A day in the life of an unemployed American

Photo by Matthew Henry via Unsplash

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to keep the streak going. I’d woken up every hour or so on the half hour since I went to bed about midnight. This awakening felt like the real deal. I sat up and turned on the light.

Dampness hung in the apartment like hot, lint-filled air of a coin-op laundry.

The air conditioner was not keeping up with the humidity.

I shuffled to the bathroom and took a cold shower. The bags under my eyes were purple.

I pulled a shirt on, poured a can of pop into a mug and turned on the computer.

I checked my email. A half dozen automated rejection messages awaited me.

Computers representing companies at which I never spoke to a single human told me with an email I wasn’t the right fit for a job.

This is the job search in the summer of 2020. I find myself not so much looking for a job as playing a lottery numbers game.

I try to use the correct combination of buzz words in cover letters and resumes to trick some computer into putting my name in front of a real person who can alert someone of your hiring potential.

Most of the job postings expressly forbid calling. And for heaven’s sake, don’t show up at their offices. They’ll have security escort you out.

I feel less like a person with experiences, ideas and skills after nearly three decades in the work force and more like a collection of ones and zeros that can be quantified like advanced metrics in baseball.

No one need ever look at me or talk to me. It can all be figured on the spreadsheets.

Maybe I blame the computers too much. Maybe it really is me. Maybe I missed a comma or dropped a word. I do that a lot.

People always nagged me when I worked at the paragraph factory: “I don’t see how you can call yourself a professional writer and make this kind of grammar and spelling mistakes.”

This is said by people who have never worked with professional writers. Professional writers are so bad with grammar and spelling they created a whole profession of people just to clean up their slop. Those people are called copy editors.

Copy editors are the true guardians of the written word. They used to be legion, but in the slash-and-burn world of corporate America, they are an endangered species still actively hunted.

I run my resume and cover letters by copy editor-inclined friends. I should feel more confident about them. But I don’t.

I have been out of work since May 1. The end of June nears. The only response I got from the dozens of jobs I applied for so far was from an insurance sales job that I applied for by mistake.

I apply for jobs with “writer,” “editor” and “communications” in the title. I’ve lost count of how many. Some of them interest me a great deal. Others would be a means to an end.

The online job boards discourage me. All the jobs seem to want something I don’t have.

I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I spent years trying to get my shot. I did. It was not everything I imagined it to be. Nothing ever is.

The notion you have of what jobs are like as a child seldom match with the reality of the office. I bet even professional baseball players and comic book artists complain about their bosses and gripe about the working conditions.

Still, I turn 45 at the end of the week. I have seldom felt more adrift, maybe totally lost.

My previous employer paid me $50 to write my first professional story in March 1993. More or less, I made my living stacking paragraphs until my job was cut.

When I read job postings for gigs that use the words “communications” or “storyteller,” I am not sure they are written in English.

I have done some freelance work recently. The people I work for are very nice. But they use a phrase — “pain points” — that I’d never heard before.

It means what problems did a customer have that lead them to buy the product my client makes. I had to ask someone to explain that to me.

I did a freelance piece for another client and she used the same phrase.

I wondered when everybody got together and decided what selection of words would make what we say sound clever and fresh even though we mean the same thing we always did.

This is a small problem, but it adds to a general feeling of being behind the times, lost and lesser.

I am a writer. I can tell you a story about anything you want if you give me a telephone, notebook and pencil and a few hours before deadline.

This skill and $1.85 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The time for people like me has passed. It might have passed before I ever started.

I apply for a few jobs. I probably won’t get them. I would feel better if I could talk with a human being about it instead of pasting my resume into boxes on internet forms.

By 2 p.m., I’m exhausted. I have done nothing physical, but the slog of selling myself to people I’ve never meet through the miracle of computers wears me out.

In less than three days, I turn 45 years old. I did not expect to feel so discarded and useless at 45.

But, then, I never really considered being 45.

I try to focus on positive thoughts.

The pool, at long last, opens Friday. That’s not a job, but it will do for a birthday present.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

1 Comment

  1. David Hubbard says:

    Thanks Dab,,,Now go challenge the bosses…Tell them this General election is coming very fast…How is the paper going to report it this time. Could you help–anything janitorial to back up—foot soldering…You are lucjy—No c10…Tell them you need help.Second chance. Your drive back there-shows them you mean it.Repeat…persistance–old time ways…Keep showing up.Stake them out. Go take a tour there every day at the Register//Things have to break.Pound it….Whats left—tell them you will work next to cheap…And some of the people are dying for time off.Your ready.I pray God will make a way back..Dont give up….Your getting close I feel.


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