"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 May 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

What's My Line?



Coyly multicultural IBM ads

remind us that the global

village has become the global

office, and a burgeoning leisure

industry aims to structure our

free time even more rigidly than

our work life - is it any wonder

that so many people feel as if

they have no chance to do

absolutely nothing anymore?



In a culture where indolence is

rare, media depictions of the

glorious leisure of layabouts

(like Seinfeld and Friends)

become the preferred method of

escapism - time porn. Still, the

most compelling real-life idols

are anything but idle. Kramer

may make us laugh, but if you

had your choice, wouldn't you

rather be Shaquille O'Neal?

While even one job is enough to

overwhelm most people these

days, he's managed to excel at

almost half a dozen. In doing

so, he's emerged as a kind of

modern mythic figure, a master

of the time-scarce,

overspecialized world that

enslaves the rest of us.


[da Vinci]

In addition to Shaq, a swarm of

other hyper-industrious types

have been capturing the public's

imagination over the last few

busy years. Deion Sanders, Newt

Gingrich, Greg Kinnear - the

list goes on and on. Call them

the multi-taskers. Like

computers that run several

different applications at once,

these people are able to

simultaneously pursue two or

more careers.


[Mr. Big]

Of course, multi-tasking isn't an

entirely new phenomenon; Shaq

and his ilk have had many

predecessors. Probably the most

celebrated was Leonardo da

Vinci, whose MacGyver-like

ingenuity led to his lasting

renown as an engineer,

architect, and scientist, as

well as a painter and sculptor.

Indeed, it seems unlikely that

some future tycoon will ever

vanity-splurge 30 million bucks

on the sundry musings of any of

today's multi-taskers, though we

imagine the bidding for a Shaq

Snaq wrapper will start pretty




And even if most of today's

multi-taskers are only mediocre

at the majority of careers they

pursue, we don't really hold it

against them. At least they

suggest the possibility that one

can still break free from the

limits of time and career

inertia to embark on some

exciting new occupational path.



As it is, the diverse

accomplishments of many of them

are more than enough to make

mere mortals sick with envy.

How, one wonders, can Beastie

Boy Michael Diamond so expertly

juggle careers as a pop star, a

clothing store magnate, a

magazine publisher, and a record

label executive? How does writer

publisher singer vj actor

scowler Henry Rollins, with his

busy schedule, ever find the

time to experience the hopeless,

savage, eminently marketable

alienation that launched his

career in the first place?


Multi-taskers do have their

tricks, of course. The typical

multi-tasking gig is rarely a

40-hour-a-week engagement, and

even while "working," the

multi-tasker often experiences

frequent downtime. In an average

basketball game, for example,

Shaq has plenty of opportunities

during timeouts and foul shots

to conjure lyrics for his next



[Planet Hollywood]

More significantly, multi-taskers

benefit from the fact that

many of the careers they pursue

are quite similar. In the same

way that it's easier to learn

Photoshop once you already know

Illustrator, it's also

apparently easier to become an

actor if you already happen to

be a successful singer or

rapper. In the realm of

multi-tasking, these

complementary professions

function as occupational suites:

lawyers, with their ploddingly

obsessive approach to human

behavior, tend to make good hack

novelists. Rappers, with their

gift of gab and cartoonish

egomania, tend to make good

actors. And actors, with their

expansive personalities and

waiter/bartender backgrounds,

move inevitably towards



Still, success in one career

never guarantees success in

another: the fruits of

ill-advised labors, usually CDs

or books, decompose quickly into

camp. More than fodder for the

knee-jerk smirking of a thousand

mannered hipsters, however,

these efforts serve as stark

evidence of fame's intoxicating

nature. Was there really a

moment in John Travolta's fast

ascent to stardom, for example,

when an album of turtle-necked,

cringe-inducing crooning seemed

like a savvy career move?



In today's climate of frenzied

cross-marketing, the desire to

serve as all-purpose media fuel

is harder than ever to resist.

Producers and publishers,

knowing that cultural shelf

space is easier to obtain for an

already-branded entity, will

generally accommodate the

ambitions of nascent

multi-taskers, however shakily

founded. In a channel-surfing

world, maximum exposure is the

key to success.



Thus, when I noticed in the want

ads the other day that Kinko's

was seeking part-time desktop

publishers, I saw it as a golden

opportunity to enhance the St.

Huck brand: in addition to my

careers as office drone and

freelance faultfinder, I could

become a service center serf.

Certainly that would add to my

up-and-comer, how-does-he-manage-

to-pull-it-all-off cachet. But

when I passed the idea by a

friend, she simply rolled her

eyes and dismissed it with a

wave of her hand. "It's only

cool to multi-task when all the

jobs you're doing are so

glamorous regular people would

kill to have just one," she

explained. "Anything else is

just moonlighting."

courtesy of St. Huck