Libraries have always been my favorite places. As I got older, they became tied with coffeehouses, but the library will always be one of my top five places in any town. I even loved the library when I lived in a town that barely had one.
Many patrons seemed not to understand the purpose of a library.They’d come in thinking the librarians were public secretaries there to do their typing for them, and get angry when they were told librarians do not prepare resumes or type up letters. I gave the staff my card and told them I did all types of writing for people, including writing resumes and cover letters. Anytime someone came in demanding a resume or other piece for their job application, the library staff would simply humor the person and pretend they had a writer there to serve them. I was probably in there writing or reading anyway, so it usually worked The library staff was so thankful, they let me quietly and unofficially run my freelance business out of the back reading room.
People I met there never really caught on to what an independent artist or freelance worker was either. I quickly grew accustomed to being approached with anything from pictures to columns to story ideas that the person thought I would instantly “put in the paper” because I “worked there.”
One day, I had come into the library and checked in with the staff to see if they had anyone in there looking for a resume, and was approached by a man who appeared to be around my age and a teen boy. The pair had overheard me mention that I would be working on an article if anyone came in looking for a writer. The older one and I went through the usual round of questions establishing that I was indeed a writer, and no, I did not work at the newspaper. He introduced himself, as did the younger guy, an eighteen year-old who just happened to hang around him when he saw him in town.
“I have a writing project for you,” the older man said.
“He’s in love with a prostitute,” the younger one announced, giggling. There were indeed prostitutes around. The town sat in one of two counties in Nevada where prostitution was legal as long as it was kept to established licensed brothels. One brothel was located a few blocks away from the library. I imagine many men do fall in love with the prostitutes they hire there, but I couldn’t see the connection between that extra special glimpse into this guy’s life and a writing project.
The link remained unclear for a few more minutes, as I heard tale after tale about the prostitute, and this guy’s former job as an assistant at the brothel. He had been a client of this woman in addition to being a coworker, but she promised him that if she were not a “working girl,” he would be her boyfriend. Other coworkers of hers were platonic friends of his. The madame had become upset over him becoming too friendly with the girls, fired him, and banned him from the property. But he still loved the girl.
Between stories about his love, the guy would comment that someone should write about what goes on there. He added a story about a girl who had died, and thought she should have a nice memorial written about her. I agreed that she deserved to be remembered, but still could not tell what he wanted me write.
My best guess was that he wanted some type of“I was in love with a legal Nevada prostitute” memoir written. I listened patiently for a bit longer to more stories about this girl, mainly declarations that she was more than just a working girl, coupled with assurances that he did hook up with her, and paid for it.
Mr. Brothel Enthusiast would pause between each of these stories and wait for a reaction from me. I got it. There was no writing project. He saw a woman who spent most of her time in the library, assumed I was prudish and naive, and thought he’d have some fun shocking me.
He failed. Private activities that involve only consenting adults do not shock or upset me. I was just irritated that he was wasting my time trying to shock me, when I needed to do some real writing work that day. I shrugged at his latest “shocking” pronouncement and started pointedly ignoring him.
“Someone should write about what goes on there,” Brothel Enthusiast said again. “Someone should write a blog about the place. You could write a blog,” Brothel Enthusiast told me.
Finally. He got to what he wanted written.
“That would be an expensive project,” I told him. “I would have to go down there and get permission from the owner to do it, and then I’d have to regularly interview the girls and the rest of the staff about whatever they wanted publicized. I thought you said you weren’t allowed over there anymore.”
“You mean I’d have to pay you?” Brothel Enthusiast yelled.
“Yes, when you do something as a career, you get paid,” I explained.
Brothel Enthusiast was suddenly less interested in having his fascination with the legal brothels documented online. I continued to see him around, but told him my boyfriend didn’t like me talking to guys about brothels. I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time. I just didn’t want some idiot trying in vain to shock me while I worked.
Over the coming months, I made an effort to be kind to him when I saw him around. I felt a bit sorry for the guy. He was trying to treat me as though I were naive and gullible, but he seemed to be the only one in earshot of his stories who didn’t get it that his favorite working girl likely told every client who wanted to hear it that they would be her boyfriend if she weren’t a working girl.
During this time, I had taken a side job at the local Walmart as a greeter and cashier. Retail workers get treated like dirt in most places, but in the town where I used to live, people made an art form out of it. The town prides itself on hating anyone not “from there” and making sure people in the “right crowd” remain in control of the place and get the best of everything anyway, but when you’re not from there, haven’t married into the “right” crowd, and you’re a retail worker all at the same time…a good day is when only one person lets you know how worthless you are in a four hour shift.
The local hookers and bartenders from the brothels were among the few who actually treated me with respect and kindness. One even made a point to stop and chat for a minute when she left the store.
Brothel Enthusiast was impressed to learn that I had made friends with the bartender and one of the working girls at the brothel. He was delighted when he asked me who she was, and learned it was his beloved working girl, the one he was no longer allowed to see.
Brothel Enthusiast had some new writing he wanted me to do. He wanted me to email him whenever I saw this girl, letting him know where she was and what she was doing. He wanted me to mention him and see if she still felt the same way about him. I told him I was not going to stalk a girl for him.
I never ran into Brothel Enthusiast again. I imagine he ran the other way when he saw me coming after that. I did do some “writing” connected to the brothel though…I found their web page and contact information and wrote the owner my own little memoir, letting them know this guy was tracking one of their employees. They appreciated me letting them know, as this individual had been creeping them out and fixating on this girl for a very long time.
