July 18, 2019

Down and Out in the Gig Economy

“In 2009, in the paranoid middle days of the recession, I enacted a boomerang-child stereotype: I moved back home into my parents’ basement. Raised in privilege (son of lawyers, private schools, no college debt), I treated the move as a minor humiliation justified by the conditions of the times. Aside from the basement’s tendency to flood during the rare Los Angeles rainstorm, it was a fine setup, a linoleum warren of adolescent artifacts and piles of books that I ordered from eBay when stoned late at night. I worked a handful of freelance gigs—Hebrew school teacher, content farm contributor—applied for jobs, and wrote book reviews, the journalistic entry point for many young writers. On weekends I drank with my better-heeled friends and crashed at their apartments. A brighter era, I assumed, was yet to come.

One morning, I got what seemed to be a job offer from an editor at a literary magazine for which I had been writing. It was, and remains, the only time I’d been offered a full-time job in journalism. The exact contours of the offer were vague, but it involved my spending at least a few months going through the magazine’s archives and writing a kind of institutional history featuring one of the magazine’s early editors, a folklorist and general eccentric. I had graduated from college three years earlier. I had no entrepreneurial ability, an overriding fear that the economy would degrade into a more overt form of barbarism, and a desperate worship of all things intellectual. I emailed back, eagerly accepting the offer.

I spent days and then weeks sweating the editor’s response. A social coward, I debated with my parents the propriety of calling this tiny literary magazine’s office in an effort to reach the editor. It seemed like the most important thing in the world. Later I got over myself, placed the call, and talked to the magazine’s managing editor. He told me that the editor was traveling in southern California, not far from where I lived. I wrote the editor, offered to talk to him, drive to meet him, whatever was needed. I was ready to move across the country for this project. He didn’t respond to my messages.”

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