The Gil Gunderson Days
I like to think that everybody in the world has seen Glengarry Glen Ross because it is one of those stone-cold masterpieces that you can watch again and again and get something new from every time, assuming, of course, that you’re up for more heaping helpings of grade-A creeps Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin.
Now, when I have written sentences like the one above in the past, readers have decided that since I’m using the same phrase (grade A creep) to describe both Spacey and Baldwin, I am consequently putting them on equal footing and saying that their transgressions are the same. Of COURSE that’s not what I mean. Baldwin, for all of his arrogance and obnoxiousness, seems to be me to be a garden-variety asshole, a bully and a narcissist, and, well, a grade-A creep while Spacey appears to be something much closer to a monster, a predator who abused his positions of power in show-business and the world to destroy countless lives. I’m not saying they’re at all equivalent, just that they’re both creeps, although it might make more sense, in the grand scheme of things, to classify Spacey as a grade-A creep and Baldwin a B or C list creep.
But I’m sure that there are some people out there who have never seen Glengarry Glen Ross or Jack Lemmon’s heartbreaking performance as world-class sad sack Shelley "The Machine" Levene, a veteran salesmen of the hard-sell variety and know the character only through Gil Gunderson, The Simpsons brilliant parody of him.
The surprisingly enduring character of Gil Gunderson ratcheted up the tragicomic pathos and desperation of Lemmon’s performance to levels of brutal hilarity. Gil is a consummate loser just trying to hang on in a society and world that has no use for him. He’s a human anachronism, a relic of the age of the door-to-door traveling salesman and milk man who can’t help but remind me of the similarly tragicomic door to door bible salesmen of the Maysles Brothers’ classic documentary Salesman.
At the risk of being immodest, I like to think that I keep the desperation, despair and helplessness that comes with trying to make a living and support a family as a full time freelance pop culture writer in 2018 at bay pretty well for the most part. But there are days when the optimism and energy and single-minded focus necessary to try to make a go of it in a field that sometimes feels impossible get the best of me and I know, on a soul-deep level what old Gil Hodges experiences everyday.
Freelance writers are by definition also salesmen or saleswomen. The product that they are selling are article ideas or column ideas or interview pitches but on a deeper level, they’re selling themselves. They’re selling themselves as bloggers, interviewers, critics, op-ed writers. But what they’re really selling is the idea that they have something to say, something that the public should listen to, something worthy of being shared at the highest levels of the media.
And that’s fucking terrifying because writers are, again by definition, an insecure and anxiety-prone bunch. So the idea that they need to sell themselves as much as their work can be daunting. I know that there have been countless times over the last three and a half years when I have felt an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, or world-weariness. I feel like I’m working my ass off and getting nowhere, that the personal and professional and financial treadmill I’m on will only give way to something worse and less secure. I’ve known Gil Gunderson days where I feel like I’m working up a furious sweat trying to sell the public and industry things they have no interest in, that I’m trying to sell boomboxes and tape decks for an MP3 era and getting nothing but looks of pity and concern for my furious exertion.
On my Gil Gunderson days I feel like a defeated old dinosaur at 42, like an old man in a young man’s game, like a fossil whose mojo went missing years, if not decades ago, and may never return.
I feel like shit on my Gil Gunderson days. I feel worse than shit. I feel like Gil Gunderson. But then I brush myself off and keep on hustling because I have to but also because I know that there is no shame in working incredibly hard just to keep your head above water and provide for your loved ones, and a surprising amount of dignity and purpose in the unending, ultimately righteous struggle.
I make my living largely through crowd-funding, so if you would be kind enough to consider pledging even a dollar a month over at https://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be