Doing Time on Sedgwick Avenue

Published January 8, 2003

by Phil Brody

Early on in my Chicago career, I went through some difficult times. I was living in a shoe box of a studio apartment — an apartment where my living room was also my bedroom and my couch was also my bed. I refer to that time, affectionately, as The Futon Year.

I lived across the hall from a crazy old woman named Alice, who incessantly listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio and sometimes actually yelled at him during the show. Her Chihuahua seemed to bark 24/7. For some reason, no matter how many times I corrected her, she called me Paul the entire time I lived next door. It absolutely drove me crazy. Worst of all, her apartment had a peculiar smell that somehow managed to seep into my living space.

Taking all of this into account, I can't explain why I actually miss her. Then I realize I might just miss that time in my life.

briefcaseThe Futon Year actually only lasted six months — six months of post-college reinvention, begging for a job, and discovering Chicago.

Some days were good. Some were bad. And then there was the worst day of all.

I admit, I was young and naive, but I was also ambitious. After reading all the great post-college text books (Ogilvy On Advertising, What Color Is Your Parachute?, Knock 'Em Dead - The Job Seekers Handbook, etc.) I got an idea in my head about making a great impression on prospective employers. I decided to hit the pavement, briefcase in hand, just like in the old days. And on one bright and sunny afternoon, I actually walked down Michigan Avenue, knocking on all the great doors I read about in those stupid books.

I knocked on Leo Burnett's, DDB Needham's, Foote Cone & Belding's, Ogilvy & Mather's, and even The Tribune Company's. I walked up to receptionists and asked to see anyone and everyone. I said, "Hire me," as I handed out resumes which highlighted work experience such as caddying at a country club in Ohio, working in a dining hall during college, and a bunch of made-up B.S. that filled out the page. "Hey world, check me out," was my adopted mantra. However, it seemed "Mr. Soandso" and "Ms. Theoneyouneedtospeakto" were always "out to lunch, in a meeting, out of the office, occupied, or not looking to fill any positions at the moment." I felt deflated, but also felt good about stepping up to the plate and trying something different. I felt good, that is, until I went home.

One thing you should know: My final door-to-door sales pitch was at The Tribune Company. I talked with a pleasant receptionist who took my resume and gave me the card of the individual with whom I needed to talk. The card read: Laura B_____ — Director of H.R.

I remember opening the door to The Shoebox and being welcomed by Alice's worst smell yet. I think the Chihuahua had either died, or shat out something terrible. A couple of barks confirmed the canine was alive and well. I entered my homestead, threw the briefcase on the futon, and loosened my tie. I desperately wanted to strip out the stupid suit I was wearing, but a blinking light on my answering machine delayed this event. "Someone called!" I thought. Maybe it was one of the prospective employers, so dazzled by my resume, they couldn't wait to call and schedule an interview. "Walking the street paid off!" I thought as I hit the Play button and settled in to hear my new boss' voice for the first time.

resumeThe message went something like this: "Hello, I'm calling for Philip Brofy. This is Laura B____ of The Tribune Entertainment Company. My assistant just handed me your resume and said you stopped in our offices to inquire about potential employment. Philip, I'm not sure what color the sky is in your world, but you don't just walk in off the street into a major corporation like The Tribune Entertainment Company and expect to see an employee such as myself. This is not the way you go about in search of employment. And I don't know of anyone in their right mind within this city who would take time to talk to someone who just walks into an office without an appointment. I'm giving you this advice to help you. And I hope, for your sake, you heed the advice. And I wish you luck in the future."

It's safe to say Laura ripped me a new one. I immediately hated her. I immediately vowed to crush her one day. Of course, I found solace in the fact that she couldn't even get my name right. She called me "Phil Brofy." If she couldn't even get my last name right, why would I ever listen to her advice?

Then, I happened to glance at a copy of my resume. The top of it read:

2051 North Sedgwick Ave. - Apt. #29
Chicago, IL 60614

I cursed my luck. I cursed the day. I cursed the typewriter keys for putting the D and the F so close together. And I cursed my lack of attention to detail, which I always cited as one of my strengths during interviews. It wasn't a strength of mine — who was I kidding? It was, in reality, a glaring weakness that Laura spotted without even meeting me.

The Chihuahua barked. Alice yelled at Rush on the radio. I caught another whiff of the stale air, and then I played Laura's message again and again and again. I was doomed. And I suddenly hit rock bottom.

That night, to cheer me up, two friends took me out for some beers. We were sitting in WiseFools — a great bar that sadly does not exist anymore — listening to a musician named Nicholas Barron. Somehow, I put the day behind me and just focused on the things that mattered. I spent time with two very special girls, who I still know to this day. I spent time with a musician who, over time, would become synonymous with my young life in Chicago. I spent time discovering my re-invented self in a city that was so new to me.

The night was magical, and suddenly I knew everything was going to be all right. I was just beginning to figure it out. I was discovering that life is a struggle, but, every now and then, we come across something special ... and it just makes everything all right. That night I stumbled upon the support of two invaluable friends. I stumbled upon the music of Nicholas Barron. I stumbled upon the strength I needed to cope with the H.R. Directors of the world. And as I went to sleep that night on my futon, in my shoebox of an apartment, with the stale smell of Alice seeping underneath my door, and her dog barking at nothing in particular, I knew everything was going to be all right.

shoeboxI was just doing my time in the world of milk crate coffee tables and Ramen Noodle nightly meals. I knew I was just doing my time on Sedgwick Avenue, and that someday I would actually miss it all.

The day I moved out of The Shoebox — after everything was packed into a truck that would move me five blocks north — I sat alone in that empty apartment, thinking about the last six months. It was a struggle I never wanted to forget and a place I was ready to get out of. But before I closed the door on that chapter in my life, I took a black Sharpie marker and wrote on the wall behind one of the radiators. After doing my time, I knew I needed to leave my mark.

I wrote: "Paul Brofy lived here." And then I moved on.

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