My First Freelance Writing Job: The Secret Warehouse
Just before I quit my office job and moved to Texas, I started looking on Craigslist for copy-writing jobs that I could do remotely. This was my first foray into freelance writing, and throughout my freelance writing career Craigslist has helped me find both my best and worst clients. I answered an ad from a man named Avi looking for someone to write descriptions of baby products. He and his wife had a large quantity of baby products they wanted to sell on their very own website, having grown tired of giving a cut of the profit to Amazon and Ebay.
I wrote them a sample and they offered me an assignment. I agreed, but eventually found that the amount of time and effort I was spending on the work wasn't worth the pay they had offered, so I tendered my resignation. To my surprise, Avi informed me he would like me to keep working, and invited me to meet him for lunch so we could negotiate. We met at Pita Hut, a kosher restaurant in downtown Rockville. Avi is an Orthodox Jew, and Pita Hut comprised about one-fourth of the kosher restaurants he could go to in the Washington D.C. area.
Once he bought me a shawarma sandwich, he gained my trust. A man is only as good as the sandwich he buys me, I always say. As we discussed an hourly rate, a fat man wearing a purple yarmulke with the Baltimore Raven’s logo came up to our table and greeted Avi. Avi manfully pumped the Ravens fan's fat hand. “Molly, this is Allen. He’s a big fish.” Allen shrugged his massive shoulders. “I’m not a big fish. I’m a little fish.” Allen turned and swaggered out of the restaurant. I briefly wondered if I had accidentally joined the mob.
Avi explained further his goals for the baby product website. How is it, exactly, he came to have a warehouse full of baby products? “It’s a family business. Luna’s father owns it.” Avi also told me the name he had come up with for the website: "Infantory." He was very proud of it.
Avi's wife, Luna, was twenty four, almost exactly my age. Before I moved away, Avi invited me over several times to have dinner with Luna and their two young children. Almost every door in Avi’s building has a mezuzah, a tiny hollow tube that contains a rolled up bit of scripture, a traditional fixture of Jewish doorways. In keeping with strict dietary rules, they had separate sinks, fridges, and dishwashers to avoid any cross contamination between milk and meat. During one dinner, I noticed a shrimp in one of their decorative fish tanks. "So you're allowed to have a shrimp as a pet?" I asked, remembering the Torah's dark view of shellfish. Luna suddenly looked alarmed. "I don know!" She said. "I'll have to ask my rabbi!" Neighbors were always bursting through the doorway, asking Luna to help watch children or wanting Avi to fix something.
As we sipped kosher wine, Avi told me at length about his previous jobs, including a stint as a door-to-door art salesman. In addition to getting his baby product website ready to launch, Avi operated a moving business with Luna’s help. “Israelis are all like this,” Luna informed me. “They always have a bunch of different businesses going at the same time.” Luna is my age, also from the D.C. area. She asked me after dinner if I ever planned on having kids. I responded vaguely. “You’re still young for you all," she said. "For us, twenty four is pretty old.”
I made my then-boyfriend come with me to their house once, thinking he could get work on the website. "Once this website get started, I'm just going to keep going and going and going," Avi said, irrepressibly confident that "Infantory" was going to be a great success. "He talks like a rapper," my boyfriend said after we left.
One early morning in May, shortly before I backed my car and drove to Texas, Avi called and asked if I could go to the warehouse. I didn't want to go — the warehouse is in Anacostia, a notoriously treacherous neighborhood in southeast D.C. There’s a lot to learn, he insisted. So I agreed.
Avi told me the shopping center where I would find the warehouse. I drove around it twice, and didn't see a warehouse. “Just park, I’ll come meet you,” Avi instructed. Avi emerged from a wig store called SuperBeauty and beckoned me to follow him inside.
We walked to the back wall of the store, behind the cash register. A couple of employees pretended not to see us. Avi pulled back a wall-hanging to reveal a hidden door. He opened the door to reveal an unlit staircase.
"Who knows where I am?" I thought, panicking slightly. No one. It’s just me and a man I met on Craigslist and a dark set of stairs. He lit the way into the basement with his smart phone. I followed, filled with regret. "I guess this is it," I thought, imagining how Keith Morrison would describe me on an upcoming episode of Dateline: 48 Hours Mystery.
We emerged into a humid series of rooms that looked much larger than the store above. Avi introduced me to a burly man packing up the Amazon and Ebay orders, and another, burlier man named Eugene.
“This one is Luna’s brother,” Avi said, introducing the first man. “He is the biggest pothead you’ll ever meet.” He grinned, sheepishly stoned.
Avi set me to work at one of the two computers tucked on the corner of the warehouse, doing something online I could have easily done from home. I gathered then that I wasn't there to receive any special insights or instruction, but simply so Avi could see if my fingers were typing fast enough to merit my hourly pay. Dust and mouse turds lay thickly on all surfaces.
Avi brought Chinese takeout for the gentiles to eat. He put the styrofoam boxes down on the dusty floor, and announced he was leaving for an unspecified amount of time to go do something for his moving business. Not wanting to eat off of the floor in a filthy warehouse, I told Avi I could finish my work from home. Mostly I felt desperate to leave before the sun went down. He agreed but looked disappointed. I ran to my car, prissily terrified it had been stolen.
I continued to work on descriptions of strollers, stroller accessories, and car seats for a couple of months after I moved. Soon I found better paying gigs, and I was able to do things besides eat beans and feel my clothes wear to rags.
My friend recently posted an ad on Craigslist advertising a bag full of period-stained underwear for 20 bucks a pop. Within a week she had several serious responses. “If I buy the whole bag, will you give me a picture to jack off to?” one interested party inquired. Whenever I get worried about where my next freelance gig will come from, I like to think about those replies, the warehouse, and the millions of ads posted to Craigslist every day. The world is full of opportunities.