Starting Over... And Over Again

“So. You were a teacher in the public schools for eight years. Then you were the executive director of a non-profit theater?”

“Yeah.”

“And most recently you spent—what—18 months working retail in a tobacconist?”

Ouch. As he listed my resume, it did look like a downward spiral. He didn’t care that the tobacco retail gig and the facilities manager job for a Lincoln Park massage school were part of a compromise between my wife and I at the time. I mean, I could explain that she and I decided each to take a year to just be artists while the other worked whatever job he or she could find and then we’d switch. But this was public radio. My vast experience with cleaning the glass on the humidors and restocking cigars was probably not going to play big on my hiring prospects.

“You understand that this only pays $10.00 an hour and you’d only be working about 15 hours a week?”

“Yes. I get that.”

And then he squinted and looked out of the conference room window for a second. He cleared his throat. “I know I’m not supposed to ask you this but you seem like the kind of guy this won’t bother—well, you’re at least twice as old as every other applicant for this job. Why do you want this?”

It was a good question. I came to understand over a few years that this man would end up being one of smartest people I would ever know in my life. He had a laid back demeanor but behind it was the mind of a brilliant strategist and someone who could really read people.

“It sounds like fun. I like the show. I like public radio. And if I knock it out of the park, maybe you’ll hire me full-time.”

I’ve been the New Kid everywhere I’ve been since grade school. Mom moved us around a lot and so I learned the lessons of the Gypsy—not in a racially insensitive way but in the generalized Wanderer lifestyle. I have lots of friendly acquaintances but very few friends. You know—I’d give a kidney or take a bullet for friends. I’ve been married and divorced twice and have had a number of stepfathers and yet do not have a single photograph of any of them—wives, in-laws or step dads. I don’t have a lot of savings and own relatively little personal property. I’ve never owned a home or had children.

I am… adaptable.

When I started eighth grade in Benton, KS, I was the new kid in school and made my presence known by pulling pranks and pissing off the teachers. I tried to recreate myself as a studious sci-fi kid who read Asimov during recess but in the end, I was, and am, a real smartass provocateur. When I started college at the Quaker University, I had hair down to my ass and wore shades everywhere. Transferred to the University of Arkansas and dyed my hair blonde and wore red jelly Sally Jesse Raphael glasses.

Every place I went was like starting over. Get to know the players on the field, figure out who to align myself with (who were usually the outcasts and misfit toys), like a real life game of Survivor without having to eat bugs or balance on shit. Starting over from scratch has been my primary mode in life.

Equity musical theatre actor. Professional jazz trumpet player. Chicago improviser. Theater producer. DADAist. Blogger. Storyteller. Public Radio Events Director.

Get someplace, do something, get bored, move on. Start over.

Chicago was the lynch pin. Chicago held my attention. Moved here in 1989 and haven’t left since. It’s the kind of place that fit my need for change and, while it can be argued that the city is too fragmented, too segregated, too corrupt, too political, there is no denying that it was and is the perfect city for me. The winters suck the life out of me every year and yet I’m never bored. So I find myself starting over in the same place—having this city as the anchor.

In spite of my advanced age (in terms of the gig, at least) I was hired as the house manager of the nationally known radio show. Unlike my predecessors, I liked the gig. I liked the people. I worked hard to be the best goddamned house manager they had ever seen. When the senior producer of the show met me, he asked me to come, watch the show, and make notes on all the things I thought could be improved in the front of house experience. I came back with a five page list. He didn’t even look at it. “Do this,” he said. So I did.

Four months later—

“We need an events department.”

“I agree.”

“But I don’t have a budget for a full department. So I suppose what I’m saying is that I want my own events guy. You interested?”

I smiled. “Sure. Told ya.”

I worked the public radio events thing as well as the house managing gig for a decade. And now it's time to reinvent once again.

I understand the ideas behind being a careerist. Work hard at that one job, elevate yourself through the ranks, save up a bunch of money, retire and live the life you always wanted to in the first place. Me? Christ, I’ve retired more times than I can count and don’t really know any other way to do it because I’m living the life I always wanted to right now. My career is... me.