Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 129 of Double-barrel Unemployment: Not NEARLY The Party That Most Days Are

Wednesday April 8, 2009

I remember this day. I was still feeling a little discouraged about my job search. I know the advice contained in my rejection letter from a couple of weeks prior was constructive and well-intentioned and all; there was just so much of it. I had a lot to work on. Plus, I had not developed any good leads since that interview. The economy - even here in the supposedly recession-resistant DC area - was still in a foul state. Even my recruiter/headhunter contacts were starting to sound dour, and that's not good - these people tend to be extremely positive, almost like salesmen. There was a strong, chill wind blowing outside. Bleah.


Not one, but two silver linings appeared and sent my day scampering in a better direction, that afternoon. First, I finally set up my photo blog and completed the first little post. It felt good to do something somewhat creative. It still does. Very few people are looking, and I'm okay with that. In many ways, the photo blog and this blog are like talking to yourself in the car; very low-cost therapy.

The second instant day-improver came in the form of my bi-weekly Maryland Unemployment Insurance Benefits payment. This always makes me happy. As you may have heard in the news earlier this Summer, there are a lot of educated men and women in prestigious, high-level elected offices who believe that unemployment benefits payments to the jobless are a disincentive put any effort into finding work. A couple of these leaders went so far as to phrase it such that we unemployed people choose to remain unemployed; that we prefer these little payments to getting hired.

Well, I hate to disappoint my bleeding-heart liberal friends, but the above is SO TRUE!! I simply adore being jobless. Sure, the first couple of layoffs sent me scrambling to find new work as quickly as I could. As I recall, after that first one in 1995, I was so proud of myself for finding a new job before I received a single penny of unemployment benefits. What was I thinking??? I know better, now. By Day 129 of this layoff, I had come to fully embrace the government-subsidized life of the unemployed layabout.

I started slow, hesitant to "take advantage" of the system. I paid cash for groceries, filled the car with just enough gas to get me to and from the store, fixed broken stuff in the house etc..

Before long, I realized just how good I really had it. So, my $360 a week (after taxes, including the extra $25 from the Feds from one of their "emergency recovery acts") began to seem like found money. [Maris]'s job at her own little Vortex Of Doom looked stable enough, right? I'd roll out of bed at about noon and play video games until at least 3:30, when I'd switch to Sports Center for a couple hours. I started sending out exactly the required-for-continued-eligibility number of résumés (two) per week, and made sure they were for jobs for which I could never be hired. I took up smoking and quickly accelerated to two packs a day. There went $140 of my bi-weekly $360.

I expanded my binge drinking of only top-shelf tequilas and rums from weekends-only to just about every day. Mmmmm... All free, thanks to unemployment! I rationalized that I was saving money, by keeping the lights off most of the time and taking maybe one or two showers a week - and never shaving (those blades are expensive).

With one benefits payment, I bought myself a pair of "Miami Vice" pinkie rings. I know - but they're really nice! One is Crockett and one is Tubbs and they have little diamonds for eyes. Classy!

Another check (two, actually) went to Toys R Us. My old Playstation 2 was just not cutting it, anymore. I had to upgrade and get some new games and controllers. I was getting really tired of "Crash Bandicoot." Sitting around and playing games is just the best, and with Unemployment, I feel like they're paying me to do it!

You know what's better than endless days of sleeping late and smoking and drinking Patron Silver and playing "Halo?" Strippers! My friend Godfrey Ozzenbarq III (not his real name) and I started heading into DC on benefits payment days to ogle the girls at "Good Guys" on Wisconsin Avenue. We quickly graduated from that to "Camelot," at great expense. Don't worry, taxpayers. You're not paying for this lifestyle. Unemployment Insurance is privately funded, mostly through premiums paid by employers, and they're doing much better now that they've gotten rid of so many employees.

But you know what's even better than strippers? Hookers! Okay, I don't think that's really true, but I can honestly say I wouldn't know. But I know drugs are better than strippers. Oh, Godfrey (not his real name) and I sure know how to party! We're back to playing a lot of "Crash Bandicoot," as well as my old vintage Atari stuff - and tons of Ms. Pac Man. That stuff is amazing when you're baked or rollin' or tweaked or Timmy!'d or buzzed or blasted or floating or destroyed or wrecked or made into pizza rolls or smelling the kitten or drunk or selling encyclopedias or trippin' or jumping the shark or writing epitaphs or playing the Cheap Trick albums at 78rpm or whatever the kids are calling it these days.

When there's cash left (there never is), we buy lottery scratch-off tickets. I think I won $25,000 once, but I was trashed and I think I must have used the ticket as a desperation rolling paper and burned it up.

Yep, being unemployed is pretty sweet. I can't imagine myself getting another job, as long as these massive piles of fun bucks for nothing keep rolling in. Work is for chumps. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go do some online gambling before I get too wasted to focus...


