July 21, 2002

The Nine Devils of Unemployment

Allow me to discuss The Nine Devils of Unemployment. You could call them by their conventional, psychoanalysis-friendly names--self-doubt, depression, ennui, poverty--but they are subtler than that. It has taken extensive theological and economic research, but i am now familiar with their true, Hades-spawned duties and appellations.

There's the Demon Bathrobe, that prevents you from leaving your apartment for days on end because, well, why bother? Sure, you woke up at noon and stayed in bed until two, but it wasn't like you had anything better to do. Wasn't like they needed you in surgery. Not as if that peace treaty couldn't be negotiated without your august presence. Isn't like you have to get to Madison Square Garden for soundcheck. Who wants to go outside anyway? It's raining. You'd have to put on underwear. Your landlord might see you and, God knows, we don't want that. Better stay inside. The days when you used to go to work, rush uptown to run errands during lunch, go back to work, travel downtown to run another errand afterward, haul over to Queens for dinner, then down to Brooklyn to
meet some people in a bar
, over to another part of Brooklyn to someone's house and finally back to Manhattan, stopping off for a nightcap on the way home--are over. Without a job to kick your ass out of bed and onto the street in the morning, you'll never build up enough momentum for that level of activity. And you can't afford to be that busy anyway. Better stay inside. Besides, at home is really the best place for you to sit around thinking about how your friends are starting to piss you off, and you're getting old, and you don't have a job, and you can't get laid, and you live in a squalid hellhole, and you've failed at every single thing you've ever tried to do and the Knicks are going to suck for a really long time.

Serving the Demon Bathrobe are two minor devils, the Devil Pigpen, who keeps you from bathing or changing your clothes for three days because, again, why bother?--and the Devil Crawford, who causes you to bathe three times a day. It kills time. And, while you're in the shower, everything sort of stops, rather like suspended animation, since everything, no matter how important or unimportant it is, waits until you get out of the shower. When you're in the shower, you can think about how you're going to do all these things as soon as you get out. Thinking that you're about to do something is very important when you're unemployed. Given the bleak, midget-ruled, sunless alien wasteland of your present, you need to live in the future, even if it's a future that's only about ten minutes away. Still, the one thing you can say in favor of the Demon Bathrobe is that he keeps you off the subway during rush hour and, thus, less likely to get caught in an anthrax attack.

The Demon Hilton, who chokes you on the hypocrisy of all the times you mocked people for living off their parents' money because, well, now you find yourself occasionally making that obsequious call to Mom and/or Dad too. Having to admit that despite the fact that they shelled out--what is it now, three million dollars?--to send your ass to college, you are still unable to pay your phone bill. And you gotta keep that phone on. Someone might call you about a job.... Uh huh. Yeah. But you do need the phone, especially when you're unemployed. That way you can call all your friends at work and see what they're up to and hopefully gain one of those rare moments of consolation when something really shitty is happening at work and they're screeching like a rabid weasel with its nuts caught in a vice or had to come in at 8am and are really hung over and you're glad you don't have to do that anymore. Of course, having a phone when you're unemployed is not as important as having cable. But tell 'em it's to pay for the phone. Sounds better. Unless they're like my parents who, i think, were more freaked out by the fact that i didn't have cable than by the fact that i didn't have health insurance.... Anyway, just try not to think about the fact that you're almost thirty and you just had to ask your dad for fifty bucks. Or about the fact that your mom has started giving you bags of groceries like it's a perennial goddamn food drive and you're that family who lives in the trailer at the end of the road. And, like most food drives, you just wind up with shit you don't need or like: Hamburger Helper, salad dressing, currant jelly, canned baby carrots, three sticks of deodorant. Mom will never give you the real necessities, because she refuses to accept that the real necessities are vodka, Spaghettios and Lucky Strikes.

The Demon Sofa, who finds you wasting entire afternoons on nothing because, well, nothing's all you have to do. When you first get jobless, you tell yourself you're gonna read The Magic Mountain, you're gonna watch every Goddard film, you're gonna learn HTML, you're gonna write the Great American Novel and work on your jump shot, you're gonna use this time off. Six months later, you're halfway through a paperback about Amy Fisher. But, no big deal, it's not like you're in a rush. Not like you don't have all day tomorrow and all of the next day and the day after goddamn that. Faced with such an endless vacuum of time, it's hard to see the urgency in doing anything now. May as well see what's on Springer first. Although i don't really waste my days watching talk shows: i waste them on the 24-hour news channels. Just the thing to uplift one's sagging spirits, hearing about that 75 year-old man in Connecticut who knocked up a ten-year-old. Or the casualty toll from today's suicide bombing. Or how another earthquake has hit Afghanistan, killing hundreds of people and now the Afghanis are fully convinced that God is mad at them. (He's mad at us all. And with good reason.) Well, it's not like they had houses anymore anyway. But at least you can amuse yourself trying to calculate how much of a millionaire you'd be if you had a nickel every time some fool in a suit said the words "September Eleventh."

