I pulled out some old stuff that was gathering cobwebs on my computer…Here’s chapter one of the yet untitled and as of yet unpublished larger work. Feel free to critique. I always welcome constructive criticism!
One of the perks of unemployment, and by perks of unemployment I mean pain in the ass things about unemployment, is that you are required to attend weekly classes to make sure you are making the most of your job hunting opportunities. The first few weeks, people seem to really be into it. There were tips about how to make your resume “pop” to potential employers, how to ace that interview and land your dream job, and my personal favorite “discovering your true potential and making a change.” That one focused on how to change careers as if it was something easily done during a time of record unemployment and a completely over saturated employee pool.
I honestly don’t know if they really believe that this will help me land a job but until I do, I have to keep showing up in order to get that measly portion of my past paycheck. So many people come and go to these meetings. Most people come in, get their attendance recorded, get up to use the restroom, and then leave. That made sense to me because if they were really looking for a job they would want to be out pounding the pavement and talking to as many people as they could instead of sitting in a very boring room with one window, watching a video on how to dress for success.
There are a few of us who stay though. Four of us sit in the back and have our own meeting of sorts. It has become more therapy than anything else. We know that the meeting is a total waste of time, but it is nice to feel that sense of belonging. Every Wednesday we meet up and rotate the coffee and donuts duty. Marcus takes his coffee black with two sugars if it’s a medium. Four if it’s a large coffee. At 54 years, he’s in the pool of people trying to rediscover themselves. I think he once said that he had never been laid off before. Quite amazing if you ask me but then again, he didn’t work in a seasonal industry like I did. Two donuts, a Boston Cream and a chocolate glazed, on the side.
Then there is Sylvie. She’s interesting. I think she needs a career as a professional scowler. She sits with us week in and week out, yet I’m still not sure what she used to do. I know she’s 22. I know that college wasn’t her cup of tea because she has an artist’s soul. I wonder what kind of soul she thinks I have. It would be interesting to hear her opinion, that is if she would actually say more than three words to me. She takes her coffee large with a shot of espresso, six sugars and almost half a cup of cream along with a coffee roll the size of her own head which she unrolls and then dunks into her coffee. As if the coffee needed more sugar than it already had.
Camden is a medium skinny latte with a Splenda on the side. Some days he doesn’t add the Splenda. That’s how you know if he’s in a good mood or not. The days he adds the Splenda are the days he’s kind of pissy. He’s 36 and beautiful. The sad thing is that he knows he is beautiful. He is a landscape design artist. When people stopped building homes though, he stopped getting calls from contractors. Then, the firm he worked for went under. He enjoys a fruit and yogurt parfait, granola on the side.
I don’t quite know how it happened. We all seemed to just connect over a really bad joke about the state employee who ran this particular meeting. She kept saying the wrong word during one of her lectures and Marcus and I probably were the first to start chortling but Camden soon picked up on it. Then out of the blue, Sylvie just raised her hand and said “I seen it on TV too. Do you think that because I seen it on TV and I say that in an interview I won’t get hired?” The woman answered Sylvie as if there was nothing wrong with her question aside from the obvious verb issue. Marcus nearly pissed his pants laughing at that. And there she sits, that state employee, enjoying full benefits and telling us what she “seen” on tv. And here I sit, listening to her.
Five months we’ve been meeting. Five long months. It’s not that I’m not looking for a job. Trust me, I’m looking. I fall into that career change category which means it’s going to take a lot more than making my resume pop at an employer. Our tiny seaside town is slowly turning into a ghost town. Every summer it floods with visitors. People who are looking for that getaway to the beach, a chance to see someone famous, just a moment to relax, they all flock here to find it. I have worked in the hotel business since I was in high school. I started out in the laundry room, folding towels and sheets for eight dollars an hour, eight hours a day, forty hours a week. It was tough to be in a room without air-conditioning and four industrial dryers in 85 degree weather. I loved it though. I loved the constant flow of the day. The calls for extra towels, catching glimpses into people’s lives when you cleaned their rooms, it all was so fun and yet so easy.
In the summers between school, I would come back and work. Each year, I took another step forward. Night Housekeeping, reservations agent, front desk clerk, each step told me that I was good at this. I could do this without thinking too much and yet found it challenging to keep people pleased. I kept going to college because that’s what my mother and father wanted. I liked meeting new people every day. I liked playing chicken with a late night guest looking to get the best rate. It was fun.
