When I was a young lad of 19 I had dropped out of community college, was engaged to be married, and had no idea what I was doing with my life, which is redundant information considering the first two things I said.
I had two jobs at the time. The first was as a pizza delivery driver and sometimes shift manager for a small southeast chain called Snappy Tomato Pizza. Stupid name, stupider theme song (yes it had a theme song), but pretty great pizza.
This was my bread and butter job. Even in smallish Ocala, Florida, I could easily pull four hundred bucks in tips with a strong weekend, which wasn’t bad money at all for a 19 year old college drop out with no prospects.
My second job was as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. This was 1996, when paper books still existed. But it was before the Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter, so it was still a dark age for reading.
The B&N job served a couple of functions. It was low-money, but my wife-to-be and I were book-and-coffee addicts, and the discounts were steep. Plus it was a place where I could feel superior to people because I could simultaneously know a lot about books AND not smell like onions.
A day came when I worked the lunch shift at Snappy Tomato, tending the pizza buffet, a popular lunch destination because for $3.99 you got all the pizza, salad, and breadsticks you wanted and a fountain drink.
The pizza was mostly regular stuff plus a few of our specialty pizzas. Within reason, if you requested something, we’d probably toss it up there for you, but we didn’t have to. There was a list of approved buffet pizzas. This information is important.
A man comes in with his family, gets the buffet, and immediately asks, nodding his head toward the fully-stocked pizza bar, “will there be more pizzas?” I assure him that there will be fresh, hot pizza on the regular, except I didn’t say that because “on the regular” wasn’t a 1996 phrase.
Two things happened that are completely unacceptable pizza buffet etiquette. The first is that it turned out their whole family was on Atkins, and within minutes the pizza bar was empty and their table full of discarded pizza crust.
Not just the “crust” part that weirdos don’t eat. The part you hold on to. I’m talking the WHOLE crust. They were just scraping the toppings and cheese off and eating that, and not actually eating the pizza. Buffet foul.
The second thing is that as we put fresh, hot pizza out to replace what they were eating, or half-eating, as it were, he kept requesting increasingly overtopped and expensive pizzas.
Look, it sounds like a small thing, but the buffet was already a loss-leader, and this guy and his stupid family and their stupid diet (PS they were all THIN) were artificially driving up my food cost. I was the shift manager that day and I didn’t want to hear about my bad job managing cost, which was tracked very closely.
Eventually, an argument ensued, he took my name, I gave him the franchise owner’s home number and defied him to use it, and they left in a huff.
This next part of the story is shorter, I promise.
That night, I went to my shift at Barnes & Noble and got assigned to move and reorganize the history and religion sections, which, as a former (albeit brief) history major, was my happy place.
There weren’t enough books to justify the shelf space being taken up by many of the religion sections, particularly Judaica, because, honestly, Ocala just didn’t have a huge Jewish population.
So I condensed according to the very detailed guidelines given to me by my manager. Judaica went from two full bays to one, with the same amount of books, and a much cleaner, more organized look.
On my break, I saw the guy from earlier at the buffet, but I was pretty sure he didn’t see me. He was gone before I returned from break.
The next day, I stopped by Snappy Tomato to pick up my paycheck on the way to my shift at Barnes & Noble. The general manager was there, and asked me to the back for a word.
The guy, we’ll call him Mr. Rosenberg (because that was his name and I’ll never forget it), did in fact call the owner. The owner who sits on the board of several regional banks, owns horses in both Kentucky and Ocala, owns not only Snappy Tomato but most of the Wendy’s in northern Kentucky, is the founding partner of the law firm that represents the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and is the sweetest old man you’d ever meet. This fucking nobody called the man, who in turn, called the general manager (who called himself “Joey ‘Za”, but that’s a whole other story) to pass along Mr. Rosenberg’s complaint and his request that I be fired.
I wasn’t fired, but I was demoted from shift manager for six months.
