to get hired as an assistant when you clearly want to pay your dues as quickly as possible, thereby necessitating the need for a new assistant. Plus it was a tough market, so I took what I could get.

I got Agent. There were many bad signs. Agent's Former Assistant was leaving, and he seemed worried that I would mess up her system. Former Assistant spent a week training me in the office, which was a disaster. There were unread manuscripts in piles taller than me. There were four giant boxes of papers that needed to be filed. There was no greeting area and there was a maze of supplies behind the assistant's desk to the typewriter. The office was in disarray because Agent had just moved into it, to take advantage of the real estate deals in post 9-11 downtown. He loved to point out his office's perfect view of the giant hole where the World Trade Center had been six months ago.

Agent himself had no interest in training or talking to me while Former Assistant was around. The week when she left was like a shock of cold water to the face. I couldn't believe what I had gotten myself into. Not only did I deal with the agency work, I had to do things like pay his ConEd bills and get a cellphone for his month-long Greek vacation and get coffee when he got the yen. I applaud all the personal assistants out there. I just didn't have it in me.

What was most troubling was the hairs sticking up in the back of my neck. Something was off about this guy. The man couldn't say "thank you" but was able to find a way to complain about every person in his life to me. He seemed not to even know I was in the room unless he needed to share something about himself. I learned about his girlfriend, his ex-wife, his tae-kwon-doe classes, his daughter, his conniving editors and greedy authors. It was creeping me out.

The authors loved me. The editors loved me. But Agent finally called me into the office to tell me that he was troubled that I didn't seem very "friendly" to him. This was about the time that I discovered an old email from Former Assistant asking Former-Former Assistant about some incident when Agent had complimented her a little too enthusiastically, and the situation had gotten uncomfortable. I later discovered that Former-Former Assistant had trouble getting away from Agent, and that he repeatedly called and bought her expensive presents to woo her back. (Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he wanted to just woo her back to work).

I started to feel skittish around him, and I think he sensed it. He got ruder, and complained more, and started to find fault with everything I did. His tasks for me got more menial. I was getting a lot of coffee. The one thing that really bugged him was that I was making friends and hanging out with assistant editors in the publishing industry, most of whom were a lot closer to my age than his.

The end came one very rainy day. I'd gotten out of the habit of going to lunch and usually ate a sandwich at my desk. Agent was out with Famous Author, so I left Intern in charge. (That we even had interns was my doing. What I couldn't get him to change was the dial-up internet connection which would only allow one of us to be online at a time. He was way too cheap for DSL). When I came back a few minutes later, Intern had a message for me. "Agent called and was mad because you went to lunch and he wanted you to get Famous Author a cab." I called Agent back and he grudgingly said he didn't know I'd be back so soon and to call a car for Famous Author. I did so. When I hung up the phone, Intern said "He was kind of a jerk to me." I replied, naturally, "He is a jerk. I can't wait until I'm out of this job."

On Monday morning, Agent called me into his office. Apparently Secondary Agent had been in his office when Intern and I had been talking. Despite the fact that Secondary Agent and I were supposedly friends, Secondary Agent notified Agent of my outburst. Agent said I had a bad attitude, and I had no business talking to editors about ideas, and that I had "refused to make this job my own." Most upsetting to him was the idea that I might actually be looking for another job or interviewing. (I wasn't. Yet) He gave me two weeks. I packed my back and left the following morning.

I did volunteer to help the New Assistant via telephone, when Agent got one. New Assistant and I got along fine. Since my departure, New Assistant has been replaced by Newer Assistant and then by Current Assistant. I think. I was rewarded for my help by Agent's decision to contest my getting unemployment. Because you can get unemployement if you're fired, but not if you're fired for misconduct, Agent accused me of trying to do deals with his editors behind his back. He even went through my email and found what he thought to be an incriminating email to an Assistant Editor. Assistant Editor and I rolled our eyes and laughed. More importantly, Unemployment Compensation Investigator and I rolled our eyes and laughed. (I got the unemployment after about four months of paperwork and interviews).

This was it for me in terms of 9-to-5. I went through the motions to look for a more permanent position, but I couldn't bring myself to take anything. In the meantime, I started writing. Eventually, I started getting paid for it. By the time I dyed my hair blue, it was too late to go back.

Now, I have my own agent. My agent is a nice man. That was important to me. If your agent is an asshole then people will think you're an asshole. More importantly, if he's an asshole to others, he'll be one to you. To further my goal of Not Getting A Real Job, my agent has suggested that I write either a) a true crime book, or a) an Indian chick-lit novel. I think I am much more suited for true crime; I think he's pulling for chick-lit. But anything that keeps me off the streets and out of the office is fine by me.

In conclusion, allow me to quote William Burroughs, in a letter he wrote to Allen Ginsburg: "A regular job drains one's very lifeblood. It's supposed to. They want everything you've got."

11 Comments:

Blogger bunnyshop said...

ha! please make that book-length now, and have your agent sell it to a nice publishing house.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Terry Jacks said...

What's an Indian chick-lit novel?
Is it like the "God of Small Things"? Although, I liked that one, I thought she shamelessly stole some of the prose style from Salman Rushdie, who in turn, I used to like, both don't any more. One of my friends told me about another new (maybe)Indian author - Abha something or other. You ever heard of her??

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, of course. But then 9 hours later you're in the office...

But then most of us are only nominally here.

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