I ended up as the front office manager for a luxury beach resort. Everything was held to a higher standard. The guest encounters were judged on all levels and I took pride in the fact that I consistently achieved guest satisfaction scores in the high nineties. Yes, I’m a perfectionist. I was bred to be one.
Since the economy started tanking, people started staying closer to home. Choosing more economical vacations was the prudent choice. Slowly those ripples reached our resort. First it was the cuts to housekeeping, followed by cuts to the front desk. Everything seemed to come to a head when the upper management had layoffs and cuts in hours. You can only run a resort on a skeleton staff, maintain quality, and expect to see repeat guests for so long.
Nothing really surprised me the day I was laid off. My boss simply pulled me into his office and said that we knew this day was coming and here it was. He handed me the packet on unemployment benefits and a letter of reference. It was nice of him considering that I didn’t really ask for it. It was still very surreal though, being laid off. I had been laid off once before, furloughed to be exact. I didn’t worry though because it allowed me to take an extra course over the semester I was not there. This time, it was a little different.
I felt like I should have tried to find another job before I got put into this position. The British say that you are made redundant. I don’t know what sounds worse, being laid off or being made redundant. Either way, I shouldn’t have let it happen. I should have jumped ship long ago. Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. I just felt some sense of loyalty, partially because I was comfortable and partially because I wanted to pretend things were going to get better.
I spent a month of cold calling and submitting countless resumes on Hcareers.com and Monster.com and Iwantagoddamnedjobnow.com. Ok, so maybe the last one isn’t a real website but by the time I was done with them all, I felt like it very well could have been one of the sites I submitted to. I filled out countless online applications, entering my personal information, filling out my job history as well as attaching my resume. Why, in God’s name, do they require you to fill out the job history section of the application AND require you to submit your resume? It makes no sense. Maybe that’s why I’m redundant.
Filling out the unemployment forms was a fun process. The questions were laughable at times. Am I looking for a new job? Once I was tempted to attach a note saying, “No, I’m hoping to join the circus and learn the fine art of sword swallowing.” I didn’t think that the clerk at the unemployment office would appreciate the fine humor in my statement. I wonder if they have an unemployment class on how to obtain a career in the circus? Wouldn’t that be a fun one? I hope the person who teaches it comes in dressed as the clown who rides the unicycle and throws the pie in the face of the other clowns. Now that would be an unemployment class worth attending.
This is the story of my life every Wednesday morning at 11 am. I sit in the classroom, thinking of ways to get another job without having to move half-way across the country. I like where I live but for some reason, it doesn’t like my job any more. That’s probably the hardest part about all of this. If I wanted to move to Las Vegas, Southern California, or Florida, I would have no problem getting a job. Yeah, I’m young and skilled, but I like it here. I don’t want to leave it because it’s my home. Listening to myself say it again, it does sound a bit whiney but really, why should I have to leave? Isn’t there anything for me here?
When the census data came out with the latest numbers, it showed a shocking decline in the number of people under the age of 40 living in our area. Looking at the job market, it’s no wonder why. Who can afford to live here? Who can afford to not have a job and support not only themselves but a family? Yet the powers that be, the retirees, they all sit around scratching their heads. It’s really not rocket-science. However, that’s when I get into trouble. When I get on my soapbox and talk about the cycle. The cycle is what I refer to this whole period as. Right now, we’re in the poor cycle. It’s like the Great Dustbowl all over again, it’s just we don’t have migrant workers. There really isn’t anywhere for them to migrate. So instead, they sit, just like me, inside an unemployment office, watching a video on the best way to answer the toughest interview questions.
Today it’s Marcus’ turn to bring the coffee. Mine is a large French vanilla coffee, extra cream, extra sugar. He hands it to me with a smile, along with my blueberry muffin. Sylvie sits directly behind him, next to Camden. Even though there aren’t assigned seats, we are all creatures of habit and once the seating arrangement proved to work for the four of us, we left it.
“Who do you think they’ll stick us with today?” Marcus asked, handing Camden his parfait.
“If we’re lucky, it won’t be Amelia. I can’t stand her voice. I know she’s really trying to help but seriously. She is so monotone. It makes me see everything in grey when she talks.” Sylvie said as she slouched into her seat. She pulled her iPhone out and began playing Angry Birds. She could be one of the Angry Birds, smashing the wood and stone of the Pigs. She looks like a bird, a black bird, with her very angular jaw and nose and dark black hair cropped into a short pixie cut. Marcus hands over her order and she begins her ritualistic unrolling of the cinnamon roll while Camden rolls his eyes at her. You would think he would be used to her quirk by now.
