So, my original plan was to write roughly once a month about my adventures here in Los Angeles. In reality, what has happened has been this: THREE installments in THREE years. Truthfully, that's roughly par for the course for me.
EPISODE 3:The Experiment, The Layoff...
August 10, 2002
For those wanting the long-awaited "pumpkin jones" story, please visit episode 3.1. You'll be glad you did!
Let us flash back to December 2001, shall we? The fifth of that month, of that year, specifically.
After putting in my morning of work on the music industry website hitsdailydouble.com (the online extension of the real-world magazine known simply as HITS) I ambled into the office, as I often did on a Wednesday, a bit later than my usual 1:30 arrival.
"Sorry, Bud," I said to my editor, Bud Scoppa, who was often referred to as "Bub Scalpel." "I had a meeting that ran a bit long. Sorry I'm so late."
With sad, sad eyes, Bud looked up at me and said, "They're laying you off." Where "they" meant the two guys who owned the magazine and website and "you" meant me and "laying off" meant fucking over.
"Oh wow," I said. "Starting when?"
"Immediately." Bud sighed, much to his credit, then added, "I'm really sorry. They're making a big mistake if you ask me."
What I said to him next was, "Well, quite honestly, this isn't a total surprise to me."
"It is to me," Bud replied.
Truth be told, it wasn't a "meeting" that "ran long" that had delayed my arrival at work until roughly 2:15. It was an improv rehearsal with Tiny Hostages that had turned into lunch and then had turned into a late lunch. Good thing I didn't hurry back to work.
All told, I believe there were about six people canned. Other than me, my fellow editorial pal Yennie Cheung (often known as the YenDawg) and everyone's favorite Quebecois Walter, whose last name was always elusive to me ( just imagine it's French with all those crazy vowels they don't really pronounce or even need), were also given the ol' heave-ho.
My co-workers seemed much more traumatized and shocked than I was. In the moments after finding out about the abrupt end of my job tenure at HITS, I felt an odd sense of peace. OK, in some ways, it was only a matter of time before the ax fell on me. If it hadn't been the dire economic atmosphere which permeated the music biz (among other industries) at the end of last year (which was caused by a group of fellas who decided to fly some planes into a handful of buildings...it was in all the papers, certainly you heard about it); if that chain of events hadn't necessitated my departure from the mag, my "experiment" certainly would have brought that same fate about at a later date.
ODD INTERLUDE #1: I've noticed a few things in my free time since losing my job, and so I'll offer a few unrelated images. There was the lawn mower left running at the corner of a yard a few blocks from my apartment. I noticed it while I was out for a walk one morning. It immediately made me think I had missed The Rapture and the sole being called home was the immigrant landscaper formerly operating it. The mower ran, unattended, for the whole time it took me to walk down one length of the block toward it and, after turning 90 degrees, the whole length of the block away from it. It just ran and ran, with nary a soul in sight. Its droning a plaintive wail brought on by abandonment, I imagine, a cry out to its owner, wherever he might be.
Ah yes, the "experiment." I believe an explanation is in order.
Inspired in some ways by the movie Office Space, the "experiment" was an exercise in being both below the radar and absolutely essential.
You see, I worked from home in the early, early mornings, writing and editing for the website from 5-11 a.m. Then, in the afternoons, I came to work for normally no more than a couple hours. Originally, I would arrive somewhere around 11:30 or noon and then leave between 3 and 3:30. As the weeks passed (and I realized that on most days I simply sat around looking busy for those three-plus hours), I started pushing my arrival time forward by increments. First, I arrived no earlier than noon. Then, no earlier than 12:30. Eventually, I wasn't expected to walk in the door any sooner than 1:30. My departure time from the office never changed. And even in my final weeks, people -- including the owners of the mag -- would look at me with a look of puzzlement if I was still at my desk past 3:30. "What are you still doing here?" they would invariably say. I would always sigh and reply, "I've got a bunch of work still to do." Then, I'd leave within 10 minutes. You see, I was "below the radar" because I was only in the office about 10 hours a week. I was "absolutely essential" because there was no one person in the office who would trade places with me.
On the other end of my "experiment," I had stopped getting up at 5 in the stinkin' ayem, since no one else was up to check on me. I hadn't gotten up before 5:45 in months, although I would still complain about "having to get up at 5." Now, understand, I was still doing the same amount of work I had been doing since I first got the job as the "morning website guy," I just wasn't spending as much time doing it. With the time I saved, I generally grabbed a set or two of tennis before heading in to the office, or I ran errands, or I worked on the writing that I had come out to Los Angeles for in the first place: scripts for TV and film. As far as my "experiment" went, I had planned for 2002 to include a further pushing of the envelope. Fewer days in the office was the prospectus. I called it the "experiment," because I was trying to see how far I could push before someone finally said, "Hey, um, I need you to work a bit more than you are right now."
ODD INTERLUDE #2: One night while standing outside the Improv Olympic theater where I do my "make-'em-ups," I noticed a hurried man pushing the baby stroller. It was late, maybe 11:30 at night, and the man was running full-tilt boogie down Hollywood Boulevard, pushing the stroller ahead of him. He wore a Members Only jacket and a completely blank expression. He was at a full sprint when I saw him. Who knows how many blocks he had already run, but I watched him cover two blocks in a matter of seconds. He was really moving! There was a baby in the stroller, by the way. Perhaps one only pacified by speed.
