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: Summer is my favorite time of the year but, so far, this one truly sucks

I love summer. I really do. It’s by far my favorite time of the year. But I feel like the economy, Mother Nature and some other cruel forces are conspiring to make sure this summer ranks among the worst of my life.

My mood this summer

I knew I was likely in for an emotional come-down following our wedding and honeymoon. I mean, two weeks in Hawaii represented the trip of a lifetime, so I never expected the summer to compete with that. But I also didn’t expect it to suck a big, fat one, like it has thus far.

First off, there’s the lingering unemployment situation. I’ve been on a whopping total of one interview since returning from our honeymoon in mid-May, and I’ve also had one phone interview. In both cases, I knew right away that the respective positions and I were not good fits. So it’s been months since I’ve even sniffed any hopes of a full-time job, and a very sobering anniversary is quickly approaching. Unless something drastic happens between now and Oct. 2, I will have hit the dreaded two-year mark of unemployment. In my absolute worst assessments of my situation, I’d have never predicted coming close to that milestone.

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I’m not sitting around eating ice cream and watching soap operas. But I’m a little frustrated with both of my freelance jobs, as well.

The one I began recently basically destroys my Thursday and Friday nights, and I hate the fact that the pace is glacial, and I have no control whatsoever over it. There’s absolutely nothing I can do but sit and wait, and wait, and wait. It’s good in one way, because I get paid by the hour, so obviously, the longer I’m there, the more I make. But there are times when the hourly rate isn’t even remotely fair compensation for the activities I’m giving up, just to sit there and listen to people debate over every last clause that will appear in a medium that I am completely over: print. I don’t believe in what I’m doing, which makes it very difficult for me.

And when it comes to the one I’ve had for a little more than one year, I’m frustrated because I don’t get the sense that any improvement in my situation is imminent, whether it’s an increase in the amount of money I get paid per post, or an offer to come on board full-time, although those were mentioned as possibilities when I started. I feel like I’ve been bypassed by other people, albeit many of them worthy and deserving, and it seems like I’m speeding down a dead-end street. And the vibe in general has been far more negative than positive. I’m not a dog, and I don’t need someone to pat me on the head and say, “Good boy,” after every story I post, but receiving e-mail after e-mail of negative feedback without one positive note is not doing wonders for my attitude or my outlook.

The problem is, with my current financial state, I can’t even remotely afford to give up either job, so I have no choice but to solider on, regardless of how unhappy I am and how unrewarded I feel, whether monetarily or just in terms of fulfillment and getting some enjoyment out of my work.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m very happy to have both opportunities. Having something to focus on and being able to contribute at least some money into the household are both valuable commodities. But I’m just not happy doing what I’m doing right now and, as I said, I’m doing what I can to keep both jobs out of necessity, not out of pride in my work, or enjoying what I’m doing.

Summer, however, usually provides the cure-all, as I usually spend it doing some of my favorite things: going to baseball games, playing softball and going to the beach. This summer, however, has not been very good for any of those activities.

My wife and I are finally going down to Long Beach Island for a long weekend in a few days. As much as I’m looking forward to it, I fear that it will only whet my appetite for what I’ve been missing all summer.

And this obviously affects everyone, not just myself, but the weather this summer has been about as miserable as any summer I can remember in my 42 years of existence. It seems like the two weather conditions are high 90s-low 100s with suffocating humidity, or raining, and the latter usually comes up if I have Yankees tickets or a softball game. This weather just makes it nearly impossible to enjoy anything.

Softball is usually one of my best escapes from drudgery, but I just can’t get on track this season. Between having to miss games due to the newer freelance job, or games getting rained out, it seems like every time I start to feel comfortable at the plate, I end up not playing for two weeks, which sends me right back to square one. I’ve been trying to hit the batting cage regularly, but even in slow-pitch softball, there’s a big difference between getting it done in the batting cage and getting it done on the field. And I take it very personally when I don’t play well, often because my game that week was the one activity I’d been looking forward to for days. And naturally, when I don’t play well and my team loses, I feel like I’ve let my teammates down.

The weather has taken its toll on my Yankees experience this season, as well. It’s just that much harder to enjoy a ballgame when you’re coated in sweat and you feel like the sky is pressing down on you. Plus, I’ve had to sell my tickets for a few games I really wanted to attend, thanks to, you guessed it, the newer freelance job. I love Thursday-afternoon ball games, but I can’t afford to give up a day’s pay to go to them.

