Wednesday, October 9, 2013

the scary series: unemployment.

Welcome to part two of my real-life scary month! Since it’s October, I thought that I’d spend the month writing about real-life scary things. This week’s topic? Unemployment. It’s terrifying.

I graduated college in spring 2009 – remember what the economy was like then? I wasn’t too worried, though. I had just graduated with English and Art History degrees, so my plan was to head to Denver for the summer for an unpaid internship at the museum. The internship was only 20 hours a week, which would leave me plenty of time for a part-time job. And getting a part-time job would be easy as pie… right?

Except for brief periods during the school year in high school (and my very first semester in college), I’d had a job since I was 14. I worked at an ice cream shop for two summers, a church camp for four summers, another ice cream shop for two summers and one partial school year (and the summers overlapped with my church camp job), the county courthouse for two summers in college and one winter break, two on-campus jobs for almost all of college, and my final college year spent working at the courthouse. Add in a few odd jobs here and there (babysitting, writing for the paper, etc), and I was rarely without a source of income. Sure, I was poor, but I wasn’t sweating it.

I arrived in Denver at the end of May, ready and raring to go. I was staying with my aunt and uncle for the summer, so I figured that as long as I had a place to live, the rest would fall into place. My mom, brother, and sister caravanned down with me to spend a few days in Denver. During those first few days, I wandered around the Colorado suburb where my aunt and uncle lived, sticking my nose in each and every business and asking if they were looking for help. Many of them weren’t, but I filled out a good handful of applications.

One of the perks to living in small towns for most of your life is that it usually doesn’t take long for you to hear back about a job. I was handed my first job at the ice cream place (we were eating there, and the owner asked how old I was – I would be 14 the following summer, and since we were such good customers, he hired me for the next summer), and my job at the other ice cream place was given to me just because one of the current employees said I’d be good at it. At the coffee shop, I sat down for a two minute interview and was offered a job on the spot. As far as the other jobs, I had gotten a call about them just a few days after the interview.

Turns out it doesn’t work that way in the rest of the world. I continued applying for jobs, but after about a week of not hearing anything from anyone, I was getting a tad discouraged. I know a week wasn’t really that much time, but I had assumed that I’d be employed within my first few days. How naïve I was.

I started keeping a notebook of where I applied and when I did it – this kept me from doubling up on applications (after a while, it’s easy to forget where you’ve applied and where you haven’t) and, after a bit, allowed me to give these employers a courteous call and inquire about the status of my application. My Denver days were divided into a mere five activities: interning, riding the bus, eating, sleeping, and applying for jobs.

I applied anywhere and everywhere. I walked in and asked for applications, I applied online, I answered Craigslist ads. I needed a job, and I needed it badly. What little money I had was quickly running out – turns out that even when you’re unemployed, you still need to find ways to pay for food and gas (or, in my case, bus passes). I was fortunate enough not to have to worry about coming up with rent, but there were still plenty that I needed to pay for.

While the majority of my applications didn’t amount to anything, I did find myself with a few interviews. I interviewed for a job as a hostess, a job as a waitress, and a job as a barista. I even took an alphabetizing quiz for a job as a shelver in the Denver Public Library (I got a perfect score). Much to my mounting dismay, none of those interviews resulted in employment. I also had an interview at Forever 21 (yep, you heard me), and I assumed the interview was at the same Forever 21 at which I had applied. Silly me. I arrived for my interview and was informed that it was at a different Forever 21… one hour away. There was no way I was making it there on time, and they wouldn’t reschedule, so that was that. And the problem was TOTALLY on their end: there were at least four other interviewees there that had gone to the wrong store. We couldn’t have all been that dumb, could we? Don’t answer that.

I was reaching the end of my first month in Denver, and there was no employment in sight. I was awfully discouraged. It sucks not having enough money to explore your new city (which I desperately wanted to do), and it sucks even more when nobody wants to hire you. No one likes rejection, and continues rejection really starts to wear on you.

When I wasn’t applying for jobs, I did my best to still experience Denver while spending as little money as possible. I rode the free streetcar up and down the 16th street mall. I sat on benches and did a whole lot of people watching. I sat by the river in Golden and read my library books. I took pictures. 
Pictures with cool views.
Every now and again, I splurged on a three dollar coffee drink so I could sit at the tables in the Starbucks section of the downtown Barnes and Noble and read a book – all the other tables were always full, and you could only sit at Starbucks if you bought something. I would make my coffee drink last as long as possible, and I would read a book from cover to cover. It’s amazing how fast your night goes.

My salvation came in the form of a fireworks stand. I haunted the employment section of Denver Craigslist, and a temporary job selling fireworks was just one of many that I’d applied for over the past month. I got a call for an interview and went to it with high hopes – and finally, FINALLY, I was offered a job. The job was only for about two weeks, but any money was better than no money at all.

Within the next day or so, I also got a call for an interview at American Eagle Outfitters. Since my job at the fireworks store would be over on July 4, I happily accepted the interview – if you remember from my Michael Jackson story, this interview was a group interview conducted in the food court on the day Michael Jackson died, so there were all sorts of distractions.

My job at the fireworks stand was short-lived, but it was hard work. I was either ringing up fireworks purchases or roaming the aisles, restocking and answering questions. I got to be quite the fireworks connoisseur by the end of my time there. The store was always busy, and a lot of our time was spent calming down angry Colorado residents who were peeved that they couldn’t buy the gigantic fireworks (as Colorado was under a ban on mortar fireworks) but their out-of-state friends could. I worked twelve hour days and would come back with my hands and face covered in black powder. I was tired, but happy: after all, I had a job.

The fireworks stand shut down after July 4th, and I was once again in the realm of the unemployed. I took a week off from my newly restarted job search and rode with my aunt and uncle back to South Dakota – it was the Brookings Summer Arts Festival (which I have NEVER missed), and my sister was leaving for basic training. Two very good reasons to go to South Dakota.
Proud family!
While I was enjoying my South Dakota vacation (and realizing how much you miss what you don’t have), I got a phone call from American Eagle offering me a job. I would start as soon as I got back from Denver. Hallelujah!

So, only a month and a half into my stay in Denver, I had secured part-time employment that would last longer than two weeks. I was FINALLY making money – though it was only minimum wage, it made a world of difference. It meant that I could scrimp and save and go to the big production of RENT in downtown Denver. It meant that I could make the trip to visit my relatives in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. 
They are wonderful!
It meant that I could afford to buy my cousins brats when they took me to a Rockies game. My financial situation was still precarious, but at least now, I was moving in the right direction.

The next year of my life was fraught with underemployment as I moved from Denver to New Orleans to Minneapolis, but Denver was the only time during which I was 100% unemployed. I know I didn’t experience the REALLY terrifying kind of unemployment where you have a mortgage to pay and a family to feed, but my unemployment was still no walk in the park. It sucked, and it was scary, but it sure taught me to appreciate having a job.

That’s it for this week’s real-life scary story! Come back next week for more of Scary October… if you can handle it!

(I’m sure you can.)

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