“Not just a career move – it’s a way of life.”

Cracking Wise for Fun and Profit

Austin Dispatches
No. 82
Aug. 18, 2005

As I write this, my life has returned to one of those weird periods where work is the easiest part, and everything else is a petty annoyance. I’ll probably regret having written this, let alone posted it, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, yeah, I’m working again. The company shall remain nameless, because too many employers have been firing employees who mention their employers in blogs.1  Austin Dispatches is a Webzine;  in fact, it predates the existence of blogs,2  but you get the idea. Actually, the job is pretty nice – something else I’ll probably regret writing – but that’s not what this issue’s about, either.

I answered an ad online last month. I wasn't thrilled about working a mere $25/hr. for part-time work, but the Texas Workforce Commission was breathing down my neck and I had to meet my weekly job-search quota. In fact, I was only applying for unemployment at Mom’s behest. I didn’t like watching my savings slowly dwindle again, but I almost prefer that to jumping through flaming hoops for chump change that belonged to me in the first place

I actually had to apply twice. My independent contractor income, which the IRS mugged me for earlier this year,  doesn’t count on the TWC’s formula for calculating earnings. In other words, officially I earned so little last year that even a government bureaucracy couldn’t justify adding me to the welfare rolls. Of course, because it’s a government bureaucracy, nothing was so straightforward. During this first time I applied, the TWC mailed two form letters, both confusingly written and designed, that appeared to contradict each other. I had to call the commission’s help line to find out that, yes, I really didn’t qualify for unemployment – but I could re-file on July 5.

Then I pitched the woman on the line on the idea that the TWC should hire me to rewrite its form letters. The response was underwhelming.

Anyway, my new client’s ad was written humorously; something about doing a little of everything, including vacuuming the office. I modified my stock cover letter, the general theme of which I've used since about 1990:
Seeking candidates to fit your needs?
Search no more.
I am a technical writer with extensive experience, including work in software, hardware, e-commerce, desktop publishing, and telecommunications. I've written everything from installation guides to network configuration white papers. I offer plenty of computer experience, a fast learning curve and a knack for getting the job done to your specifications on time. Online writing samples are here. And for a couple of extra bucks on the hourly rate, I'll take care of the vacuuming in the office for you.
Don't let this opportunity slip away. Act today and call to arrange an interview.
The contact quickly arranged a phone interview. During the interview, she said that she just had to reply, to find out if I was a big a "wise ass" as my e-mail indicated. Obviously, I progressed to the second-round interview with the top executives.

To prepare for the interview, I got a trim at the nearest beauty school. Unfortunately, the student cutting my hair was some guy whose appearance put me in mind of an Amish biker. Worse, I could see his hands shake, even without my glasses.

The morning of the interview, menefreghismo3 afflicted me to the marrow. Partly because of the terms of the job, partly because the interviewer was 30 minutes late, and partly because I just can't bother  with the can-do, all-American spirit in interviews anymore.4  I’ve witnessed too much.  Nevertheless, in between mentioning to the execs that I'd still have to look for another job if they hired me for their part-time position, I retailed some shopworn but calculated tales of employment past, and got the vice president of Operations to laugh.
The next day, the first-round interviewer called and told me the VP was raving about me, and he and the president decided they wanted to use me as a full-time writer, now at $27/hr., with the possibility of going contract-to-hire  in a few months. We'll see.

This could be the big breakthrough I’ve been struggling toward. Even if it is, it’s been so long in coming, I’ve become too jaded and paranoid to appreciate it. Then, just as the first paycheck arrived, coinciding with a spate of interesting social events, whatever allergen arrived with the rains  triggered sneezing and snuffling so bad I couldn’t go out. That’s never happened before.

Austin Death Watch

The groundswell of outrage at the Kelo decision has saved Players from eminent domain – for now.5 

I read in the Statesman that Will Wynn is among the mayors lobbying Congress for more money for public (i.e., government) television and radio.6  Actually, I didn’t actually read that in the Statesman. Someone on a political forum I belong to posted it.7  I’m too cheap to buy that rag and I don’t want to bother with registration to read beyond the headlines online.  My two years working for Cox Enterprises was payment enough.8  But I digress.
Anyway, one would think a man in the midst of divorce proceedings,9  and presiding over a debt-ridden Hooverville with palm trees,10  would have more pressing matters than fleecing taxpayers to subsidize the wan media outlets of geriatric yuppies.11  Particularly since these same outlets eagerly, openly accept contributions from much-reviled multinational corporations, often with tentacles in weaponry, energy, and agriculture.12

Austin’s ruling elite has conceded its barriers to public participation in elections, a.k.a., municipal campaign finance reform, don’t work. Wes Benedict and his campaign manager, Art DiBianca, have uncovered the fact that nobody on the City Council actually follows the ordinance restricting money in city races. The councilmen don’t even bother to deny it.13  In other words, my side wins the argument. Of course, that's not going to translate into its members voluntarily doing what's right or smart, i.e., removing these barriers so we can take over faster.14  A $600 fine from the Texas Ethics Commission against the Austin Police Association Political Action Committee doesn’t count.15 

Glen Maxey, the fruity former Democratic representative, will front the statewide campaign against a proposed constitutional ban on marriage for dykes and homos.16  This is the same Maxey pad who lead efforts to eliminate tobacco in local bars.17  Apparently, Maxey favors only one type of smoking, which makes his concerns about health suspiciously inconsistent.

