Friday, February 27, 2009

The Best of BLOG!: Getting Fired

Two of my friends lost their jobs today, so I decided to re-post this entry, originally posted August 3, 2007.

When I woke up Monday morning, I was gainfully employed in three different jobs: on-air personality and ad rep for the local TV station; writer, producer, and host of a radio show*; and as a "fine art consultant" at a downtown gallery. By lunchtime, the only one I still had was the radio gig, and that pays bupkes. I actually got fired twice in the space of a half an hour. That's got to at least tie the all-time record. I know guys who have been fired from far more jobs than I have, but none of them can claim two separate cannings in 30 minutes.

And I've got kids to feed, Jack.

The television job was the one I wasn't really expecting to lose, but then I've learned to expect the unexpected in my time at Channel 22. By way of explanation, I was "Michael West," the station's movie guy, hosting, writing and producing the Friday night double feature Surreal Cinema and the Hollywood Classics morning movie. I also voiced a lot of the commercial spots, while working full-time as an "account executive," chasing down advertising dollars. In any case, thanks to certain deadbeat clients and others who were slow payers, those ad dollars had been scarce since the end of the tourist season.

I was forced to take the art gallery gig because it offered a base salary, along with commissions, and medical, dental, and life insurance. The fly in the ointment was the job itself, which was to work the floor, selling Thomas Kinkade paintings off the wall to unsuspecting tourists. And I was terrible at it. Apparently, selling art is a whole 'nother head than selling 30-second spots, or quarter-page ads, or used cars. You have to be this obsequious ass-kisser who is simultaneously kissing ass and manipulating the rubes into plunking down a wad o' their hard-earned cash on "Sunset on Lamplight Lane" or "Cobblestone Cottage."

My first day on the floor, I sold three of 'em, splitting the commish with my colleague. This is like taking candy from a baby, I thought at the time. But my beginner's luck was just that, and for the next four weeks -- 20 working days -- I sold not one. Not "Evening Glow." Not "Peaceful Retreat." Not "Mountain Paradise." I had a tension headache the entire time. The owner of the gallery, a former high-ranking military officer turned art magnate, did his best to help me. He told me that I needed to smile more, that I was giving people the "death stare," or as it was known back in 'Nam, the "thousand yard stare." I guess I was having trouble hiding how much I thought the entire experience was something akin to Purgatory.

So it was with great relief I learned that I was relieved of my duties, terminated with dignity, class, and integrity by a most excellent gentleman. He told me that I was a class act, a "cool breeze," and it was certainly a shame that I couldn't sell paintings. But that's what I was hired to do, so after going 0-for-20, I was getting my unconditional release.

If I never see another Thomas Kinkade canvas, it'll be too soon.

After getting off the phone, I made it over to the Greek restaurant to meet the TV boss for lunch, to renegotiate my contract, or so I thought. Turned out, TV boss and his wife had decided to fire me, without severance pay, thus leaving me out of a job, and off the air, except in reruns. We produced over 75 episodes of Surreal in the 14 months we were on the air, so it'll be like I never left. Except for the fact I'm no longer getting paid.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been fired many times. Mostly during my rock 'n roll heyday, when I tended to seek out employment that fit my lifestyle. Back in '88, I made myself available to the local public school system as a substitute teacher. It paid pretty good for a temp job, and the working day was over by 2:30 in the afternoon. I got called to fill in at JFK Middle School, and ever the entrepeneur, instead of actually teaching the students, I sold them my band's swag: LPs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., and signed autographs. I was fired when the girls started wearing the bumper stickers across their chests, and because during one autograph session, I failed to notice one student, who bore an uncanny resemblance to a young Darryl Strawberry, chucking textbooks out of the window at the back of the classroom. The vice principal came into the room, livid. "I'll take over from here," he said, barely containing his rage. "That's cool," I said, "I can make it. School's out in like, 15 minutes."

And then there was the time, I believe we're talking '89, possibly 1990, when I went to work in a boiler room selling accidental death insurance over the phone to Avon ladies. I had just gotten engaged at the time, and took the gig because it paid better than anything else in the paper and required a suit. That's for me, I thought. Basically, you had a cubicle and an IBM computer with the orange typeface spelling out the script: "Hello, this is ____ from Avon Insurance. You recently received a certificate for $10,000 of accidental death coverage. Today and today only, you can double your coverage for only pennies a day..." It's funny, but I played the lead in a Harold Pinter play a few years before, and I can recall just a few lines of that great dialogue, but I can still do the Avon Insurance speech word-for-word. Sad, really.

Anyway, to cope with the crushing awfulness of the job, I devised certain ways to amuse myself. I kept a log of the most interesting names on the call list: Lucinda Lively, Mavis Graper, etc. I composed a rock opera about the call center, with a couple of numbers from the gargoyle in the next cubicle ("Hello, This Is Carol from Avon Insurance/You recently received an accidental certificate/For ten thousand dollars of full death coverage..."), and one from my supervisor Patty Affeldt, or as she was called in the opera, "Patti Awful," a big production number entitled "I'm a Stickler for Time," which was what she used to say when I'd arrive at my desk at 8:01 instead of 8:00 sharp.

Whenever I called and got someone's answering machine, I would leave a cryptic message, often in the guise of "Carlos," a Latino drug mule, or as Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, Patti Awful used to periodically monitor our phone calls -- for quality assurance, no doubt -- and she must have heard me leave an urgent message to call Carlos, or croon Elvis's great ballad "Love Me": "Treat me like a fool/Treat me mean and cruel/Oh, but love me..."

Patti was cruel to be kind, and terminated me with extreme predjudice.

To be continued next week in The Best of BLOG!: Getting Fired 2: Electric Boogaloo

1 comment:

andrea uk said...

I remember the stories of Patti Awful! I don't think you ever told me why you got fired - though the simpsons-esque ballad on customer answer machines sounds like you :)

Thanks for not being rude about the girl you were engaged to. To be honest, I hate blogging and will probably not get round to reading any more (busy bee me) but this story did make me chuckle - especially as I've just been made redundant from one of my 2 jobs; the second redundancy in 9 months. Not the same as getting fired, of course..... Cheers, Andrea H.