Saturday, June 27, 2009

Deadly Game: the Job Hunt pt. 3

I've noticed some of my posts as of late have been downers. That's not good. I'd really prefer not to be treading water in the deep end of the pity pool; it is tiring business and you run the risk of drowning. I've also been informed by several parties that the color scheme and design template I was using for my blog was, at best, hideous. I have a penchant for black and green, I don't know why. The two colors don't do well together on clothing, pieces of art, cars or make-up, so I'm not sure of my reasoning for putting them on a blog.

So I did something about it. First I changed my template. Now instead of a blinding color combination, I have a blog that look like it was written on a piece of parchment from the ante-bellum south. Also, instead of whining about being an unpublished author with no clear direction or gainful employment, I decided to look at the bright side. The job hunt may be frustrating, but youth has its benefits, and I would be a fool to ignore them. So here is a list for your enjoyment and consideration.

Top Five Benefits of Being a Literary Upstart

  1. No one can tell me what to write. If I want, I can write a poem, short story, novella...hell, I can catalogue my farts for posterity if I wish (look for that book in 2025). No one is paying me, but at the same token, they can't excercise any control over me. Booyah.
  2. Thankfully, being a young writer requires very little overhead cost. A programmer needs a computer to meet his/her specific needs, a graphic designer needs design software, and a businessman needs at least one subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I need Microsoft Word. What's that you say? My computer crashed? No worries, I'll just grab this pen and a piece of notebook paper. Even if we run out of trees I'll melt down some candles for wax and sharpen a stick for a stylus and BAM I'm back in business.
  3. I don't need to care what the literary community thinks. After spending four years reading what the literary community has to say about other people, I have to tell you, I'm not too eager to be on their radar. I have a theory that all the really smart people who are unable to write creatively become the most hateful literary critics. I'm a big fan of large words, subtle insults, and blatant condescension too, I just wouldn't publish it in a newspaper. Alas, I don't care what just one person thinks, whether they went to Yale or not.
  4. I don't have to worry about being type-cast. One of the perks of being unknown is that no one expects anything in particular from you. Right now, I like to write short stories. But what if I want to start writing abstract poetry? What if I find out I have a real knack for writing technical manuals? The breadth of possibilites can be intimidating, but I have to imagine its preferable compared to being locked into one thing.
  5. Starving Artists aren't expected to wear Armani. Hey, I like putting on a suit and looking debonair as much as the next guy, but I really enjoy having a lax wardrobe. Also, you wear the same set of shorts and t-shirts long enough you can avoid annoying coversations like "what do you think of the stock market?" or "where did you get that outfit?"

All in all, I should consider myself lucky. My loan debt isnt insurmountable, I have my health, and should all else fail, I can live in the crawl space in my parent's basement. I hear some some of the best work has come out of poor living conditions so that should only boost my writing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Dark Lord Phillip Morris?

Cigarettes are significantly less cool than they used to be. They've gone from the domain of Steve McQueen and James Dean to the hands of nearly every on-screen villian and European in the past 50 years. Its a product that was formerly endorsed by doctors for digestion, now you can't even find an eight year old unaware of the immediate and dire health risks involved with smoking. All of this is a good thing. Nay, its excellent. It's a credit to the public and to the health community that cigarettes are no longer being marketed to kids, being smoked in public places, or being percieved as the official uniform of "cool."
But, in the tireless campaign for good health we've done more than just educate the public about the health risks of cigarettes, we've demonized the companies that sell them. It wasn't enough to print warning labels on packs, educate students constantly on the hazards of smoking, and getting rid of marketing ploys like the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel. After all this was accomplished, we deemed it necessary to out the tobacco companies as willful violators of the American lung. People who dared to lie just to turn a profit.
Well, duh.
Nice job everybody, you've exposed Big Tobacco for what they are. A business. Shocker right? I'll admit, before the risks of smoking became common knowledge, Tobacco companies were less than forthcoming. In fact, they were decietful. They conjured up misleading studies, downplayed the hazards, and pleaded the fifth whenever questioned by a judicial body. Does this make them a morally bankrupt institution? Yes, most likely. Does it make them responsible for the adults who willfully smoke today, even as you read this? Not even close.
When we didn't have the facts we could blame the people who refused to give them to us, but this is no longer the case. Slowly but surely we have dragged out every last bit of information we can, most of the time with Big Tobacco trying to pull us in the opposite direction. So now it is a question of personal responsibility. The forces that compel people to drink, gamble, have unprotected sex, and even participate in extreme sports are the same that compel them to smoke. We may just have to accept the fact that humanity does stupid things, even when the dangers are laid out on a sign two feet from their faces. And for all the stupid things people do, smoking isn't even on top of the list.
You can smoke a pack of cigarettes and then drive home without hurting anyone else. The same can't be said after finishing a bottle of Jack Daniels.
You can harm a fetus by smoking in utero, but you can avoid the responsibility of a child before you're ready by using a condom. Yet, amazingly, people knowlingly refuse to use a condom.
You can waste almost a half a million dollars over time if you're a lifelong smoker. You can also lose that in a day on a roulette table if you're so inclined.
So why aren't people camped outside Casinos protesting? Why isn't the Truth Organization going through a neighborhood full of liquor execs in the middle of the night, waking their families with facts about the dangers of alcohol, read over a megaphone? Why do we label a group of businessmen, who sell a product you choose to buy, as the devil incarnate? We can point to the addictive qualities of nicotine, but we'd have to look at Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Starbucks for filling their products with caffeine. What about the makers of prescription pills, who fail to see that their medication is properly prescribed and kept out of the hands of children?
The simple fact is that their is alot of stupid, irresponsible behavior in the world today. To put the blame on a group of companies who (shockingly) look out for their best interests instead of the consumers is tantamount to condemning the drug dealer and excusing the user. Big Tobacco is by no means without guilt, but its time to stop passing the buck when it comes to oour health and the health of our loved ones. We invent demons when we don't want to hold ourselves responsible.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Deadly Game: Job Hunt Pt. 2