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 120 of Double-Barrel Unemployment: You're SO Not Hired

Monday March 30, 2009

As a full-time seeker of a new place where I can toil thanklessly for the benefit of those who are already wealthy (and for a paycheck I can pass along to my creditors), I do a lot of my job-seeking online. Most targeted employers or job boards automatically acknowledge my electronic résumé submissions with a short, generic email. Usually it's a simple "Thanks for applying for Job XYZ - we'll call you if we're interested." Some companies will include an invitation to register on their website so that they can alert me to future job openings with their organization.

Sometimes, I'll even get a rejection email, formally informing me that, while my qualifications were "impressive," the company has decided I wouldn't be a good "fit" for that position at this time, but boy, they really were "impressed" and they wholeheartedly wish me "the very best of luck" in my search. I get a strangely comforting sense of closure from these. It's efficient, too. No wasting valuable job search time with bothersome interviews and whatnot - just cut to the chase and reject the candidate up front. It's just easier for everyone that way.

Then, there's the rejection email (or, in rare instances, phone call) that follows an actual interview. My first in-person interview resulted in one of the most thorough and helpful rejection emails I've seen:

"Dear Joe, [they used my first name!]

Thank you for coming in to meet with me and my management team last Thursday. It was a pleasure getting to know you, and we are all very impressed with you and your credentials. We were faced with a very difficult choice (Ms. Johnson got so stressed she required hospitalization over the weekend. She's okay now.), but in the end we determined that another candidate was just a slightly better fit for the Accounts Receivable, Preserves Canning and Facial Hair Grooming Compliance Officer position. We hope you understand.

I strongly believe in giving constructive feedback, and this extends to prospective employees. In that spirit, I have some notes I think you might find useful. First, on your résumé:
  • While I appreciate the importance of making one's résumé distinct from "the crowd," I wouldn't recommend using that fluorescent day-glo green poster board, nor do I think it's a good idea to make one's CV 20" by 30". You're lucky yours didn't get recycled with the junk mail.
  • If you're going to embellish your past job titles, you might not want to include in your references anyone who would provide contradictory information. To wit: Your last supervisor informed us that you were an Accounts Receivable/Order Processing Administrator, NOT "Owner, Inventor, Patent-holder, Spokesmodel, Big Kahuna, Majority Shareholder, Visionary, President and Boss Of Everybody," as you put it.
  • If you're going to share your reasons for leaving previous employers, you might want to come up with something other than "that job was stupid" for each and every one of them. Just a thought.
On your interview:
  • Yes, it is a good idea to arrive a little bit early for a job interview. However, five hours early is too early. You made our receptionist uncomfortable, and while it does show great initiative on your part, she did not appreciate your answering her phone when she got up to use the copier. In the future, may want to limit yourself to arriving a few minutes early.
  • We have a business-casual dress code here, so I can't really fault you for wearing Dockers and a Polo shirt. I also can't legally ask you anything about that intricate network of trusses, supports, straps and medical-looking girdles you were wearing. I can, however, suggest that maybe you wear such items underneath your clothes. Failing that, you may wish to consider wearing a suit jacket over those things. Again, just trying to be helpful, here.
  • Take off your sunglasses and "Who Farted?" hat when you come into our office.
  • While we were all impressed with your energy and enthusiasm, a little more focus on the interview itself would probably have been beneficial. I know our location adjacent to the railroad tracks can be a bit distracting, but running to the conference room window every time a train passed and yelling "Woo Woo!" and "All Aboard!" and then shouting out the number, make and model (and horsepower, in some cases) of every engine, well - it really broke up the "flow" of the interview.
  • Falling asleep while our Director of Operations (the person to whom you would have reported, had you been hired) was asking you a question? Not a good idea.
  • Finally, I must say that we all found the candor and originality of your answers and remarks refreshing, to say the least, but I would try to stay away from such statements as "I just applied here because I have to make at least two job contacts a week or else I'll lose my Unemployment Benefits," or "I thought this job sounded easy," or "Am I getting paid for today," or "This is boring!" And when asked to tell us about yourself, I think 90 minutes about why "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" is the best show on TV, is just way too much, and not really the kind of information interviewers are looking for.
My team (well, maybe not Ms. Johnson) and I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your job search. I'm sure you will find a suitable employer, where you can add value and be happy and fulfilled in your work. Have you considered Ringling Brothers, or perhaps a nice traveling carnival?

Portnoy J. Whatever
President and CEO
Acme Cheese, Inc."

