Monday, July 24, 2017

My (Three-month) Life in PR, Part 4: The joy of the weekend lasts for about five minutes

So my spirit, as much as it's ever given to lightly soaring, is closed to crush from Day One. New strategy. I’m going to try to hold on as well as I can until five o’clock every day, be happy I have a job that can cover rent while Leslie is home with the baby, and keep the griping to a minimum. Does this get me through Day Two? Maybe, I honestly don’t remember. As far as the work itself goes, I’m caught in a trap where it feels both mind-numbingly boring and yet I’m out of my depth and can’t do anything right and will never understand the untold subtleties and mysteries of professionally installed window film. Did I mention there is not much you can say about professionally installed window film past the first two minutes of learning about it? It is a film, on windows, that provides tinting and shade. There you go.

And yet there is neverending cycle of PR endeavors of the wonders of professionally installed window film that must be fed for W____ C____ to keep reeling in that sweet, sweet professionally installed window film money. There are pitches. Blog posts. A monthly press release. A fucking quarterly window film newsletter. Podcasts. Videos. Infographics. Look, I’m not saying window film is not a fine and useful product. But there are only so many ways to entice major publications that window film is a film, on windows, that provides tinting and shade.

There’s really no need to bore you with the specifics of the work. It was a job of stuff that some people are happy to do but which I was ill equipped to excel at. That happens. I can accept that. There are many, many jobs I have been ill equipped to excel at. Frankly, most jobs I have held I have been ill equipped to excel at. Boiled down to its essence, I have determined that there are two jobs in the universe that I have the opportunity to excel at, newspaper man and grocery store clerk.

So it wasn’t really about the work, except when it was. It was about the people, specifically my bosses, of which I had four, which, as I may have mentioned, seemed a little bit top heavy for a company with nine employees. Of the three vice presidents, there was one who was slightly demanding, but in the perfectly acceptable way that bosses are expected to make demands of employees. If I was doing work that didn’t crush my soul, she would have been a fine supervisor. The second vice president treated everyone like she was a first grade teacher and we were all six years old. The third VP had the charming habit of never asking you to do something, but telling you to do it.

I’ve blocked out most of the day-to-day work crap that drenched me in misery. I can’t remember the specific spreadsheets I would spend hours and days filling out with media contacts only to be told I formatted the spreadsheet wrong. I can’t remember the specific pitch e-mails I was forced to rewrite and then rewrite again because I was told that no one, no one would be interested in that boring pitch about data conversion. I can’t remember the specific press releases where I was told that there is a very specific language that must be used to tell consumers about the magic of professionally installed window film.

What I do remember is telling the owner that I could not make it to the company’s holiday dinner because my daughter was sick and being badgered to attend -- well, you have to eat dinner, you can stop by for an hour, it is a team-building exercise, it is really important that you attend, you should think it over and get back to me. What I do remember is telling the owner that my uncle was dying of cancer and that when he did die and I asked to take time off, I had to send her the obituary and when I didn’t do that right away I was sent emails on the day of his funeral reminding me to send a copy of his obituary. What I do remember is less than three weeks into my new job walking out to my car and calling my old boss and asking what the chances were that I could come back. What I do remember is coming to work every morning to the mansion on the ocean in one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen and feeling like I never wanted to see this beauty again, it was ruined for me and the ocean and the dapply dapples and the waves crashing were nothing more than the hard rock in my stomach that doubled me over in pain every morning on the way to work and kept me up at night for hours later than it should have because the earlier I went to sleep every night the sooner I would have to wake up and the sooner I would be back at work. What I do remember is that for my lunch breaks I would go sit by myself in my car, eat a baloney sandwich and watch the clock, calculating just how long I could sit in the parking lot before I would have to go back to my desk. What I do remember is the relief of leaving work at five o’clock on a Friday for the weekend, only to not even have that relief last for more than two turns down the highway when it hits me that I’ll just be driving back the other way on Monday morning.

What I do remember is the shame of finally making enough money to provide for my family but wanting to do anything but the job that made enough money for me to be able to provide for my family. What I do remember is being about a month into the job and being an absolute non-communicative asshole around the house to be around and Leslie asking me what was wrong.

