Team Unemployed: ‘Rough Justice’ in the Real World of the Recession
It’s afternoon on a Wednesday in late January. I’m waking up at my usual time. Most days my goal is to get up before one o’clock so I can watch “People’s Court.” If I stay up past 4 a.m. surfing the internet or go out to a bar the night before, I might even wake up too late for the show. I’m unemployed and just out of grad school, this is the sort of small thing that dominates my life without any sort of outside structure.
Sometimes I look myself in the mirror and mouth the words, “Jean, you’ll have a job soon.”
I’ve been unemployed for most of the last year. I think I’ve been without a job longer than I’ve had one over the past three years. It’s not uncommon I guess with the economy the way it is, I see stuff on TV all the time about people who are doing worse. Don't tell anyone who's unemployed that the recession is over. We know better. The news says this many people haven’t been unemployed since the Great Depression. That doesn’t make it any easier; it’s just nice to pretend I’m keeping perspective on the situation.
I haven’t had a job since the end of September when my car was parked on the street and totaled by a stolen vehicle; the six-pack of Busch left in the abandoned vehicle was little consolation. With no plan and no source of income, I was forced to quit my job delivering pizzas. The upside is that I have to ride a bike everywhere which is good exercise even if I have to towel myself off in the men's bathroom before class. I've lost a few pounds and I’ve been eating less fast food because it’s almost impossible to drive-thru without a car. The down side is, well…obvious.
Now there’s seven inches of snow on the ground and I’m stuck at home with a Master’s degree in creative writing to keep me warm. I’m not sure which part of my story is comical or depressing. I’m a twenty-eight year old who’s over or under-qualified for almost every job I apply for. Most days I file it all under unfortunate but depressingly funny. It gets me through episodes of the People’s Court when Judge Milian is in a bad mood. Her Cuban axioms and witty references to “rough justice” keep me waking up on time no matter what the drink special was the night before.
The term resonates with me as something more relevant than poetic justice. The world has offered a bit of rough justice to me in its own way. Destroying the vehicle of a delivery driver seems ironic in that Alanis Morrisette kind-of-way but I’m guessing it isn’t. Someone with two English degrees not being able to figure out what is or isn’t ironic sounds like more rough justice…or maybe poetic justice.
People look at me strange when I tell them what I studied in school. Usually I get one of two responses.
“Creative what? Writing? What’s that?” or the more likely response, “What are you gonna do with that? Teach?” I tell them yes I’d like to teach and move on. No I don’t have any teaching experience. Yes, I understand the beginning of a new year during a recession is a bad time to look for a job. I fake a smile and move on.
In keeping with this state of mind, I avoid conversations with relatives about what I’m doing now that I’m out of school. The holidays are rampant with these kinds of conversations, but I eat a lot of food and act preoccupied when they finally ask.
“Well, where are you looking for a job at?” As if somehow their expert advice will propel me into a lucrative career path. Maybe someday I’ll thank them when I’m rich and happy.
Every time I see him, my grandpa tries to convince me that working at Quik Trip or Kinko’s (or "Ginko’s" in his words) is the way to go. I tell him I have a Master’s degree in English and that really isn’t what I’m looking for. He never respected my delivery jobs even though I got through most of my undergrad and grad school on them. My year long stint at the eyeglass store grinding lenses was something he understood a little bit better.
As January rolls on the snow continues to pile up and I continue applying online for adjunct teaching positions, getting mostly no response. Earlier in the month I heard back from my alma mater and they told me they were interested in interviewing me later in the year for some possible fall classes. It was exciting but not totally reassuring news. I wonder sometimes if I could get by that long without a job.
Most days I try to survive the best I can. I sell things I don’t need anymore on Craigslist or eBay: guitar pedals I don’t use anymore (what the heck does a Flanger do anyways?), Xbox games I can’t play any longer because my Xbox 360 quit working not long before I did. Other days my girlfriend gives me a ride to the closest Wal-Mart and I return things that are still in the package from birthdays and Christmases past. One week three pairs of long underwear nets me a nineteen dollar gift-card which I spend mostly on boxes of Totino’s Pizza. She laughs at me while I eat a dollar cherry pie from Wal-Mart in the car. I read the package and inform her it contains both regular corn syrup and the much preferred high-fructose variety. Ideal nutrition for the man out of work.
It’s been a rough year but I keep my head up. There are always more jobs to apply for and be turned down.
Earlier in the year, before I was delivering pizzas, I went on unemployment for a few months. The three-hundred and fifty I got a month wasn’t much but looks pretty substantial in retrospect.
My savings from grad school are slowly dwindling each time I eat out or pay the bills. The money I got from family on my birthday and at graduation keeps me afloat into the new year even though I feel pressure to take a job within walking distance as a waiter (sorry, “server”).
Earlier in the month I’d gottten excited about the one interview I’ve had post-grad school. My hope dissipated when the owner told me he “couldn’t afford to pay me a regular salary for my work on his journal,” but he did teach me how to make money online doing freelance writing. Looking back it seems pretty cool of him even though I declined his non-paying offer. The first thing he told me was that I was overqualified for the position.
Eventually I found a way to make a few bucks online using the recommendations he’d given me. It’s reassuring to make any money these days, even if I have to write stupid How-To articles for the next six months. I’m currently at work on one I’m probably not qualified to write: How To Get the Job of Your Dreams.
I’ve gotten skilled at locating career and job information on the web, as in where to find it and what to look for. Maybe I should be a career counselor; definitely falling in the under-qualified category on that one. I’ve found that most career websites are hidden platforms for advertising. They email me jobs that have nothing to do with what I studied. I put in writing as a search term and it brings up janitorial positions that require high school level writing for reasons I’m unaware of. I would put in the creative aspect, but I’m afraid the website will laugh at me or ask me what I’m talking about.
It’s not the work I miss, rather just having something to do. That’s the worst part about being unemployed, the lack of activity can really hurt morale. It’s not hard to imagine I could get another job, it’s just hard to believe it.
It’s more rough justice for a year filled with what I described earlier as “depressing comedy.” I’m the star of my own reality show/sitcom and I don’t even get paid or have a laugh track. Cue the audience.
UPDATE: I got a part-time teaching gig in August. I still do freelance work in my off-time. I have a car now and I don’t eat dollar cherry pies anymore
(This piece previously existed as two separate articles for an unnamed and recently defunct content website. Both were rejected.)