I'll do anything legal for $5 an hour.

“I can do heavy lifting,” said the stranger on the phone, after we’d swapped hellos.

“OK,” I answered. “And you need some help?”

“Some help?”

“I can do heavy lifting," I said, "if it’s not too heavy.”

“And it pays five bucks an hour?” said the voice, without much interest.

“Yup,” I said, “that’s enough for me.”

“OK,” he said, “When do I start?” And he wasn’t kidding. He thought I was hiring, instead of looking for work.

♦ ♦ ♦

Then again, you don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? There's a month of the zine missing.

Life got crazy and there wasn't time to write about it, sorry. What little I scribbled and typed wasn't any good, so that issue of the zine will never exist, but here’s what happened in February, and why.

I finally quit my job at "a department store," which was Macy’s. There were a few slight friends there, and I'll miss them, but it's an evil and unpleasant place and I hated it. And yet, I kept showing up every morning. That's a mistake I made five times every week, but no more.

After hours, after a crappy but completely ordinary day at the office, I showed my badge to Security one last time, rode the elevator up, and walked around amidst all the empty desks. Said a psychic goodbye to Kallie and Carlotta, and Louie and the other ghosts of Macy's Past. Stole a stash of staples as my lovely parting gift, and logged into the system, but only long enough to send an email to my boss and co-workers. "Adios, everyone, and good luck. —Doug."

Why? Because life is short and then it's over. Much of it is out of our control, but whatever you can change to make life better, you should.

In 1991, I made a major change from my old life in Seattle, where I’d had a shitty office job, a few friends, and a family that I loved and still do. I wanted more mental elbow room, more options and fewer obligations, and a life absolutely my own. So I dared myself to do make a change.

With nothing lined up, knowing nobody, unsure where I’d land, I came to California. It was scary, but it's been a big improvement — and yet, had I really come a thousand miles to Frisco, only to spend the rest of my life at another shitty office job? No, dang it. So I dared myself, again, to make another change.

Which means, I am not looking for another shitty office job. Instead, I’m trying to pay the rent with an endless series of short-term jobs. That way, even if the work is every bit as boring as Macy’s (and it hasn’t been, so far!), the faces and tasks will change more often. I can walk away from any gig I don't like, and there'll be something different tomorrow. At least, that's the plan.

To hustle up work, I’ve made flyers, and inserted them in copies of the Bay Guardian, slipped them under windshield wipers, and glued, taped, and stapled the flyers to telephone poles and news boxes all around the city. If you need somebody to do something, give me a call. "I'll do anything legal for $5 an hour."

The phone number on the flyer is my voice mail, which I check a couple of times daily, and then return calls. When the calls go good it’s a few hours’ work, maybe a whole day. When the calls go stupid, well, there's one of those at the top of the page.

So far, I've worked about a dozen gigs, including mowing a lawn, cleaning kennels, editing some guy's free-lance article, and running errands on the bus (which was my favorite, because I actually like riding the bus). Most of the gigs are just a few hours, and only once. Here's your money, tips are allowed and encouraged, and then it's goodbye.

There's been one recurring gig, though, working a few hours nightly for a guy named Jose, who runs a sound system business out of his garage. When a bar brings in a band, or political wingnuts have a guest lecturer, they call Jose for the equipment and expertise, and Jose calls me for the lugging.

It’s hectic and loud, and involves the dreaded heavy lifting, so I’ve been coming home drenched in sweat after every two-hour shift. I don’t particularly like the work, but I like Jose, and it’s better than working at Macy’s. Honestly, every gig I’ve worked is better than working at Macy’s.

Will there be enough gigs to pay the rent? Well, not yet. When I first started leaving the flyers all around town, it was three damned days until the first call, so I've tweaked the text, and reduced my asking price. Business has picked up since then, and I'm recklessly optimistic.

Without a steady paycheck, though, the zine will have fewer movie and zine reviews, and no hints at all about finding a good omelet at a diner. I'll also have no health insurance, but I’m basically healthy, and there's always the Berkeley Free Clinic.

It's all a journey without a map or even a trail. I don't know where I'm going tomorrow, what I'm doing — maybe nowhere and nothing. The whole idea might be stupid. If it doesn't work out, though, so what? I can always get another shitty office job, if I have to — but not unless I have to.

Today there’s no work lined up, but some guy left a message and an offer I might refuse, or might not. He wants me to pose for ‘art’ photos, and it sounds risqué. Maybe I'd be nude. Haven't decided whether I'll do it, and that’s what I like best about “anything legal for $5 an hour” — it’s always my choice. Gotta love a job where you can say no.

♦ ♦ ♦

Last week, my mom, sister, her live-in boyfriend, and her daughter were all here, visiting from Seattle. We did the typical tourist stuff, including my first day at Alcatraz, which was surprisingly real and not the gaudy plastic tourist trap I’d expected.

My mother is still my mother, and she gives it everything she’s got. We finally listened to my father’s funeral on tape, which is something I never needed to hear, but if I hadn’t listened I’d never have heard the end of it. I did not, however, let her drag me to church.

For further details on Mom, check out last August’s issue, but I don’t need to write it again. Every time she visits it’s the same experience, the same stories, the same nagging about Jesus, and “When are you coming home to Seattle?”, and “When are you going to meet a nice Christian girl and settle down?”, and blah blah and also blah. I love her, and I’d love to see her for a few days once a year, but this was her third visit since last summer.

