Every freelancer has it, but I didn’t know what mine was until today. My limit, that is.
An editor called, identified herself and her magazine, and proposed a get-acquainted assignment — a personality profile. OK, I said, tell me more. She described the individual, what he’s known for, what they’d like to cover. I jotted down notes. How long? About 1,000 words. When’s deadline? Middle of December. Fine so far.
“And what am I working for?” I asked. Plumbers, contractors, exterminators — they don’t ask this question, the people hiring them do. “Can you give me an estimate?” you ask the plumber, or “What would you charge to do this?” Freelancers grovel for whatever clients feel like paying. I waited for the answer.
“For something like this, around $100, maybe as high as $150,” she said.
I said no thanks. Damn, it felt good, even declining politely. I sort of wanted to do it Linda Evangelista-style — “I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day” — but that would have been, er, unprofessional. My rule up to now has been: Turn no one down. I need the money and the exposure, and lord knows I have the time. But a dime a word is insulting, yes, even more insulting than blogging for free.
To her credit, the editor was very nice and said she understood perfectly. She said she’d call back when they could afford me, which was even nicer. Still, though, even among writers, there’s a point of diminishing returns, a you-get-what-you-pay-for reality. People who work that cheap are either a) profoundly inexperienced; b) independently wealthy; or c) desperate. All three will bring their own problems with them; the inexperienced don’t understand why you can’t make up quotes, the wealthy will ignore deadline because they have a tennis lesson and the desperate will turn in copy with the unmistakable tang of, well, desperation.
(I happen to know the details of a plagiarism incident that occurred in my orbit last year. If you knew what the writer was paid, you’d have cut and pasted from the internet, too.)
So. There was shopping to be done today — I needed to get Thursday’s main course locked in, which meant I had an excuse to visit Gratiot Central Market. At the southern edge of the Eastern Market, Gratiot Central is, well, a meat mall. A dozen or so retailers of animal flesh gather under one roof and compete vigorously with one another. How competitive are they? How about $6 and change a pound for beef tenderloin, and they slice it free? That’s pretty damn competitive, if you ask me.
The customers are equally competitive. I looked around for a take-a-number dispenser before realizing you do it the way you order cocktails in a crowded bar — elbow your way in and get somebody’s attention, then clamor for your meat. I got a turkey and the tenderloin and lingered awhile in front of the exotic items, chitterlings (“never bleached!”), pig’s feet and hog mauls, not to mention great slabs of tripe and other queasy-making innards. I’ve said it before, and I say it again: It’s one thing to eat the food of your impoverished ancestors when you’re poor, but once you’ve overcome poverty, I think it’s just fine if you want to leave that stuff behind. Lutefisk made sense when you were crossing the ocean and needed protein, or when your fishing waters were iced in for months at a time, but damn, we have refrigeration now, and open-water trawlers working year-round. Why eat fish preserved in lye? Why eat the pig’s large intestines? Have some tenderloin; you’ve earned your seat at the table.
When we were leaving the market, we passed a truck parked at the curb, ready to unload. Cargo: Cages and cages of live turkeys. I rolled down the window so Spriggy could smell them. He didn’t bark, perhaps knowing the condemned deserve a few moments of peace before the chop. Good boy.
(And yes, I learned my lesson. The meat went into the trunk before I left him alone in the car at my next stop.)
Furthermore, it is a brave, or foolhardy, man who shows traditional manners toward women. In today’s world of “hair-trigger sensitivity,” to open a door for a woman is to play what Truss calls Gallantry Russian Roulette: You risk a high-decibel lecture on gender politics. So wrote America’s beloved bow-tied columnist. Only guess what? Have you ever seen such a thing happen? Not the door-holding, the “high-decibel lecture on gender politics.” I have spent all my life in the midwest, but I’ve run with some pretty salty-tongued feminists, and never, not once, have I seen any of them upbraid a man for holding a door.
In my experience, people of both genders hold doors for people; it’s rude to let doors smack into others’ faces. In fact, contrary to the seemingly mythical hairy-legged feminist who takes umbrage at having a door held for her, the only people I’ve seen balk at my door-holding have been men, men who seemed to find pussified the idea that they might walk through a held-open door, even when their arms are full of bankers’ boxes, or whatever.
So, a poll: Have you ever gotten the high-decibel lecture on gender politics from a woman after you held a door? Let’s see how plugged in George Will and Lynne Truss are to the real world.