Is it the job? How is it going?

Not so good.

Next up, Part 5: The light at the bitter end of the tunnel, and more jokes, I promise

Friday, July 21, 2017

My (Three-month) Life in PR, Part 3: I’ve Made a Huge Mistake

Now, it’s hard to determine just how much trepidation I had going into my new PR job after Thanksgiving. I know there were nagging worries about things like “stepping outside my comfort zone” and maybe even “ learning things” and “sitting at desk all day without vague excuses to leave.” But hey, I was going to be making some money and mostly doing things like writing, which I was fairly certain I had done before. Mostly my attitude was good going in. Well, there was the bit about the offer letter. Apparently, the owner was really goddamned serious about me mailing back the offer letter asap. Because it was a legally binding document which would hold my soul in the depths of PR purgatory? Perhaps. But paperwork has never been my strong suit. This would probably be a recurring problem, given the amount of busywork I’d be given. But really, I mailed the damn offer letter. It’s own its way. Chill out random art collector lady.

But I make it to Day One, offer letter delivered in time to make things official, with some modicum of enthusiasm. I get introduced to the few people who work in the office, the rest work from home and I’ll meet them later, get the typical email setup password here’s how to turn on the computer deal. I’ve made it one hour in with no major damage to my psyche. This is about as good as it would get. From this point on, the rest of the day is warning signs with all the subtlety of those “Use you-ah blinka”  LED signs the MassDOT puts up and down the Pike.

First, there was the employee handbook. Honestly, there’s a lot I skimmed. It’s an employee handbook, after all, it’s like reading through the licensing agreement for iTunes. They could be telling you that Apple is owed one kidney every time you press play on the abomination that is Piano Man, but you would never know it. Scroll through and click yes. Flip through the pages of the employee handbook and sign and date the back page. But all always make a pitstop at the dress code section. This is shit that impacts my life! Jean/no jeans? How much ironing should I plan on doing? Ties? Dress down Friday? It was nothing surprising, clean, neat, no jeans except for Fridays, collared shirts, no exposed piercings or tattoos. Hold on. No exposed tattoos? It’s not like I’m Dave Navarro hosting InkMania Tattoo Challenge World or whatever, but unless I’ve got on longsleeves buttoned up, I have a little ink showing. Is this the hill I want to die on on the first day? Hey look, exactly how serious are you about this one part of the handbook I bothered to read? Is this an only when I go out to visit clients thing? Does it matter that the tattoo on my forearm is of my daughter’s birthdate and an adorable, preschool looking whale? Exactly how much botox have you been taking for your lips (possibly unrelated to the issue at hand, but also hard to ignore). For the time being, I would let this one pass and wear the long sleeves.

More troubling was the handy primer I was given by the employee who sat in the front room of the mansion/office with me, highlighting the things I should know at the job. After beginning to read this, I immediately become nauseous, my heart sinks, and all the other cliches signifying “what the fuck have I gotten myself into” hit me at once. The first nine pages of the everything you need to know to succeed at W____ C_____ primer focuses on such important pieces of PR knowledge as: What types of flights to book the owner on (First class, but always look for a deal), what limo company to hire to pick said owner up to take her to the airport, various tidbits about airline and train transport for the company’s vice presidents (in addition to the owner/president, there are three VPs for a company that tops out at nine employees, this will not go unremarked upon in future installments), what types of salads to order for staff meetings, what types of sandwiches to order for staff meetings, how many bottles of flavored water to pick up when you go pick up said salad and sandwich orders for the staff meetings.

By the time I get to the sections of the primer that are specific, and specifically boring as to actual PR things which I will actually be doing and hating in the future, I am already coming to the realization that I have made a huge mistake. I’ve come from the world of the newspaperman and newspaperwoman where we might not make enough money to pay all the rent, every month, but goddamn if we have ever had to buy our bosses a frighteningly specific salad. We have our standards, dammit.

