Unemployment Nine: What if?

About four years ago, I was very unhappy at my old job. I was moved against my will from a publication where I had spent my first 11-plus years at the company to another title where I just knew it wasn’t a good fit for a number of reasons, having had previous experience working with that magazine. I tried everything I could to fight it, but failed, so I began to consider options. In October 2008, the choice was made for me, as I was one of the victims of the first of what turned out to be several rounds of layoffs. But what if I had followed through with a plan I was seriously considering and left on my own?

Field of Dreams

A lot of things would have had to fall into place for me to actually go through with this plan, but this is what I was giving some very legitimate thought to doing.

As I said, I was unhappy with my job situation, and the entire process of working for a large company had made me quite jaded. I was in a situation where I was locked into a 3% raise no matter what my performance was, which gave me no incentive whatsoever to extend myself beyond my normal duties. This attitude was made worse when a co-worker who routinely showed up to the office around lunchtime (no exaggeration whatsoever) got the same raise I did, despite the fact that I ended up picking up most of the slack in his absence. So, my thinking was: If I’m going to work this hard and get so little reward, rather than working for a company where not giving a shit was mutual — I didn’t give a shit about the company, and it didn’t give a shit about me — why not do something I’m passionate about and try to find a job with a minor-league baseball team?

My plan was to enjoy one last summer on Long Beach Island, and then spend the next year making a very sincere effort to save as much money as I could, in anticipation of a lower salary. And then, when the following baseball season ended, I intended to bombard just about every minor-league and independent-league team in existence with my résumé in the hopes of landing some kind of position that involved a combination of writing, editing and Internet work.

Would I have ever gone through with it? I really don’t know, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

First off, I absolutely, positively suck at saving money. Saying you’re going to do something is different from actually doing it, and I’m not sure that I could have been that disciplined. In fact, the odds are against it.

Second, and most important: I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to pack up and leave the New York area, where most of my friends and family still live. It’s a very, very difficult decision to make. It seems like everyone has one moment during their life when they say, “Fuck this shit, I’m getting the hell out of here,” but again, there’s a big difference between threatening to leave and packing up the car.

Finally, even if I had actually gone through with my plan, would I have been happy? I’ve talked to a lot of people involved in baseball and, not surprisingly, the closer a minor-league team is to a legitimate city, the harder it is to get a job with that team. Teams like the Newark Bears and the Kane County Cougars (located pretty close to Chicago) will get significantly more résumés than, say, the Billings Mustangs or Casper Ghosts. I mean no disrespect to those cities, but they just don’t have the appeal of larger metropolitan areas. So, would I really have been happy living in Montana or Wyoming, after spending my entire life in Manhattan and Hoboken? I guess I’ll never know.

Anyway, as I said, I don’t know if I would have really gone through with this plan, but during what I envisioned as my last big-time summer on LBI, I really clicked with one of the girls in my beach house. She is now my wife. Needless to say, packing up and moving to the middle of nowhere is no longer part of the equation, especially since giving up her salary in this economy would be beyond foolhardy. And I have no regrets: Family should be more of a priority and a concern than career, and I am much, much happier being married in Hoboken than being single in Cedar Rapids.

But it doesn’t keep me from occasionally wondering what would have happened, especially with my frustration boiling over when it comes to my current unemployment situation.

Unemployment Nine: A little clarity in an otherwise-confusing situation

My confusing work situation is a little less confusing, but I’m still very confused. Confused? Good, join the club.

confusion

It appears that I will spend two more full weeks at the freelance copy-editing job I started practically seconds after my return flight from Hawaii landed. After that, I will come in for the publication’s two busiest days, Thursday and Friday.

The good news: I will regain some of the flexibility and free time I’ve gotten all-too-accustomed to in the past 20 months, allowing me to resharpen my focus on my blogging gig and giving me the time to interview for the elusive full-time job I’ve been chasing since October 2008, as well as to get things done around the house and run errands. And, most important, the hours I put in on Thursdays and Fridays at the copy-editing job bring in more money than an entire week of blogging, so I’d be a fool to turn down the opportunity.

The bad news: For as long as I have this Thursday/Friday gig, I basically have no life on Thursday or Friday nights, which happen to be two of the most popular nights for things like games, cocktails, dinners out and the like. I’ve been here for three weeks, and my departure times have ranged from 9 p.m.-9:15 p.m. on Thursdays and 7:30 p.m.-8:15 p.m. on Fridays. Even though Fridays don’t end that late in comparison, by that time of the week, my brain is completely fried and my body is totally exhausted, and I’m not great company (Note: To anyone who was about to comment, “When are you EVER great company?” go get bent.) Only coming in two days per week will definitely help the energy level, but it’s still pretty draining work.