There's the Demon Belushi, because you need lots of drugs when you're unemployed. Actually, maybe it should be the Demon Named After Your Most Annoying College Roomate, because you are often unable to pay for these narcotics and good ol' John could always buy his high and a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont to get there in. Now, the one thing you cannot do is cocaine. That's a working man's drug, cocaine, not only for the expense, but because you need something to obsess about when you're full of blow and your job keeps you from obsessing about your ex-boyfriend. And then calling him. In the middle of the night. Coked up out of your mind, asking what the hell he meant by that remark about you not having to pay for your own drinks. Did he mean he was sick of other people sending you drinks or all those buybacks were making you an alcoholic--not like you didn't already have to be one to get hooked up with the likes of him anyway. And it had better not be because he was sick of paying for your drinks because it wasn't like you weren't putting out and, once you put out, all the drinks are considered paid for and it's still a damn sight less than you'd have to give a hooker--even a Hunts Point hooker--for the same thing and whaddya mean you don't know where Hunts Point is? You know damn well.... Yeah, you need a job to worry about when you're on cocaine. Meth is okay for the unemployed, though. You can be an unemployed meth head because, when you've got a head full of crystal, stuff like sending a fax can become a process that takes three days and involves driving to another state. Heroin is good for the unemployed for the same reason it's favored by washed-up rock stars--it's hard to berate yourself for being a failure when you're semi-conscious. However, unlike some sucker who has the continuing royalties for, i dunno, "All By Myself" or "Der Kommissar" to shoot up, the jobless are usually too broke to develop real smack habits, since you need an exponentially larger amount of money to buy that six glorious hours of not giving a fuck about shit. (Or was that a shit about fuck..?) Although at least then you don't have to bother calling in sick during withdrawl or, even worse, having to convince you boss that you really do get the flu for 24 hours several times a month. Actually, pretty much any opiate: morphine, oxycontin, codeine... actually any downer will do. Hell, they give Valium to housewives to keep them content and not thinking about how they're just sitting around this goddamn house wasting their lives--and it's good for the unemployed for the same reason. But, really, the best thing you can have when you're out of work is a lot of marijuana. Like three pounds. Actually, you can learn a lot that way, sitting with the bong in front of the Discovery Channel going, "Wow, i didn't know llamas could run that fast."

The Demon Flat-Assed Motherfuckin' Broke, whom i believe we all recognize quite well, and requires no further specification.

The Demon Kinko, who rises up when you've drunk so deeply from the cocktail of desperation and fatalism and are so used to not paying any goddamn attention to anything because, God knows, there are no real details in your life anymore, that you send out five resumes with a typo on them. Not that it matters. Not like anyone's going to fucking look at them. After all, you've sent out 83 resumes in the past five months and have not heard one single word in response. At this point you'd welcome some maniacal human resources queen calling up at 3am, screaming "You're overqualified for the position, bitch!" and slamming down the phone. At least then you'd know your communiqués were making it to the outside world. As it is, it seems the postal service has run some kind of special tube from the mailbox near your house, through the center of the earth and straight to a small hut on the Mekong Delta where an old hermit with a large mustache and a limp laughs at the funny writing on your cover letters and makes them into hats and paper boats.

Of course this would also fall under the dominon of one of the servants of the Demon Kinko, the imp of the paranoid copyeditor, who also makes you rip open three 55-cent manila envelopes to check for typos that don't exist. That's a buck-sixty five lost right there, three twenty-four if you've put the stamps on already, you fuckin' idiot. With that, we move into the realm of the hellhound Pythagoreas Minor, who dogs you with tiny math. You do a lot of tiny math when you're jobless. When you've got a paycheck coming next week, you don't have to worry about what things cost. I mean, yeah, you have to worry about how much rent you're paying, or how much a new printer will run you, the dimensions of that giant-ass long distance bill, or what an Anna Sui sundress costs, even on sale--but things like postage, periodicals, subway tokens, poppyseed bagels with scallion cream cheese, Bud tall boys, you don't think about those. But when you're still living on that fifty bucks you got for reviewing the new Motorhead album, you sit there going, "Well, if i buy the Post instead of the News, i save 25 cents, even if i am supporting that Dunleavy asshole." "A hamburger is 35 cents less than a cheeseburger." "Cigarettes cost 35 cents apiece, so no one's bumming tonight." But it gives you a real sense for the value of money, tiny math. That and making people wait behind you at the bodega while you count out three dollars in change.