OK, so maybe I reaped a bit of what I sowed, because the company royally screwed me with what they referred to as my "severance package." After two years and one month at the magazine, I was given two weeks' pay...plus payment for the three days I had worked on my terminal week.
UPDATE #1: The layoffs did not stop with me. A few months later, another wave of employees were given their walkin' papers. And then, just a couple weeks ago, yet another wave. This third wave included two more of my editorial compatriots: Kenya Yarbrough and David Simutis. Kenya, who worked there only slightly longer than I did, got FOUR WEEKS as a severance package. Now what, I ask you, is THAT all about? I mean, c'mon! Not that she didn't deserve more than that, because she certainly did, but why did I get the shaft so royally? Ugh. SIDEBAR: When I first started work at HITS, I had two editorial assistants: Kenya and a guy named Chad Kultgen. I liked it that my assistants were both named after African nations.
To put this "generous" package into perspective, there was an editorial staff member we'll call Doreen, who had been fired in the summer. Doreen was incompetent. She was so bad at completing (at least, in a satisfactory manner) whatever was assigned to her that almost from the time of her hiring her duties were whittled down week after week until she did next to nothing. Even after all that remained of her duties was one lone task, and one I used to do in a single day, and which she somehow, someway dragged out for a week. Even after that, it still took them three months to get the cojones to fire her. And when they fired her, they gave her two weeks' severance.
Hey! That's exactly what I got! Wait a minute... She was fired for incompetence and I was laid off. How come we got the same exit package. Oh wait. I'm forgetting the three days pay I got in addition to the two weeks. Oh yeah. That's the difference.
UPDATE #2: It's funny. Since the layoffs have continued at HITS, I've kind of felt an odd sense of pride in being among the first to be let go. As if the other employees are late in jumping on the bandwagon. I mean, if you think about it, it would probably make more sense to feel something like disappointment in knowing I was so inessential. But I really feel like, "Oh, you guys just got canned? That doesn't impress me much. I got canned back in December."
"Of course, Jeff," President Todd said during my exit interview, "you're always welcome to come visit. We have nothing but the highest regard for you. This is a decision made strictly because of the financial situation and not because of your performance. [Ah-hah! The experiment was a success!] You know that we think the world of you."
"Of course I know that, Todd," I said to him (at least in the version of the moment that I replay in my head). "That's why you guys are generously paying me for those three extra days. And doing me such a big fucking favor by taking away my printer, which will only join the two or more other printers lying around the office gathering dust, and which will be impossible for me to find a replacement for because of the age of my Mac laptop, which will cause me some amount of consternation since I need to be able to print stuff from my computer since I'm trying to make a living as a writer and all. Of course I know I can always come to visit, that the door, which is now hitting me in the ass, will always be open. That's good news. Super good news! Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go. Those high powered rifles won't clean themselves."
By the way, Todd is one of two company presidents...in a company that employed about 50 people. Therefore, on the big pie chart of the HITS hierarchy, the slice marked "presidents" would take up 4% of the pie.
UPDATE #3: Of course, now that the number of HITS employees is down to about 30 people, while the number of presidents has remained unchanged, the big pie chart would show that the slice marked "presidents" would now take up almost 7% of the pie.
ODD INTERLUDE #3: But finally, and seemingly, most appropriately, there is the pawn shop at the corner of Cahuenga and Melrose, Brothers Collateral Loans. It's the one I pass on my way to the improv theater. They have a motto: "Pawnbrokers to the stars!" As if they would get celebrity endorsements from the down-on-their-luck stars who had hocked stuff there. "Oh yeah, Adam Rich from Eight Is Enough once pawned a set of knives and a .45-caliber pistol, right before he went down the street to sell plasma. And, if I'm not mistaken, we've handled merchandise from just about every member of the original Facts of Life cast...even Molly Ringwald."
Ultimately, I was relieved to have been thrust out of the comfort of a job I could so easily subject to the "experiment." Let's face it, I didn't come to Los Angeles to write and edit for a music industry magazine and website. I came out here to write for TV and film. So, that's what I'm doing right now. I'm living my dream.
Yes, it's a little scary, a little unnerving. I don't currently have a decent lead on a steady job. But I'm in the right place for the right reasons. All I have to do now is dedicate myself to the task.
And try not to waste my time at the beach.
I'll let you know how I do.
FINAL UPDATE: On July 3, I got an email from an old buddy of mine Jen Garber. I knew Jen from my days back at the PitchWeekly, when I was an editor there and she was doing publicity for American Recordings. Jen now worked at a site called ArtistDirect.com and she was dropping me an email to let me know that there was a job opening and I was the first person she thought of. How nice of her, eh? After meeting with Jen and Penny Hewson over lunch early that next week, I was offered the job. And just over a week ago, I started working again, nearly SEVEN MONTHS to the day after being laid off. They call me a "managing editor" of the content on that website. And even though I do have to leave my house for the job, my office is literally seven-tenths of a mile away. The pay's not great, but it sure beats making no money.
NEXT EPISODE: Something special is in the air.
© 2002 Jeff Drake