Look, I know things could be a lot worse. I could still be single. I could have no money coming in at all. I could have jobs that are a lot worse and that don’t even resemble what I’m trying to do. But sometimes it’s difficult to rationalize the fact that just because things could be worse, it doesn’t mean they don’t pretty much suck right now.

I really hope things turn around and I get to at least enjoy the second half of this summer, because Oct. 2 is looming and getting closer and closer, which will not do wonders for my mood or state of mind.

Wet wedding bells

Sunday, April 25, is just like any other random April rainy Sunday, except for one minor detail: I’m getting married!

My mental state is pretty much where it was four weeks ago. What I wrote then still stands: “I’m 100% calm, focused, and at peace with our decision. I have zero doubt that I’m doing the right thing, and I’m not the least bit nervous.”

Rainy Wedding

I had a great time at the rehearsal dinner last night, as well as at my bachelor party two weeks ago, and the best part for me has been getting to spend time with some close friends that I don’t see as often as I’d like, whether it’s because of location, family obligations, or whatever. I am pretty much ready to post this blog, get in the shower, and head to the hotel where everyone is staying with my tux, bagels, cream cheese and a Box O’ Joe from Dunkin Donuts.

The only thing I wish I could change is the weather. Right now, it sucks. It’s supposed to warm up a bit, and the rain is supposed to taper off, but any hopes of an outdoor ceremony have been dashed. The venue — Liberty House in Liberty State Park in Jersey City — will still have an awesome view and, as I keep telling everyone: Rain or shine, the bar is open!

But seriously, I feel good. I almost feel nervous that I don’t feel nervous, if that makes any sense. My iced coffee is kicking in, and I slept well, despite some drunken asshole ringing my intercom at 2:30 a.m. and again at 3 a.m. I am ready to attack the day and get things started, and I can’t wait for the “first glance.”

So rather than waxing poetic (Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam), I leave you with my message to Mother Nature:

Dear Mother Nature:

Enough is enough. Now you’ve really done it, and we are no longer on speaking terms.

I’ve gotten used to rain or the threat of rain every time I have Yankees tickets. I’ve gotten used to the same sort of behavior every time I have a softball game. I’ve even gotten over my summer vacation at the beach house on LBI a few years ago, which you destroyed by making it rain every single day from Friday the weekend before Labor Day through Labor Day itself.

But rain on my wedding day? Was this really necessary? This may have stuck a fork in any chances of salvaging our relationship.

But, since I’m in good spirits (you can’t break me, no matter how hard you try), I will offer this compromise: My fiancée, who will be my wife in a few hours, and I are heading to Hawaii tomorrow, for 14 days. If you make at least 12 of those 14 days picture-perfect, postcard-like Hawaii days, then maybe — just maybe — we can open talks again. Deal?

I’m not even going to try to post a list, but thank you to everyone who was involved in this wedding in any way. Everything is appreciated, and you are all loved.

Now it’s time to do 110-plus guests and whoever will be working at Liberty House today a huge favor and drag my ass into the shower, in anticipation of what will be the best day of my life, rain or not. Much love!

T-minus four weeks

Holy crap: Exactly four weeks from today, I will be a married man. I couldn’t be happier about this, and I couldn’t feel luckier, but it still seems a little surreal. It seems like my beautiful and amazing fiancée turned to me 20 minutes ago and said, “It’s exactly six months until our wedding day.” Five months blew by, and as I type this, we’re at 28 days and two hours, and counting.

Game over, or just starting?

I’m 100% calm, focused, and at peace with our decision. I have zero doubt that I’m doing the right thing, and I’m not the least bit nervous. The only slight worry in the back of my mind is hoping that the weather cooperates and enables us to be married outside, and hoping that everything goes smoothly and as planned. I still can’t believe it’s only four weeks away, though.

So far, everything has been great. My fiancée has been responsible for 99.9% of the planning, and she’s done a fantastic job. All of the plans are coming together nicely, and everything is moving forward at a good pace. This will hopefully continue.

And merging families has never even been close to an issue. My fiancée’s family has been nothing but fantastic to me since we started dating, and we truly get along well. It’s not a case of, “Well, they’re her family, and I’m stuck with them, so I might as well deal with it.” They’re great people, and I have felt welcome from minute one.

But what is it about the words “married” and “husband” that gives them such a powerful effect? As I said, I’m 100% on board with everything and couldn’t be happier, yet those words still make me hesitate for a second, channel Keanu Reeves from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and say, “Whoa!”