The Demon Ramen, who watches as you consume whatever slop is still left in the back of the kitchen cabinets. Remember when we used to be flush with cash? How we used to all go out to dinner at any of the eight million faux-French bistros in Manhattan? (Just think: If you'd invested in square acres of artificially aged mirror seven years ago, you'd be retired now, not unemployed.) How we used to get an entree and an appetizer? How we used to get espresso and dessert afterward? Hell, we even had a fuckin' Courvoisier if we felt like it. Now dinner is a jar of year-old cocktail olives and if we do dine out, it's off the 99-cent menu at McDonald's. Although unemployment does force one to learn to cook, after a fashion. Many great culinary discoveries have been born out of poverty and desperation. You can actually make pancakes out of water and flour. Really. Throw a couple of sun-dried tomatoes on that bitch and you'll forget it's fried paste. Potatoes can be cooked, oh, at least six different ways. And, ah, the many faces of the Demon Ramen himself. Put on some of that hot sauce someone brought you back from their trip to New Orleans and you've got Cajun Ramen. Stinky canned peas and some I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray make Ramen Alfredo. Duck sauce and those nasty red peppers that come in a jar of rancid oil make Asian Ramen. Toss in some canned pineapple and you've got Hawaiian Ramen. Make a pina colada out of an old can of coconut milk and that icky fruit rum left over from the Christmas party and you're having a fucking luau. Many faces, though none of them quite deceive us. Although, if you eat enough of that shit, you'll swear you can tell the difference between the shrimp and chicken flavors.

The Demon Gabor, whom you must face down every time someone asks the ubiquitous question, "So, what you do?" I mean, this is New York City, they ask you that right after they find out your name. Sometimes before. I hate being asked that question, even when i do have a job, even when i have a cool job. I mean, when they ask "What do you do?" it's fine to say "nothing," as long as there is something, but when "nothing" is the truth, it's the last thing you can say.

Oh, and this will make it way more difficult to get people to sleep with you. That's one of the ironies of being unemployed--like how when you have a job, you have no time to spend your money and when you have no job you have time but no money to spend on it; so it goes that when you actually don't have to go to work and can lie around in bed having sex all day no one will fuck you. Unless, of course, you go to another city, where just being from New York is enough. You can try to get around all this by lying, a time-honored tradition embraced even by those who have jobs. Tell them you're a hand model. Yeah, you just did the "How to Put on a Condom" pamphlet. You're a former Navy SEAL. You retired. You're a "security consultant" now. You work with retarded children part-time and, in the evenings, you hustle pool. You could tell them you're an actor or a freelance writer, but that's just admitting you're unemployed.

The Demon Basinger, who causes you to feign agoraphobia when you're really just to broke to go. No, i don't wanna go to the movies: i need to clean the house. No, i don?t want to go out for drinks, i'm tired. No, i'll pass on dinner: i ate already. (Yeah, right.) No, i can't go to Atlantic City: i have to wash my hair. Fuck, you ain't going because you can't afford it. That shit costs money, bitch! So you stay at home, maybe going for the occasional solitary walk and, the amazing thing is, the less you see of people, the less you want to see of people. So, after a few months of avoiding people because you have to, you'll actually start avoiding them because you want to. Under the Demon Basinger is the Fiend Lorna Luft, who surfaces when you begin to resent and avoid those who are more successful than you--hell, successful at all, given what a wretched loser you are. Anyone who makes over $70,000 a year, gets flown to Los Angeles a lot and owns items with the names "Armani" or "Prada" on them must be viewed with suspicion. You feel shitty enough about yourself without that rubbing in your face like the stinky beard of an overly affectionate fat man. And, let us not forget that other handmaiden of darkness, the Fiend Jennifer Aniston, who causes you to avoid your entire family. After all, they're just going to ask if you have a job yet? Any interviews coming up? Any prospects? Have you been looking at all? Fuck them. Stay away from them. Stay away from everybody. Stay inside. Listen to the Demon Bathrobe. He knows....

Posted by lissa at July 21, 2002 10:11 PM