Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Updates From The Heartland: The Move, Pt. 4

So, out of the blue, about two and a half months ago I get this call from one of the few remaining financial big magazines. I had met with the editor there before he was editor there, and we had hit it off way back when. Now, much to my surprise, I got a call about whether I wanted to come in and interview for a staff writer position.

Knock me over with a feather, dig?

I said yes, of course, even though I knew it would cause a certain amount of sturm und drang over here, not to mention agita, and a few other words in foreign languages. We had agreed to move, but the "good job" caveat was coming into play, and I was just as surprised as anyone.

I got out a nice suit, and dressed up for the interview, but didn't really have too much invested emotionally. By now I have been on so many interviews that I knew relatively few ever go anywhere. Still, I figured I would put my best foot forward, and do what I could.

The magazine, let's call it "Personal Riches", was ensconced in a large, perhaps massive is a better word, midtown office tower. This, I thought, is a real place to work. It had security, expensive art in the lobby, a reflecting pool out front. I cleared security and went upstairs to meet my interviewer, Richard. (Not his real name, etc.)

In Richard's office was his number two, a pleasant woman named Gloria. We started to chat, and since I had nothing to lose I felt unusually free and confident. Suddenly I noticed everything they said they wanted in a writer seemed to track with my experience, it was kind of spooky. The topper came when they asked me if I could handle being a mere staff writer after being an editor? I answered that this was more than good for me, and, don't worry, I could always mentor the various younger reporters who know nothing.

We all had a good laugh, and, what do you know, soon an hour had passed! Always a good sign. Then I met some other editors, and we all hit it off famously too. Soon I started to feel kind of warm, and not from my blue suit. We were clicking. Really clicking. I was shocked, but ready to see where this went.

Soon after this it was time to talk turkey, and here's where it got real interesting. I didn't bring up salary, they did. This is always good. You know when the money talk starts that things are going well.

Richard asked me what I would want. I had to think quick. You're always supposed to say what you made at your old job plus, I don't know, 15-20%, or so. But I didn't want to do that, because I had been underpaid at my old gig, and didn't want to lose money courtesy of the penury of my former employer. So I pulled out the oldest trick in the book, I asked THEM for a salary range.

Here's where it gets fun. Richard kind of apologized at this point and told me that while I wouldn't be making "Forbes money" (this is how he phrased it) they could still pay a decent wage. I nodded serenely. Then he quoted me a figure that was just about twice what I made at my old job. I nodded again, perhaps a touch less serenely. That they were willing to indulge my almost transparent gamesmanship made me feel confident, much to my shock.

"I realize things are tough these days," Richard added, almost sheepishly. "But as things improve we'll see more from corporate." Oh my. So this is the kind of money real people make! It was strange to finally feel like I might get to join the adult world.

I took a moment, let the dollar figures sink in and then answered: "Well, I guess I will have to put the yacht in dry-dock."

We all smiled, ha-ha.

Soon the interview drew to a close. As a formality, more or less, I was asked to cobble together a few story ideas and send them their way in the next week or so. If it takes a little longer don't stress it, Richard said.

Fine, I had a few ideas.

Once downstairs, downing a late afternoon pushcart lunch by the reflecting pool, I took a moment to parse what had just happened. A job basically finds me from out of the blue, I kill during the interview, it's what I would like to do, AND it would pay actual money. What had I done wrong for things to all of a sudden go so right? This just wasn't my typical style of career luck, i.e. bad.

But I didn't look forward to the call to Randi. I knew this change of plans would upset her, as she was ready to leave New York post-haste. What would we do? If we stayed she couldn't get her old job back, we had missed the deadline. Could we swing a deal where I worked in NYC part time and lived in Kentucky part time? I didn't know, couldn't know. I decided I wouldn't try to put it all together now.

On the phone Randi was upset, as I expected. But it was what it was. I didn't like to see her upset, but this opportunity was just too good to pass up. For all of us, not just me. With more money we could send Stella to summer camp when she got older, maybe get a place in Kentucky and here, finally get to enjoy New York like a civilized couple, not always two steps from a tenement existence, only with Thai takeout. Which we can't even order all that often.

