Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Write On, Brother! -- A David'Z RantZ Post from 4/19/08



Wanna confuse the hell out of someone? I mean, personally, unless I've totally f**ked up someone's mind during the course of a day, I feel that I've wasted that day. Anyway, assuming that your answer is "yes" (or why would you be reading something called "David'Z RantZ?"), here's how I do it:

I tell anyone who asks what I do for a living that I'm a writer. (And I've been saying that ever since I finally got the nerve to kiss my crappy day job good-bye for good.)

No, really. It's that simple. Tell them that you're a writer -- well, if you are one -- and it'll mess 'em up for sure.

Of course, I don't know why this confusion exists, but it does. And I started noticing it with my very first paid writing gig, which was editing a restaurant menu to include cute little jokes among the descriptions of the food that they offered. (This was a Victorian-themed restaurant which wanted to appear fun rather than austere, hence their name, "Tom Foolery's.") Maybe not the kind of thing that would have Spielberg banging down my door, but somebody was giving me money to write!

During that early period in my on-again/off-again writing career, I did a lot of freelance work, mostly for print shops, doing everything from proofreading to what I call "low-grade advertising." (To my date, as we dined out: "See this card on the table, inviting you to 'join us for happy hour?' I wrote that!" And boy, was she impressed. Or not.) And initially, I described myself as a "freelance copywriter," which was evidently far too many syllables for the average person to comprehend. Hence the following exchange, which I endured a handful of times:

Him (or Her): "Oh, you're a copyrighter [sic]? Good, I can use you! I have some really good ideas I need to have copyrighted."

Me: "I think you mean patented, not copyrighted... But anyway, that's not what I do. I don't copyright; they have a whole office in Washington for that kind of thing if you want to go through channels. I write copy."

"Huh?" or "Huh? Copies of what?"

Yeah, I got the "Huh?" accompanied by a blank stare. So I figured it would be a lot easier for everyone concerned if I simply said "writer."

Wrong.

Early in my freelance career, my writing partner introduced me to a young lady who ran a printshop in her basement. (This was shortly before the computer era had really gotten going, so anyone running a business like that was automatically deemed quite industrious.) When she'd discovered he had a friend who was a writer, she enthusiastically decided she had to meet me. I assumed she had plans to put me to work doing the so-called low-grade advertising jobs I was used to, but no. She thought "writer" meant that I could do things like calligraphy. Taking the word "writing" a bit too literally, I thought...

Okay. In typical "David'Z RantZ" fashion, all of the above was just an introduction. Here's the real story I want to tell:

A few years later -- well after I'd had a few articles and what I call "half a handful" of comic book scripts published -- I received a call from the very same print shop that had given me my first writing assignment. According to the owner of the shop, the former manager of Tom Foolery's was now embarking upon a new venture, a franchise called Croissant du Jour*, and was looking for a writer. (A while back I'd polished up the business plan that Tom Foolery's manager, Michael K___, sent to the bank which he hoped would finance this chain. Apparently, his figures and my written organization of same had worked.)

(*By the way, there seem to be at least two different businesses currently operating under the Croissant du Jour name.)

I called Mr. K___, and was a bit disoriented by what he said he wanted. He wanted graffiti painted on the walls of Croissant du Jour's restrooms. Nothing obscene or even suggestive, but rather, little expressions that somehow reflected the overall dining experience.

In the restrooms.

Anyway, he further unnerved me by mentioning twice during the phone call that he also wanted Croissant du Jour's logo painted on an awning in front of the building. I told him both times that I wasn't a painter, or an artist, so logos were not something I did, but it was almost as if he wasn't hearing anything he didn't want to hear.

The site of the new restaurant was about an hour away from my home, which meant I had to deduct a small chunk out of my anticipated profits for gas money. I drove out there with a long list of suggestions for this "tasteful graffiti." He glanced at the list, and then looked at me as if something was missing. Not "Missing" on the list. "Missing" on me.

"Where are your paints?" he asked, all too matter-of-factly.

"My what?"

"Your paints," he repeated, with a tone of voice that implied that he'd actually wanted to say, "Your paints, stupid." He continued. "Your supplies. How are you going to paint these walls without them?"

I couldn't believe I'd driven an hour for this conversation. "I'm not a painter. I'm not an artist. I'm a writer."

He looked at me as if I'd just told him I was a photographer who didn't own or use any kind of camera.

I got a sinking feeling when I realized that here was another person who was taking the word "writing" too literally. I thought he'd hired me on the strength of my work on his original bank proposal. Obviously not.

He wasn't very interested in my written list of suggestions (and I knew he wouldn't like the new suggestion which I was aching to tell him!), so I realized that the only way I was going to get paid for this gig at all was if I myself painted my cute little sayings on Mr. K___'s bathroom walls.

One of his employees gave me directions to a local art supply store so I could buy paints, brushes, etc. Yeah, that's right, more money out of my pocket, and thus, my profits.

