The Questionable Internship from Craigslist
Great stories start like they always do: by answering an ad on Craigslist.
It was the middle of June. I was taking summer school as a last ditch effort to get my bachelors degree in humanities. You know, where the real money is.
This degree was the only one they’d give me that scraped together all of my half-hearted college credits over ten years of failing to finish college. Don’t ask me how many community colleges I’ve been to. Oh alright, I’ll tell you: five.
For school credit, I decided to find an internship. And if you know anything about internships, you know the treasure trove starts on craigslist.
Scrolling through like a pro, Craigslist is how I found a seven year relationship (yes, I know. Don’t worry, we broke up eventually), a collection of usable-but-pretty-gross furniture, and a tank for my beloved turtle (RIP Fuji). Eventually, I came across a cool, versatile multimedia company that was looking for a remote intern.
I closed my eyes. Could this mean my first foray into working from the comfort of my own home and vast pajama collection?
The post mentioned creating material for all genres, including illustrative graphic novels, video editing and voice overs for music videos, educational documentaries, brochures, speculative fiction (whatever that means) and so on. It did not, however, include the name of the company itself. Classic Craigslist, always keeping me guessing!
So, I sent in my application to the void with my most earnest efforts.
I got a call from Séan Martin (Spelled S-É-A-N, with an apostrophe, an important note to remember) later that day.
“Hello, is this Sarah?” Séan said, his voice dripping with suave confidence. He sounded like a rich person. This was a voice of a CEO, a king on the mountain top, overlooking his peasants.
“Hi, is this Sean?” I ask, my hands covered in poor student sweat.
“It’s pronounced “Shane” — it’s French.”
“Sarah,” He used my name again with a pause, like they do when they train you in sales. Make them comfortable, make them think they’re listening to you.
“We recently had a cancellation with our other intern. Would you like to join the team, Sarah?”
When I say I was elated, I was truly, grossly elated. I kept it cool on the phone, however. I was in my mid-to-late 20s after all, this wasn’t my first Craigslist rodeo. But after I got off, I started immediately crying big guppy tears of joy. Could it be this easy? All of my gullible attempts at going for my dreams are finally paying off? See you later, suckers!
My heart started giving TED talks on how to publish novels. I was driving around in a refurbished old VW Bug, (my dream automobile) with an effortlessly cool haircut. I was already 10,000 light years outside of reality and I hadn’t even seen the website yet. I couldn’t even find Séan-pronounced-Shane Martin’s LinkedIn page, but did it matter? I’m hypothetically rich, afterall. A stranger from the internet liked me!
I didn’t sleep that night, obviously, as I was floating through the cosmos of disillusioned space and time. The next morning I finally got the details. I clicked on the website Séan sent…and it was a mess. My heart dropped.
There were three books listed, two of which were written by someone named Shawn Cole. The covers all looked as if they were pieced together quickly. I noticed spelling errors immediately. There were two videos, and they sounded like they were re-recorded with white noise and subtle murmuring. I got a vague sense of ickiness trickling into my morning coffee as I prepared for my first phone meeting with “the team”.
We all got on a conference call at 8am and Séan introduces me. These people were working remotely from around the U.S., even though the company was located in Cincinnati.
Well, that’s strange. Why does no one work in the company locally? My brain wondered. Shut up, Sarah, my heart swelled up like a peacock on steroids. Don’t ruin this for us.
Susan was the lead editor and an elderly woman that talked a mile a minute. Julia, was another intern from Tennessee. Charlie was the Californian writer and editor, and Maxine was the art director from Florida.
Everyone was talking over each other, with Susan leading the pack. Séan was the only male voice in the sea of women trying to gain weird dominance over what I quickly realized was a non-company. His voice cut through the vocal static,
“Sarah, do you understand your duties assigned?”
“Yes,” I said vaguely. Not because I did, but because I wanted to get off of the phone and cry for a different reason.
After the conference call, I feverishly clicked back on Shawn Cole’s book selection. One was called, “When Will the Lies End?” which was an entire novel about someone being wrongfully accused of a crime. Naturally, I wanted to know what crime this Shawn guy committed. Like the junior detective that I was, I decided to google Shawn Cole’s name.