Now in not the best of moods, I drove across town to Barnes & Noble for my shift. As I clocked in, the store manager and my shift manager from the previous night were in the office and asked to see me.
The store manager held a letter in her hands.
The letter mentioned me by name. It complained about the reduction of books in the Judaica section. It specifically accused me of antisemitism, in those words! It demanded that I be fired.
It was signed by Mr. Rosenberg.
That was the day I decided to get my shit together and get a career that wasn’t in retail or customer service, not knowing that every job is, in some way, customer service. Ah, youth.
I have a lot of all-too-real nightmare job stories, and a collection of unfulfilled career dreams that I imagine would have turned into nightmares had I pursued them. For more of the latter, check out my book: Dream Jobs
How Do You Write a TV Script? | Wonderopolis -
Inside look at the process from Simpsons writer Michael Price, from pitch to production and the steps in between.
I’m having an anxiety attack. Not full-blown panic like I sometimes have. Just anxiety. Should pass soon. Just writing those couple of sentences actually seemed to help. The slight dizziness is fading. Weird tingling remains.
I think it’s happening because I’m prepping course materials for a TV Writing class I’m offering, and because no matter how good I get at anything (even in my 15 year software career where in some circles I’ve had minor celebrity status) I always always fucking always deal with some level of impostor syndrome tacked on to perfectionism issues and general insecurity. Stories for another day.
Could also be that there’s a big social gathering tomorrow. Or because I’m having a lot of doubt lately about what I’m doing with my life and I’m thinking a lot about it indirectly tonight. Or maybe it was triggered by something I ate earlier, which is a real and annoying thing.
I’m not always lucky enough to be able to figure out a 1:1 relationship with a trigger and anxiety or panic. That’s something not everyone understands. You don’t always know where it’s coming from. At least not acutely.
Most people who don’t deal with this, if you say “I’m having an anxiety attack” their first question is “why?” and a lot of times, you don’t have a satisfying answer for that. If you did, you might not be having the attack. But not having that answer can amplify the attack if you start to dwell.
I know a lot of people deal with this. A lot of friends have asked me in private over the years how I cope. A lot of people don’t know what’s happening and it scares them, or they feel abnormal somehow and like they should be ashamed.
If you deal with anxiety you don’t have to feel ashamed. It’s one of the ways the anxiety keeps a hold on you. It doesn’t want you to ask for help or reach out to other people. It wants you to stay in your head and spiral with it.
If you don’t know what’s causing it, you don’t have to feel weak or embarrassed or helpless. We’re all people with really complicated lives and are under stress all day every day, from our own issues to big shit like climate change and canceled TV shows. It all seeps in and helps fuck you up a little at a time.
You don’t have to be an “anxious” person to suffer from anxiety. It’s not necessarily something you are born with, just like most other ailments. I had perfect vision until I turned 30 and needed glasses.
Here’s a super-brief story of how I came to live with anxiety.
As a kid I’d get anxious sometimes, weirdly the most vivid memories were when I was answering questions in classes (that I knew the answers to - impostor syndrome!) my heart would pound and I could literally feel my adrenal glands pumping out them stress hormones. But apart from that, I was pretty “normal” on the anxiety front.
I’d never had a full-blown panic attack until one day I did (also at 30) and it lasted something like 18 hours, amplifying on itself because I didn’t understand what was happening, as I spent a whole day at work and a whole night at home trying to ignore it, will it away, not worry about what could be happening to my body - tingling all over, shortness of breath, dizziness, swallowing weird - until I couldn’t stand it any more, woke my roommate up at 3 in the morning and asked him to drive me to the emergency room.
They kept me for a few hours, did some tests, gave me ativan, and sent me home, or rather, back to work the next morning. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to show weakness. They told me to see a doctor about it. I didn’t. They told me to take it easy and reduce some stress. I didn’t. I didn’t want to be someone whose body and mind, ESPECIALLY mind, which had been my bread and butter for 30 years, no longer obeyed his every command.
