Unemployed

I lost my job yesterday.

It’s not a huge job, mind you.  I’ve been working on and off at our local children’s art studio for five years.  Jill and I started working together after she allowed me to host a Kyle Vincent concert at her studio in late 2006.  I didn’t know her then; a friend I’d met at my son’s preschool did, though, and when I wondered if all of my girlfriends would fit into my small roomed house for such a “living room show”, she suggested Jill’s studio close by.  By the end of the event Jill was talking to Kyle about business, and he mentioned that I did his website and graphic design.  A few weeks later, she approved my mock up for her site, and we’ve been working together ever since.

Jill put me to work doing anything my skill set allowed.  First the website, then her accounting and some clerical work, and finally, some teaching of the classes she offered to the children of our town.  It was extremely part time, but perfect for my busy life that didn’t allow me to work outside of my childrens’ school hours and sometimes required me to be available even then to meet all of their needs.  It was my first foray outside of my home since I’d moved to Connecticut, and it was just enough to make me feel like I wasn’t allowing my skills to evaporate while tending to my children’s lives so fully.

Working for Jill introduced me to other business owners in town too, and before long I had a small roster of website design clients.  With Jill’s studio being popular and well known in town, all I had to do was drop her name and jobs came my way with very little effort.  It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to feel like I was doing something meaningful in my off hours.

Unfortunately, since I did Jill’s books for her, I could see that the economic crash of 2008 took a huge toll on Jill’s business.  Children’s art classes were a pricey luxury that most parents were easily able to slash out of their budgets.  Jill responded as any shrewd business person would by cutting her own costs.  One by one I saw most of the seasoned teachers leave.  Jill taught everything she could herself, and when she couldn’t, she hired cheaper college and high school students to fill in.

And for a while, that was enough to stay afloat.  I marveled at how her summer camps and her birthday party businesses kept her in the black.  She bought a kiln and added paint your own pottery aspect to her studio, which brought income in during the long stretches between semesters when the bank account often grew thin.  But she also quietly put the property up for sale, waiting to see if anyone would be interested in buying the business.

No one was.  After two years on the market and over $100,000 in reductions of the price, she made the hard decision to close the studio.  I was unprepared, when I went in for my usual Thursday perusal of receipts and tasks that this would be the last time I would be asked to come in.  I knew it was coming, of course, but didn’t realize it was happening now instead of later.  This was it.  Five years and what seems like a lifetime of growth and change later, Jill and I are parting ways.

I’ve always called my job a “little job”.  But today, in its absence, it feels much bigger than it ever was.  And I will miss it.  Very much.

Job Hunting

“How’s it looking out there these days?”  Mr. H Dennis asked me over a glass of white zinfandel at our favorite meeting place.

“No luck, so far,” I said glumly.  “It’s so frustrating to invest all of this time and there’s just no way of knowing if I’m missing anything.  You really do seem to have to know someone to get your foot in the door.  I don’t suppose you have any pull to get someone to retire at the last minute?”

I couldn’t believe there were no jobs.  But what I had been forgetting all the while as I went through the motions this spring was that there was a recession on.  School districts had tight budgets and weren’t replacing everyone who put in for retirement this year.  There were no elementary positions opening up at all in the school district I worked in, and so I had to make a decision as to how far to widen my job search.

“I wish I knew someone who was, I do, but unfortunately, we are a pretty young district, teaching population wise,” Dennis countered, offering me some of his plate of fries.  “I came in with a pretty big glut of people and none of us are any where near ready to go.  Where else are you looking?”

“Everywhere,” I answered, taking the proffered fries.  Unfortunately it’s insanely hard to find out even if there are positions open.  I had no idea it would be this hard.”

In those days before the internet, where one could spend a tidy afternoon on Google assembling research, a job hunt was much more like finding a needle in a haystack.  I had my list of human resource phone numbers that I’d gotten from the university job office, and hunting for a job meant calling desirable school districts every few days asking if there were any active postings.  If I was lucky enough to find a posting that my certification qualified me for, it meant then printing my resume and cover letter on the computer that Dawn and Todd had bequeathed to me and getting the letters in the mail, pronto.  I kept a notebook with lists of where I’d sent letters, and when, and then called a few days after I was sure they’d received my information to see if there was any chance of an interview.

“What are you going to do?”  Dennis took a swig of his beer and placed the glass back down on the table.

“I think I’m going to substitute this year and try and wait out the teacher glut,” I responded.  “I don’t want to go down and teach in the city, which seems to be the only place I could find a job in this economy.  If I substitute here and in one or two other districts, I”ll not only work pretty steadily, but I will also get to know more schools and people and hopefully put myself in a better position should something open up next year in one of those places.”

“That sounds like a good idea,”  he answered, nodding, smiling in approval.

I took a sip of my wine.   I could feel it hitting me just a bit, my cheeks suddenly feeling red.  It was so surreal, sitting here with my high school teacher, drinking wine, both of us adults.  I was glad we were talking about work and not about Tom, or my mother.  I honestly couldn’t wait for school to begin in a week, so that I would be more distracted from the endless loop of doomsday predictions I had for both scenarios.

“I can’t wait for school to start.  I’m ready to go.  Subbing isn’t ideal, but maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get some long term positions, or get requested a lot like my friend Michelle does.  Tell everyone you know to request me,” I laughed.

“Too bad I don’t know more people down at the elementary level.  But still, I’ll try to spread the word.  Not too loudly though.  We don’t want Kathy’s stories to get repeated too much,” he laughed.

“Why?  What have you heard?”  Now my cheeks had to be bordering on purple.

“Oh, apparently there’s quite a bit of talk about how interesting it is that we’re friends,” he said, the corners of his mouth turning upward underneath his moustache.

“You can’t be serious!”

“Oh, I’m very serious.”  He put his beer down and looked at me squarely.  I could feel the sweat beads start to prickle on my forehead.  “Your elementary teacher friends like to talk, and some of them are friends with some of some of the middle school people who are in the English department.”

“Oh, God, I’m so sorry!  Is that bad?  Is that bad for you?”  I was mortified.  I hoped he wasn’t upset with me.  I hadn’t done anything, said anything to make anyone think there was anything going on between us.  He was married, for heaven’s sake.  Plus I’d had a boyfriend all winter.

“No, I think it’s funny, actually.  Imagine if they all knew that we were out to dinner together drinking and telling each other the stories of our lives?”  He smiled at me, still with that square gaze.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  I didn’t need gossipy drama on top of everything else going on right now.

 

Like She Never Left

My girlfriend Dawn had moved back to Michigan.

She had I had had a huge fight during our senior year of high school.  It was completely my fault, as I recall, though I don’t really recall the details.  We had been as close as two friends could be since sixth grade; spending overnights at each other’s houses, sharing every detail about our changing bodies, boyfriends, parents, families.  She knew absolutely everything about my brother, my history, my father; I knew about her much older siblings, her parents employment woes and their later eviction from their home in our neighborhood.   I spent days at her older sister’s house without my mother batting an eye, and Dawn spent weekends at my house routinely.

But yet, while we agreed on many things, we were very different people.  Dawn had a sense of tough confidence that I envyed and couldn’t understand.  While her life was difficult, she was able to work hard on the things that she was good at and become great at them.  She didn’t care what other people thought (or if she did, no one else could tell).

Me, I was a perfectionist in everything.  Instead of conserving my energy to hone one or two things, I tried to be good at everything.  In high school, this meant starting to dislike those who were my competitors for academic exellence, teacher attention, placement in band.  I took all of my failures personally and took as a personal affront someone achieving more than me.

Which is why I had a hard time with Dawn excelling at writing, something I too thought I was good at.  And I was good, but not great like her.  So the fall of my senior year, I dropped her like a hot potato.  Horrible.  Horrible, horrible words and actions that I can never take back.  She wrote me a letter one day, in response to my irrational behavior and I read it once before tearing it apart and throwing it away (mostly because I didn’t want to admit anything in it was true).

So we missed things.  I missed knowing what colleges she was applying to.  She missed knowing my low point that year and helping me through it.   I missed her meeting and falling in love with Todd, a boy a year younger than us but funny and smart.

I ended up contacting her at some point, tail between my legs, during our freshman year in college.  She had gone far away to a school in Massachusetts on a full scholarship.   I was away at MSU and missing her.  We exchanged long letters across the miles.  I heard of how hard a time she was having conducting a long distance relationship with her boyfriend, and how they’d decided to go to MSU and move in together.

I liked Todd.  I visited them on campus in their tiny, basement apartment and found a couple happy and in sync.  I felt badly that I’d lost knowing the beginning part of their relationship but they told me all about it in late night conversations shared on their breaks home.    Todd was kind and understanding of our friendship despite not experiencing it right from the start of their time together.

