Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving? Bah, humbug.

I keep waiting for the perky announcers narrating the Thanksgiving Day Parade to face the camera and solemnly announce, "And now, here with an opposing view of Thanksgiving, we bring you an unemployed person."

Yeah, I know: There's still a lot to be thankful for. I'm not eying my dogs' vittles quite yet. And I have had an encouraging first week of pursuing leads and networking. But it's still tough. So I'm reconciling myself with the jokes and off-beat observations that I might've otherwise missed in my tryptophan stupor.

David Letterman joked on his show last night that Sarah Palin might disrupt the parade by impulsively shooting the Bullwinkle balloon.

I also enjoyed one blogger/tweeter's post about rallying the clowns for a Thanksgiving parade float. Send in the clowns, indeed.

Okay, back to watching Matt and Al provide cutting insight into the various floats. Oh, my, gotta go--the Rockettes are next!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Getting through the first weekend

Weekends are either the best or worst stretch of the week for the newly unemployed. Sympathizers of the great Foghorn Leghorn view Saturdays and Sundays as a guiltless opportunity to kick back and relish the downtime for a change. After all, those are the only days you’re in sync with the rest of the world, and you can’t really job hunt even if you were so disposed. Why not take in the football games?

Those of us who take our inspiration from Leghorn’s chronic irritant, the ever-striving Chicken Hawk, have trouble suspending the quest. In case you’ve forgotten your Warner Bros. characters, he was the quixotic little bird who’d plot incessantly to bag Foghorn, a Shaquille O’Neal of the chicken world. His efforts were hopeless, yet he kept trying and trying, usually getting no farther than a secure grip on the rooster’s toe.

True to that example, many of us aren’t uncomfortable with idling on Saturday and Sunday when there’ll be no trudge back to work on Monday morning. Indeed, it’s a time of unbearable frustration. You can’t make calls, your e-mails will be put into a holding pattern until Monday, and the classified sections aren’t the game farms they were in the bygone days of job hunting. All you can do is while away the time, maybe by watching some football, or perhaps just checking to see if anyone has responded to those e-mails…

Then again, maybe the situation is changing. I was surprised to field two queries on Saturday from contacts made via Twitter. And some of the folks I’d approached during the week seemed to be just getting to the messages that had piled up for them. Actual interaction will have to wait until Monday, but at least the initial contact’s been made.

Besides, the first five days of unemployment haven’t been fruitless. I had one job interview, made appointments for two others, lined up a project, put in one proposal and started work on another, and fielded a few overtures about other short-term gigs. And I got to watch the Jets trounce the Titans.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Easing the blow

Because of my predilection for eating, it's hard to spot any upside to a disruption in paychecks. But there have been a few moments of unbelievable sweetness triggered by the layoff.

Both happened on the Day of the Deed. One of our first calls was to the friend who'd booked Jan. 1 vacation arrangements for us, her and her husband, and another couple. How could we take a 9-day trip when I'd be out of work? We explained to our friend that we'd have to cancel and see how much money we could recover. Minutes afterward, her husband called to let us know that they'd lend us the money until whenever we were back on our feet again. And we weren't talking about fifty bucks here. Unbelievable.

Later that day, when we figured we should make ourselves eat dinner, we called to have a pie delivered from our usual pizzeria. The fellow who took the call, who's been taking our orders for 10 years now, proudly told us that he was heading back to Sri Lanka in three days for the birth of his first child. "What's new with you guys?" he asked. My wife told him.

When the delivery man arrived about 20 minutes later, he was balancing the pie on one hand while holding a coffee cup in the other. "It's a glass of wine from Ishmael," the guy who'd taken our order, the delivery man explained. "He thought you might need it."

Why 'Pink-slipped'?

Some people climb mountains, others strive to out-flambe Emeril, still others try to bed as many people as they can. My quest? To make this the shortest-lived blog that ever was. What else is left? I've already been pushed off a summit, singed and screwed.

On Tuesday, I was drafted into what has to be the demographic classification with a bullet, though that's probably a poor choice of words. The day started out as any other. By lunchtime, for the first time in my 51 years, I'd been pink-slipped, an unwilling recruit for the growing army of the jobless. Technically it was a lay-off, a tag that does indeed afford some comfort, since it wasn't performance-related. But my parents, those children of the Great Depression, would have never made such a distinction. You're either working or you're not. And I'm not.

All the motivational speakers I've endured over the years would be quick to add smiley-face qualifiers like, "temporarily," "until the economy picks up," or "in the traditional sense, but pay comes in many forms." It's easy for them to be so positive. They've found a way to turn unemployment into a paying career.

Now it's my turn either to do the same or find real work again. But have you looked at the news lately? More than 50,000 new recruits are joining the army of the unemployed from Citigroup alone. Depending on what estimate you see for the U.S. automotive industry, the carnage could extend anywhere from about 250,000 people upwards to 3 million. My profession, journalism, may be faring even worse on a percentage basis. One wag has set up a website, NewspaperDeathWatch, to tabulate the cutbacks in that sector of the business. Even the bounciest motivational speaker would sound a bit Steven Wright-ish after considering the situation.

Actually, I'm not as bitter as this might make me sound. And my barbs are meant as black humor, not as any real signs of resentment toward my former employer. Indeed, it handled the situation in an extremely humane fashion, and I'd go back there in a heartbeat. My anger is reserved for the White House and the other guardians of the economy. They're the ones who sidelined millions of responsible, eager-to-work people who did nothing wrong but work in a job that looked glaring on a budget sheet.

But that anger won't get me anywhere. Hence this blog. I'm hoping it'll be a medium for airing my frustrations. Ideally it'll also serve as a touchstone for others who've been thrown into this new uber-category of the newly laid off. Indeed, I hope others will post their experiences, feedback and advice, not for me, but for anyone who's been victimized by the economy.

It'll also scratch my jones to write for an audience until I find a regular communications gig. At that point, I'll pull the plug and move on. But in the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy these bar stool ramblings as you unwind from your own job hunting or survival strategizing. Just remember, it's BYOB.