Plus, I still can’t get used to one aspect of working on a freelance basis, although it’s perfectly logical. I hate the fact that taking time off, or even a holiday, means forfeiting potential earnings, unlike working on a permanent basis, on salary, when holidays and vacation time are built into the compensation structure and don’t eat away at my bank account.

One might say, “You’ve been out of work for 20 months. Why do you need time off?” And I might tell one to go fuck one’s self. While I may not have a “full-time,” permanent job right now, I’ve been working pretty damn hard, especially recently, while trying to juggle two jobs.

And summer happens to be my favorite time of the year. I love going to Yankees weekday-afternoon games, or even the occasional 11 a.m. Newark Bears game. I love the idea of a long weekend at the beach, especially since I’m no longer part of a beach house. I believe it’s healthy, for both the body and the mind, to recharge and spend some time outdoors while the weather permits it.

I never liked the feeling that I was wasting a vacation day when I was working full-time. But it makes the decision even tougher when I have to factor in not only the money I’ll spend during the day, but the money I won’t be making. There’s a huge difference between spending about $100 for a Yankees ticket and beer, and quadrupling that amount when subtracting my pay for the day. It’s really not worth $400, give or take a few posts or copy-edited stories, to see a ballgame, as much as I enjoy baseball. But I seriously need the break here and there.

So, we’ll see where the next step takes me. As I said earlier, it will be good to have some of my free time back, and to have a much-less-hectic schedule. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the life of a freelancer, but after 20 months and counting, it’s hard to remain optimistic about finding a full-time gig, and it gets harder and harder as the weeks go by.

I love the smell of Newark Bears baseball in the morning

So how did I come to find myself in Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, home of the independent Atlantic League’s Newark Bears, drinking an ice-cold cup of Miller Lite at 11 a.m. on an overcast Thursday morning? Follow along with me, dear reader, and I shall tell the tale.

Lancaster Barnstormers @ Newark Bears, 8/13/09

Lancaster Barnstormers @ Newark Bears, 8/13/09

The previous night, my lovely fiancée and I were driving to check out a possible location for the wedding. As often happens while driving, she went into auto-pilot and missed our turn, as she was following the same route she takes to work every day.

While trying to backtrack through Newark and find an entrance to 280 West, we happened to pass the ballpark, and the sign outside said, “Game Tomorrow, 11 a.m.” I personally had never been to that early of a game, but I know it’s common practice on getaway days in the minor and independent leagues, as most of the teams travel by bus, and not charter flight.

Even though I’m working two part-time jobs, August is a very slow month in terms of breaking news, so I’ve found myself in a pattern where the bulk of my work gets done either very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon. So an 11 a.m. game was actually a perfect diversion. And although the weather was very dicey, it didn’t really feel like it was going to downpour. Play ball!

Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium is a fun little ballpark, much like many minor-league parks. The food was affordable, the beer was cold, and I sat in the third row behind the Bears dugout. The “crowd,” and I use that term loosely, could not have possibly been more than 400, but the ominous gray skies and the 11 a.m. start time most likely contributed to that.

The Bears have a lot of familiar faces, including several ex-Yankees. Former All-Star outfielder Tim “Rock” Raines is the manager, former Yankees pitcher Mike Torrez (probably best known for his days with the Boston Red Sox, when he allowed one of the most famous home runs in baseball history, to Bucky Dent, in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park in 1978) is the pitching coach, former White Sox slugger Ron Karkovice is the hitting coach and the bench coach is Tony Ferrara, who held coaching positions with both the Yankees and the Mets.

Carl Everett

Carl Everett

As far as players, the most familiar Newark Bear is probably Carl Everett, a psychotic outfielder who played on several Major League teams, including the Mets. I still hate his guts for breaking up Mike Mussina’s bid for a perfect game at Fenway Park with two outs in the ninth inning on a cheap bloop single. D’Angelo Jimenez, a former big-time Yankees second-base prospect who played for Cincinnati and (I believe) San Diego is also on the roster, as is former Pirate Rob Mackowiak, former Pirate Tike Redman, former bum Mets closer Armando Benitez, former Yankee middle reliever and key member of championship squads Ramiro Mendoza, former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Scott Williamson and former pitcher for several MLB squads Willie Banks.

Thursday’s opponent, the Lancaster Barnstormers, didn’t have as many marquee names. Former Cardinals second baseman Tommy Herr is the manager, and the players included former closer Antonio Alfonseca.

The baseball was pretty crisp. I won’t compare it to the Major Leagues, but, a couple of sloppy errors aside, it was still good quality baseball. It was a fun experience on an otherwise dull Thursday, and I will definitely go back to a Bears game, hopefully with a larger crowd.

Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium

Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium