I went through a major George Costanza phase in my early 20s in terms of jobs. I worked on Wall Street for a day before they realized I knew nothing about the stock market. I was an editor for a Disney publication for two weeks until it became apparent I was signing off on anything and had no idea who any of the characters in The Lion King were. I loaded boxes at UPS for a spell, and even did time as a waiter at an IHOP (I got fired for punching a customer after he threw a boiling cup of coffee on my chest).
The most ridiculous job I ever held down was copy editor/ghostwriter/ad designer for a series of gay porn magazines and three straight porn publications aimed at a more mature audience. Have you ever seen Over 40, Over 50, or Over 60? How about Black Inches or Latin Inches? Or White Inch? Yes sir, for three long weeks I was at the helm of all those stellar titles. And I had no clue what the hell I was doing. I was a 21-year-old college dropout, addicted to cocaine, with no computer knowledge, who lied in his interview like a seasoned criminal. "Are you fluent with Quark and PhotoShop?" Oh, sure. Isn't everyone? "What school did you attend?" I was a double major at NYU, graduated top 10 percent of my class. "Do you have a problem with sexual content, gay or straight?" Fuck, no. All my friends are gay and I love it!
So I got the job, and an $85,000 salary plus benefits. I was the king of the world-—to celebrate, I bought myself an eightball and a blowjob. Then I actually had to do some work.
For three days I was trained by the girl I was replacing. When I asked her why she was quitting, she- simply said, "Give it a week and you'll understand." As I met the cast of characters I quickly got it. There was the flamboyant gay editor who could barely speak English—let alone use grammar correctly; the standard office whore; and a bitter old copy editor who had been with the company for decades. His office doubled as the storeroom, and every time he saw me he screamed, "I hope you know The Chicago Manual of Style! We don't use that pussy New York one!" For those of you who don't know, copy editors have their own shorthand, a series of symbols used to indicate paragraph changes, spelling corrections, and the like, sort of like those red marks found all over your papers in school. If you already knew that, then you're smarter than I was back then. We'd get the proofs back from the printer and I'd attack them with a red wax pencil, circling misspellings and then drawing a line from the word to the margin with a big note that read, "THIS WORD IS SPELLED WRONG." When I was done, the proofs looked like the beach after we took Normandy. The publisher was like, "What the fuck is this shit? I thought you knew copy editing." I told her I was just kidding around and said it would never happen again, not even knowing what I'd done wrong. Luckily my friend's wife, Debbie, who worked with me, knew I was lying and helped me through it all.
This was the first job I ever had where I had to check proofs. I was 21, I jerked off to Hustler and Penthouse, and I thought every girl in a magazine was supposed to be airbrushed. I knew nothing of lower-tier porn. So when I got proofs of a layout with some girl with zit-covered ass cheeks, I circled them red. The publisher told me, "We don't airbrush those, people like those." The next week I got a spread with a 50-year-old lady spreading her asshole with a hemorrhoid dangling out. I again circled it and again was told to leave it be. There was also the layout with the girl and her visible tampon string that "people like." I was so confused. I hadn't hit my real deviant sexual peak yet. I thought I was kinky because I stuck baseball bats in girls' pussies. I began to think something was wrong with me since I didn't find tampon strings, zits, and hemorrhoids sexy. When the most disgusting pictorial ever showed up on my desk to be corrected, I didn't touch it. I figured I had a lot to learn about fetishes, and looking at these photos of a gray-haired 77-year-old (I wish I was kidding you) on her knees reaching around and fingering her pruned asshole, I just assumed, "People like this." My instincts were right but I still got chewed out. "Are you fucking blind?" the publisher asked. I twisted the arm of my glasses in my hand to emphasize that, yes, my vision isn't exactly 20/20. She threw the pages down on my desk. "Now tell me what's wrong with this photo." I went with the obvious answer. "It's a 77-year-old fingering her ass?" "No," she said, "people like that. She's wearing Nikes! We can't have name-brand logos in the magazines. We'll get sued. Christ already! I might as well do your job for you!"
I was losing my mind. I felt like I was walking on thin ice with cement shoes. I didn't know what I was doing, and I was way too slow. When they asked me to correct something in Quark, I looked the word up in The Chicago Manual of Style. Debbie told me it was a computer program and opened it up on my desktop. I took one look at the toolbar and started to cry. You don't bullshit your way through Quark. Nor do you try and write gay copy when you don't like fags. There I was, staring at some oiled-up and shaved Latino in camouflage holding his rod, trying to write a quirky yet steamy quip to accompany his photos. I closed my eyes and pictured myself fucking a big-assed Puerto Rican girl from behind to the tune of "I want to throw you down on the bed and spread your ass cheeks and slip my thick cock in and out, in and out."
The English-as-a-second-language dropout of an editor screamed, "No, no, honey. You need fires. Make it hot and more dirty, like this." He began typing over my shoulder. When he finished, a full five minutes later, he pointed at the screen and proudly said, "There." To this day, I still have the page printed out. Here's what he wrote: "Ass fuck me stud, I so hungy for mouth fuck. I eat cock sandwhich, eat an ass, baby I horny to make pony ride on face." (Again, I wish I were kidding you.) Aside from the creative pointer, he also gave me a Xeroxed glossary of key terms that supposedly "drive queers ca-raaaazy." Here it is, in case you ever need it: "puckered asshole," "clean-shaved," "big bear," "steaming load of man juice," and, of course, "uncut." I had to use "uncut" in everything I wrote. That was the rule, regardless of whether the guy in the pictures was clearly circumcised. Believe it or not, in my short stay on the job, I became really good at writing gay fiction. The job even helped me become more accepting of the gays. For the loose-caboosed editor's birthday, we threw an office party and had soda and cake, and we all signed a card. I wrote, "Edwardo, if you were five years older and I was four years younger, I'd be so up on your shit." After that day he was much nicer to me, and his pants always seemed a bit tighter in my presence.
Then one day, proofs for all 10 magazines arrived at once. I arrived for work early, as I'd been doing for some time, trying to actually learn the job, but the proofs were there before I was at 7:00 a.m., along with a note that read, "We need all of these by 11:00." That was it. An impossible task. It took me an average of five hours to proof one magazine because I was so terrified of being found out. I stormed into the publisher's office and said, "This is too much. No one can pull this off. I either need a raise or an assistant." I was praying so hard that he would agree to get me an assistant, then I could make them do all the work—perhaps even have them show me what I was supposed to be doing. Instead they offered me a $10,000 raise. So I quit, knowing that sooner than later I'd have a nervous breakdown. The coroner might say it was a result of $85,000 worth of cocaine, but God would know it had more to do with uncut cocks, Civil War-widow centerfolds, and The Chicago Manual of Style.