kottke.org posts about working
The Green Angels is a group of pot dealers that was started by a former fashion model named Honey (not her real name). Many of the dealers and dispatchers are also former models…or at least possess enough good looks and easy charm to talk their way out of trouble with NYPD officers.
Honey is clear-eyed about the nature of her operation: “I tell the girls, it’s not a club; it’s a drug ring.” The whole business is run via text messages between her, the dispatchers in her headquarters, the runners who do the deliveries, and the customers. “I have carpal tunnel in my thumb from all the texting,” Honey says. Dispatchers get 10 percent of each sale; the runners get 20 percent, which averages out to $300 or $400 a day. Several of them, according to Honey, “are paying off their NYU student loans.”
Just like any other business, there are tricks of the trade and protocols to follow:
One of the Angels suggests using a tote bag instead of a backpack to carry the box. She generally uses a WNYC tote bag, which is given out to donors to the public-radio station. The other day, an old lady gave her a high five after seeing her tote. “I thought, If you only knew what I have in this bag,” she says.
Honey tells the girls to get a work phone from MetroPCS, which costs $100. When buying it, they should pay in cash and have a name in mind to put down on the form, in case the police check. “I like to use the names of girls who were my enemies growing up,” Honey says.
The business is organized and disciplined, which I suspect it needs to be if you don’t want to get tossed in jail:
The Green Angels average around 150 orders a day, which is about a fourth of what the busiest services handle. When a customer texts, it goes to one of the cell phones on the table in the living room. There’s a hierarchy: The phones with the pink covers are the lowest; they contain the numbers of the flakes, cheapskates, or people who live in Bed-Stuy. The purple phones contain the good, solid customers. Blue is for the VIPs. There are over a thousand customers on Honey’s master list.
To place an order, a customer is supposed to text “Can we hang out?” and a runner is sent to his apartment. No calling, no other codes or requests. Delivery is guaranteed within an hour and a half. If the customer isn’t home, he gets a strike. Three strikes and he’s 86’d. If he yells at the runner, he’s 86’d immediately.
The Angels work only by referral. The customers should refer people they really know and trust, not strangers, and no one they’ve met in a bar. If you refer someone who becomes a problem, Charley says, you lose your membership.
Really interesting throughout.
In Productivity in Terrible Times, Eileen Webb writes about the challenges of getting things done in the face of uncertain and worrisome times and offers some strategies that might help.
When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”
It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries.
I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?
I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.
Update: Meteorologist Eric Holthaus recently shared how he copes with working on climate change day after day.
I’m starting my 11th year working on climate change, including the last 4 in daily journalism. Today I went to see a counselor about it. I’m saying this b/c I know many ppl feel deep despair about climate, especially post-election. I struggle every day. You are not alone. There are days where I literally can’t work. I’ll read a story & shut down for rest of the day. Not much helps besides exercise & time. The counselor said: “Do what you can”, which I think is simple & powerful advice. I’m going to start working a lot more on mindfulness. Despair is natural when there’s objective evidence of a shared existential problem we’re not addressing adequately. You feel alone.
I also wanted to thank those who reached out on Twitter and email about this post…I really appreciate your thoughts. One reader sent along this passage from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities:
The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
From an excerpt of Kevin Kelly’s recent book, The Inevitable, a list of the Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:
1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.
2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do.
3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.
5. [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.
6. [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more!
7. [Later.] I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now.
I predict that getting to #6 will be challenging for many people.
For a photo project called Women’s Work, Chris Crisman made portraits of women who have jobs not typically done by women in the US. In an interview at aPhotoEditor, Crisman explained the why he did the project:
I am a father of two — a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. I was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to when I grew up. I want pass down a similar message to my children and without caveats. I want to raise my children knowing that their dreams have no limits and that they have parents supporting them to dive into anything they feel passionate about.
Crisman shot a short film of Sadie Samuels, the Maine lobster fisherman1 pictured in the photograph above.
From a new Kickstarter publication called The Creative Independent, Philip Glass was interviewed about the importance of artists owning their work and getting paid for it.
