The best part about 2009 (well … besides getting engaged)? It wasn’t 2008!

Everyone else is doing year-end blog posts, so what the hell? And what better way to do so than actually waiting until the last day of the year, sitting in the recliner, on the laptop, sipping an Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, stout brewed with oysters) from Flying Fish Brewing, with a cat assisting me by resting on the back of the recliner (Hi, Trouble!)?

So, here goes nothing. I didn’t think 2009 was an overly good year or an overly bad year. It was pretty mixed for me, with more good than bad, but not enough good to call it wonderful. This is in direct contrast to 2008, which can pretty much go to hell. I managed to lose my job, my favorite bar and my ballpark in 2008, while 2009 brought some sadness, but nowhere near on the level of 2008.

In Newport, R.I., just before getting engaged

The highlight of 2009, by far, was getting engaged. It was a remarkable day, spent in Newport, R.I., and a remarkable experience that I will never forget. I have yet to experience one second of doubt about this and likely never will.

The precursor to getting engaged was fun, as well: Welcoming my fiancée and her cat, Skittles, to the apartment my two cats, Trouble and 8-Ball, graciously allow me to occupy. Trouble and 8-Ball still hate Skittles, but their skirmishes have become more amusing than alarming. As for the humans, we’re getting along just fine, thank you!

Anyone who knows me and has gotten to this point is saying, “Um, what about the World Series, jackass?” About fucking time! The entire season for the Yankees was a great run, starting way back when I first saw the new Yankee Stadium, before the start of the regular season. Yes, I would move back across the street in a heartbeat, and I miss the old ballpark like a lost family member. But it was great to have the Yankees rise back to the top again, and I really liked the makeup of this team, as opposed to some of the underachieving squads of the mid-2000s.

Skittles

I went to two weddings that I was very happy about, within weeks of each other. Both brides are longtime friends of mine, one much longer than the other, and both finally found perfect matches and soul mates, which was quite heart-warming. It’s funny to think of how much I used to hate weddings, and how quickly my opinion of them reversed when the prospect of actually being a groom inched closer to reality.

My then-girlfriend, now-fiancée and I went on a great trip to Cancun and, even though it was more than nine months ago, I still find myself dealing with insatiable cravings for Mojitos at 11 a.m. on occasion. We also went to Cape May and loved it and, of course, there was Newport, where I finally popped the question (without actually popping the question, as I am constantly reminded of … sigh!).

Now, on to the not-so-good: The obvious lowlight is pretty simple. If anyone had told me that I would go an entire calendar year and not spend one second working on a full-time job, I’d have asked them when I won the lottery or was named in the will of a rich old aunt I had never met. This economy sucks, this recession sucks, and this job market sucks. I’d have completely lost what little mind I have left if it wasn’t for the one part-time job I still have.

Bidie, R.I.P.

One of my favorite pooches went on to doggy heaven. I still miss Bidie. I lived with the little bug-eyed, hot-tempered, 200-decibel-snoring rascal of a Boston Terrier for a year, but I knew her for most of her long, happy life, and there was a strong bond between us. As I said in my tribute post to her: If there’s a dog run in Heaven, I hope all of the other dogs up there are quick, or they might be in for a rude awakening.

For the first time since 2001, I was not part of a beach house on LBI, mostly for financial reasons. It turned out to be a good summer to skip, as it seemed like it rained almost every weekend, but there’s a certain calm and peacefulness about being near water, and I truly missed that all summer.

My Aunt Rose gave me a huge scare, as she suffered a minor heart attack and minor stroke in October. It was very unsettling for a while, as she was having a great deal of trouble expressing things like names, numbers and dates, but she’s improved to the point where she’s very, very close to 100%. I knew things were on the upside when she started nagging again.

So as I said earlier, overall, 2009 was pretty mixed, and it doesn’t draw the same “two middle fingers up” response that 2008 would. There was a lot of good and lot of bad, but the good outweighed the bad. Whatever else happens in 2010 (a job would be nice), our wedding April 25 and the honeymoon in Hawaii directly afterward will be the highlights, and I’m ecstatic about both.

The Flying Fish Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout is now history, and I am currently enjoying a Defiant Christmas Ale as I post this. Happy New Year to all who read this, and I hope 2010 is better for everyone. Cheers!

My fiancée and I on the beach at Key West

Unemployment Nine: One-year-plus, and counting

Oct. 2 marked the one-year anniversary of the day I was laid off. I don’t have any delusions of being superior to anyone, nor of being absolutely indispensable for the well-being of a company, but if you told me last Oct. 2 that I’d still be out of work this Oct. 2, I’d have laughed at you. Now it’s not very funny.

Unemployment

Unemployment

As anyone who knows me or follows this blog already knows, I haven’t been completely useless. I picked up one part-time job in April, and a second in June. The good news is that I’m working and I’m doing interesting, relevant things and keeping myself in the loop, rather than just killing time. The bad news is that the two part-time jobs are taking more out of me than my full-time job did, for about one-half the pay. There have been many days when I’ve started around 7:30 a.m. and gone straight through until 8 or 9 p.m., although not having a commute eases the pain of those hours to some degree.

I’ve been doing both jobs since June, and there are times when I still struggle with juggling both. I don’t want to favor one over the other, but just the same, I don’t want to leave something important hanging for either one of them, and admittedly, there have been several days when I would have loved a do-over so that I could take a completely different approach to managing my time.

