“Babe, I don’t want to go …”
“If you don’t go, I’ll murder you.”
Fair enough. I thought this thing was next week, thought I had some time to prepare myself to speak about myself to company ambassadors. Instead Gina and I quickly put together my updated resume, complete with 1 argument over wording; now I’m getting ready to drive almost an hour south to meet with people who might be able to toss me a bone.
Traffic is a tight knot around exit 140, again near exit 130. The “Artists and Creatives” networking event started at 5:30. I get there at 6:10 and meander around the 4 bars the restaurant provides, looking for people who might be hosting a networking event.
I had a bad feeling about this. Something told me it wasn’t going to go well. I’m wearing jeans and sneakers, everybody else is in a suit. I hold my resumes in a manila envelope close to my body, hoping it somehow turns invisible and people don’t realize I’m here looking for a job.
Maybe I’ll just grab a beer and leave, pretend I’m not here for this. Maybe I’ll just go.
I was told it was going to be “super casual”. I’m wearing a tie but I should have come in a suit. Should have gone with my gut. Should have dressed to impress. Shit.
I text my friend for her father’s phone number; in the room of floating hors d’oeuvres and wine glasses, I don’t see him. He’s the only connection I have to any people here. She quickly texts back, I call, and he’ll be here in 5-10 minutes.
I’m waiting in the car.
When he shows up 10 minutes later, I follow him inside and up a flight of stairs I had not noticed.
It’s much more relaxed up here. No suits; the best dressed is wearing a blazer that’s probably seen more of these events than I hope to ever go to.
“James!” A face calls from one of the high top tables. She walks over and talks with my friend’s father who introduces me as his associate. Her name is Mandy; she’s in charge of the event. James’s title for me is a confidence booster, no doubt, but not enough. I walk to the bar and order a beer.
James sees a colleague and they talk for a bit, I’m introduced, and we sit together in a corner eating mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers while they talk about jobs being outsourced.
“So what do you do … I’m sorry, what’s your name again?”
I laugh a bit, “No problem, Matthew. I write, edit, and proofread. I’ve worked for a publishing company but now I work mostly with artists, photographers, and the internet.”
This is regurgitated to every person I meet throughout the night. Everybody here does it, they say the same thing over and over hoping the prerecording works on somebody, anybody.
My small talk with Matthew is interrupted by Mandy who comes by to inform us that we will be starting the “speed networking” activity planned for tonight. Sounds fun.
“Everybody with a red triangle on their name badge needs to stand by the bar! Blue circles over by the tables!”
“If I had known, I’d have brought a pen and scribbled a blue circle on the badge!” James says before taking leave to the bar.
I’m supposed to walk to the other side of the room and get set up to talk with people at random, but Matthew and I choose to finish our chicken fingers instead.
Two people sit down near us, Violet and Thomas. Violet is currently unemployed and listens to tutorials on … things? … to and from work. Thomas is also unemployed and tosses me his business card: a dark purple and black themed card with lightening crashing in the background. On the top it reads “Without A Net”. He watches me look at it; it’s obvious he’s proud of his graphic and text choices. Looking at it, I’m immediately reminded of the word violence. I want to tell Thomas, but I keep my mouth shut instead. This is my first networking event, what do I know about business card etiquette?
Violet seems interested in what I do, who I’ve worked with, and the other beefed up statements I’ve made while my mind cynically laughs at my own stretched-truths.
Thomas looks around my age. He’s presented well but he’s been roped into some bad jobs he tries to present as opportunity.
“I took a job with a marketing firm for a little while. It was very interesting, a new way of marketing! We went door to door to businesses in the area and explained to them how they could save money on their insurance premiums if they switched over to us. I learned a lot.”
“Was it worth the money?” Matthew asks while laughing.
“Oh yeah … yeah. Definitely.”
Some marketing business in Hoboken tried to hire me for the exact same position. A Google search led me to people who’ve worked that position before; it wasn’t pretty. Turns out “cold-walking” to businesses dances on the line of legality; it’s often considered a mixture of solicitation and loitering. At least one former employee was arrested on the premises of a business not enticed by the prospect of lower insurance rates.
“How do you get your jobs? What agency do you work with?” Thomas asks.
“I … uh, well, I’ve never worked with a temp agency. I just know people who work and throw me some jobs. I’ve never actually been to a networking event before, either.”
I’m not trying to boast or sound “better than”, but maybe it came out that way. It is how I get jobs, and it’s true about the networking event, too.
The talk turns to outsourcing jobs and I become silent. Nothing to add.
Mandy walks up to our table and saves me, “Time’s up!”
We all shake hands, Violet asks for my email address before heading to a different table, and we’re sat with two new faces. Like Thomas and Violet, they’re unemployed as well. The talk almost immediately turns to outsourcing and an inability to find a job. This is feeling more like an A.A. meeting than a networking event.
This happens a few more times; the same mixture of “what-we-do”, “this-economy-sucks”, and “temp-agencies-are-unreliable”. I’m not sure anybody here actually has a job. They were all hoping for the same thing Matthew and I were, that there’d be some glimmer of hope by coming here. Just frustration and dead-ends.
James looks like he’s having an excellent time mingling with the tables. He’s extremely personable, probably the most talented and accomplished person here. I want to talk with him and be a part of that energy, but I’m in the dark corner with a cold, half-eaten mozzarella stick and 3 people loudly complaining to each other.
Luckily Franklin, an accomplished writer for various companies, gives me some websites for freelance writers.
“I’ve gotten some small jobs from elance.com, it’s a pretty good site that matches the writer’s interest with a client’s.”
I pull out my phone and begin taking note of the website.
“Really? I’ve never heard of it, I have to take that down. You said you’ve written some personal stories, right? There’s a small monthly fee, but duotrope.com is a pretty good site that shows rates, acceptance percentage, things like that. Good place for freelance writers.”
While taking the note, I also take note of the time. 8:20. I’m supposed to meet a friend about a website I’m working on at 9, and it’ll take about 45 minutes to get back up north.
“Oh man, I have to go. I have to meet with a client in about an hour.”
Faces prop up. “Client? What temp agency did you get work through?” Same questions. Same answers.
I say goodbye to James, who knew I had a meeting at 9, and quickly reintroduce myself and say “Goodbye and Thank You” to Mandy. I head downstairs and look to the bar of suits I was first afraid of. Maybe I should have stuck down here and mingled, even in jeans. Might have been more worth the time. Maybe not.
It’s bitterly cold outside and the car takes a few minutes to warm up. I put $20.00 worth of gas into the car to get down here and I’m down to about $5. This event was worth about $2, maybe $3.00 of gas.
James said he’d send me Mandy’s information tomorrow. I’ll shoot her an email. See what’s up. Writing, man.