Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Washington Social Diary

"Gtown Boot Camp" - hard, reasonably priced and early. An "in" for the jobless, as in the early bird gets the jobs.
Jobless But Not Afraid?
By Carol Joynt

No one should be this happy to be unemployed. I have joined the ranks of the walking wounded in this wretched economy. My business closed a week ago. I haven’t received a paycheck in two weeks. And yet, I’m in a soft happy place that feels like free fall in clouds of acid-laced cashmere. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I lost my mind in the quest to avoid failure, but I don’t think so.

In fact, I know there are others like me - baby boomers who’ve worked hard their entire adult lives, did good by doing well, ambitious, striving, never say die types who assumed the bountiful paychecks and plush benefits would always be at hand if we did our most and gave our best. Sorry. That’s all changed. In the infancy of the 21st Century, there are no guarantees.

Consignment is "in" for the jobless. Inga's Once is Not Enough is where the Washington's best dressed clean out their closets.
Pieces of what we took for granted are falling off the façade of the American way of life. Something new will emerge. And I’ll work again, too. But no one knows when the next economy will arrive and what it will look like and if it will pull us back up to where we were, and we don’t know whether it will be Barack Obama or someone else who shapes the new era.

I’m still glad to have him in the White House, and I believe he and his Administration are trying, but I’ve walked on coals he hasn’t and I’m skeptical that a solution is at hand anytime soon. The “deciders” in Washington all seem to be racing about in the dark with a candle but no matches.

So, here’s the thing: I’m 50-something and welcome the uncertainty. Whatever is ahead has to be better than the sleepless nights, the daily Lexapro, the fear and stress and tears, the one-Stoli-too-many, the quicksand that came with juggling tax debt, rent debt, worried employees, angry vendors and disappearing customers. That was unequivocal hell. What I face now is merely the unknown. I’ve lived more than half my life. A dose of the unknown might be more youthfully stimulating than the predictable, the certain, the guaranteed.

Of course there are big questions. How will I live for the time being, until whatever next comes along? How will I support myself and my 17-year-old son, who still has one year of high school and then college? We have no savings, no health insurance, no family money. There was a report last week that 50-somethings have the hardest time finding a job in this job-challenged market, and that some have resorted to cosmetic surgery to fool employers.

Consignment is "in" for the jobless. Inga's Once is Not Enough is where the Washington's best dressed clean out their closets.
Isn’t it pathetic when experience has to wear the mask of inexperience in order to get work? Does a pulled face, a mini and stilettos actually make a person a better worker? If a laid off executive spends grocery and utility money to cover gray roots will that make him or her more experienced and valuable as an employee?

I resolved that if nothing else I would keep the home we’ve owned for eleven years. If I have to sell every piece of furniture, I will, knowing full well the auction market is as dicey as Vegas or the ponies. But I love our home. It is the touchstone of our ability to survive. It is worth saving.

We’ll find affordable alternatives to the more costly way of life we took for granted. Washington is expensive. Our city taxes are relatively outsized. But even in an “upscale” village like Georgetown there are ways to save a buck.

There are a variety of good farmers markets with meat, fish, produce, dairy and bread products that often are fresher, healthier and better priced than the chain supermarkets. We have consignment shops (my closets need a cleaning out, anyway). I’ll do inexpensive pre-dawn Georgetown “boot camp” instead of a personal trainer. It’s an hour of heavy calisthenics that take place in a park on the Potomac waterfront. What’s not to like?

Fitness matters because it keeps down medical bills. Get this: Georgetown’s historic Tudor Place museum plans to offer morning yoga on their lovely lawn. That struck me as recession brilliant – affordable and healthy for the customers, profitable for the museum.
Furin's, the "in" Georgetown breakfast and lunch for the jobless.
Bourbon Steak, the unaffordable and therefore "out" Georgetown lunch and dinner for the jobless. The Palm is "out" for the jobless but very "in" if someone else picks up the check.
The Rose Park Farmer's Market, a ideal place for the jobless to find good prices on flowers, produce, meat and more.
The Rose Park Farmer's Market is also a good place to hang out, see neighbors, get job tips.
I’ve also learned to haggle, which before seemed demeaning. It still is a little but definitely not as much. If I can’t afford something I say so. If I need a break I say so. I’m polite about it and honest and I’ve found that most business owners and providers are willing to be reasonable.

No, not the chains, but at the small businesses which are the backbone of our economic culture. Also, I can tend my small garden, do some home repairs, and friends have loaned a car.
Furin's - a good place to eat in general, but especially on a budget.
The Tudor Place lawn: good for a party, but also good for Friday morning yoga (10 one-hour sessions for $124).
Gas prices are creeping back up, especially in Washington. Feet are more affordable than wheels much of the time.
I’m not a martyr. There are others who have it worse – much worse – and I do have options. My Q&A Café interview program has several offers for a new home in the fall. And there’s New York Social Diary, which is a joy, both because of the readers and the employers.

The “job market” may think I’m old, but in fact I’m experienced, intelligent, clever and capable. Somewhere, somehow, that combination has to be marketable. But by the standards of the conventional old-economy, I am jobless. And, for the moment, not afraid.
Formerly Nathans - what a closed business looks like after the last "last call."
Washington's Christian Dior Boutique, couldn't be more "out" for the jobless.
Hiking in Georgetown's Montrose Park - free and "in."
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. caroljoynt.com