Please Read: I’ve Made an Important Decision About the Future of This Website

jeffbeerHello Surf Reporters! Thank you for not skipping this one; it’s a very special episode, like when Blair became a heroin addict on Full House, or whatever.

For the past year, maybe longer, I’ve been toying with a radical idea, and have decided to pull the trigger on it. Frankly, it scares the crap out of me, but I hope that’s a sign it’s the proper course of action. All this living inside the comfort zone ain’t paying many dividends these days.

I’ll try to explain the rationale for my big decision.

Turning “pro”

Prior to 2007 this website was a straight-up hobby. Silliness abounded, and I loved it. Back in olden times — before commenting was even a thing — we had a crazy babyshit-yellow forum where anybody could post under any name. It was anarchy. There were people playing characters (Sam Gassaway, Mr. Chamberlain), and it was an absolute blast.

I took the site seriously, in that I updated every day I promised to update, but certainly didn’t think it would lead to anything beyond a bunch of like-minded folks screwing around.

Then there were a couple of successes (the Mike Piazza paycheck, Fucks in Deadwood), and I thought, “Hmmm…”

After I was summoned to a mysterious “breakfast meeting” at a hotel in Scranton in early 2007, and told my job of 17 years was being eliminated, I decided to try to take the site to the next level. I took a course called Blog Mastermind, which purported to teach folks how to become “pro bloggers,” and possibly even make a living at it someday.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I learned a lot. The course consisted of a series of .pdf booklets and videos, something like 25 lengthy informational mp3s, and a twice-monthly conference call where you could ask experts questions.

It was pretty great, really. Money well-spent, as far as I’m concerned. It was because of that course that I moved the site to WordPress, hired a designer to create a custom theme, and subscribed to a costly (to me) mailing list service: Aweber.

However, I learned some troubling things, as well. The Surf Report would have to defy steep odds to be truly successful. It was basically a personal blog, about a guy that nobody knows. Not a very good starting point… The life of Jeff Kay? People who give a shit about that particular subject make up perhaps the world’s smallest niche.

Also, the title sucks. The fact that West Virginia is included makes most people think it’s not for them. Of course, the site has little to do with my home state, but people don’t know that, and instantly move on. Also, there are a TON of inside-jokes (the Secrets, Nostrildamus, Poppa Half-Shirt) that’s undoubtedly baffling to the uninitiated.

Plus, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve struggled to make people understand the URL, I’d have a large collection of nickels. “OK, it’s T-H-E, THE. Then W-V-S-R. No, not W-S-V-R, W-V-S-R. It doesn’t work? Did you put THE at the beginning? No no, V as in… vibrator. …Oh forget it, I’ll just email it to you.”

Also, most of my posts were all over the place, and not about any one subject. Not good. It felt like I was doing everything wrong.

All this concerned me, but the site was doing well, regardless. So, screw ‘em. For long stretches of 2007 and 2008 TheWVSR was one of the 10,000 most popular sites on the internet. I know that doesn’t sound very impressive — Top 10,000? — but it’s pretty freaking lofty. As I type this, we’re ranked at 1,057,439.

I was having success, and had been using the West Virginia Surf Report name since Ronald Reagan was president — it had also been the title of my paper zine. So, there was no way I was abandoning it, despite what the gurus told me. I’d just continue to defy the odds.

smokingfishAnd exciting things started to happen

Literary agents began contacting me, I appeared on the National Lampoon Radio Show on XM (Sirius?), National Lampoon Press asked me to write a book proposal, I was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times and other papers, and was mentioned in Rolling Stone magazine.

So, I wasn’t exactly shoving wheelbarrows full of money to the bank, but all sorts of crazy opportunities were opening up to me.

And what did I do? That’s right, I wrote a novel. Right when things were heating up, I went underground and wrote a book of fiction. My agent at the time told me it was a mistake, but I did it anyway. He said it was very unlikely he’d be able to sell it, but I didn’t care. I had a great idea in my head, and needed to exorcise it.

This took me away from the site a lot, further dividing my attention. I was already juggling the Surf Report, the family, and a new job. Now I was adding something else to the mix. Hey, I never claimed to be the world’s greatest tactician…

Then shit got difficult

When I was laid-off from Warner Home Video, in late February of 2007, I was making $87,000 per year. It’s not an enormous amount of money, but it afforded us a comfortable life. The cost of living here is fairly low, and we were far from rich, but didn’t have to worry about how to pay the bills. And we could travel a bit… Life was good.

