No laughing matter


Want to write for one of these? Good luck, kids!


By Caitlin Kelly

Hey, what’s more fun than punching down?

Apparently, nothing, thanks to the appalling lack of judgment by executives at Netflix who have ordered eight episodes of a TV series to — wait for it — “prank” job-seekers.

You know, like yanking away the cat toy just as it pounces.

Gaten Matarazzo, a child actor starring in Stranger Things and way too many commercials, signed up for this steaming pile of garbage.

A reaction from :

You know him as one of the kids dealing with the Upside Down on Netflix’s Stranger Things, but if you see him coming now–you should be the one to run. Gaten Matarazzo is producing and starring in a new prank show, Prank Encounters, and Netflix just ordered eight episodes. Deadline describes it as follows:

Each episode of this terrifying and hilarious prank show takes two complete strangers who each think they’re starting their first day at a new job. It’s business as usual until their paths collide and these part-time jobs turn into full-time nightmares.

Do you know what I have to say to this? No, no, no, and no.

Sure, we love to laugh at people’s misfortune–America’s Funniest Home Videos–made a fortune off people falling off step ladders and tripping over the dog. But, there’s a key difference here: people in that show submitted their own videos–they were laughing at themselves. This show sets people up for public entertainment with unasked for humiliation.

And it does it in a very vulnerable time of life–job hunting.


Looking for a job, or part-time work, or freelance work, is emotionally and intellectually exhausting — certainly if you are over 40, 50 or beyond when age discrimination already severely limits options for many people.

Just cancel the whole thing.

And, while we’re at it, for anyone interested in the brutal and absurd economics of freelance writing — witness the endless virtue-signaling, wagon-circling and knife-sharpening of late over an American magazine writer, now on staff at The New York Times Magazine (basically writers’ Everest, the coveted and unattainable peak of pay and prestige) and her crazy pay scale.

Some people have leaped to her defense — she works so hard! — while others simply wonder how so many other hard-working and talented writers are now, instead, desperately grateful to get paid even 25 percent of what she said she earns.


It’s a madhouse.


Work truly can be a four-letter word.

All foreplay, no sex

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever had a client who talked a lot about doing business with you — but never actually did it?

Like that.

In a time of rising costs and taxes, I understand why some people are reluctant to commit to laying out cash. I’m hardly a wild spender, but I keep writing checks — albeit small ones — to my assistant, even for ideas we’ve had that just didn’t work out as we’d hoped. If I only spent money on sure things (oooh, sign me up!), I’d be a lot richer.

We all want ROI — return on investment. But how many of us know exactly, beforehand, which business decision is a totally sure thing and which is not?

When someone decides they might want to work with me, there are hundreds of articles on-line they can read to see my product. (But how heavily were they edited?) Do some due diligence and ask around; we all have reputations, for good and ill. Some writers’ copy arrives clean and ready to edit, while others offer what I call Swiss cheese journalism — all holes, little substance. I recently met a writer who felt compelled to tell me how Very Successful he is. Then I had lunch this week with someone who previously worked closely with him and told me a very different tale.

When you work for yourself, cashflow is key, which includes deciding when someone’s just kicking your tires and is never actually going to hire you or pay you for your time and skills.

English: The lattice work on Saks & Co's store...
English: The lattice work on Saks & Co’s store on Fifth Avenue in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last year, I did an event for my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” at Saks, an upscale store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. A woman stopped by my table and bought a copy and I couldn’t believe my luck — she works in HR at another huge retailer. It was, I hoped, a golden opportunity for future consulting, or a speaking engagement or book sales.

And then began a months-long courtship that went exactly….nowhere. She’d read my book, seen my video, had plenty of time to assess my potential value to her company. She would email me to arrange a phone call, with no agenda or plan. Our one in-person meeting, when I was in her city far away from me, got cancelled after she took a horrible fall. The call arranged for 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, (she simply assigned me the time, horribly inconvenient for me), she completely blew off.

I finally emailed her a terse note suggesting that if or when she wished to do business with me, I’d be happy to hear from her.


Another Canadian recently decided they might want me to keynote a major conference, with barely a month’s notice — paying my own way to Toronto from New York for no fee. Really?

Then they simply stopped returning my assistant’s calls and emails. This sort of hand-wringing, passive-aggressive, risk-averse bullshit is crazy. Rude. Cowardly.

The ongoing challenge of working for yourself is determining which potential clients really are, eventually, going to open their wallets and get on with it — and those just dicking you around because:

1) they’re indecisive; 2) they’re cheap; 3) they don’t have the authority to hire or pay you; 4) they’re terrified of any risk; 5) they don’t have the funds 6) and/or don’t want you to know it; 7) it makes them feel powerful to know they can.

I hate wasting time. I hate wasting energy. I really try not to do it to others. It’s disrespectful. It’s a time-suck. And all the time you waste on foreplay, so to speak, you could be enjoying the real deal with someone who actually really does want to do business with you.

Have you run into this?

How do you suss these losers out (more) quickly so they don’t waste your time?

The New Middle Class: Drowning, Not Waving

Ten-dollar bill obverse/reverse
Image by LividFiction via Flickr

Here’s another grim report on what’s happening to the middle class in the U.S. — sliding beneath the waves.

From the New York Post:

She’s $16,000 in debt to credit card companies. One of her local grocers, who once let her buy food on a running tab, now has a bill collector after her. She has her résumé up online, but when headhunters call and ask her age, “suddenly they never call me back,” she says. “I’m depressed. None of my friends are able to find jobs. I am living day-to-day.”

Anne’s biggest fear is that her daughter finds out how dire the situation is.

“She’ll say to me, ‘Are we poor?’ And I keep lying,” Anne says. “I think it’s a very traumatic thing for a child. I don’t want her to feel like she’s the only one, or a victim.”

