Time To Succumb And Jack In The Cubicle…?

I’ve been unemployed a good long while now. Being unemployed as a married man with commitments is different to when I was in the same circumstances as a young twenty-something, still living at home with Mum. Being unemployed as a married man is depressing.

Sorry. That’s the truth of it.

In 2007, I was desperately looking around for another job whilst working out the remaining time with a company in a position they had had the great idea of outsourcing to an Asian country. For once, I lucked out. I went in for aptitude testing and an interview for an administrative-based job with a company closer to home, (literally a five minute drive away), and came out with a second interview date for a position completely not related to general clerical work, which eventually lead to a great offer, which I accepted. I finally felt things were going my way, but then the crash of 2008 hit and eventually our team was pared down like so many other in the company had been before us, and I was gone.

I took the opportunity to be an SAHD, but the blow to my career ego and self belief was huge. Almost two years later, I eventually found a temporary position on a project with the company I had left in 2007 and my self belief was so low I was very nervous. To overcome these jitters, I took to wearing a shirt and tie to the job, instead of the business casual the company allows. I jokingly told everyone it was because I was aiming to be taken back as a permanent employee with the corner office and important meetings.

“Dress for the job you want!” I would say, managing to force a twinkle in my eye.

The reality was different. Once we were in our cubicles I felt a strange juxtaposition. I found myself loath to standing up, for whatever reason, thus enabling me to see across the tundra of the powder blue cubicle tops, yet it took no time at all for the cubicle walls to feel stifling. I remember one time standing there, during our designated break time, watching the people scurry from their 6’x6′ pieces of corporate real estate and thinking, “This is it?”. It wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I was missing my family every hour I was away from them and the special needs of our eldest made me nervous about being so far from home…

Maybe the day I first stood there with these thoughts in my head was the day I sabotaged myself, because as soon as the project was winding down and they were looking around for the dead wood to drop from the project, I was front and center, apparently.

I was a SAHD, once more and, for a while, things were good. But then the money started to run out and soon we were living moment to moment, staggering the payments of utility bills, and eeking out every last cent when grocery shopping – Manager’s Special is the name of the farm we get all our meats from!

I’m starting to get a few nibbles, so maybe the economy is finally turning around, like they say, but its all been very depressing. The damage from 2009 cracked the very foundations of how I perceived myself and the walls have just crumbled these last couple of years. Even just the mere thought that someone might want me to go for an interview makes me short of breath, the thought of being in a cubicle, once more tightens my throat, and the thought of answering ‘phones makes me want to find a dark corner and assume a fetal position, complete with soft sobs.

Through all these five years of despair, there have been plenty of people I’ve thrown the blame at – the managers, the bosses, the politicians – but I also accepted my own role early on.

Maybe, as an immigrant, maybe I don’t have that American “gene” – my Naturalization papers apparently didn’t come with a free course of “Kick Ass” injections or free sessions with a “Go Get ‘Em” counselor that Americans apparently get from birth!

Maybe I’m built differently. It seems many Americans people the world over accept their lot in life and do what’s needed to keep it going or improve it, but all I found myself doing was wallowing in a vicious circle of inner self loathing and unbelief.

About thirty years ago, I started cooking in my mother’s kitchen. I was always a little adventurous out there, and remember that early on I was reaching for the recipes my Mum wouldn’t bother with – like most mothers, at least when I was a kid, she could cook great tasting food, but its variance and adventurousness was minimal – and I remember pulling souffles, gingerbread loaves and trays of very sticky treacle toffee out of her oven. I still love cooking. I burst with pride that someone I love has told me that the dish or cake I just cooked was awesome. It doesn’t have to be fancy and most always never has a recipe, after the first couple of attempts.

Before I left the UK in 2000 one of the most popular tv shows was on in the mid-afternoon, aimed squarely at the SAHMs whose darling little angels would soon be home from school, ready to empty the pantry and refrigerator. Ready, Steady… Cook! took two “celebrity” chefs, two audience members with about ten quids’ worth of groceries and twenty minutes to knock out a meal. The first time I saw it, I loved the show, used its formula of “groceries + ((basics + staples)on hand)” from then on and I still mostly cook like that.

My Dad would call me “Tony Stopani”, after a local West Country tv “celebrity” chef from the 60’s & 70’s. I would happily sit for an hour or more, thumbing through Mum’s cookbooks, whether a modern offering from the OXO stock cube company, a Reader’s Digest recipe card collection from the late 60’s or the Mrs. Beeton’s book from 1926 that Mum got when her Mother-in-Law passed away. When the all-boys school I attended for my secondary education decided to offer a CSE level Catering course, I jumped at the chance and was in one of the first two classes in our school.

Catering was always a suggestion on peoples’ lips around the time it came to choose career paths. I was more interested in the sciences, though being the poor scholar I am, I failed them. Miserably. By the end of Sixth Form, all I needed was any passing grade in my Biology “A” level – my last remaining course, and a subject I still love to read about, to this day – but it wasn’t to be. My train of thought was that if I didn’t know it by the time of the exam, “swotting” for two weeks beforehand wouldn’t help. Besides, spending free Summer days on the town’s beach, eyeing the girls and splashing around like kids seemed much preferable. A classic example of youth wasted on the young…

Anyway… catering…

All I could see when I heard the word catering or chef was long hours in a hot kitchen, getting rude customers whining about the food you just spent hours preparing and cooking. My reticence to go into this field was probably helped, too, by my “work experience” for my CSE which consisted of two weeks – or maybe it was one week that just felt like two! – in the increasingly dilapidated, soon-after-that-closed holiday camp – Billy Butlin had had the sense to get out of there before the place finally died – in the touristy part of town, where my jobs were running the dishwashers and using the kitchen scissors to cut up roasted chickens into the ubiquitous quarters so beloved in British “cafes”. In contrast, the only other work experience I had provided for me, as part of my studies, was a week in the local Dow Chemicals plant, using x-ray spectroscopes and gas chromometers and all other manner of cool toys. Catering? Nah… a mugs game. Science it was for me.

The bravado and self-assurance of youth rode roughshod over commonsense and perspective.

Of course, now I live “Stateside”, I miss good old British cooking, on occasion. Fare like steak & kidney pie, faggots & peas – if the name of that dish offends you I suggest you Google it – bara brith, Dundee cake and bangers & mash aren’t very likely to be on the menu at your nearest Denny’s or pre-prepared and sat in the freezer section at your local Wal-Mart.

Over the years I’ve had many business ideas. If I were to guesstimate, about one-third have been based around food. I think it is time I looked over them all, pick one and take the plunge, finally listen to the decades old advice of my family and start regaining that self-worth I’ve been missing for so long…

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