A Weasel Lurks in Boonton

Thus far in my freelance career I've been fortunate to work for people who are professional and trustworthy. While I've tried not to take this for granted, it wasn't until a real weasel came along that I remembered how incredibly fortunate I've been. (Not quite as eloquent or dramatic as Madeleine L'Engle's: "Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light," but same principle.)
It's not that I haven't been approached by grifters, I have. Just recently, a man reached out to me after finding my resume on Indeed.com. The first time he contacted me he said he was from one company. In a subsequent email, that company name changed but the role stayed the same. Curious to find out what it was all about, I responded with my rates, as requested, and he told me he could pay exactly half. Um... 

When I remained firm, he began to badger me, sending emails that read: "Just try it! It'll probably take half the time you think it will!" (I don't know anyone who thinks analyzing real estate data and then composing a succinct market summary ever goes by faster than they initially estimated.) 

Despite his unwillingness to match my rate, he continued to email to ask if I'd started his project yet. As a friend wisely suggested, I should've told him, "Since you can only pay half, I can only send you half the work." Still, I wasn't sure I'd get anything out of this clown. So, I did a quick Google search and, sure enough, found a writer asking if anyone was familiar with this man and his company as he'd completed an assignment but hadn't been paid. No surprise there.

I've had many others connect with me via LinkedIn to ask me to write for free, as if my sheer love of words is all the compensation I need. "Bummer. I thought you'd want the experience," they'll say when I decline. 

At my age, in addition to gray hairs and not-so-fine lines, I've also got plenty of experience. (And besides, does anyone ask a plumber to drop by and snake a toilet for free because he's got the tools? No. No they don't.)

Throughout these disappointing exchanges, I try to keep it professional and never burn any bridges as the writing business is akin to a room full of funhouse mirrors – you turn around and you're bound to find someone you recognize.

At the moment, I have enough work to keep me busy. But because I also have self-diagnosed post traumatic layoff disorder in which I keep imagining us losing our jobs again and again...

I'm always on the lookout for new opportunities. 

Back in March, I saw an ad on Craigslist that interested me. A marketing company based in Boonton, NJ was looking for a real estate writer. So I composed an email, included links to my portfolio, and attached my resume. Within minutes, the owner of the company responded to set up a phone interview. 

From the get-go there were red flags. First, though he chose the time, he called about 20 minutes late and, without an explanation or apology, launched into how hard it is to find good writers. 

Second, while sounding exasperated, he prattled on about his "difficult" client – a well-known real estate company – and how exhausting it was for him to have to do everything himself. (Wow, you make this sound like dream job, sir! Can't wait to get onboard and hear more of your complaints!) 

Third, while he was thrilled that I had experience writing in the real estate space, he was hoping that I was also a successful real estate broker. (If I were Ryan Serhant would I be answering Craigslist ads, dude? C'mon now!) 

Fourth, he was glad I lived within driving distance so I could stop in for regular meetings (let's not get ahead of ourselves!). He'd just built a "big, beautiful office" inside his home, he said. (Isn't this the way the creepiest Dateline episodes begin?) 

Fifth, I'd checked out his company website and Facebook page, where there were two five-star reviews – written by him and his assistant. (Sigh.)

But, despite all this, I said I'd tackle his trial assignment – for an agreed-upon fee. He promised to send me the style guide, which he he'd painstakingly written himself, he bragged. 

Red flag number six: It was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.

Still, I sat down on a Saturday morning, wrote the piece, and sent it back as time was of the essence, he'd insisted. A week went by. Nothing. I reached out to ensure he'd received it. He had, but again, he was just so so busy, he had no time to look at it. Several more weeks went by. Nothing. I sent another message, which got no response. Then, I sent my invoice. (You can guess where this is going!) No acknowledgment. More time passed and then two weeks ago, he had the nerve to call me, pretending that he wanted to send me his style guide and "try me out" if I were still interested.

I told him he must've been confused, I'd done all that and was waiting for the payment. Did he need my PayPal info again? I inquired. Oh no, he said, he was confused! He had the assignment and my invoice. He had everything! (Except common courtesy or basic human decency.) He just remembered he was calling to see if I was still interested in working with him as he desperately needed a writer and was anxious for me to get started. (Kind of exactly what he'd said two months prior...)

Now here's where I blew it. I should've said, "Yes, of course! I'd be happy to begin just as soon as you send me that payment!" But instead I said, "When I didn't hear from you for two months, I accepted another project (true), and am no longer available." 

(Let's be honest, even if I were reduced to eating the crumbs that litter the floor of my mini-van, I would not work for this jerk.)

And, of course, he launched into a mini-monologue about how that was probably for the best because the learning curve was just so steep (think: Machu Picchu) and seeing as how I wasn't a successful real estate broker, well...

"Right, sure," I agreed, and followed up with, "So do you need my details to send that payment?"

"No, no, I got 'em. I got your invoice. I'll send it," he said.

Now, I should note that this wasn't a huge sum of money. But I don't care if you've promised me $1,000 or a bag of Chuck E. Cheese coins as payment, if we agreed to it, that's what I'm expecting. So cough it up.

Of course he didn't, forcing me to go all paper-boy-from-Better-Off-Dead on him.

Aweek later, I followed up with a phone call and forwarded the original invoice. He wrote back a simple "Done." 

But... when I still hadn't heard from PayPal five days later, I wrote again to say, "Did you send it? I never received it."

Are you sitting down, because this is a doozy... He wrote back to say he'd sent the money to "the wrong Elizabeth" and had decided he'd only send me half the agreed-upon amount since I refused to work with him. 

"I consider the matter closed," he wrote. (Cue my screaming.)

Here's where you come in:

What Should I Do?

Create a 'Three Billboards' Style Smear Campaign Outside of Boonton, NJ
Suck It Up & Be Glad I Haven't Encountered More of These Losers
Ask Friends, Family, and Strangers at Shop-Rite to Leave Business-Crippling Yelp! & Facebook Reviews
Write Back Like a Professional Adult & Say, "We Both Know That's Not What We Agreed to."
Threaten to Contact Pint-Sized Powerhouse Judge Judy
Drink More Rosé & Pretend None of This Is Happening
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