Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What am I?

When can you finally consider yourself to be a New Yorker? Is it when you sign up for that first Duane Reade card? Is it when a tourist singles you out of a crowd to ask for directions? How about when it takes 6 weeks to book an appointment with a new doctor? According to the NYS Department of Labor, I considered myself to be a New Yorker when I called their 888 number in order to enroll in their $405 a week unemployment benefits program instead of my native state of Pennsylvania's $547.

In addition to taking an (unemployment) pay cut, being a transplant from another city isn't easy. I have to deal with boo's when I don a Rollins T-shirt and confused faces when I ask for wooder ice with my hoagie.

But there are perks for those of us who retained our out of state id's - out of towner savings. I'm not gonna lie to you, I look really hot in my hologram emblazoned drivers license. I'm gonna rock that baby everywhere I can till' PenDot says no more. At Macy's in Herald Square I can save 11% with my non local ID. Comes in handy when I need to make summertime interview outfit shopping more affordable.

Think like the carpet bagger you truly are and even more thrifty opportunities will present themselves. Want to see a stage filled with A-list talent but TKTS is still too pricey? Stroll by The Ed Sullivan theater or 30 Rock and a Page could offer you free tickets to a late night talk show. Beats waiting months for a ticket reserved by calling the audience coordinator. You will probably start your new job the day to finally claim your seats rolls around anyway. Or, if you are like me, your next gig.

I've cast a show here and there in the past few months. So my dilemma is, when I network do I say "I am a freelancer" or "I am unemployed?" Initially, post pink, I suffered the inability to say I was "laid off." The L would stick to the roof om my mouth as if there was organic peanut butter on it. But now there is something totally cool about being in the scary 9% statistic. Newspapers want to interview you and the foreign media wants to film you. Wearing scrunchies n' sweats outside the house becomes excusable and people read your blog. It's a hard thing to give up.

Mostly it's just scary. Because if you do finally consider yourself to be a freelancer, it means you have settled into a new career that requires a lot of self discipline. Unions exist to support your endeavors. Are you ready to change your lifestyle? Try this test. If you can say "I am a freelancer" with a genuine smile on your face, congratulations. You proved the cliche 'everything happens for a reason' to be right.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Electric Feel

Black Betty was my baby.  When I first carefully took her home all strapped in and bundled up, I felt all the responsibilities of a grownup.  Feeding her cookies byte by byte, I scrolled through job boards and uploaded pictures from my phone onto a new awesome website called Myspace (which my friends predicted would soon make Friendster a thing of the past).  After 9 months of paying off my Best Buy Credit Card balance, she officially became the most expensive item I have ever purchased.  
Black Betty was my laptop, and after I was laid off, she went from being used 3 hours a day to 14.  For a computer that's like going from living in dog years to dragon fly months.  The wear and tear showed.  She was running slowly even after I deleted space consuming files and steered clear of NSFW sites (althought that dog pooping on a baby was pretty funny).  My wrists wore dull spots into the silver enamel below the keyboard.  Yet it was the crackle and pop of a sizzling motherboard that finally snapped me out of denial.  The end was near. 

