I've had a lot of shit jobs in my life.
Example: For several years I worked for an old boob magazine in New York. You know what a boob magazine is. Don't make me spell it out for you. My job was to write and edit copy that would ostensibly make heterosexual men uncontrollably excited.
On my lunch hour, I closed the door to my office--an act, I'm now certain, that my depressed, judgmental officemates interpreted as me engaging in bouts of high-speed self-pleasure--and I wrote game reviews.
I met deadlines. Spoke with editors (many of whom, I now realize, were mere kids with websites). I revised my reviews, trying to make them better.
I never got paid anything for that writing. I wrote simply because I loved videogames. I wrote because I believed that, on some level, I had to be qualified to write about games (or at least, "as qualified" as anyone else was who was writing about them at the time). I read the magazines and the websites and I thought, Shit, man, yeah, I can do this.
Looking back on those years, writing those game reviews was probably the single hopeful act I committed in my then-hopeless, doomed existence.
Man, that really was a shit job.
I daydreamed a lot while at the office. I wanted to write about games for a living. I wanted to write about games, play games, talk about games. I wanted to be around gamers. Gamers: They've always been my people.
I saved up about $3,000. I quit the old boob magazine. "Fuck you, Boob Magazine." I was out. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I applied to teach English in a chain of third-rate ESL schools in New York. Never heard back from them. "Fuck you, chain of third-rate ESL Schools."
Plan B: I thought I might get back into teaching, maybe in one of those toney private schools like in that Dead Poets Society movie. I began to talk to some placement services. But those conversations never really went anywhere.
Plan C: I went to the local EB Games on 82nd Street. I asked if they were hiring. I thought maybe I could write a funny, pithy story about working in an EB Games.
They weren't hiring.
Plan D: I decided to become a substitute teacher in the New York City public school system. I applied for what's known as a "Per Diem license," which the NYC public school system charges $100 for, meaning my savings was now down to $2,900. I waited by the phone for schools to call. They never did.
Via one of the no-pay videogame sites I was working for at the time (GameCritics.com), I miraculously got credentials for E3. I was thrilled. I had homemade business cards made up on the fly. I bought a plane ticket on American Airlines to L.A. I asked a friend from graduate school who had grown up in L.A. for advice on where to stay. He said that his mother in law had a place with a spare bedroom in Santa Monica. I could stay there.
I spoke to her on the phone. She sounded very nice. She was going to be away when I arrived, but that I was more than welcome to stay at her place. We tried to figure out how she would get the spare key to me. There wasn't enough time to mail the key. So she came up with what is, in retrospect, a terrible plan: She would wrap the spare key in a wad of tinfoil and submerge it in the dirt beneath a specific ficus tree near the front entrance to her building. "OK, sounds great," I said, then hung up the phone.
So I got on a plane to Los Angeles, California--a city I had only ever been to once before with an ex-girlfriend--accompanied by my paper-thin business cards and my cheap luggage, with this entire unaffordable 3,000-mile-long wild stab at a career change depending entirely on the location of a key wrapped in tinfoil and hidden beneath a tree. ("It's the second tree in the concrete planter from the left, if you're facing the building," she had said.)
I wasn't a very savvy traveler back then. Flying spooked me. All I could think about was all the miles and miles of empty nothingness beneath me. Every bump of the plane, every jostle, made me think, "Well, fine, that's it. We are going DOWN. Goodbye, world."
I spotted a tall, very together-looking young dude sitting a few rows in front of me with a knapsack that had the logo of popular tech-gear magazine on it. I thought, Shit, this guy must be on his way to E3, too. For most of the flight I try to figure out a way to say hello to him, to connect with him. It couldn't hurt to have a least one person in Los Angeles who I knew.
Finally, he got up out of his seat and headed to the restroom. The bathroom was occupied so he stood there waiting. Now was my chance.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and approached him. "So, on your way to E3?" I said.
He looked at me. Just then the morning sun glanced off the wing of the plane and poured through the windows like a movie premier spotlight. His haircut, I noticed, looked very expensive.
"Nope," he said.
I sat back down and opened one of the in-flight magazines. I tried to look stunned and fascinated by what I was reading there, and tried not to let my reckless attempt at making a connection with someone--anyone--embarrass me too much.
[End of Part 1. More to follow. -jones]