My personal position was that I had wonderful parents. Really wonderful people. But my mother was a school teacher. My father had a small record shop in Baltimore. They had no money to support my career. I began working early. You’re too young to know this, but when you get your first Social Security check, you get a list of every place you’ve worked since you began working. It’s fantastic! I discovered that I was working from the time I was 15 and putting money into the Social Security system from that age onward. I thought it was much later. No, I was actually paying money that early.
The point is that I spent most of my life supporting myself. And I own the music. I never gave it away. I am the publisher of everything I’ve written except for a handful of film scores that the big studios paid. I said, “Yeah, you can own it. You can have it, but you have to pay for it.” They did pay for it. They were not gifts.
A lot in this interview resonates, including this:
It’s never been easy for painters, or writers, or poets to make a living. One of the reasons is that we, I mean a big “We,” deny them an income for their work. As a society we do. Yet, these are the same people who supposedly we can’t live without. It’s curious, isn’t it?
And this bit about making work vs performing (italics mine):
What happens, is that the artists are in a position where they can no longer live on their work. They have to worry about that. They need to become performers. That’s another kind of work we do. I go out and play music. The big boom in performances is partly because of streaming, isn’t it? We know, for example, that there are big rock and roll bands that will give their records away free. You just have to buy the ticket to the concert. The cost of the record is rather small compared to the price of the ticket. It’s shifted around a little bit; they’re still paying, but they’re paying at the box office rather than at the record store. The money still will find its way.
Then you have to be the kind of person who goes out and plays, and some people don’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the economics of writing online. Making a comfortable living only by writing is tough and very few independents are able to do it. More successful are those who are able to get away from writing online by speaking at conferences, writing books, starting podcasts, selling merchandise,1 post sponsored tweets and Instagram photos, building apps, consulting for big companies, etc. This stuff is the equivalent of the band that tours, sells merch, composes music for TV commercials, etc. But as Glass said, what about those who just want to write? (And I count myself among that number.) How can we support those people? Anyway, more on this very soon (I hope).
Photo is of a Chuck Close painting of Philip Glass taken by me at The Whitney.
Vox recently took a look at every single job that Homer has ever had on The Simpsons in an attempt to see where his average salary falls on the economic spectrum in America.
Over the show’s 596-episode run, Homer has had at least 191 jobs. They’ve ranged from executive positions to service jobs, and have dotted the entire economic spectrum, from ultra-rich to the poverty line.
In the list below, we’ve compiled the real-life salaries for 100 of these jobs. Seasonal jobs (like “mall Santa”), and jobs that were virtually impossible to find salary data for (“beer smuggler”) were excluded, as were any repeats (he was an Army private twice, for instance). His full-time gig as a safety inspector is highlighted in yellow, for reference.
He gets a lot of flack, but Homer is actually the most interesting person in America by a wide margin, even though he’s not well compensated for it.
See also Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics.
Comedian, actor, and director Mike Birbiglia wrote a short piece for the NY Times with advice on how to get started in a creative career. Much of this you’ve heard before, but Birbiglia’s version is succinct and concisely argued. He and I agree on the #1 piece of advice:
1. DON’T WAIT. Write. Make a short film. Go to an open mike. Take an improv class. There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay.
His “small but great” point is right on the money as well. (via @Richie_boy)
Tech investor Fred Wilson recently gave the commencement address for the very first graduating class at the Academy For Software Engineering. In it, he shared the secret to his success:
So with that, I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things, take risks, work hard, and get lucky.
I essentially1 agree with Wilson here. Earlier today I was listening to the latest episode of the Recode Media podcast where Peter Kafka’s guest was Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. Gruber recounted how he got started blogging about Apple and eventually turned it into a very successful business. I’ve heard the story before and it conforms nicely to Wilson’s path to success.
