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…

Maybe Arthur Jesus Is Better Than None!

In late 2009, I lost a pretty incredible job. It wasn’t the paid at the top rate in its industry, by any means, but it was the best wage I’d ever earned and it was a job that I was a natural fit for, (in fact, I had applied and interviewed for a different position, but some test results had the HR and management at the company ask me to me re-interview, for this other job!). The people were, on the whole, great, the work enjoyable and it was a short 10-minute commute. Then the economy started crashing and that was that. Lay-offs started and being fairly new to the company and not the most productive, (I can do high quality work, but it is apparently low in quantity), the axe fell upon my corporate neck. In those four-and-a-half years I’ve worked a total of seven months.

My wife & I sit, and plan and talk about all the stuff we want to do around here – the little businesses we want to start; the landscaping of our double lot into a self sufficient, crop growing wonderland – but it never happens. Most likely wont happen here, now, either.

The depression is terrible. It kills everything.

It hasn’t helped that, quite literally the only risk I’ve ever taken is coming to the USA to see if the internet romance we started could work in real life. My natural propensity is to have an idea, only to almost immediately dismiss it as a failure. Depression just makes this happen much quicker. So quick that anymore even mid-idea the vision of its total failure fills my mind and the thought dissipates.

I know I’m better than this. I am certain my wife and kids deserve more than this. But I just feel so lost in this whirlwind of life.

Sometimes I see the downturn in my fortunes and demeanor and that of this country and wonder… am I the King Arthur to the USA’s ancient Britain?! The apparent death of my homeownership on Good Friday has also made me wonder if this means that in three days I will rise from “the dead”. Maybe I’m just being delusional. Maybe its my mind just looking for patterns, as you do when looking at the whorls in a piece of polished wood and see the eyes and ghosts. Maybe all I need is to find that Holy Grail or to have someone roll away that stone. (Just noticed another link there, between the Holy Grail and Easter).

Oddly, the fog of depression and resignation has lifted a touch, as I write these words. Strange…

I Dreamed An American Dream…

There was a time when life seemed kind
Its circumstances soft
And the future inviting
There was a time when life was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed an American dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that youth would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

Then I was young and unafraid
So American dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

As I grew up, it turned the tide
And filled my days with endless stresses
It took my childhood in his stride
But it was gone when hard times came
And still I dream it’ll come to me
That I will live the good years again
But these are American dreams that might not be
And there are storms we might not weather

I had an American dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The American dream I dreamed

Woe, Woe and Thrice Woe…

Well, well…

As if one of my recent entries, concerning our financial situation, wasn’t whiny and self-centered enough, in Monday’s mail we got two awesome letters that will provide more “woe is me” drama.

Firstly, I managed to get our disconnection notice for our natural gas delayed two weeks. That was the good part, the bad part of this is that in a letter we received Monday, we have to pay the whole outstanding amount, ($400+), not the $180+ they were asking for to prevent disconnection.

Oh, but then the icing on the I-can’t-see-a-way-out-of-this-shit life situation I have lead myself into, dragging my wife and kids with me. Two letters from the lawyers office dealing with our foreclosure. Been waiting for this for a while, wondering when the process would restart. Oh… its restarted, alright. Restart, as in, picked up from where we left off, before the forebearance agreement. We have a date, next month, for the Sheriff’s sale of our house. I was fully expecting a restart of the process, not a continuation.

Fuck.

I don’t suppose the government will bail me out, like a Wall Street bank, will they? It’ll cost a fraction of the amount, (barely $25k should do…).

This house is, like my life, full of clutter and needing a damn good renovation. Just don’t know where to start, in either case.

I’d shake my old coffee can, but I doubt it would find $25k in it by the end of the month…

Wait… shit happens in threes, right? Oh, by the Gods…

*sigh*

Poverty can happen to anyone. (Guardian column, Feb 2013).

I know exactly where this writer is coming from, right at this moment…

JACK MONROE

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I didn’t manage to say very much on Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row, beyond an opening remark about people not being able to just rock up to a food bank with a carrier bag and help themselves. I started to talk about the Trussell Trust when Edwina Currie, also on my panel, cut over me to talk about my grandfather’s circumstances.

I wanted to say that poverty is almost indescribable to Edwina and co with their blinkered, self-righteous attitudes. That turning off the fridge because it’s empty anyway, that sitting across the table from your young son enviously staring down his breakfast, having freezing cold showers and putting your child to bed in god knows how many layers of clothes in the evening – it’s distressing. Depressing. Destabilising.

Imagine living for 11 weeks with no housing benefit, because of “delays”. Imagine those 77 days of being chased for rent…

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Not Lazy, But Disheartened

Our side of the aisle often likes to portray those receiving unemployment insurance as lazy ne’er-do-wells who aren’t interested in a job. Whilst there may well be some recipients who are like this, there are others who do not fit this mold.

Something that never seems to be addressed about long-term unemployment is the effect it has on the confidence & psyche of those in that position. I can speak with some experience on this. As a younger, single man, living in the UK, I had no problem with finding myself unemployed and on “the dole”. I lived with my parents, (and after they split up, my Mom), so I never had to worry about rent or mortgage payments; the dole covered me for a small payment to Mom as a contribution to the household budget and a few beers a couple of times a week and the odd cigar. Moving to the USA changed my outlook a lot. This change in view was only enhanced more by the advent of marriage and kids.

To cut a long story short, I’m part way through my second year of unemployment, living off the generosity of family members. The initial flurry of applications saw one interview and not many more “Thanks, but…” letters. When you’re applying for positions you know you can do, and have been doing for years, and do well, it is very disheartening. As time goes on the enthusiasm goes down, as depression sets in; you start applying for jobs at places like Wal-Mart and not getting any calls for interviews, you feel like there’s no job you can apply for that you can get. And I bet that I’m not the only one who feels like this. In fact, if I could afford to bet on it, I would put money on it that most all of us who have “dropped out” of the labor market have these same feelings.

Oh… I haven’t been diagnosed with depression, but then, I can’t afford a doctor visit, as I refuse to accept the bondage that comes by signing up for Medicaid, (as an aside, I haven’t obtained any government assistance, outside of U.I.), but the feeling of despair and hopelessness can only be depression. All of this is exacerbated by the high cost of living.

So, all I ask is that you think a little about those of us who want to be productive members of American society, but have just lost our way to that goal and if you can help some of us out, please do. I can only speak for myself, and say that anyone helping me out of this hole would have my eternal respect, loyalty and gratitude, but I also firmly believe most Americans in my position would feel the same way.

Democrats! Time To Stump Up Your Fair Share!

Congratulations, Democrats.

Your guy won re-election and it already looks tougher to get a job than it was, which kind of sucks for me, being unemployed. Ever since I was laid off from a nice job in the auto industry, in October 2009, I’ve been pretty depressed, (at least I assume it is depression, as I haven’t been able to afford to get a proper diagnosis, so I’m just assuming the sadness that started at that time was depression) and have only had one temporary job since that time and am now down to my last couple of hundred dollars.

It was already close to impossible to get a good paying job and with Obama’s re-relection, companies are now freezing their hiring or are laying people off, so I doubt it will get easier.

So, I now appeal to your “fair share” mentality and I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to donate to me and my family. After all, I have a mortgage, utilities, groceries for two hungry boys, therapy for our special needs son, etc. that needs paying. I don’t want to rely on the government, because I’d rather just cut out the middle man.

Thanks for your forthcoming, generous donations!

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