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Hire Calling

Finding a job in the haystack of economic 'recovery'

By Sanna Makkonen

AS I stumbled out of the museum last June with my pink slip (in the form of an overstuffed manila envelope explaining to me "My Rights and Benefits") into the harsh light of unemployment, it never dawned on me that the statistics might be right. But they were. I was not to find gainful re-employment for at least a year. Since the tender age of 15, when I began waiting tables at Tony's Texan, I have always had a job. Always worked. I knew the economy was in the toilet, but a year? A year.

I registered for unemployment benefits immediately and began looking for work that had some meaning or relevance. Which is not how I ended up being a bouncer. No, that was because my former boxing coach ran a security crew for a nightclub and got me a gig. I was sitting in a yuppie bar on a profoundly bad date when my cell phone rang—could I be at the club in 20 minutes wearing all black and work till dawn? Why yes, yes I could! Oh, sweet deliverance! On several counts.

Having my days free was a shocking thing. Every day felt like summer camp or Sunday. I awoke panting with possibility, bursting with goals and to-do lists, and often overwhelmed by my own inability to get dressed before noon. I would stroll home from my lover's house, sipping coffee, scheming new strategies for Finding the Job, wondering what the Job might be or just standing in front of a really beautiful garden and watching the bees. Or alphabetizing my record collection. Or obsessively rewriting my résumé. Or painting my toes and contemplating hair removal options. I read more "missed connections" on Craigslist than I care to admit.

I continued to look for jobs with meaning and relevance. Turned out my Ivy League degree didn't count for much. Neither did my extensive experience, competence or charming personality and pleasant exterior. I was overqualified for the 90K executive-assistant gig, sorry, and underqualified for the 20K teaching job, sorry. Thank goodness for muscles and stature. When my unemployment benefits ran out, I was able to take on more shifts, work for more bars. I was able to cash in on my body without having to take my clothes off. Pretty rare for a woman.

Sitting in my rent-controlled apartment, I can't help but think of the late-'90s economic boom and how jobs fell off trees (with great pay! and foosball! free lunches and juice! parties!), but finding a place to live was as rare as diamonds. It was all word of mouth; you had to know someone who knew someone who could vouch for you to even get a housing interview. I was videotaped, cross-examined and wardrobe-critiqued to death trying to find a place to live. I was told my rising sign (Virgo) was incompatible with the house dynamic. One man told me I couldn't have fiction books in the house: he wouldn't live with lies. Another household had rules of: No men (gay or straight), no overnight visitors, no alcohol, no pets, no loud sex on weeknights. What if I had loud sex on a weeknight with a drunk fag while I wore fur? Would that be OK? God, it was brutal out there.

These days, you can find some really fantastic housing without much arm-wrestling, but finding a blankety-blank job that will actually pay you a living wage and not engender homicidal tendencies is akin to winning the lottery. When my last interview actually produced a bona fide job offer, I was giddy. Dizzy. I do believe I actually jumped up and clicked my heels together, right there on the street corner. True, I've lost my days of leisure and desperate poverty, and I'm sure those days will grow rosy in the rearview mirror. But for now, I'll keep clicking my heels together and feeling lucky.


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From the July 7-13, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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