“You know, it could be Amelia’s day, now that you mention it.” Marcus said absentmindedly, looking at his watch. It’s funny to see someone still wear a watch even. I know I gave mine up. I use my phone. It was one less piece of jewelry to worry about losing.
Camden seems on edge today because he is sitting behind me tapping on my chair. I don’t have many pet peeves in life, but that is probably close to number one, second probably to people who chew with their mouths open. I turn to look at his foot, tapping the leg of my chair. He catches my glance and quickly stops his foot.
“Sorry, nervous twitch. I have an interview today.” He said and looked from me to Marcus.
“Are you nervous because you want it or nervous because you hate having to answer the same questions yet again for someone who really isn’t interested in your answers?” Sylvie said, not looking up from her phone.
Camden sighed. “You know, not all of us see everything as half empty.” His comment clearly hit its mark because Sylvie put her phone down to actively join our little conversation. “It’s actually a really good job. Different from what I’ve been doing in the past, you know with the landscaping design. I figured that I should try my hand at sales.”
Marcus snorted. “Do you really think that sales is a smart move?” Marcus had worked for the last 14 years for a company that sold plumbing parts. He was their senior sales rep. When sales started to decline because housing development went on the decline, he was the first to be let go. They told him that while he had brought so much to the company, they felt it was time to get some fresh blood in to try and see if some new tactics and approaches would be able to increase sales. Six months later, the company filed for bankruptcy. So much for that fresh blood.
“I do think it’s a smart move. It’s a sales representative for a liquor distributor. Liquor never has an issue in a recession. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that liquor sales have remained pretty stable over this whole economic crisis, or whatever channel 7 is calling it today.” Camden said and then took a sip of his latte.
I turned to look at him. He really was nervous. You could see it all over his face. In fact, he looked like he had only gotten four hours of sleep. “Did you get any sleep last night?” I asked, curiosity getting the best of me.
“Why? Do I look tired? I can’t look tired. I used my girlfriend’s puffy eye cream. She told me to use Preparation H but I told her if I didn’t use it on my ass, I sure as hell wasn’t going to use it on my face.” Camden said, sounding frantic that his look may be compromised by dark circles and puffy eyes.
Marcus laughed quietly. “No, pretty boy, you still look like the heartbreaker you always look like.”
“Don’t knock the PrepH. That trick really works. I saw a supermodel talk about it once. She said after a night of being out at a party all night long, she had the worst puffy eyes. They use it all the time in the industry. It’s not just for hemorrhoids.” Sylvie said, pulling another piece of her coffee roll apart and dunking it into her coffee. “And you have a girlfriend?” She asked, her eyebrows raised. Her crush was so obvious and yet completely lost on Camden.
“Well, she is not a girlfriend in the traditional sense, but she’s a girl and she’s definitely a very, very good friend.” Camden smiled devilishly.
“Thank you for sparing us the details. I’m not sure we could handle it.” I said, rolling my eyes.
Camden laughed. “Someday, you won’t hear them, you’ll live them.”
I shivered at the thought of spending the night with Camden. While he was absolutely stunning and yes, I have once or twice caught myself staring longer than I should have¸ I don’t know that I would be able to live with myself if I became one of his conquests. But then again, I’ve always been a sucker for the dark hair and the deep blue eyes. And he’s got a very nice body. Maybe if I told him he couldn’t speak. No, I still would feel dirty after it all.
“See, you’re thinking about it aren’t you. Well, my door is always open to you. You’ve got that cute girl next door feel to you but I know what that translates to after a few glasses of wines and some…” Camden was abruptly cut off by Marcus who kicked his chair.
“Camden, I think that you are really testing your limits here. I don’t doubt that Mallory could take you down in a heartbeat. Besides, I think she enjoys not being on a healthy dose of antibiotics.” Marcus said, winking at me as he turned back to face the front of the room. Amelia had come in while we were discussing the many women of Camden Stoddard.
Amelia was our usual fearless leader. She had a routine that never varied. She would come in, almost undetected. Then, she would clear her throat three times, take a drink of whatever she kept in her mug that had the Hogwarts crest on it, and then place three folders down on the table at the front of the room. The first folder was the list of people who were supposed to be in the room. The list changed week to week, presumably as people became employed, their names were removed and conversely if they became newly unemployed, they were among the new set of lucky people. The second folder had the past month of attendance sheets. A basic piece of paper, drawn up on Excel and spattered with Clip-Art of people at desks, giving presentations, and computers was all the state needed to give us credit for attending. I laughed every week as I signed my name next to my printed name. You would think they would want to check my id or something, anything to prove I was who I claimed to be. Nope, not here. Maybe that was beyond Amelia’s pay grade.