Later in the day, I meet with the owner to discover which PR accounts I will be working on. Keep in mind, I have spent the past two decades covering ZBA and School Board meetings, and, if not exactly enjoying them, at least appreciating them on a certain municipal level that most of society may not quite cotton to as a form of entertainment. But here is a sampling of companies I will be working on accounts for: truck tires, but not just any truck tires, mostly forklift tires; data conversion, which consists of turning text into other text, maybe, for the computers? And window film, which is a thin covering that keeps out light in car and house windows. Now you know everything you need to know about window film. But there is a monthly newsletter for this shit, the window film beast must be constantly fed, and it will be my job to feed it. There are other accounts, almost as thrill-a-minute as these. All these accounts are overseen by one of the three vice presidents, who don’t really coordinate with each other as to giving a shit about what you are working on outside of their accounts. I haven’t met them yet. I will.

Good lord, I go home praying maybe it’s not as bad as it all seems, maybe window film has hidden depths that are at least as exciting as a good fight over raising school lunch prices by a nickel versus a dime.

Day one in the books, Leslie asks me how it went.

Next up, Part 4: Struggling to find ways to make crippling depression and ulcers humorous

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My (Three-month) Life in PR, Part 2: This interview is like a bad Raymond Chandler story

I was mesmerized by the ocean view. That must have been it. The ocean view and the money. Two things I didn’t have at my current job and wasn’t much averse to having in a new job. The unwell/injured dog situation had been taken care of and I had a date for the interview with W___ C____. The company wasn’t in an office so much as it was in a mansion by the ocean in Manchester-by-the-Sea, the type of seaside suburb that’s invariably described as “tony” in newspaper speak. I rang the doorbell and was asked to wait in the anteroom (okay, glorified hallway) for the company owner to come out. I felt like Philip Marlowe in the opening of The Big Sleep, not sure if the chair I was in was for sitting or show. The marble-floored room was filled with some kind of Freshman Intro to Art sampler pack. Nautical painting! Human torso sculpture! Japanese print! It was like someone was hired to go to a Sotheby’s auction and the only instructions given were to bid on “art.”

After about 10 minutes, the owner brought me into her office/conference room, directly overlooking the sun-dappled Atlantic Ocean on an especially dapply, sunny day. She wasn't in a wheelchair, and I wasn't offered bourbon, so the noir vibe faded a bit as the Stepford Wife feel ratcheted up. I don’t remember much of the interview, mostly because I stared at the gentle waves of the ocean. Goddamn, leave me alone, I want to work in PR because of blah, blah, blah use my skills to help with the blah de blah I’m just going to stare at this outcropping of rocks offshore. I was asked to “help” with a “project” they were working on, was given a pamphlet about some kind of ski school something or other and asked if I could come up with a headline for a possible press release. Of course I knew this was all bullshit and knew it wasn’t that they needed my help, but that it was an itsy bitsty testy type thing. I played along.

There was also a lot of talk about how my experience as a reporter would be a good fit for the position, and several questions about types of PR people I have dealt with, how a PR person could best reach a reporter and so forth. The honest answer was that, to the best of my ability,I tried not to deal with PR people. I did not give the honest answer.

I was asked if I thought the job would be something I thought I would like to do.
I started at the ocean, sunny and dappled.
I think this would be a perfect fit!
I drove home with the salt air in my nostrils drowning out any doubts that had begun to surface that I really had no idea what I would be doing if I got hired.
About a week later, the owner calls and offers me a salary about 25 percent over what I was making at my current job.
I’d be starting the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Next up, Part 3: I’ve Made a Huge Mistake

Monday, July 17, 2017

My (Three-month) Life in PR, Part One: Click Here to Apply

Look, I’ve been in and out of the newspaper business for going on 25 years now. I’m cool with that, I accept the fact that I’m in a business that is going the way of coal-powered dodo birds, the telegraph, and professional jitterbuggers. If I’m the last one standing the day the stop rolling the last press, feel free to chisel it on my tombstone.

For most of those years of professional newspapering, however, I have held out hope, the hope of all the poor newspaper men and women (which is pretty much all the newspaper men and women) of getting a Public Relations Job, in which I would make money, and perhaps wear a suit, and write things that are generally ignored by real newspaper men and women, but did I mention the money?