Shockingly, a slew of incriminating information came across my screen.
Shawn Cole not once but twice impersonated someone and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. He went to jail for years. In a small town next to Cincinnati, Shawn Cole was infamous. His name being reported over and over again in all of the local papers. Flashes of imagery of a man once in a high powered suit, then walking to jail in handcuffs seared into my brain.
According to the news, Shawn Cole lied about having a doctorate in education so he could infiltrate university funding, and another time he stole over a 100 thousand in government funds. This was something that seemingly came easy to Shawn Cole, a man who must know what he is doing. He probably has a voice like butter, like a smooth operator, I thought to myself.
Wait a minute.
I debated on asking any of the others if Séan and Shawn were the same person. I paced back and forth in my micro studio apartment. It was a short walk. Could it be this obvious? Is that why everyone was working remote, so they didn’t know who he really was? I couldn’t be the only one that discovered this. There were only three books on the website for crissakes. What should I do?
Then again, I really needed the school credit.
Another month passed. I did the best that I could with the resources I had, and Séan wanted me to work exclusively with an artist to create a comic book. What a dream! When I saw the pages of art however, it turned into yet another strange nightmare.
This can’t be real, my brain said, visibly disgusted by how disappointing the images were. There were dark smears of brown and grey, with some vague sense of shape and form. It reminded me of artwork you would lie to your child about while avoiding eye contact. The book was about a little girl fighting a dragon, but one couldn’t tell. I had to continuously stop myself from deleting the imagery and ghost the entire organization.
“Aren’t these drawings great?” Séan asked me on a conference call with Susan the head editor. “These are great!” Susan parroted back to Séan. “Yes,” I was able to squeak out. I only had about a month left before Séan could sign off on my school credit, and I was trying my best to keep it all together.
Meanwhile, Séan shipped some of the latest marketing material to my house to take a look at. Within seconds I saw that the images were poor quality, and the text was cut off on several pages. Are we actually selling these to the masses? Are we selling these to anybody? The company also released a music video of a young kid trying to beatbox. Was all this just an extravagant avant garde performance piece? Was this just soaring so far above my head that I truly didn’t get the genius of it?
I glanced at my collection of observational notes that were quickly building since the start of the internship:
- Séan Martin is most definitely Shawn Cole
- How is having three books and two crappy videos a sustainable business model?
- Why did Séan hire people from all over the US, none of which have actually ever met him?
- How is he affording any of this?
- Is this what money laundering looks like?
I finally broke down and vaguely asked Julia the other intern for some intel. And by intel, I asked her why Séan started this company in the first place. It was a weak effort in trying to gain some sort of framework to my tornado mind.
“He wanted to create an empire for his daughter,” she said matter-of-factly. I didn’t know he even had a daughter.
My heart put its hands on its hips. See, Séan isn’t so bad. He’s trying to build something from scratch to give to his daughter. Even you, Brain, can appreciate that. Brain shrugged its meaty shoulders. Maybe, but maybe not. It’s hard to say what is and isn’t real anymore. You have two weeks left in your internship, anyway.
Another week went by, and my internship was ending shortly. I get an email from Séan, congratulating me on all the hard work I’ve done, and wanted to give me a $200 dollar stipend. It was an unpaid internship, which was why I was comfortably watching chaos and bad art unfold from the sidelines, but I was also poor, so yes, please. I will take your “where-is-this-even-coming-from” money!
I gave him my paypal address, and waited. A few weeks went by. I learn that one book sold 89 copies which was a “company record”. 89 copies?
Another week goes by, and they made a PSA video with incredibly politically incorrect language. My teeth clenched in discomfort watching it, but LORD, I could not stop watching it.
However, 200 dollars is in fact 200 dollars, so I messaged Séan one final time. Afterward, I decided to hang up my junior detective hat indefinitely.
Maybe it was all a scam, or maybe it’s just a man trying to build a life for his daughter with a questionable uninformed media company. Maybe Séan was trying to be innovative in this rough and tumble world and missing the mark by a few hundred yards.
I gave up hope until I got an email from Séan in December:
It’s Séans daughter. My father got in a horrible accident and he is unable to pay you at this time. We don’t know if he’s going to make it. My apologies.