Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Five More Thoughts (Paid Writer Ed.)

Five More Thoughts (Paid Writer Ed.)

Let's see, we've got two parts each trivial life observations and media criticism, spiced with a delightful soupcon of navel-focused metabloggery. Finally, I've made it!

1. Just give me a second to talk to my manager
In general, I suppose I'd like negotiation better if it weren't so dully scripted. Well, that and if it didn't actually involve talking to people. A good half of Americans are woefully unsuited to wheeling and dealing--not everyone can make a living peddling vapor--and con men always need marks. (I lie and tell myself I'm a conscientious objector.) But everyone has to deal at some point, and those life situations that involve sizable and volatile investments can put everyday slobs in a difficult place. We'll pay someone 5% of $400 grand to resist that lower offer on that house. When it comes to automobiles, we're played for suckers in every aspect of the game:

"I'd like an oil change please."

"Do you want our premium lubricant service?"

"Just the oil, please."

Typically at this point, the technician will punch my tag number into the computer, and shake his head indulgently. "Mr., um, Heegins? I see it's been 5500 miles since your last service. You should--"

"Please. Just an oil change."

"I see. Our high milage oil is good if you..." (he'll lower his voice and lean in here) "…have excessive wear on your engine."

"How much more did you say that was?"

The negotiation must go through several rituals, not unlike the arcane art of inhabiting a house. After the premium pitch, I'm shuffled to the waiting room to review the 'why we should service you twice as often as the dealer says' posters, and the one that hints at such lost and potent automobile knowledge as serpentine belts, as though I were in a real shop. Meanwhile the technicians rip my hood up and tear off this cap and pull down that hose like an experienced pit crew slumming it in the burbs. At about 2 minutes in, there's the customary showing of the air filter. "Yeah, I think I can wait till next time." At 7 minutes, the technician comes to the door with his arms behind his back and a steady, serious expression, a doctor about to deliver difficult news. "Mr. Heegins? Please come with me."

He drags me to the computer to show me, in a couple of powerpoint slides, cartoon horrors of unflushed radiators and unreplaced oxygen sensors. The screen is worn and stained from presenting this same act to the thousands of other customers. It's his best act, but also the most the most dangerous. I'm a guilty and a lazy automoble owner, but I'm not quite this stupid. The moment trails off, and then it's all business, ringing up 50 bucks for what I could have done on my own for ten.

Fed up with the charade, I took it to a regular shop last time, and I didn't have to view the air filter. "Mr., um, Heegins? You might want to be careful about those brakes. The rotors look a little thin."
2. The Starbucks Coffee Paradox
Across the street from the shop is a Starbucks, and while my car was hoisted on the lift, I grabbed a Globe and an execrable coffee from the counter. Although I fancy myself to possess the rudiments of Epicureanism, I've never achieved coffee snobbery, just so long as it's bitter and caffeinated and tears my guts apart, I'm pleased enough. But the 'buck still sucked with the over-roasted rankness of 4AM pot of desparate sobriety.

At home, we've tried a number of shitty little coffee-making apparati. Want I want is straightforward enough: a good cup of coffee from a pot that doesn't dominate my countertop, and whose cost reflects the essential function of producing brew without my intervention. We've tried a number of coffee brands, and are dissatisfied with most of them. What works for us? Starbucks. Spooooky.

[Hey, I needed five.]

3. Obviously, they're both lying
Sitting there with my newspaper, I caught my third reference in a day to the Giuliani/Romney smackdown on Tuesday night. What happens when an inconsistent force meets an object the exact shape of a man's suit? Well, you get a passive little snit over who lowered taxes more and more often. Mitt says he lowered 'em 17% as governor, but got accused of raising them 10% (I think I got the claims right), whereas Fightin' Rudy cut taxes 23 times. Precisely zero of the reports (including the one on NPR) informed me of whether Mitt's shit (or Rudy's doodies, somebody please stop me) floats.

