I’m sitting here watching MTV or VH1 or something with the sound down, writing to you tonight. I guess if I were paid a lot of money to develop shows for television, I’d turn on MTV without sound like this. Get an idea of what the ingredients are for these hit shows they’re doing on cable. I’d call my team in for a meeting, and I’d get up and just kind of write a list on the dry-erase board:

Fat, white, bald farmland types
Negro male models
Motor home
Pop star’s daughter
Diet pills
Boom box

And I’d look at what I wrote up there, take a dramatic pause to look at each member of my TV development team, and I’d say, “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a hit show waiting to happen. Our job is to figure out what it takes to make it happen.” Anyway, I’m sure after one or two shows called something like I Love The ‘90s Negro Male Model Motor-Home Pill Challenge, I would realize my heart was just not into it. Or maybe I’d be a huge success, who knows? Either way, I’d miss hanging out late like this and helping you with your problems using paper and paper-related products … so let’s get the show on the road!

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From: KidAtonal
Date: May 27, 2005 4:21:30 PM EDT
To: Dan Kennedy (Paper Advice)
Subject: Paperwork problem—my job in jobs

Hi, Dan,

I work in Washington, D.C., processing psychological assessments sent in by career centers in colleges all over the country. I open their envelopes, scan the ScanTron sheets, and send back the computer-generated reports, which the advisers use to help kids decide on careers. So I’m exactly one year out of college, and I’m working this shitty paperwork job—a cog in the wheel of the career-advice industry—while I have no idea what I want to do with my life. What should I do with my life, Dan? Thanks for the help.

Dan Scheuerman

OK, Mr. Scheuerman—

OK, obviously before I try to tell you what to do with your life, the first thing I’m going to ask you is this: Can you remember what your college psychological assessment from your own college career center recommended you do with your life? Or did it actually say you should get a gig scanning other people’s psychological assessments? I’m going deep here, because the system has never quite eaten itself this way.

Look, I’ve waited a long time for this day … the day when this system was finally revealed to be a sham, and a sham manned by someone as confused with what to do with their life as the rest of us. And that day has come. I subjected myself to these things and was told I should be a park ranger or fire lookout every time. Mostly because I can’t add and don’t have much in the way of social skills, and I guess they didn’t have a category called “writer” or “loner looking for grants and new girlfriend, even though you promised to make this last.” I guess what I’m saying is this: It took me 15 years to learn that nobody but you can tell you what to do with your life. Here’s what I say to you, Mr. Scheuerman: Get yourself some Scantron® 825-E Answer Sheets. You’ve no doubt seen the 825-E: single-sided, room for 50 answers in the standard multiple-choice, 5-choice alpha format. Sit there at work and ask yourself questions only you know the answer to, then use a No. 2 pencil to fill in any goddamn bubbles you want, smiling to yourself, finally secure in the understanding that there are no right answers.

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[Note to readers: I am sitting here after a long day of writing. I am a little sleep-deprived, eating DayQuils, and washing them down with an off-brand diet lemon-lime soda. I should have told you that at the beginning.]

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From: nicanor garcia
Date: April 26, 2005 3:38:57 PM EDT
To: Dan Kennedy
Subject: paper

Dan—Have you ever been to Spain? The napkins in the cervesarias … ridiculous. What can I do to change this sad situation for the better?


Dear N-i-c-a-n-o-r,

I was in Barcelona briefly and also in some town on the coast for a minute. I recall eating sandwiches from a little stand by the sea at night, then fistfuls of ice cream, amazed at how my usual covey of pedestrian insecurities and worries had caught up with me so far from home. I recall second-guessing love and marriage, being sad that I am hard-wired to resist kindness and abundance, opting instead to behave like a bad television actor playing a single dad or felon: benign, anxious, and melancholy with furrowed brows and distracted eyes. But what I don’t recall are ridiculous napkins. I recall napkins in the style of your basic SCOTT® low-fold dispenser style (in white) from the folks at Kimberly Clark … the standard paper napkin of lunchrooms and coffee shops worldwide. I remember using them to wipe a drip of mustard from my fingers, and I can recall one stained with some sort of sauce we were dipping these shrimp into. Anyway, are there honestly ridiculous napkins in Spain? I know I sound like any other semi-talented malcontent burdened by self-absorption, minor chemical imbalance, and the guilt of wasting years, but I need to hear from you again. About these napkins and why you feel the need to change them. More info from you would be great, thanks.

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From: AnnMarie MacKinnon
Date: May 27, 2005 6:54:33 PM EDT
To: Dan Kennedy
Subject: you are a blessing and a curse

Dear Dan,

Just wanted to take a moment to thank you for facilitating my procrastination. As I sit here at work reading McSweeney’s lists and your solutions to people’s problems with paper, I realize I’m getting absolutely nothing done. Yet, somehow, I feel better off for it. Slacking off on company time has always been a favourite pastime, and you only make it better.

AnnMarie MacKinnon

Dear AnnMarie,

I’m glad you like checking out how I solve everyone’s paper problems (Bam! Solved! Next?) … you’re probably pretty impressed. Plus, I’m only 37! Anyway, I know of which you speak in regard to wasting company time. I have, at different times in my life, partaken in slacking off on company time … sitting there pleasantly numbed with a head full of recycled air that’s been filtered through 20 floors of stylish nylon executive carpet and assorted veneers and Formica; just taking big deep breaths of the pleasant, thin barrier between me and the outside world. I would pocket a three pack of Post-it® Notes (3-by-3, canary yellow, not packaged for resale), grab a free coffee, and make a couple of free long-distance calls. And while I spoke to family members and ex-girlfriends in rehab, I’d look out the window at passersby and think, “Look at those dumb bastards out there still dealing with silly everyday problems like love and death when I’ve got all I need right here.” But let me tell you something about time: Life’s odometer does not discriminate. That is to say, at the end of the line, it was all our time.