1. Take risks. Gruber bet heavily on three things for Daring Fireball: Apple, blogs, and (later) podcasts. None looked that impressive from a business standpoint when his bets were made. In 2002 when he started writing DF, Apple was still an underdog computer company whose partisans had mostly stuck with the company through its lean years of offering products that weren’t competing well and which didn’t exemplify the ideals of the Apple of yore. The iPod had just come out a year earlier and the life- industry- company-changing iPhone was years in the future. But Gruber never viewed Apple as an underdog…to him it was a legendary company in the world poised for future greatness. Professional blogs were just starting to be a thing back then as well, and it was far from certain that you might be able to earn even a partial living from them, especially on your own. And when he started his Talk Show podcast in 2007, podcasting was still largely a hobbyist endeavor. Sure, you could make some money doing it, but 9 years on, there’s big money to be had for the most popular shows. Three risky bets that paid off.
2. Work hard. Tens of thousands of posts and hundreds of hours of podcasts over the past 13+ years, yeah, I think that covers it. Gruber has put in the necessary ass-in-chair time.
3. Get lucky. There’s a lot of luck sprinkled around the success of DF, but perhaps the biggest break Gruber got was Apple’s decision to open up the iOS App Store to outside developers. Suddenly, you had all of these developers, startups, established software companies, and venture capitalists pouring money into the development and promotion of iOS apps. So these companies had money and needed somewhere to advertise their apps, a place where they could be sure all of the most influential and rabid Apple aficionados would see their message. Daring Fireball was the obvious place and the site’s RSS sponsorships were the perfect format.
A company called Studio D recently published their corporate end-of-the-year report for 2015. It is unlike most other companies’ year-end reports. Studio D, which was founded by global citizen Jan Chipchase, “specialises in sensitive research topics requiring a very discreet presence; through to working in higher risk environments”.
This year the studio was joined by two four-legged team members: Ramoosh the camel purchased from the livestock market in Hargeysa; and Neyy a goat bought on the road between Harare and Bindura. As is the local norm in a country with limited electricity and even less refrigeration, Neyy was gifted to an interviewee as a small thank-you — anything larger wouldn’t be possible to eat in one sitting and would spoil after slaughter. Both were expensed.
The company also debuted the 1M Hauly Heist, which is a ultra-durable and discreet travel pack that will carry $1 million in US $100 bills and shield electronics from RF tracking. The 1M Hauly Heist made it onto my 2015 holiday gift list.
Michael Lopp, Head of Engineering at Pinterest, recently gave a talk at the Cultivate conference in which he talks about different merit badges that a leader might earn if there were such a thing. Check the video for the whole list, but here are a few of them:
Influence without management authority
Delegate something you care about
Ship a thing
Ask for help from an enemy
Part of the list made me think of parenting, which reminded me of Stella Bugbee’s recommendation of the book Siblings Without Rivalry on Cup of Jo.
I have a VERY, VERY unlikely book that I often reference as a boss: Siblings Without Rivalry. It’s not about money or business per se, but I’ve found since reading it that I put so many of its lessons into practice managing my team at work. I love the way it teaches you to listen, repeat the issues without taking sides, empathize and then teach the parties involved to solve their own disputes. It also helps at home. (Duh.)
Netflix made big news by increasing its maternity and paternity leave to a year. But in a really interesting piece, The New Yorker’s Vauhini Vara provides some historical and economic background and makes the case why not all paid family leave regulations should be left up to private employers:
Among the earners of the highest wages, twenty-two per cent have access to paid family leave, while among the lowest earners, only four per cent do. It turns out that a disparity exists even within Netflix.
The Misfit Economy looks intriguing; the subtitle is “Lessons in Creativity from Pirates, Hackers, Gangsters and Other Informal Entrepreneurs”.
Who are the greatest innovators in the world? You’re probably thinking Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford. The usual suspects.
This book isn’t about them. It’s about people you’ve never heard of. It’s about people who are just as innovative, entrepreneurial, and visionary as the Jobses, Edisons, and Fords of the world, except they’re not in Silicon Valley. They’re in the street markets of Sao Paulo and Guangzhou, the rubbish dumps of Lagos, the flooded coastal towns of Thailand. They are pirates, slum dwellers, computer hackers, dissidents, and inner city gang members.
Across the globe, diverse innovators operating in the black, grey, and informal economies are developing solutions to a myriad of challenges. Far from being “deviant entrepreneurs” that pose threats to our social and economic stability, these innovators display remarkable ingenuity, pioneering original methods and practices that we can learn from and apply to move formal markets.