Dawn called me one chilly day that winter as I folded laundry during Zach’s nap.  I had been trying to to finish my children’s lit homework and get everything done, but I stopped in my tracks when she told me the news.  Her story was strangely familiar to me; it included a drug store, a pregnancy test and a lot of big decisions.  She had questions.  Lots, and lots of questions.

I hoped, for her sake at least, that some of the answers in her story would be very different than the ones in mine.

Houseguests

It didn’t take long to convince my mother that we had to let Dawn stay with us until her parents figured out what was going on with their living situation. We hauled the extra twin bed from the basement up to my room and rearranged the furniture to fit. We moved Dawn over to our house with one car trip on a Saturday. Her clothes, clock radio, bedding, her school supplies and some stuffed animals were all she planned on salvaging.

She didn’t say much as we set everything up in my room. We spent so much time at each other’s houses spending the night that it didn’t feel all that different to me, but I couldn’t imagine how crazy it all felt to her. When Dawn got upset about something, she grew very, very quiet. So I knew that all of the thoughts swirling around her head could not be good.

A few days later, the rest of her belongings and everything else in the house was put on the curb. Her parents had not boxed anything up or gotten a truck from a friend or anything. They finally contacted some family members and plucked out of the mass the things they felt were vitally important, leaving the rest there on the curb for the entire condo complex to see. They found a room at a hotel about twenty minutes away; one of those circa 1950s places that often doubles for low rent residences during transitions. The set up was clearly for them and them alone; they were happy to leave Dawn in her lodgings at our house.

My mother tried to do small things to help ease her worries and let her know she could stay as long as she needed to. It wasn’t the first time my mother had “taken in a stray” into her home. A friend of my sister’s from her work was holed up in my brother’s old room as well. Transitions were my mother’s specialty.

It’s Not Always About Me

They knew it was coming. And so did I.

Dawn and I were spending much more time at my house rather than her own. Things were getting creepier there; her parents were always edgy and angry about this or that. It was a crap shoot as to whether the power or the phone would be on based on whether or not the bill got paid. The cable was discontinued ages ago because they could no longer afford it. And her father was still out of work.

We had been instructed by her parents to not answer the phone any more. The calls were getting more and more frequent, asking for money for this collection agency or that one. Without the aid of caller ID, it was a crapshoot as to whether or not you’d get one of the scary people on the phone. But what was worse was when the men started coming to the house. One afternoon Dawn and I were in her room, the one with windows that looked out on the front of her house and the parking lot below, when a knock came on the door. Dawn quietly crept to the top of the staircase; her mother was standing at the foot of it, back cowered into the wall, shaking her head up at her to tell her to pretend as if no one was home. After several minutes of vigorous knocking, we saw a dark suited man stride away from the door and get into a car that we didn’t recognize.

After a few more incidents such as that, it was no surprise when Dawn told me one day that they were being evicted from their home. They hadn’t paid the fees to the condo association for years, the mortgage hadn’t been paid in months. A company would come that weekend to forcibly remove them from the townhome that they’d lived in since Dawn was in elementary school. I asked her what was the plan, where were they going to go?

“They don’t know. They haven’t made any plans. They haven’t packed any boxes.” She looked at me with a mixture of anger, frustration and fear.

Dawn had five days left to live in her house and no where to go. And I thought I had problems.

In The Days Before Caller ID….

Everyone at school knew about my crush on Rick Springfield.  My close friends knew that I was actually writing a novel about him, but even my arms’ length acquaintances knew about my fandom.  Lots of other girls had the exact same crush, and so it was something to share and have in common with other girls.  But no one knew the extent to which the posters on my wall were distracting me from some very real life troubles; no one that is, except for my friend Dawn.

By now both Dawn and I had some real issues at home.  I would often have to go over to her house to get in touch because the phone bill hadn’t been paid; a message when I dialed would inform me that the phone was no longer in service.  One day I came over to find Dawn’s mother cooking on a camp stove; the electricity had been turned off too.  They had long been going to the laundromat to do their laundry when their washer broke and they didn’t have the money to fix it.  Dawn was developing a little escapism crush of her own to keep me company.   With as much as I was talking about and buying things about Rick Springfield, it was only normal that I would find out a fair amount about those around him:  his band, his manager, his family.  Dawn developed a crush on Rick’s drummer, Jack White.

