December 18, 2015

The Things I've Done for Money

Just about a month ago, I started a new job.

I'm not quite an employee of the company, but it's a pretty long-term commitment for an independent contractor.

And hopefully, if I do a good job and it all works out, I'll officially join their staff.

At this point, I'm grateful just to be working again. My professional (and financial life) has been pretty topsy-turvy since I quit my job in 2009 and ran screaming from NYC in 2011.

I accepted two different job offers that felt really bad and were doomed from the start. Both of them ended up proving me right, when they laid me off after three months, each.

That's right, it happened to me three months after moving to California for a job, and then again in April of last year.

But these periods of unemployment—or, underemployment—weren't exactly new to me. I moved to NYC without a job the day after I graduated from college. I got laid off from my first job shortly after 9/11 and was unemployed for almost a year.

And even when I wasn't underemployed, I always seemed to be under-earning.

So, over the years, I've found some creative ways to get cash.

Here are some of the things I've done for money—usually just to get by until the next gig. I'm not proud of all of them. I don't recommend walking even a block in my shoes.

These things didn't always work out (after all, I moved to LA for money). But they seem worth noting, now that I've been able to actually bridge the gap to the next paying gig.

I've worked...
  • For my landlady to reduce my rent—which has meant taking out the trash, opening and closing windows on a strict schedule, snooping and tattling on my neighbors, and buying flowers for the front.
  • As a courier, which was just a fancy word for food delivery girl. 
  • As a paralegal, which I'm not certified to do but I show a certain aptitude for.
  • As a proofreader, copyeditor, and editor.
  • As a journalist, a job I've done on and off since I was 16 years old.
  • As a tutor in writing and math.
  • As Wendy's Superbar girl, which lasted a total of 5 days.
  • In the box office of a Beverly Hills performing arts center, which lasted about 30 hours.
  • As a hike lead, tour guide, and docent.
  • As a photographer
  • At a gallery, doing nothing, but just being there.
  • As a paid audience member, in which I had to dress a certain way and act really excited for talk shows and game shows I didn't care much about, for hours without being fed.
  • As an actor, both in the background on a movie and at a screenplay reading.
  • As a meeting facilitator, which I turned out to be really good at without getting any of the credit for it.
  • A red carpet premiere in Hollywood, so I know how to do that now.
  • As a production assistant, which usually means coffee-runner.
  • As a shop girl, in which I ran for my life from a bomb scare.
  • As a mystery shopper, in which I've spied on people to make sure they're doing their jobs right.
  • As a test subject of psychological experiments in college, which was most certainly not worth the money.
I've gotten scrappy, by...
  • Winning two game shows, which netted me $13,000 and $100, respectively.
  • Joining focus groups, in which I would test a website and tell them what doesn't work, or drink multiple flavors of energy drinks and rate them.
  • Joining the Arbitron ratings panel and wearing a meter all waking hours for at least a year.
  • Maxing out credit cards to reap the rewards, and getting every cash advance possible to pay the other ones.
  • Applying for class action settlements, which I'd be lucky to net $15-40 apiece out of.
  • Returning gifts given to me to the store, even if I wanted them.
  • Cashing in my foreign currency, which I was keeping as a souvenir.
  • Picking up pennies off the street and out of puddles.
I've sold...
  • Advertising on my website.
  • My photos and my words.
  • My Canon Rebel EOS 35mm SLR.
  • My couch.
  • My dignity.
I've begged...
  • For help from anyone who would give it.
  • To borrow money from my former boss and my best friend.
  • For people to pay me back the money I'd loaned them years ago.
  • For emergency financial assistance from The Actor's Fund and MusicCares.
  • For food stamps and bus tokens from the county.
Even when I helped someone move because I wanted to be friends, I ended up getting cash.

I picked up a stranger from the airport for $40 because I'm better than an Uber.

I got myself rear-ended and suffered through three months of weekly chiropractic treatments and a brain injury that hasn't yet gone away, all for a meager settlement of $5000.

I've stolen—not the least of which being from my own retirement fund.

It's too late for me to donate my eggs, which are probably shriveled up from heartbreak.

I have nothing left to sell. I don't own my home. I don't own my car. I don't own my life.

But I have a job now, and there's a little money coming in. I have to use it; I can't save it. But maybe I can start digging myself out a bit.

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