Alastair Humphreys writes about making his living as an adventurer. But really, this advice works for anyone who wants to turn their hobby into a job. For instance, this list of reasons he’s an adventurer is pretty much why I did the same thing with kottke.org almost 10 years ago.
- I love almost every aspect of what I do.
- I love being self-employed: the freedom and the responsibility and the pressure.
- I think I’m probably now un-employable.
- I love being creative.
- I appreciate that building a profile helps generate exciting opportunities. (And I have come to accept — though not enjoy — the weird world of relentless self-promotion that being a career adventurer requires. I remain uncomfortable with people praising me more than I deserve, and I continue to get very angry and upset with the inevitable haters that your self-promotion will attract.)
Notice I don’t mention “going on adventures”, because there are loads of ways to do that in life. Don’t become a career adventurer solely because you want to go off on fun trips. There’s easier ways to do that.
That third point is a real double-edged sword. I can’t imagine what other job I would be even remotely qualified for other than this one. Feels like walking a tightrope without a safety net sometimes. (via @polarben)
Three dancers from The Australian Ballet share their prep routines for their pointe shoes.
Take-aways: Ballerinas’ feet are really not attractive, they soup up their shoes in all sorts of unusual ways, but the end result is beautiful. (thx, fiona)
The NY Times interviewed several people in their 80s who are still killing it in their careers and creative pursuits. Says Ruth Bader Ginsberg about surprises about turning 80:
Nothing surprised me. But I’ve learned two things. One is to seek ever more the joys of being alive, because who knows how much longer I will be living? At my age, one must take things day by day. I have been asked again and again, “How long are you going to stay there?” I make that decision year by year. The minute I sense I am beginning to slip, I will go. There’s a sense that time is precious and you should enjoy and thrive in what you’re doing to the hilt. I appreciate that I have had as long as I have… It’s a sense reminiscent of the poem “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” I had some trying times when my husband died. We’d been married for 56 years and knew each other for 60. Now, four years later, I’m doing what I think he would have wanted me to do.
The interviews are accompanied by an essay by Lewis Lapham, himself on the cusp of 80.
John D. Rockefeller in his 80s was known to his business associates as a crazy old man possessed by the stubborn and ferocious will to know why the world wags and what wags it, less interested in money than in the solving of a problem in geography or corporate combination. By sources reliably informed I’m told that Warren Buffett, 84, and Rupert Murdoch, 83, never quit asking questions.
I read a book several years ago which is relevant here called Old Masters and Young Geniuses, in which economist David Galenson divided creative people into two main camps: conceptual and experimental innovators:
1) The conceptual innovators who peak creatively early in life. They have firm ideas about what they want to accomplish and then do so, with certainty. Pablo Picasso is the archetype here; others include T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Orson Wells. Picasso said, “I don’t seek, I find.”
2) The experimental innovators who peak later in life. They create through the painstaking process of doing, making incremental improvements to their art until they’re capable of real masterpiece. Cezanne is Galenson’s main example of an experimental innovator; others include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, and Jackson Pollock. Cezanne remarked, “I seek in painting.”
For the first episode of podcast called Working, David Plotz talks to Stephen Colbert about how he and his staff construct The Colbert Report. This is fascinating.
My show is a shadow of the news, so I have to know what shadow it’s casting right now, so I can distort it in my own way.
At the 13 minute mark, he talks about how the team communicates with each other about how the show is shaping up, changes, concerns, etc. They do it all by what sounds like text messaging. Paging Stewart Butterfield, you should get those folks on Slack. (via digg)
The American Life’s Ira Glass talks with Lifehacker about how he works. When asked what his best time-saving shortcut or life hack was, he responded:
I’ve got nothing. Reading other people’s answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk. I employ no time-saving tricks at all.
Though come to think of it, I guess my biggest life hack — and this is the very first time I’ve attempted to use the phrase “life hack” in a sentence — is that my wife and I decided to live just a few blocks from where I work. We did this because of our dog. Since I spend at least an hour every night walking the dog, I didn’t want to spend another 60 or 90 minutes a day commuting. I don’t have the time. Like lots of people, I work long hours.