Then there was the third folder. The third folder was red. I always was fascinated by the red folder. The other two were run-of-the-mill manila folders, but for some reason, this last one was cherry red. Amelia treated it differently too. She didn’t just place it down, she wiped the table before placing it down. It was as if she had a special attachment to that folder. She usually pulled out her lesson plan from the red folder. It wasn’t really a lesson plan though. It was a series of bullet points that she may have been required to tell us or felt would help if she enlightened us.
Since these sessions often included new people, Amelia would begin by introducing herself, giving her background which, sadly, always seemed to be pretty boring. She went to college for social work but since it was a difficult career path, she decided she would find a more fulfilling way to help people so she became a career counselor. Luckily for us, she is dedicated to helping each and every one of us find our full potential and is here for us whenever we need her. I think that last part was added because Amelia is lonely. I don’t know that for a fact, I’m just guessing. She has that look when no one is watching, that daydreaming look. That and I’ve see her staring at Camden, usually a tell-tale sign of a lonely woman. Trust me, I know.
After her brief career synopsis, she dives right into her bullet points with a forced amount of enthusiasm. I always felt like it was the courteous thing to listen to her, even though I have heard the spiel more times in five months and probably could do a close enough impersonation of it that it might pass over the phone. I just felt bad for her. She was trying but she knew that she wasn’t doing enough to capture out attention and hold it. The newbies who almost always sat up front knew that she was trying but even they couldn’t pretend to stay interested through the three pages of job hunting tips.
“Dress for success. That’s always the most important thing. If you walk into an interview wearing sweatpants and a ratty old t-shirt, who will want to hire you? No one. No one will want to hire you dressed like that. They will think that you do not care about your appearance and therefore will not care about the job. So, first thing you should do today is go through your closet and pick out your best clothes. A suit should be your number one choice.” Amelia went on, ignoring the undercurrent of chatter and blatant disregard for her sound advice. “But if you don’t have a suit, think about what you would wear if you ran the company. Then, dress like that for the interview.”
All of a sudden, I felt a tap on my back. “Do I look like I’m dressed for success?” Camden sounded ridiculous. He could wear a pair of lederhosen in neon pink with a beanie cap and he would still probably get the job, probably because his perfectly sculpted calves would be showcased in that kind of an outfit.
Sylvie fluttered her eyebrows and gave him the once-over. “You look fine. Get over yourself. Just answer their interview questions right and you will be fine. Don’t you have faith in Amelia’s methods and tips?” She said, stirring her coffee with another piece of coffee roll.
“I wasn’t asking you. I don’t want them to think I’m joining a Dungeons and Dragons game or whatever you kids do. I just think you have a different idea of dressed for success. No offense.” Camden said. He must have added that last part because he realized how douchey he sounded. I looked at Sylvie and she definitely was stung by that. Marcus, ever in the father roll, turned to her and patted her hand.
“You know, you can look completely professional and downright attractive until you go and open your mouth and say some pretty nasty things.” I said. “Yes, you look fine. I think Sylvie answered that just fine and I think she’s heard Amelia’s lecture on how to dress for success to know what works and what doesn’t.“ I don’t know why, but he had struck a nerve with me. Sylvie clearly was madly in love with him but he treated her like a puppy dog nipping at his heels. It didn’t help that she couldn’t stop taking those moments to steal glances at him. I know I have caught her, which means Camden has caught her too.
Sheepishly, Camden turned to Sylvie. “Sorry, that came out pretty badly. Thank you for your opinion. I’m just nervous. It’s the first interview I’ve had where I actually want the job. I’m also getting so numb going on all these interviews, it’s making it hard because since I want this one so badly, I’m just so afraid I’m going to blow it. Forgive me?” He said, holding out his hand.
“Yeah, I get that. It’s fine.” Sylvie said, forgoing the handshake. “By the way, it’s not D&D that the ‘kids’ play today. We do a lot more than that. Try WoW or anything other than D&D.”
“WoW? Do I even ask what that means?” Camden asked. “Never mind. Whatever you play or don’t play, I’m sorry.” He turned back to me, looking for approval for his apology. I couldn’t help but give him a partial smile mixed with my poorest excuse of a grimace. Those damn eyes just melted me. I couldn’t help it.
