With all the ads lately, I’ve been thinking about jobs.
Actually, the better word is gigs. I currently have at least two.
When I first moved to L.A., I found myself subleasing from a paternally half-Chinese young woman. She was a recent graduate of an East Coast MFA film program and lived with two other late-20s former classmates. (I mention “paternally half-Chinese” only because I’m quite sure it was what separated my cold Craigslist email from the pack and convinced her to “take a chance on an unknown kid,” to quote Travis Birkenstock.)
At the time, I was a 21-year-old fillip. Not to say I was skinny — oh, I was still carrying the standard Yale dining hall-issue surplus layer of tofu apple crisp. But I was very green and impressionable.
Let’s give our girls names. I took over the lease for Natalie. Her two classmates were Emma and Michelle. To recap: Natalie was breaking her lease and moving back east because she’d found the film industry too exhausting. She was moving back to the town of her MFA program, to work in their university gift shop. Meanwhile, Emma and Michelle had secured gainful employment … in the service industry. Michelle was “chief icer” at a trendy cupcake bakery, while Emma was a waitress at California Pizza Kitchen.
So, we have 3 young women each holding a 6-figure fancy film degree, and 3 corresponding jobs having nothing to do with film. Like many people in the restaurant industry, Emma and Michelle worked odd, unpredictable shifts, often spanning 7 days a week. First lesson: To survive in Los Angeles, you may have to take egg timer jobs.
I came up with the name because each morning that the girls left for their shift, you could expect them back home, feet propped and beer popped, complaining about the day’s customers, in 3 hours or less. I always pictured them arriving at the cupcake counter, or the industrial CPK pizza oven, setting an egg timer for 2 hours, doing their thing, then hearing a cheery “ding!” and heading back home. Rinse, repeat, ad infinitum. Till the maddening ding of the timer was finally replaced with the dull thud of dirt on a coffin.
Needless to say, having these women as my Ghosts of L.A. Future did not make me sanguine about entertainment industry employment prospects. Also, tangential to the point but relevant to this story — the poor girls were total slobs. I still recall a particularly searing image from the sty: a used tampon wadded into a half-empty beer can, shoved under the living room futon. This slobbiness meant they had no control over their personal effects; Emma in particular often left her student loan bills all over the floor. One day I looked:
CURRENT AMOUNT OWED: $186,000
What?! How can you hope to scrape that together slinging BBQ Chicken Pizzas in 2-hour increments? Thus came the corollary to the First Lesson: Some people move to L.A. with all the credentials, to be life-lapped by their more ambitious counterparts as they continue to wait on said counterparts hand and foot, till the hooded specter of death twangs the final egg timer and escorts them to an unmarked pauper’s grave.
But now I’m an egg timer. When I quit my job at Variety in January, I wasn’t exactly sure what the future held. Actually I was: instant fortune and renown! Seriously, I thought somebody would cotton to my vision within weeks. Isn’t that how things work in this post-Lena Dunham world? Though I’m not on the fall schedule yet, I’ll choose to believe that it’s not a negative referendum on my gestalt but an opportunity for a strategy shift.
Enter the egg timers. In the amorphous interim, post-Variety and pre-egg timers, I felt unproductive and isolated. While I was producing many pages, entering contests and holding to self-set aggressive writing deadlines, I missed the ritual of answering to someone. Perhaps more appropriately, I missed the perception that my activity was having some impact, and that said supervisor was impressed and grateful for my existence. So I’ve been seeking out and mulling over my Attainable Dream Job (this is in contrast to my Less Attainable Dream Job—writing and producing my own TV show, of course). And, always a woman of multiple contingency strategies, I’ve also taken up egg timing as a stopgap.
Keeping in mind my lessons from living with the OG ETs (Original Gangster Egg Timers, that is — Emma and Michelle), these are my guidelines:
THE RULES OF EGG TIMER JOBS (ETJs)
1. You cannot take ETJs if you are in debt. If you owe money to the federal government, a credit company or the mob, immediately assess your candidacy for more pragmatic jobs such as consulting, executive recruiting or hooking.
2. Try to work shifts longer than the time it takes to commute to and from the ETJ. Because your third roommate needs time to clean up your tampon-beer cans back at home.
3. Choose an ETJ that delivers a unique benefit to you. Nearly every job offers some kind of perk. Working at a restaurant may get you free food and a steady supply of gratis Splenda packs. But rather than the temporary thrill of a purloined freebie cupcake, why not think big? It’s all about patience and ROI. Today’s dangerous, hopeless and illicit ETJ = tomorrow’s priceless memoir fodder.