Work-related Injuries: The accidental internship from hell

This column is dedicated to all of you dear readers who are still dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears college students gearing up for your first summer internships. Maybe you were proactive and well-qualified and landed yourself a Metcalf–good for you, you moneymaking machines. You’re going to make a hell of a lot of photocopies for that $4000. Or maybe your path followed one similar to mine last year, where through a series of poor decisions and total lack of planning and foresight, you find yourself with an unpaid internship.

Last year was my first year, so I was uninitiated into the world of absurdly early application deadlines. Of course, once the idea of an internship occurred to me, I had missed all of them. I wanted to do something related to journalism, so I signed up for an event the University was putting on for first-years to help them plan their summers. The event was in the winter, and the girl at the journalism table blithely announced, “Yeah, most journalism deadlines are done in, like, November. You have little to no chance of getting one now.” Great.

Fortunately, I had this illustrious publication–yes, the one you hold before your very eyes–working for me. I wrote my first Chicago Weekly cover article on Version, a festival produced by the art and media collective Lumpen. A little while later, I found a message on my Myspace account from someone who a) I had never met b) was not a porn bot, despite a profile picture of a pixie-like twenty-something who would be at home in an American Apparel ad, holding a knife to her lips and squatting with her crotch covered in fake blood. What could it possibly be? A message from a moderately-well-known “counter-culture” society columnist for a popular weekly newspaper. She found me on Myspace somehow and was writing to commend me on my article: “I wanted to tell you I think you did an *excellent* job with the Version story. You went above and beyond anything I’d expect from a student paper, examining not only the contents of the festival but the lifestyles of those of us who love it. Your perspective on the whole thing was refreshing and nuanced, and your story structure was really great.” Wow. What can I say–I was flattered, and I had yet to reach the best part: “Will you be around Chicago for the summer? I have an internship spot opening up–it’s kinda tedious personal assistant stuff but there is some research involved–so if you think you might be interested, let me know.”

Holy shit, I got an internship without having to do any work whatsoever! We planned to meet at Medici so she could “interview” me. She showed up half an hour late and the first words out of her mouth were scolding me for giving “terrible” directions. She sat down, introduced herself, and told me she wrote the most popular column for her paper, that they didn’t treat her well enough, and that they were lucky to still have her around because she brought a good fraction of their readers. “I hope unconventional lifestyles don’t make you queasy or anything,” she said. By that time, I had already finished my chili that would later make me sick. I should have taken that as a sign from a benevolent god.

I apparently performed competently enough in the interview, despite my terrible directions, to get the “internship.” She gave me directions to her apartment, which was a 15-20 minute walk from a Blue Line stop on the North Side. My transit involved taking the 6, then the Blue Line, then walking in sweltering heat–all to check her email and fill out her planner for no pay whatsoever. Now, it is not fair to complain about that; she warned me it would be boring beforehand. No, there is no need to complain about something so mundane–she provided a whole slew of other things that were annoying, bizarre, and seriously unnerving.

The longer I was an intern, the more I began to realize this “internship” was more like a free secretary for an up-and-coming hipster. All the events I was entering into her planner were Village Voice readings about “The lives of New Yorkers, told by New Yorkers,” Vice Magazine wannabe parties, and small noise shows. Does this woman only consume? I thought to myself. What can she possibly contribute to society? She showed me a dagger with a horse’s hoof for a handle that her much older sort-of-boyfriend mailed to her from somewhere in Eastern Europe. “He went there to marry a woman so she can get citizenship,” she explained. “That was surprising.”

My favorite anecdote is one involving her calling me on her cell phone before work one day and asking if I was anywhere near someplace that might sell sidewalk chalk. Unfortunately I wasn’t, and she did not clarify until I got to her apartment. The story was about an article about a road trip out west she took with two 19-year-old SAIC students. Now, she is pushing thirty, and is stricken with the Constantly-Bringing-Up-Her-Age Syndrome. “They made me feel so old,” she complained. “They were so childish.” I’m sure relating that to your 18-year-old intern will bring you much sympathy, I thought. In any case, she included that sentiment in her article and claimed to have run it by them beforehand to see whether it would offend them or not, and they said it did not. However, a friend of hers saw one of the art students and a group of people huddled around something on a street corner. Upon closer examination, they were drunkenly burning copies of the article and chanting magick (with a “k,” my friends, with a “k”) incantations against her. He took pictures and emailed them to my boss, who was in a tiff about it. I was about to comment on the stupidity of non-middle-schoolers still seriously practicing magick, but she concluded with, “So, that’s what the sidewalk chalk was for. I’m going to go write some runes outside their doorstep. I’ll be back.” Shocked, I could detect no irony in her voice.

All in all, I worked for her for about two weeks. I had to leave to go visit my family in Puerto Rico, and when I came back, she called me and told me that I seemed “too smart” for the job and asked if I really wanted to do it. I mumbled a yes, but that I would like to do something more substantial since I was doing it for free. Upon my return, she emailed me, saying, “I don’t think this is working out for either of us. It was nice meeting you and good luck with your future.” I’m not entirely sure what caused the drastic turnaround–was it my thinly veiled distaste for her seemingly frivolous and contrivedly bizarre lifestyle? Did I accidentally leave my email logged in, which contained several emails that would certainly remove whatever veil my distaste had? Who knows, but at least I was relieved of the burden of having to spend $4.50 a day to hang out with someone who made me increasingly uncomfortable. It’s too bad I don’t have something legit to put on my resume for that summer, but the degree of legitimacy was already hitting rock bottom by the time I was “fired.” My last contact with my former boss was a text message I received from her on Christmas. “When are you going out tonight?” Confused, I responded that her message had most likely missed its target. “No, no, I wanna hang out tonight–when is good for you?” “Well, I’m in Ohio with my family.” “Oh, sorry, wrong person …uh, merry happy …” Merry happy indeed, young interns. Merry happy.