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Monday, May 18, 2009


I spent much of this weekend writing a grant. It's for an ambulance company-- not the one I used to work for. They want a powered stretcher that automatically lowers and raises at the push of a button, so the EMTs and paramedics operating it don't pop their vertebrae every time they have to transport a fat bison. It's also extra durable and extra wide, again, for the benefit of the bison.

I mean "patient."

I met the managing director of this ambulance squad after I had written a scathing editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News about the state of Philadelphia's 911 system, which is pretty poor. I wrote the letter after a woman called 911 complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. According to national standards, the average response time for an emergency call to 911 should be under 9 minutes. An ambulance showed up at her house 41 minutes later. She was obese, like many patients are, and the crew had a very difficult time getting her out of the house and into the ambulance. Once they had her loaded in, the truck wouldn't start. They called for a second unit, which had to race across town to get there. They arrived in around 3/4 of an hour, too.

Don't be surprised when I tell you that the patient died.

In the editorial, I wrote that the Philadelphia Fire Department, manning 40 ambulances, cannot possibly provide effective and timely service to the 1,447,335 citizens of Philadelphia without assistance, and I suggested that they integrate any number of the almost 50 different private ambulance companies that operate in the city for help when Philly can't respond to calls for help.

This gentleman, the managing director of a private ambulance company, read my editorial and was impressed. He had long been saying the same thing I was saying, and he was happy to find a friend. He asked me to come work for him as a grantwriter. This was last year, and it began my first paid gig as a writer.

The only problem is, I'm not a grantwriter.

In my regular, full-time job, I write grants also. But I'm not a grantwriter. I never learned how to write a grant. Nobody ever told me. I've never been to a grantwriting seminar. I've never read "Grantwriting for Retards" and I've never been formally trained on the ins and outs of writing grants. I've been given advice by successful grantwriters. I've looked at a lot of grants, both successful and unsuccessful, and, by this point in time, I've written probably close to ten full grant applications. I've applied for a total of probably close to $200,000. Let's just say I haven't earned nearly that much for my benefactors' benefit.

I told you: I'm not a grantwriter.

Engaging in professional or even avocational activities for which I am unqualified, untrained or unskilled appears to be a hallmark of my existence. My level of fakery, then, must be pretty good, because people keep trusting me with responsibilities, hiring me for jobs, giving me assignments and casting me in roles when, probably, they shouldn't. In November, I'll be appearing in my fifth Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. I know nothing about singing technique. I've never had a private voice lesson. But I get by, I guess. People keep handing me the keys to Gilbert's Rolls Royce. Don't ask me why.

At age 20, I was hired as an optician in a small eyeglasses store. I didn't even know what an optician was. Was it the doctor? Did I just get hired as an eye doctor as a sophomore in college? Was I going to have to puff air in peoples' eyes and perform surgery on fishook eyelids? Didn't you have to go to school for that? To my relief, I found myself cleaning 300 pair of eyeglasses and the display boards on my first day of work. I eventually sold, repaired, cleaned, and adjusted eyeglasses, checked prescriptions, managed the doctor's appointment book, ordered lenses, cut and grooved lenses (though I never got very good at this), measured bifocal heights and did a lot of other boring stuff like taking out the trash (which I was very good at.) I learned how to do all of this stuff by watching my boss. But I didn't actually know anything. I was faking my way through it.

Then I was hired as a loan officer. Talk about faking it. Amortization schedules? Debt-to-income ratios? Charge-offs? Lending practices? I didn't know what the fuck I was talking about. But I had an office with a big desk, and a computer, and a filing cabinet and a bunch of loan applications that I barely knew what they meant. I was on the phone with banks and they were saying shit to me that was like some alien dialect. I was truly alone in the ocean with this one. But I hung on for a year. Being a phony.

We're all phonies to a certain degree, I suppose. Some more than others of course. People trust us with things and tasks that they probably shouldn't, mostly because they're probably too lazy to go out and look for someone who is actually qualified. Plus, qualified people are much more expensive than unqualified people, aren't they? They demand big bucks for their competence. Us? We're just happy to have a job.

My favorite character from literature is probably Holden Caulfield, not that that should be pretty surprising to any of you who know me well, or even those of you who don't know me well. I love Holden very much, and it depresses me that, if he met me, he probably wouldn't like me half as much as I like him. He'd undoubtedly call me a "phony" but I guess that's okay, because I am. And he is, too, and I guess that's the point. Holden and I have very little tolerance for the world, but, then again, I don't think we're particularly fond of ourselves either.

"My brother D.B.'s a writer and all, and my brother Allie, the one that died, that I told you about, was a wizard. I'm the only really dumb one."


  1. I guess you just have to fake it till you make it. (Even that one made me groan)

  2. I fake it at both my jobs. One is web design, which people keep telling me I'm good at, when I know I'm actually not. The other is a music tutor. Music, I'm good at. Music tutoring? Nobody's ever taught me how to teach. I think there's quite a few people around who fake it.

  3. lol as you can tell i am a bit of a faker as well.. I put it all down to bad habit, my pride stops me from being wrong or unintellectual so I talk and pretend and i fake my way thru.

    ...well its easier than being right and intellectual!


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