When he was around 32 years old, Leonardo da Vinci applied to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, for a job. The duke was in need of military expertise and Leonardo’s 10-point CV emphasized his military engineering skills:
3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth.
4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion.
And I love what is almost an aside at the end of the list:
Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.
Oh yeah, P.S., by the way, not that it matters, I am also the greatest living artist in the world, no big deal. Yr pal, Leo. (via farnam street and the letters of note book)
Video game producers utilize music to keep you engaged, increase your achievement, and give you the energy to make it to the next level. So maybe you just found your ideal work soundtrack.
Karltorp has found that music from games he used to play as a kid, such as StarCraft, Street Fighter, and Final Fantasy, work best. Because the music is designed to foster achievement and help players get to the next level, it activates a similar “in it to win it” mentality while working, argues Karltorp. At the same time, it’s not too disruptive to your concentration. “It’s there in the background,” said Karltorp. “It doesn’t get too intrusive, it keeps you going, and usually stays on a positive tone, too, which I found is important.”
Another one from Quora’s excellent weekly newsletter: What’s something that is common knowledge at your work place, but will be mind blowing to the rest of us? On fast food in commercials:
Everyone thinks the burgers shown on TV commercials must be highly fabricated works of culinary art, but the fact of the matter is that food advertising is subject to many regulations. I am not sure whether these are company policies or laws, and they’re probably a combination of both, but on a typical fast food shoot these rules apply.
The meal must be prepared from actual store stock (from the frozen patty to the bun to the seasonings). On a shoot, stylists would receive tons of product, which they would pore through to find the best-looking raw material.
Other interesting answers reveal the inner workings of political campaign events, the mining industry, investment banking, and orchestras.
Sabine Heinlein follows several people through a post-prison jobs program to see how ex-convicts prepare for re-entry into the workforce.
In prison Angel thought that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a job once he got out. He believed he had come a long way. At eighteen he hadn’t been able to read or write. He wet his bed and suffered from uncontrollable outbursts of anger. At forty-seven he had studied at the college level. He told me he had read several thousand books. He earned numerous certificates while incarcerated — a Vocational Appliance Repair Certificate, a Certificate of Proficiency of Computer Operator, a Certificate in Library Training, an IPA (Inmate Program Assistant) II Training Certificate, and several welding certifications — but in the outside world these credentials counted for little.
“Irrelevant,” Angel said. “They might as well be toilet paper.”
This piece is the seventh chapter from Heinlein’s book, Among Murderers: Life After Prison.
Karen Cheng learned to dance in a year. Here’s a video of her progress, from just a few days in to her final number:
Here’s my secret: I practiced everywhere. At bus stops. In line at the grocery store. At work — Using the mouse with my right hand and practicing drills with my left hand. You don’t have to train hardcore for years to become a dancer. But you must be willing to practice and you better be hungry.
This isn’t a story about dancing, though. It’s about having a dream and not knowing how to get there — but starting anyway. Maybe you’re a musician dreaming of writing an original song. You’re an entrepreneur dying to start your first venture. You’re an athlete but you just haven’t left the chair yet.
The interesting thing is, Cheng basically did the same thing in her professional life as well.
I decided to become a designer, but I had no design skills. I thought about going back to school for design, but the time and money commitment was too big a risk for a career choice I wasn’t totally sure of.
So I taught myself — everyday I would do my day job in record time and rush home to learn design. Super talented people go to RISD for 4 years and learn design properly. I hacked together my piecemeal design education in 6 months — there was no way I was ready to become a designer. But I was so ready to leave Microsoft. So I started the job search and got rejected a few times. Then I got the job at Exec.
The first few weeks were rough. Everyday I sat in front of my computer trying my damnedest and thinking it wasn’t good enough. But everyday I got a little bit better.
(via hacker news)
James Somers, writer and web developer, ponders the value of the work that he does.
