Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Failure of the Day: Et Cetera

I would now like to draw your attention to the best place to find money that I ever known. Yeah, yeah, everybody knows Craigslist. But have you looked at the Et Cetera job board? You have? Oh well, so much for my scoop. But so, you think it's cool, right?

There are plenty of ladies posting there because they are far too rich too look after their own spawn and they would like to pay you to do it for them. There are people who want the lovey-dovey aspect of dog ownership but will pay you to handle the picking-up-the-poop-on-the-sidewalk aspect, which I suspect is a position very similar to what the rich ladies are looking for. And there are all the other jobs that fall into the miscellaneous category by definition (Smog technician) or by choice ("Fitness mentor" which is really just a sales job to get fat ladies signed up to the new fat ladies-only gyms popping up everywhere, including 24th and Clement, replacing the video store with the HUGE porn selection, damnit).

I go to et cetera because it is the focus group and clinical trial clearinghouse. I love focus groups. For $75 an hour or thereabouts, you tell marketing people why their product sucks. I say to you, in voice that barely conceals my delight, BEAT THAT. I find it to be an excellent use of my time. I've been doing focus groups for years. They have some rule now that you can only do one every six months but I am choosing to interpret that as one every six months per market research firm. After all, how will Greenberg Qualitative Research in Berkeley know, if they call me next week, that I did one for Nichol's Research in SF today? I'm sure as hell not going to tell them.

Here is my favorite focus group story: in 1995 or so, back when I was the poorest SSI poet of them all, I got a call for a focus group to taste test different brands of mustard. It paid $60. It is not possible for you to imagine how much money that was to me then—it was more than my grocery budget for a month. But here's the thing: I am violently, profoundly repulsed by mustard. Now, keep in mind also that I have never tasted mustard, even a tiny speck of it; it is the condiment equivalent of effies. But holy cow did I need that 60 bucks. So I said yes.

To make matters worse, the focus group was at 8 AM. I suspect that even people who like mustard don't want it first thing in the morning. But it would only be gross for an hour and then I could use a bit of the money to buy something like huge tub of chocolate pudding in which to drown myself.

I showed up to the place completely nauseated, but determined. I sat in the corporate interpretation of a plush waiting room while they called people into the various rooms. They called everyone in the waiting room (some 40 people) except for 5 of us. The chipper receptionist then came in and addressed us as group. She explained that they always overbook focus groups to cover for no-shows and that we wouldn't be needed that day after all. But, she said, they would be happy to pay us anyway.

I think, with apologies to Chris and the whole wedding day thing, that may have been the happiest moment of my life.


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