Friday, September 18, 2015

30 days of Night: four

The waiting was the hardest part.

A week out from when all the jobs that could be had would be posted, I was at a library to see a demonstration of a 3-D printer, and I took almost all of their books on resumes, cover letters and interviews. At least, I checked out everything written in the past ten years.

It was gluttonous, and it was pointless.It took days for me to get motivated to even crack open one of the books and then the books seemed to suggest that I needed to wait before I actually created a resume. I needed to know what I was applying for.

The list had yet to be posted.

At the office and on Facebook, I joked about the situation I found myself in, but I was terrified. I had no idea what would happen if I lost my main job. Sure, they told us that if we got cut, we could expect a severance of a week's pay for every year of service, up to 25 weeks. We also got our unused vacation.

It looked bad, but maybe manageable for some. A friend of mine who took the buyout package, had 26 years with the company. He got almost half a year of pay, plus his vacation.

With unemployment and some prudent budgeting, he's probably OK for at least a year, but he's also one of the exceptions, not the general rule.

I figured I was fucked. I had eight years in and about three weeks of vacation. I was good for 11 weeks, but then I had no idea what was going to happen with unemployment. I was pretty sure my part-time radio job was going to screw that up but good.

Public radio said they could help toss me a life preserver, if the worst happened. They could find extra hours for me to work, which might help me draw things out, buy me time, but it wasn't a solution.

I did the math, deducted all the little extras in my life. I could quit the gym. I have a family membership to the YMCA, which I use three or four times a week. That was about 60 bucks. I could cancel Netflix and my fancy XM radio subscription --about 20 bucks a month. I could cancel the internet at the house, which runs $35 a month.

The library has internet and you can find free wi-fi all over the place. 

My biggest cost-saver would be to pull my youngest from his after-school program, which costs $55 a week.

Beyond that, I figured I could gut the grocery budget, cut out meat, cheese, dairy and bread. I could feed my pets the cheapest food available.

Still, it wouldn't be enough. I knew this. I could buy a couple of extra weeks, but there just wasn't enough gas in the tank. If I didn't find a job fast enough, some time after Christmas, I'd start missing mortgage payments.

In a more perfect world, I'd have savings, but I don't. Pay increases at the newspaper have been modest and irregular. The few raises I've managed to beg out of the company in the past eight years have never managed to keep up with the raises in the cost of living, payroll taxes or the insurance.

The threat of destruction and ruin was terrifying.

What would happen if I lost my home? I imagined my kids moving in with their mothers, which was not entirely a great prospect for both of them. I saw myself holed up in a guest room or on somebody's couch, while I scrambled to find some kind of work, probably nowhere near here.

At my worst, I imagined living in a U-haul trailer out in the Dakotas, where there's an oil and gas boom. I have no idea what I'd do there. I can barely hold a hammer straight.

How reasonable were these fears? I can't say, but this was what went through my mind over and over and over. I had trouble sleeping. I was unfocused and rattled at work --and while I got some support from my unreal pals on Facebook, there were people I expected to be there for me who just weren't.

While I waited for the list to be posted, I did everything I could think of to muster what resources I had at my disposal. I contacted nearly all the people I'd worked with in my little corner of the paper and asked them for letters of reference.

It was the nicest thing in the world when all of them agreed without anything approaching hesitation and reading their words encouraged me.

I asked a few people whom I've worked with over the years, doing stories about their venues. One of them was glad to do it. She was willing to send the letter while on vacation.

Another vote of confidence. It felt good.

The other said, no. He wasn't comfortable. It didn't matter what I'd written, how much I'd written or whether I'd been of any use at all, he wouldn't endorse me. I was free to ask my interviewers to give him a call to talk about me, which was ominous-sounding at best, but he wanted nothing in writing.

Best of luck. Sorry, but fuck you. 

I'm not going to lie. That hurt.

But... it wasn't unexpected.

If anything, it was good he shot me down. It told me where we stood and would always stand, without any confusion. Honest criticism is hard to find in this town. It would have been easier to type up some lukewarm, bullshit response that meant nothing, but since he couldn't give me what I wanted, he gave me what I deserved: honesty. 

I was grateful to get it.

After I'd gathered my letters of reference and recommendation, the list was posted.