I’d saved my lunch money up and bought money orders to order past tour programs of Rick’s, and they were full of photographs of both him and the band.  In those days before the internet, Dawn and I would ride our bikes up to the county library and search out magazines for more and more information.  She found out that his birthday was March 12, she found out that he was originally from our hometown of Detroit, and that he used to drum for the group that sang “Baby Come Back”.  Our twin obsessions dovetailed nicely and our investigative work always helped each other out.

One day that spring, when Dawn’s phone was actually working, we decided to take our research a little further.  We had looked up Rick’s management company in the Los Angeles phone book at the library.  How thrilling, we thought, it would be if we could speak to the manager.  We actually had an excuse; with me writing a novel using Rick’s name and song lyrics, we would need to obtain permission to use both before a publishing agreement could be entered into (yes, I was that naive and optimistic).

We wrote out a script, and got ready to make the call.  I was nervous.  My palms were sweaty.  What if we actually got to talk to him?  Dawn had her parents’ phone right next to her room phone to listen to.  It was one in the afternoon in California.

“Hello, Major Way Management. This is Susie.”

I hung up fast at the sound of the administrative assistant’s voice.  Oh. My Goodness!  I just talked to (well listened to) an actual person who actually knew Rick Springfield!  It was Dawn’s phone which helped us dial and listen to someone who knew Jack White!

Dawn and I spent the next two hours reviewing the amazing encounter between Rick Springfield’s manager’s secretary and ourselves.  We were, in that moment, rockstars.

Friday Night Videos

My mother had a thing against MTV.  It was weird, because we had HBO and sometimes they would show all manner of R ratedness, and she didn’t seem concerned at all about trying to block that from our impressionable eyes when she wasn’t at home.  But she somehow took issue with tight leathered, bare chested young men singing about sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Me, I didn’t see it that way.  Even though these days I’m rather shocked when I listen to the lyrics of some of my favorite songs from back then, the videos for them were generally pretty clean and always seemed to tell a story.  Back in those days MTV just ran music videos all day long; there weren’t any of those crazy shows on then taking up hours of valuable time away from valuable video watching.

My friend Dawn and I started hanging out at her place on Friday nights to watch videos instead.  We liked our MTV, but we discovered that the Atlanta station WTBS broadcast a show called Friday Night Videos.  It was like MTV on a regular station, and they ran videos from 8pm until the wee hours…four or five in the morning.  And the great news for us was, her parents had started going up North on Friday nights overnight, leaving us two eighth grade girls home alone.   I’m not sure if my mother realized that so many of my sleepovers at Dawn’s house were completely unsupervised; we certainly didn’t advertise it.  Other kids might have taken advantage of the lack of supervision, but the worst thing we did was generally raid her father’s half dollar collection to get a few small pizzas delivered.

Our rule was simple; we’d stay up until we’d seen Rick Springfield.  He was so popular in those days, it was a sure thing that you’d see one of his videos at some point in the six or seven hours we’d stay up watching.  In the hours while we waited we’d talk about our families; she was worried about finances in her house.  Her father was unemployed and had been for a while, and the phone kept getting turned off from lack of payment.  I knew they were already getting food stamps.    She had older siblings who lived around us, and we’d talk about her nieces and nephews and what was going on with them.  I always thought it was so amazing to be an aunt at our age.  We talked about how we both loved to write and the things we were writing about.  My mother was starting to work again on Saturdays and had asked if I’d come in to the office with her to keep me out of the house when my brother was at home.  I told Dawn about it; with us both loving to write, the free access to electric typewriters and copy machines made what sounded like a boring Saturday to other kids sound positively giddy to us.

We’d eat our pizzas and keep talking and writing and commenting on the music videos we saw.  Neither of us liked Yes or the Cars videos, even though the music wasn’t bad.  We both thought Cyndi Lauper was weird.  Neither of us were too impressed with Duran Duran even though everyone seemed to be so crazy for him.  We both liked Prince.

And we’d stay up that way until the wee hours of the morning, most Friday nights, just talking to each other and understanding each other.  At some point we’d hear the car door slam, the iconic opening of Rick Springfield’s “Souls” video (my favorite), or the familiar 1, 4, 5 chord sequence that opened up “Jessie’s Girl” and we ‘d move close to the black and white screen.  We’d both ooh and ah over the video, what did it all mean (do you see the writing on the brick wall back there?  What does it say?), talk about how one day we’d finally meet Rick and his band and he’d see in us the kindred spirits of like souls.  But mostly, we would enjoy the calm and peace that came from both of us escaping from the real problems that were all around us, and the comfort that came in not doing so alone.

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