Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#049 In which our hero enjoys a free lunch.

Strange days.

I got a message on Monday from an employer who found my resume on Now, this is remarkable because I don't even remember putting my resume online. But, then again, I sent out a lot of resumes and did a lot of stuff to try to find a job when I was first laid off. The guy told me it was 18 months old... I'm surprised it wasn't older.

Anyway, the guy is looking for a copywriter - which, in case you haven't been keeping up - is what I do. I called him back, we chatted briefly, I emailed him an updated resume and samples, and that was that. I've been through this dozens of times before, so I knew that if he was interested, he'd call me back.

Well, I got a call the following morning. And, as an aside, if I were my current employer and I heard my end of the conversation, I would have been extremely curious. I took it outside, and I don't think anyone really heard me, other than the people that work directly around me, but I know for a fact that they're all looking for work as well. So no big deal.

But it's odd, the guy is a little dodgy on the phone. Most agency guys talk up their services, say how great their clients are, etc., etc. This guy stressed that they do exclusively direct mail (which I didn't know, but is okay), and it's long, copy-heavy direct mail.

Now, let me step back a moment. When most people hear "direct mail" they think "junk mail." I'm here to tell you there is a difference - a huge difference. Direct mail is mail you are actually happy to see in the mailbox. And the thing is, what usually makes direct mail different from junk mail is timing. Two years ago, if I got a subscription solicitation for Parents magazine, it would be junk mail. Now that I'm a parent, I would look at it, even if I didn't actually subscribe. I wouldn't throw it in the trash without opening it, is what I'm saying. So if you can talk to the right people, and at the right time, your direct mail has meaning, and is well received. If not... well, then it is junk mail.

So I wasn't at all put off by this guy talking about a direct mail position. I wasn't even concerned when he said it was long, sometimes difficult, material. I've done newsletters and catalogues before - long stuff - and I've even written for things I flat out didn't understand. But, that's my job, to digest stuff like that and put it into a readable, easy-to-understand format. And he told me that I would probably never have heard of most of the clients on their client list... again, no big deal. I hadn't heard of most of the clients I write for now.

But the way the guy described his work... strange. He told me he'd email me some PDF samples of things they've done, and if I was still interested, we could talk. However, throughout the entire conversation I got the distinct impression that was he wasn't saying, was "but I wouldn't be surprised if you were not."

When I got home and looked at the stuff, I finally understood.

This company makes junk mail.

Pure, unadulterated, undeniable, undefendable junk mail. Junk mail of the worst sort: sweepstakes, financial investment, medical "breakthroughs;" this stuff was rank. Now, let me just say, that unlike most people, I don't have a problem with junk mail. Sure, it's a waste of resources, but it's not like I get angry about it. I just go through the stack and say "No thank you Mr. Platinum Visa, I don't need you today. And I appreciate the offer for six months of free Field & Stream, but I'll pass." At worst it takes me a moment to toss it, at best it's for something I actually want. And, as previously mentioned, I've written my fair share of direct mail.


I really have to draw the line at stuff like this. These are solicitations directed at people that may not know better, that are what the companies mailing these materials might call "suckers." Now, I'm sure it's not all like that, but one piece I saw claimed that you could increase your $1000 investment by 221% in a week. Call me skeptical, but I'm not buying it.

But, many times I have told co-workers that we work in advertising, not journalism. We're not expected to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A certain amount of hyperbole and blue sky is expected, and allowed. So, I was at least willing to hear what the guy had to say.

So I email him back, say yeah, I'm interested in what you have to say, maybe we can do lunch sometime (his office happens to be close to my current agency). He emails me back and wants to do lunch today.

Well, I'm not really prepared for an interview. I don't have my portfolio with me, and I'm not wearing my lucky socks. I was going to blow him off, then decided what the hell.

I called him back, and he gave me a little more of the "you sure you can do this work and would want to do this work?" stuff, and I assured him, oh yeah, done it before, can do it again. Then he spent a little time on the phone talking about himself... how he got a job right out of college, and his mentor trained him for a year until "there was nothing more he could show me" (I guess he managed to snatch the pebble out of his hand or something) and told him how talented he was, blah, blah, blah. He came across as more than a little arrogant, and told me how he was sure I wasn't at the level I'd need to be to excel at this job, and I'd have to learn from him, and was I willing to take instruction until I could write as well as he does?

Sure, I said.

Now, probably only The Scientist knows this, but when I say "sure," what I really mean is "not really, but I'm willing to play along to keep this conversation going." And every now and again, what it really means is, "okay, fuck you, too."

So, I'm still willing to hear what he has to say, so I go to lunch with him. Another thing about me: there's little I won't do for a free lunch. I mean, come on, FREE LUNCH! Hard to pass up. Besides, what I really want to hear is how much he's paying. If it's less than I make now, I'm not interested. If it's slightly more, then I'm probably still not interested. If it's like 40% more? Well, I've sold my soul for less.

He's younger than I expected, and pretty non-descript. We order and he begins to tell me again what a great writer he is, and how he's a founding partner in the agency, and how they have more work than they can do, etc., etc.

But here's the thing: he's a little greasy. A little shady. Not that there's anything wrong with his business practices, or even with he own morals... but there's something. As he'd going through a stack of samples, he says "... here's one for medical products; here's one to make a million dollars from home in your pajamas, here's one...." He has this strange demeanor, like he's really saying "Y'know, pal, I know these companies are bullshit and rip people off, but they pay their bills on time." I think it's his willingness to look the other way, to actively help these shifty companies rip people off, that makes him seem a little dodgy.

Again, I could be way off base. Maybe I really could increase my investment by 221% by stuffing envelops in my pajamas, I don't know. Maybe these companies aren't as bad as they seem on first pass.

Mr. Junk Mail continues to tell me how there's a huge market with these mid-level companies that live and die by direct mail. That there's not a lot of agencies that can properly serve these guys, and if you can write direct mail like he does, you can make a lot of money. His words: "Learn to write this kind of direct mail right and you can make a lot of money."

And I believe him. The direct mail agency I used to work for wouldn't have touched this stuff with a ten foot pole. But someone has to write it. I get probably six pieces of junk mail a week. Maybe more. These companies are probably spending millions on postage alone... I bet they would pay handsomely for a well-written letter package that actually got results.

But understand, when I say "well written," I mean it's written in that style of direct mail... lots of bold, italics, underlining, pull quotes... all the supposed tricks to get the reader engaged with the message. I've used these techniques myself. I know I could learn to do what this guy does, and do it well. And I have every reason to believe that I cold make "a lot of money" doing it.

It's funny... just this week I was having a conversation with a co-worker where I said I might have made a mistake in choosing my career. That I should have just picked something that I could do for eight hours a day, get off at five, and not think about again until I cashed my paycheck. I could find enjoyment in other aspects of my life, enjoyment at my place of employment wouldn't even be a consideration. It would strictly be something I did 40 hours a week to fund the rest of my life.

And that's the deal with this place. I could excel at what they wanted me to do. And even though he wouldn't give me a hard and fast number, it would probably make more than I'm earning now. Certainly not 40% more, but more. However, it's still a little shady.

And even though I'd be well compensated, and my weekends would be my own, I don't think I'd ever be really proud of my work. I wouldn't be able to hand a letter to someone and say "Hey! I wrote this!"

Moreover, I might be locking myself into the direct mail arena for good. I would become a "direct mail writer," and wouldn't even be considered for anything else. Once I headed down the dark path, there would be no turning back. (Can you hear the Darth Vader breathing noises?)

So, I put the guy off and told him I'd get back to him in the next couple days, but I think my answer is thanks but no thanks.

And thus, my soul is saved.

UPDATE: Mr. Junk Mail said he wanted to send me a writing test... which I hate but have had to deal with on previous interviews. I got it this morning, and it's just him asking me to re-write some of the samples he sent me. And, the final thing is that he wants me to write an ad for a pencil.

Now, that probably means nothing to you, but it's the same bullshit assignment that you get in every Copywriting 101 class. I guess the idea is that if you can write an engaging ad for a pencil, you can write ANYTHING! Well, fuck that. Not only do I find it insulting that he would suggest something gimmicky like that to a writer with a decade of experience, but it shows an amazing lack of creativity on his part. If I wasn't sure about passing on this position before, I am now.

PS: I could write a killer ad for a pencil. I just don't want to.


#048 In which our hero threatens trees.

Day by day we inch closer to finishing all the paperwork involved with selling a house and buying a new house. By my estimate, we have contributed to the killing of four trees so far. And wait until we sign the mortgage papers!

But, I think the deal to sign the house is finally buttoned down. We signed what was billed as the absolute last piece of paper last night. All that's left is to have that dead tree removed and move out.

