My First Paid Writing Gig
It all started with a call from Scott. He presented me with an odd yet enticing offer. It seemed that his high school girlfriend Brandy–estranged daughter of a New York sports legend father and former supermodel mother, girlfriend of a current New York sports star, debutante, party girl socialite, and certified piece of ass–needed someone to write a grad school application essay for her for a large sum of money. I was just the man and Scott gave Brandy my phone number.
She called a few hours late and soon I was en route to her mother’s Central Park South penthouse for dinner and to discuss the “project.” I felt like Joe Buck*. A writing gigolo. And I loved it.
I had read about Brandy’s party-girl antics on Page 6 several times, but I’d never seen a picture of her at that point in time. Nowadays you’d without question recognize her as she has since starred in her own reality program and even had a cameo role in a 2009 movie that topped the box office in its opening weekend. But this was back in 2003 when she was still coming onto the “scene” and I was still a twenty-four-year-old buffoon.
That afternoon I tried to Google image search Brandy, but none appeared. (Compared to just this second when some several hundred thousand images of her are returned in 0.22 seconds.) Only pictures of her father of the same last name doing various things in increasing order of sordidness: excelling at his sport; hugging teammates after a significant win; his regrettable one-year hiatus in which he became a semi-pro wrestler; him being carted off to jail in handcuffs for a drug possession arrest; and him making an appearance on “The 700 Club” as a now born-again Christian. But, no picture of Brandy. Rumor had it she was hot, so I spruced myself up like I was going on a date. The thought never seemed to cross my mind that she was dating–that I was essentially competing with, ha!–a current sports superstar 35% bigger than me, 60% more handsome than me, and 1500% richer than me. I told myself though that if he was Joe D, I could be Arthur Miller, the intellectual to the jock. This was how my idiotic twenty-four-year-old mind worked.
A few blocks from Brandy’s apartment, Brandy called me and canceled. “Family Emergency.” I was pretty pissed at her having wasted my time, but what could I do about it? Scott called me later that night telling me that the emergency was that her dog had just been neutered. He also said Brandy was worried about meeting me, thinking that I would think her to be an “airhead.” “I think YOU are an airhead,” I told Scott truthfully and hung up.
The next day I redressed for my date, trying to look a little artsy, writer-ish as well, and headed back to her apartment. She greeted me with an overly intimate double cheek kiss and offered me a beer. It was 10 AM. I accepted the beer. She must have thought writers needed to drink to create. She thought exactly right. She gave me a Bud Ice. A five million dollar apartment I stood in, with a can of beer I wouldn’t have even drank in college. Where was the good shit? Probably in the walk-in wine closet I noticed as she lead me to the penthouse’s library where we sat down at a monumentally large King Arthurian table. As I pulled my notebook and pens from my messenger bag, the neutered dog would not quit jumping all over me. How wild must this thing have been when he had some balls to play with?
Brandy quickly gave me her bio:
*Had attended the fourth worst SEC school for her first three years of college. Despite her family’s money and connections this was the best school she could get into out of high school. Her father’s alma mater.
*Tired of being a New Yorker stuck in the middle of the south, she decided she wanted to spend her final year at a more respectable institution, opting to transfer to a semi-religious private school in Texas. Her mother had been a cheerleader there.
*Now she was interested in attending design school in New York and she needed to write 500 words on “a life-affirming moment.”
“Could you do it?” Brandy asked.
“Of course. It won’t be easy,” I noted as I took an overly long dramatic pause to help in building up my talent in the hopes of scoring as much money as possible, “but I’ll sure as hell try.” I told her not to worry, I didn’t even need to know anything about her. I told her I’d go home and just make up my own fake and dramatic, and sometimes humorous, life-affirming moment for her. “Is that okay?”
Brandy didn’t talk a lot, but said that was fine. How much money would she have to pay me?
I felt even further like a whore. (“A hunded dolla’ for a half hour. A dime for the hour.”) I asked what she thought to be fair. When being employed by the insanely rich NEVER set your own salary. What they think is “fair” is usually double the money that you think is “outrageous.”
“Scott said you’d probably want about $100 an hour.”
Fucking A, $100 an hour. I could have kissed Scott. 500 words would take me about the fifteen minute walk home to think up and an hour at most to write.
“Sounds a little low, but I’ll accept that since you’re a friend,” I told her, perhaps even adding a wink, though the muscles in my face aren’t quite supple enough to always execute that move. “It won’t be easy, but I imagine I could get it done tonight if I pull an all-nighter.”
