Tag Archives: unemployment

My younger sister has always been a real size queen about presents. Last Christmas I bought her a gift certificate to H&M, but I put it in a really big box. I taped the little gift-card holder to the bottom and filled it with crumpled newspaper and a heavy log. She saw the 20” x 24” situation and got pretty excited, shaking it every now and then for a week or two before the big day, trying to guess at just what on her wish list might be crinkling and clunking around in there.

Given the mysterious and inconclusive lead-up, the reveal was priceless. She mostly thought it was funny, but I watched her excitement turn to confusion, then dismay, and then excitement again, diminished this time, tinged with the disappointment of not having received something larger. Still, I thought $25 was pretty generous for a guy with no job.
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It’s not pretty, but it’s true.

Once a week I drive forty-five minutes or so to a suburban town much like my own to tutor middle- and high-school Spanish. I make twenty dollars per student, per hour. A friend of mine got me the job in October on naught but a kind word, and having just left New York and what had then seemed like the promise of a promising career, I was up for anything.

Now, let me be clear: I have taken exactly two semesters of introductory Spanish, both in my senior year of college, and both entirely on a lark. I’d figured it was my last chance at any bought-and-paid-for whim, so why not prepare for the future in what promises to be the Bilingual American Century? In my nigh nine months as an estudiante I learned to conjugate regular verbs, describe my and others’ plans, and speak generally on the facts of the past as I saw them. With mild prodding I might have found inclination to comment on things I used to do, or would do, someday, but grammatical poverty and a philosophical aversion to Regret prevented me from opining on anything I would have, should have, or could have done.
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As a college student, I frequently met the question, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” or, even more generously, “What field do you think you might want to go into?” or, more often in my senior year, “What are your plans?” As a graduate, the Future has dropped off the face of the Present, and the questions have been reduced to the disappointingly broad and immediate, “What are you doing?”

No longer afforded the luxury of plans and the grace of aspirations, the graduate’s future is happening, now. No longer is it a matter of choice and planning, but rather one of presence and stasis. Where are you now, and what are you doing?
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Since the dawn of dot-com career sites, a job search entails little more than an endless browse—the online equivalent of wandering past every shelf in a bookstore, head cocked to one side, scanning the bindings. Looking for something, but the author’s name hangs just past the tip of the tongue. Unemployment is at 9.1 percent; in a surprising twist, I’m dying to be a part of The Other 90.9.

The slow burn of online job searching opens the door to a certain degree of poetic license, if only to assuage the litany of nouns that couldn’t possibly apply to sad, sweatpanted, page-refreshing you: analyst, executive, coordinator. The last thing I coordinated was the programming on my DVR (when you wake up after eleven you miss all the morning Frasier reruns). And so, the unemployed multitudes arm themselves with vocabulary and a generous belief in their abilities and wonder aloud into the wee hours whether “head photocopy intern” might be better expressed as “director of photography.” (My favorite such semantic upgrade is my boyfriend’s translation of “busboy” as “waiter’s assistant.”)
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Los Alamos, I said in my head, in the voice of Antonio Banderas. Tomero. Wandering the wine section of my local liquor store, I tarried among the South American reds. Antonio was really starting to sell me on the Punto Final.

I select wine on the basis of three factors. First and foremost, the attractiveness of the label—it should be very attractive. A close second is the variety of grape—anything red, really, because coffee stains aren’t enough—and third, perhaps most importantly, is price—twelve dollars and under. This last point has been a rule since I could drink legally, an Americanized holdover from my time in Germany, where I was told to pay “at least three Euro for a red, at least five Euro for a white, and no more than two Euro for a blush.” In America, I pay at least eight for a red, at least ten for a white, and won’t drink blush even if it’s free.

In the case of wines that I will drink, the differences between an eight-dollar bottle and a twelve-dollar bottle are remarkable—both to the wine connoisseur and the twenty-something, for whom four dollars is a calculable percentage of his net worth.
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At any given time, any given knitter has at least one project in the back of a closet—a would-be scarf, or sweater, or blanket, just barely begun, left among all the necessary materials, and chronically unfinished. The problem often breaks down to abandoned motivation—the sweater was for a friend, but she owes you $40 and you’re holding out; the blanket looked great on paper, but now you think it’s ugly—and is especially crippling in the case of projects on which significant time and energy have already been spent—too much to excuse surrender and retreat, but not enough to press to the finish.

It’s a lot like how you feel about your best friend from high school.

Not mine, but the chaotic pile is familiar.

And so these heaps of yarn languish as new projects come and go, and we try to forget the old ones. Sorry, guys. My new friends are cooler. Perseverance is a passing breeze.
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