We had the home inspection of the new house last Saturday. This is a scary thing if you've never done it. Basically, an inspector walks, pokes, crawls around the house you want to buy and tells you what's wrong with it. This, of course, is important information to have, but it's also frightening as hell. When you're about to make the largest purchase of your life (and one that is spread out over 30 years) you don't want to hear "these cracks in the foundation are probably nothing." What I want to hear, of course, if something like this:
INSPECTOR: "Craig, can I be straight with you?"
ME: "Of course."
INSPECTOR: "This is, without doubt, the goddamndest best house I have ever seen in my 52 years of inspecting houses. The roof will never need replaced, the driveway will never crack and there's something in the water that makes you immune to disease and extends your life. It's easily worth four times what you're paying. And I didn't even factor in the money tree growing out back."
But, of course, that's not what he said. What he said was that it was in decent shape, with only a few minor problems. The radon gas thing, of course, but other than that, a cracked driveway and two cracked windows.

So, we've gone back to the seller and asked them to fix the driveway and replace those two windows. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask. I mean, the city has cited them for a driveway that is a "trip hazard." We didn't make it up - go fix it. And the windows are those fancy-pants thermopanes, which can't really be repaired, they need to be replaced. And at the tune of $250 each installed, we don't want to pay for it - go do it. But that's it. I didn't even insist that they have the chimney cleaned - even though I should have, filthy buggers.

So we wait. And, for the time being at least, a tree breathes a sign of relief.


#047 In which our hero sings the home sellin' blues.

Ugh! Selling this house and buying the new one continues to be a giant pain in my ass!

Here's the latest: the woman buying our house had a home inspection conducted last Wednesday. We weren't allowed to be there, so The Scientist and I bundled up the little bean and hung out at the Mr. Hero across the street for a couple hours. Mmmm... waffle fries.

Yesterday they delivered the inspection report to our realtor. Nothing critical was found, just little odds and ends that you'd expect to find in a house as old as ours. However, the roof is worn. We know this, and the buyer knew this going in. Mind you, it doesn't leak, it's sound. But the shingles are getting worn, especially in the front where the pitch is steeper. Knowing this, we didn't fight the counter offer for a lower price. Matter of fact, our realtor made it clear: we're accepting a lower price because we know the roof will have to be replaced in the next couple years.

So the buyer has come back and requested that we chip in $2500 toward replacing the roof and removing a dead tree in the back. About this tree: First, it's only mostly dead. There are still a few branches with green leaves. But it's not like it's going to rally anytime soon. To make matter worse, several of the dead branches are near power lines. Now, the electric company came out about a year ago and trimmed. I tried to get them to just take the thing down, but they weren't having it. I argued that it would be a whole lot more work when the thing blows down in the wind and takes the neighborhood's power with it, but no dice. We got an estimate to have it removed by a tree company a while back; I think it was around $450. We just never did it, and it hasn't come down in the four winters I've lived there, so maybe the old bastard has more life in it that we think.

So anyway, I surrendered the point about the tree; we'll get another estimate and have it removed or pay her the 500 bucks. But the other $2000? The Scientist and I are in agreement when we say "fuck that!"

First of all, two grand isn't going to pay for a new roof. It might pay for a quarter or even a third of a new roof, but not the whole thing. And it's not like we were trying to fool anyone, the roof needs replaced. Not immediately, but soonish.

My feeling is this: if the buyer didn't want to pay for the roof herself, she shouldn't have accepted our counter-offer. Period. We're not giving in on this one.

However... now there's a whole new set of worries. If she backs out of the deal because of this (which I don't think she will, but she could) then we have to put the house back on the market all over again. And since we signed mortgage papers for the new house just last night, we could be really screwed if it doesn't sell right away.

Our home inspection of the new house is tomorrow morning. I swear, if this house turns out to be a clunker, I'm going out back and hanging myself from that dead tree.

Update: The buyer offered to have us remove the tree and pay $500. Sorry, Charlie - one or the other, not both! Jesus, this is a pain. Is this the way it always goes?

Update #2:The buyer finally agreed to accept us just removing the tree. Which, of course, is what we offered in the first place. So, the house is officially sold (pending me getting someone over here to cut down that tree, of course).

Up next: home inspection of the new house!


#046 In which our hero is ready for this to be over.

It seems like it's taken forever to finalize the details of buying this damn house. The details are pretty tedious, so I won't bore you with them. Suffice it to say that last night the realtor came over because we had to sign other form that verified that we had signed a previous form.

I'm trying to remain excited about the move, but right now it just seems like the man is making me do his monkey-dance before I get what I want. Screw the man!

Today the buyer of our house is having a home inspection. Which means we have to get lost for three hours while they go over it with a fine-tooth comb. This worries me a bit, just because if they find, say, all the plumbing needs to be replaced, then we're a little fucked. We'd have to choice but to shell out the money. Money which we really don't have right now because of buying this other house.

