Friday, December 11, 2009

Toil and Trouble - Part I

My friend Handsomeboy, the intellectual thug (he reads Nietzsche in German on the bus on his way to brawls) recently observed that there are few existential ills that hard work can’t cure, or at least mask. I, who have been out of work (the somebody’s-official-employee kind) for all but 11 months of this decade, wholeheartedly believe him to be right. I can subsist for the time being on the money my parents left me, so the hardest part isn’t paying for groceries or shelter or a fast connection to the Internet, but making sense of each day, feeling purposeful in a world that, until a few weeks ago, felt fervently indifferent to everything I do.

For instance, on losing my most recent job in March, I, brave little soldier that I am, immediately undertook to write a commercial Stephen King-ish novel, with lots of characters, thrills ‘n’ chills by the crateful, wit, topicality, and far lovelier prose than King's. I worked hard on it, was pretty pleased with what I’d come up with, and invited around 120 literary agents to consider taking the project to market. Around 45 responded. Of those 45, 39 lamented that the book Didn’t Sound Quite Right for [Them]. The other six, to whom I sent the first 20,000 words, and a synopsis of what was to follow, thanked me for my interest and declined to represent me.[Want to see for yourself? Email me.]

It’s been like this for decades. Since co-winning the PEN Syndicated Fiction Contest in 1986, the only fiction I’ve actually published was what I sneaked into the two music biographies, of Kate Bush and The Pixies, I wrote for a UK publisher earlier this decade. In both cases readers were too incensed by what I said about their heroes (I love around a tenth of La Bush’s work, find around 70 percent of it unlistenably self-indulgent, and loathe The Pixies) to notice how sublime it was.

I’ve had a great many jobs over the years, from assisting a guy who drove around Playa del Rey peddling fruit off the back of a big truck when I was 12, to being one of the first designers hired by Deloitte & Touche San Francisco’s ultradeluxe (and ultra-ill-conceived) Web Division 122 years later. The ones I enjoyed most were assisting the fruit truck guy, taking money from motorists who sought to park at Zuma Beach, parking cars at the Tonga Lei restaurant in Malibu, and designing phone cards and other, you know, collateral for Destiny Telecomm (an elaborate pyramid scheme overseen by a charismatic evangelical) in Oakland in 1996. Those I hated most included washing dishes at the Malibu Pharmacy, busboying at Ted’s Rancho Restaurant in sort-of-Malibu, senior-editing Larry Flynt’s Chic magazine for three months that probably lopped five years off the end of my life (stratospheric stress, you see), and processing words for a big fascist law firm in San Francisco, where I was condescended to, at nearly 40, by 25-year-old recent bar-passers who couldn’t write a grammatical English sentence.

Nor was my most recent job, in New York City, from a year ago tomorrow to the beginning of this past March, a day at the beach, though I mostly loved (honestly!) having to get up early, trudge down to the train station through snow and ice (on which I took more than a few spectacular pratfalls), ride, ride, ride down to Grand Central Station, and then hurry through the armies of fellow employed people to my office a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building, all of which took no less than two hours. The job itself wasn’t much fun — I’ll tell you about it tomorrow — but for 13 hours a day, I didn’t have to confront any agonizing choices about how to make sense of the endless hours that loomed accusingly before me, and was only fleetingly beset by existential doubt ‘n’ dread.

I’ll mention briefly in closing today that I’ve gone back — at my age! — to wanting to be a rock star, toward which end I’ve just made a new album that you’ll just love if you give it half a chance. Smirking emoticon.

[From the blog For All in Tents and Porpoises. Enjoy the archive and subscribe at]

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