Day jobs and nut logs

This is a list of jobs I’ve had—well, it was supposed to be a list but see what happens when you start writing an innocent little list? I was warned by The Daily Post blog when they issued this writing challenge (which they do every Monday) that this could happen. It’s in chronological order but is by no means comprehensive.

1. In elementary school, my brother Pete and I took over a paper route from an older boy who lived in the apartment below ours. Every day afterschool, we folded the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and jammed dozens of copies of it into the heavy canvas saddlebags the Examiner provided, slung it over the handlebars and went streaking off, trying our best to frisbee-flip the papers onto the customers’ front steps. Sunday mornings were like a death march: Up at 5 am, folding papers that were three times thicker than the daily edition and on the road by 6 am. So much paper, I couldn’t turn the handlebars.

2. I sold candy door-to-door: Caramel nougat nut logs, cocoa-fudge loaves…and miniature bonzai plants. The family that ran this door-to-door business had the same last name as me but were no relation. They were nice people and I respected them but in the back of my mind, I thought they were hicks. The mother had a twangy voice was aggressive and the father didn’t talk much. Their son, younger than me, loved Johnny Paycheck. I’d never met a young person who liked country music. All my friends liked Kiss. They all drove around in a white oversized panel van full of kids and candy, the father steering with one hand and…one stump. They’d unleash us in neighborhoods with really long blocks and would bee us hours later at the end. We made twenty percent on each sale.

3. McDonalds. “If ya got time to lean,” manager Howard intoned, “ya got time to clean.” I leaned a lot, so…I cleaned a lot. McDonald’s has the worst-smelling garbage of all time.

4. When I was 15, I was a dishwasher at a Sambo’s Restaurant in Tucson for a summer. I worked with a dude name Randy who in his late 30s. His nickname for me was “Checker,” which seemed like a put-down, but good-natured (I think). Randy was a rabid fan of David Allen Coe, which didn’t register with me at all. I had no idea what Randy was talking about most of the time. All of my friends liked Kiss. When my dad would pick me up at the end of my shift, he’d amuse himself by referring to me as “Chico”—his racially-themed put down (i.e., only Hispanics wash dishes in restaurants). The joke was really on him: My nickname for him was “dad.”

5. I worked at a Swensen’s Ice Cream stand in the Sherman Oaks Galleria for two weeks. I knew I was only taking the job for a short period, to make some money for I-don’t recall-what. What I do recall is that within two weeks, they had me “closing,” which meant I was responsible for balancing the register and all that math stuff. I sure wish I hadn’t smoked all that…marijuana before my shift. I could barely count my own fingers and was just a complete blank trying to figure out that balance sheet.

6. My first job out of high school was as a floor-walker and cashier at a video game arcade/miniature golf course, where I developed a sleazy side business. The entire place ran on tokens–four for a dollar. As a floor-walker, I was routinely called upon to unjam the coin mechanisms of the video game and pinball machines. So, what would I do with that handful of tokens that was jammed up? I would sell them to my friends, eight for a dollar. I was the token connection, doing business with the locals in the bathroom. Surprise: It’s the only job I was ever fired from.

7. The next year, I taught guitar for a summer, out of a small music store in my neighborhood. They sent me to people’s houses to teach them. My first two students ever were blind women. One of my other students was Neil Diamond’s nephew, who was unteachable because he thought he already knew it all. Yet another was Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s nephew. I didn’t know any of Johnny’s music (all of my friends liked Kiss) but I knew he was someone, because I’d seen ads for his album “A Real Mutha For Ya.” His nephew couldn’t have given less of a shit about learning to play the guitar.

8. In my early 20s, I worked for a month or so as a late shift cashier at a “Zippy Mart” convenience store on the Alabama-Georgia border. That meant I froze my ass off stocking soda in the cooler, fell asleep on my broom sweeping out the entire parking lot and sold truckers lots of battery acid coffee and “Cream-filled Boopers” at 3 am. (Yes, that was the brand name. Welcome to the South.) In the wee quiet hours, I’d also sneak looks at the adult magazines.

9. Then I made the near-fatal mistake of going to work in an office. It’s something I thought I had to do and it ended up doing me. This particular office administered used car extended warranties, which I thought was cool, because I liked working on cars but didn’t want to do that for a living (too dirty). That office was a crushing routine of cubicles and papers, constant phone calls and great health insurance. Most who worked there were people with mortgages and families. For me, it was a job “so I could pursue my music” and indeed, I did pursue it. I played in bands and wrote my songs but having that job was a sell-out, an admission that I’d already failed. I was torn between two masters and served neither particularly well.

10. In my mid-40s, I spent most of a year busking for change on the weekend. (“Busking” means performing in public places for tips). I played my guitar and sang Beatles, Clapton, Springsteen and other classic rock tunes and got pretty good at it. It was something I’d always wanted to do but was completely terrified of. I finally took a personal dare and I rocked it. I made $7 the first night and it only went up from there. I would usually go home on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon with $60 or $70–not bad for having a new hours of fun, making people smile and sing along and besting one’s demons. (Strangely enough, I did not play any Kiss.)

#  #  #

Steve Wagner is a Los Angeles-based freelance copywriter and editor whose clients include American Songwriter magazine, The Hard Truth magazine, the public relations firm MWPR, in Burbank, CA and the diversity consulting organization Global Collaborations, Inc., in Houston, TX. If you are seeking a professional editor, contact him at swagner (at) writer-editor-etc (dot) com and he will be happy to talk with you about your project.

