Thursday, May 04, 2006

Me Am Professional Writer Guy, II




Here is part one.

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A quick note before we go on. I have no idea why I gave this piece the title I did. I suppose I was going for a gentle bit of self-denigration concerning my skills as a writer. Instead it just sounds idiotic. Oh, well. So does much of the piece itself, so maybe it does fit.

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I sat in the Catalog Publications office - my office - a can of Sprite in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It was 1988. Smoking in the office wasn't forbidden yet. Neither was drinking Sprite, of course, but while it was a Sprite can in my hand, that wasn't all that was in the can.

It was Friday afternoon. As was now my custom on Friday - payday - I had scored an eight ball at lunch. That is, I had acquired a decent amount of cocaine; enough to get me through the weekend if I showed some self-restraint. In other words, it was barely enough to get me into Saturday morning, where I would wake up around noontime with a vicious hangover and curse myself out for having blown my entire paycheck in one night. I had also purchased a pint of Smirnoff vodka, which I was mixing with the Sprite so that I could have a steady buzz while walking around the offices of Blake & Rebhan.

It all sounds extremely degenerate, doesn't it? It was, no doubt. However, I wasn't the only one at B&R who got through the workday with chemical enhancement. Out of the hundred or so who worked there, I'd estimate that at least one-quarter of them were on something. This included the four owners. One of them kept a bottle of Tanqeuray handy at all times.

(His office was right next to mine. Every so often I'd hear him open his desk drawer, pull out the bottle, and have a gulp. He no doubt heard me snuffling up the marching powder. Neither one of us ever said anything to the other.)

I'll grant you that I was on the high end (high end - hah!) of the scale when it came to ingestion of foreign substances, but I was far from alone. Three martini lunch? Kid stuff at B&R. One of the guys in the warehouse would buy a half-pint of root beer schnapps, every day at lunch, and down it in one gulp. Another, whose taste ran to vodka as mine did, had a quart hidden in the pile of pallets at the back of the warehouse and would pour himself a stiff one every half-hour or so. There were a good ten or twelve others who did lines at every available opportunity and if you couldn't find a joint anytime you wanted one, you were just lazy.

The amazing part of all this was that it was pretty much an accident-free workplace and the work got done on-time and correctly. We were substance abusers, but we were all functional. And it wasn't a stupid group of humans, either. I'd be willing to bet that the median IQ was quite high. We all had problems of one sort or another, and we were all self-medicating, but it wasn't just because of stupidity. A case study of that workplace would have been very interesting reading, I'm sure.

It was interesting how my own addictions worked. If I had the opportunity to do some blow, I'd do it. That is, if it was Monday and someone said, "Hey, Sully, you want a line?", I'd be on it like white on rice and wouldn't stop until the last tiny dot of it was gone. But, if nobody was offering me a freebie? I had no real itch to do the stuff, at least on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Thursday would roll around and I'd start to want it, but I could resist the temptation to buy on credit. Friday, though, was another story. I had money in my hands and I couldn't get rid of it fast enough.

Around 10:30 or 11:00, I'd put in a call to my dealer, to make sure she had a supply for me. At lunch, I'd drive over to her place and get it. On the way back to work, I'd stop at the liquor store and buy the vodka. After smuggling the bottle into work - either under my jacket or in my gym bag - I'd buy a can of Sprite from the vending machine in the warehouse and start my personal party, pouring out half the Sprite and replacing it with vodka and chopping a few lines on top of my desk.

Another thing I feel I should mention before I forget: I drank like a fish while I did coke, but I never became an alcoholic. I liked the combination, a lot, but alcohol by itself has never been something I'm tremendously fond of. I've always been able to take it or leave it, and I've usually left it. I probably have twenty drinks a year now, if that, mostly wine. And it never triggers a desire in me to have more. Just an oddity, all things considered.

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I started writing this piece as something a bit more humorous than it's become. That's the way it goes sometimes.

This is the first time I've ever actually written about this in detail and I've got to tell you, it isn't easy. I've spoken about it before - a goodly portion of my broadcasting school valedictory was a recounting of what an ass I had been just prior to attending - and I've written bits of it in letters and whatnot, but this is actually knotting my stomach. I'm glad.

You see, nobody becomes addicted to something that just plain sucks. Cocaine was a lot of fun, as long as the money and the supply held out, but remembering what I felt like on Saturday morning (or any other "after" time) when the money was gone and my nose might be bleeding and I had a wicked headache, is what kept me from going back once I quit. It's good to know that I'm feeling sick when talking about the "good" times, too, never mind the bad. I'm way over it, thank God.