I imagine that college graduation ceremonies haven’t changed very much over the course of the past 100 years. Proud families fill the auditorium, Handel’s Nocturne in G Minor is played in a constant loop, and old men in funny outfits talk to young people in funny outfits about the future that lies ahead of them. Much is said about the pride the oddly dressed neophytes should be feeling; the years of hard work, the breadth of their accomplishment, the pride that must be theirs to have completed the studies in their chosen fields…etc. Then, after much pomp and circumstance, the graduates file out of their assembly with their degrees (with all the right, privileges and honors pertaining thereto) conferred upon them.

In my limited experiences with college graduations, I found this to be pretty much standard operating procedure. However, I found something to be missing at my ceremony this May. As I stood huddled in a parking garage under the Liacorus center with the rest of the eager graduates I overheard a lot of conversations regarding the future. There was a lot of talk about graduate school, a good amount of “I can’t wait to travel through Europe” conversations, and even a few “I’m not doing anything this summer” remarks. The one thing that was conspicuously absent was any remarks of pride or relief. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I started to search for jobs, it occurred to me why this was.

Simply put, graduating college with an undergraduate degree is not the accomplishment it once was. There are innumerable jobs that require Master’s degrees before they even require work experience, and you’d be hard pressed to find a place of employment (outside of a low level marketing job or retail job) that requires anything less then a BA and there is virtually nothing that requires only a BA without prior work experience or additional qualifications. That’s nothing new though. The undergraduate degree has been the new High School Diploma since before I entered college. What I find particularly disturbing is the fact that we can go through four years of fairly grueling academic study, and not feel a profound sense of pride and joy.

When a college graduate enters the world, there is no longer a sense of joy. People who have been conditioned to view themselves as students are thrust from the cozy familiarity of college to the grind of the working world. These students might have complained about term papers, or getting up at 9 am for a class, but the truth is that when all was said and done they prefer college over pretty much any other situation. There is no other time in life where such an expanse of possibilities lay before you, yet you can still be cocooned in a circle of friends and free housing, sequestered from the financial obligations of the real world. No term paper frustration can match the horror of haggling with an insurance company over the phone. And waiting for your grades to appear online isn’t nearly as tense as navigating the job market.

So what’s the point? Why belabor the trials and tribulations of the college grad, or belittle the accomplishment of graduation? It is because as a new generation of worker bees enter a job market that is particularly hostile, they may not know why they aren’t as excited as their parents and loved ones. After years of schooling that were supposed to lead them to the next stage of their life, they might feel strangely unprepared for the reality that awaits them. Not because they were uneducated or unaware, but rather because it was presumed college would give them the tools necessary for the real world. Instead, they’re finding out that education continues well beyond the classroom.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In the Criminal Justice System…

Anyone who is currently unemployed or actually watches NBC primetime on a regular basis (I think the unemployment numbers are higher) can finish the statement started by the title. “There are two parts. The police, who investigate crimes, and the district attorney, who prosecutes the offenders. These are their stories.” This is followed immediately by a bell whose sound cannot be fully described nor duplicated or associated with any natural occurrence. Also, lets be honest here, the bell has no bearing on the show and it doesn’t make any sense when you consider the larger context of the television program. But, I’m not here to critique bells. I am here to critique a show that has like twenty off-shoots, employs every actor ever fortunate to get a set of glossy headshots, and somehow manages to keep Chris Noth relevant after Sex and the City went off the air.