The next few days were tense, and Randi and I discussed this new development, sometimes heatedly. I stuck to my guns, I had to go for it. Initially she was not pleased. I didn't want to make her unhappy or hurt our marriage, but I thought this was something I needed to do.

About a four days after the initial interview Randi came around, which made me really grateful and appreciative. "Look, there's no way we can turn down that money," she finally conceded. I agreed. I am not a big one for making your whole career about the money, but ... this time I thought I could make an exception.

I told my mom, who almost cried with joy over the phone. She, of course, didn't want us to move. She didn't want us to go, didn't want Stella to go, and thought that my career options were better in NYC. But mainly she was so proud that someone, somewhere finally offered me what I was worth. She said she always knew I deserved something like this, and always believed in me. I was swelled with gratitude. The kicker was that she said she was thrilled for me, even if I didn't get the job.

I told her to please keep it between us, as there was no offer yet. The next day, of course, I get calls from my brother and sister congratulating me on my new job.

Still, I was confident an offer was likely.

I decided to run with their suggestion of a "few" story suggestions. I would blow their socks off. I sent them five story ideas that I thought were dynamite. They were immediately returned and unanimously rejected.

Whoa, must've been a misunderstanding!

Then I decided to go another route. Over the next week I wrote two five page mini cover stories, basically, that took research, writing, phone calls to sources in the financial world, the whole deal. I killed myself to make these great and knew they were the best I could do. I sent them in on a Friday, full of piss and vinegar. Just try to not hire me now suckas!

Early Monday I received a call from Richard. Excited but confident I picked up the phone, awaiting my offer.

Instead I received a quick and conclusive rejection. When I picked up my jaw from the table I sputtered out something like, "how?"

My packages were too much, basically, he said. It was like I was trying to show off all I know, rather than write something that readers would really need.

How can you answer that? (Too much knowledge? Huh?) You can't. I didn't. I said thanks for reading, and with a ghost of our former collegiality, he wished me luck as we ended our call.

A day later I emailed Gloria to see if she would be kind enough to send me a brief email to explain where I went wrong. I still couldn't see where. Her note back was very kind and gracious and she said she would get back to me in the next few days.

The next few days never happened.

I walked around in a fog for about two days, shocked and dismayed as my new life melted back into my old one. I am ashamed to admit today that I had even gone so far as planning a new car purchase. After a year on the job of course, I didn't want to be rash. But still, I had allowed myself to dream that much, even as I realized I was being premature. (It was a Lexus, by the way, not the expensive one, the middle of the line one. Black.)

At 38 I now had to face the reality: I would have to start over, even if I didn't feel ready. My last hope for really making it in the city had fallen through; the latest and greatest in a string of lost opportunities and mistakes. The straw could not be grasped, the hail Mary pass would not be received. I would now become a New York Jew in Kentucky. Not quite Mark Twain, is it?

I realize I promised to tell you about the move itself in the first entry. I will get to it in the next one. No lie.


Anne Stesney said...

I am so sorry. What a kick in the pants. II can only guess from what you wrote that there was an initial fear that you were overqualified, and your work proved it. But it's never a bad thing to be thought of as "too good".

You're a great writer and I've been riveted to your story. And you know, the door is never closed. I've been called back to places as long as a year later.

Good luck.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Anne,
Thank you for such a nice compliment. You made my day! I think the time away from NYC will help me gain perspective on my career and writing, which are not always one and the same of course.

I am so happy to hear that you've liked the story so far. I hope you like what's to come too.

Take care, and I hope the NYC heatwave has been at least bearable.


Kiri said...

The bastards! Well, we're in a weird time, David. Everyone but everyone is looking for a job. You were probably going up against 25-year veterans from Newsweek.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Kiri,
True, but I never found out if there was more to it. Oh well, that's life in the big city I guess.