Ginger and I were watching something on TV on New Year’s Eve when one of the characters said something that gave me my watchword for 2007. I told her I had decided that, when someone asked me how I was, rather than saying, “I’m fine,” or “I’m doing well,” I was going to answer, “I’m living the dream.”
We met at the gym yesterday afternoon and decided to grab a cup of coffee afterwards. In between the gym and the Au Bon Pain – about a three-minute drive – Chef called to tell me I had been laid off. The owner decided to let all of the non-salaried employees go without any notice. In a matter of moments, I joined the ranks of the gainfully unemployed. I was stunned.
I think I still am.
After fifteen months and some choices, on my part, to become a full-time chef, I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of my week and a life in the kitchen. I love what I do and I do it well. Now I’m not doing it. And I’m not making any money. Both things are significant issues.
I’ve spent most all of my professional life in vocations that had some sense of stability to them. If I was going to leave, I gave them fair warning; if my position was going to change, they gave me adequate notice. The idea that they can simply call and say to me, a full-time employee, so long and thanks for the fish is both foreign and shocking.
Here I am, living the dream.
I got up this morning and went to the Unemployment Office sign up for unemployment compensation. I got there at 11:00 and left at 1:37. I was not alone. The room was fairly full of folks filling out the same form I was. There were even a couple of families. I assumed they had nowhere else to leave the kids. While I waited, I looked through some of the want ads that promised good money for delivering phone books and stuffing envelopes, and I looked through booklet of jobs the agency had put together. Out of ten pages of possibilities, with about twenty entries a page, less than fifteen of them paid more than ten dollars an hour.
I heard my name called and looked up to see a small man with a long grey ponytail and a big smile. I followed him back to his cubicle, which was filled with stacks of papers, Zen books, and pictures of his daughter and felt welcomed there. He worked through the filing process, but did so with grace and humanity, making me feel like a person who had something to contribute. We talked about schools and music and history and books, as well as how to follow up on my application and make sure my checks start coming. He helped me.
Ginger suggested I wait until Monday to begin looking for a new job to give myself time to get over the shock and build a little bit of a thicker skin. On the way home from Plymouth, I stopped at a new Mexican restaurant that just opened (and we like) to see if they had any openings. They don’t. Ginger is right. Even knowing it was a long shot, the rejection was tough to take.
When I started going to spiritual direction about eighteen months ago, Ken said the questions I had to answer were what I wanted to do with my life, what it would cost to make it happen, and how to pay the bill. My passions are writing and cooking. I was doing both everyday, and counting on the second one to bring in at least a little money. These are the things I want to do. This week, I learned part of the cost is working in an industry that sees me as a “cost,” much like the cleaning supplies and the produce. What I see as relational, the owner sees as bottom line: I’m looking to make memories with our meals; he’s looking to make money. When he cut costs, he cut me, just taking care of business.
Though an anti-capitalist rant is tempting and maybe even appropriate, I want to do more with what is going on here than be pissed off. Though I trust that one day I will look back on these days and see lessons learned, I can’t get out from under the pressure to do something to lessen the financial burden that is quickly descending. We live in an expensive part of the world; I need to be working. That said, I want to find a good job, not just a job.
When Chef called, he said (after he apologized for not being able to stop the owner from axing me) if business picked up my job might open up again in anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, but I don’t think I can go back there and maintain my self-respect. I don’t want to feel owned. I, like anyone else, deserve to feel valued. To go back, for me, would be to say I was condoning the way he treated those of us whom he laid off and that I understood why I was cut so he could save a couple of thousand dollars. I don’t, on either count.
I also have to remember, according to the Global Rich List, Ginger and I fall in the top one percent of the richest people in the world, even without my salary included. 400,000 are dead in Darfur and another two million displaced who have never known anything close to my standard of living even in the best of times. I also think about the Brazilians I work with who got the same call yesterday and face bleaker circumstances than mine. I’m not the first one to go through this, nor am I at the bottom of the pile. Therefore, I must live in the creative tension between my privilege on a global scale and my personal problems. Both are very real.
Three days on, this is not what I expected from 2007. But what can I say? I’ve got to just keep living the dream.