Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Got A Job

Drum roll please... To answer the question everyone is asking me...


I accepted a job with TMZ.  No, I'm not moving to LA.  I'm going to work out of their New York City office... which is right in Times Square (translation: really easy commute).  I love the opportunity because it's totally different than anything I've ever done but I still get to use the skills I've developed over the past 10 years.  For the first time in my career, I'm not going to end my day in a control room making live TV happen.  And I'm totally okay with that.  It was time for a change.

So what exactly will I be doing?  It sounds like I'll be part producer, part assignment editor, part writer, part investigative reporter and part a lot of other stuff too.  Plus, all the useless pop culture knowledge in my head suddenly isn't so useless.  It is going to be a very demanding job, but I think it could also be a lot of fun.

Another thing that made TMZ attractive is that the web site is just as big a deal as the TV show. This isn't a TV station that also has a web site.  It's a package deal.  All my TV friends know that the web has changed our business forever... so I'm trying to change with it.  

This job... and the back-and-forth leading up to me actually accepting the position last night... is the reason I stopped blogging. This has been going on for a few weeks and I didn't want to jinx anything...  kind of like not talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter.

I've had some spectacular posts about unemployment in my head that I just couldn't write. The best one... my first interview with TMZ was canceled last minute... because Chris Brown was arrested. I actually got the phone call the night before while I was in Staples buying more resume paper so I could print out extra copies. At that point, it wasn't clear when we'd be able to reschedule.  I remember standing in the checkout line trying to decide if I should laugh or cry... and if I should even bother buying the paper.  You can't make that stuff up.

Anyway... thank you all for your kind wishes... it really means a lot.

Oh... one other question I keep getting asked... am I going to be on the show?  I highly doubt it since it's taped in LA... and that's not why I took the job.  But if by chance it does happen... trust me...  you're gonna hear about it...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's Been A Rough Week

"Everything'll even out, see, I have two friends, you were up, he was down. Now he's up, you're down. You see how it all evens out for me?"

Seinfeld fans will recognize that line.  It's from one of my favorite episodes ever... called "The Opposite."  You remember that one...  where George orders chicken salad on rye instead of his typical tuna on toast... and he tells a girl he's unemployed and lives with his parents.  Everything starts working out for him.  At the same time... suddenly Elaine can't buy a break.

Well... I've seen a bit of the up and down theory playing out among my friends recently.  Until now.

This week was rough.  I have a bunch of friends who are down... and not many who are up.  It's the end of the first quarter... and I know waaaaaaaaay too many people who just lost their jobs.  I know a bunch more who are afraid they're next in line to get the ax.  I'm won't get into details... but trust me... some of the stories are heartbreaking... others are just ridiculous.

I tell all my friends who are in this boat... if you need to vent... if you need to unload... I'm here.  God knows I did just that to plenty of my friends during my last days at NBC and during my first days of unemployment. After 4 months, I think I've gotten to be pretty good at understanding this whole not having a job thing.  I understand exactly where the newly-pink slipped are coming from.

The best advice I can give them is to never look in the rear view mirror. Everything happens for a reason.  Keep your feet moving, stay positive and you will make something good happen.  It might-- and probably will-- take time... but down the road there's a pretty good chance you'll look back at this difficult experience and eventually think you're better off for it.

So back to the Seinfeld episode... If you subscribe to Jerry's theory... then there's gotta be some good news on the horizon... because I can't have this many friends DOWN at the same time.  It just can't happen.  I'm due to have a lot of friends be UP again... the sooner the better.  Life has a funny way of balancing itself out over the long run.  Just be patient.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Did I Ever Tell You About When I Lived In A Crack House?

You've heard the expression... don't ever forget where you came from. Well, I'm from New Jersey and damn proud of it.  But my television career got started in Wilkes-Barre, PA.  It was market 51 when I was there.... for you non-TV people, that means 51st in size out of the 212 TV markets in the country. NYC is 1, LA is 2, Chicago 3 and so on. All things considered, Wilkes-Barre wasn't that awful a place to start my career, especially compared to some of the horror stories I've heard from friends.  I was less than two hours from home and I got to learn the ropes from some extraordinary people.

I made lots of sacrifices to get the ball rolling.  We all do, that's the way the real world goes... especially when you are young. Looking back it all makes for some pretty funny stories.  I had all sorts of odd jobs (which I've already told you about).  Then when I finally broke into TV, I made countless sacrifices.  I moved places where I knew no one.  I worked weekends. I worked overnights.  I worked weekend overnights. I did double shifts.  I made almost nothing doing it.  At one point I had two jobs simultaneously and no life.  I even lived out of my Jeep Wrangler while couch surfing with friends (Dave Weinberger if you read this, I still owe you money and I can't thank you enough).

But there is one sacrifice I made... that I will never ever ever forget.