I've also been speaking to home inspectors and getting prices for them to come and look at the new house. It's going to cost several hundred bucks to do this, and I'm pretty sure it's money wasted.

Here's the thing: our next door neighbors were going to sell their home a year ago. Prior to doing so, they got a home inspection just to make sure there were no surprises. Turns out that the entire foundation of their house was flawed, and the house was in danger of falling into the basement! The house was build in 1920 or so, and then they used these crappy cinderblocks made of terra cotta. It's like their house was sitting on a giant flower pot. And just as sturdy.

The thing is, they got a home inspection before they bought the place. And the inspector didn't bother to mention this one small problem. Matter of fact, they noticed a slight bowing of the walls, and the home inspector assured them that this was normal for older houses. Normal!

But, you apparently have to sign something that says the home inspector isn't responsible for anything bad that happens, so our neighbors had no way to go after this boner that told them the house was okay to buy.

So why should I trust any of the people I spoke to today to tell me if, say, the roof is about to fall in? For the money I have to pay these people, you'd think there would be a little more recourse if something catastrophic happened.

Ugh, I'll be happy when this is all over.


#045 In which our hero has quite a week.

What a week it was.

After my wife and I decided that we were really going to sell our house and not just live with what we had (small kitchen, small bedrooms, nearly non-existent closets) we painted, spackled, repaired and moved a bunch of our junk to a storage area to give our house (in marketing terms) a "roomy, airy" appearance. None of which really disguised the fact that our house is a tiny little bungalow, with a marked lack of storage space, especially in the kitchen. But, for what it was, it looked good.

And, as an aside, I had no idea just how good our house looked until we started to seriously look at other houses. Good lord! If you're selling your house, make an effort, huh? Tear up that crappy carpet, paint a wall or two, and for pity's sake (and you know who you are, owners of the colonial on Dorshwood Avenue) do something about the cat pee reek in your basement!

We had an open house on Sunday. About seven people came through, which, considering there was a Browns home game that day, was decent. Two of which were "very interested," according to the Realtor hosting the event. But I don't trust these Realtors, generally, and this guy looked just like... oh, I've already told you about that.

Then someone else came to look on Monday.

Then the same person came back on Wednesday.

Then that person made an offer the same day.

We counter-offered, she accepted, and we sold our house. Simple as that. And, since we were confident that the deal would go through, we made an offer on a house we really liked.

And they accepted. In less than a week we sold a house, and bought a new house. Again, easy as that.

Of course, it's not really as easy as that. There has to be home inspections, loans have to be approved, final legal hoops must be jumped through... as a first time home seller/buyer, I must say it's a bit of a pain in the ass. At one point we had to sign a form that confirmed that we had signed a form. I wish I was kidding. I have this fear that it could all fall through at any moment, even though The Scientist assures me it will not.

And we love the house. Really, it's fantastic. Big kitchen, four bedrooms, ample storage, there's even a playroom in the basement! The house is so great, and the selling/buying process went so quickly, that I'm really waiting for the other shoe to drop and something to go horribly wrong.

And it has. Sort of.

Seems the house we just bought has unacceptably high levels of radon gas. Now, I didn't know anything about radon gas and have the same uneasy and uneducated feeling as I do toward cancer. If your body has cancer, IT IS REALLY BAD! If your house has radon gas, IT IS REALLY BAD!

However, as it turns out, the EPA says that radon gas is pretty typical. It's naturally occurring in the soil, and the majority of homes have it, and it's only a concern if it's greater than a certain percentage (for the geeks out there, anything higher than 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) has been deemed unacceptable). And, apparently it's not hard to reduce the radon gas levels in your home. There are several different methods to do this, but most of them involve putting in a fan to blow it out of your house.

A fan.

In my mind, this is like saying you can cure blindness with an aspirin. I had assumed it would be a huge affair, involving men in radiation suites, special yellow de-com bags, and maybe, just maybe, Geiger counters. But no. All you need is a fan.

So that's cool. Even better is that the homeowner is paying for all the repairs, and had to get it done before we move in BY LAW. Makes it seem scarier if it has to be done BY LAW.

So I'm not so worried about it. That is, until we don't need nightlights anymore because of the glow emanating from my testicles.


#044 In which our hero writes randomly.