I was really hoping (and I still am) that one of the part-time positions would become full-time, but I’m a little less optimistic these days, since the first wants me to cut back on my hours and the second brought over another person in a full-time role from a site the company sold. Unless the blog I’m working on explodes, I can’t see them adding a second full-time person when most of the company’s blogs don’t even have one.

Still, as I said, I’m happy with my role in both jobs, and despite what I said about making one-half of what I made at my old job, I’m being treated more than fairly by both companies and I am not even remotely disgruntled. It’s just very hard to adjust to part-time work after being in a full-time role from mere days after I graduated NYU in 1990 until just over one year ago. I really miss the stability of a permanent job.

And on a personal note, while COBRA is one of the most helpful tools for the unemployed, having to write out a check to my old company every month grates on my nerves to no end. I really wish the check went straight to the insurance company, because while I know the funds end up there, the mere thought of that company receiving one cent from me boils my blood.

Speaking of my old company, I’m smart enough to not even consider mentioning specific names or going into detail in a blog, because I’ve heard far too many stories about people being burned by content posted in their blogs. But I’ve held this in for one year and need to get it off my chest.

I’m not saying I’d have survived the layoffs had the things I’m about to mention not happened, because people with far more illustrious backgrounds there were also among the victims, but I really feel like I was doomed by two poor decisions. The first, by an old boss who was forced out of the company a few months before my layoff, moved me from a publication where I had spent 12 ½ productive years and felt like a well-respected part of the core to a publication where I flat-out didn’t fit in and never felt respected or welcome. And the second decision involves the people running the department now, who should not have been picked over some of the people I worked with at my original publication.

Again, there’s no guarantee that I’d still be there, but the two decisions really greased the skids. I never meshed well with the second publication, and despite all that, I’d take my work results and productivity over those of many of the people still employed there (certainly not all, because there are some great people there, too). Sadly, the decision was not mine to make, nor was it made by anyone with an appreciation for how hard I worked, but such is life. I keep trying to tell myself that everything happens for a reason, although after a little over a year, that reason has proven pretty elusive to grasp.

On another personal note, the timing of this stretch of unemployment could not possibly be worse. I got engaged Aug. 1 and, while my fiancée and her family have been nothing short of wonderful and supportive throughout this entire ordeal, not being able to propose with a “real” ring and not being able to contribute anything financially toward the wedding really sucks.

And another thing that really sucks: I don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel. I think I’ve sent out about three résumés over the past two months. I forgot what an interview feels like, much like a phone call that isn’t from a telemarketer. And just when I think things are starting to turn around, I hear horrible industry news, like yesterday’s report that Condé Nast eliminated four magazines, including Gourmet. News of that sort hits hard, even when I don’t know any of the victims, because all it does is increase the competition for the trickle of jobs that might actually be available.

Overall, my spirits and my state of mind are pretty healthy, but when it comes to the job situation, they pretty much suck.

Taking the plunge off the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI

The beach-house-less vagabonds are at it again: Just a few weeks after our trip to Cape May, my girlfriend and I headed up to Newport, RI, this past weekend. It was a fantastic weekend for a number of reasons.

One of the modest summer cottages in Newport, RI

One of the modest summer cottages in Newport, RI

Continuing our run of good luck with bed-and-breakfast establishments, the Attwater Villa was fantastic. It was located walking distance from much of what we wanted to do, and the couple who run the place were amazingly nice, friendly and helpful.

After some shopping and a couple of beers at the Red Parrot while avoiding a downpour, we had dinner at Brick Alley Pub and enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere.

Then came Saturday, Aug. 1, 2009: a day that will live in infamy (in a good way).

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, so we headed to the Cliff Walk, a four-mile-plus hiking trail that could not be more breathtaking. The ocean is on one side and many of Newport’s famous mansions are on the other.

The walk was a lot of fun, and we had the perfect weather conditions for it. Oh, yeah, and by the way, I started out the walk with a girlfriend and ended it with a fiancée.

A little background: We’ve been dating for almost two years, and we’ve lived together for a little over two months. And if I hadn’t been a layoff victim back in October, this probably would have been done months ago. But things are what they are, and I decided it was time to stop letting my financial situation stand in the way of destiny.

So I stopped holding out for the “traditional” engagement, with the “real” wedding ring, and bought a really nice, sterling silver ring with a blue stone to bridge the gap. It’s not going to be “the” wedding ring. I was calling it a “promise ring,” but once the ass hats on More to Love, a horrendous reality show on Fox, stole that term, let’s just refer to it as a “transition ring.”

Cliff Walk

Cliff Walk

We got to the end of the Cliff Walk, and I stopped on the pretense of resting and stretching out my knee a little bit, when what I was really doing was waiting for a few straggling people to clear out so we could have some privacy. I didn’t really take a knee, because I was already sitting on some steps while she was standing, but I basically just pulled out the box with the ring in it and said, “Let’s make this official.” She had no clue it was coming, and it took her a few seconds to process. Obviously, she said yes, or there would probably be venom dripping out of this blog post.

Back to Newport: After a quick lunch and a couple of cold local beers (I loved Edison Light and refuse to believe it’s light beer), we took a sailboat cruise around the harbor, which included a great view of the house where Jackie O. spent her summers.

I can’t wrap this up without talking about one of the best meals I’ve had in months. The Mooring was flat-out incredible. An appetizer called Bag of Doughnuts managed to combine zeppoles and seafood and make it unique and delicious. The Native Scallop Chowder was off the hook. And my entrée, a special salmon dish with pineapple teriyaki glaze, was to die for.

In summary, if you have the chance to go to Newport, do it. I wish we’d had a few more days up there. But be careful: You may return home engaged!