When the recession does ease up, Anne fears that she will emerge as a permanent member of the lower class.

“The world kind of betrayed us,” she says. “The salary I was making — I don’t think I’ll ever make it again.”

There are several women like Anne in my book,”Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio/Penguin), now gone to press, which looks at the single largest source of new jobs in the United States — retail. Most of those jobs pay $7-12 an hour, poverty level wages. No commission, no bonuses, no raises. A dead-end job for a whole new set of workers, people who once believed they had vocational choices.
The American Dream of upward mobility is dead, if not dying, for millions of educated, hard-working people, many of them workers over the age of 40, most certainly those over 50. People who have kids or grandkids who need their financial help to complete their college educations.
Who’s got an extra$20,000 to $30,000+ to head back to school full-time to get a shiny new career and start all over again at…55? 60? 47?
That’s not how it’s supposed to work. By your 40s or 50s, life, as it once was for many of us, was supposed to be a little calmer — your home bought and maybe paid off; your kids launched into financial independence, retirement a mere decade or so away.
No longer. Millions of us have lost good jobs,  can’t even get an interview for the next one, can no longer imagine when or how things might ever get better, when we might feel safe or calm or happy about our economic situation.
Are you feeling financially secure these days?
If not, what would it take to get you there?

Are You Mobile Enough To Find Work? Rent, Don't Own, Argues Pundit

Delano House (San Francisco, CA)
Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t study economics until I was 30, and wish I’d done it at 18. Only at that point did I realize what cogs we are in the machinery of capitalism — which relies, as a fundamental element — on the “mobility of labor.”


For every corporate warrior who loves to call up Allied Van Lines and head out for their next assignment, I bet others are sufficiently burned by serial job loss they’re staying put. And not just because their house is worth less than it would sell for, i.e. “under water.”

Those working for corporately paternal employers offering job security — remember those? — were once happy that BM stood for I’ve Been Moved; as long as you were also moving up the ladder of career, income and promotions, it was all good.

Today? Not so much.

Moving is disruptive. Disruption destroys communities and emotional ties, no matter how many times a day you tweet or natter on Facebook. Community relies on enduring face-to-face connection, trust and history. When older workers are fired, especially, it affects their mental and physical health. Severing yourself, by moving away, from long-standing emotional and spiritual ties, from a house of worship to friendships or volunteer work or neighbors — in addition to losing your professional status, income and colleagues — doesn’t seem like such a great idea to me.

From The Wall Street Journal and beloved pundit Richard Florida:

Owning a home may actually be a drawback given the economic flexibility required to power long-lasting recovery. My colleagues and I tracked homeownership levels across U.S. cities and regions to see how they correlate to other measurable demographic and economic factors. As we expected, the rates of homeownership are greatest where housing prices are lowest. But cities with high levels of homeownership—in the range of 75%, like Detroit, St. Louis and Pittsburgh—had on average considerably lower levels of economic activity and much lower wages and incomes. Far too many people in economically distressed communities are trapped in homes they can’t sell, unable to move on to new centers of opportunity.

The cities and regions with the lowest levels of homeownership—in the range of 55% to 60% like L.A., N.Y., San Francisco and Boulder—had healthier economies and higher incomes. They also had more highly skilled and professional work forces, more high-tech industry, and according to Gallup surveys, higher levels of happiness and well-being.

A greater percentage of their residents are younger and more transient; many of them prefer to rent. Higher income levels drive up housing prices, putting homeownership beyond others’ means. But with fewer residents locked into mortgage payments, there is a greater degree of flexibility and resilience in the face of economic shocks and downturns. Workers can downshift as needed or move to take advantage of new opportunities. When the economy rebounds, it’s easier to attract new workers to the area if there is an abundance of high-quality, affordable rental housing.

One runs a fool’s errand reading the Journal for anything that defends the rights or needs of workers. But this archaic insistence on abstract language that neatly avoids any of the attendant emotional fallout of job loss and relocation — often with new job loss in a place you don’t know a soul and have not yet built any networks — is deceptive and callous.

I was once flown out to San Francisco to interview for a really cool job with a company so hot it had been lauded by Newsweek (the magazine no one now wants to buy.) It was a website covering sports, I was interviewed by six people and awed by their enormous, airy, gorgeous offices. But, since we were were working virtually anyway, why did I have to move across the country from one brutally expensive city to another?

Asking the question scotched the deal. Of course, the company is long gone. I’ve never regretted not putting all my eggs into a basket so far from where I’d worked hard to establish a base.

Maybe I’ve destroyed my career my buying a home near New York City, and stubbornly staying in it for 20 years. I’ve weathered three recessions, at times so financially imperiled I wondered how I would hang on.

But selling and renting — certainly anywhere where I now live — was no better. I’d have moved to a room in a home somewhere in a distant borough to find anything much less affordable than my low maintenance and 30-year mortgage payments. A husband came and went. So did boyfriends. My dog died. I lost a few jobs. I got through three orthopedic surgeries and recovery.

My beloved and familiar home, and my friends, neighbors who also stick around, and my church and my weekly softball game of nine years, gave me the stability and support to help me through it all. The thought of re-creating all of this? Sigh.

I moved from Toronto to Paris to Montreal to rural New Hampshire to New York, all within six years. That permanently destroyed any appetite for more upheaval.

It would have to be an amazing job, and a mighty golden parachute, to get me to move.

We often choose where we’ll live from a complex matrix of factors: climate, geography, job or educational or recreational opportunities, religious or political or ethnic or racial diversity. We’re not simply extension cords to unplug and re-attach somewhere more (temporarily) useful to an employer.

Have you moved (a lot) for work? How has that turned out for you?