You Could Say I Rode the Last Economic Boom Like a Sweaty Trucker Rides a Parking-Lot Ho

Monday, 03 February 2002

I suppose you want to know what happens next, all the Edward Gorey details and all, not that it's any of your business. Well I'm going to tell you anyway, as punishment'
Bruce Labruce, 'Not That It's Any Of Your Business'

Christ, it's been too long. I've forgotten what you all look like: your eager li'l faces, eyes shining and squinched up with enthusiasm, wanting WORDS, and FACTS, and STORIES. To be honest, I didn't want to give you the stories. I felt like having some SECRETS for once.

These ruby-red lips were SEALED, a subtle smile playing across them, eyelashes modestly lowered, my diary snapped locked shut, hidden under a pillow, wrapped in newspaper.

I wanted to keep my life to myself: to hug my bons mots to me like a horsehair blanket; forfeiting glamour for mystery and volubility for silence.

Don't worry though dudes, cuz dat shit is, like, totally over. Prepare yourself for a bumpersized funpack of blather. Best pull up a chair, light a fag, demand a massage from the Thai houseboy. This is some long sheeyat, k?

Let's talk about work.

I'm either incredibly lucky or incredibly naive or incredibly lazy or, incredibly, all three. For the past three years I've completely avoided having a 'proper' job. I've skived round on the dole whilst running a tiny free pink zine, which I even managed to get the man at the dole office to distribute for me, god blessim. I've worked for a teen girlz website and earned fuck-loadsa cash and been flown to Silicon Valley to work.

I've written for an irreverent tv spinoff site, getting paid to indulge my obsessions with Craig David and Jamie Oliver and penis size and lesbian sex. I've even earned thirty smackers an hour simply to blather about pensions. Yes, I was lucky. Yes, you could say I rode the last economic boom like a sweaty trucker rides a parking-lot ho, and, yes, you'd be right.

But I've always been freelance. I've been the stranger, the perpetual nu girl, the wacky kid in the corner, paid to have ideas and make people laff an laff till their noses run, or to tidy wayward sentences and knock slack paragraphs into shape.

I'm the one whose name nobody knows. I'm the one who doesn't have her own phone line. The one who realises after a few days that it doesn't matter whether or not she wears makeup, cuz ain't no one lookin in her direction, not even her nominal boss. Freelance is da business, boyee.

Freelance was way cool, and hey, at last, so was I. I worked for Excite and the big evil megacorp whose products fill your house. I worked for a tv company in an experiment in 'cultural convergence' with oh-so-zeitgeisty drama. (I think we could say, quite comprehensively, that the experiment failed, but hey, it wuz fun!)

I drank coffees from paper cups whilst walkin down the street and talking into a tiny phone through red-lipsticked lips. I ran a website. I had a business card. I was nu meedja. And the whole time, one woman was my inspiration and role-model: the thorn in my side, the pointy boot in my ass: Bonnie Burton.


Bonnie Burton was perhaps the original self-styled web celeb. I was Content Producer at Excite while she was Senior Content Editor in a different department. I stuffed a load of AMPs in an envelope and I delivered them via internal mail with an effusive hand-written note which declared that I was here working on the teen site and I had been a big fan of hers for years and would she do an interview with me?

And she never wrote back, the slag, the bitch, the black-haired ho. (No wonder I never bother to do interviews any more. Jes' blather on about myself instead. Teach myself to pee standing up and use bizarro menstrual devices to give myself something to write about. Fuck interviewing web celebs, I thought: I'll become one myself.)

Some time towards the end of my tenure in SF, I stood behind Bonnie Burton in the queue (not the pee queue, though peeing onto her back surruptitiously whilst standing might have been just reward for her silence) - nono, the queue for the in-house coffee' n' bagel bar.

This was Silicon Valley in early 2000, after all, and a flashy web company wasn't a flashy web company 'nless it had its own bar selling lattes / mochacinos/ frappes / fruit shakes / whatever, staffed by underpaid Mexicans who would endure the rudeness and material stink of the San Francisco dot.commers. I surveyed her chunky soled shoes and pale denim jeans and smiled to myself: in typical AMP form, having been rejected, I now despised the object of my hapless desire.

