I was reflecting yesterday, after a confluence of events that don’t matter, about a time my ship came in and I didn’t get on it.
Picture it: Burbank, California. 2006-ish. Marvin and I were living in a 1926 Spanish-style bungalow, a bungalow I’d waste a lot of time trying to find a photo of, but let’s say I maybe did that and only found several stupid pictures of my own hair through the years.
The house is completely not germane to the story but when I think of that time that is what I think of.
So instead, here is a house I just Zillowed from the street we lived on, a house remarkably similar to our rental, so you can literally sort of picture it.
Picture it: Burbank, California. 2006-ish. Marvin, my spouse, fmr., and I lived in a 1926 Spanish bungalow that we rented for $1600 a month. I pay $800 a month for my entire mortgage now, but that’s neither here nor there.
We also had one of those purple Apple computers, remember those? Remember when they had all the colors, like blue and green and turquoise? And by “they” I mean the people at Apple. I don’t mean the world is devoid of color now. But it kind of is. Those computers were fun. Why everything gotta be gray now?
This is completely not germane to the story but when I think of that time that’s what I think of.
In 2006-ish, I’d been a freelance proofreader for years, a thing I loved at the time because one thing you don’t really want to do in LA is have a job you have to drive to. So I didn’t. I’d get up every weekday and meet my friend for a long walk, and I’d set the timer on the coffeemaker for 8:00, so right when I came home coffee was brewing.
I didn’t make that much money but when you consider taxes and clothes and lunches out and driving it wasn’t so bad, the money I made. I think I brought in like $25,000 a year and a real job would have garnered me about $40. OK, so it was kind of bad.
But Marvin had a good job and was making bank at this computer place. He had also gone back to school to become a teacher.
In the evenings, Marvin and I would sometimes also take walks. Sometimes we’d just stroll down to R and get something. R was this convenience store on the corner that had a sign with all the letters faded except the R.
R was a magnificent convenience store. It was very old, and had creaky floors and a colorful display of do rags near the cash register. I’d always pick out which do rag I’d want. Usually magenta. Best of all, R had just the smuttiest, most disgusting dirty magazines you ever saw. A signature move of mine was, when we were invited anywhere, I’d go down to R for my hostess gift. I’d pick up one of the horrific magazines along with some of the incense R sold, an incense with the refresh-your-house scent Pussy.
The first time I saw it in the window of the convenience store, I did that kind of hysterical laughing where you have to bend over, and then after you try to go back to your dignity—you know, way back there where my dignity is, you’ve seen it—but you keep getting hysterical again.
Anyway, a nice gift bag with a dirty magazine and some Pussy incense was my go-to hostess gift circa 2006, and I really feel like my flowers in a Mason jar circa last-year-when-I-went-anywhere just doesn’t have a same panache.
The other thing is, I was down to the R alla time, as you can imagine, buying last-minute cat food or sanitary napkins or what have you. And Mr. R was always pleasant to me, UNLESS I was buying one of his dirty magazines. Then he barely acknowledged me.
I mean, YOU’RE the one who chose to provide Finally Legal in your establishment, Mr. R. Now you’re judging ME for purchasing your wares? Incidentally, you’re running low on Pussy.
None of this is germane to the story but you know the drill.
So Marvin and I were on one of our evening constitutionals when he mentioned that he was coming along in his teaching degree, and had I noticed that when he GOT said degree he’d be making a lot less, and had I considered maybe returning to a “real” job to make more money to make up the difference.
So I did.
I got this job on the other side of Los Angeles, and I know in other cities, normal cities, that means, oh, dangit, 20-minute commute, but let’s just say no. No, that’s not how that went. I drove an hour each way, going approximately 1 mile per hour, to my job across town.
However, I loved that job. I got a job as a copy editor at an in-house ad agency for a company that made a bunch of stuff you’ve heard of. A flower delivery service you’ve heard of—you’ve seen their ads during the Super Bowl.
A fruit drink you’ve heard of.
A water in a square bottle you’ve heard of.
Other products you’ve heard of.
The in-house ad agency was one floor of a high rise the owner purchased, as you do, a high rise that had an in-house curator who changed out the gardens and art every season just to make it interesting for us. Several times a year we got free flowers after photo shoots, and all the fruit juice you could ever want.
And the people! I loved the people. Everyone was creative and funny. I shared an office with the other copy editor, and he was brilliant. I can pay him the highest compliment I could ever pay a person:
He never annoyed me.
We’d work together in silence for hours, then one of us would say something hilarious about the work we were working on, then we’d laugh and work in silence for hours again.
One of the things they had us do that has nothing to do with copy editing, and this is something I’ve run across a lot in my years of copy editing: No one really knows what a copy editor does. Anyway one thing they had us do was check new floral arrangement name ideas and see if there was a copyright on that name already from a competitor, such as a competitor I won’t mention but it rhymes with STD.
Anyway I remember working in silence one afternoon while we looked up potential bouquet names, and my coworker just saying,
“Smells Like Grandma.”
And then we giggled at this potential bouquet name. Not Pussy-incense giggled, but giggled all the same.
Oh my god anyway.
So one day my flip phone with sparkly Hello Kitty sushi dangling from the antenna rang, and it was this company, this finance company. I’d interviewed with them in the heady days of Marvin first saying, “Get a real job.” I thought for certain I had the position but I did not. I found out from a friend they’d hired from within.
But I wasn’t wrong that they’d liked me. Another job had come up and they’d remembered me and did I want to come interview for it.
“Oh, no thank you,” I said to them. “I really like where I am now.”
For some reason, this set a fire in their loins. Me turning down this fancy finance company was, like, so unheard of or something, that they called me back again. They told me about all their perks. They told me about their two bonus programs a year. They reminded me they were just 15 minutes from me, instead of an hour.
That did sweeten the pot.
So I interviewed with them. Twice! They had me in a large room with many people, MANY people, interviewing me for several hours with no break or food. The second time I went there, I discretely brought a bag of nuts the company I was working for sold, nuts I ate in the bathroom when I got the nerve to ask if I could have a break.
I seriously think the grueling nature of the interview process was part of the deal. Like, if you could handle multiple people grilling you in a conference room for five hours with no break, you were in.
I also recall going back to my office on the other side of town after the interviews, and how colorful our space was, how colorful our people were. How we laughed and didn’t wear gray suits. The candy dish on the work table in the center of the room. The funny poems we left on the coffee pot.
They offered me the job, the finance place did, and it was $3,000 more than I make now, 14 years later. With the bonus system, it’s about $25,000 more than I make now.
It didn’t take me long to say no. And I’ve not regretted it. But now I sit here in my fairly bad neighborhood with my fairly badly colored hair and my fairly small 401(k) and I wonder how life would have been different if I’d taken it.
Do you think I’d have turned all corporate and said things like touch base and so on? I probably woulda been too scared to have a blog. I wouldn’t even know any of you. Maybe I’d have one of those terrible modern houses in a development. A house with more than one bathroom, though. A real place to put the 47 litterboxes! Oh, wouldn’t that be nice!
Anyway, it’s really the only time I ever had an opportunity like that, and I didn’t take it, and I’ve worked in advertising ever since and advertising people are really my people.
Did you ever do something like that? Did you ever turn down something other people would have seen as your big opportunity and you don’t really regret it? Did you end up regretting it? Do you ever ponder it? Would you like some Pussy incense?
These and other Qs burn in my brain.