I turned my back to Black Betty, getting a flash drive to transfer all my files into.  256MBs of storage in hand, I turned back around and watched as she prepared to hibernate only to never restart again.
Three and a half years of memories being lost was the least of my concerns.  A laptop is a necessity to the unemployed.  It is our mobile office and cheap line of mass communication to friends im'ing or g-chatting it up from their stationary cubicles.  Rather than throwing my cash away on Internet cafes when I am already paying for wireless in my apartment, I had a local Geek Squad confirm Black Betty's expiry and immediately went back to Abington to get a new laptop for less taxes.  In 18 interest free months of payments, she will be mine.
Unfortunately, this means that the other items on my wish list (a new bed, bike, month long Spanish/surfing immersion course in Costa Rica and tickets to baseball games) will all have to be put on hold.  Those are all things that I don't immediately need and can save hundreds on by seeking out coupons, sales, teacher discounts (via mom/Irene) and friends company seats.  Always check to see if you can get one of the above before making a costly purchase.  Times are tough and establishments are luring consumers in with incentives to buy things they otherwise wouldn't.  Feel free to use that saved money to stimulate the economy splurging on something else (like newly a reduced COBRA health plan).
With my old cluttered motherboard wiped clean I can start fresh all over again. I'm hoping to use my new laptop, which still remains nameless, to launch my new career as a tri-lingual writer/freelance reality television casting producer. 
Please take this opportunity to grab hold of a flash drive and save all the important information housed in your computer that you will never get back if it suffers an electrical implosion.  Don't make my mistake in the future.  Back it up now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Hansel: So I'm rappelling down Mount Vesuvius when suddenly I slip, and I start to fall. Just falling, ahh ahh, I'll never forget the terror. When suddenly I realize "Holy shit, Hansel, haven't you been smoking Peyote for six straight days, and couldn't some of this maybe be in your head?"
Derek Zoolander: And?
Hansel: And it was. I was totally fine. I've never even been to Mount Vesuvius.
"So, does it feel weird?"
During the week long return to my old job (which I was laid off from) I got asked that question a lot.  The answer?  Kind of.  Upon arrival I retraced old footsteps to the printer, soda machine and floor to ceiling windows overlooking Times Square, feeling like I had just woken up from a vivid dream induced by a trip to a daiye spa.
Then a naked occupant of the hotel across from my building waved at me and I realized that nothing since December 4th, 2008 had been a dream.  This was still my old co-workers reality and I was crashing it like I crashed SNL parties back in the 'lost year'. Sadly, I was too busy casting my heart out to really enjoy catching up with them over my recession friendly lunches of leftovers, hidden deep within the fridge in all their tupperware glory.
I knew returning would feel slightly bizarre but didn't hesitate when accepting the temporary position.  I left that office on good terms with the hope that I could return in some capacity.  In this economy it is silly to pass on the opportunity to remind your former employer what an asset you can be.
Unfortunately I'm considered more of a luxury item than an asset in my industry.  Any producer worth their salt can do my job.  But usually, they're too swamped with locking locations and drafting scripts to devote 100% of their time to finding the best quality talent out there.
That's where I come in, working around the clock through rain and 72 degree shine.  I actually began to pity myself for having to labor indoors during a beautiful day last week.  But I checked myself as the words from my friend Veeders underemployment blog flashed through my mind - "I won't complain.  I can't complain."  I had a job, something which makes gorgeous days off spent biking by the ocean that much more rewarding.  In unemployment land, unfulfilled days blend together inconsequentially regardless of the weather.
Another downside to having such a hectic freelance job is you don't have time to look for a new one.  So the second it ends, you are left dog-tired and jobless. After catching up on your sleep, exercise and everything recorded on your DVR, you go back to taking sunny days for granted - opting to stay indoors job hunting, hoping to work again.
So don't fear going back to an old employer that wants you.  Should you feel out of place upon return acknowledge that the feeling is all in your head.  Keep yourself busy doing what you were brought back in for without shame.  Under the equalizing fluorescent office lights, you are just another person doing your job. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Other NYC Benefits

You know times are tough when even billionaires are taking advantage of inexpensive things. While getting my namaste on at Yoga to the People, (a Yoga studio with free but "donation suggested" classes at locations all around Manhattan), I noticed an Olsen twin slouched on a mat by the wall. Abiding by the unspoken rule of NYC that celebrities are to be seen and not acknowledged, I placed my mat just far away enough to look like I didn't care/sneak glances at her skinny legs.

Hopefully she donated the recommended $10 to compensate for those of us who can barely afford shelling out $2.

While embarking on my second donation funded activity this past weekend, a guided bike tour through Brooklyn, I learned about another star who enjoys having some fun for next to nothing. Apparently Bill Murray is wandering into random house parties and establishments around the city, initiating odd conversations, then walking away. I'm strongly considering buying three cases of Natty Light and inviting 20 of my closest friends over to my apartment to see if he will show up. My Mr. Belding singing karaoke in a Gristedes basement story is getting old. So is the one about my run in with Paul Rudd on a C train a few years back.

I won't be running into him on the subway anytime soon though. In case you missed it, Patrick McGeehan did a great job of explaining how I'm saving money by swapping the train for Murray (my bike who was donated to me by Stacey Burgay under the condition that I too will one day recycle it). Props to Ruby Washington, the soon to be vegan photographer for the NY Times for making me look good!

Anyway, no matter what your cheap fix may be, it's a slight bonus on top of the new extra $25 to be unemployed in a city where you may not even have to leave your own overpriced apartment for an invaluable, twitter-worthy celeb encounter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This One's For My Homies

I've lost a few friends over the years. Heart attack, car crash, leukemia... and that was all before I turned 18. Home for Passover, I was going through my bat-mitzvah album and it hit me where I got my "life is short and so am I" mentality. Peers in those photos who had passed were athletes, writers and genuinely good people that never had a chance to pursue their dreams. I wanted their spirit to live on in every risk I took.

