Man for the Job
Not long ago, I read that the
average American man goes through seven career changes in his working life. While this number
may seem high to vocationally stable people like doctors, lawyers and drug
dealers, it’s nothing to writers like myself.
gone through at least three times as many careers, including roofer, factory
worker, motel maid, door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, delivery boy, deli sandwich-maker,
apartment house manager, house painter, thoroughbred horse groom, gardener,
movie and book critic, weight training instructor, construction laborer, adjunct college
professor, tree-trimmer, drawbridge operator, TV
writer/director, performance artist, import/export business
manager and tabloid editor.
reason why I’ve exceeded the national average of career changes is because I’ve haven’t
been able to make a career out of my passion, writing fiction. Over the decades, my novels have
been routinely rejected by various publishers with reasons like: “Your
manuscript doesn’t impress us sufficiently on the large scale; that is, in its
can be hard for an aspiring author, especially when his rejection letters are oblique,
redundant and poorly punctuated. As a former freshman composition instructor, I
couldn’t help but notice the misuse of the semi-colon in this particular publisher’s
reply. I’d tried to teach proper usage of the semi-colon for a year before
accepting the fact that nobody knows how to use it and nobody really cares.
In any case, no matter how poorly
rejection letters are written, they all mean the same thing: no million-dollar advance in the
foreseeable future. This, in turn, means that the aspiring author needs to find some
form of gainful employment. And that often involves a career change.
The best careers for someone like me
are those that offer countless hours of free time to daydream and write. That’s why I got
into the bridge-tending profession. I thought that operating a drawbridge would
be the perfect job for a writer. And the scenery, the solitude and the
body floating in the Intracoastal Waterway proved me right.
bridge-tending pay wasn’t great, but as my supervisor explained when he hired me: “You
don’t have to do much.” And you don’t, other than operate about $5 million worth of
potentially deadly equipment while daydreaming about the convoluted plot of a crime thriller
and keeping track of the ball game on TV.
To prepare me for this awesome
responsibility, the Florida Department of Transportation made sure I got a full three days of
training. Both the manual and my instructor stressed that a bridge-tender’s primary
duty is to operate the bridge safely while tying up as much automotive traffic as
possible, especially when people are running late to the movies, a business
appointment or an emergency appendectomy.
Less than a month after I became a
certified bridge-tender, my supervisor had a nervous breakdown and quit. Seeing how I
was the only crew member he hadn’t fired, the higher-ups decided that I
should become the new Hallandale Beach Boulevard bridge-tending supervisor. This
through the ranks was accompanied by a whopping 75-cent an hour pay raise along with the
added responsibility of rounding up a crew of at least six marginally reliable
people who would work for minimum wage.
Of course, even with supervisor
responsibilities, bride-tending isn’t exactly a high pressure occupation. But it had its moments...
Like the day after Halloween. My
home phone rang at 7:07 a.m. I answered it, my hair still caked with fake blood from the
“Man with a Meat Cleaver Stuck in his Head” outfit I’d worn to a party the
previous night. Pam, the Hollywood Boulevard bridge-tender, was on the line.
Pam: Sorry to bother you so early, Gary, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone at the
Pam: The Jungle Queen’s
been trying to get an opening for half an hour. No one’s at your bridge.
Me: (Expletive deleted).
Pam: That’s what the
Jungle Queen’s captain said. What should I tell
Me: Tell him I’ll be there
as soon as I wash this blood out of my hair.
you can see, communication is a very important aspect of bridge-tender
supervision. The Jungle Queen captain eventually communicated to me his displeasure with
the services of the Hallandale Beach Boulevard bridge-tending crew, but he
lightened up when I told him I had a splitting headache from walking around all
night with a meat cleaver stuck in my head (I didn’t mention the Cuervo).
Then I communicated to the bridge-tender who’d
committed the cardinal sin of the trade by
abandoning the bridge house that she was fired.
So I’ve always been a good communicator. Now, I make a living off my
writing, mostly non-fiction stuff for newspapers, magazines and websites. But I’m way overdo for a career change. So if you know
anyone who needs a creative, versatile employee with a wealth of experience to
do something like fly all over the world to photograph beautiful women and/or
taste-test beer, I’m the man for the job.
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