It is the middle of the week and some of the boys and I have taken advantage of unwanted freedom to grab lunch and share war stories. While we wait for our table we head over to the toy store that is located in the same strip mall. My kids love the place and will be jealous that I got to hang out there while they were in school but that is ok because it is really a place for adults. It is filled with all sorts of toys from our youth that are now considered to be collectibles. Who knew that one day Stretch Armstrong would be worth more than a couple of bucks.
We wander the aisles and make cracks at each other to “keep your hands in your pocket” or “you’ll shoot your eye out.” The few moments that we get to spend inside the store are good because we are not thinking about the nonsense that is making our hair fall out and keeping us awake at night. The experience reminds me a bit of and episode of The Twilight Zone called “Kick The Can” in which residents of an old age home find their own fountain of youth in a kid’s game.
Moments later we wander out of the store into the California sunshine and stand in the parking lot lost in our thoughts and then head back into the restaurant for lunch. The place is packed and I wonder if in some ways this isn’t particularly emblematic of a city like Los Angeles. It is the middle of the day and the majority of the people in there are dressed in jeans, t-shirts and other casual attire. One of my companions is a television writer and I make a crack about this being the hot spot for creating a new reality television show.
He smiles and says that it is entirely possible and I respond by suggesting that we better listen carefully so no one steals our ideas. He gives me a quizzical look and I tell him that I am pissed off with Thomas Edison because I could have invented the light bulb. He says that I am being ridiculous and I agree, but still it is not my fault that Old Man Edison was born 100 years before me. Really, if I had been given a chance I could have invented the light bulb and a bunch of other things. I am tempted to sue his heirs and he asks me if I really want to engage in a nuisance lawsuit. I tell him that I don”t but I like to think that they would give me a million dollars to just go away.
The waiter takes our order and while I wait for my turkey sandwich I down two cups of coffee and talk about getting stiffed by a client. I was hired to do two jobs but only got paid on the first one. They ask me for some more details and we talk about how irritating it is to chase clients for money. One of the guys asks me if I am going to try to take the deadbeat to court and I shake my head no. It is not enough money to warrant that sort of recourse but too much not to be cognizant of not having it. But more than anything else I am irritated by the principle of the manner. You hired me to do a job and I did it.
We share more stories and I mention that it seems to me like many companies are trying to get away with free consulting. I explain that in the course of a job search I have noticed that prospective employers are asking for candidates to do more than submit references. They want us provide marketing plans/pieces, ideas for sales collateral and more.
Our attorney friend says that he doesn’t see anything wrong with it because he always offers an initial consultation for his clients. I tell him that it is different because we don’t get to retain the rights to what we submit. If I go that route company XYZ can take my idea and run with it without offering any sort of compensation. In theory I could try to construct things so that they can’t take my ball and run with it but it is not easily done. They aren’t doing this during interviews, instead they are asking for it as part of the screening process for candidates.
I know what I am worth and what sort of benefits a company will gain from hiring me. It is a two way street and I am unwilling to work for free. I don’t apply for positions at companies that ask this of me. The attorney nods his head in agreement and we dig into our food. During the course of the meal other stories are shared and it is clear to all of us that we are still fighting an uphill battle. There are lots of people fighting for jobs and many companies are still using younger and less experienced personnel.
The meal ends and someone says “that this too shall pass” and heads nod in agreement. But hidden in the silence are the questions of “when will it pass” and “how much damage will be sustained while we wait it out.”