My first job out of college was as an entry-level Video Journalist at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. It sounded pretty exciting at the time. But the salary for this peon position would have been embarrassing in any era, and during the tech boom years of the late 1990's it seemed particularly meager. At $20,000 a year, we "VJ's" hardly lived in the lap of luxury. Instead we lived in the tacky, cookie cutter shantytowns that seemed to spring up on every corner back then. One company built so many crappy apartment complexes that we deemed their slogan,
“Building tomorrow’s ghettos today!”
My mother, a fierce Finnish woman, was convinced that Ted Turner took great satisfaction in our slave wages. In her eyes he was a ruthless, penny-pinching fiend whose sole aim in life was to thwart my happiness. Not only that, but he apparently micro-managed his network to an extreme. Whenever I'd complain about anything at CNN, she'd blame it all on Ted Turner personally.
“The bathrooms on the third floor are always stinky.”
“The Brunswick stew in the cafeteria gave me gas."
"That Ted Toor-ner. Makes his employees fart all night with his food," as though he were in the kitchen stirring the stew himself and tossing in extra onions with gleeful abandon.
I'd say, "I hate working the 7pm-to 4am shift."
"That Ted Toor-ner. Exploiting you hard-working kids for his own pleasure," as though he were perched in his penthouse apartment at the Omni hotel, rubbing his hands together, watching me enter the CNN Center through a telescope as he cackled,
“Here comes that Dutton girl. Boy do I love to see her on this miserable shift!"
While I didn't necessarily blame Ted Turner for my lot in life, working at CNN was the root cause of my empty wallet. If necessity is the mother of invention, my CNN salary was the mother of desperation. I did anything to save a few bucks.
I treated the salespeople at Macy’s like Moroccan bazaar merchants, haggling five bucks off a dress for a lipstick stain that I had furtively smeared on the sleeve minutes before. I wouldn’t throw out a tube of toothpaste until I’d sliced open the tube and scooped out the gunk smeared on the inside. All my furniture came from K-Mart. I even begged them for the beat up floor models at a discount. I had my TV stand for three weeks before noticing that some uncouth customer had stuck a massive pink wad of Bubble Yum under the shelf.
Obviously, none of my fellow VJ friends were loaded either. Everyone was just barely scraping by. Still, I became indignant when a weather reporter magnanimously bestowed us VJ's with some left-over peanuts from a holiday party that none of us were invited to. Eyeing those three pathetic Ziplock bags of Planters party mix, I was livid. Was this any way to treat your professional colleagues? Scattering meager Christmas crumbs in our script-ripping area? But one by one all my co-workers’ eyes lit up as they exclaimed “Peanuts!” and happily wolfed them down. I realized it was a lost cause.
We were literally working for peanuts.