Value added.

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.)

Bloggage: Thanks to World o’Crap for pointing out something I should have thought of years ago. She notes George Will’s comment on the latest Lynne Truss book, the one about manners:

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.

Posted at 6:17 pm in Uncategorized |

19 responses to “Value added.”

  1. brian stouder said on November 21, 2005 at 7:09 pm

    “Have you ever gotten the high decibel lecture on gender politics from a woman after you held a door?”

    Funny you should ask! I tend to be a door holder – and I have never, ever gotten anything worse than a half-smile (usually by somone on her cell phone)………

    but I believe I HAVE gotten a few looks from husbands/boyfriends in the car, if I held the door for ‘their’ women-folk as they entered and I exited the local gas station/c-store.

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  2. John Carpenter said on November 21, 2005 at 7:49 pm

    I’ve never gotten a lecture. And I’m a non-sexist door-opener. My threshhold is probably about 10 yards, longer of someone is pushing a stroller and carrying bags. If they are that close, though, they get the door held. Most say thanks. I’d say Mr. Will is out of touch. But he was never in touch.

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  3. wade said on November 21, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    I’m a door-holder by habit and rarely see any outrage — I mostly get the dance you do after yu try to shrug the guy through after you’ve held the door for his mate (and sometimes offspring.)

    And I always thought the term “hairy legged libber” played better. IMHO.


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  4. alex said on November 21, 2005 at 9:15 pm

    The ancient Greeks had a word for an imaginary she-monster�a chimera. And that’s precisely what a Feminazi is, not to mention a straw man.

    I’ve never been browbeaten for chivalrousness. I did get lectured a few times back in college by some castrating bitches who’d had Sociology 101 and suddenly believed anything with a penis deserved to be kicked in the nuts. But as for holding doors and letting women exit elevators first, nada.

    George Will has only written one thing in recent memory that made any sense and wasn’t intellectually lazy�about a week ago when he weighed in on Intelligent Design and the GOP’s increasing alienation of moderate voters.

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  5. basset said on November 21, 2005 at 9:48 pm

    I can beat the $100 story… had someone try to get me to produce a four-day video shoot out of town for no pay at all because it’d be a “free trip.”

    ya pay peanuts, ya get monkeys…

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  6. mary said on November 22, 2005 at 2:20 am

    I hold doors for people all the time, and I thank anyone who holds a door for me. Politeness and feminism are not mutually exclusive. Feminism does not preclude appreciation of kindness or courtesy.

    Speaking of revolting innards: I watched Iron Chef (the Japanese one) tonight, and one of the dishes was fish liver soaked in bourbon, rolled in sugar, and coated in milk chocolate, on a stick. The guy who made that stuff won.

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  7. MichaelG said on November 22, 2005 at 9:01 am

    I can certainly understand your situation as a freelancer, Nance. I had a girlfriend once who was a free lance artist. She was always in a quandary over what to charge. I kept urging her to up her fees figuring that those who charged more would be perceived as being worth more. Eventually, after we broke up, she raised her rates and started making decent money. Another chronic problem she had was collecting from dead beat ad agencies and printers. She got to be pretty good at that.

    I heard Lynne Truss interviewed on the local NPR station last week. She was in town for something or other. She’s very funny, very droll in that Briddish way. I was charmed. Of course nobody snaps at door holders. I’ve been holding doors for — well, never mind how long. Nobody’s ever responded with other than a “thanks” or a smile. And yes, I’ll hold the door for the next person up, male or female. As for the column, consider the source.

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  8. 4dbirds said on November 22, 2005 at 11:06 am

    I appreciate people who hold doors open for me and I try to return the favor by holding doors for others. Some busy people might forget to say thank you but a it isn’t a generousity if you expect a return. I’ve never been barked at. George Will should have served time for stealing Jimmy Carter’s debate book.

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  9. Loulou said on November 22, 2005 at 11:08 am

    I hold doors for others and am pleased when they are held for me. And I’m gratified to see that it’s often young men who hold them, but maybe that’s because I’m no longer young. I draw the line at being helped across the street though. It annoys me though when I hold doors for either sex and they sail through blindly as if this were my job and not a courtesy. Usually I say “you’re welcome”. Some of them then thank me with a tad little bit of embarrassment, and others look as if they don’t know what I’m talking about. Brought up in a barn, I guess.

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  10. Danny said on November 22, 2005 at 11:11 am

    Ditto for me. I’ve held the door for even the most bull-dikiest female machinists and always gotten a “Thank you” or a smile or both. Will’s problem is that he understands himself to be the world’s biggest expert on everything.

    Mary, your post reminds me of a lightbulb joke I read.

    Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: “That’s not funny!!!”

    and for an encore..

    Q: How many Jewish mothers deos it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: None. “That’s ok, I’ll just sit here in the dark.”

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  11. Nick said on November 22, 2005 at 11:20 am

    Holding a door open for a person behind you is different from opening a door for them to enter before you. Holding the door seems like a socially polite thing to do while opening a door for someone feels more like a personal gesture.

    Mommy was a Chicago-liberal-lipstick-feminist who encouraged me to use polite behavior like opening doors for women. She advised me that if I was ever berated for opening a door I should respond “I’m opening the door for you because I’m a gentleman, not because you’re a lady”. I only had occasion to use that line once in almost 40 years.

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  12. Dorothy said on November 22, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Good one Nick.