So things were decently cool except I was running the biggest project of my career so far, and managing the most amount of people and budget that I’d ever managed, and one Sunday I went in to the office to catch up and then I thought I was having a heart attack.
Everything was fine that day until it wasn’t, and every classic heart attack symptom came up - pain radiating from left arm to jaw, chest feeling like it’s in a vise, weird metallic taste in mouth, shortness of breath.
Couldn’t be having a heart attack though, right? I mean, I’m 30. I was an athlete. Sure I smoked then and hadn’t been taking great care of myself, but not a heart attack, right?
So I decided to go home and sleep it off. Except I couldn’t sleep. All the symptoms were there. And I was very aware of what those symptoms were because I worked in healthcare for 10 years and also I’m not a dummy.
At one point I thought “this is extra energy” and tried to burn it off doing WINDSPRINTS in my hallway. Sprinting. That’s what the rational man who thinks he might be having a heart attack does.
Finally I drove myself to the hospital. Second trip that year. Different hospital because I was, again, embarrassed. Also my ex wife worked at the hospital I went to and I thought, you know, just in case?
I was again “fine”. They kept me for 2 days. Running tests. Taking blood every couple hours in the night. Stress test. Echocardiogram. All of it. I was okay. The nurse laughed at me when she discharged me and found out I drove myself there while thinking I might be having a heart attack. They gave me the number of a doctor to call to talk about my stress and anxiety. I didn’t call.
Then I spent 3 months as a zombie, doing everything I could to avoid a panic attack. Not getting a single bit of work done. Three months I was a nothing person. Barely existing. Prisoner of anxiety.
I finally saw a doctor. In the waiting room I was freaking the fuck out. He gave me Lexapro. It evened me out. I was able to work again. I got through the project. I started dating a girl.
I hated being on Lexapro because I felt like a person trapped in his own brain, observing himself being slow and dull-witted, gaining weight, experiencing sexual side effects. It was the worst. I especially couldn’t deal with being perceptibly dumber, even if the only person perceiving it was me.
But the drugs helped for sure. I was okay for about 6 months on it. Then I took myself off. Unsupervised. NEVER DO THAT. You’re not supposed to do that. These things change your brain, like, physically.
After it cleared my system I was a different person. I felt smart again. I felt up-to-speed. I immediately fell out of love with the girl. That part hurt a lot. Like immediately. Seratonin is one of the love chemicals, and a lot of the anxiety and depression meds touch your Seratonin receptors. Science made me break up with a girl. Up til that point I thought me and science were bros.
After that I did a lot of work on dealing with anxiety. Anxiety really pairs well with depression, which I was also dealing with in waves. I worked on that too. It got worse before it got better, but it did get better.
I haven’t had an attack bad enough to send me running for the hospital in at least 6 years. I’ve had a couple that go all night and cause me to miss sleep but I can count them on one hand.
There was a time when the days of the week where I did have an attack outnumbered the days where I didn’t. Now, I go whole months without sometimes.
I still get the occasional attack, but it’s usually triggered by something i can figure out, or it’s a sign that there’s an imbalance in my life that I need to correct. I’ve started looking at them as an early warning system.
For instance, I recently had a client that stressed me out so much, and I wanted very badly to drop them but was afraid of losing the money. Finally, after agonizing over it (and 3 straight days of anxiety attacks at night - they mostly come at night. mostly) I dropped the client and IMMEDIATELY stopped having the anxiety.
Also sometimes certain foods will trigger the physical symptoms which, if I’m not careful, will then trigger the mental ones. For instance, if I put a piece of Dentyne Ice in my mouth and chew it, I will have an anxiety attack within 10 minutes. Fucking crazy, right?
Just because I have them “figured out” doesn’t mean they aren’t still scary as fuck sometimes, or that they don’t put me down for the count. If I cancel something on you at the last minute, it’s probably because I’m having a panic attack and I’m pacing around my room because walking around seems to help me but not outside.
