During the Internet boom of the waning years of the last century, I got five digital design jobs in six months, each better-paying than the last. It felt as though all I needed to do when I got bored (and I always get bored) was stick my hand out the window and a prospective employer would put a better offer in it. But then the bubble burst. I moved to England and had one design job interview in five years. I moved to Wisconsin, of all places, and was offered nothing, even though, at least as I saw it — and I have exquisite taste — I was around 35 times better than the designers already employed at the two places that granted me interviews.
I moved to New York with low expectations, which The Big Apple was delighted to meet. I responded on line to several hundred job postings, and was invited in for exactly one job interview.
But then Dada Entertainment, Italian-owned and in the business of selling ringtones to teens, invited me down (from the Hudson Valley) for an interview with a shriveled little Italian woman who reeked of cigarettes and came as close to smiling over the course of our little chat as I have come to beating Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash. I rode home thinking I’d impressed her approximately as much as she’d impressed me, but then they offered me the job — provisionally. They would pay me $65/hour for three months, after which they would either formally designate me their art director, or suggest that I get lost.
I was pretty gleeful, even though I’d be spending close to four hours per day on the train. I talked myself into trying to revel in the romantic aspects of arriving at Grand Central Station every morning and then walking through the sleet and snow down to 34th Street, past Macy’s, with its famous Christmas windows.
You’re read about how elegant New Yorkers are compared to their West Coast counterparts, how they love to dress up. The New Yorkers by whom I was surrounded looked (and in a couple of cases smelled) as though they’d been recruited from lines outside soup kitchens. Behold the company’s, uh, culture! I worked in a big room with around 15 others seated around a big rectangle formed by eight big tables shoved together. No one actually spoke to anyone else. Even if you could have reached across the tables and scratched the nose of the person with whom you wished to communicate, you were supposed to do it on Skype.
All that aside, I was grateful for the opportunity Dada had given me — at my age! — and did some gorgeous work my first few weeks, only to discover that no one there (least of all La Stellacci) knew good design from horrid. The woman who’d preceded me in the job had been just awful, but her stuff looked just as good to the Italians as mine.
That was bad, but this was worse: I spent most of my time designing little (and I mean very little) banners to be seen on cell phones. One batch, neither better nor worse than any other, inspired lots of clickthroughs, or whatever La Stellacci was getting statistics on every afternoon, and she briefly thought me a genius. I thought of her more and more as a nincompoop.
And, like everyone else in sight, humorless. At one of our big weekly company meetings (at which, to be fair, astonishingly delicious bagels were provided), The Boss of All Bosses, a very tall Italian, wondered aloud if anyone had suggestions. I suggested that everyone be paid according to height (he and I were the only two people in sight over six feet). No one cracked a smile. In many cases, such as La Stellacci’s, I think in many cases they couldn’t hear me over inner voices bellowing, “Nicotine! I must have nicotine!”
I had an ugly little run-in with one of the Web developers. Rather than taking 11 milliseconds to solicit my advice, he’d himself chosen a spectacularly inappropriate background color for something I’d designed. When I came — smiling, cordial, even a little bit solicitous — to talk to him about it, he made a very big display of resenting having to remove his earbuds. When, the following week, he again couldn’t be troubled to consult me, I was neither smiling nor cordial when I called on him, inspiring him to bewail my rudeness. “You, you greasy little fuck,” I said, feeling rather like Robert de Niro, “are in no position to talk about rudeness.” I am very confrontational with persons much smaller than myself.
I got really bored with the little banners, and with the woman who sat directly across the table from me exclaiming, “Awesome!” every 45 seconds, sometimes without perceptible provocation, but just to be sure no one forgot how upbeat! ’n’ positive she was! For me, depression is always a step or two behind boredom, and when depressed I’m not attentive. It became clear, as my probation period began to run out, that they wouldn’t offer me the job. The assistant head of Human Resources blah-blah-blahed at some length about how my Skill Set didn’t correspond to the company’s expectations. She seemed surprised when I laughed at her. My laughter was hollow.
The following Monday I was back to responding to job postings, and to having my responses universally ignored.