See? That guy was really trying to be helpful! I keep this letter in my "job search" folder, and I review it before every interview.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this drivel. More later, as soon as I can muster it (I have to ketchup)...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 116 of Double-barrel Unemployment - "You Should Invent Something"


My first in-person interview of this layoff! Normally, I'm already re-employed by about day 60, but this time, I had taken it pretty easy for the first month or so. By the end of January, I was applying for jobs daily and checking in with all my recruiters once a week. I had started to get calls from prospective employers, and by the end of February I'd had several phone interviews. These went well, but I had yet to get an in-person interview. Too much experience, too little experience, missing the one résumé item they couldn't live without, not a CPA, made too much at my last job etc.. So, it was exciting to land an actual interview. I won't get into the details. It went great - they liked me, but it had just been too many years since I had managed people.

Day 116 wasn't just my first real interview. It was also the day I was given one of the more insipid pieces of advice I've heard in this or any layoff. As someone who has taken several trips down Unemployment Boulevard, I get a lot of advice. I'm always grateful that people want to try to help, and the pointers I get are sometimes really novel or useful. Sometimes.

I've been through this enough to know the basics by now, so even some of the better suggestions are less than helpful.

"Hey Joe - you should try applying for a lot of jobs." Really? Ya think?

"Have you tried updating your résumé every couple of weeks, so it will show up in more employers' searches - in case they search only for 'new' résumés?" Great tip. I've been doing that since my 2001 layoff. It works.

"Remember you were saying there are tons of I.T. Security job listings, especially with government contractors? You should try to get one of those jobs." I am an order entry, billing, customer service, A/R person with zero I.T. experience or education, and most of those jobs require a top-secret clearance, but I'll keep that in mind.

"You take such nice pictures - you should be a professional photographer!" Thanks. I've actually taken some baby steps toward that goal. Even bought a negative scanner. I'm realistic, though. I've seen the work of pros, and I know I have a long way to go. Not saying no - just need to pay the bills while I work that out.

"Hey Joe - you should work for Google! I hear they're hiring, and it's supposed to be the coolest company to work for." Really? Again, I'm not so much a programmer. Plus, those jobs are in California. We're in Maryland, in a house that's $100,000 under water.

"There are towns in Iowa that are offering all kinds of incentives to lure people to live and work there. You should go!" Okay, again - house would cost $100K to sell. Plus, then we'd live in IOWA.

"Why don't you be a writer?" I am a writer. There are millions of me. I have bills, man. I've been at it for years and I will keep at it, but the odds are not good that I'll ever make a living at it. I love it - I mostly do it for myself, anyway.

"You love to eat - you should be a restaurant critic!" Oh dear sweet zombie Jesus.

"You and [Maris] should start your own company." Cool - will you give us the money? We have a business model ready to go. Phase I: Steal Underpants. Phase III: Profits!

"You should be more positive." Yes, I know. It's worked so well for me in the past.

"You should get one of those top-secret clearances." That would be awesome. Costs tens of thousands of dollars, though. Will have to find a company that will sponsor me. The problem is, they are flooded with applicants who already HAVE clearances. Maybe when the market turns around.

"If the market's so bad, why don't you use this time to go back to school and get a more marketable degree or just take some classes that will boost your résumé?" I can't say this is a bad idea, but by day 116 [Maris]'s job was looking shaky, too - so we just didn't have the nerve to gamble with what little cash we had.

"You should invent something!" You're absolutely right. I should do that.

"Have you thought about going on a reality show?" No. No, I haven't. Have you?

"You should start a blog! Or a photo blog!" Ugh. Wait, what? Okay - I might go ahead and do that...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 53 of Double-barrel Unemployment: Hope and the Mortality of Stars

Thursday January 22, 2009

Well, well, well. 2009. Son of a bitch. It's 2009! The holidays were behind us, blurry and fattening and fun in their familiar chaos. The NFL playoffs were over, with only the Steelers-Cardinals (Cardinals???) Superbowl yet to be played. Stuff had been happening, but it had been a strange assortment of highs and lows.

It began with news of the death of the father of my good friend Godfrey Ozzenbarq III (not his real name). Godfrey, my one-time boss at Erol's, confidant, grifter, go-cart enthusiast, porn critic, mentor, turtle painter, ranting partner, career counselor and would-be Tom Delay beater-upper, had watched his father fade away rather quickly over the past half-year and depart on New Year's Eve. Godfrey and I now had this in common. My dad's fade, ending in July 2005, was slower, but of course there were parallels. Godfrey's mother had died two months after that. Now, both of his parents were gone, and departures were becoming all too frequent. We both have a pragmatic view of such sad events, and Godfrey had emailed me of his being at peace with the fact that he would never live larger than his parents had.