I finished my stint in San Francisco without speaking to Miz Burton, though I would regularly visit her site and look at the pages wherein she would brag of her fame and her desire to become even more hugely renowned. I'd cut my eyes at the photoshopped pictures of her, whispering 'you're not as pretty in the flesh, biatch'. I'm a supportive femuhneest sista like dat, y'see.

But things have changed. Now even the celebbiest of web celebs are Out Of Work Content Producers jus' like l'il ole me! Maura dot com? Laid off. Tom of Laid off. And it was with no small amount of glee that myself and Jo Insomnia noted that even Bonnie Burton was affected by the recent slump, um, just like we were.

Is it possible to laugh at someone for sitting in the same gutter as you? I'm not sure, but we gave it a shot. Schadenfreude, jealousy, ambition - ugly things, suffusing your skin and hair like a golden shower, leaving you feeling just as stinky when you wake up the next morning.

But no more. Are you ready for this, cuz I wasn't, despite six months of preparation and longing -

I got a job! For perhaps the first time I have no need of jealousy towards Miz Burton, so you'll find no essay on the nature of female competitiveness here, sorry. So, how did this wierdness come about?

The guy at the recruitment agency was quite fit, which probably helped. Not that these things matter, of course, whaddaya think I am, shallow? But when you've been inhabiting a world of headset jockeying and temping agencies, and all you know is:

climbing stairs
handing your cv to the receptionist
drinking the minging coffee
ticking the little boxes
taking a pointless typing test
dealing with the knockbacks like a goodgirl

- then one tends to grab one's joy where one can, and if one's joy lies in sitting on - I mean, near - the face of a pleasantly-planed blond twentysomething, then so be it.

I was hella surprised. Never in my frickin' life have I got a job from an interview. Let alone a real job: copywriting, editing, project managing. Y'know. Responsible shit.

I thought they could sense it on me: freelance, unconventional, headstrong: wierdo. Normally ppl just read my stuff and say 'you'll do' and hire me, not see me first. My writing is a better ambassador for me than I am, baybee.

But all they smelt was the Anna Sui perfume and the Poppy King lipgloss and the Aveda Shampoo and the niceness. All they saw was a page tracked birdfoot with proofing marks, and a piece of prose whipped into shape with personaltrainer fingers, and nuggets of knowledge: solid, genuine, flickering mica facts of website minutiae.

I am not going to say where exactly I work because the thought of my boss with the shiny hair discovering this site and all my blather makes shivery cold run through me like ice-cream.

But I can say that I work for a charidee fashion campaign (dahling), writing and editing, scanning and doctoring photos of Jodi Kidd and Liberty Ross and the like, hassling reluctant strangers for copy, composing email newsletters, updating the website with scientific info and stories of fundraising campaigns.

It's not like it was in the old days, in da meedjah. The fridge is not full of free 'sodas' and five different types of mineral water and we don't get free ice-creams on Fridays like we did at Excite. There are no fizzy wine and dips parties on payday every month, no champagne-stuffed fridge, no expenses, no free biscuits, no fine selection of Earl Grey and Assam teas like there was at World.

It's Typhoo and Nescafe and a payslip that I have to squint at to make out the miniscule sum that flows as a tiny stream into the giant lake of my overdraft. I can no longer afford new trainers and paper-cup, lipstick-printed coffee - and let us all heave a collective sigh of sorrow for the poor li'l web girl, for what is a web girl without her coffee?

Nonetheless, the biggest surprise I've ever experienced, except when I grew tits, is this:

I like my job!

After work last week, I found my favourite prostitute card ever in a phone box on Tottenham Court Road. It features the above phrase scrawled in magic marker: no photo, no list of skills; just a sentence describing sheer unadulterated pleasure in getting regularly screwed for very little money. I have pinned it to the noticeboard above my computer, and every full-time, properly-contracted day, I look at it, and I smile.

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