February 4, 2012 pronounced an unanticipated, unwanted and painful passage of time in my life. It is not one to be celebrated, nor is there joy at its completion. It is a year to the day that I earned my last paycheck, and the day that launched me into a harrowing journey I could not have possibly foreseen led by forces that have been far beyond my control.
Having read the Editor's Pick written by Tina Lee (see link below, please), I felt compelled to expose my own ongoing experience with being non-gainfully employed. I know it's just semantics, but I cannot even utter the word "unemployed" without succumbing to the spiral of shame and guilt induced by the parade of stereotypes that was hammered into my brain the entire time I was growing up.
I'm not even looking for another career. I've already had TWO very successful careers working in polar opposite fields over the span of nearly 40 years. I just want a job ~ to WORK.
I am not highly educated in that I graduated high school under tenuous circumstances at the age of 16. I did go to college but over the course of three (3) years I attended four (4) colleges in two (2) states, three (3) cities, and never got my degree. I had the credits, but at the time securing an Associates Degree was not a priority.
I am a voracious reader and education has always reigned supreme, but I was not one to thrive in the structured environment of academia; however I did work steadily from my early teens.
After a move to Los Angeles at age 21, I stumbled into the legal field, and received an on-the-job education under the tutelage of a recent law school graduate and a boss that took it upon himself to develop and nurture the potential of my intellect.
Together we learned the laws and procedures specific to our specialty from the ground up. Many embarrassing mistakes were made over the course of the next five years, but learn we did, and we became quite skilled within the dynamics that defined our area of law.
For the next 17 years I would move quickly up the legal corporate ladder and land in the good graces of senior partners who utilized my skills as an associate and treated (as well as paid) me accordingly. It had not ever been my aspiration to become an attorney (another story for another time), so eventually I hung out my own shingle as an independent contractor (in today's vernacular a *Paralegal*) and worked successfully over the course of six (6) years in three (3) states doing business as "Perfectly Legal".
It was not until the mid-90's, when technology became so prevalent that I felt the walls of the law closing in around me. As my client attorneys became more and more proficient with their computers, the use of my skill-set was scaled down to essentially organizational detailing, building data bases and indexing/tabbing trial exhibits. While these assignments are vital and necessary (the job of which is woefully under-appreciated), I needed to exercise my brain more intently, and those opportunities were no longer being delegated to me.
I left the law while I still loved the work, and dove head-first back into my first young adulthood passion ~ bartending. I rented out my house in Atlanta, and moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL to work *season*. I took on four (4) jobs to hone my agility (and memory!) and to get my pour speeds back above par.
I returned to Atlanta and worked at a sports bar for a year, then took my bartending career on the road. I moved back to Southern California, then to San Francisco, and ultimately landed in the Rose City; all with a minimum of muss and fuss in securing full-time employment.
Mind you, I didn't want to leave several of the bars/clubs at which I worked; however, one does not have a choice when the entry-way doors are pad-locked when one arrives to work, or one is told at the end of a Friday shift "Thanks for your service, but we're closed now.", or being given notice that after 35 years under one proprietor, the bar would be sold and closed indefinitely. These are not unusual circumstances in the industry. This fact was one of the reasons that I learned to save during the feast, so I could eat when there was a famine. Man-oh-man! Nowadays, the fields are bleak and barren dust bowls as far as the eye can see .
Fast forward to 2011. One of the primary reasons I left the pub where I last held a position was due to ongoing safety issues. Turns out my concerns were not unfounded in that the bar was robbed at gun-point (sawed off shotgun to be exact) just a few months after I left. While I felt vindicated for my choice to leave, it of course had no affect on my ability to secure a job.
I knew the risk I would be taking in this economy, and at first was willing to play the odds that none of the threats made against me would be carried out. That choice made for some scarily tense (and intense) night shifts; however, it was not until management issued an ultimatum that not only eviscerated moral and ethical boundaries but was blatantly illegal did I accept that the only option I had was to leave.
I knew it would be difficult to find another job, but I truly had no clue just HOW nearly impossible a feat it would become. This last year has been the first in my experience where the implosion of the economy has had a direct impact on the bar business. My co-workers and I used to joke that even in hard times, people drink ~ whether to escape their circumstances or just to lose themselves in a little decadence from their day-to-day laborious lives.
