I suppose you’ll have to decide for yourself…
by Keegan Burke
At the house on Vine Street, we lived in the attic that had been transformed into a fourth apartment. A friend, in the transition into her career as a realtor had bought the 19th century house to get into the business of renting apartments. It had been renovated several times before, so that when I went under the sink to unclog the pipe that wouldn’t drain, I found the base of the basin clamped to a firehose cutting, clamped to a bit of exhaust pipe that disappeared into the wall. I closed the little wooden door and bought a bottle of Drano.
The first floor resident paid the highest rent. He’d been there since before the house changed hands, and invited us all to his parties with their strippers and cocaine. His pool table was nice. His friends were shallow. His cancer was deep, to the bone, so he was forgiven for the loud music and vomit on the lawn.
The couple in the room beneath us were a sometimes-couple. When she became pregnant with his daughter, it was less-sometimes, and more-oftentimes. He told me when he found out it was going to be a girl, that he had gone to the store that day and bought a bulletproof vest and a shotgun. I wondered if the vest was for her.
The neighborhood was filled with hundred-year-old miniature mansions that had been converted into affordable housing. Most of them weren’t falling down. They had been cared for more than their residents. Across from us was a house full of young men I never saw, save the friend of a friend that I befriended after waving across the street for a year. When my own old friend came to visit, he said, “wait, I think I know the guy that lives there.”
He was born in Newfoundland, the son of a Newfie and a Phillipino, and he looked like he could’ve been Dutch, but spoke like someone from a town that still remembered the old way of speaking English. We played dominoes late into the summer nights, with beers and joints and hand-rolled cigarettes on the porch. His house had vaulted ceilings and an ancient fireplace and windows with counterweights that were impossible to open.
He introduced me to the man that lived kitty-corner from me. He’d broken nearly every bone in his body thirty years before, when he was pulled under a San Francisco trolley. You’d never guess it if you didn’t see his scars, or his missing teeth, or the wild look in his eyes. He had no fear of death, nor any physical frailty. He subsisted off of white bread and water, which he drank only from cut crystal and fine antique glass.
He once held a translucent stone up toward the moon and told me, “The stone is like a filter. You direct your intentions to the moon, and they pass through the stone. They bounce off of the moon and enter the sun, where they are filled with energy. That energy returns to the moon, reflects back toward you, and is filtered by the stone. Your intentions are filtered, reflected, energized, reflected, filtered again, and then returned to you – all at the speed of light.”
He had a potato growing on a glass dish. He had given it only sunlight and love. It had everything it needed inside, and its branches crawled along the windowsill without wilting, with six years of leaves and a pink stalk. No soil, no water, only the substance it contained within, and the energy from the sun and a friend.
When I proposed she said she didn’t know. ‘I suppose that means I’ll have to try harder,’ I thought, and went back to bed. The second time I tried to make it special. I drove us to the mountains, laid out a blanket and unpacked the picnic I had prepared. She still wasn’t certain; and then it started to rain. I rushed to pack up our belongings, turned the key in the car door and felt it bend. The lock had been sticking and you had to wiggle it a bit. I wiggled it a bit, and I think it made her nervous. Or it was the rain… The key broke off in the lock; that made me nervous, but I managed to use another key to turn it and worked it out with a dime and a broken piece of pen. We got in the car wet and she apologized as I wriggled the broken piece of key into the ignition and thanked the heavens when the engine turned over. I’d ask her to marry me another time.
I supposed I’d better have a ring if I was going to ask again. Perhaps that was an assumption I should’ve made the first time. I bought the gold and a tank of oxyacetylene and built a workbench from a desk I’d found in the alley and some sheet-metal. I carved the mold from cuttlefish bone. I had no idea what I was doing, but like anything, the best way to learn is by doing it. I put my intentions into the bone, they were reflected off of the metal and energized by the torch. They globbed up into odd shapes and never melted fully in the crucible. It was a hot summer, but the wind that blew through the outdoor shop in the backyard of the hundred-year-old house I didn’t own, made it hard to melt white gold. It was an especially hard alloy – nickel-palladium white gold, I think. I found attractive chains and turned the precious globs into pendants – untraditional, but she finally said yes.