The company was extremely generous, and offered me a one-year severance package. So, for a full year I received my normal pay, health insurance, etc. In fact, I remained an active employee, I just didn’t have to show up for work anymore. I think they did it that way so they wouldn’t have to also pay unemployment benefits.

I decided I needed to make a minimum of $65,000 to maintain a semblance of our previous lifestyle, and began looking for jobs. I got really close twice, but couldn’t get over the finish line. Also, I was rejected out of hand a few times, because I don’t have a four-year degree. I had 17 years of experience, but that didn’t count for jack. The whole thing was excruciating.

As the months began to pile up, I lowered my minimum pay requirement, over and over again. As we were nearing the last few months of my severance, I was fully panicked and willing to accept just about anything.

And after all those horrible months, I was offered two jobs on the same day. It was an easy choice, and I was back in the saddle. But the pay was about what I was making in California — which wasn’t much. The previous seven years of solid progress had been completely wiped out. I was thankful to have a job again, but concerned about being able to keep the ship afloat.

I was writing Crossroads Road at the time, and my agent wasn’t returning my calls as quickly as he’d done in the past. And the site was suffering, as well.

It took a long time (longer than I’d anticipated), but money eventually became an issue. And it hasn’t really lightened up. Since 2009 or 2010 we’ve been spinning plates, trying not to let anything crash to the ground. I work a ton of overtime, which helps. But it’s still a struggle. We’ve tried to maintain our old life, on much less money. Crazy, I know.

The book was self-published, and did fairly well. It’s not perfect, the ending isn’t great, but I think it’s entertaining. And that’s all I was going for. But by this time I was being completely ignored by my so-called agent, and had to cut him loose. I’m sure he was devastated.

I hooked up with another agent right away, and she suggested I write a memoir-type humor book. We came up with a solid approach, and I jumped right back into another book project.

And the site was going down, down, down. The combination of money concerns, shitloads of hours at work, and the memoir caused me to become less and less engaged.

My new agent eventually told me I needed more traffic to the site, that the number of monthly visitors wasn’t nearly high enough. The goal she set for me was roughly what it had been in 2007/2008, before Crossroads Road. I’d already had it within my grasp, and let it slip away. Everything had been going my way, and I’d botched it. Wotta dumbass!

man-frowning (1)A couple of recent developments

The memoir was a struggle. There were long stretches where I was waiting to hear back from my agent, about the latest version of it. She’s busy, and I’m not blaming her; it just goes with the territory. But I’d wait and wait, and finally she’d tell me it needed more work.

All this made me a little crazy, but I did whatever she suggested. She’s very successful, and knows more about publishing than I ever will.

Finally, the manuscript was ready, and she presented it to ten well-known publishers. About six of them passed. A few had positive things to say about it, but there was a theme emerging… the book just wasn’t funny enough. It felt like someone had socked me in the gut. I’m not the world’s greatest writer, but not funny?? Man, that hurt.

She told the remaining publishers to hold off, and I was supposed to go back and punch up the manuscript. That was months ago, and I haven’t done anything with it.

And in February I applied for a job that sounded PERFECT for me. The pay was closer to my old Warner salary, and I felt like I had the skills to be successful in the role. I knew it was dangerous, but I allowed myself to get excited.

I applied, went through a screening, and heard nothing for a long time. Every day I yelled at my phone, “Ring, bitch!” Finally, it did. They set up a telephone interview (didn’t we already do that?!), and it was a little shaky. Not a disaster, but they hit me with a couple of questions that had me on the ropes for a couple of minutes. I thought I might’ve blown it, and heard nothing for a few weeks.

Then I received a fancy invitation-style email, telling me I’d made it to the final bracket, and was summoned to a face-to-face interview. They told me four managers would be there, and the interview would consist of nothing but situational “Tell us about a time…” questions.

I prepared like a sumbitch. I found an internet forum where people revealed the questions they’d been asked in similar interviews with the same company, and I came up with good scenarios for each. By the time the interview rolled around, I was fully coached-up. I was a little nervous, of course, but also confident I was ready.