Not so over the last few years. Yes, people still go out in droves and stay the same amount of time as before the fallout, but more often than not patrons drink far less and choose well and/or lower end liquors for their cocktails and switch to the cheapest beer on tap foregoing craft beers and microbrews for which the state is known. Plus they take advantage of Happy Hour(s) leaving late nights to a slow trickle of clientele.
Bars/restaurants looking to expand over the summer hired flocks of new staff only to let them go within weeks (even days in some cases) of their hire as the anticipated crowds did not materialize. No longer are bartenders *job-hopping* because they can. The option of working on-call has also evaporated as established bartenders lie in wait to vie for any available shift to cover.
Every week a bar/restaurant/club closes with other longer established businesses hanging on by a thread. Of course others are thriving, but unfortunately, I am an "immediate reject" based on the types of establishments at which I have worked.
My resume reads far too "blue collar" and too "alternative" in that the jobs I've held over the last 12 years include long-term employ at a gay leather bar, an ethnic gay bar in the famed Castro District of San Francisco, and an all-nude cabaret. Even though I have worked at 5-star hotels and restaurants, it has become apparent that fine dining restaurants are out as are all the venues that list in a too-cool-for-school hipster universe.
In the 20+ years I have been tending bar, I would have never in my wildest imagination thought that it would be possible to reach the level of my incompetence as a bartender ... but I have. The advent of the uber-trendy "hand-crafted cocktail" or "craft-cocktailing" is partially responsible for the erosion of prospective jobs. Even the ads for these job-openings are so pretentious, I know better than to even apply. I do anyway, but as I anticipated have yet to receive a call back.
It's irrelevant to the bar/restaurant/club owners that the cocktails they craft are specific to their establishment and not immediately transferable to others. Although requiring a certain amount of skill and deft handling, assembling "specialty drinks" is not rocket science, just more labor intensive.
In a business where youth generally rules, my age trumps my experience. If I am lucky enough to get an interview, I'm quickly eliminated in favor of someone half my age. What openings remain draw literally hundreds of responses per ad, so the odds of even being called in for an interview are becoming slimmer and slimmer and closer to none. None-the-less, I apply for anything I can find (and not limited to tending bar), make cold-calls to drop off resumes, and routinely send out mass promotional mailings every month.
At this stage/age of my life, there are few (if any) alternative positions that would yield the kind of income I have made in the service industry. I have always lived modestly, even when at the peak of my income potential, so it's not a matter of sacrifice to live on less. There have been many, many lean times but actual earnings and the fact that I was taught to manage my money well have enabled me to live comfortably.
Even if I wanted to return to the law, I would have to go back to school to collect a piece of paper that purportedly guarantees that I knew what I was doing for 17 years! That's just crazy. Also, it would take a minimum of nine months to complete the required course(s), then I would have to join the ranks of the other "certified" masses standing in line just waiting for an opportunity to submit a resume. Oh, and it costs a fortune. A fortune I do not have since I am subsisting on my savings. Catch 22 in spades.
Where to from here as I ponder this less-than-auspicious occasion? (You mean besides panic??) Walk the road that's in front of me is all I can do. I have to trust that if I continue to do the footwork, the job I need will find me. I have to believe that work eludes me not because of fault or circumstance but rather that someone else needs the job more than I do. I have to maintain faith and be patient that the powers that be have my back and are preparing a position for me.
It sounds good in theory, but the practice induces far more hand-wringing, clenched teeth, stomachaches, fear and sometimes downright terror when I venture into the unsafe waters of "what if".
Hindsight being 20/20 I will surely be grateful for the day I can look back on this period with a sigh of relief (and hopefully an income!!). Until then I'll forge ahead and chant my latest mantra: "If you pray, why worry? If you worry, why pray?" Hmmmm ... a spiritual paradox, indeed, but one more likely to at least lend a little peace of mind.
Ooops ... gotta take this call! Keep your fingers crossed for me.
**Tina Lee's post (I apologize in that I don't know how to imbed these things properly.)