We all turned back to our fearless leader. She was wrapping up page three of her bulleted points. “Lastly, a handwritten note can go a long way. At the end of your interview thank them and try to remember one or two things that took place during the interview. When you get home, before you do anything else, sit down and write a thank you note. You can email one too if that is easier, but sometimes the hand-written touch is a nice one.” She put her bullet points back into her precious red folder. Then she took the attendance sheet which had already circulated through the room. She counted the heads and compared the number to the number of names on the list. A quick, unconscious nod of her head meant that everyone on the list was in the room.
“Now that we have reviewed some of the main points in obtaining your next position, let’s take a look at a short film that explains the importance of a first impression. The film is about 40 minutes. So please, sit back, feel free to take notes and at the end, if you have any questions, I will return to answer them.” Amelia said as she turned the television on and prepared the DVD.
Her promise of return perked the ears of over half the group. It was the cue that it was almost time to leave. It was our cue that it was almost time for us to compare this week’s job hunting notes. I enjoyed this time because we usually were the only ones who stayed. Yes, we could relocate to a more comfortable location, but this worked for us, plus, it looked good when Amelia returned and at least some people were still in the room.
“Oh and one more item before we begin the DVD. Next week, we will have a guest speaker here to discuss an exciting opportunity so if you are still in the search pool next week, please be sure to attend and bring along a recent copy of your resume. Ok, here we go with the film, enjoy!” Amelia pressed play, dimmed the lights, and left the room.
“A guest speaker. I wonder what that’s about, “ Marcus said. “We’ve never had a guest speaker. Maybe they are changing the format of this silly ‘workshop.’ These really should be divided by skill level. I mean, the four of us would benefit more from networking events, not just these silly courses. My wife doesn’t believe half of the shit I tell her when I get home from this thing. She thinks I’m making some of it up. I had to bring home a photocopy of Amelia’s red folder to show her I wasn’t making it up. This is really the biggest waste of time in my life right now.” Marcus must have been holding onto that one for a while. I wanted to know how he got the red folder. I would have to ask him later.
“Maybe it’s Amelia’s boss coming to tell us that she’s been promoted and that we never have to listen to those three pages again.” Sylvie said dryly.
Camden chuckled. “Don’t get your hopes up. I think as long as we are here, she’ll be here. Maybe she’s the real incentive to get out there and find a job. It’s either that or be forced to listen to her drone on. So, seriously, do you think that this is a bad fit for me?” Camden asked, clearly still hanging on to Marcus’ earlier comment.
“I didn’t mean it was a bad fit for you Camden. I just get weary of sales in a down economy. I think you’re right. Alcohol probably is a safe industry. And sales reps for booze need to be schmoozy. And you reek of schmooze. I think that if you go in there and charm them and show them that you are willing to meet quotas and really work to meet those quotas as well as bring in new clients, you should be fine.” Marcus was always a voice of reason, helping us to muddle through the doubts in our head. I hope his children knew how lucky they are to have him. He really is worth listening to.
“Mallory, do you think you would buy vodka from me?” Camden laid his smile on me and his hand on mine.
“I might buy vodka from you but not if you touched me. That’s a little pervy. Unless you think I’m buying the vodka in order to sleep with you, then that might be illegal in some states.” I said, smiling as I removed my hand from his.
“Why do you think I am always angling for sex? Is that all I am to you? Are you sure it’s not you who is looking for me between the sheets?” He asked, slightly offended.
I laughed. “Alright, I guess you’re not always angling for sex. Maybe ninety-five percent of the time you are. The other five percent, you might be sincere. And no, you are not just sex to me. Nor will you ever be. I just know how you talk and how it seems that you always have a new girl. I apologize if I offended your delicate sensibilities.” I said, mocking him and his distress.
“Ok, you’re right. I am always angling for sex. I just wanted to see how you would handle that.” He grinned and turned to Marcus. “So, are there any other sales tips I should have in my back pocket?”
Marcus really was a treasure trove of information when it came to advice. It was as if he was our oracle. The Oracle at Unemployment – step up and tell him your issue and he will guide you to the right decision. He started to tell Camden a bunch of little tips that would help not only in the interview but pretty much in every aspect of life. I turned to Sylvie because I didn’t really care to find out about sales tips, even if they might have been helpful for me. I wanted to know more about this girl who sat with me for the last three months and yet really never talked.
“So, how long do you think it will be before Camden Googles WoW?” I asked her.
“I doubt he’ll even remember it. Oh well, he’s not really the type to be into anything like this anyway. He’s more the type who would be into trolling for college co-eds and pretending to be sensitive.” She said, trying to brush him off as unworthy of her affection. Funny, that never seemed to work for me. I’d have to remember to ask her privately how it’s working for her.