Which is where I was again at my second go-around at the best newspaper I’ve worked for (and not to ruin the story, but there is a third go-around) on another day with another meeting and another paycheck that paid one or two few bills. So I did what any frustrated, daydreaming newspaper man or woman would do when faced with the frustrations of the job. I went on, entered “public relations” in the search box, and watched the public relations jobs I would probably never have scroll down the page. I scrolled with as little effort as is Internetily possible, I found a job near me, one which did not require a cover letter and I could apply for through submitting my archived, frankly unproofread over the past year or two Indeed resume with a single click. Did I mention that I was sick of being called into one more meeting? I clicked. I forgot about it. I went back to my second go-around of the best newspaper job I’ve had and figured I had shown them, strictly in my mind, that I could apply for another job where no one will ever call me.

Yeah, I know, this would not be much of a story if the public relations place never called me. So I  called back from a Walmart parking lot where I was my best charming phone interview self and of course I could do all the PR things, whatever those were, and I was looking to transition into the field and all those good things. It went well, I thought. At the time, I didn’t reflect on the fact that nothing good has ever happened in a Walmart parking lot.

The president of the company called me back several days later to schedule an interview. I called back several times and left messages without getting a call back. Screw it, I guess I wasn’t that impressive. But eventually she calls back, apologizes that she didn’t get back to me because she had a pet emergency and had to bring her dog to the vet. I should trust the reader to find the spots later in the story where this will turn out to be ironic foreshadowing, but I’m going to come right out now and foreshadow the foreshadowing, because screw that damn dog.

Next up, Part 2: This interview is like a bad Raymond Chandler story

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Start small

Where do we go from here?
Put aside the anger, sadness and shock, and when I am on social media, that's the great unknown most of my friends seem to be struggling with.
We should do something.
But what?
Short answer, maybe, is something. Anything. The journey of a thousand steps, a small pebble makes big ripples, etc etc etc.
We can't all do all the things all at once. So start small. I'm mostly convinced that we got into the mess in this first place not because we did the wrong things, but because we didn't do anything. Other than voting, I know I didn't do a hell of a lot.
Start small. Know that no matter what you do, there will be someone who tells you that whatever you are doing won't matter, that you should be doing this instead of that. This will come from people who you believe are on your side, don't even contemplate what those who are against you will say.
But don't let that stop you, if you believe in that one small thing and take action, it will matter more than all the lofty, unkept goals you can ever imagine.
Leslie is working on petitions to overturn the electoral college process. We are figuring out companies that do not deserve our support. Frankly, I've heard Papa John's makes some pretty crappy pizza as it is. But we will never know for sure, now.
I'm planning on attending the Salem Democratic City Committee meeting at the end of the month, when I am no longer a working member of the press. Is this a huge commitment? No. Is it a bigger commitment than I've made in my 28 years as a registered Democratic voter? Yes. My voice will be heard, even if it is at the smallest level possible.
And I will write. I'll keep writing. I am back in this now.
Talk minus action equals zero.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Whatever gets us through the dark night