Always eager to take on that next risk, I left Abington a few months early to start college. Next, I traded 8 sheltered months in Happy Valley to jump-start my career with an internship in New York. A few months before being handed a diploma, I was already back in NY trying to launch my career in TV. The day after being handed my diploma? I was in "pizza school" (located in a dreary restaurant basement) getting certified to serve bread sticks at Pizzeria Unos on 81st and Columbus.

Enter my mentor Kim. About 9 years my senior, she sympathized with my struggle and set me up on a few (unsuccessful) job interviews, then counseled me over cheap pints on how to rock the next one. "She was a risk taker that made it" I thought to myself. And when I learned she had committed suicide a few months into our bonding I almost resigned myself to a simpler life managing a Wawa's in Abington.

But I didn't. I needed to keep taking chances for those who couldn't.

This week I'm temporarily returning to mtvU to work on my favorite pro-social campaign - Half of Us. As someone who suffered a severe anxiety disorder in college, I'm adding 20% to my usual 110% to get the job done right. Towards the end of my Freshmen year, I was too afraid to let others know how panicked I constantly felt at the thought of leaving my dorm room. From my bed I looked out the screen window at others sprawled out and laughing on the grassy lawn below- trying to figure out how to get myself back to 'normal'. Those were the darkest days of my life. Now I have a chance to help others find the light.

In the future I'll keep doing what I'm doing till I can't any longer. Crippling autoimmune diseases that took relatives away from me are lurking in my genetics, ready to pounce whenever they say so. Until then, I'm writing for my Aunt Faye, who won prizes for her essays and succumbed to Parkinsons last year. I'll run for my Grandma Ruthie because she stayed active until scleroderma took her ability to walk. I'll work hard because I had friends that never had the opportunity to relish their first paycheck and I'll play hard, surfing into sunsets because I still have the 20/20 vision to see them with.

In the Jewish religion, when someone dies, mourners are not supposed to shower or bathe for a week. Customarily, grievers will sit on the floor to symbolize the heart wrenching actuality of loosing someone dear to them. It's kind of like the second phase of unemployment (described 2 blogs below), except you can always get a new job. You can't replace someone you love.

So to my friends of the past and present, thanks for shaping who I will be in the future. Your comments and e-mails have been a huge boost when it's hard to stay positive. I'll continue to be a living yahrtzeit candle, shedding brightness during gloomy times in honor of those both still here and no longer with us. I'm in it for the love of the game, it's outta here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Just Do It

I'm not alone in my unemployment blogging. There are thousands of us roaming the web. We all seem to have the same things to say about the initial shock and inevitable frustration that comes with getting laid off. But when it comes to the sex lives of the unemployed, the recession seems to be affecting us in many different ways.

When I first moved to New York I lived like I thought I should - drinking regularly, smoking in bars and crashing celebrity packed hangouts by night. My friends were all bartenders/struggling entertainers who kept me drunk and apathetic to the fact that I was without a real job. It took it's toll on my pale bloated body but the dark lighting of dive bars must have been forgiving. Somehow, despite the extra baggage on my belly and under my eyes, men found me attractive enough to take me home.

I call this period, "My Lost Year."

As Uggs were giving way to Skinny jeans my tab free nights turned into temp filled days. 8am starts forced me to go to sleep sober at earlier hours. Most of the week at least. Eventually the temping stopped and I began my "real career" as a casting assistant for reality TV. Boys fell by the wayside as I became involved a serious relationship with work. I chased 12 hour days with quick sessions at the gym while managing to squeeze in the time to find a whole new group of friends that made me realize there was a much more sane way to live my life (while still having of fun).

Then I was given the pink slip - my ticket to once again live on the rowdy side. Living without the structure a full time job provides has caused me to fall back into a lifestyle... That I'm withholding the details of because my mom reads my blog and my dad recently learned how to Google. So I'll just have to write about "other" people.

I've been reading a lot of columns about jobless folk in relationships either too ashamed to have sex or too depressed to take their sweatpants off. On the flip side, there are couples putting the Trojan CEO's kids through college because they feel they have to prove something to themselves or their partner. Unemployed pairs are frequently providing quotes such as "we are doing it more because all we have is each other." I believe the situation varies depending on the status of the relationship and how they view the other (friend, provider, nuturer, etc). No two couples are the same, but outdated studies from the Great Depression have shown that if you're seriously involved, you'll probably be getting it less.