Katrina is my big sister, and she’s doing good. She‘s the only completely sane sibling I have (she’s got none), and also a friend. We snuck away from everyone else to smoke a joint together, and laughed about old and present times. If I was normal, I’d want to be like her — she has friends, a job she doesn’t hate, and she gets along with our family better than I ever have. 

It was the first time I’d met her fella, Dave, and I was mistaken when I wrote in January’s issue that he’s her dealer. Turns out that was a different Dave, the Dave that Karina used to live with. This new and improved Dave is an electrician, not a drug dealer, and he had the good sense to pay for my beer, so I approve of New Dave.

My niece Kimberly, despite being a teenager, is not obnoxious. She's a self-confident wisecracker, and she kinda reminds me of her father, who’s dead but I loved him. Hadn’t seen Kimberly since she was in grade school, and it’s surprising how little she’s changed. She’s taller, her hair is green, and she has boobs now, but other than that she's still the kid I used to babysit.

That’s the abridged version of February, and now, onward into March...

♦ ♦ ♦

With no work arranged for today, I spent the morning reading zines and writing this one. Ramen for breakfast, and ramen for lunch, because the budget likes 10¢ meals.

Called the ‘art’ guy who’s probably a pornographer, and left a message on his machine: "I’m fat and ugly, and if you want me to pose for $5 an hour I’ll do it, but you gotta give me a set of the glossies." If it happens, I'll run the pictures in the zine.

Then I rinsed yesterday’s sweat off my skin, and flyered a dozen south-of-Market blocks.

♦ ♦ ♦

Jose, being on the edge of show business, knows people who know people, and I’ve met a few of those people already, just tagging along with him for work.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dahlia Diamond — she's a drag queen who came 'round to Jose’s office last week, where the two of them volunteered me to do some backstage scut work for a no-budget play that Dahlia's directing. She described as Rocky Horror meets Jesus Christ Superstar.

There'd be no pay, she stressed, but drag is almost always a hoot, and helping out with a perverted play sounds like fun, so I said OK.

Great, said Dahlia. Show up at 7:00 Wednesday night, at such-and-such an address.

Well, check the calendar, dahling, it’s Wednesday night, so at 7:00 I was there, but to my surprise, Dahlia didn’t want to talk about me being an usher or running a spotlight or anything like that. It was open auditions — dozens of actors and dancers were there, and she asked everyone to fill out an info sheet, list your training, talent, and recent credits. Uh, even me.

I haven’t been on stage since I forgot my lines in a high school play, but I filled out the form, and Dahlia had me read for three parts: Herod from the Bible, Curly from the Three Stooges (renamed Curvy), and ‘Bad Cop’. I was predictably awful at all three, and it didn’t help that we were cold-reading off a hand-written none-too-neat piece of notebook paper. One of the other actors kept saying ‘Coke’ instead of ‘cock’, because on the page it sure looked like ‘Coke’.

Most of the people auditioning were characters themselves. One guy brought a portfolio of pictures of himself in various roles, like he’s the big professional, but then he couldn’t keep a straight face when the script called for gay lisping. His opposite was a woman who acted surprised when she was asked to read for a speaking part — “I thought I was here to be an extra,” she said — but then she took over the stage like Streisand, shouting and emoting amazingly. “Honey, you’ve got the part,” said Dahlia.

The choreographer wanted to see everyone dance, so I knew my night was about over. I can’t dance, and when I try it’s like a drunken hippopotamus. I was in a what-the-hell state of mind, though, so I danced, surrounded by people who’d danced before, some of them professionally.

Soon I got winded and wise, and went where I belonged — in a seat, not on the stage, to watch the real dancers. We’d all been shown the same 14-step routine, and I never made it halfway through without screwing up, but after maybe ten minutes everyone else was doing the whole number in perfect unison, like a Broadway show.

After the dancing debacle, Dahlia had me do another reading, then politely said she’d seen enough. I’d Hindenburged up there on stage, so I said thanks, grabbed my backpack, walked home, and had ramen for dinner. 

You know what, though? No regrets. I can't act, can't dance, and we're lucky nobody asked me to sing, but it didn’t cost anything and I had a blast.

From Pathetic Life #10
Wednesday, March 1, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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  1. I've read the original of this issue several times. I never noticed the typo in your flyer. "I'm 36 tears old." Is the illustration above an actaul image of the flyer, or did you recreate it?

    1. Recreated, with an added typo. I had a copy of the original, but it's far faded and hard to read.

      Try try again.

  2. Michael Nesmith died today. He was the musician in the Monkees, and he was more than a little embarrassed about that membership, but, like the baker, he needed the dough. (It would be another ten years until his mom made *her* dough). He wrote Different Drum, which launched Linda Ronstadt into the stratosphere, and Joanne, which is just one of the best pop songs ever written. Godspeed, Mike.


    (Doug, could you heat this up for me?) I'm looking in the back of Popular Science for correspondence courses in HTML, but no luck so far.


    1. 'Joanne' is a great song, and 'Different Drummer' probably is too, but that one I heard too many times and got sick of it (there was a local shop that used it as a jingle). Mr Nesmith leaves triumphant, though.

      It's beyond my magical powers to heat up a link once it's posted, but I can reheat it like a microwave: 'Joanne', by Michael Nesmith and First National Band.


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