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~Author Jennifer Leigh~

My first Big Break
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First Day of the New Job December 2004

So I finally get hired to do what I love, which is write. It isn’t for The New Yorker. It’s not even for a large company. But it’s great pay. I can work at home, and I’m writing.

The down side to this? I’m writing for a company that deals with the Direct Sales Market—the dreaded Multi-Level Marketing. I say this and everyone I know starts muttering, "Amway," or, "Shaklee," or, "They’re all scams." So I have to clarify that no, I’m not working for an MLM company. I work for a company that supplies information to MLM distributors. But by then, my friends have either hung up or get some dazed half-smile on their faces that tells me I’ve lost my audience anyway. It’s clear they think I’m up to my knees in sales pitches and I’ll spring one on them at any time.

My first day: I go and meet with three men, all of whom are in some way, my ‘boss’. Every one is incredibly tall. This would mean nothing except I am on the short side and I felt like every time I shook the hand of one of these giants I had to prove I was strong, so I really grabbed hold of their palm hard to make up for my short stature. One man winced. Another pulled his hand away so fast I felt like I got a rope burn, which made me wince.

My boss, Harold, is a veritable whiz at all things Direct Sales oriented. He reads it all, in every magazine and in every newspaper and on every website, not to mention he’s written a book (that isn’t half bad, if reading dry information about Multi-Level Marketing gets you aflame.)

When he asks me to write an article about a specific topic, he then waxes profound for the next half-hour about every aspect of this topic, in great and sometimes wet detail. (As Harold warms to his subject, the words fly out of his mouth, followed by spit.) I keep asking him throughout this diatribe, "So what exactly do you want your readers to get from this article? What is The Thing we need to focus on?"

In the next fifteen minutes, he will tell me at least three Things that are The Thing. I reiterate after each idea floats to the surface of his discourse, "So, this is what you want your readers to really get from this article, right?" And he nods his head and wipes off his bottom lip. I write all he says as fast as I can, and underline twice what he says the article should focus on, and as I look over my notes, there are about 25 words on each page that are underlined numerous times. How can I fit all those double-underlined Important Topics into a 500-word article?

I go home to write the article. As I come into my house, there is a distinctly odd, no make that bad, odor. I’ve left the dogs in the house, thinking I’d be back in a short while. I hadn’t known when I left that my boss has a tendency toward verbosity and the dogs would flip out while I was gone. I won’t go into graphic detail of what I found, but let’s just say I was doing laundry for some time, and it had to do with my living room couch. And it was gross. But you probably already guessed that.

So I’m mad at the dogs, and (stupidly) dial my boss to ask him a question while I’m putting the dogs outside into the dog run, where they should have been all day. My boss comes onto the line just as both dogs start a huge, snarling, barking, tear-each-other-into-bits fight. And they do this just as I’m saying to my boss, "Thanks for the help. You’re saving my life." He surely heard the dogfight and thought, There is no saving this nutso woman from her killer dogs.

My next meeting with Harold has again another person who is there to help me. He doesn’t work for the company but apparently he and Harold are the best of chums, and they spend the next five minutes one-upping each other, dropping names and money figures in the millions while my head spins. I don’t know these people Harold and friend are speaking of. Though I find out later that one of the men, Warren Buffett, is the second richest man in the world. As my head twirls words like ‘million’ and ‘billion’ while Harold and friend banter about finances, I wonder if this is the time to share my remarkably limited knowledge of the economic world by saying, "My credit union charges $15.00 for bounced checks, but Wells Fargo charges $35.00." Yes, this is the sum total of my knowledge of the financial world. Impressive, yes?

So as the clothes washer is trying to clean the seat covers of my couch, I try to assimilate all the information that Harold and friend threw at me and I admit, I can barely read my writing. My penmanship, never very good, has become atrocious since I got a computer. Where is the backspace key on my hands so I can delete the numerous mistakes in my crappy cursive?

I type out the article, email it to Harold, and praise be to God, Harold likes it! He called me to tell me ‘it’s approved’ and will run it the next day. I become so flustered, I plopped on the wet seat covers on my couch and have to go change my pants and my underwear! I didn’t, however, share that bit of information with my new boss as I said good-bye.

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