So here is a list of the things that make Law and Order what it is. The good, the bad, and the childishly immature.

1. The approximately 1,000 versions of the show.
Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and the short lived Law and Order: Trial by Jury. Listen I know I’m not the only one to bring this up. If you’ve seen a stand-up comic in the last five years you’ve heard this joke, but indulge me here while I regale you with rejected ideas for new Law and Orders

Law and Order: Basic Misdemeanor Unit
Law and Order: Graffiti Patrol
Law and Order: Domestic Disturbance
Law and Order: Jaywalking
Law and Order: Truancy report

2. The way they have the same actors doing completely different characters within the span of three episodes.
Apparently the people who cast these shows don’t like searching for new people to play defense attorneys. They recycle victims, witnesses, and even murderers to play the obligatory slimy defense attorney. Hey, I know it’s hard to find good talent out there, but space it out. Its hard to watch a father grieve over the corpse of his raped and murdered daughter only to see him an hour later defending the Mexican immigrant who farmed out her uterus to a wealthy couple who couldn’t have a baby.

3. Jerry Orbach
I have nothing bad to say about Jerry Orbach. He was the man, Lenny Briscoe was the best cop ever (yes, he beats EVERYONE from NYPD Blue), and the world is left wanting after his passing. Just to reiterate…Jerry Orbach is the freaking man.

4. Vincent D’onofrio and Jeff Goldblum
Both of these men play lead detectives in Law and Order: Criminal Intent. It all started with Vincent playing an offbeat, incredibly smart detective who speaks in an abrupt, mannered style. Then apparently, they were throwing ideas around in the writer’s room and someone tossed out this gem: “Hey you know all those traits Vincent D’onofrio has to act like he has every episode? Let’s just cast an actor who does that in every role!” Next thing you know Jeff Goldblum’s phone rings. Seriously guys, who is next…Christopher Walken?

5. When they catch the murderer within the first 15 minutes.
I hate when they do this because I know the next 45 minutes are going to be spent in court with Sam Watterson asking questions like “Your Honor you can’t be serious!” or if he wants to change it up “Is this some kind of joke your Honor?” It always involves some screwball defense plan like “God told me to do it,” “the tumor was inhibiting her impulse control,” or “before I sawed that guy in half he said he wouldn’t press charges.” By the way, the first two have actually been used in the show. The point is they spend all their time in the courtroom which means they don’t spend their time out on the street with…you guessed it, Jerry Orbach. Who is the man? That’s right. Jerry Orbach.

If you understood 3 or more of the five poorly articulated jokes on this list it means you need to stop watching Law and Order and get a job.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Deadly Game: Job Hunt pt. 1

I would like to usher in my return to blogging by introducing a series called “Deadly Game: The post graduation job hunt.” Within this series you’ll be able to relive every excruciating, demoralizing, emasculating, doubt filled moment of my job hunt as if you were right there with me! Huzzah!

I know, I know, you’re thinking to yourself, “Francis, the horrible state of the economy, the collapsing job market and the general malaise that has spread over the country is nice and everything, but I’m looking for something that’s really depressing. Like ‘wash the sleeping pills down with cyanide’ type of depressing…can you supply that?” Unfortunately I cannot. As a young person with the future ahead of him and a relatively stable home and family life, I can’t provide the kind of pants-crapping terror you’ve become accustomed to. What I can do however, is make you grateful you didn’t decide to hang your hat solely on a BA in English.

So, let’s set up this first little gem with a little background. I’m graduating in August with a BA in English and a Writing Certificate (whatever the hell that means). I am fortunate enough to have a lot of positive influences. My father and sister have taken job finding to the level of art. If only job hunting was a paid profession, I wouldn’t need to worry about money because the family would be loaded. My sister was also kind enough to lend me her mentor, Rich Levin (or as he is known in our house “Saint Rich”), for help as a look through the vast wasteland of the current job market.