I don't remember when the first time I realized art could get help get me through shitty times.
I do know I can work my way backward. I do know that living on the edge of anxious times, you need your loved ones by your side. Sometimes that's not possible. Or sometimes you need a little more.
I don't remember the first time I needed music, or literature, or hell, even a podcast, movie or TV show to get me through the shit.
I do remember the beginning of 2011. My marriage was finally falling apart for the last time. I had lost a job. Another job. On the plus side, I was diagnosed with depression. A plus because it helped me face something that had already been facing me for decades. Depression wipes out the desire to enjoy, enjoy anything you have found enjoyable. My marriage was falling apart yet I'd still go to sleep every night in our bedroom, knowing the clock was ticking down, and the only thing that kept me sane, helped me fall asleep and think tomorrow might be okay was Marc Maron's WTF podcast. Christ, here was this guy articulating the hurt and anger I was going through, having real conversations, and providing one of the few friendly voices I could count on on a regular basis. It's a gross overstatement to say Marc Maron saved my life, but for a stretch, when I was withdrawn and sick and scared, he was the voice I heard more than anyone else. Here was a guy whose life was an almost total disaster who was able to turn it around, find his place in life.
It was the theme for me in those days, and when the rubber hit the road and I was on my own (after a brief stay with the parents, who were always there for me, too) I dug further back, pulling out my copy of Black Flag's Damaged, blasting Rise Above as moderately loud as you're able to play anything in a Honda CRV. Goddamn it, I was going to Rise Above, I did Rise Above dammit, maybe not to Everest like heights, but convincing myself that I could rise to any height that would be even modestly higher than falling deeper into a pit of despair and failure was a major achievement.At the age of 41, I finally got my first tattoo, the Black Flag bars, and if that's a tattoo most get at half the age, fuck it, it still means everything to me.
Further back, 9-11. I made a mix tape. Maybe my last mix tape. Jesus, I was 31. Have I ever not been a teenager? Heavy on Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Cliff. A nation in need of uplift, me in need of uplift. Coltrane is in the top tier of my secular gods, measuring any other artist up to him isn't fair. In all times of national tragedy, it would be hard to do any better than to shut up and press play on A Love Supreme.
Before that? I'm thinking it was the normal growing up stuff that sent me to art, mostly music, to make sense of it all. Hell, I loved the Replacements, but I couldn't listen to Unsatisfied for almost two decades because it hurt too much. That has to be some signifier of great art that it's too painful to even deal with.
Which brings us to now, when many of us are hurting. Thank the great sky gods in the heavens that my personal situation has never been better. But that doesn't mean all the fears and anxieties of this particular time in history go away. And that's where the music and art that means the most to me comes in. My blood pressure was through the roof until I picked up Moby Dick on Wednesday night, an old friend, a revelation, words that slow me down yet that I almost know by heart. And it is almost Thanksgiving, which means it is time to put on The Band's The Last Waltz. It's a yearly tradition that almost makes me feel hopeful again.
There are things I can change, you can change, we can all change to make things better. How much better? It's a lie for anyone to say they know right now. But there is a reason great art endures, or personal favorites remain old friends in times of sorrow.
We will rise above.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Second Annual Top 10 Books I Read This Year List

Last year, I initiated my now highly awaited best books I read this year list. And now it's back.

Once again, the disclaimer that these aren't the best books released in 2015, because who the hell only reads books that come out in a certain year? Rather, it's the best books I read this year, with the caveat that I don't include books that I've read before. By chance, a couple of books on this list did pop up on some actual best of 2015 lists, so I guess books might be the one area of pop culture that I am even close to staying on top of.

Last year, I read 83 books and the top four or five books fell into place pretty easily. This year, I hit triple digits, and from early in the year, there was a clear front runner for the number one spot. All the spots under it were pretty fluid, though. I whittled it down to 20 in contention for the top 10, wimped out and put in a three-way tie for number 10, and I could slide those 2 through 10 books around on any given day and be happy with the order. Ultimately, the unifying factor for my top books was that they were the ones with an atmosphere that stayed with me the strongest, no matter the genre or if they were fiction or non-fiction.

Looking back on my 2014 reading list, it was pretty obvious to me that it was heavily male and white. This year, there was a touch more diversity.

Last year, I wrote a little something about each book, but I think I make a dopey book reviewer, so this year, I'll just share the list with minimal yammering.

10. Soft Water - Robert Olmstead
10. The Mayor of McDougal Street - Dave Van Ronk
10. West of Sunset - Stewart O'Nan (The one book I initially gave less than a 5-star review to on Goodreads, but grew in stature for me in retrospect.)
9. Wolf Hall - Hillary Mantel
8. A Head Full of Ghosts - Paul Tremblay
7. The First Bad Man - Miranda July
6. We Were the Mulvaneys - Joyce Carol Oates
5. They Marched into Sunlight - David Maraniss
4. Freedomland - Richard Price
3. Americanah - Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche
2. Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem
1. A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James (This one was on top of most Best Book of 2014, won the Man Booker Prize this year, and I was itching to read it. As soon as I finished, I wanted to read it again.)