I’ll also probably tell you a lie about it because I’m embarrassed. It doesn’t seem like “I’m having a panic attack” is a good enough reason to not do something. But it fucking is. It absolutely fucking is. They’re hard.
The biggest advice I have about dealing with it is to allow it to happen. Acknowledge it. I literally say, out loud sometimes, “Okay, I guess you want to be anxious, so, be anxious, and when you’re done we’ll figure out how to fix whatever’s wrong.”. It helps.
Being open about it helps. Sometimes just telling a friend “I’m having a panic attack” helps and it starts to subside immediately.
Knowing that you’re not dying helps too. The first few times are scary because you don’t know what it is. Look at my heart attack story above. That makes it worse. If you know what it is and accept it as part of you, it dulls it.
If I could say anything to anyone who deals with this, it’s that it’s okay to get some help. I don’t know what will work for you. Maybe it’s medicine, maybe it’s meditation, probably it’s a combination of things. But it’s okay to ask for help. It’s more than okay. Don’t let it build and build until it completely debilitates you. Please ask for help.
If we’re friends (if you have my number or we’re facebook friends, that’s friends enough for me) and you ever want to talk anxiety, or want to be able to tell someone who gets it that you’re having an attack, I’m here.
Writing this helped. The one I was having is gone now. I could theoretically not post this but what am I, some kind of closed book?
2 for 10 this week, like a catcher or a 1980s second baseman.
This week, the Boston Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens for the 25th time in NHL history, so I guess you could say it’s something of a Habit. (PUNS ARE FUN)
The internet was abuzz this week when video surfaced of a house cat saving a young boy from a vicious dog attack by tackling the dog and chasing it away. Animal Control officials decided not to take action against the dog, saying that the ridicule it would face from the other dogs is punishment enough.
SnapChat came under fire this week for its lax privacy practices, prompting its thousands of users to continue sending naked selfies to people through a third-party without blinking an eye.
Scientists announced that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun an irreversible slide into the ocean, raising fears of rising ocean levels. Fox News Analysts and Republicans were quick to point out that the water would help cool off cities that were being affected by global warming which definitely doesn’t exist.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted this week that awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was a mistake and that the summer temperatures in the Middle Eastern country would be too hot for players and fans to safely participate in the World Cup. In related news, the 2022 World Cup is still being played in Qatar.
A high school sophomore was arrested in Texas this week when it was discovered that she was really 31 years old, rather than 15, as she claimed when she enrolled. School officials say they first suspected she was lying about her age when they asked her for ID and she said “Oh, I’m so flattered!”
A Florida woman was rushed to the hospital this week after drinking too much liquid nitrogen. According to scientists at the University of Miami, the precise amount of liquid nitrogen, which is negative 321 degrees Fahrenheit, that a human can safely consume is “Jesus Christ, are you kidding me? None!”.
A new study shows that gluten intolerance may not be real after all, but indicated that another chemical in wheat might be responsible for the same symptoms, allowing frustrating dining experiences with your girlfriend’s annoying friends to continue unabated.
Darden Restaurants sold its struggling Red Lobster seafood chain to Golden Gate capital for $2.1 billion. When reached for comment, the new owners said “We paid market price for Red Lobster, so our shareholders better put out.”
Astronomers have discovered that Jupiter’s famous “Great Red Spot”, a red, hurricane-like storm system that was once the size of three Earths, has rapidly shrunk to the size of merely one Earth. “I told you it wasn’t gonna be that bad!”, said the one crazy alien that refused to evacuate from Jupiter Zone A.
Check out the Sleepytime Comedy Hour, hosted by Toby Scales. Mondays at 10pm.
When you’re pursuing whatever your passion or dream or art (or pick a label that speaks to you), the rejections pile up.