Despite this help, and the fact that I have been looking since March, I have yet to come up with a decent job, and I have had only one interview. This is the story of that one “interview.”

I had applied to a bunch of low level marketing jobs through GradStaff. The name sounded promising. I am a grad. I wanted to be on a staff. It felt like a slam dunk. A few of the places responded to my application and I was able to set up an interview with a company called Bald Eagle Marketing. It sounded professional, even patriotic, and so I was optimistic. The interview was 3pm on a Thursday, and as it turned out, the office was based in Wilmington, Delaware. Seeing as I live an hour outside Philadelphia, and I don’t have a car or driver’s license, (That’s right ladies, unemployed college grad with no car or license right here. You can start the line for this sweet piece of ass by my bike with the busted front tire) this posed a scheduling conflict for me.

So, dressed in a stunning suit, I caught the 12 pm train to 30th Street Station. I was supposed to catch a train there that would take me to Wilmington at 1:30. That train was 20 minutes late. No biggie, I had padded my schedule for just such a delay. I get on the train at 1:50 and we go on our merry way. Halfway through our merry way, the train stops and decides it’s done for the day, even though we are still two stops away from Wilmington. It did this at a station stop so 40 minutes after we were supposed to keep moving onto Wilmington I hear this announcement “Yeaahhhhh. So the train is not moving. We called for a SEPTA crew but we don’t know when they’ll be arriving or how long it will take them to fix it. So this train is done…yeahhh *click*” I get off the train, call the place, tell them I’ll be late and try to find a cab. Apparently though, I was in a no man’s land between PA and Delaware. Delware cabs told me it was illegal to go across the state line, pick me up and go back. Philly cab companies told me I was too far out of the city, and while I was at it I should go screwmyself.

So I waited, and waited, and waited for the next train to come through the station. When I finally reached Wilmington it was 4 pm. I was supposed to arrive at 2:15. I cried a little bit and then caught a cab to the office, which was WAYYYY farther away from the station than I had anticipated. I paid the cabbie the twenty dollars and went in for my interview.

I went into a cold, small office, filled with other applicants. I was told to fill out a form that required me to give info that was on my resume, which they also required me to have, and then I was briskly ushered into an office by a guy named Mike.

Mike seemed like a nice enough guy, but he didn’t exude authority the way you would expect a potential employer to do. Instead he took me into his office which was remarkably even colder than the waiting room and proceeded to read from a script at the speed of light. It was bad enough that he wasn't actually interviewing me; he didn’t even take the time to memorize the description of the mind numbing job he was explaining to me. the whole thing turned out to be a glorified canvassing job, and all that was accomplished was that he scheduled me for another interview with one of their "top reps" to help them with their job on a "training day", which sounded suspiciously like I was giving them a free day of work. I did my best to quell the instinct inside me that made me feel like painting the room in Mike's blood, and ended the interview amicably. I thought the worst was behind me. For the 40th time that day, I was wrong.

When I stepped out of the freezer they called an office into the sweltering heat of the day I realized something very demoralizing. I did not have enough money on me to get a cab back to the station and still afford the train ride home. So I walked. Three and a half miles down a highway with no shade or sidewalk. In a suit. A stunning suit, but a suit nonetheless. I spent most of that time cursing. Not at anyone or anything in particular, but I thought maybe a constant string of obscenities would make me feel better. If I had to guess, I think it just made me look crazier to all the people passing by in their cars.

When I finally dragged my sweaty ass up the stairs into Wilmington station I saw that my train back to Philly was 20 minutes late. Everything went white after that as an endless river of profanity flowed from me but when I came to I was on the train. With my day closing I called my housemate in Philly and asked him to pick me up from the train station. I realized our lease was up in two days and he would most likely be packing or moving his stuff, so I was thrilled when he picked up the phone and agreed.

Twenty minutes before my train arrived (horrible things happened every twenty minutes this day for some reason) I got a text from my housemate that read “Yo bro, sorry but I’m going to take a nap.” To which I could only reply “Seriously?” So once again, I walked.

When I reached my house, with blistered heels, chafed inner thighs and all, I walked into to find a sight that I can only describe as…frustrating. My jobless roommate, with no schoolwork to do, was sleeping on the couch in front of the T.V. in a house that had not one single item packed up and ready to move. As I looked down on his sleeping peaceful body a profound thought crossed my mind: “I could kill him right now, put his body outside, and no one would finger me for it.” Ultimately though, I decided against it as it might hurt my job search even more if I was charged with 2nd degree murder. That lucky bastard.