Room 306... that was me.  Yup.  That's where I lived for about a month.  It was basically a crack house.  No, forget the basically.  It WAS a crack house.  I wish I was joking, but I'm not.  It was a one bedroom unit in an old building that was actually a looney bin before it was converted to apartments.  


I had a small room with a bed, a refrigerator, a chair, a shelf, a cracked mirror and a closet.  That was it.   The heat actually worked some of the time.  I had to share a bathroom with everyone else on the floor.  Nasty. 

I'm pretty sure I was the only one in the place that... 

A. Didn't have a substance abuse problem
B. Didn't have a criminal record
C. Had all my teeth

And this... was where I woke up... all alone... on Christmas morning in 1999. I'll never forget that feeling as long as I live.

I kind of forgot about this place, until I recently found these pictures. I'm kind of happy I don't have any pictures of my neighbors.

So why did I live here?  Simple.  I was making $8 an hour at my first job at WBRE and I couldn't find a place I could afford.  So I paid 50 bucks a week to live in conditions similar to where Akeem and Semi lived in Coming to America... complete with the shared bathroom.

I eventually found a place I could swing on my $8 an hour.  My rent was $300 a month, and that INCLUDED utilities.  It was the finished attic of a 2-family home. I remember feeling on top of the world because I finally had my own place.

That was 10 years ago.  It feels like 100.  

I guess my point is... don't forget where you came from... and I came from Wilkes-Barre.  I had to fight and scrape and claw my way out of this situation. It was the first hole I had to dig myself out from in the real world.  Not only did I make it out, but I think I was a stronger person for having survived that long, cold, dreadful month.

Now... I'm trying to dig my way out of the complete opposite situation.  I have a nice place to live... but no job.  Just like I did 10 years ago... I'll find a way to make it work.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Adidas

When you are unemployed you have a lot of time to think.  Sometimes the simplest things can give you the deepest thoughts.  Today I re-learned a valuable life lesson while buying a pair of sneakers. Seriously.

I had a long list of things to get done today... very boring, mundane stuff.  Hair cut. Post Office.  Bank.  While I was at the bank, I deposited my first paycheck from the bar where I've been working (shameless plug- Whiskey Bar in Hoboken, come see me tonight and every Tuesday!)  It was a typical waiter/bartender check... which isn't much because the hourly rate is somewhere around minimum wage... of course you make your money on tips.

The next thing on my list was to get a new pair of sneakers to wear when I'm bartending and playing the guitar.  I have an old pair of Pumas I've been holding onto solely for those two purposes that I probably should have thrown out a year ago. They are in bad shape. Okay, that's putting it gently.  They are beat up and disgusting.  And they smell. But considering they get covered in beer every time I wear them, I didn't care.  I knew they were on their last legs, but it wasn't until a good friend got a whiff of them last week and almost died that I actually realized how bad they really do stink.

So I went to Foot Locker and I bought a pair of black Adidas... with red stripes. Obviously I couldn't just get plain black.  Anyone who has ever been out with me knows I love ridiculous sneakers... there's gotta be something to make them stand out.  I've had blue, red, green, even brown & yellow kicks... but I digress...

As I walked out of the store with my new Adidas... I realized...  the money I had just deposited in the bank 10 minutes ago went right to these new sneakers. The deposit and the charge to my credit card were practically the same amount.  The money went in and out of my hands that quickly.

I admit, it's been a long time since I really had to worry about sticking to a budget.  As a single guy with a great job, zero debt, no car and a roommate... well... I could spend like a rock star and still have money to put away at the end of the month. Now I have to keep track of every dollar.

A few months ago I probably would have bought those sneakers in three different colors and not thought twice about it.  And here I am today, getting all reflective and proud about the fact that I earned those shoes.

So the lesson I re-learned today...  I need to appreciate everything I have just a little bit more these days.  Even the simple things, like a new pair of sneakers. Because somehow, some way, things could always be worse.

My Adidas & my paycheck.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dreaming About a New Job

What's your dream job?

Since I don't have a job right now, I get asked that question almost every single day.  As I sit in my apartment trying to figure out what else I can do with the rest of my life, some crazy thoughts run through my head.  I mean seriously... who only has ONE dream job?  I have multiple answers.  I'll share a few that won't make you think I'm completely off-the-reservation crazy.

My first answer is obvious... to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.  Sure, I've lost a step or three since I played in college, but my arm might actually be stronger now.  I can crush a softball.  How much harder can it be to hit a ball that's half that size coming at me three times as hard?  Plus, Derek Jeter is older than me and there's always a running conversation in the media and among scouts that the Yankees would be better off with him in the outfield.  There's always a chance they'll be looking for a new shortstop before I'm out of my prime.

Photobucket Photobucket

The second answer is also obvious.  I'd be a rock star.  I mean, I shouldn't really have to explain this one.  Money... girls... screaming fans...  big houses... fancy cars... more money... and even more girls.  If I can pack Green Rock or The Town Tavern on a cold Wednesday night, filling up MSG or Giants Stadium can't be that much tougher.

