Monday, August 29, 2011

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

“Sure don’t know what I’m going for, but I’m gonna go for it for sure.” — John Perry Barlow

Twelve years ago this week I arrived in sunny Los Angeles after a nearly month-long journey across America.  When I left my native state, the Heartland of it All, I didn’t have a job, an apartment, a spouse, a kid or a pet. I was a free agent and planning to maximize that freedom. After all, my clearly well thought out plan was to crash on my brother’s futon for a while, get a job writing jokes for a late night talk show and improvise the rest from there. 

Keep in mind that when I say my plan was “well thought out”, it was actually wild speculation from a somewhat presumptuous 23 year old.  I figured that since I had just received my degree in broadcast journalism, worked as a producer at the local PBS station while in college and, most importantly, took two years of Media Production classes in high school. I really believed that qualified me for a gig on a network show.  Seriously.  I had no clue.

Don’t worry, reality kicked in before long. And when I say reality, I mean that I was able to get a job on one of the very first reality television shows, “Blind Date”.  If you don’t remember it, Blind Date was a show that sent two unassuming strangers on a date filled with bizarre activities and tried to see if they could find their perfect match. Another way of looking at it was that it took two wannabe actors or models or oddballs and sent them all around LA, hoping that they would ultimately get drunk and end up in a hot tub. As the date played out on screen, jokes making fun of the two suckers, I mean daters, would pop-up around them.  That was the best part of the show.  And I got to watch that magic happen every day.  

Working on Blind Date was a great experience. I got to work on a relatively big scale production, I met some good friends that I am still close with to this day and got my creative juices flowing to help me with my writing career. Turns out, you need a little more experience than I had to get a job on one of the shows I wanted to work on. I figured that within 6 months or a year I’d be on my way.  Boy, was I wrong!

As a 23 year old living in L.A., I quickly discovered that there was a lot more to do in my free time than there had been in Ohio. My focus shifted and my creativity dried up.  After more than a year on Blind Date, I left the wonderful world of TV to “get a real job”. By normal, I mean one that offered weird things that Blind Date didn’t such as health insurance, vacation time and other staples of normal jobs. 

I got a job in Human Resources at a major movie studio which was only palatable because of a couple hilarious co-workers and the free movie screenings.  As part of my HR duties, I got to lead the new hire orientation every week and as a result, I got to meet all the new ladies on their first day of work. I suppose there was a few guys, too, but I didn’t really pay attention.  After more than a year, that job ended and I was thankful. It had been miserable. HR was clearly not my calling. The lack of creativity involved was both surprising and not surprising at all.  I knew it within the first couple of hours working there. At least I collected lots of free VHS tapes of movies. Those must be worth a lot now…  

Since that gig, I’ve worked in sales and marketing in a variety of capacities, mostly as an independent contractor. I’ve sold successful lines of clothing into some of the biggest chains in the country and I’ve struck out while trying to sell video services to people who didn’t want them, and those are just a couple. I’ve learned something from all of these jobs: the good, the bad and the ugly.  I’ve learned what I like: independence, and what I don’t like: not making money. I guess there are trade-offs everywhere.

I’ve also started a couple of my own small businesses and run with those through the ups and downs of our crazy economy the last few years. Then something changed for me just about two years ago. My wife got pregnant. A whole new feeling of responsibility hit me.  I had to find a job and fast! We needed better health insurance that didn’t cost more than John Goodman’s weekly McDonald’s allowance. I tried reaching out to the people I knew, but that was tough as I didn’t really know anyone anymore. Sure, I had friends but they were mostly professionals and I didn’t think I could score a gig as a doctor or lawyer without at least a couple weeks of training.  Most of my jobs had been pretty independent, so there was no one to reach out to there, either. Basically, I was screwed.  

I kept pressing with the biz my wife and I started together but unless we wanted to rely on Top Ramen for every meal
something had to give.  In the meantime, my wife had another side business of her own that took off and so after the baby arrived, I became responsible for him for big chunks of the day while she was gone. After a while I figured that maybe I should start using my creative brain again. I had used it intermittently over the last decade, but nothing too serious had come out of it.  So I started jotting down notes, thoughts and ideas about parenting. In case you don’t know, being a father is quite different from being a mother and not just because of the biological differences. They have inherent skills that men will never have. Like trying to change a kid’s diaper on one of those little fold-down tables they have in public bathrooms. Ever try to wrangle 35 pounds on one of those? Let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.  

And all of that writing, pondering and diaper changing is how I became The Dude of the House. Writing has been cathartic for me in many ways and I’ve got a slew of creative projects I’m working on right now. Ironically, I’m trying to get back into the television world now—just a dozen years later than I expected. If you know anyone who wants to help, let me know…

Thanks for reading! Your comments are appreciated.  Tell your friends...
--JJ aka The Dude of the House

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  1. I am so glad you are doing this. Long strange trip indeed. Life truly is what happens while you are making other plans.

  2. Thanks, Deb. You and John both are correct.

  3. I can remember a day when those little fold down changing table were frequently not in the mens room. That led to:

    You know your are SAHD if you ever changed a baby on a Fast food joint table because the men’s room didn’t have a changing table.

    That one causes an interesting discussion with the manager. I probably should have been kinder...

  4. I take it you did not meet your wife on a Blind Date show...

  5. Thanks for linking up - this is actually the first time I've had the chance to read a blog post from a daddy's perspective, and I loved it! What a wild ride you've had so far, and it sounds like you have many more adventures to come! I'll definitely be back for more reading :)

    1. Glad I discovered your page. Glad you liked this one. It gives a little taste of who I am and what I'm up to. My angle is definitely a little different than a lot of the other Dudes.
      Thanks for stopping by. Don't be a stranger.