Let me put on my citizen journalist hat for probably the first (and hopefully the last) time here. In the early aughts, when I first moved here, the Republicans were, in the face of slightly less underfunding than in the previous couple of years, slavering over an income tax 'rollback.' Mitt, when voted in, attempted to deliver this, but when these cuts revealed themselves to be on the wrong side of the Laffer curve (revenues dropped) the legislature stopped him at a 5.3% rate (from 5.85% originally, and not yet to his promised 5.0).

Not being a New Yorker, I'm a little more sketchy on the municipal tax structure of that burg. There is a city income tax. According to, Rudy eliminated a surcharge from it. (I got a ticket in New York once, upstate. "What the hell is this?" "It's the surcharge." "What's it for?" "It's like, you know, an extra charge." So fuck the surcharge.) As well, he's evidently cut some stifling property and rental taxes (Sin City has those too, evidently).

Although there's about a metric ton of bullshit involved, understanding tax distribution isn't quite that difficult. One of Mitt's opponents that year liked to truck around a bar chart that neatly broke taxation down into the big three--sales, property, and income--at three or four different income levels, much to the mystified shame of journalists and voters alike. She still lost.

How do you cut (or raise) taxes tens of percents and hundreds of time without really affecting anything at all? First of all, in Mitt's case, it's easy to push around 10% of something that's already small. More importantly though, the problems with living in Massachusetts emphatically aren't taxes. What's more, I suspect most of those tax-cutting instances are measured in any number of temporary tax holidays, tariffs on stuff no one buys, and targeted breaks to eight hundred or so of his buds. Is there some journalistic code that you can't say what everyone knows anyway, that those waving hands are just wafting around so much bullshit?

4. "We report, you look it up." I've heard worse slogans.
I catch Fox news in the mornings sometimes at the gym, with the sound off. Since the managers evidently don't understand that you can turn captions on, I am left to guess what the shrew, the tool, and the closet case are jawing about, which I amuse myself by trying to piece together from facial expressions and the punny flyout at the lower right of the screen describing the topic what the hell they are saying. The best I can gather is that it's a series of "Oh-no-he-dinnit!" moments for insecure southerners (when Mr. I'm-not-gay-I'm-married reports the weather on the map, Los Angeles and New York never show up, and I've only seen Boston once), filled with the noble patriotism of soldiers and aging white men, a carousel of loony commentators, and the chuckling disapproval of violators of the shifting white man's culture code that the Jiffy Lube guy dreams to perfect.

I've been a little slow to realize it, but the disapproval network exists to simultaneously placate the insecure movementarians, and divert their time with judgments of dogmatic minutiae. Like it was in the church, and the totalitarians throughout history, the minor (and usually double-edged) privelege to report petty judgements of doctrine is given to the apparatchiks, while the leaders get on with the business of exercising raw, naked power.

5. I've got my whole career ahead of me
Complaining about Fox News? About my uninteresting daily routine? I think I've hit two rock bottoms simultaneously, a grotesquely smashed mixture of The Daily Bleat and the Daily Kos, which can only mean one thing... I've finally hit it! So where do I sign up for my sinecure? Any gigs I can get at the Times?

It's fun to fantasize about being a paid writer, after all, bloviated nonsense is something I've been producing anyway, all on my own. I've tried to tell myself that it's a good outlet for depression, and as experience proves that untrue, I tell myself that if I'm luckier than good, it might turn depression into something profitable. Rundeep had a compelling little piece on her blog describing why she rejected a music career (she went out of her way to paint an unflattering portrait, but I remain impressed that the choice was hers to consider). I can see a parallel between the pro musician and the pro writer: unappreciated and unrewarded effort, insecurity, poverty, hypersensitivity, witness to the success of your inferiors. Writing blog posts is like playing the guitar, just, you know, minus the sex appeal. Oh, I can so fucking make it.


bite said...

This was amazing

Keifus said...

If that went well, it must have been on style points. I thought I had very little to say (although I did like the jiffy lube bit). Thanks.

If it makes you feel any better, people have been calling me "Kevin" pretty much all my life. Maybe I just give off that two-syllable vibe. (Note to self: consider sticking with "Keifus"?)

And for what it's worth, I've really been enjoying M. Fournier's stuff over there.