The night we decided to move out was better than some. At least, it started that way. It had been hot, somewhere in the hundreds, and when it was hot like that outside, the attic room turned into an oven that no amount of air-conditioning could remedy. We’d sit up sweating on the sofa with all the tiny windows open and the fan blowing air from the only AC toward the couch. There was clean laundry in the hamper beside the bed. Her hair smelled like strawberries.
The bang came from somewhere in the direction of the backyard. It didn’t sound like a gun, more like a mortar, and the sometimes-couple downstairs had moved somewhere else with their daughter and their gun. I don’t think either of us had any idea what the sound could have been, until I ran toward it and opened the bedroom door to a cloud of white dust. The ceiling had fallen on our bed, and the night was filled with the frantic opening and closing of doors and windows, and me yelling about the asbestos addendum on our lease. We threw away the bed and the bedding. We donned masks, and packed, and told our friends the time had come to leave.
In one of the many renovations of the house on Vine, the space above our top-floor apartment, the actual attic, had been sealed in. Moisture had gathered there, and the air, trapped with nowhere to escape, swelled and contracted, swelled and contracted, and that hot summer the air trapped above us expanded one last time, and the ceiling burst.
by Keegan Burke
As many of you may know, I recently transitioned to writing full time. Prior to 2022, I’d had several careers as a Chef, a Schoolteacher, a Gardener, and a lot of other jobs both related and unrelated in-between. It had always been my dream to be a writer, since the third grade, in fact. I found myself, as the years wore on, spending more and more of my free time writing, and in 2017 I began working in earnest on my first novel.
Along came 2019; I moved to Japan with my wife to care for her aging, newly widowed mother. I kept my bank accounts and an address in California as a home base, so that if I were to need to move back suddenly I could, and so that I would qualify for things like a driver’s license, freelance work in the US, etc. Since 2019, I’ve been back once. I stayed for several months to ease the pressures on my own family who are caring for the elderly, and to spend time with loved ones I hadn’t seen for years.
Upon returning to Japan, I began looking for work as an English Teacher. This was not my career of choice (I was a Science Teacher in the States), but it is what most of us foreigners in Japan do. In fact, if you don’t speak Japanese with at least some degree of fluency, you’ll have a hard time finding work doing anything else outside of Tokyo. Needless to say, I don’t live in Tokyo.
After applying to a handful of companies, I struck out again and again because my timing was terrible (I was looking for work in April – the beginning of the school year is March-April). A few of the companies liked me, but just didn’t have any open positions in my area. At that point I decided to go all in. I’m going to be a writer – hell or high water.
I started a website and began writing short pieces and submitting them to magazines. Now, about a month later, I’m still writing, still submitting, but still unpublished. In order to make a little money on the side while my work is being considered (and rejected) by publishers, I decided to try my hand at transcription. What have I got to lose, right? It would be good typing practice and it would be writing that pays, even if the words weren’t my own.
So, I signed up with Scribie, got my PayPal account verified and ready to go, and logged in to get started. Lo and behold, what do I see?
“PayPal accounts of California residents are disallowed due to AB5 Law.” (4)
Ok, I’m not going to let this discourage me just yet. I’ll research AB5, whatever that is, and build an informed opinion… So I Google AB5: jargon, legalese, gibberish, balderdash, more jargon… Huh. Wait, what? Horrifying realization.
So, it turns out that, in order to “protect” contract employees, California passed this law back in 2019 in response to Uber and Lyft, who were apparently flogging their drivers in the streets or something of the sort (If you are a driver who has been flogged by your employer, I apologize for making light of your suffering). The AB5 law effects ALL contract employees, including freelancers of any kind. It essentially forces employers to hire contractors as employees with benefits, unless they meet certain specific criteria. The text of the law states that people…
“shall be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor unless the hiring entity demonstrates that the person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, the person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and the person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.” (1)
Wait a minute… “free from the control and direction of…” who would ever pay this imaginary contractor… for anything? Aren’t contractors hired for something specific – i.e. controlled/directed? “…performs work…outside the usual course of…business…” So I suppose that bars me from writing for any magazines, journals, blogs, or anything else to do with writing? Finally, I’m an employee, not a contractor, unless I’m “…in an independently established…business.” I would assume that goes without saying.
