Buddy and the Disappearing Social Media Job

by Julie Beck

It would’ve been a weird summer anyway. I’d graduated, but the lease on my college apartment wasn’t up until September, so I stuck around through the transition, biking to Panera in the morning, where I would take advantage of the air conditioning and reliable wireless connection, freelance web producing and refilling my small Dr. Pepper all day. At night, I drank beers on the porch while my roommates played guitar, attracting stray cats and strange neighbors who shared too much about their sex lives.

My freelance gig kept me pretty solidly in porch beers and popsicles, but when I saw the posting seeking a $15/hour social media intern for a local coffee shop chain, I figured it couldn’t hurt to apply. I could use the extra money to put toward a security deposit when I moved to the city in the fall, and our journalism professors constantly repeated that as young people who understood Twitter, we were automatically more attractive job candidates to older employers who viewed social media as Gandalf does the One Ring: aware of the power it could bring them, but too afraid to dare wield it. I have since found this to be only sort of true. I sent my resume to the proprietor, who preferred a diminutive nickname to his real one. We’ll call him Buddy.

Buddy did not like email. He called me within 24 hours, and set up an interview at a local coffee shop (not one of his). When I arrived, he insisted on getting me something and seemed annoyed when I only wanted an iced tea. Buddy did not like to eat alone.

The interview consisted of one question: “How long are you available?” I employed my standard interview tactic of the over-honest undersell, and told him I would only be around for the summer, and had no plans to stay longer.

“I like you,” he said, waving a biscotti at me. “You’re honest.”

And thus, I was hired.

Well, sort of. Buddy launched into a detailed description of my duties, which was difficult to follow, in part because of his thick accent, but mostly because he bounced from thought to thought like a hockey puck passed between players, and I could scarcely follow the action.

I caught an errant slapshot of an idea, and clung to it — he wanted me to redesign his menu. I could do that, I said. I’d start right away, but could we meet later in the week so I could get my W-2 forms?

“Sure, sure.” He took me to his car, a red station wagon packed with bags and boxes, and unearthed a plastic binder. This was his “book,” he said, containing all the information about his business strategy, and I was not to share it with anyone.

The binder didn’t really seem to hold too many trade secrets, just a partial menu and some mission statement-y pamphlets. I figured he’d give me the full menu to design at our next meeting, but I was wrong. In fact, he seemed irritated that I hadn’t done anything yet.

Throughout the course of this meeting, it slowly became clear that there was no social media person I would be assisting or interning under. In fact, it appeared that this entire operation was just him, me and some faceless woman named Belinda. Whatever my job was, and I still wasn’t 100 percent sure, it did not seem to involve social media at all, but rather some amorphous combination of web design and business strategy. Facebook and Twitter would come later, he said. First we had to get his website running, and figure out how to organize something he called a “Coffee Club,” which was either a customer loyalty program or an open-mic night.

I was in over my head, and began to feel certain that whatever this man wanted, I could not deliver. So when he paused to breathe, I tried to politely decline the position, saying I didn’t think I was qualified after all, and I didn’t want to promise things I couldn’t follow through on. But Buddy would not let me walk away.

“You think you can’t do it,” he said. “But I believe in you. You know, only hard workers have success. People who don’t try, never achieve anything.”

“I’m sure that’s true, but I just don’t think I’m the right person for this job.”

“Everything’s gonna be fine. Don’t worry so much. You have too much stress. It’s fine.”

“Um, okay.”

He made me call Belinda, who I guess was supposed to reassure me. The exasperated woman on the other end of the line turned out to be Buddy’s actual web designer. “Buddy doesn’t know what he wants,” she said, “and he’s not willing to spend enough money to get the work done.” She kept trying to tell him that the kind of website he wanted would cost more than the flat fee he offered her, and he would dismiss her concerns with a familiar-sounding “it’s fine.”

“So, you feel better?” he asked when I handed him back his phone. I did not. Even less so when it was revealed that he still had not brought any sort of contract or tax forms for me to fill out. We would meet again soon, he said, once I had something to show him.

I set about designing the portions of the menu that I did have, assuring everyone who told me this wasn’t going to work out that they were probably right, and that I wouldn’t give Buddy any of the work I’d done until I had a contract.

He responded to an email I sent him asking for a jpeg of the coffee shop logo, and then he fell completely off the grid. I received no response to any of my emails or phone calls saying I had designed as much of the menu as I could with the information I had. Eventually, I dropped the charade, leaving messages like “I understand if you aren’t able to take me on this summer after all, but I still have your binder, and I’d like to give it back.” Apparentl,y it wasn’t as important to him as he originally made it out to be, because Buddy never called me back.

I wasn’t too crushed. Often things that start with a bang are liable to end with a fizzle, and this was no exception. After throwing the binder away when I moved at the end of the summer, I didn’t give Buddy another thought. That is, until he friended me on Facebook last week.

Julie Beck is a writer and editor in Chicago. Her menu design was pretty good, too.
Photo: jkfid

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