Local law enforcement officials are subjecting Austin Community Television to a lengthy criminal investigation over missing operating funds, possibly in the six figures.18 

On the Town

Aug. 6: Texas Culinary Academy19  held an open house with free food.20   I needn’t have bothered. I was nearly trampled to death by the crowd, which built up during the delay of the start time because the staff was still setting out ice sculptures. Inside, these sculptures took up a lot of table space that could’ve been used for food. Plus, the sculptures dripped onto the floor, so someone from the academy with a mop had to be in the midst of the crowd, always in the way of where I was trying to go, usually a table with yet another sample of cold soup. But the janitors couldn’t be everywhere at once. Someone skidded on a patch of water. His elbow jostled me and I spilled a cup of melon soup on the both of us.

Aug. 12: A booth-tanned, gum-snapping bachelorette party swarmed the Buzios Room at The Copa. For a while, during the dance lesson, the sex ratio was about 10 women for every man. But these broads were bad dancers. They were more interested in hooting and downing tequila shots. Then they vanished and the composition of clubgoers verged on that of a sausage party.

Neighborhood News

Someone in my complex left a propane-fueled outdoor barbecue grill by the garbage bin. My next door neighbor salvaged it. She needn’t have bothered. She cut her finger on it dragging it to the second story. Then she tried to pass it on to me. Neither of us could use it without breaking a clause in our leases. (So who in the complex was using it before?) I recommended she arrange for Goodwill to pick it up and claim it as a tax-deductible charitable donation (retail value: $269). Instead, she left it outside, hoping someone else would drag it away. After two days, somebody did.  A month later, she was gone, driven out of town by the same stagnant job market I’ve written about before.

City workers finally painted traffic markings on the newly resurfaced stretch of Gracy Farms Lane outside my apartment. I’m still waiting for the City to reply to my phone query months ago about when they’d be finished. And if they are finished, they need to work on picking up after themselves. They left orange sandbags and black cardboard stuck in the runoff drains. Then the water backed up onto the repainted street during the recent thunderstorms. Good enough for government work, indeed.

A sub shop franchisee plans to open a Firehouse at the strip mall at Duval Road and Gracy Farms Lane by early November.21  The Austin Chronicle reports ratings woes for KEYE-TV.22

A Dollar Tree store has opened in the Parmer Crossing shopping plaza. A sidewalk is being built along the west side of Metric Boulevard, between Lamplight Village Avenue and Walnut Creek.

Media Indigest

INSite Magazine is trying to branch out from endless interviews with vapid celebrities. Its July issue contains earnest features on organic grocers and the Downing Street Memo.23

E-mail: austindispatches@swbell.net Home    Archives   

1 Lambert, Pam. “Blogged Out of Their Jobs.” People 8 Aug. 2005: 107.
2 AD No. 50n68 (May 14, 2003).
3 Tosches, Nick. Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, corr. ed. New York City: Delta, 1999: 52, and passim.
4 Nisbet, Robert A. The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America, 1st ed. New York City: Harper & Row,1988: 17.
5 AD No. 81 (July 7, 2005); “Cheeseburger Reprieve.” DT 12 Aug. 2005: 4A; Mottola, Daniel. “Austin Stories.” AC 19 Aug. 2005: 15; Warmbrodt, Zachary. “University Will Not Remove Player’s to Build Hotel.” DT 11 Aug. 2005: 1A+.
6 Alexander, Kate. “Mayor is Going to Bat for Big Bird.” AAS 11 July 2005: B1+; King, Michael. “Mayor Wynn: Save Public Broadcasting.” AC 15 July 2005: 19.
7 DiBianca, Art. “Suggested LTE re CPB.” E-mail to TCLPActive, 11 July 2005.
8 AD No. 20 (Aug. 27, 2000).
9 Scheibal, Stephen. “Vowing Enduring Support, Wynns Agree to Part Ways.” AAS 26 Feb. 2005: A1.
10 AD No. 42n1 (Oct. 30, 2002); Fisher, Ted. “Go Tropical With Hardy Palms.” AAS 24 Aug. 2004: E3; Rodriguez, Erik. “Amid Lean Budgets, Austin Adds Debt.” AAS 13 Sep. 2004: A1.
11 Walker, Jesse. “A Rumble on Sesame Street.” Reason Aug./Sep. 2005: 61.
12 Lee, Martin A., and Norman Solomon. Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1990: 84-92.
    I interviewed Solomon in 1991 (Eisler, Dan. “Media Fail in Watchdog Role, Author Says.” ODE 30 July 1991: 1+).
13 Dunbar, Wells. “Benedict Charges Campaign Finance Violations.” AC 29 July 2005: 20.
14 Eisler. “Re: Chronicle Article: Wes and Art Shake Tiny Fists.” E-mail to TCLPActive, 28 July 2005.
15 Dunbar. “Austin Stories.” AC 19 Aug. 2005: 17.
16 Smith, Amy. “Lege Notes.” AC 15 July 2005: 16.
17 AD No. 79n8 (May 22, 2005); Bahadur, Gaiutra. “Revisiting Smoking Ban.” AAS 14 Feb. 2001: B5.
18 Dunbar. “More Summer Fireworks at ACTV.” AC 15 July 2005: 20.
19 AD No. 54n20 (Aug. 22, 2003).
20 Welch, Diane. “Calendar.” AC 5 Aug. 2005: 70.
21 Outon, Chantal. “Firehouse Banking on Austin Remaining Hot Market for Sub Sandwich Shops.” ABJ 1 July 2005: 5.
22 Brass, Kevin. “Lifting the Curse at KEYE?” AC 22 July 2005: 24+.
23 Bleicher, Zac. “Austin’s Organic Groceries: An Alternative to the Altered.” ISM July 2005: 8+; Felkner, Jim. “The Downing Street Memo and the Media’s Sound of Silence.” Idem., 13.