Advertisements

Life Won’t Wait

Life Won’t Wait is the title of the fourth album by Berkeley punk rock band Rancid; It’s also the title of the new book by Michael Essington.

Michael was a punk rocker in the early 80s, when punk was controversial. Polarizing. Going to see a punk show in Los Angeles back then meant the LAPD might also be in attendance. Life Won’t Wait isn’t particularly about punk rock but punk makes some guest appearances.
Last one to die
Michael and I had the same art class in ’81. I was a senior. He was a junior. For a punk, Mike was a respectful kid who didn’t have the “us or them” punk attitude. We talked music. I graduated in ’82 and afterward only ran into him once, around ’95.

I got in contact with him a few years ago via Facebook. He’d published Last One to Die, his first book, which is by turns a shocking, tragic and funny collection of stories.

One afternoon on Facebook, Mike posted that he’d lost his editor for Life Won’t Wait. I messaged him: “Send me the manuscript.” So, that’s how I ended up being the editing of the book. It’s a good read that brings to mind for me Charles Bukowski and Cameron Crowe.

Here’s a little taste:

As I was standing in line to pay I saw a guy walk into the market: tall, impeccably groomed and with movie star looks. I did a double-take when I realized it was Jeff Conaway.

So I did what most people do when they see a celebrity: Stare but try to hide it. Look, but don’t look. But in my head I was saying: “Fuckin’ A, it’s Kenickie!”

He walked into the middle of the store (between the cash registers and the food aisles), stopped, looked around in a circle and yelled “Where are the fucking corkscrews?”

The whole store went quiet and sort of looked at its collective feet.

He walked over to the wine department and looked around then strolled back to the center of the store and again yelled: “Where are the fucking corkscrews?”

When no one answered yet again, he yelled out: “Aww, fuck you guys!”

He walked back over to the wine department once more, looked around once more, found his corkscrew and then walked back to center of the store and got in line to pay. He put a couple of bottles of wine on the conveyor belt along with his beloved corkscrew, grabbed a bunch of “impulse” items (gum, M&M’s, etc.) and then paid.

As he was walking out the door, a homeless guy hit him up for some money. I paused for a second because Conaway was already agitated so I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. To my surprise, he nodded to the guy, put his grocery bags down, fished through his pockets and pulled out a wad of cash. He peeled back a twenty, handed it to the guy, and said: “All right, have a good one.”

Then he got into his car and took off.

Life Won’t Wait is available on Amazon.com.

Thanks for reading,

Steve

# # #

Steve Wagner is a Los Angeles-based freelance copywriter and editor whose clients include American Songwriter magazine, The Hard Truth magazine, the public relations firm MWPR, in Burbank, CA and the diversity consulting organization Global Collaborations, Inc., in Houston, TX. If you are seeking a professional editor, contact him at swagner (at) writer-editor-etc (dot) com and he will be happy to talk with you about your project.

 

Professional writers use professional editors

There is an old saying of indefinite origin which goes something like this: “An attorney who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.”

In other words, in matters which you find yourself too closely involved, hire someone who will be objective.

This same concept applies to hiring an experience copy editor or content editor for your writing.

Good intentions are good but professional intentions are better.

About a year ago, I purchased a copy of a book that a friend of mine had written and self-published. As I turned the first few pages, I found myself in a state of disbelief at the number of grammar and punctuation errors left in the text. I read a bit further on and encountered choppy transitions and instances where the story jammed up when it should have flowed.

In short, it was evident that no editor had been anywhere near the manuscript. So, despite the fact that this writer had filled his book with bracing and entertaining stories, the overall effect was, to my eyes, careless and amateurish.

That author has a lot of talent and had good intentions with and for his book. However, a good, professional editor would have been objective about the text and would have perfected the author’s work and made it readable by a larger audience (and perhaps would even have made it more attractive to a reputable publisher).

So, what am I saying here?typewriter-blue-dark.jpg

Good intentions are good but professional intentions are better.

Professional writers use professional editors.

When results really matter (as they do when you are publishing something), good intentions in the absence of actual know-how won’t get you very far.  Editors exist because most writers write. They don’t edit.

A professional editor is a fresh pair of eyes. He/she will easily find and effectively correct not only the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation but will note and correct, among other things, verb tense and subject-verb agreement, person, use of incorrect words, redundancies and sequencing errors that interrupt the flow and transitions in your material. A good editor will amplify and enhance what is good about your work without imposing his/her own personality.

A professional editor is a necessary link in the chain that begins with the inception of your idea (your story, your poems, your business proposal, etc.) and ends with the creation of a positive impression on your readership or customers.

A professional editor is both a business expense and a good investment.

The big boys–newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, court reporting firms and others–all employ professional editors.

So, when it comes to your writing, don’t be like that attorney representing himself in court. If you’re serious about your work, hire a professional editor.

# # #

Steve Wagner is a Los Angeles-based freelance copywriter and editor whose clients include American Songwriter magazine, The Hard Truth magazine, the public relations firm MWPR, in Burbank, CA and the diversity consulting organization Global Collaborations, Inc., in Houston, TX. If you are seeking a professional editor, contact him at swagner (at) writer-editor-etc (dot) com and he will be happy to talk with you about your project.