I’ve got a pretty good pile going just over the past few weeks.
What I have to believe, if I’m going to keep pushing forward in this comedy/writing/performing thing and not go back to the safe but unsatisfying career that was driving me toward an early grave, is that, if I keep trying, the rejection pile eventually gets high enough that I can climb it and get to something good*.
In the meantime, I just want to surround myself with good people that work hard and make me want to do better.
* That something good is not drawing, so, no worries, guys. But I guess I draw my feelings now? That’s weird.
Something about not sweating the path when the destination is the same? Who knows.
This is the first thing I’ve drawn in, bare minimum, two decades.
In the beginning part of 2010 I was kind of adrift. I’d moved to New York from tiny Ocala, FL to get away from… just everything. I felt like I needed a new start but I didn’t know what that start was. I was still doing my same job on a career path that I’d been feeling trapped by and I didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I wanted to (or could) be.
I happened to see that McSweeney’s, a site I loved, was running a contest to find new columnists. On a whim, I decided to enter.
I fought with myself over the entry and put it off to the last minute, in classic Scott fashion, but I forced myself to submit what would become the first installment of the Dream Jobs column, So You Wanted to Be a Marine Biologist…
The summer came and went and I’d all but forgotten about it until one kind of shitty day in September, I was boarding a plane at JFK to go to Chicago for a weekend conference, and I checked my e-mail one final time, and saw an email from John Warner saying they’d loved my submission and I was a new McSweeney’s columnist. It was…shocking. I called my best friend slash most complicated relationship ever, knowing she was also on her way to Chicago, and told her the news. That night we met some more of my friends in Chicago and celebrated.
That was the day I decided to be a comedy writer, which was a long-held dream of mine. I didn’t know how I’d do it or what to do next, but I knew it was a major turning point in my life.
Throughout the year I was a columnist, I experienced every up and down that decision could spawn. I hated everything I wrote. I wanted to quit. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to have never taken this on. I thought I was a terrible writer. I thought I wasn’t funny. I thought this was another stupid dream by a stupid guy who was 33 and should have stopped dreaming.
Emails came in from all over the world. People found me on Twitter. The response was overwhelming. it wasn’t a hundred a day or even 10 a week but it was enough that I gained some confidence and some much-needed external validation. People would ask me if they could reprint a column in their blog. A guy in Russia ran one of them in his actual print magazine.
By the time I wrote So You Wanted to be A Computer Programmer… I knew I was done with my old career. I no longer wanted to be on that path. I wanted to be on this new path.
I quit my job on New Year’s Eve 2010 and spent nearly all of 2011 just trying to figure things out. I tried to write a novel but couldn’t muster the discipline. I wrote a screenplay for the first time and fell in love with writing screenplays. I found UCB and took a sketch class with Melinda Taub (another pivotal moment) and met people I’m still friends with and fell in love with the UCB community. I did stand-up for the first time.
Fast-forward to now. I still do some software stuff to pay the rent, because I’m not being paid to do comedy and writing yet. Not enough, anyway. But I definitely feel like I’m on my way to something, and that the something I’m on my way to is by definition going to be a Dream Job, and none of it would have happened if I hadn’t taken a shot at that McSweeney’s new columnist contest and pitched a column about, appropriately, Dream Jobs.
A few years ago, my editor at McSweeney’s told me I should package the column into a book when it was done. It was always on my mind but I never pulled the trigger on it for some stupid reason (fear, always fear). But I finally did, and now it’s on Amazon and Nook, and I couldn’t feel better about it. Feel free to check it out, or don’t, but I wanted to tell the story because writing about dream jobs that turn out to be nightmares started as a cathartic release from my tailspin, and ended up being the catalyst that changed everything about my life.
Dream Jobs on Amazon Kindle
Dream Jobs on Barnes & Noble Nook
"At the end the guy is a killbot"
I bet whatever I was thinking this would mean to me later was pretty fun.