Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Unemployed Housewife's Cure for the Common Recession

This is a true story, one I'm not happy about or proud of. But if the telling of it helps anyone, then it will have been worth it. The cure for the recession includes debt sniffles, unemployment fever and everyone else getting a bailout but you flu.

I moved to Florida from rural Georgia where I was unemployed for approximately 7 of the 12 years I lived there. As an outsider, getting work was close to impossible. It seems small towns in rural Georgia DO NOT LIKE OUTSIDERS.

I landed in Fort Lauderdale in July 2005 and not a minute too soon. The landlord rented me her house which I found online (mistake going online to secure a rental) and proceeded to kick me out three weeks after I got there as the house was sold out from under me. We had agreed on a three month lease so I was devastated.

Add to that, Hurricane Katrina coming on shore the day I was to move out and you have a recipe for disaster. I had nowhere to go as the hotels were full and I was pretty close to being out of money. The landlord agreed to let me stay on one or two more days, so I hunkered down and lived in a dark and sweltering noisy world for three more days. The sweltering heat and low barometric pressure made for a difficult time concentrating. The metal shutters banged endlessly for three days.

On the evening of the third day, the lights came on. I looked outside to see if everyone else had electricity. I was the only one. I bolted for the shower and luxuriated in the running tepid water. But the shower didn't fix my logistics problem. I still faced the problem of needing a place to stay. As a last resort I tried Motel Six, but all their rooms were full.

I called home. "Mom, I really need a place to stay."

"Well, of course, come on up. We'd love to have you." Mom lives on a barrier island outside of Jacksonville FL which rarely, if ever endures hurricanes. The drive is six hours. Within an hour I packed the car with my clothes, dog and the computer and drove as fast as I could. While visiting her, my 18 year old car's power steering and power motor to the windshield wipers died. Just what you need to happen during hurricane season. I spent the last of the money I had to fix everything and limped back to Fort Lauderdale. Three weeks later, I was in an apartment and still unemployed.

The new landlord wasn't thrilled about renting to someone who was unemployed, but I told him I'd signed on with four agencies and was sure to get work soon. Plus, he could check my rental history which showed 12 years of on time rent. There was nothing I could do about the weather.

I bought the newspaper each Sunday, signed on with four temp agencies and went to the library to use the computer and copiers because my computer crashed. Daily I searched for work. Only one agency had work for me, but the jobs were few and far between and paid pitifully little.

I did have a friendly neighbor who bailed me out with food. For much of the time, the dog and I ate peanut butter sandwiches and I shopped at Dollar General. I longed for fresh fruit and vegetables, but I never starved. I arm wrestled my competitors for the good jobs and gave the employers everything they asked for. One company asked me for my astrological sign because they were having a difficult time choosing between two of us. At some companies where I knew they were looking for a full time person, I purred and rubbed up against everyone to convince them I was the best choice.

During this time, there were no roofs on office buildings. Once I met an employer for an interview at Dunkin Donuts, another I met in their car. There simply was no place to go to hold interviews. Jobs were not only scarce, but the highest pay I got was $15 per hour.

Still I was happy to be back in South Florida and wasn't going to give up. This made my attitude much better despite all the problems I was encountering. I just knew I'd get a job. I had to get a job.

One assignment was at Joe Robbie stadium for the giant sell out of cars for the Maroone dealerships. I was to take names and addresses of the thousands of people who showed up for three days of selling cars in a hot tent with no air conditioning. The next job was in a construction office in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The men began shouting in the conference room, where I was shuffling papers, and asked me to leave. I left immediately and could hear them fist fighting. I told the agency to never send me there again. I was offered several jobs that didn't match my skills and said no.

I wondered how long this was going to last. A month later, I got my answer when Hurricane Wilma entered stage left. This was even worse than Katrina.

I had to do something. But realistically, there was nothing I could do except pray, hope and wring my hands. I laughed a lot. I had nothing to laugh at but I laughed nevertheless.

I called the temp agencies weekly. The bill collectors and creditors called me daily. Nothing was moving. I got sick with some kind of vertigo and couldn't walk too well. I knew that was the product of the stress I was under. Finally, I called my creditors and all but one told me they would give me a moratorium. That gave me some relief for awhile.

I found a job copyediting which was to last three weeks and might become permanent. They were kind, the work was fun and they were impressed with me. But when I got home, the message light was on. I called the agency that sent me there. The woman I had replaced begged for her job back and they gave it to her.

Next, I got an interview with Food for the Poor, a national agency which distributes food to the Caribbean islands. This is where I was tested and interviewed three times. They liked me. They really liked me, then picked someone else.

The landlord was getting angrier about the rent being so late. I asked him to let me use the last month's rent for the current month. He didn't like that but let me do it. While arguing my case, I noticed that as long as he kept talking, I still had a chance for him to say yes. And he did.

After no work for over a week, I came home to find another message from a firm that dealt in the Securities Industry. And that's when I had an epiphany. At exactly the moment I heard the message, I knew I was going to work there. Not just a hunch, but a visceral feeling that there was a yes waiting for me.

It felt like the heavens opened up and, after eight months of unemployment and all the other problems I encountered, this was my time. I've been working there for three years.

So how does one cure the common recession and it's concomitant problems like debt and unemployment. It's pretty easy. The following tips may help.

  • Never armwrestle an alligator. The alligator always wins. This means pay no attention to the problems you encounter. Take everything lightly especially yourself and laugh out loud as much as possible.

  • When you do get a job you like, rub up on everyone and purr.

  • Shop for food and necessities at discount stores.

  • Prioritize what has to get paid. Rent, food and electricity are necessary. Phone may take third place. Then gas for the car. Nothing else is important.

  • Pay no attention to the creditors except to acknowledge your debt and intention to pay it back in full when you get employment. Creditors, contrary to public opinion, are people too and are reading from a script. Tell them you will get back with them as soon as you have spoken to your financial advisor(s). Be nice to them and call them more often than they call you. Keep notes of the conversation, date, time and name of the person you talked to.

  • Keep your records in order. Especially your bills and receipts.

  • Find support from family, friends, church, therapist or self-help groups. People love to help out when times are hard. It's a gift you give them by saying yes to whatever they do for you.

  • Go to the beach or park and have fun. Find free things to do. Craig's list has a "Free" category.
  • Pray, meditate and use affirmations often. Know this too shall pass.
  • Stay away from your own negative thoughts. Staying positive is important. And if you need to convince the lien holder, landlord or creditor of something, keep the conversation flowing until you hear the "yes."

Finally, life can feel intimidating. But the struggle can be turned into something else. It's up to you and your attitude. And if all else fails, take two aspirin and call the doctor in the morning.

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