When I graduated from college in 2008, I graduated on the eve of the recession.  Work was scarce for anyone and everyone, especially for new graduates and especially for people in the art world.  I was at a complete loss to find even the most basic of jobs, and all the avenues I had hoped would help me were quickly getting closed off.  It was sink or swim, and I was sinking fast.

I did manage to score a freelance caricature job at a party being held in St. Paul that paid $200 for the night.  After it was over, I told the head of the event that I had recently graduated and was looking for work.  He said his son’s work was looking for new applicants and offered to give me his contact info.  I called him and got invited to a meeting of young professionals and recent graduates out in Woodbury, Minnesota.

I was staying about a mile from Uptown in Minneapolis at the time, a scant two blocks from my former school.  Woodbury is 20 miles east of that, and pretty much impossible to get to without a car.  But I needed the work and asked my girlfriend at the time if I could borrow hers.

This right here shows how desperate I was, because her car was a death trap.  I was terrified every time I rode in it (her manic driving didn’t help).  The paint job was beyond rusted, the shocks were shoddy, and the tires were always running out of air.  I can’t tell you how many times I offered to replace those tires but she refused.

Miraculously, she let me borrow it because she knew how desperate I was for a job.  Any job.  Also, my lease was going to run out in June and her student housing was going to run out around the same time, and since we both needed a place to live we were talking about moving into a one bedroom apartment that was available in my then current building.  I had already moved my stuff up there, but she was still hesitant to sign the lease until we were sure we could pay the rent together.  I had hoped by the end of the night I would have this in the bag.

I took her keys and kissed her good-bye before running off to retrieve my portfolio, my resume, my best suit, and headed off.  The building I was supposed to head to for the meeting was in an isolated parking lot in the middle of a field off of I-494.  As the sun set and night fell over the landscape, the remoteness became eerie and haunting.

I was out in the middle of nowhere, desperate, and on my own.  Fitting image if there ever was one.

I went inside the building where the walls were painted a bright, clean white, accented by the heavy fluorescents in the ceiling and the smell of recycled air in the AC.  Motivational posters hung un-ironically in the reception area where I put in my name and was shown to the main meeting room.  In there, there were about two dozen other people all dressed in suits, some plastic chairs set about, and a giant screen set up with a projector.

Every last one of them was an alpha male (or alpha female) if I ever met one.  I politely introduced myself and began to make small talk with a few of them.  A lot of them came from financial and sales backgrounds.  I sheepishly said I had just graduated from art school, tucking my meager portfolio with my pieces deeper under my arm, quickly realizing it would not be needed.  What had I gotten myself into?

We all sat down and the presentation began.  The short of it, this was a meeting set up by Primerica to find new financial advisers and sales people.  For those who don’t know (and according to their Wikipedia article), Primerica is “a referral marketer of financial products and services using a hybrid model of direct selling, franchising, and distribution.”

“What the hell does that mean?” you might ask.  I couldn’t tell you.  I still can’t.  Maybe someone in finances can help you make sense of that, but not me.  What I can tell you is that the whole thing felt like a scene out of “The Boiler Room” and I began to wonder if this was all one big pyramid scheme (and indeed it might have been).  After the meeting was over I went up to the gentleman who made the presentation (he wasn’t much older than me) and said flat out I was an artist and didn’t know what I could provide in this setting.  He smiled and patted me on the back and said “Don’t worry!  How about I check in on you this weekend?  We’ll figure something out.”

I left the bright white building in the lonely dark field on I-494 and began my quiet drive back to the Twin Cities.  I couldn’t do something like this, could I?  I’m not a financial person.  I didn’t even understand half the crap they were talking about.  And the whole thing felt very shady from the get-go.  But I really needed the work and really needed to find a way to pay the rent for me and my girlfriend.  What else can I do?

…Then, just as I was about to pull into the Franklin Avenue exit and head home, I heard a loud burst from the front right area of the car and the sound of air quickly being let out.

One of the tires on my girlfriend’s car had burst.

Irony is a bitch, isn’t it?