Couple of random thoughts:

I've noticed a huge rise in the number of vanity license plates I see on the highway recently (full disclosure: The Scientist has a vanity plate). Some are pretty obvious, like MYCRUSR on the back of a PT Cruiser, or V6TRANS which I just saw this morning. As an aside, is a V6 really something to get excited about? I'm not a car guy, but I'm still unimpressed. I've taken to trying to figure out what these plates signify, and when I can't, inventing my own rationales. Someone in my neighborhood has NO1MOM which, undoubtedly, is meant to express the rather mundane "#1 Mother." However, I choose to look at it as "No one mother," meaning that this person didn't know his/her mother, and can't lay claim to an individual woman as their real mother. This is what I do when I'm bored at the light.


When my wife and I are having a disagreement, I do this thing where I'll try to point out the absurdity of what it is she's suggesting by providing an example. My thinking is that once she fully comprehends, which I assist by providing a concrete situation, she'll see my way of thinking, and concede the point. It usually goes something like this:
HER: My head hurts.
ME: Why don't you take some Tylenol?
HER: They sometime give me a bellyache.
ME: So what you're saying is that you'd rather sit around and suffer with a headache than take two pills that will definitely cure your pain because they might give you a stomach ache?
This, by the way, has never, ever worked. But I keep trying.


Our house has never looked better. It is clean, neat and, if I were looking for a bungalow in a quiet neighborhood, I'd snatch it up in a heartbeat. So let's get to it people and buy our house already! I mean, it's been on the market for more than A WEEK now. When someone else gets it, don't come crying to me.

Oh, and the real estate guy that "hosted" our open house? I think he was that guy Willy from "ALF." One day you're on a hit TV show with a jive-talkin' puppet, the next you're shilling houses. Wonder if he could get ALF to do a personal appearance? That would bring 'em in.


I have never before been so cognizant of the texture of my dog's poop. The Scientist and I monitor it with the care of nuclear technicians keeping a watchful eye on a twitchy reactor. Which is a pretty fitting analogy, since (like the reactor) the dog's colon could blow at any time, and the fallout would be equally toxic.

Frankly, I'm just waiting for it. The house is clean, the carpets steamed, all our crap is picked up and/or in storage. Now would be a perfect time for the dog to blow ass all over the place. I can hear the potential buyer now: "Cute place, nice neighborhood... oh, and by the way, did a cow shit in here?"

The other day we adverted disaster when I noticed that the dog's poop had achieved Dairy Queen soft-serve consistency (yeah, I know, it's gross, but that's the best way I can describe it). Acting swiftly, we adjusted his meds and we've had nice firm poops since (think slightly under-baked baked potato).

Ever vigilant!


#043 In which our hero reveals his home fears.

The house is now officially on the market. Coming home yesterday I was greeted by a new "home for sale" sign sticking in the front yard. It had one of those plastic sleeve things to hold flyers about the house attached. I thought "huh, wonder what they're saying about our house?" and took one. Number of bedrooms, baths, price, etc. I could have written something much more evocative. But I'll go with the wisdom of Joe, the real estate guy, and assume that this is what home buyers want to know.

The thing is, I've never bought a house before. Never even seriously looked. I once lived with a girl that was dying to buy a house... but I wasn't interested. I told her that if she bought a house, I wasn't having anything to do with it, but that I would live there and pay rent. You might think that was a red flag concerning the future of our relationship - and it was. Without me kicking in for the down payment, she could afford about a $60K house. Know what kind of house you can buy in Columbus for $60K? An abandoned crackhouse behind the mall, that's what. She never bought a house while we were together.

Frankly, my strategy up to this point has been to move in with a woman that already owns a house. And this has worked out magnificently for me so far.

But, the fact of the matter is that our cute little house isn't big enough for three of us. And, since we're thinking there might be four of us sometime in the future, it's definitely not big enough. So we need a new house.

This is something that we've been talking about for awhile, and I'm not sure what really pushed us into action. It could very well be the housing market or mortgage rates or something like that... but that's all The Scientist's deal, I'm blissfully ignorant of such things.

And to be honest, this entire thing frightens me. Now, I'm jazzed about owning a new house (Bigger kitchen! More bedrooms! Attached Garage! And did I mention bigger kitchen?!) but the process is scary. Here's me trying to understand:
ME: Let's start looking at houses!
The Scientist: We need to sell our house first.
ME: But how can we sell the house if we don't have a house to move in to?
TS: You don't want to pay two mortgages at once, do you?
ME: Well, no. But what if we sell the house and can't find a new house?
TS: We'll find one.
ME: But what if we don't?
TS: We will.
ME: But what if we don't?
Here's hoping I don' t have to post the next entry from our new home in the storage unit.