I’m looking forward to all of it: The bachelor party (I don’t even want to know what kinds of shenanigans are being planned), the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony, the cocktail hour (cocktails are never a bad idea), the reception and getting on the plane to go to a place I’ve wanted to go since I was nine years old: Hawaii.

As I said, I’m calm, I’m not the least bit nervous, and there isn’t the slightest hint of hesitation on my part. So why are those two words so rattling?

The human brain is a strange, strange thing.

Unemployment Nine: A loud, emphatic BAH!

I’ve often compared this 16-month journey of unemployment to a roller coaster, and unfortunately, the roller coaster is heading downhill again, and quickly.

funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures

I still haven’t heard a peep from the company I interviewed with three weeks ago, despite sending a follow-up e-mail to see where they were in the process. I really felt particularly bullish about this interview, marking only the second time since my layoff that I’ve felt so strongly. While I’m not giving up yet, not hearing a word has been discouraging.

The number of job listings, which had surged with the beginning of the new year, has slowed to a trickle. I don’t know if it was just a flurry of new jobs due to 2010 budgets, but whatever caused the uptick seems to have waved goodbye.

I’ve complained in the past about job listings getting more and more specific, with companies seeking to find the perfect candidate. Hey, it’s their right: They have exponentially more candidates to choose from, and they can do what they want. But the point I made more than one year ago that I’d like to make again is that subject matter can be learned, but the ability to express it clearly, cleanly and error-free, as well as with some flair and some search-engine-friendly terms, can’t be learned anywhere near as quickly. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve skipped over some jobs that I would normally apply to because, even though I’m fully confident I can handle the work load, when they ask, “Do you have six years’ experience covering the mating habits of the Himalayan Horned Toad?,” I have to be honest and say that I don’t.

I’m just over two months away from my wedding, and while I will not let any of this crap ruin our wedding or our honeymoon, it’s still difficult to completely block the thought that while I will be having the time of my life in Hawaii, it will also represent not only two weeks with no money coming in from my part-time job, as well as two weeks where absolutely nothing will happen in my job search.  Not that I would change anything about my proposal, but I never in my worst, most glum moods thought when I proposed in August that I’d still be out of work on our wedding day, and that reality is staring me dead in the face.

This is really starting to suck. Something needs to change, and quickly.

Unemployment Nine: Three-day weekend? Oh, joy …

Working part-time leads to a completely different mindset than receiving a salary. Slow days while working on salary are a true blessing, enabling clean-up tasks that usually fall by the wayside, attending to personal business (come on, now, everyone does that at work to some degree, and anyone who says they don’t is full of crap) or just taking a deep breath and relaxing a bit. Slow days while working per-story, however, are not the least bit enjoyable, because the money that could be made on a normal day seems like it’s doing the opposite of the stack of bills with eyes in the annoying Geico commercials and running away while flipping the bird.

Not very different from the current state of my wallet

Holidays, like this past Monday (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day), are even worse. People in my situation can’t really afford to go anywhere for the weekend, so what’s left is often a wasted day when not a penny is added to monthly earnings. Sitting at a pool bar sipping a frozen cocktail is an enjoyable day off. Going food shopping and running errands is not. Cancun is cool. Secaucus is not.

Before anyone starts in about holidays like Veteran’s Day and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day having deeper meaning, I won’t argue the validity of that point except to say: Let’s be serious. Whether you believe it’s right or wrong, the majority of people treat those holidays as days off and nothing more, and that’s an argument for another forum.

For those who don’t know me and/or aren’t regular readers, I’m getting married April 25. I’ve wanted to go to Hawaii since around age eight or nine, and that’s where we’re headed for our honeymoon. I absolutely cannot wait, and I intend to enjoy every single second of this trip and not let anything else going on in my life affect what will be a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

But I still can’t help thinking, in the deepest recesses of the back of my mind, that while we’re there, I will go two full weeks without making one dime, unless my luck turns in the next couple of months. That’s a little scary.

The 2009 World Series: Bringing the Bronx to Key West

Although I wouldn’t change a thing if I had the whole experience to do over again, not being in Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees win their 27th World Series title, and being 1,200 miles away instead, was a truly bizarre event.

At game one of the 2009 World Series with my fiancée

Let me explain: Anyone who has met me for six seconds or read this blog more than once knows I’m a die-hard Yankees fan. I had partial season tickets in Box 611 in the old Yankee Stadium since 1997, specifically for the purpose of being able to go to postseason games. It takes a very significant event to get me to miss any postseason game, much less the final game of a World Series.

And I was fortunate enough to be in Key West for a very significant event, which, as I already said, I wouldn’t change at all. One of my closest friends got married, and she found an absolutely fantastic guy. Not being there was never a consideration.

Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago, when I missed the Cowboys-Giants game, also for the wedding of another very close friend. I wasn’t the least bit upset with either friend in either case. In the case of the football game, it was just bad scheduling luck. In the case of the World Series, it was just pure stupidity on the part of Major League Baseball. The World Series should not extend into November, and the fact that a potential game seven would have been played Nov. 5 is a sad joke. I never gave the World Series a thought when making the travel plans. November is NOT baseball season.

A stop at the greatest breakfast place on Earth on the way down to Key West

So I ended up watching games three through six all over the place, after attending games one and two at Yankee Stadium.

I watched game three at my fiancée’s father’s house in Boynton Beach with three Phillies fans: my fiancée, her father and her stepmom. I actually like the Phillies, so this wasn’t an issue, with just a little good-natured ribbing going on.

I watched game four at Whiskey Tango, an excellent sports bar in Hollywood, FL, with my fiancée, my best man and his wife, the latter friends since college.

I watched game five at the pool bar of the Southernmost Hotel Collection in Key West, where we were all staying for the wedding. The wedding, incidentally, was a perfect beach wedding on a beautiful day, and I’m ecstatic that I was able to be there.

And I watched the sixth and final game at Jack Flats, also in Key West, with an interesting mix: a healthy number of Yankees fans, a healthy number of Phillies fans and one ass hat wearing a Red Sox shirt.

The main thing I learned from games five and six: Whiskey is evil.

I had a great time, and I couldn’t ask for better company. It still felt surreal watching the Yankees and my fellow fans celebrating in the Bronx and not being there, but it was for a worthy cause and, as I said, I’d do it all over again.

On the beach at Key West, after the wedding

Cowboys @ Giants, 9 @ Wedding

(Originally posted on my MySpace blog April 15, 2007) 

Murphy’s Law (the theory, not the band) just put a foot in my ass in a big way.

As anyone who has known me for more than 15 minutes comes to learn, I’m a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. And one of my favorite days of the year is when the Cowboys come to Giants Stadium. It’s a chance to drive 15 minutes, see my favorite team play live, enjoy great food and drink at my friend’s tailgate and see some good football. The game is rarely a blowout.

I’ve missed something like three of the past 20, and one was unintentional – tickets I thought I had fell through, and I ended up watching the game at a Hooter’s in Manhattan, dressed for a cold Monday night at the stadium and seemingly stripping off one layer after every drive.

The NFL released its schedule this past Tuesday and, starting me right in the face was Cowboys @ Giants, Nov. 11, 4:15 p.m.

Why? Why Nov. 11? Nov. 11 is the one day out of the entire football season that I CAN’T go to a game. My close friend and old roommate is getting married that day. Attendance is non-negotiable. I wouldn’t even think about not attending.

Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I may have had a fleeting thought (or 72) about blowing it off, but it’s not going to happen. I’ll be at the wedding.

But this is the kind of crap luck I have to deal with. The Cowboys play six night games. Why couldn’t this have been one of them? Or why couldn’t one of the crappier games on their schedule fallen on this day, like St. Louis, Minnesota or Detroit?

This fucking sucks.

The Cowboys do play at Miami and Chicago, where I have friends, so that’s a possibility. Washington isn’t a horrible drive, but that game is on Dec. 30, which just screams brutal weather.

Philadelphia is NOT an option. I won’t even get into why out of respect to two very lovely women and close friends who are in my beach house and a third who used to be in the house but moved on to marriage and children. But I will not set foot in that stadium during an Eagles game.

Life would be so much simpler without weddings. The industry is the biggest racket I’ve ever seen. “These flowers? $16 per dozen. Oh, wait … they’re for a wedding? Make that $125 per dozen.” Anyone who claims to really enjoy weddings is either full of shit or doesn’t get out of the house enough.

I vote for a return to caveman days, where courting involved bopping a woman over the head with a club and dragging her back to the cave. Think of how much less drama there would be.

So, what can I do but move on. I’ll enjoy the wedding and give it my undivided attention, then head straight for a sports bar and catch the second half. I’ll miss the experience, from waking up in the morning in full lunacy mode, to the tailgate, to the game itself. But I’ll be back next year.

That is, unless another wedding fucks that up, too.

(9’s edit on 1/16/08: Cowboys 31, Giants 20, and I was able to catch most of the game at a sports bar. Unfortunately, the Giants and Cowboys met again in the playoffs, and I really don’t want to get into that right now.)