When an opportunity to begin on the fast-tracks of a new career appears, S. Grady Barrett must consider the pros and cons of relocating across the country to take the job.
Author’s Note: This is the first part of a six-part story written from memory, and as memory is an unreliable source, I cannot say this story is entirely true, nor that it’s completely false. As a result, people’s names, the name of the newspaper and the town in which the newspaper is located do not appear in this story. Nor should they.
Part 1: Hope in the Form of an Email Arrives
Desperate circumstances were fast approaching. The bank account was perilously low and no work was coming in. I saw the day coming a while back, so I had been frantically trying to line something up. The checks would arrive soon from a few completed writing assignments, but that money wouldn’t last long.
In addition to begging for writing assignments, I was searching for any work that would pay. I asked friends and acquaintances if they knew of any jobs or knew of anyone who needed temporary help. I went to bars to speak to managers to see if they were hiring. I sent resumes to part-time jobs, asking for a shift or two each week. I filled out job application after job application after job application, hoping for something. Anything.
In the midst of this mad scramble, I received an Email.
It was from an editor at a small newspaper in the vast unforgiving terrain of New Mexico. It said he enjoyed the cover letter I sent a more than a month earlier, but preferred something more personal. He suggested that I re-write the cover letter telling him why I wanted the job at his newspaper and why I’d be willing to head off to the Godforsaken dust-covered vistas in the Land of Enchantment.
I thought he was a prick.
But reading the Email over and over again, I began to convince myself that, perhaps, he saw something suspiciously similar to talent in my writing. After an hour or so of mental vacillation and still unsure of the situation, I discussed it with my girlfriend, R. We had been living together for almost two years and we both thought we’d get married, if only I could find a steady job. She had stayed with me when I quit my career in software to get a master’s degree in journalism and become a journalist. She was a tiny Jewish girl from Skokie who was painfully optimistic and always encouraged me to see the brighter side of the picture. “Maybe he’s giving you a shot,” she said. “What do you have to lose by trying?”
“I guess so,” I reluctantly agreed. “What do I have to lose?”
The next morning, I started to research the town in which the newspaper was located. At some point, the town had a race riot between Native Americans and the other folks that lived there. There was an ample supply of crystal meth for a town its size and an oil refinery where stupid things happened with stunning frequency. It was a good little news town.
After a few hours, I re-wrote my cover letter, laying down the knick-knack-facts about the town between personal notes about my interest in journalism, and why I was compelled to practice such a monumental catastrophe of a profession. Finally, I came up with some stuff that I thought was pretty good, or at least good enough:
In a town with roots that run deep in cultural conflict between the Navajos and the town’s white residents, any time an incident arises between the two groups…the people will demand answers. That tension between the town’s residents provides a great opportunity to explore cultural issues and examine whether or not justice is being served.
The point is, [the newspaper] has a responsibility to properly inform the…citizens…about these incidents, to uncover the facts, and to report them without hesitation or bias. It’s something that I crave to be a part of. It’s the reason I quit a career in the software industry and pursued a master’s degree in journalism.
Here’s the kicker:
As a journalist, I can’t think of a better place to be than at [your newspaper]. I’m just the sort of person that would excel in such an intelligent and creative environment. I hope you think so too.
Surely, if he’d recognized some meager talent in the boilerplate cover letter I sent him, he’d be blown away by this masterpiece. An interview and a job were all but assured!
When I finished, I showed the cover letter to R. “Send it,” she said emphatically. “It looks great!”
Off it went.
A few days later—maybe longer, I don’t really remember—the editor responded. He said he liked the cover letter and wanted to schedule a phone interview.
When we spoke, he asked a few questions: why I went into journalism, what inspired me about journalism, if it would be a problem living in New Mexico. Then he proceeded to tell me, in his Gulf Coast accent, a lot about himself and how good he is at his job and how he gave up opportunities at larger newspapers so he could stay at this one. At the end of the phone interview, he told me the salary range for the job: $25,000 to $28,000. He explained that it’s a small newspaper, so the job couldn’t pay all that much. But the experience was worth the comically low pay.
I said the pay was fine. At the very least, it was a steady paycheck. But I didn’t say that part out loud.
He asked if I still had interest in the job. I said I did. He asked if I’d like to come down to New Mexico—courtesy of the newspaper—and do a little “test run.” I said sure, why not?
The “test run” would consist of a face-to-face interview with him, the editor, and the managing editor, followed by two fun-filled days of reporting in this exotic little New Mexico town, did that sound good to me?
It sounded like he was either asking me to work for free or to work off the cost of airfare, accommodations and food. “Sure,” I said. “Sounds great.”
He asked if I was really sure, because being a small newspaper and all, he didn’t want to spend the money on airfare and accommodations on someone who didn’t really, really want to work down there. I said I was sure I wanted to work down there.
Of course, I was lying to him, but it was more a lie I told myself. After all, getting a job in journalism: man, it’s a motherfucker. As long as he didn’t outright ask me to hide under his desk while vigorously fellating him, I’d do what I had to do and go where I needed to go to get this new career started.
When I told R. about the interview, her face froze. Suddenly this New Mexico thing was real, which meant our relationship was real, which meant she had to think about whether or not she wanted to go with me. We both knew the relationship wouldn’t survive the distance if she didn’t go. We had decisions to make, a relationship to discuss and future to consider. So, with the good came the bad.
—Photo by Ryan Wick/Flickr