She ate it up. I chugged the rest of my beer when she wasn’t looking, received the goodbye double cheek kiss that idiots prefer and went skipping home. I wrote the essay in under an hour. I thought it was great. I was a twenty-four-year-old man-boy competing against seventeen-year-old kids. Actually probably forty-five- and fifty-year-old parents that were writing essays for their kids. Well, I had gotten into every single college I had applied to when I was seventeen with the essays I’d written when I was seventeen, so I thought everything would be cool.
I woke up that morning at 4:45 AM and e-mailed Brandy the essay (“Spent all night working on it and just finished.”)
At noon when she woke up she e-mailed me back a response. A simple emoticon. I took that to mean she didn’t like it. Were all editors this tough? It was going to be hard to break into the writing business if that was the case.
Later she called me and told me the problem was that I just told a story about a made-up life-affirming moment in her life and I hadn’t explain well enough how smart and unique and creative she was. Or, at least, how smart, unique, and creative she claimed to be and thought the college would want her to be if they were going to accept her.
I was fucking pissed. She didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. But I didn’t yell, I didn’t scream. I spoke calmly and tried to explain the faultiness with her life of thinking. She didn’t understand what the hell I was talking about. Alas. Hot girls need to be reasoned with using analogies.
“Brandy, lots of guys hit on you at the vapid bottle service lounges you go to in the Meatpacking District, right?”
“Right,” she said, having no clue where I was headed.
“And, 99% of them buy you lots of drinks, and treat you nicely, and try to impress you with their bullshit and their money, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Now, that doesn’t work, does it? You aren’t attracted to those guys, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. Unless they’re, like, really rich or famous or something like my current boyfriend.”
“Well, when the 1% of guys come into the bar acting confidently, like they own the place, and treating you a little rude, and certainly not buying you even a single drink, don’t those guys kind of intrigue you?”
“Of course they do. Well I just wrote you a 1% essay, and you’re wanting me to write you a 99% essay. How are you going to stand out from the crowd with your ‘writing’ if you write the same boring ‘My-Greatest-Assets’ essay that every other kid is writing?!”
“You don’t tell people that you’re smart, that you’re creative, that you’re unique…you write an essay that proves you are smart, creative, unique.” Pause. “Get it?”
“Well, I’d just rather write something that’s more about me.”
“I don’t know a fucking thing about you though.”
I told her we had to meet again. This was taking much longer than I expected and I was getting frustrated. Our first time meeting I acted like that 99% of guys act around a hot girl. This next time I was going to act like the elusive 1%. Without even trying.
“Come back to my house tomorrow at noon.”
“I will if you have a turkey sandwich waiting for me!” I ordered.
So back to her penthouse, where I was greeted by her mom in a towel. Said towel being held up merely by her mother’s fake “headlights.” Brandy was still in her pajamas, playing with the dogs in the playing-with-the-dogs room. And, there was that turkey sandwich waiting for me. A good fucking one too. Not the corner deli Boar’s Head turkey sandwich I was used to. This thing was gourmet. Might have been on an artisanal baguette even.
Brandy and I sat down at her large table again and I started interviewing her.
“So…tell me some good stories about your life at college down in the deep south.”
“Uh…” She couldn’t think of any.
“You can’t think of any! None?”
“You went to that university for three years and you can’t think of one fucking story? I drove through that hick state once, for two hours, between 3 AM and 5 AM and saw some of the most fucked-up things I’ve ever seen in my life. Yet you saw nothing? I saw a house there built totally out of recycled soda cans. I saw a guy having a barbecue in the median of the highway at 3:30 in the morning. I saw a sheriff driving drunk down the road with his headlights completely off. And you saw nothing?!”
She finally spoke more than five words in a row. “Uh, I guess, like, some kids would take their shotguns to class.”
“Okay, now we’re talking.”
We talked and ate for about an hour. I got some decent biographical info about her life as a New York City JAP–she wasn’t Jewish, but a JAP nonetheless–going to school in the south. This is what she wanted talked about in her essay, this is what I’d write about. I had plenty of ideas for what to write, how her life had been affirmed, and my mind was racing.
Then her mom–now finally dressed–came back to the room.
“Aaron, I should tell you something…” She was acting like Brandy wasn’t even in the room. Brandy always acted–mentally–like she wasn’t in the room. Her mother continued, “Brandy had…”–unnecessarily large emphasis–“SHIT grades in college.”
I thought I’d join in the fun. “Exactly how…”–unnecessarily large emphasis–“SHIT were they?”
Mom smiled. She liked my style. “Real FUCKING SHITTY. Like a 1.2 GPA.”
“A 1.2?” I exclaimed still looking at mom. “How is that possible? I once didn’t attend a class for an entire semester, never bought the books even, and still got a B-. How in the world do you get a 1.2? At the SEC’s fourth worst school no less!?”
