I was a dog. Conditioned to cringe at the sound of a ringing telephone or the crackle of a two-way radio. I wore both on my belt and they screamed at me all day, their combined weight tugging on my jeans with every step.
Every day at two in the morning I would juggle my now-cold extra large cream and sugar from Dunkin’ Donuts and my heavy Motorola walkie-talkie as I punched in—within the narrow six minute grace period I was allowed before being counted as late.
Every day at two in the morning I would hear my name searching for me from the other heavy black radios hanging from my co-worker’s hips. A customer was already waiting on the phone for me. It was 2:01 and he wanted to know if the strawberries made it.
Every day at two in the morning I would walk up to my podium and my blinking phone and my waiting abuse. I would stand at that podium until one in the afternoon. I wasn’t allowed to sit or read a newspaper. I wasn’t allowed to punch out and take a lunch.
Almost every day at two in the morning, my supervisor in fruit sales, Nick, would greet me:
“Hey Ass-ache, are you going to sell today? D&L is on line 2,” this was Nick being nice. “Answer when you’re ready, princess.”
And my day would begin and I would be too numb to be angry. Anger wouldn’t show up until around 9:00 when the calls would trickle and the shock of the morning wore off.
Then the first walk-in customers would arrive. Around 10:30, strawberries became fresas and apples, manzanas.
Against the backdrop of trying to translate for the Spanish-speaking customers who were too beneath the other white salesmen, avoiding my boss, predicting the weather in California that would affect grape prices in the next ten days, and maintaining some kind of balance between the waves of rage and numb peace until my next paycheck, my girlfriend was telling me that I could quit this hell and go to college full-time.
Of course, I saw it as another hassle. I was already going to college part-time—wasn’t that enough? I had too much bullshit to deal with: a mortgage and a car payment with movies to see and brews to drink. Not to mention the mountain of what-ifs that rested on a life with no health insurance. And how could I afford tuition on top of just trying to survive without my steady income?
Jill put it this way:
“You can always make more money. Money is replaceable. Time isn’t.”
She also said a lot more than that and soon I was at college and graduated with an English degree and looking for work as a new writer who was too old to be new.
When I was 33, I worked my first internship at a hole in the wall in Skokie.
When they showed me to my desk that first day, I thought they were playing a prank. There was no way that I could have my own computer! My own desk! My own chair! Sure there were holes in the walls and the computer looked like it had no ambitions above being a word processor, but I could sit. I could fucking sit. I expected the guy who hired me to bray laughter right in my face and say, “I can’t believe you fell for it! No no no, here’s your podium and radio. Stand up and get to work, ass-ache!”
But that never happened and I began to understand my mother’s dog Sadie. We rescued her from the animal shelter. She was a fantastic dog, full of affection, but she always seemed to expect the kick. Even after 14 years in loving house, with nothing but love and familiar faces, she would cringe at the first touch. Always anticipating the kick that never came.
In so many ways, I’m still certain that my kick is coming.
When that internship expired in a quiet whoosh, I jumped to my first freelance assignment at a small design firm and then skipped like a stone to another freelance job at a huge design firm and I learned how to behave in meetings that didn’t involve screaming. I learned how to work past my panic attacks and function despite believing that I was a grandiose failure. I never asked for clarification if I didn’t understand something because I didn’t understand anything and so I learned words in context and hoped I got it right and I expected people to laugh every time I gave them my words for their products and their designs. I tried to hang on because my girlfriend who became my wife and tied her fate to mine thought it was something I could do. She thought I was worth it.
Despite my growing portfolio and my good ideas it always seemed to be two in the morning.
Then Lipman Hearne called. They hired me for a freelance job and I wondered how I would get into writing for non-profit clients. My client was Lions Clubs International. And my first assignment was a billboard. And my team felt like a family.
The freelance job went well and I was interviewing at a few other places. It seemed that the huge design firm I freelanced with earlier carried a lot of weight. And soon I had two full-time job offers.
I chose Lipman Hearne. Most of our clients are colleges and universities. They hire us to boost enrollment and raise awareness. After 8 years, I’m still writing for myself. I’m writing ads and radio and viewbooks and TV scrpts to get people to believe that they can realize change and improve their lives. I’m giving that pep talk to students who aren’t sure. I’m convincing busy adults that there is a way to escape and change careers. I’m sharing success stories and breakthroughs and hopefully getting people to believe in better and believe in themselves.
Because everyday I’m also trying to convince myself of those very same things.
Every day I write for Lipman Hearne I’m writing a thank you letter to my wife.
And an “atta-boy” to the guy at the podium at two in the morning.