Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's all about hope, a non-election story

It’s happening again and, I swear like I’ve done a thousand times before, this is the last time it’s going to happen.

This is the last time I’m going to let some prospective employer or publisher toy with my hopes about a brighter future or a short-term gain.

We’ve heard a lot of shimmering talk about hope in the presidential campaign, but this isn’t about politics. This is personal.

This is the kind of evergreen hope that blossoms when somebody finds either my website or some other professional venue and apparently decides I’m ripe for diabolical manipulating.

And, boy, am I. Like most freelance writers, I thought by now I’d have it down. I’ve seemed to figure out a way to put the words in an order that make sense, I meet deadlines and, hallelujah, ever since spellchecker I’m a vuritable savannt as far as proper spelling, at least when I remember to initiate the dang thing.

So it would make sense that by now in my career I’d have some peaceful stability, that work would be rolling in and I’d go to bed secure that each morning I’d have something to do besides standing around with three shiny bowling pins and trying to sharpen my juggling skills.

But that’s not the way it is. I still wake up most every morning unemployed and spend the day scrambling, often in vain, to find something lucrative and interesting to do.

That’s why my hopes get so high whenever anyone out of the blue calls with what they cleverly disguise as good news.

At one point over the summer, I had three book offers -- one about an art gallery, two about golf -- that looked like they’d carry me through the year with steady work.

Each time, the prospective employer has promised steady work and has gone so far as to talk dollars, an indication that they mean business. And each time, the proposals have evaporated like the dawn mists (one of the golf proposal remains on life support).

Understand, these aren’t my projects. I didn’t brainstorm the seeds and coax them into sunshine. I didn’t labor over the nitty gritty. That’s what made it all so sweet. It was like money and work falling from the sky and landing on the front porch.

And that’s why it’s so cruel to have them yanked away. It’s happened over the years with corporate gigs, agents and publishers for my rejection-magnet of a novel, radio guest opportunities, and for various features and contributing writer gigs at prestigious or otherwise fun magazines.

And then in early October came what portended to be one of the most fun of all. I got an e-mail from Tim Peterman, president of J. Peterman, the Lexington, Kentucky, based purveyor of rare clothing and accessories.

Now, as anyone who’s ever stumbled onto “Seinfeld” knows, J. Peterman is an enormous cult figure. The real J. Peterman was so deftly caricatured that the name alone is a tickle bone touchstone for an entire generation of people who, like me, fancy themselves as hip.

Tim Peterman’s e-mail tossed the requisite flattery my way and said he was looking for writers to contribute to the site’s travel section.

Of course, that set my Hope Express rolling down the tracks. I imagined I’d have stable and fun corporate work that would lead to delightful cocktail party chatter and, sadly, I’m beginning to realize that’s what every one of my ambitions for the past 20 years has been aimed (and it shows).

I e-mailed right back confirming my interest

But then came the inevitable letdown. He never wrote back. I called for a brief chat to confirm he’d gotten my e-mail (he had). I followed up with weekly e-mails that became increasingly desperate stabs at attention-grabbing wit.

And now it seems like it’s over or as the fictional Peterman wistfully tells Elaine about a vanished lover, “It was not to be.”

So next time anyone like Peterman calls to gush about my writing and how, gee, we’d love to have you work for us because you’re clearly the kind of guy we’d like on our team, I’ll simply say:

“Well, I’m certainly flattered. It’s all sounds so great. And you seem like a swell guy, too. So I’ll be happy to consider any offer you have as soon as you send me my standard $70 D.H.F.”

And what’s the D.H.F?

It’s the Dashed Hope Fee. It’s the stipend I’m going to charge prospective employers to compensate for the crestfallen emotions sure to follow if the offers bellyup.

It’s $70 because it would allow me to take my wife for a nice pasta dinner at one of our favorite restaurant’s, Rizzo’s Malabar Inn (http://www.rizzosmalabarinn.com/) in tiny Crabtree, Pennsylvania -- and please give a moment of thought to what the world would be like if crabs did grow on trees. There’d certainly be some succulent upsides, but I wouldn’t let the kids wear sandals in the woods anymore.

That amount’s not going to break any big company -- heck that’s a typical expense account lunch for many of the big shots -- and it would be plenty to enjoy a fine meal at Rizzo’s where I can tell my wife about the good news and speculate over a fine cabernet about how long it’ll take before the news turns sour and I’m again left to scramble for work and fresh hope.

And that sum includes enough for a 20 percent tip for the single mom waitress because I’m convinced that when she goes home at night to soak her aching feet, she says her prayers for guys like me who believe it’s impossible to overtip the overworked and underpaid.

If the service is superior as usual, I might even throw in an extra $5. But I don’t make a habit of that and would certainly never hint to her that it’s coming.

I wouldn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.

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