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Jewish World Review August 24, 2001 / 5 Elul, 5761

Lewis A. Fein

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Consumer Reports

Down(sized) and Out in L. A.: Life in Unemployment Hell -- AS a casualty of the dot-com collapse, I now have the distinction of having experienced two unenviable situations: corporate malaise and unemployment. No, I am not technically a terminated employee -- besides, who gets fired from a job nowadays? -- I am, as corporate literature emphasizes, a product of downsizing and early retirement. Granted, I do not qualify for retirement or Social Security benefits for another forty years, but the principle is the same --- the job market stinks.

Start with unemployment insurance. Too many people confuse unemployment insurance with welfare, without recognizing an important difference between the two. Welfare is money without work; unemployment insurance, on the other hand, is like a child's allowance, sufficiently small enough to preserve one's self-esteem and insufficiently large enough to buy anything meaningful. Thus I am the modern equivalent of a child from my past: the overweight boy chasing an ice cream truck -- this is before the wholesale takeover of the business by aged men, marijuana smokers and pedophiles -- only to discover his roll of dimes purchases nothing, except of course a series of phone calls to father about the pinch of inflation and the maxim about a dollar for a day's work.

Thereafter, one must attend a series of job training seminars. These meetings are, inevitably, like Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) without the free coffee or eligible singles; incidentally, the Beverly Hills chapter of A.A. has more superficial people than a plastic surgeon's waiting room. Thus, I exchange pleasantries with a group of recently terminated -- no, administratively reorganized -- workers, all of whom brandish name tags and extol their job qualifications.

The seminar worsens with the appearance of a "group leader," here no doubt to reiterate the rules of unemployment insurance. That this woman looks unemployable herself reassures no one. She wears a sun dress, and reminds the attendees of the unemployment center's exclusive offerings: job postings, which include employment opportunities as a clerk at a local pharmacy (my law degree and corporate background seem the perfect fit); resume writing skills; discounted stationery; and, blessed be the city's bureaucrats, an entire supply of Apple Macintosh computers.

Now, any similarities between an unemployment center and the occult are merely coincidental. In fact, the occult is much more chic in Los Angeles -- again, there is that A.A. parallel -- than membership within the increasingly common world of the unemployed. For unemployed persons neither enjoy, nor aspire to enjoy, the benefits of a messianic figure; or, to borrow from the imagery of the modern airport, I demand a minimum wage for every brownie or flower sold on behalf of the Father, whomever (or in whatever Rolls-Royce) He is.

So, here I am --- navigating job postings on the Internet. Oh, my days are not completely boring. Rejection letters sometimes arrive, and readers of my column occasionally insult me. Thus I make this appeal: help me find a job, preferably one with little responsibility and a generous salary. I also welcome any perks, including a travel allowance or Broadway tickets.

Indeed, unemployment is depressing. There are only so many books one can read (for free) at Barnes & Noble. Even worse, there are only so many courtesy cups of ice cream (at Ben & Jerry's) one can consume, before chocolate smears my face and the manager coughs suspiciously. And, yes, there are only so many entertaining channels of basic cable, lest my mind numb and body deteriorate.

There are only so many hidden pleasures of unemployment. One day --someday soon, I hope -- all of this will end.

To my cubicle, I shall return.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein