“My left shoulder is killing me after tucking fliers under 280 wiper blades
at the bowling alley this morning, but at least I still get to practice my craft.”
Nothing. I didn’t get the job, anyway.
During this early stage of my unemployment, everybody kept telling me, “You need to find a niche.” I had indeed noticed that the journalists who had mastered one subject — such as the “Medicare reform” reporter with a computer file of 200 government sources — were still holding on to their positions. It made sense. As a journalist, I never stuck to one topic for long; so the most sources I had on any subject were three on Polynesian fire dancers, two on illegal midnight snook fishing and six, no, five, on roller derby girls. My writing life had been full of variety and adventure.
“Big mistake,” said a former associate who specialized as an elder-care writer for 14 years. “Just think: I’ll still have a job writing about old people when I’m old people. Won’t that be perfect?”
But then the “Terminated” story hit (May 2008), and there was something about the timing of it. The story appeared right on the cusp of that moment when absolutely everybody awoke, sat straight up in their beds and realized, This could happen to me ... today! There was such an overwhelming outpouring of solidarity from readers that I sat straight up in my cot and said, “This is it. I’ll be Mr. Unemployment. That will be my niche.”
What a thing to be associated with, right? The last thing I’d want to do is represent a bunch of whiny unemployed people. Plus, being known for one thing — unless it’s a maneuver like the Heimlich or the Shaun White Double McTwist 1260 snowboard move — is lame. Even that Sully guy who landed the plane in the Hudson must be sick of talking about it — someone always calling up on the anniversary of his heroics. No one could blame him for snapping back, “You know, I collect sea glass from all over the world. Could we maybe talk about that part of my life for one [expletive] second?”
On the other hand, one has to survive — do what is right for the family — so I was certainly prepared to be Mr. Unemployment. But when I mentioned to the then-editor of this magazine that I would be willing to be an employed person writing about unemployment for the next 10 years, there was only silence.
During this same period, I did try to write an article titled “Ten Things I’ve Learned About Unemployment,” but, alas, I could come up with only two.