Brandy’s mother liked seeing her daughter get berated. This former model and now mom was surprisingly smart and sharp.
“I dunno. Didn’t go to class I guess. Partied and stuff. That was during my coke phase I think,” Brandy noted.
“Oh I remember! You were maxing out my credit cards monthly!” She turned back to me. “You’re the writing genius, Aaron,”–I was falling in love with this MILF, “and you’re going to have to explain away her SHIT grades if she has any prayer of getting accepted.” She squeezed my shoulders as she retreated back to her room.
Brandy rolled her eyes at me after her mom left as if to say, “Do you believe her?! How embarrassing.” What she did actually say though was:
“How much do I have to pay you?”
I thought about this for a second. I asked myself how much did I really think was fair to be paid? About $175 was what I felt fair for the work I had done, the work I would do the rest of the day.
“$2000,” I bluntly told her.
She didn’t flinch.
“MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!! MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!” She turned back to me. “Jesus, is she fucking deaf?! I’ll go ask my mom for to write a check for you.”
She left the room and walked down a long corridor to find her mother.
A few seconds passed before I heard screaming from the other room.
“$2000?!!!!! That is fucking insane!!! Is he fucking insane?! What do you normally pay people to write your papers, Brandy?”
Apparently not much, or the wrong people, as her GPA attested. I tried to contain my laughter.
A few seconds later Brandy returned with a check for $1000. “My mom will give you the rest in cash upon completion.
Brandy’s mother must have thought I looked like a guy that would take the money and run. Awesome. Now I felt like a drug runner. I liked that even better than being a gigolo.
I didn’t get any more cheek kisses as I left this time. I didn’t care. That was the biggest single check I’d gotten in my short life. The first money ever paid to me for my writing. I deposited it at an ATM en route to my apartment where I quickly whipped out a stunning essay while riding this creative high. Something I was legitimately proud of. Something that I thought could have won the Pulitzer if they gave such an award to falsified college entry essays for acceptance at mediocre design schools.
Ecstatic with myself, I headed out to tithe into my liver 10% of my writing paycheck. Returning home wasted at 4:15 AM, I e-mail off to Brandy my second stab at the essay.
And, I didn’t hear from her for a week. I guess she liked me essay. But I was still owed $1000. I decided to send her an e-mail to ask what she thought of the essay, how she was doing, when I could collect the rest of my money. She never responded.
A week later I decided to call her. She must have not had my name in her phone because she actually answered.
“Hey Brandy, it’s Aaron??? Did you like the essay????” I was speaking in lots of question marks, something that is not that easy when you have fully gone through puberty and your voice has dropped.
“Yeah, and thanks, but, uh, I think I’ve decided to…uh…go another route…in my, uh, life.”
“Oh, too bad.” Like I cared. “Um, so, can I get the rest of the money you owe me and we agreed on?”
I heard the phone snatched out of Brandy’s hand. It was her mom.
“You are fuckin’ crazy if you think I’m gonna give you another $1000 for that shitty essay!”
Brandy never applied to college ultimately and I never got any more money that I surely didn’t deserve. Perhaps she should have applied to college though as her fame is dwindling quickly, though I hear she has a new MTV show coming out this year. Presumably it will be life-affirming.
I still wonder if my essay would have gotten her accepted into that design school, even with her SHIT grades. I guess I’ll never know. I also wonder if I could have made a living writing essays for the dumb, lazy, and rich.
Smoke from the Oak (Apple Brandy Barrel Aged)
ABV unknown, from a 750 mL bottle (Batch #1)
Living less than thirty miles from one of my favorite breweries, Captain Lawrence of Pleasantville, NY, it had vexed me for the longest time that I had been unable to secure a taste of even one of their Smoke from the Oak releases. Bourbon Barreled Aged, wine, rum…with each subsequent release, for some reason or another, I missed a chance at nabbing a bottle. It was angering me! Finally, with the latest release and perhaps the highest regarded release so far, Vice Blog superfan KH was able to offer a bottle for sacrifice. I was stoked.
For those not in the know, Captain Lawrence’s Smoke from the Oak series takes its outstanding Pleasantville Smoked Porter and ages it in various spent barrels. In this case, for eight months in freshly emptied apple brandy barrels. I absolutely adore the black licorice delicious smoked porter and the infusion of apples adds another layer of fascinating complexity and some welcoming tartness. I can’t say I was absolutely floored by this offering, but it is most unique and I was most glad to try it. Now I need to go backwards and try some other bottles from the series. I always liked playing catch up.
*Jon Voight’s character in “Midnight Cowboy.” Not the humorless sportscaster.