Dream job #3?  POTUS... that's media-code for President of the United States.  Why does living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come in behind being a Yankee or a rock star?  Simple: stress.  For as much fun as the job could be... you see how much older these guys all look when they are done?  Clinton and W's faces aged three decades in eight years. President Obama looks older already and he hasn't even been in office for two months yet.  And if that's not enough of a deterrent, the salary isn't even close to what a Yankee or a rock star make.  But it would still a great gig.

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After those three jobs... I'd be happy with almost anything that would pay me a lot of money and allow me to live at the beach.  The Jersey Shore would be my first choice, but I'd settle for somewhere in Florida or California... or I guess the Caribbean could also work.

Ok... back down to earth now.

I think I peaked as a baseball player when I was 12 and my team won our town's Little League championship.  The biggest place I've ever been paid to play the guitar is a bar in Pequannock, NJ.  And let's face it... my presidential aspirations would go up in smoke the second the screening committee looked at any of my Facebook pictures.  I'll never completely give up on any of these dream jobs, but I'm also realistic.

It's good to dream.  It's healthy to let your mind wander sometimes. And your answers to the "dream job" question say a lot about who you really are and what makes you happy.  In a weird and twisted way, daydreaming about my dream job is helping me figure out what I want to do with my life.  And more importantly, it's helping me figure out what I DON'T want to do with my life.

So what is your dream job?  I want to hear what you have to say.  I don't care how ridiculous you might think your answer is.

Oh... and one more thing.  If anyone has any connections with the Yankees, a rock band that sells out arenas around the world or anyone already recruiting presidential candidates for the 2012 election, let me know.  You know how to reach me.  I'll email you my resume right away.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Working Is Hard Work

I am out of shape.  Really out of shape.  I don't really mean physical shape... although I have slacked off when it comes to hitting the gym lately.  What I'm talking about is working shape.

Last week was tough.  I worked five days in a row, adding up to about 45 hours.  No, I wasn't working in TV again.  My office was a bar... three different bars to be exact.  I worked as a bartender on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and I played the guitar on Wednesday and Friday.  Plus, I was still chasing down leads on jobs during the day.  I haven't worked that hard since I left NBC on December 5th.  Simply being on my feet for that many hours was enough to wipe me out.  I don't think I woke up before noon all week. 

You can make all the jokes you want about making drinks or singing songs by the Backstreet Boys for drunk girls until the wee small hours of the morning.  Yes, both jobs are a lot more fun than sitting at a desk. But at the same time, both jobs are much more physically demanding than sitting at a desk.  When I finally walked out of Whiskey Bar at 3:45 Sunday morning, the short five block stroll to my apartment felt like five miles. (Shameless plug alert: I'll be back behind the bar on Tuesday for Saint Patrick's Day... come in for $2 Coors Light drafts and $5 bombs... stop by for a drink or 6!).

By the time Sunday came around, I was dying for a day off.  It was the first time I felt that way in more than three months.  Kind of ironic... the unemployed guy desperately needed a day off.

I did nothing on Sunday.  I felt like I earned it.  Besides, my couch missed me.  As I sprawled out to watch Tropic Thunder again while overindulging in General Tso's Chicken and Shrimp Lo Mein, I started thinking... working for a living is hard work.  I admit, I kind of forgot that.  And I shouldn't have.

Last week kicked my ass.  When I do get a new full time job it's going to take weeks to get my body back on a regular routine.  That's not going to be fun.  Actually, it will probably feel miserable.  Bring it on.

On the job last Wednesday night.  Somewhere there's a joke to be made about the t-shirt I have on, but I'm not quite sure what it is.

Friday, March 6, 2009

As Clyde & Keith would say... RE-JECTED!

"Jason Hartelius,

Thank you for your interest in our company.  We are pleased that you considered us at this stage of your career planning.  However, we have selected another individual for the above-referenced position.

We appreciate your interest in this position and wish you success in achieving your career goals."

I love emails like this.

For the record... I am completely qualified for the job and I never got so much as a phone call or an email back from them until now.  This is probably some automated response and I'm willing to bet nobody actually looked at my resume.  If they would have looked, they probably would have called.

To be honest, I actually forgot I even applied for this job it was so long ago.  I think it was the first week of January.  So when I saw the email with the position and company in the subject line, I got excited for a second. I thought maybe they wanted to interview me. 

Oh well, their loss.  Life goes on.  It wasn't anything I had my heart set on... but it WAS a good job.

As always... I don't mean to simply bitch and moan to you about it. That's what Mom & Dad for. I'm actually laughing about this one.  I just thought it was a good addendum to my Overpaid & Overqualified post from the other day.  

It's rough out there... and getting rougher... as if you needed more evidence.