I knew the feeling, and replied with something along these lines:

"True, sir - your musing on mortality and living large. In reading obits and listening to stories of your 'rents, of my own dad and his, as well as of older friends of the family who are lining up to depart, I on more than one occasion have stopped and thought HOLY SHIT - Look at all the stuff he DID! I haven't done jack flydiddlyfuckin' SQUAT! I'm not about to tell you that I have the energy or wherewithal (whatever that is) to attempt to live as big, but it does give one a pause, no?
Once, on a family stroll on a dark Rehoboth beach, my dad told us as we marveled at the number of visible stars, that it was very likely that many of them were at that very moment already long-since dead and gone. We're teeny, man. But we do what we can and we get by and we try to enjoy ourselves as much as possible.
And there are bright spots. Watching the 1,800,000 frozen but hopeful and overjoyed people on the Mall, listening to a smart young new President (the address, not the stumbly oath) as he spoke in complex, compound sentences with subject-verb agreement, polysyllabic words and proper syntax (without an "in'" for ING anywhere to be found) was a deeply moving experience. Yeah, we're still just approaching the deep end of this shitter ("shitter's full!"). But there's hope. With bush exiled in texas where he can't hurt us any more, and with an intelligent, THOUGHTFUL and popular dude in charge, maybe - just maybe - we can begin to recover and actually be proud Americans once more. Eventually."

On the heels of Obama's Inauguration, while [Maris]'s company laid off a bunch of her coworkers, leaving her with a less-secure job and way too many hats, I ratcheted up my job search and found myself with two phone interviews and a new recruiter meeting in the span of two days.

Sure, the economy is in the toilet and headed for the septic tank, but we just swore in our first African-American President and we are tempted to feel hopeful for the first time in over eight years. The country of which he is assuming the controls is halfway down the awful spiral of a black fucking hole, but there is that faint glimmer of hope, and we cling to it with all our might.

Join us next time, when things get funny. Probably...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bubba Drives Away

Let's take a quick break from the Unemployed Drivel and prattle on for a bit about the departure of Bubba, The Party Snake. I came across this little piece yesterday. I'm not entirely sure who it was written for - my family, probably...

Saturday, April 05, 2008 (2:15AM)

Bubba is gone. Off to snake heaven, to chase (as Mary puts it) all the “slow, stupid mice” he can eat. I went to refill his water dish Thursday night, feeling guilty that I hadn’t remembered to bring him anything to eat. He didn’t flinch when the water hit the dish, as he usually did. He didn’t move when I knocked on the side of his tank. He didn’t perk up or flick his tongue or anything when I talked into the cage at him. For about ten minutes, I stood there in denial, shaking his aquarium and watching for the breath he would not take. Finally, I lifted the screen and gave him a gentle poke, knowing he was dead. And dead he was indeed.

Scenes flashed through my brain as it caught up with reality. I saw the tiny baby snake I brought to my dorm room at Towson State the morning after my first real date with Lisa#2. I saw that baby snake, curled up and sleeping in my sleeve, holding me painfully motionless for two solid hours because I didn’t have the heart to disturb the little guy. I recalled explaining to this little reptile why it was a big deal that the Berlin Wall was coming down. I saw Wife#1 talking to him, commiserating about the difficulty I was encountering in trying to free myself from the hell that was retail. I replayed the story, one of the last coherent stories my father recited, of Bubba and the house painters who seemed so in awe of him. I heard [Maris], using her squeaky “Bubba” voice to translate for me – countless times – his wistful demands for mice (or for “more mouses”).

I looked again at his limp body, and I can tell you, I cried. I moved his favorite rock and placed it beneath his little chin, curled him into what seemed like a more comfortable position and draped a tissue over his body. It pained me to do it, but about 45 minutes later I woke [Maris] with the news. I was quite taken aback, as I still am, by her sadness at Bubba’s passing. He may have been “just” a snake, sitting silently in an aquarium 99% of the time, but he was a living presence in our home. He had been with me since long before she met me. He was cute and pretty and seemed to like when she played 80’s metal on the stereo. He was just always there. And now, somewhat suddenly, he was not.

Leaving Bubba’s lifeless little body in his tank while we moped our way through a drizzly, depressing Friday was probably not the best of ideas. By the time we got home from work, Bubba’s room was in need of a thorough airing out. We carefully coiled him into a sturdy box, lined with tissue paper and gravel from his cage, placed his favorite little rock inside and gave him a final pat on the head. On the top of his little cardboard casket I wrote:

Bubba “The Party Snake”
August 19, 1988 - April 4, 2008

Bubba’s final resting place is in our back yard, in a spot that gets plenty of sun. He slumbers beneath several inches of earth and the rocks from atop his aquarium. His spirit will keep me company during grilling season. It’s hard to walk by the empty space he occupied since we moved into this house without feeling the sadness of loss all over again. He was a good snake and a wonderful pet. In our mail on Saturday was a sympathy card from SiL, BiL and Little Nephew. They noted that Little Nephew had declared that “Bubba got in his car and drove away.” Indeed. Bubba - out on the open road, cruising for meeces and girl snakes. Drive on, Bubba. You are missed.