    I had refrained from chiming in because my answer would have sounded like just about everyone else – I do the right thing at the right time, which is to hold the door for someone regardless of their sex. But not 15 minutes ago something happened at the office and I had to tell!

    I had to go down to the lobby to meet the delivery person from Atlanta Bread Company. I ordered a dozen lunches for a lunch time meeting. I took my cart down the elevator and when I came back up with it, I have to go thru a set of closed double doors. I got to the door at nearly the same time as another guy. He was RIGHT on my heels. Instead of saying to me “Hold on, I’ll get the door!” he just watched as I yanked open the door, braced it with my one foot and then pulled the cart through, and then got behind the cart to finish putting it through the door. He didn’t say a word – I only glared at him. Wish I’d had the nerve to say “Gee, thanks” as sarcastically as I could. But I wimped out.

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  13. Nance said on November 22, 2005 at 11:37 am

    Congratulations to Nick for bringing up the holding/opening distinction. It’s possible Mr. Will (because I know he loves them courtesy titles) was speaking of the latter. So here goes:

    My policy is, whoever gets to the door first opens it. We’re no longer talking about heavy-timbered panels strapped with steel that one struggles with, but hydraulic-assisted mechanisms a grandmother could open with her index finger. Sometimes, when walking with a man, they tend to drop behind you, either to scope out your butt or just because of the ladies-first thing. Then you arrive at the door and he scampers ahead to open it, which is a bit silly, but if he does he gets a smile and a thank-you. He’s trying to be nice; this seems unworthy of punishment.

    Cars are another matter. When all locks were manual, it made courtesy sense that if you were riding in a man’s car he would unlock the passenger side first, let you in and then walk around to the driver’s side. When locks went automatic, it made sense for him to unlock the driver’s side, thereby unlocking the other side, and you both get in at the same time. And now that they’re operated by remote, it works the same.

    What I find pretty dumb is the idea that the man parks the car, gets out and then comes around to open the woman’s door. It’s a holdover from the days of carriages, when women’s clothing and the nature of buggy steps were such that a woman needed a steadying hand as she climbed down. I still take a bus driver’s or train conductor’s hand as I step down to ground level, and see it as simple person-to-person courtesy, not a gender thing.

    But cars can be entered or exited pretty easily, and as soon as the engine goes off I open my own damn door. Recalling my parents’ old age, I know that sooner or later I’m going to need help getting out, and I’ll take it then. Until then, though, I’m going to enjoy being able-bodied as long as I can.

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  14. Bartleby said on November 22, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    I always open doors for women, assuming I can plausibly get to the handle first. I’ve never heard anything but a “thank you,” and you can usually get a very nice smile, too. An altogether rewarding experience. I think the “high-decibel lecture on gender politics” is more or less like the “I got spat on and called a baby-killer when I got home from Vietnam” thing … I suppose it must have happened to someone somewhere, but I don’t know just who, or where. Certainly hasn’t happened to me.

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  15. Lex said on November 22, 2005 at 2:01 pm

    I am so over editors who think they can treat freelancers like crap.

    Back in the dim, distant mists of time when the Web was new, I used to get all manner of flattering solicitations from people who were starting “Web magazines” and wanted me to write for them for free “until we get established.” Not only did I turn them down, not only did I lecture them, I then turned around and talked nasty about their asses in e-mails to all my writer friends. (I didn’t have a blog yet.)

    I still freelance occasionally, but between the taxes and the time taken out of my life at a time when my children are young, I don’t get out of bed for less than four times my effective hourly rate at my day job. Once, when I perceived I was being dissed, I doubled my quote in mid-conversation and browbeat the editor on the other end into hiring me anyway. Then, when the subject of the profile abruptly and irrationally ceased to cooperate, I insisted on, and got, 100% of the quote as my kill fee, before I’d written a word.

    And if that seems excessive or abusive, you honest editors out there can just consider that a tax you pay for the privilege of keeping lying cheapskates and deadbeats in your business.

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  16. Dwight Brown said on November 22, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    “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.”

    On the other hand, I think you could argue that there’s something lost when people “start leaving that stuff behind”: sort of a cultural connection to one’s ancestors.

    There’s also the third hand: the idea that if we’re going to eat animals for food, we owe it to them (and us) to make good use of them. And that means eating as much as possible, even the “unpopular” parts.

    I don’t know if you read the *New Yorker*, but one of the pieces in the recent food issue was a profile (partially) of Fergus Henderson, who is a much better (and more articulate) advocate of that point of view than I am, and has a restaurant in London devoted to that idea. The profile itself isn’t online, as far as I can tell, but I found an interview with the author:

    (For the record: I don’t come from a lutefisk tradition: the traditional food of my people appears to be cabbage rolls, which I find disgusting. I can’t say that I’ve ever had tripe, brains, or other organ meats, but I’d gladly have dinner at St. John if I ever get to London.)

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  17. Dick Walker said on November 22, 2005 at 6:23 pm

    As my buddy Dan says: “I don’t need the work, I need the money.”

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  18. mary said on November 22, 2005 at 9:41 pm


    I know my pups aren’t cute like Gracie, but check out the three photos I posted in flickr of last Sunday’s beach outing. The large tan dog is Max, who is just a babe of 9 months.

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  19. Mike said on November 25, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    I used to see resentment sometimes from women when I opened a door for them – but that was 20 years ago in the midst of their struggles for feminism. Not so bad now. And I don’t race them to the door. Usually it gets me at least a smile.

    As for holding a door for the person behind, most people seem to do that here in Ottawa- either sex.

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