I think for about a minute I went into straight-up denial.  “No.  No way.  There’s no way this just happened.  There’s no way that one of the tires that I offered to replace countless times on my girlfriend’s car just burst the one time I take it out by myself and now I’m stuck on Franklin Avenue at night all alone and why is this happening to me?!!!

The sound of the hubcap grinding on the road jolted me back to reality and I pulled over.  Observing the damage, even those brief seconds were enough to warp the hubcap into a sort of aluminum egg shape.  I began to panic.  I was alone on Franklin in the middle of the night in my one good suit with a flat tire on a piece-of-shit car.  What now??

…Fortunately, a passing motorist saw my distress and had an extensive kit in his car for dealing with flat tires.  He took time out of his night to help me get the spare on and calm me down.  I sadly don’t remember this man’s name, but he has my eternal gratitude.

I drove back to my former school’s campus very slowly and carefully.  Barely any cars were on the road and most of the local businesses were closed for the night.  I truly was on my own.  When I made it back I carefully parked my girlfriend’s car, called her on my cell, and told her what happened.  She was off doing homework with some of our friends and told me she’d deal with it in the morning.  Even over the phone and with her calm demeanor I could tell she was quaking with anger.

The next morning I got a text message from her simply saying “It’s over.  I’m coming to get my stuff.”  I silently let her retrieve her things in the apartment we would now never share, too ashamed to speak.  When she was done, she threw the lease back at me and slapped me hard in the face, saying she was glad she never signed it.  I had never seen her so angry.  She then took her things and I saw her storm down the stairs and out of my apartment building.  It was over.

I spent the next two days sleeping in the one bedroom apartment before preparing to move my stuff back into my old one (let me tell you, disassembling, moving, and reassembling a full-sized futon twice by yourself is NOT fun).  On the Saturday morning before I prepared to do this, I was awakened by a call on my cell phone.  It was the same young man I had spoken to at the Primerica meeting, checking up on me like he said he would.

Even if I hadn’t had a car mishap and had a relationship end that night, I was still put off by the whole thing.  I told him again I was an artist, not a financial adviser.  Even though I was desperate for work, I told him I didn’t know what I could offer.  Then he asked the immortal question:

“Well, perhaps you’d like to consider changing careers?”

…I was two months out of art school.  I had literally just worked myself into a panic trying to get my BFA in a subject I was passionate about.  Of course I wasn’t considering changing careers.  I flatly told him “No” and hung up.

Over the next few weeks I fell into the worst depression of my life.  I didn’t even want to go out and see my friends because they were my now ex-girlfriend’s friends too and I was still ashamed about damaging her car.  I began to not even bother looking for work.  I slept way too much, and the only sustenance I was talking in was macaroni, White Castle, and Jack Daniels.  I’d sit in the tub fully clothed and listen to Radiohead on my iPod while I drank myself stupid.  By the end of it I had lost something like ten or fifteen pounds.  When my friends asked what my secret was later I would tell them “not caring whether you lived or died?”

Then (and I will never forget this) I was cutting vegetables for one of the few healthy meals I had decided to make myself during that time.  After finishing one, I stopped for a second and I looked at the knife…and I looked hard at the blade.  I lingered for a second and I looked at the knife in a way I know is not healthy to look at knives.  I dropped it immediately and called home, telling my parents I wanted to move back to Chicago.  I felt afraid that if I stayed in Minnesota, I’d hurt myself.

A week later my father arrived with his pick-up truck.  We loaded all the stuff I wanted to keep into the flatbed, gave away the rest, and headed for home.  I had left Minneapolis for good.

” -“

Three years later I found myself finishing my last print for convention season in the humble studio I had set up for myself in my parents’ basement.  My second full length graphic novel had just arrived in the mail not two days before and looked fantastic.  I hadn’t had another panic attack in all that time and was gearing up for an exciting month as my career was getting a huge boon.

Then I noticed a call I had missed on my cell phone because it was on vibrate.  Looks like they had left a message on voice mail.  I hit the button and listened to it.

It was from Primerica, checking up three years later and seeing if I was still interested in changing careers.

…Thanks for the memories, assholes.