Friday, October 14, 2005

My life from 1994 to present, part II

1994-1999: Raleigh, NC
I moved to Raleigh in the fall of '94 and got a job as a waiter. Later, graduated to bartender. Friends from college had moved down that summer, so we hung out and did whatever 20-something slacker kids do. We listened to music, drank and wandered around the city.

Two of my friends, Jim and Dave, were in a band called "The Feebs." Jim played guitar, Dave played drums. They played with a few local bass players, but Jim hated them -- not as musicians, but as people. So Dave convinced me to try the bass. I picked it up and for a short time played with The Feebs. I learned about a dozen songs.

Our career consisted of occasional practice and one actual gig, an outdoor party at the house of some rich guy Dave and I had met at a Dead show in Charlotte. I was using a tiny white Sears bass that Jim's brother had owned as a kid. It had a “White Lion” sticker on it and no shoulder strap, so I had to sit down when I played. I sat in a lawn chair during the party gig. Halfway through our set it started to rain and everyone went inside to eat pizza and listen to the rich guy play piano.

I dated around back then. A younger girl who had just moved from Indiana with her mom. An older woman who was staying at the hotel where I bartended. A crazy woman who made my roommate Bob cry. A rich girl from Texas who said she grew up next to Ross Perot.

I was running about five miles a day, playing disc golf in the afternoons and getting to work by 4:15pm. Life was simple.

Around 1996, I started writing articles, got a few published. One on, which was a new outfit at the time.

In 1998, I wrote to a UK publishing company and told them I had a great idea for a book about homebrewing. They said they were interested in learing more, so I spent the next two weeks in the library, trying to come up with a great idea. I had a shitty 386 PC back then, which was too old and weak to handle AOL. I’d wait three minutes for the homepage to load. I used this glorified typewriter to peck out my book proposal, and there were a few panicky moments when I thought I'd lost a chapter of work, simply because I forgot where I'd saved it.

The publishing company bought the book idea based on an outline and a chapter treatment. I quit my job at the restaurant and became a full time writer for the next six months.

Five months into the writing, the publishing company sent a photographer over from England and we shot all the photos for the book in two weeks. He was a brilliant. We faked a whole kitchen setup in my garage using the top of a junk range, a piece of countertop and some heavy paper. It all sat on the garage floor and I would kneel and stick my hands over the range to simulate someone standing and working over a real range in the kitchen. This gave him more room to light the set and shoot down on the process. We shot full-color pictures of the entire homebrewing process, and even scored a few free dinners at local brewpubs, whose owners were eager to have their beers photographed for the book.

The book, Fearless Brewing, finally came out in January of 1999. The publisher sent me a box of copies. I remember opening that box on the kitchen table and seeing ten hardcover editions of my own book. It was then that I realized I could make a living as a writer. A week later, my girlfriend of two years broke up with me.

Looking back, I'm glad she had the guts to do what we both knew we needed to do -- to not be together. She never really understood the whole writing thing. I think she viewed it as a waste of time. She would ask what I did all day while she was at work. “Writing,” I’d answer, and she’d look at me out of the corner of her eye. She was an administrative assistant, and I didn’t really understand what she did all day, either. I’d ask and she’d pause and tell me it was kinda complicated. It had something to do with helping out the sales team and filing contracts, but by the time she finished I was usually wondering if a Simpsons rerun was on.

After the book I started working for a tiny (three person) direct marketing agency that was run out of the owner’s garage. I had just finished a book for the guy, called "Go Postal for Profit!" I still shudder at that title. I tried my hand at selling the services for a short time. I was a terrible, awful salesman, and sold nothing. He let me go. I was happy about that.

I was restless. I had no girlfriend and no job. I looked for work in the classifieds, but the only writing jobs available looked like this:

Technical Writer Needed
Expert knowledge of Framemaker +SGML,
Some networking/switches and systems
management experience is preferred,
Strong background in PC/server HW and
SW technology. Must be a team player.

I had no idea what any of this meant. But I didn't want to go back to waiting tables. Not after having written two books. It was time to make a major change in my life. I had a friend who lived an hour from NYC who said he'd put me up for a couple of months. I decided to go.


Mike O'Shaughnessy said...

This is getting exciting! We're nearing the Gary Cleanberg fiasco!

murphy said...

obviously you didn't apply for the technical writer position as you sir are no team player....

Anonymous said...

I feel very left out that I didn't even make The Raleigh Years.