At this point, I’m ready to smash something. How on earth am I supposed to get work as a freelance writer under these conditions? It turns out, I am not the only one who is upset about this, as it effects pretty much anyone who plans to do freelance work with a California address. I worry that it may well stop my freelance writing career before it has even began. I read on…
At the bottom of the text of the law, there is a laundry list of exceptions and exemptions. These include: insurance agent, physician, dentist, podiatrist, psychologist, veterinarian, lawyer, architect, engineer, private investigator, accountant, securities broker, investment advisor, salesperson, commercial fisherman, realtor, repossession agency, construction trucker, “business service provider,” ’employee of a contracting business or referral agency’ (talk about a loophole for exploitation), or an individual providing “professional services,” which I’ll get into in a moment.
I understand the reasons behind the law: “the Court cited the harm to misclassified workers…from companies that use misclassification to avoid obligations…etc. etc.” (1) But, rather than writing a law that provides protection for workers, California has written a law that discourages any company in the world from hiring California-based contractors. Many companies, like the aforementioned Scribie, are simply barring Californian freelancers because they don’t want to deal with the complications (4), others, like Vox, have laid off existing freelancers (3)(5), and still others, like the Los Angeles Times, have converted freelancers to employees. (5)
There is one stipulation in the law that intends to mitigate the harm done to freelance writers. This is the statement under “Professional Services,” which must “set their own rates,” “set their own hours,” “schedule their own appointments,” “maintain a business license,” and “Issue a Form 1099 to the business owner from which they rent their business space.” (1)
In Section 2750.3. (c)(2)(x): The law doesn’t apply to:
“Services provided by a freelance writer, editor, or newspaper cartoonist who does not provide content submissions to the putative employer more than 35 times per year.” (1)
Gee, thanks California. Now I can be a freelance writer, I just have to steer clear of plentiful and specific job opportunities that might include, but are not limited to: writing any kind of serial that would come out more than once per month on a given platform, transcribing, recording audiobooks, or engaging in any kind of work that involves many small jobs that can be done quickly on my own schedule for a small amount of pay per job.
In an effort to protect workers from exploitation, California has now made it more difficult than ever for people to be independent of exploitative employers by freelancing. This is extremely discouraging, but I will keep on plugging away, and perhaps I will be looking for ways to start over again with a new business address, new bank account, new PayPal account, etc. somewhere other than the great state of California.
California has now passed another law, AB2257 (6), which repeals part of the old law, rewriting it to get rid of a few of the specific things people complained about, such as the 35 piece limit for freelance writers. It also added several categories to the list of exempt contractors. In my opinion, this is good to know, but really does not address the issue of companies de-investing in California freelancers to avoid complications. If I could offer one piece of advice to the government, be it local, state, federal or international: SIMPLIFY YOUR SHIT.
Aside from a handful of lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians, nobody wants to sift through pages of documents, check all the boxes and fill out all of the applicable forms every time they swap in a new roll of toilet paper. We should not be creating legislation that has more text in the exceptions and exemptions than it does in the actual body of the law. If you actually expect people to respect your office and follow the rule of law, draft legislation that is clear, concise, and only addresses the problem it was created to address. At that, I will drop the proverbial mic.
For further reading on the subject, if you aren’t bored out of your wits already:
(1) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB5 (The Law)
(2) https://workspace.fiverr.com/blog/the-ab5-law-and-how-freelancers-are-affected/ (informative article on AB5 by Jodi Price)
(3) https://contently.net/2020/01/30/resources/we-polled-573-freelancers-about-ab5-theyre-not-happy/ (another great article by Philip Garrity)
(4) https://scribie.com/transcription-test#files (Scribie’s initial login page after you’ve created an account)
(5) https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/california-ab5-freelancers/ (another well-researched article about AB5’s implications by Rachel Pelta)
(6) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB2257 (2020 amendment to the Law)