For a brief time in early 1992 I was unemployed, drawing benefits and the whole works. This was before the internet and there is only so much resume writing and house-cleaning you can do.
Back then web-surfing was not an available option to fill the day, so I ended up spending endless hours never getting very good at a clunky DOS-based videogame called SU-25 Stormovik (now available as a free download here) on the 386SX I had bought my wife for her school term papers.
My wife had gone back to school to become a teacher when sh lost her job after taking an extended maternity leave. When she called about going back to work, her employer had told her no positions were available. This was pre-Family Medical Leave Act and she had no legal recourse. She dropped her teaching courses to get a refund on the tuition and substitute taught while I job-hunted (and played computer games) all day.
I was only out of work for a fairly short six weeks before finding a new job in West Palm Beach. The weeks of inaction were immediately followed by the flurry of activity required to move to a new city, sell a house, find a place to rent, and start a new job. Funny how things even out like that.
I mention this not very tragic vignette, because this weekend the Washington Post Magazine published a very funny and poignant story called “Terminated” by T. M. Shine. In the article he mentions the following piece of folk wisdom:
Nothing happens until it happens to you.He is referring to what I call the “every car on the road is the same model as the one you just bought” phenomenon. When you have had something happen to you, you notice it everywhere. Shine started a blog (One entry so far. For a writer with a lot of time on his hands, he seems to be a little lackadaisical about the posting pace.) that has gotten over forty comments from people that are or have been laid-off.
Having been there, I know where he is coming from. Unlike him, I have a good education in a steady industry. Shine, despite being a wickedly sharp writer, is a high school graduate in journalism. He might as well be bilge pump operator on the Titanic.
As part of the article he held an online chat where he had this observation as well (archy and mehitabel approach to capitalization his):
someone told me 'being unemployed is a full time job.' no its not. unless king of queens reruns, teaching the cats how to dust with their tails and unraveling 250 ft. of tin foil are part of the job too.And not having anything to do all day is one of the worst parts (other than wondering how to buy groceries) of being unemployed. In addition to Su-25, there was some other game I played way to much until it was time to cook dinner and play Mr. Mom.
When I was laid off, it was on a Friday afternoon and the boss told gave me my severance check and told me to come back on Saturday for my personal belongings. This was well before office networks or any other good level of IT sabotage could be performed from your desk. Nonetheless, I came by for a single box of whatever trash had been in the desk drawer and all my technical reference books including The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (I won a lot of office bets using that).
Shine regrets not stockpiling enough office supplies at home to tide him over. The supply cabinet is one of employment’s most under-rated perks. His best idea is that employees should have air-raid drill practices so that they can time how long it takes to pack all their personal mementos into a single box for that long walk down to the HR office. While I don’t have much in my office worth saving, I would make sure I had my Georgia Tech Barbie, my broken HP-41 and the picture of Laura Bush (I can always get more pictures of my wife).
And anytime I hear of people out of a job, I feel their pain.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: If you got The Call, what cubicle litter would you be taking with you?