Naïve in New York
This was me:
Wait, I just graduated from college? No more classes??? That was my last test? Does this mean I can’t do what other college kids are doing now? I want to be with them, eating filth, drinking filth, and living in filth—that’s my life. I can’t stop doing that. Every day, 99-cent hot dogs, 99-cent beers, and 99-cent toilet paper. The 99-cent store rules! I can’t leave. Oh man, what about the girls? So many girls! Some of them are actually attracted to me, even with my complete disregard of normal bathing and laundry habits. You know how a shirt is either clean or “college clean”? That’s me every day: college clean. Haven’t shaved since Easter, either. I am living the perfect life. I am within a short walk of every single friend of mine, not to mention every single bar, and on top of all that, I am financing this utopian lifestyle on my meager income from coaching basketball at the Y. I don’t want to get a real job. There are worse lives for sure, but none that I can think of that are better. Damn, I should have stretched this out for five years like everyone else. What the hell am I going to do now? I can’t be that guy who sticks around college for no reason. I mean, I can be, but I don’t want to be. I hate that guy. Barb the guidance counselor says to go get a real job. Yeah, thanks, Barb. My parents must have called her and fed her that line. A real job?? Doing what? It’s not like she does anything great.
Honestly, I didn’t know what my major was until my second to last semester of college. I finally settled on management of information systems. What the Fran Tarkenton is an “information system”? And why does it need managing? That’s what I’m majoring in??? Barb told me that if I changed my major, I wouldn’t be able to graduate in four years. So I’m stuck with it. Luckily, my older friend Clay majored in MIS too, and he coached me through my last two semesters in college. He explained that my major was about computers—databases, specifically—and that I’d make big money once I was done with school. I decided I could live with that. Like most business students, the prospect of a huge salary could motivate me through anything.
I finally graduated two semesters later and was thrown headfirst into full-fledged adulthood. Adulthood is bizarre! All of a sudden I was above couch surfing, started caring about the weather forecast, and was drinking microbrews. What the Fran Drescher was happening to me? I was turning into my dad! Or even his dad.
But that’s what real jobs do to you. You start earning something above minimum wage for once, and you start thinking like an adult. I had been so happy being a broke guy with an open schedule. Hell, everyone was broke and had an open schedule. Now that I had a job, I couldn’t plan anything with anyone. I had entered this whole new world of regular working hours and paychecks. It took considerable self-discipline and self-control for me to handle this awkward transition. Once again, my buddy Clay helped me through it. It took many beers (microbrewed beer), but I got over it.
My first real job after college was in Atlanta, building computers for a family friend. It didn’t pay a whole lot, but it had perks. No dress code, you say? Then college clean it is! Although I wasn’t making big bucks, the job allowed me to buy time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. Believe me, living in my mom’s basement (which was the current state of affairs) was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
On my drive to work every day, I would strategize about where my life should go. Rock star? Fireman? Evil genius? I considered everything. My one obstacle was that I didn’t have anything to fall back on except a diploma in something I didn’t care about. I was lost. I felt that to be truly happy, I had to leave my comfort zone and my hometown behind. I always liked being a little uncomfortable; it meant that I was learning something. I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to move to New York, Australia, or somewhere in Europe. I knew Los Angeles had hot women, so it was always at the top of my list. I figured there had to be some attractive woman on the beach who needed her information system managed. If only she could find my résumé!
For my first five months at work, I saved as much money as I could out of each paycheck. In between building computers, I sent out résumés. I sent them to every computer-based job opening in New York, Los Angeles, and overseas. I wanted a change, a location change, but it wasn’t coming easy. Of the more than seven hundred fifty resumes sent, I got two viable replies.
The first response was from Dublin, Ireland, and they wanted to know if I knew some programming language that I had never heard of before. A response of “willing to learn” did not get me the job. But I didn’t stop searching. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure it was my lack of a professional résumé that garnered me only two decent replies. Using the word proficient on a résumé has a point of diminishing returns after its tenth appearance.
My e-mail address at the time was the first one I had out of school. That meant I got to pick it out myself! I thought that Yahoo! and AOL were way too conven- tional for a dynamic person like me, so I wanted an address that would help me stand out; something that would help me make big money in a big city! I also wanted something to help me meet some ladies. (That’s my motiva- tion with most things in life; it’s a wonder I’m not a production assistant on The View.) I also wanted something free. (Okay, that’s really my motivation in life.) So after some trolling around the ol’ Net, I registered something free, fun, and what I thought might impress the chicks: BigAl@models.com. I honestly thought my MIS degree and a “modeling related” e-mail address were key requirements to making it big. Yes, of course, the plan backfired. But not just because it was utterly lame. Another problem became apparent when I realized that everyone was reading my e-mail name (written “bigal”) as “BiGal” rather than “BigAl.” This was not exactly how I was trying to market myself to the world. I did get a whole lot of dudes contacting me, though. Dudes with plenty of offers, but not of the employment variety.
Twenty-one weeks into my get-out-of-my-mom’s- basement campaign came my second reply, from a start- up company in New York that apparently read BigAl the way it was intended. A phone interview went well. An in- person interview went even better. And the next thing I knew, I was getting offered a job in NYC! I realized that a location change would make me happy, and that it was what my life needed. On top of that, I was relieved (and a bit proud) that I hadn’t stopped sending out résumés until I achieved my goal. The real world would treat me okay as long as I followed my instincts and dreams—and didn’t falsely represent myself as a female bisexual model.
This new job didn’t have a high salary for Manhattan, and it wasn’t a job in managing information systems, exactly. I was in charge of a 1-800 hotline and answering questions about the company’s software. I figured I could do that short term, maybe get a real business e-mail address out of it, my first business card, and then pursue my life’s ambitions. That is, once I figured out what those ambitions were. I knew I’d eventually find my path to earning the big bucks after my move to the big city, and that it wouldn’t be from this job. But I felt that because I’d successfully
Extreme Cheapskate Strategy
Don’t pay for Internet access. With more and more free Wi-Fi in public parks and on university campuses, you can pretty much log on from anywhere. You could even hijack your next-door neighbor’s connection if necessary. If wireless isn’t your thing, you can log on for free at most libraries or go to NetZero for free Internet access. Yes, it’s dial-up, and you have a lot of ads, but free is free, and you can still check your e-mail, which is all you really use it for anyway.
changed my situation to be in New York, I couldn’t be far off.
That January I moved into an apartment in Manhattan. It was during a snowstorm, and I unloaded my stuff with the help of my new roommate, a work-friend of a friend of a friend. My share of the rent was surprisingly cheap for New York City—$400 a month—but that was my payoff for obsessively hunting for an apartment. After scouring multiple real-estate sites, roommate sites, and firing off mass e-mails to everyone I thought might have a lead, I found a place so cheap, it seemed to wow everyone. And that $400 even included utilities! I didn’t care what it looked like. I had agreed to it from my basement in Atlanta, sight unseen. I knew I would be happy just being in New York.
Upon arrival, I unloaded my stuff and finally got a tour of the place. The apartment wasn’t too bad. The wallpaper in the living room was yellowing, my room was painted pink, but, thankfully, the place had working faucets. Good enough for me! Anything was better than living back home and under my mother’s rules. I was really happy (and proud once again) that I had upgraded my lifestyle in such a short amount of time. I was making it, sort of.
A month later two friends from home moved to New York and get an apartment within a short subway ride of me. Just twenty blocks from me, they were paying triple in rent for a smaller place. I encouraged them to keep looking for better deals, but they took the first place they could find. It seemed crazy to spend that much on rent. I knew their incomes were going to be even less than mine, ...