Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Unemployment Benefits

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?


Ed & Jeanne said...

I'd probably pursue one of my business ideas. I've got dozens...just no inspiration to do them as I have a cushy job that requires no effort at all.

Elizabeth said...

At least $1000 worth of teaching materials I've bought with my own money.

TBG said...

My personalized, framed copy of the picture of Louis Rukeyser that appeared in Playboy magazine some time in the 70s or 80s. Very groovy.

Shine's blog used to feature his hilarious Timelines. I'm assuming they were written on company time. Don't know if his former employer made him take them down or he did it by choice.

They were mostly timelines of his work days and that would have been a little maudlin, I guess. Reading funny details of his daily drudgery now may not be so funny for any of us... especially him.

But they were very funny at the time.

2fs said...

Interesting idea for an entry... Both my wife and I are relatively secure - although I've managed to cobble together a reasonable living wage via two part-time jobs, they're both fairly secure. Unfortunately, the one that's the most secure is also the one that earns the least and is not in my field (I'm an untenured college teacher). The one in my field is far more at risk - more at risk than my wife's job (architect), too. Neither of my jobs really offers much in the way of swipeable swag, though. Amusingly, the best swag I've ever got came via a "job" that paid nothing: when I worked as a music reviewer...not only the CDs, obviously (well, many of them, anyway) but occasionally other stupid little promo items. And had I pursued that interest beyond reviewing CDs, there would have been the opportunity to interview lovely young chemically-altered female musicians. Oh wait - I was married then, too ;-)

The thing I would hate most if I had to look for a job? The resume/interviewing process - in part because I've actually not really used either for about 20 years, and then never in any field I was seriously interested in.

Unknown said...

Got fired about two years ago. It felt bad, even though it was a soul-crushing retail job. I left with nothing, the way I came. I wish I could leave with a can of gasoline, though.

yellojkt said...

It is tough to get worried when you are in a sweet situation. It'll bite you when you least expect it.

I keep trying to tell my wife that the point of a job is to make money, not donate office supplies.

I didn't like Shine's lousy handyman article, but the terminated on is so bittersweet.

In some ways you have a lot of flexibility which is it's own security net. My job skills are pretty non-transferable.

Don't want to cross you. Sounds like it didn't go well.

Anonymous said...

I did a lot of temp work over the years and never came away with all that much. Although, on one job I wound up with several Macs at low cost, because the job was removing them from the company. Now, I'm self-employed and have a very stable clientele, so this isn't much of an issue for me. But I do know that, when you're unemployed, job fairs are an excellent source of swag. Maybe not quite as good as the office supply cabinet, but one fair can easily result in a year's supply of ballpoint pens and a handful of tchotchkes.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I spent 3 years with on again off again employment. It was horrid. I feel for anyone that's had to sit around and wait for their job to come back or to find one, especially in this economy.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

That's so funny you mentioned the "every car on the road is the same model as the one you just bought” thing. But in my case I believe that's true.

Last fall we bought a used Ford Taurus. Within a few days I noticed that there were stinkin Taurauses everywhere, and at one point I deliberately attempted to see if I could spot at least one Taurus per block on my 3 mile drive home from the home center. I didn't quite make it but I was pretty darned close.

yellojkt said...

That has got to be excruciating. Hope things are more stable.

But you were completely oblivious to the ubiquity of Tauruses before you bought that car, right?

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Never even noticed em.