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Field Report 8: A Day in the Life of a Freelancing Spy


One of my biggest complaints about research was that it was sedentary. I would spend hour after hour sitting in front of a computer working on my CRT tan, wishing all the while that I could be out in the world, seeing what "real" people do during the day. And after my last column, you might think that very little has changed. Didn't I say that I spent all day opening and reopening computer images?

Well, on those days that I work all day at "the nonprofit," that is about all that I do. Except when we all take an iced-tea break at the nearby pizza place. I try to never miss one of these, because we inevitably gossip about everyone who isn't there, and I prefer to be the gossiper and not the gossipee. But I digress.

Like I said, on those days that I spend 8 hours working at the nonprofit, I rarely stand up (thank God for comfy rolling chairs). But as my freelancing career picks up steam, those days are becoming few and far between.

One day last week, for example, began at 4:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. Or, as my wife called it when my mobile phone started jaboodling, "Four-f**king-thirty." "I knew I should have shut that thing off before I went to bed," I thought as I tried to ignore both my wife and the phone.

Both Mrs. Spy and I resisted answering the first time it jaboodled, but by the second call she gave in and answered it. I wasn't too surprised when she returned with the phone and growled "It's for you, sleepyhead." It is nearly impossible to ignore an angry wife brandishing a cellular phone at four in the morning, so I took it.

It turns out that 4 a.m. PST is 7 a.m. EST (news flash), and my editor at an East Coast publication had to have an article of mine ready by 8 a.m. EST. "But I e-mailed it to you," I protested.

"You did send me an e-mail," he agreed, "but there was no article attached."


I sent him another e-mail, with the article securely attached, and tried to go back to sleep. No luck. All I could think about was the three interviews I had to do for another piece later that morning. Fortunately, they were mostly with people on the East Coast, so I could start early.

So I dragged myself out of bed, walked the dog, bought a New York Times (Science Times today!) at the neighborhood store, fed the dog, fed the cats, watered the plants, ate a bowl of granola, read the Science Times (and the sports), and put on a pot of coffee. Six o'clock PST, nine o'clock EST. Time to start those interviews.

They went smoothly, so I quickly (one and a half hours for 350 words) wrote out the story and e-mailed it to another editor in the east. It was 9:30 a.m. Time to go to the nonprofit, which is a 5 minute drive away.

Two hours of uninterrupted lesson development later, I was back on the road to a lunchtime meeting with a professor at the university. I am helping him write a brochure, and we needed to decide which pictures to include and which to leave out.

Then, ZOOM, back to my house for a quick tuna-fish sandwich (I love tuna-fish sandwiches, especially with potato chips) while flipping back and forth between the Women's Professional Billiards Championship and the latest Jewel video, which I now know they play at exactly the same time every day, because I am almost always here with my tuna-fish sandwich.

After lunch, it is back to the nonprofit for another uninterrupted hour and then off to my guitar lesson. What?!? Hey, even Spies have to have a little fun! And fun it is. We work out Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" and then spend half an hour jamming to Little Walter tunes. It's 3:00 p.m. PST.

I arrive back home just in time to get a call from my editor telling me that the edited version of my article is in the e-mail. Could I please revise it and send it back ASAP? I say sure. The revisions turn out to be minor, and I have it back to him in a half-hour. I have about an hour before he sends back the final edit for my "approval," which I fill by writing text for the brochure.

No call yet from my editor, so I watch an episode of The Simpsons. Heh, heh, heh, that Bart, he is such a bad news bear.

Finally, my editor sends back the final version of the article. It looks great. And it looks done. I give him the OK to post it. It's 5:45 p.m. PST.

Is the day over? Not quite. I still have to bang out a Spy column. Fortunately, that part of the day, which is actually a part of the night by the time I finish, is always fun. Too bad I only get to write one a month.

The Spy is a scientist living and job-searching somewhere in the Western half of the United States.

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