This is a Writers’ Other Jobs post from Sam Cooney

Picture via Flickr creative commons, Ilhan Gendron

Picture via Flickr creative commons, Ilhan Gendron

A few years ago I made golightly plans to move sprightly overseas, and because at the time I wasn’t making the kind of money doing writing/editing/publishing things that would pay for a moving of my bowels (which is inexpensive in $$$ amounts, anyway) let alone a move across the world, I got jobs.

Two jobs, actually. Extra jobs, on top of whatever unpaid word-stuff I was doing at the time. In my mind I remember working these two jobs concurrently, but in reality I did not. Still, the mind is where all the important stuff happens, so for the purposes of this one-off  blog post and, more boringly, for my future retellings of this story, let’s just say that I worked these two particular jobs simultaneously. It’ll make for a more rounded account now: better for you and me.

One job was: Copywriter and Public Relations Consultant. Don’t let the title fool you like it fooled me into taking the job: I was a lackey, and an incompetent one at that (in that I was equal parts ill-experienced and unenthusiastic). I worked this job for a company that makes and sells technological accessories – all kinds of doodads that plug or dock or clamp or couple with the handheld devices people now tend to exist symbiotically with. By “makes” I mean that while I was there many adults in the upscale office would spend months and months researching and designing some at-best-slightly-conceivably-useful gadgety thing (a speaker dock, earbuds, car cradle, phone cover, etc), maniacally justifying their own salary and e-patting each other on the back, before they sent off this design to Some Factory in China where faceless workers made thousands of replicas and sent them back here to Australia, to be sold for something between a 3000 and 5000 percent mark-up.

My job at this company was to generate words. To create (how ironically I am using that term!) all the packaging copy, marketing copy, website descriptions copy—any copy really—for the products, as well as to proof and correct instruction manuals and other accompanying documents. Basically I would be sent the specs of a new product and some crappy prototype photos way in advance of the thing actually being made, and I would have to churn out adjective- and adverb-heavy sentences and half-sentences that would then appear on the box the product came in, online, in advertisements, etc. The best task I performed as part of this job of word spewer was also the worst task: I had to come up with the names of each and every new product. Or rather, a shortlist of names that my bosses could then peruse. These bosses were in their forties and fifties, and each and every one of them were just real nincompoops. Have you ever tried to get inside the mind of a nincompoop, tried to think like a nincompoop, so that you can make that nincompoop happy? I did, regularly. These nincompoops were the sort of people who named a series of iPhone covers the “Jellybean”, another series the “Chromatic”, a speaker dock “The Tempo”, and an iPad sleeve a “BubbleBag”. They thought it savvy to name a whole range of in-car accessories using “Groove” at the beginning of each (“GrooveSafari”, “GrooveTransporter”, “GrooveTooth Talk”, etc). And I was the one who served up these names to them. I was a nincompoop enabler.

At this job I was also kind of in charge of liaising with media contacts in order to have the company’s products mentioned as often as possible in as many places as possible. I have done nothing in my life more depressing than exchange emails and phone calls with hack tech journalists. Except perhaps one thing: the thing that would happen after exchanging those initial emails and phone calls with these journalists: writing their pieces for them. This is one of the things I learned about PR: why beg someone to write about the thing you’re pushing, when you can just send them a press release that does their job for them, that has paragraphs they can simply copy and paste into their national publications? Uplifting, no?

I was paid some ridiculous hourly sum to do the above tasks. From memory it was in the vicinity of $40 an hour. (Keep in mind I was in my early twenties, just having finished an Arts degree.) Gradually I started leaving my brain at home, and then leaving my soul at home too. It wasn’t long after that my cadaver was called into my boss’s office, and during a brief and refreshing conversation, we both agreed I wasn’t suited for the role. I think I probably stole something on the way out. I’m like that, pretty often.

The other job I had at the time was Concierge. Yep. It’s a French word, one that us English speakers have grown accustomed to using voluptuously. It’s probably based on the Latin word “conservus” which means “fellow slave”. I was a concierge, I wore an ill-fitting suit that was provided for me on my first day, I sat behind a giant marble desk in the foyer of a 68-storey building in Melbourne’s Southbank district. Except it wasn’t a hotel! It was for a residential complex. When I applied for the job I’d always thought that concierges were only perhaps necessary for hotels. Actually, I still think that. My main duty as concierge consisted of existing. As long as I existed in physical space and time, and continued to exist for my eight-hour shift, sitting behind my desk, then the wealthy residents of the building could rest easy, apparently. Rarely did they actually need me. Occasionally I would call their apartment when a guest arrived. Sometimes I would put a parcel in their letterbox. Spasmodically I would patrol the two gym/pool/sauna/garden levels. Always I would eat the complementary caramel lollies in the bowl on my giant marble desk, and restock them from a cupboard full of lollies out the back. So many of my shifts revolved around those lollies: I would binge on a dozen or more, go for a walk, drink some water, do some internetting, and then gorge on more lollies.

Often I would go stand on the rooftop, which I wasn’t allowed to do. But the view, unlike so much of the job, was honest and beautiful. There was one thing nearby taller than me and that was the Eureka Tower, so I didn’t feel like King of the World, which was probably for the best. I had to undergo a police check to get the concierge job. Would I drop small objects off that roof? The work necktie given to me was striped three different shades of blue. I would stand on that roof at night and watch birds from above as they banked and wheeled in the wind, lit up by city lights.

Once in a while something interesting would happen in the building, usually involving a resident. Whenever that happened I would have to fill out an Incident Report. Wealthy people go looking for trouble because having money seems to be acutely boring, especially if you’ve made your dough easily, or worse, if you didn’t make your dough but your parents did. We housed some ganglandishy-type figures, we sheltered disgraced Olympians, we had pop not-really-stars. I would sometimes think, when witnessing some of the idiocy and the theatre of Melbourne’s idioratti, that perhaps I would write about the situation and the people one day, creatively. What I was really doing was justifying my time there as an investment in my future triumphs, something I’ve always done and will continue to do until my body fails and I die.

Sam Cooney is a Melbourne-based writer and editor of The Lifted Brow.

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