Suzanne Yeagley, McSweeney’s
In Search of Pigeon Racers:
An Interview with
Suzanne Yeagley, Interviewer of People Who Have Interesting or Unusual Jobs
Potato-chip assembly liners are allowed to eat the chips that are too closely clumped together. Pool lifeguards are likely to do whip-its in the pump room. Janitors will name their vacuum cleaners (e.g. “Maud”). Bingo callers are allowed to accept tips. Michael Ian Black and Mo Rocca have overlapping fan bases.
These interesting and unusual facts were gleaned from Suzanne Yeagley’s Interviews with People Who Have Interesting or Unusual Jobs, a long-running feature of Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, wherein the intrepid reporter grills census takers, repo men, auctioneers, magicians’ assistants, cutlery saleswomen, and Michael Ian Black fan-club presidents about the trials and tribulations of their admittedly odd jobs.
If you Google “Suzanne Yeagley” you’ll find a link to a Portuguese blog that states:Neste sítio há uma colecção de entrevistas com pessoas que tiverem empregos estranhos ou pouco vulgares, realizadas por Suzanne Yeagley. Os textos são excepcionais. Apenas um reparo: esqueceram-se de mim.Roughly translated via Babel Fish, the Portuguese blogger says this of Ms. Yeagley’s “strange and little vulgar jobs” interviews: “The texts are bonanza.” Indeed, meu amigo.
Sample question by Ms. Yeagley:
“Did guys ever bring the semen in anything other than the approved containers?”
[Posed to Dina N., sperm-bank employee.]
Y.P.R.: Interviewer of people who have interesting or unusual jobs is itself an interesting and unusual job, no? How did the job come to be?
S.Y.: It’s a great job. I feel very lucky. Basically I submitted an interview with my janitor friend a few years ago and McSweeney’s accepted it. Then I submitted a second interview and didn’t hear back from them, so I was a bit discouraged, but I continued to stock up interviews, in case I ever got the opportunity again. In the meantime I met Dave Eggers for about 30 seconds at a book signing and made an ass of myself. A few months after that, I decided to try again. That time, I sent them a few more interviews, and they decided to give me my own section on the site. I also had a few interviews with people who won oddball contests, but the job thing seemed like it had more going for it.
Y.P.R.: How do you select your subjects? How do you conduct your interviews?
S.Y.: In general I just ask everyone I meet if they’ve ever worked at Taco Bell or had any other crazy job. Usually this brings it right out of them. If not, I might prod a little bit, and most of the time people have had a job—if even for a week—that was so horrible or dull that they had to quit. Sometimes I seek people out though. For a while now I’ve been e-mailing people who raise homing pigeons, but no one will get back to me. Also dog show judges, but again I’m not having much luck. I’d say that half the time the interview is over the phone, and half the time it’s in person. Sometimes I prepare questions in advance but other times, when I know I have a crazy person on my hands, I just like to see where things will go.
Y.P.R.: Have you ever spontaneously approached an unsuspecting stranger who appeared to be employed in an interesting or unusual fashion and thrust an interview upon him or her?
S.Y.: I don’t think so. I’ve definitely had that urge but I can be pretty timid. So I just thrust myself on friends of friends. The limo driver was random—he was giving me a ride. People are usually pretty happy to tell their story, though a lot of the time they don’t want you to use their real name.
Y.P.R.: Of all your interviewees’ jobs, which is the most interesting? The most unusual? Least?
S.Y.: For some reason I love the potato-chip-factory guy. The line about Silkwood just really made me laugh. And people seem to like the Zippy the Mailbox one too. I’m not sure whose was the least interesting so far. The one about the Air Force U.F.O. program wasn’t completely exciting, but it made me laugh too because I was so enthusiastic and Mr. Haapanen was more dry and matter-of-fact.
Y.P.R.: Hey, what’s your presumably uninteresting and usual day job? And, for that matter, what type of wacky job experience have you had?
S.Y.: I’m a tech writer at a software company. However I’ve worked: at a marina store in the Utah desert, at a ski lodge in Vermont, at a titanium factory in Oregon, at a J.C. Penney catalog phone center in Pennsylvania, at Dunkin Donuts for the midnight to six a.m. shift, at Pizza Hut for one day, at my father’s construction company, at several other pizza places, at an architect’s office, and at Microsoft (and this one I can actually use on my résumé).
