Saturday, June 13, 2009

You Can Take the Boy out of the Jungle...

Just after the travels in South America that would become my book You Can Run, I bought a one-way ticket New York with borrowed credit, and no idea what would become of me. It was 2001, and I had one interview lined up. It was at a place called Transperfect Translations. The offices were on the 39th floor of one of the tallest buildings in Midtown, right on 34th street and Park Avenue.

At my interview, I caught my first glimpse of the Manhattan expanse. It was breathtaking. The HR department liked that I had just returned from the jungles of Bolivia, and I was hired. As a Project Manager, I outsourced translators for our hundreds of clients. Once the job was back, according to the time schedule I'd set, I then passed it to an in-house "Quality Manager" and then back to the client on-time and hopefully perfect. Trans-perfect!

I was responsible for each folder I received and there were so many. Too many! Besides being a highly uncreative position....they worked us like slaves. The only thing that made it bearable were the girls in my high-rise office: Kate, Gootz, Christina. There was often no time for lunch, no time for thought, and Gootz in particular would each day come up with a brilliant new way to kill herself. When you are worked like a slave, the only thing you can do is laugh, and we did a lot of laughing together.

Folders stacked up at a dizzying pace. Already overwhelmed, there were always more. Each time I stood up to go to the bathroom, to talk to a Quality Manager, to the xerox machine---I would return to another stack of folders on my chair. I took to calling our boss the "Folder Elf".

The elf always dropped a stack of new folders at the end of the day and thought I'd get to them, but nobody got paid for overtime and I had just returned from the jungle of Bolivia. This was not life! I could hardly handle 8:30 to 6. The other girls stayed, but I figured at $30,000 a year...I would leave at 6pm. Most often I left the office with a cartwheel.

Because I was good at my job and because I got on so well with the girls, I was surprised to be called down to HR after 3 months. There I was met by the Elf who, staring at the ground, told me that my 90 day conditional employment was over and I was fired.

I ran up to my office, to say goodbye to the girls. But they were gone. I learned later they had been shephered into a conference room so I wouldn't be able to say goodbye. My desk was already packed, and I was escorted out of the building like a dog.

Outside, I sat on the corner of 34th and Park, beneath that tall red building with a box of my office stuff: personal photos, a map of the world, my stupid name placard.

It was so obvious to every passer-by that i had just gotten fired, and I was so humiliated. So humiliated that I made sure to sit there a little longer and just soak in all it. I knew that this moment was a defining one and I had two choices: I could give up on NYC, or I could find another way to stay here. I could let this company be my only chance, or I could make my own.

Later that year --- on September 11 --- from those same offices with the amazing views, my former co-workers watched two planes crash into the Twin Towers downtown. And yes: Christina, Gootz, and Kate were told to stop watching and get right back to work!

Yesterday, I wandered town with a lot on my mind. Movie producer stuff is not creative at all. Mindy Cohn's housing had to be arranged, keys picked up. I had to hook up with the man who will be playing my love/lust interest in the film, needed to pick up a bottle of Bulldog Gin who are sponsoring. We also need to lock a rooftop location for the opening scene. There's also art I'm picking up for the walls in Luke's bedroom, and I've got to remember that the furs used in the photo studio scene have to get back to the mannequins shot later in the fashion showroom scene. I should talk to the wardrobe girls about that tank top I'd like Luke to wear, and there's the matter of extras---we still need to cast a bunch of featured extras. Who can I call? And a still photographer. We need one! There are a million other details, and a constant nagging fear that, with Bam Bam and Cooldan being both incommunicado, I will lock myself out of my house.

As it all swirls through my head, I realize I'm at the corner of 34th and 8th avenue. My thoughts vanish and suddenly I remember: here is the exact spot where 8 years ago I sat humiliated with a box of my office belongings. I looked up at that red skyscaper and stopped thinking about all I have to do, and realize now that this is stuff I want to do. We are making a movie!

I am still here in New York, on my own terms, and Transperfect Translations can SUCK IT!


Tony said...

Hey Jesse -

Yeah - to heck with Transperfect Ttranslation, the file elf, and the wage slave job - if you were still there, would you be making movies? No way.
Wonder if the file elf has seen any of your flicks and gone "damn, I fired that guy."

Another subject: there's a great OP-Ed piece in todays NYT from Tom Suozzi, Nassau County Executive, a Catholic, and former opponent of Gay Marriage. Title is "Why I Now Support Gay Marriage."
Here's the link:

Sancho said...

This post made me smile Jesse, don't ever let them keep you down! From unemployed on the corner to movie actor/producer, work it girl!

carmel said...

good on ya!!

The Blackout Blog said...

I couldn't picture a more appropriate story for your first months in NYC. I may borrow it. ;-P

Michael said...

I love reading your adventures, Jesse. Your recoginition of that "defining moment" after being laid-off is very poignant. I'm sure your positive attitude will pay off in dealing with the many challenges of this making this movie. Good luck to you...and enjoy the ride!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jesse,

Received this link from a friend who was a fellow slave when we were both at Transperfect- your description of those months were so dead on! Good on you for moving on with the career you want, and SUCK IT TRANSPERFECT!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jesse,

The transPERFECT dictatorial elves did not try to threaten you to get rid of your online comment?

Guess what , 8 years later it is an awful thing to work for this company...

Best of luck in your career and life