Howdy partner. Welcome to the Wild West of Unemployment.
You get to go to the movies in the middle of the day. Yee haw. It’s cheaper, ya know. And there’s nobody there. Because everyone else is workin’.
You go see a movie to escape, of course. It sure is nice to escape. But when the credits roll you think, ‘All those people are workin’ except me.’
You realize those are not the thoughts you want to have when you are at the movies, partner, but this is new. This never happened before. Something in your mind opened up to let these thoughts in.
You begin to think, well I could have been at that movie theater in Aurora and I’m not.
So I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I have a roof over my head, even though it’s not the roof I once had, the one I loved to be under. I had to give up that roof and everything under it. But I have someone who loves me. If I was alone it would be so much worse. And then you allow yourself to feel the feelings of nervousness that you have no health insurance. Otherwise, if you don’t allow yourself to feel the feelings, you’ll shame yourself or you’ll try to ignore the feelings or you’ll try to drink them away or drug them away and that doesn’t last anyway.
You work hard on your mind to make it concentrate on this day only. You do not push forward to the day your Unemployment Benefits end. You can’t believe that you are actually on an Emergency Tier of Unemployment Benefits. You look back on your life and you realize you were only on Unemployment twice in your life, and it never ever had to last this long. You look at the homeless person on the street in a different way than you used to. You think, why not me? And if so, perhaps it’s God’s plan. If it’s God’s plan for me to end up on the street, I will deal with it. God doesn’t give anything to anyone He doesn’t think they can handle.
You embrace the silky smoothness of a long summer’s night with your lover even as the fault lines of uncertainty threaten to undermine every ounce of present peace. And you let yourself laugh…but some nights it’s not funny. It’s just not funny at all. It’s just not funny that the man who told you “We’ll be letting you go” received a bonus of 130,000 dollars just a couple of months ago, which is a lot more than what your yearly salary was. And because it doesn’t make sense, why the person who let you go got a bonus like that on top of his regular salary, it becomes harder to make jokes about it. Much harder.
When your lover says goodbye and leaves for his food service job, it’s difficult not to feel ashamed. Why aren’t I going to a food service job? Oh right. I can’t wait tables for shit. I’m terrible. So you go out and ask if anyone needs bartenders. And they don’t. And people say “You’ll find a survival job” but they won’t tell you what that survival job is. What does it look like? So you try to think of it on your own. “I could be a real estate agent” you think, and then you balk at the cost of getting a license, and then your friend tells you you don’t make crap in the beginning. And you fear that while you’re showing people who have jobs their new future home…
that you will resent them and then that will affect your sales. You think, “I could be a UPS driver” and then you find out you have to take a train to a bus to go pick up the delivery truck, and you think that sounds like a pain in the ass, and your mind goes immediately to the office you once had, the one you earned, the one you paid your dues to get, and you think “Really? I’m going to drive a fucking UPS truck?” And so then your mind goes back to, “Okay, okay, maybe I’ll find a job in my field before my unemployment runs out”.
Maybe that company will respond to your resume posting.
Maybe that, maybe this
maybe maybe maybe
You exist on maybes as if they were nutritional supplements taken by astronauts floating in space.
The maybes feed you and fuel you.
You think “I’ll be an actor again” even though you never really were an actor, you just were always surviving and auditioning and bartending and auditioning and sometimes you got work and the money didn’t last and you gave up acting and you got this amazing job that only lasted four years because you got laid off.
But you go to auditions anyway.
You go to auditions and sign up on the “Non Equity” list and you wait and you wait and you go to the bathroom and when you get back to the waiting room the smug monitor person tells you that he called your name but you didn’t respond and that’s why you went from #26 on the audition waiting list to #78. You tell him you were in the bathroom, you were taking a crap for chrissakes and he tells you what the rules are. “You must be present in this waiting room when your name is called.” So you get angry as hell but you don’t take it out on the monitor, you take it into the audition with you and it’s a good thing the monologue you chose to audition with is an angry one, because you give the performance of your life and the people auditioning you — each one — says “Wow, that was very nice.”
And you feel elated when you leave, and then you hear nothing from those people ever again.
But you think, maybe this is why I got laid off from my real job with the real salary and the real benefits, to become an actor again.
But there is no “becoming” anything, not really, there’s really only waiting. Waiting for whatever it is that will bring in income besides unemployment.
You used to go to an office and you don’t anymore. There was no need for Maybes then. The Maybes then were only small Maybes, like maybe I’ll have Italian tonight or maybe I’ll do takeout.
Here, in the Wild West of Unemployment, the big Maybes coexist with the smaller Maybes, and they sure have more weight. Maybe someone will leave me money. Maybe I’ll get that bartending job if one opens up. Maybe the owner of that bar will finally call me because one of his bartenders dies. Maybe I will get a job in my field before the Unemployment runs out.
But what if I don’t?
If Maybes are nutrition, the What-Ifs are the junk food. What if I don’t find a job before my unemployment runs out? What if I can’t pay my rent? What if I get hit by a bus and I have to pay medical bills that I actually cannot pay? You try to remember all it takes is one letter, the letter S, to change What If to What Is. What is…
is right now. And then you’re back to right now I have a roof over my head, right now I have someone who loves me…right now.
It will be that one person I know, he’ll put a word in for me. He’ll know of something somewhere, something I’m right for. He’ll put me in touch with her. She knows. It’s a good thing I ran into him. Lucky me. I have friends. I have contacts. I am “on Linkedin”. I am networking. I’m still “in a network”, aren’t I? Maybe I will get hit by a bus and win a lawsuit.
Here in the Wild West of Unemployment, you sometimes have to force yourself to get out of your apartment and do things, but those things cannot cost money because money has to be spent on critical expenses now. Critical.
You’re using words like critical when you used to use words like casual.
Before: Friday is casual day. Now: Critical expenses day.
When you pray — if you pray — you ask for someone to simply want you. “We want you to start on this day.”
You thank God for the gym. The gym is like church. It offers solace, it offers sweat.
When people ask you what you’re doing with your weekend you smile softly as your stomach sinks. There are no weekends anymore because there are no workweeks. But the one good thing about the weekends is this: at least most people aren’t working either. And so you don’t feel so alone on the weekends. Everyone is like me on the weekends. Not working.
And he’s got a job, and she’s got a job, and he’s got a job, and why don’t I?
And they have jobs, and she has a job, and he has a job, and why don’t I?
And this is what you feel, these crazy things, whether you are straight or gay or Black or white or whatever the hell you are. Unemployment strips it all down, bares it all down. Who the fuck cares about who marries who…
when I don’t have a JOB?
And then you hear about a march…and you go to the march…you are beckoned to go.
And there at the march you just take off all your clothes…
and you hold up a sign that says
I AM THE NAKED UNEMPLOYED COWBOY
I USED TO WEAR A SUIT NOW LOOK AT ME
LOSING MY HOME LOSING MY MEDICAL INSURANCE
CANT PLAY A GUITAR, DON’T KNOW HOW.
And then before you know it, hundreds and hundreds of people are taking your picture. And you feel like someone. You are being noticed and when you are unemployed you fight to be noticed. But the truth is you are not someONE here at the march. Here at the march, you are a man among many men, a man among angry men. And angry women too.
All crying and screaming and mad as hell and telling the police “You are like US” and meaning it
and you kind of leave your body and your mind is blown
by being so connected to people who are asking other people
not forget us.
Don’t forget us.
We need help.
-JD Cerna is a GLAAD-Media Award Writer and Performer. His play “Not as Cute as Picture” was called “a triumphant cry of victory” by The Washington Post.