Y.P.R.: A marina in Utah? Is that for the Great Salt Lake? Or just a poor choice of location? (And have you lost your taste for seafood?)
S.Y.: The marina was called Bullfrog Marina. It’s on Lake Powell, which extends from Utah down into Arizona. I worked at a little marina store, where people would come to stock up on food and ice for their trips—they would rent houseboats and go on the lake for a week at a time. I also sold fishing licenses while I was there, though I’ve only been fishing once or twice in my life. People would always ask, “What’s biting today?” and I would reply, “Small-mouth bass, around the edges.” I’d heard someone say that once and people seemed to take it for a reasonable statement.
Y.P.R.: How do you do on job interviews (the kind in which you are seeking employment, not prodding for answers)? Any comedy/horror stories there?
S.Y.: I think I can be super-candidate sometimes. I don’t look too frightening and I am enthusiastic. I guess you’d have to ask people who’ve interviewed me. There was one story where I used to work about a girl who was so nervous during an interview that she wet her pants. That will always stick with me as something to try to avoid.
Y.P.R.: Who would you rather interview: George W. Bush or someone who impersonates him at parties?
S.Y.: Ug. I don’t think either one would really interest me. It would probably be more interesting to hear from someone who was at the party handing out drinks.
Y.P.R.: To what lengths have you gone for an interview?
S.Y.: I don’t have any good stories in this area. People are generally pretty open. The trucker interview is actually my friend’s husband, so he made me look inside his truck’s cab (which was pretty damn interesting) and he made me pull the thing that makes the horn go. (I know that’s not the right word but I just can’t think of it. ) It was very loud and intimidating.
Y.P.R.: Is there an elusive white whale you’ve been trying to question?
S.Y.: The pigeon people. Also this lady from Match.com who is on maternity leave and will be back in September. I’ve been thinking about people who work in funeral homes but you just don’t want to pick an easy target.
Y.P.R.: Do interviews conducted via e-mail feel artificial to you? Does the lack of spontaneity allow better or worse responses?
S.Y.: I avoid e-mail interviews. I haven’t done one yet. Usually I don’t have all of my questions worked out, and I think I get a better feel for how people talk when I hear them.
Y.P.R.: Would you share something interesting or unusual about yourself?
S.Y.: I’m as dull as they come. When I was younger I was exciting. I lived in my car for a short time and traveled all over the place. Now I live in the suburbs and watch Mets games.
Y.P.R.: Have you read Studs Turkel’s Working (in which he interviewed thousands of Americans about their workaday jobs)? Or, failing that, have you seen the crappy musical based upon that book?
S.Y.: I hate musicals. But I have heard of Studs Turkel and I have leafed through some of his books. I know that everything I do has probably been done before. I try to interview people who are disgruntled or at least make me laugh. I guess you could say that’s the “angle” I’m going for.
Y.P.R.: Who’s your favorite interviewer (TV or print)? Who do you wish would interview you?
S.Y.: I hate Diane Sawyer and that space between her eyebrows. She always looks at people with this perplexed look and proceeds to ask obvious questions. It burns me. I thought I liked Charlie Rose but then I realized he inserts himself way too much into the interview. This is a lame answer but I guess I would say Howard Stern. There’s something about asking complete strangers about their sex life that’s unbelievable to me.
Y.P.R.: If “yeagley” were a word, what would it mean? (We think it sounds adverbial.)
S.Y.: My friend Andrea says it means “clitoris.”
Y.P.R.: You often give your interviews pretty cool conversationally derivative titles. What would you title this interview?
S.Y.: “In Search of Pigeon Racers.”1
Y.P.R.: O.K., time to prove yourself: Please ask us a question.
S.Y.: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Y.P.R.: That question frightens us. Frankly, we’re not sure where we’ll be in five days. Hopefully, still alive, and possibly dancing on the white sands of Fiji with our topless girlfriends, native Fijians to whom we may have inadvertently proposed by walking clockwise around a bonfire.
So, Ms. Interviewer—how did we do?
S.Y.: I appreciate it. I’m not used to someone taking an interest in what I do—I think most people aren’t and it feels good. So thanks.