I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive. They have to look good while doing it without a break for lunch or even a trip to the bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.
His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.
The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken. When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made. We didn’t spell it out, but we both understood. We were social equals, but his job came first. Period. End of story.
One day, I got a call. A large HMO was looking for a technical writer to put together documents for their various computer programs. Aimed at users, this was entry-level stuff. For me, used to working on really complex software, it was a piece of cake — with icing. I went to the interview. Bad news? It was a part-time job, paying a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, which was less than my usual rate.
The good news? It was a retainer. All the freelancers out there know there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours, depending on what was going on. I would not be required to go into an office. Ever. I would work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the summer-house on the Vineyard. It was half the money I’d been earning, but I could take freelance gigs to make up the gap.
I took the job. This was a gift from Heaven. I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out, there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me and didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything was fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep. For five years, I got a steady paycheck for which I did essentially nothing. I did a bit of free-lance stuff here and there and was obliged to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case someone needed me. I was getting paid for free.
One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.
“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.”
I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. I would have to stay there all day. What an awful thought! I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. Wonderful colleagues and a great boss, but it was work. I had to think a lot. It was like getting a masters in advanced database building using object linking. After I synthesized what I needed to know, I then had to use that knowledge to write and design documents. I was back to meeting deadlines. My 5-year paid vacation had not eliminated my skills. I was as good as ever.
I was spoiled.
Never again would I feel comfortable working a 9 to 5 job although I worked them for twenty more years. I got terribly restless. Merely having to be in one location for all those hours made me twitch. I got my work done and done well, but I wanted my freedom back. I wouldn’t get it until I retired and that was a long time in the future.
I was ruined for the real world.