I have a friend who’s a mechanical engineer. He used to build airplane engines for General Electric, and now he’s trying to develop a smarter pill bottle to improve compliance for AIDS and cancer patients. He works out of a start-up ‘incubator’, in an office space shared with dozens of web companies. He doesn’t have a lot of patience for them. ‘I’m fucking sick of it,’ he told me, ‘all they talk about is colours.’
Web start-up companies are like play-companies. They stand in relation to real companies the way those cute little make-believe baking stations stand in relation to kitchens.
Take Doormates, a failed start-up founded in 2011 by two recent graduates from Columbia University whose mission was to allow users ‘to join or create private networks for buildings with access restricted to only building residents’. For that they, too, raised $350,000. You wonder whether anyone asked: ‘Do strangers living in the same building actually want to commune? Might this problem not be better solved by a plate of sandwiches?’ (The founders have since moved on to ‘Mommy Nearest’, an iPhone app that points out mom-friendly locations around New York.)
A lot of the stuff going on just isn’t very ambitious. ‘The thing about the advertising model is that it gets people thinking small, lean,’ wrote Alexis Madrigal in an essay about start-ups in The Atlantic last year. ‘Get four college kids in a room, fuel them with pizza, and see what thing they can crank out that their friends might like. Yay! Great! But you know what? They keep tossing out products that look pretty much like what you’d get if you took a homogenous group of young guys in any other endeavour: Cheap, fun, and about as worldchanging as creating a new variation on beer pong.’
From 20101, a talk by Pixar’s Ed Catmull on how Pixar does what it does.
Part of the behavior is I don’t know the answers. And at first that seems a little bit glib. But after awhile people get that I really don’t know the answer to a lot of these things. So we set it up so that the management really doesn’t tell people what to do. We discuss, we debate, [but] people start to refer to ‘the management’, and I say come on guys, there’s three of us, we’re all in this together, and then we’re very open and honest about the problems.
Lasseter and Jobs get all the press, but Catmull deserves more credit than he gets for Pixar’s success. (via df)
 I don’t know why I put it like this. If something is good or interesting, who the hell cares when it’s from? [Shouldn’t you just delete it then? -ed] ↩
Because of “the evolving experience in the stores” (aka live music is too expensive), after 27 years of playing the piano at Nordstrom in the Tacoma Mall, Juan Perez was let go in January.
Perez remembers his audition at Nordstrom, one morning in January 1986.
“There were five of us. Four beautiful young ladies, and me. They were carrying music books.”
They were dressed, he said, as if they had shopped at Nordstrom. He was not. They were carrying sheet music. Perez did not, and does not, read notes. He plays by ear.
“I was the first one to play,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting they would hire me, and I was dressed in a regular shirt. I started playing and playing as the store opened up. I didn’t even have an application.”
After playing, he drove home.
“My wife said, ‘They called. They want you to start tomorrow.’ I almost cried.”
Perez arrived in the US with $300 to his name and through hard work at the piano, has put seven of his children through college, with two more currently in college and one more attending private high school. (via brooks review)
Update: Here’s a quick update on Perez. After leaving Nordstrom, he quickly got some other gigs, including one at an upscale steakhouse and another at the Space Needle, but was also diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo surgery.
On that last Sunday in the store, Perez ended with “Piano Man” and “How Great Thou Art.”
And “Unforgettable” was the first song he played following a five-surgeon, 10-hour surgery last July to remove a tumor tangled near his heart.
A round of radiation followed surgery, and Perez has continued playing at El Gaucho, and at the Space Needle, Bellevue Square, the Bellevue Hyatt Regency, the Tacoma Yacht Club, Tacoma Golf & Country Club, the Old Cannery in Sumner and the Weatherly Inn and Narrows Glen retirement homes in Tacoma.
Recently, the management and co-workers at El Gaucho decided to help Perez with medical bills and other expenses. Management would donate half the house receipts one Sunday night, and the servers and other staff would offer all their tips.
Total raised: $31,000.
A co-worker established an online funding request.
Total raised: Nearly $12,000 at the time this story was written.
Last year, Perez returned to Nordstrom for a final performance, which was attended by the three co-presidents of the company and hundreds of his fans.
“I’ve known him for 25 years. He’s a beautiful man,” said George Lund, a 40-year Nordstrom employee who is now retired.