It was a long walk. I went there, wondering if I could charge him my hourly rate from the very instant I arrived at his restaurant (which would naturally include this walk). I had several other thoughts on my way to and from the art supply store, but... nothing printable.

Using a combination of brushed-on sayings and a couple of witticisms which were sprayed on with a can of spray-paint, I dutifully defaced his walls.

When I was done, he invited his employees to view my work. "What do you think?" he asked them.

"It looks like the bathroom's been vandalized," said the one person who wasn't afraid to admit that he agreed with what I myself was thinking.

Mr. K___ gave the boy a look that implied "I meant to do that!" or, in his case, "I meant to have that done!" I couldn't believe he really liked my handiwork. I don't think he did; I think he just wanted to save face.

I decided to charge him for every minute I'd spent there since my arrival, including my walk to and from the store. What I should have done was charge him for my travel time to and from home as well, plus the cost of my gasoline and the cost of the freakin' paints and brushes. But I was younger then, and certainly not as arrogant as... well not as arrogant as he struck me as being.

As he wrote my check, I asked him to make sure he included my middle initial, and I then began to spell my last name for him. (My last name is almost never misspelled, but I always tell people how to spell it anyway. Just to be safe.) As I was spelling it aloud, he waved his hand dismissively as if to say "I know how to spell it!"

As I walked to my car, carrying the paints and brushes which, obviously, I would never use again, I looked at the check he'd written.

My middle initial was missing, and my last name was misspelled. But at least he wrote the amount correctly, which, I suppose, is what really matters.

Thanks for your time.

P.S. -- I wrote a post on April 3 2008, entitled "Just In Case," stating that I often think of people for no apparent reason, after not having thought of them for ages... And suddenly, I run into them somewhere, or learn that they've recently died, etc.

Just for the hell of it, I decided to do a Google search for "Michael K___."

Mr. K___, whom I'd met only once, back in the late 1980s, and rarely thought of until I began mentally drafting this David'Z RantZ post, passed away on December 21st of 2007. Kinda close to when I originally wrote this post, I think.

Maybe I do have The Power.

Thanks for your time.

16 comments:

  1. ha. what are we? i dunno...i am a story teller...which i am sure will relegate me to reading time at the library but there is nothing wrong with that...i guess...lol

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  2. Oh my goodness! I never really thought a writer could be construed as one who writes calligraphy or on walls.

    I do know what you mean about confusing people, though. I majored in Classical Antiquities. That's what the school called it. That's what I got my BA in, but every time I told someone that, they thought I was studying to be an antiques dealer. So I eventually just told people I study Ancient Greeks and Romans. Of course, I'm not sure that was much clearer. LOL!

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    Replies
    1. My uncle decided at an early age to be an engineer. Of course, he thought it meant he'd get to run trains...

      Thanks for checking out my blog!

      Delete
  3. haha that can confuse many for some reason indeed. A rhyming nut at my feed. Don't think about the cat, don't want to end up dead at my mat

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  4. Back in the '80s I tried to earn a living as a calligrapher, designing wedding invitations, newspaper ads, business cards, etc. I did get a few of those, but mostly people called me to... wait for it... address envelopes. Yup! Mostly for wedding invitations, and all of those were people who'd had their wedding invitations done at a printer's. Despite the lack of understanding for what I did, I actually did get some interesting gigs, including doing the wine list for a snazzy Australian-owned restaurant and the menu for an upscale sandwich shop. But not enough to make a living.

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  5. Interesting and entertaining post. When someone asks me what I do, I'm the one who usually gets stumped, because the next question is always, "What do you write." To me the easiest answer would be, Whatever I feel like, but that wouldn't be the answer they'd be looking for. :-)
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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    1. It reminds me of an old story about Alex Haley. He was visiting his boyhood hometown, and an elderly gentleman who remembered him asked him what he did for a living. He replied that he was a writer. The old man said, "Well, write something for me." Haley replied, "It doesn't work that way." The old man said "Maybe not, but if you told me you were a ditch digger, I'd expect you to be able to dig a ditch for me."

      Delete
  6. What does f**ked mean? Why not just write the word if you're a writer? What kind of a writer are you anyway?

    Oh, yeah. I remember now. You're a good writer.

    Love,
    Janie

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    Replies
    1. Am I? Even though I used those asterisks when I wrote that post six years ago?

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    2. Of course you're a good writer. I still think about two ships. A number of your posts have stayed with me. I don't care if you use asterisks. I'd like to kiss your assterisks. tee hee

      I made myself smile . . . a little bit.

      Delete
    3. I thank you and my asterisks thank you.

      Delete
  7. As a freelance writer myself, people just don't get that. They don't get that someone would pay you to just sit home and write. (It does seem too good to me to be true at times, as well!) They "get" novelist...but most people just don't care. I'd like to say they care about other jobs...but deep down, they don't. I think for the most part people don't care much about other people and we just think they SHOULD care that we write because it's so cool!

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    Replies
    1. And if you compare yourself to anyone, they want to know why they've never heard of you. Assuming they haven't.

      Delete

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