I have since lost touch with my friend who worked in the local brothel, but last I heard of Brothel Enthusiast, he moved to a different part of the country. I hope he didn’t wind up anywhere with legal brothels….for the sake of the working girls.
Life in the arts is great. We may have to work a side job at the same time, but we get to do what we love, build a community, and contribute something important to the world. You never know what your song, novel, poem, painting, drawing, dance, or play might mean to someone else or inspire in another person. But it can get frustrating, downright infuriating, or…at times…just plain weird. Artists seem particularly prone to getting some weird or otherwise plain sketchy job offers.
A Man of His Many Words
Years before I narrowed my career focus down to writing novels and writing about the arts with some possible music on the side if I ever manage to practice again, I was tossing around pairing “novelist” with a few other careers, one of which was working as a general nonfiction writer. I offered articles and other pieces to clients, much as I do now, but my focus was much broader. That’s a nice way of saying I was willing to write almost anything anyone would pay me for, with the only limits being the law and basic human decency.
With that not so focused and well planned out goal in mind, I began posting all over writing boards and Facebook groups, looking for work. My first offer was a great one. A local man wanted me to ghost write his book, as he had a lot of ideas, but wasn’t much of a writer.
Tears nearly filled my eyes. I made it. Published ghost writers can charge $80,000 to $150,000 to write a book. I was not even self-published as a novelist yet, so I needed to start with the lower range that begins around $20,000, but I had a graduate degree in writing and had published in newspapers, magazines, and on a radio station’s web page for years. I decided to go with a little higher than the absolute lowest rate, and charge $30,000. I had my work and my income set for the year. It was even going to be a great year, money-wise. I’m used to living on the minimum, so I was even going to have spending money this year. I couldn’t wait to start.
My first day was scheduled to take place at a local coffeehouse. I hated the idea of having to spend money I hadn’t been paid yet, but I did not have an office, and we were talking about meeting a stranger. I knew this guy’s stepdaughter as a friend of a friend and had briefly spoken to his girlfriend a time or two, but had never even seen my new client offline. I figured paying ten dollars for a couple of coffee drinks in order to hold our first planning meeting was smarter than showing up at some strange man’s house alone.
I arrived early, purchased a plain brewed coffee, and selected a table large enough to examine any notes, photographs, or other materials my client might bring me. My own notebooks, pens, and laptop were ready. I sipped my coffee amid my neatly arranged supplies. No client. I checked my Facebook to see if he had messaged me about something that might be keeping him. No client. I waited in the coffeehouse for an hour before finally walking home and messaging him to remind him that he had agreed to attend our first planning meeting that afternoon, but had not shown up.
Now, most people would apologize in this situation. He had been friendly enough during the chat in which we agreed to the first meeting, so I fully expected him to say something along the lines of “I’m sorry” and “Can we reschedule?” even if it was accompanied by a rather transparent excuse.
Man of His Many Words said, “I got busy doing things around the house and I forgot.”
Okay. He wasn’t the first odd or difficult client I had, and he certainly would not be the last. People in the town where I used to live tend to pride themselves on refusing to acknowledge the world outside their tiny town until they want something from it, and that often extends to social norms like basic respect for other people and manners. I silently forgave both the brush off and the rude behavior, and offered to re-schedule the meeting. He hemmed and hawed but agreed to let me know when he could meet again.
Now, it was naive of me to get all excited just because somebody online said they’d hire me for a year-long full-time project, but I am not a naive person in general. I knew I didn’t have a ghost writing project anymore. This guy changed his mind about hiring a ghost writer, and rather than contacting me to cancel the job, he let me go to a meeting he had no intention of attending. This might seem like extreme rudeness to people here in Utica, but in the town where I used to live, it was just the way it was if you were not in the “right” clique. And I never was. You had to be related to one of the so-called “old families” who lived there for about fifty years to be treated with even basic dignity, and I not only moved there with completely unconnected parents as a teenager, I was originally from their most-hated area of the country, the East coast. All I could do was move on.
There were other things I could do for work. I could keep posting in local groups. I could create an ad for the local paper. The radio station that had been my client for many years was long gone, but there were still print news sources around. I could even offer tutoring, both in person around town, and online via my Yahoo Messenger account.
People who chatted with me as friends were notified that the account would be changed to a professional one, and announcements were made that I now offered online tutoring.
I didn’t expect anyone to contact me right away. It was going to take a while before anyone decided to hire me to tutor them over someone less qualified simply because he was born there and his cousin had the right last name.
But someone did reach out to me. It was the Man of His Many Words, the ghosting ghostwriting client. He still wanted me to work with him on his book. At this point, I wasn’t sure if this guy had one of those special local connections that made him feel entitled to a ghost writer, no matter how he behaved, or if he just caught on that I didn’t, and realized it was okay by local standards to treat me that way. Either way, I was tired of him, and told him that if he wanted me to work for him, he would need to pay me.
“I don’t have that kind of money,” he replied. “I added you on here so you could help me out, bit by bit.”
Sure. And I can’t afford to go to a salon and get my hair cut, so I’m going to stop by the hairdresser’s house every day so she can trim off a little at a time for free until it looks the way I want.
The client was quickly blocked at on messenger. When I went to block him on Facebook, I was treated to the last status message of his I would ever read. Someone he had begun a business deal with in his own business failed to show up for a scheduled meeting or show up with something my former client had agreed to purchase.
“If you’re not a man of your word, then what are you!” my former client online roared. What are you, indeed…Man of His Many Words. What are you indeed.