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Well, the idea was to relate to you the details of my first writing gig - which is, to date, my only real one because what I'm doing here sure isn't bringing in the bucks and my time as a lyricist earned me about enough to buy a set of strings for my bass. So, let's get back to the subject.

Despite being wasted half the time, I did the job and that's why I didn't get fired - even though most everybody knew I was high. The Sprite can wasn't fooling anyone after a while. They weren't blind or deaf - or dumb. And, as I mentioned, there were a lot of "Sprite cans" in that office.

However, I knew that after the catalogue was actually published they had nothing else for me to do. I was being paid to write, but there would be nothing else they needed written. They would most assuredly scrap my one-man department and put me back into customer service.

And so they did, even though I tried to stretch it out as far as possible. Well, after you've had the kind of autonomy I had, that was a major bummer. I was expected to actually deal with people. I no longer had my own private den in which to drink and drug. And I had to report to somebody. This sucked mightily.

After two weeks or so of half-hearted effort on my part, the writing was on the wall. I had no desire to stay there and they had little choice but to let me go. I was laid off, so I went on unemployment for a couple of months. And that was the end of my true-actually-earning-something-for-putting-words-to-paper writing career.

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I did have some fun writing that catalogue. Every chance I had to put my own personal touches on it, I did. For instance, we sold some briefcases. A photo needed to be taken of a briefcase for inclusion with the text concerning them. These briefcases came with a personalization kit of sorts - really just stickers with numbers and letters on them - so the photo had to show the dandy way you could make the briefcase your own. I made it my own. In the space provided for the owner's initials, I put "JSS". And that's how the briefcase appeared in the photo - with my initials. Similar touches appeared throughout the Blake & Rebhan catalogue.

That sort of stuff was just fun and I don't think anybody really cared if I did it. It didn't hurt anyone and nobody would really notice it. However, I did another thing that took a bit more planning and would never have been allowed if anyone knew what I was doing.

I mentioned before that, in addition to writing the text and taking the photos and choosing the illustrations, I was also responsible for the physical layout of the pages. I did the cut-and-paste on everything and delivered the proofs to the printer. For $8.25 an hour. Wow. No wonder I did drugs.

Anyway, this gave me an opportunity to play around with the layout of the text upon the page. Once I figured out that this would probably be my only published work, I decided to include something within the text. I don't have the original, but I rearranged the order of words within an introduction I had written and the result was something similar to this:

Everyone needs to know they can count upon their supplier to
adequately fill needs on a timely basis. What good is it to have
the stock, but not be able to deliver it when you need it?

So, B&R makes this promise to you. If you ever place an order
here that isn't delivered when we promise, you will receive
it absolutely free! That's right - on time or you don't have
to pay a single penny!

You'll like the way we do business! We don't beat around the bush
or give you a song-and-dance. We pride ourselves on honesty and
unwavering principles. Don't you deserve to be treated
royally? When it comes to business with us, you're the king!
Start an account today and see what we mean!

Turn to any page in this catalogue and you'll find some
remarkable bargains. We come through with pricing you need and
usually, if you order in bulk, we'll knock off a bit more. But
let us show you what we can do - don't just take our word for it.
You'll enjoy seeing what we mean by "the customer is king"!

Staples, paperclips, pens - these are the things that every
unremarkable company stocks - a dime-a-dozen;
lots more open every day; there isn't much difference between
doing business with them or us - if you consider
only the stock. What makes us different is the service
good employees provide.

Just boring copy, right? Try reading the first letter on the left of each sentence, going down.

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That's about it for the job. I'll be the first to admit I was a total jerkwad. They treated me well, all things considered, and I repaid them by pulling an asshole move like the above.

As for the substance abuse, I could just say that I cleaned up and lived happily ever after, but that would be doing a disservice to you and to the people who helped me along the way. I'll pick up that part of my life on another day and go into detail.

Thanks for being my unpaid analyst. See you Monday.


3 comments:

Barbara Shallue said...

No comments on this? Well, at least people have caught on to your writing now. I'm thinking you need to write a book - or when I get good at screenplays, I'll write one about you!

Melissa Milligan said...

What exactly did you think my dad - Russ Milligan -was on? I'd sure be interested in hearing that.

Suldog said...

I'm not sure what Mr. Milligan may have been on, if anything. I had no problem with him. We rarely interacted, but he always treated me kindly when we did.