“Juan was the face of this store. He was the personality of this store. He could be the mayor of this city,” Lund said. “It was a magical time for a lot of customers. He made them feel comfortable, relaxed.”
After 20 minutes of greetings, of hugs and embraces, Juan returns to the piano. Four friends gather behind him and sing along to “Edelweiss.”
Then Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
The crowd fills the aisles between women’s shoes and fine jewelry. Shoppers ascending on the escalator look down and smile.
“He is a blessing,” says Patricia Reynolds of Steilacoom. “He is helping people with his music.”
Perez shifts from a swift boogie-woogie riff into “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel.
“He just brings such beauty into people’s lives,” says Maria Fleischmann of Tacoma.
“I don’t even have words for this,” said Juan and Susan’s daughter, Agnes.
Then, “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Rod McLaren collects links on Rodcorp and on Pinboard about how people work. He recently recapped some of the work techniques from those links. Here are a few of my favorites:
Ray Bradbury wrote an early version on Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter in the UCLA library basement.
Gay Talese would pin pages of his writing to a wall and examine them from the other side of the room with binoculars.
Jonathan Safran Foer has a collection of blank sheets of paper.
Truman Capote wrote lying down, as did Marcel Proust, Mark Twain and Woody Allen.
Note: Illustration by Chris Piascik…prints & more are available.
The internet is going through a bit of a thing with standing desks right now, fueled by yesterday’s The Wirecutter article about them. One of the most famous standing desk enthusiasts was Ernest Hemingway.
The introduction of this 1958 Paris Review interview with Hemingway briefly describes Papa’s upright working setup:
A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu — the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.
Most articles I’ve seen on standing desks recommend anti-fatigue mats to help with foot pain, but of course Hemingway would go with the hide of an African antelope that he likely killed himself.
Other famous users of standing desks included Winston Churchill, Lewis Carroll, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Dickens, Otto von Bismarck, Henry Clay, Thomas Jefferson, John Dos Passos, and Virginia Woolf. (thx, megnut)
The fantastically obsessive Mark Lukach just spent an outlandish amount of time researching stand-up desks and shared his findings at The Wirecutter. Even if you have no interest in standing on the job, The Wirecutter is worth a visit for their concise and excellent guides on what to buy from headphones to juicers. (via nextdraft)
Note: This post is from Dave Pell’s NextDraft email newsletter, hopefully the first of many. Dave and I are going to be trading content back and forth on a more-or-less weekly basis, so keep a lookout for that. If you like what you see, subscribe to NextDraft whydontcha?
Writing for New York magazine, Henry Blodget explains how a young startup founder and college dropout became the CEO of a soon-to-be $100 billion company.
When talking about Zuckerberg’s most valuable personality trait, a colleague jokingly invokes the famous Stanford marshmallow tests, in which researchers found a correlation between a young child’s ability to delay gratification — devour one treat right away, or wait and be rewarded with two — with high achievement later in life. If Zuckerberg had been one of the Stanford scientists’ subjects, the colleague jokes, Facebook would never have been created: He’d still be sitting in a room somewhere, not eating marshmallows.
Trevor Pryce played in the NFL for 14 years and upon retiring learned that fame and money is not much if you’re not doing what you love.
“Early retirement” sounds wonderful. It certainly did that cold night in Pittsburgh. I was going to use my time to conquer the world.
Boy, was I wrong. Now I find myself in music chat rooms arguing the validity of Frank Zappa versus the Mars Volta. (If the others only knew Walkingpnumonia was the screen name for a former All-Pro football player and not some Oberlin College student trying to find his place in the world.) I wrote a book. I set sail on the picturesque and calming waters of Bodymore, Murdaland. And when I’m in dire straits, I do what any 8-year-old does; I kick a soccer ball against the garage hoping somebody feels sorry and says, “Hey, want to play?”
With millions of Americans out of work or doing work for which they are overqualified, I consider myself lucky. But starting from scratch can be unsettling. If you’re not prepared for it, retirement can become a form of self-imposed exile from the fulfillment and the exhilaration of knowing you did a good job.