It lasted about an hour, and I came out feeling like I’d aced the bastard. Now I was REALLY excited. I told Toney somebody else might’ve done better, but I, myself, couldn’t have turned in a better performance. I decided I had a legitimate shot at this thing, and confident I’d done my best. Which is quite rare.

Then nine weeks passed, with no word. Nine weeks! I have spies inside the company, and knew they hadn’t hired anyone; they were simply dragging their feet. I was losing my freaking mind.

And last week I received an email, telling me they were “moving forward with other candidates.”

You probably think I was devastated, right? Well, for some reason, I wasn’t. I was disappointed, but not devastated. Believe it or not, I just felt relieved to know their decision. By this late date, I’m used to bad news and rejection. There’s a lot of it, on the route I’ve chosen. So, whatever. It’s just time for the next thing.

The part I didn’t like? The waiting. It feels like I’ve spent the last two or three years waiting for the phone to ring, and for somebody else to tell me they’ve decided to change my life. The waiting takes its toll on me, not so much the bad news. And I don’t like that I’m giving other people so much power over me. Ya know? Please sir, can you find it in your heart to make my life better…

Click here to find out what I’ve decided to do

Filed under: Daily

  • A Touch o’ the Blues, and a Couple of Things I’m Actually Enjoying

    bluesbar (1)Hello Surf Reporters. I’m sorry I’ve been away so long, but I just couldn’t do it. Do you ever reach a point when you’re expending whatever emotional and physical energy you have left, simply to survive? And there’s nothing remaining in the tank for enthusiasm or laughter, or even human interaction? Yeah, me too.

    I don’t want to get all Oprah on you folks, god knows. And it’s not a big deal — just a touch o’ the blues. But things need to change. And I’ve been working on some stuff in the background, creating a tiny sliver of hope to which I’m able to cling.

    Whenever I hear someone bitching and moaning about their situation I always think to myself: “Well, change it, then. Endless complaining ain’t gonna help.” It’s all so simple when you’re on the outside looking in, but it feels way more complicated when the roles are reversed. The dirty little secret: it’s NOT more complicated.

    So, I’ve put some fairly radical things into motion, and I’ll let you know what’s going on, ASAP.

    I’ve also been waiting on a super-important phone call for weeks. I knew it was going to drag out, but it’s gotten ridiculous. And I’m one of the world’s most impatient men. This is driving me INSANE. Get it together, people! Jesus J. McChrist. I’m teetering on the edge out here.

    I got home from work at 2:30 this morning, and took Toney to the airport at 4:30. She flew to North (or is it South?) Carolina, to spend a few days with her crazy sister, and her totally normal cousin from Philly.

    She kept wanting to cancel the trip, because we can’t really afford such things. But I pushed for her to go through with it, because she needs a change of venue, as well. Any opportunity to step outside this murky little snow globe of raw sewage we’re living in should be taken, I reminded her. And she arrived down there before noon, and was already drinking a microbrew at an outdoor cafe when I spoke with her around 1. Good deal.

    I slept for about four hours, and was wide awake. So, I’ll be crashing hard around 7 pm. I know how these things go. But, I took a vacation day… so it doesn’t really matter.

    I know we’ve done this one before, but I’d like to know about the times during your life when you felt stuck, and managed to extract yourself. In the comments section, please tell us about the major reboots you’ve been able to pull off. I need the inspiration.

    And just so this one isn’t a TOTAL bummer, here are a couple of things I’m actually enjoying right now:

    The new album by The Old 97′s. Rhett Miller is a great songwriter, and anything he releases — band or solo — goes into the Automatic Buy category. This new one is especially good. It rocks, and the lyrics are often hilarious. Definitely recommended. I think it actually caused one side of my scowl to disappear for a few minutes. Check out the first song on the album.

    Also, the new memoir by Sara Barron. Her first book was freaking hilarious, and right up our alley. The new one is equally good. She sees things the way we do, and if you’re looking for a funny book with a smattering of bathroom humor, etc., grab either of her memoirs. They’re inappropriate in all the right ways.

    And I’m gonna turn it over to you guys now. In addition to your UNSTUCK stories, please also tell us about the things you’re currently enjoying. If anything.

    And I’ll try not to be gone for so long this time. Sorry about that. Will somebody please pass the hot water bottle? Sheesh.

