‘Freelance was such fun. Until it wasn’t’
As you may recall, last week I was all set to share a crabby/funny story about when I was a freelance writer — when, all of a sudden, this happened:
Needless to say, I’m still plenty excited. In fact, so excited I just can’t help treating you to another shot of the Happy Couple.
All in all, it was a darned exciting week, what with my umpteenth birthday, the afore-mentioned engagement, and the firing of President You-Know-Who (name rhymes with “dump”). There was some sad news, too — the death of Alex Trebeck, the beloved Jeopardy! host. Who was, of course, Canadian. (I say “of course” because I’m convinced, since The Engagement, that all the very best and very nicest men come from Canada.)
At our house, though, the game show of choice was the other really popular one. (Answer: “PattanVanna” Question: “What did The Child call “Wheel of Fortune?”) It was almost as fun to watch her point at the TV and squeak out “PattanVanna” as it was to watch her point at the TV in my Dad’s Clinton-hating presence and squeak out “BillKinton! BillKinton!”
But back to the point of this story.
As I mentioned, I celebrated yet another birthday last week. I say “yet another” because I’ve reached a rather extraordinary age. It’s a number that has rather unfortunate dirty-joke connections. Though I was so naive that I didn’t “get it” when people snickered if I mentioned I was “Class of ’69.” (Yes, my age now matches my high-school graduation year. I’m more of a ‘Senior’ now than I was when I was a ‘Senior’ then.)
You regular readers (whom I adore with all my heart) know that I used to be an advertising copywriter. Which was “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On.” (You can read more about the glam life I led Back Then by clicking on any story in the Adland Lore tab.) Advertising was such fun, for me anyway, that after my regular career ended I kept on cranking out copy as a freelancer.
I was a very successful freelancer. I’d come in, bat out some brochures about sheet metal or some letters to disease-sufferers. In record time and without whining. (Most of my freelance was for what they called Direct-to-Consumer advertising — DTC in Biz Lingo — which is what Regular People call “Direct Mail” or even “Junk Mail.”)
I wrote my stuff and didn’t complain — even if the assignments were, well, less than glamorous. The bosses loved my cheerful attitude. Boss: “You used to write for American Express; you don’t mind doing these letters for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?” Me: “Hey, I’m freelance. You pay me, and I’ll wash your darned car.” Except I didn’t say “darned.”
All went swimmingly until one assignment where this assistant account executive kept changing my copy. Without telling me. The nerve. For those of you not in The Biz, an “assistant account executive” is a person so low on the account side totem pole that he/she carries your bags and drives the car. (They can rise to the top alarmingly quickly, though. There was this assistant AE named Bill Gray who ended up being the President of Ogilvy. So it pays to be nice.)
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care if even a lowly assistant AE changed my copy. I was a freelancer. No strings, no emotional involvement. I didn’t really work there. I’d take my check and forget about it. Except that she was changing it so it was awful. I had my pride. And my reputation. If people thought it was me writing with such atrocious syntax and horrible word choices, my lucrative career might go south.
So I did what I hated to do: I complained to my boss. (He was a great boss named Rob; super nice, even though he wasn’t Canadian.) Well, Rob called that little whippersnapper of an assistant AE into his office and told her to stop already with the changing of my copy. She was way too wet behind the ears, he explained, to presume to mess with a seasoned writer’s work. “Young Lady,” he went on, “I’ve got belts older than you.”
End of colorful crabby/funny story. And, incidentally, the end of my career. Even though good ole Rob fixed things, for me the freelance well had been poisoned. I was still lucratively-paid, but I couldn’t summon up that old satisfaction-at-a-job-well-done feeling any more.
But hey — I’ve got an Engaged Kid, a New President, another birthday under my ancient belt, and a bunch of people reading my finely crafted and carefully honed blog every week. What’s not to feel satisfied about?
New York City. November 2020