For those not in a relationship, once the hibernation period ends recession victims are having it more often because they don't have to worry about waking up at any particular time, enjoy fleeting ego boosts, can't afford the gym and need to workout anyway they can, it's Friday! (or Tuesday?)... I could go on. But unfortunately -if you are looking for more than just a ...buddy- I've found most of these scenarios don't turn into anything serious. Much like the interviewer who never calls back - if the texts cease to exist they're just not that into you. This can be a serious blow to the self esteem of someone who is already down and out.

My advice? Avoid seedy ads on Craigslist seeking buxom 20-30 year old women with or without experience - I really hope you don't need money that badly. But keep living your life optimistically and don't feel bad about anything you have or have not done. Stay focused on how you are going to get yourself out of the rising 8.5% and remember to keep it safe.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The 5 Stages of 'Severance'

Knit one, pearl two, newly laid off AIG friend, this one's for you...

The 5 Stages of 'Severance'

Even if you have been preparing yourself mentally for months, actually getting hit with the bad news will sting like a mother.  As you are guided through the HR process of finding out your individual severance package and putting your picture frames into a box, your mind shuts down while your body goes into autopilot to prevent a security guard from having to escort you out of the building. 
It is hard to be in denial when you discover that your computer has been locked before you even had a chance to update your facebook status to 'axed.'  But, it is easy to mentally detach yourself until you can physically attach your lips to a frosty beer/shot/mixed drink/keg...

Self Medication

While you may not want to deal with co-workers who are still employed, let them buy you a damn drink.  They aren't the cause of your current situation and they honestly want to help out any way they can.  They may not be able to get you a new job, (hell, they may not have one soon either) but they can buy you a round to help numb your pain.
If you don't feel like you can cry your eyes out to them, even after that 3rd shot of whiskey on an empty stomach, speed dial your favorite 'therapist' and just let it all out.  Whether it is your grandparents, best friend, diary or actual shrink you are entitled to wail and whine to them until you have a headache from all the events of the day truly setting in.

The healthiest medication is a butt kicking workout. You will get an amazing high from knowing that you can chase down your old boss and “make an impromptu presentation using a four pronged approach” (hit them with a chair). Just kidding, but I do reccommend trying new classes as it opens your mind up to new things.


Your eyes are puffy, body sore and your head is a jumbled mess.  You know the saying "nothing good happens after 2am?"  Well nothing good happens after you were just handed a pink slip.  
This is no time to start your job hunt – hiring managers will smell your desperation along with the alcohol sweating out your pores.  This is a time to wallow in your misery (sans pants and alarm clock) like a hermit.
If you try to jump into a new career immediately you may regret it soon after.  It's kind of like getting dumped by a significant other.  You rarely want to marry the first person you meet at a bar the next night.  Take some time to figure out what you just lost and what you want to find so you don't get stuck in a job you hate.


One day you finally wake up with a sense of optimism.  Like a Visa commercial come true, you open your eyes and see that you are free to GO. Do whatever you want as long as your wallet allows.  You can start your own business.  You can go on a vacation (taking advantage of the special rates for the newly jobless).  You can even aprender espanol :)
Get on those job site boards and research new career paths you have always been curious about but too hesitant to ditch your 401k for.  Have your friends look over your updated resume and compliment you on what you have accomplished to bolster your confidence before interviews.  Alert references you would like to use them and see if they have anything for you to work on as well.

Lastly, make yourself some business cards for all the networking events you are obligated to accompany your pink slip posse to.  Never know who you are going to meet!


All the planning in your Hope phase seemed like fun didn't it?  You went to Barnes and Noble and researched that genius startup idea that popped into your head while visiting a gallery a networking event was held in. You even took that tropical vacay to temporarily escape reality and regroup.
But 4 months later your tan has faded along with your hopes of ever working again.  Leads go nowhere, resumes are sent out unanswered, business schemes prove too unrealistic... Despite all the steps you've taken to further yourself you feel stuck in the same place.

Just realize that you are actually miles ahead of where you used to be.  You are now a stronger person - a great asset to any operation because you are hungry to succeed and have new skills you would have never learned if you were still working the same old 9:30am-8pm days. 
It is harder out there than it may seem to those not in your place. Try not to let the frustration keep you from acting irrationally. Embrace your role as the unemployed friend trying to get back in the game.  Recognize you are not alone in what you are going through, that it's not the end of the world. Then go cycle back to the Hope phase, fingers crossed, this time for good!