    Have a great day, my friends.

    Now playing in the bunker
    Treat yourself to something cool at Amazon!

    Filed under: Daily

    A Few Quick Things, vol. 4

    HeimlichI think I’m starting to look waxy. Do you know what I’m talking about? When some men reach a certain age, they begin to look like exhibits at a wax museum? Think Billy Crystal, or Jon Voight. Of course, I’m not nearly as old as those bastards, but I can see it all going in the waxy direction. And I’m not a fan.

    Apparently “So….” has now replaced “You know what?” as our go-to sentence starter. Right? For the record, both annoy me to no end.

    “What do you want for lunch?”

    “So… I’m thinking Wendy’s.”

    What the hell, man? Are you brain damaged? Have you suffered a severe electrical shock? Why?! Why does this kind of thing keep happening?

    In more positive news, it seems that people have stopped saying “Really?” all the time. Or — and I sincerely hope this isn’t the case — I’ve just accepted it, and don’t really notice it anymore.

    It bugs the crap out of me, all this monkey-see, monkey-do bullshit. Get it together, people.

    You know what I never see anymore? Kids throwing a baseball around. When I was an ugly teenager (and before) I spent many an evening passing a baseball back and forth with a friend.

    We’d also buy these baseball-sized pink rubber balls at House of Toys, throw ‘em against the side of the NAPA auto parts store, and field the things. For hours.

    It got to the point where I was a pretty good fielder, and started at first base for the best Little League team in town — even though I was a horrible batter. I remember our coach, Dean Thomas, yelling at me in front of everybody: “Kay, if it weren’t for your glove you’d be sitting on the bench!” And then he turned to Ronnie Bush and said, “And if it weren’t for your bat, you’d be sitting right beside him.” Heh. Good stuff. Nowadays they’d have to send in grief counselors.

    But I never see kids passing baseballs in the yard anymore. My own kids told me, long ago, that baseball is “boring.” It was like a wooden stake, driven directly through my heart. And I don’t think black kids play the sport anymore, either. It’s all Latinos, Asians, and whiteys. It makes you wonder… If Willie Mays were 15 years old right now, would he be focusing on baseball, or some other sport? I’d put my money on some other sport. It’s too bad.

    A few weeks ago, when we went to New York City, I stopped somewhere in New Jersey (I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to call it Jersey), to buy gas.

    Some dude came bounding out, and asked what grade of fuel I wanted.

    “Oh, am I at the full-service pump? I’ll move,” I said. No way was I paying the full-service price. Funk dat.

    “In Jersey, everything’s full-service. In Oregon, too,” he answered (pronouncing it Ora-gone).

    Interesting. It seems like I knew this, at some previous point in my life. So, I got back into my car… while a stranger filled my gas tank. It felt really weird. I didn’t like it. It was foreign and strange, and almost an invasion of privacy, or space, or something. I can’t put my finger on the exact reason, but I didn’t care for it.

    I have no problem calling the man. No way I’m changing my own oil, or any of that nonsense, for instance. And I’ll let my fingers do the walking when it comes to most home repairs. But this gas thing felt like a bridge too far.

    I’ve had a yard service in the past, and felt a little guilty about it. I thought both my grandparents (and probably Dean Thomas) were looking down at me from heaven, and shaking their heads in disappointment. But I HATE mowing, and that trumped everything. If I could afford it, I’d hire a service today.

    Where do you draw the line on such things? And can you explain my feelings about the full-service gas? I can’t. Maybe you can?

    And I have to go back to work now. It’s not a good sign when you start your work week exhausted, but that’s what’s happening. I’m tired as a mofo, right now. Oh well.

    See you guys again next time.

    Have a great day!

    Now playing in the bunker
    Treat yourself to something cool at Amazon!

    Filed under: Daily

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    So, who is this guy?

    Thanks for stopping by! My name is Jeff Kay, I was born while JFK was president, and it's all very embarrassing and corny. Today I'm a suburban husband and father, who is sometimes accused of being a bit tightly-wound. The West Virginia Surf Report! is my creative outlet, and insurance policy against completely losing my shit. I hope you'll stick around and participate in the lively community of geniuses and curmudgeons who hang out here every day. I love a full 87% of them! And while you're at it, please follow me at Twitter and Facebook.

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