On The Pursuit Of Joblessness, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Live With Mom

With music strong I come, with my cornets and drums. I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquer’d and slain persons. – Walt Whitman
image - Flickr / Khánh Hmoong
image – Flickr / Khánh Hmoong

I am a sponge.

Complex stimuli completely encompasses my hippocampus; Borderline elephantine, my anamnesis.

I still remember the time when, as a boy, I overheard my grandfather Arthur refer to me as, “that little (inaudible) sponge.” To the back of my head this little aphorism went; where it joined those of past Presidents which he’d so often dispose. No joke: In my mother’s father’s mind’s eye, “It is organized on the basis of the needs … in 1800 instead of 1900”, no less assessed William Howard Taft’s State Department than his Geo Metro’s glove compartment.

Another of those POTUS quotes not yet wrung out by the hands of time comes courtesy of John F. Kennedy, when he beseeched this nation’s citizenry to ask not what their country can do for them, but to ask what their country has done for them lately – or something along those lines. Recalling, then, all that’s recently befallen a certain yours truly, I suppose I’d have to answer “diddly,” or perhaps “squat”, whichever is more meager.

The series of miseries commenced in late June, 2012, with the Supreme Court’s upholding The Affordable Care Act. Barely was the ink of John Roberts’s John Hancock dry when I was summoned to my boss’s office at Hasbro, the toy company; where I’d been spearheading development of a special edition of Operation wherein the man players operated on had just lost his job and, consequently, his health insurance.

After citing the just-alluded-to jurisprudential news, he said, somberly:

“It appears to me that your days here are numbered.”

This hit me like a ton of feathers. I was no less aghast than if I’d seen a ghost. I knew he wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the socket, so to speak, but to not know that the 24 hour period marking Earth’s full rotation on its axis is tabulated numerically? Just how he assumed people kept track of days I hadn’t a clue, nor a desire to get one. Instead I rose from my chair, announced that I’d rather devour a bag of pistachios than work under someone unaware of a basic tenet of our calendrical system, and legged it out of there no faster than were hellhounds on my trail.

To extinguish recurring resignations I felt over my resignation, I’d recall how Caligula, when the time came to appoint a new Consul, selected Incitatus, his favorite horse. In which case, assuming he (Caligula) was not off his opulent rocker – and I see no reason to believe this is true – then if a horse can get a job, and a coveted one at that, then I should feel free continuing to respond to ‘Help Wanted’ signs with a hearty scoff and muttered suggestion to, “Let me know when you needit.” But soon enough I felt an itch to get back on that occupational horse, as it were; an itch no doubt aided by my desire to acquire health insurance; a desire no doubt aided by my awkwardly landing a double heel click outside the Hasbro office building. If immediately after the fall, I’d been asked by a doctor to rate my pain, I’d have given it a 7.8. But now, as I spent more time with it, I was ready to raise it to a 10.0 – the first perfect score since the one given to my abdominal region for what turned out to be a kidney stone.

And so I set out on a hunt for the third most dangerous game of all – a job (The most dangerous being man; the second most dangerous being man in sandals).

(Author’s note: I should probably mention that I’m highly allergic to pistachios.)

In The Poet, Emerson argues that the poorest experience is “rich enough for all the purposes of expressing thought.” A fine notion surely, but as I examine my resume, its clear not even the words of the nineteenth-century’s pre-eminent American Ralph would compensate for its paltriness. Prior to the aforementioned Hasbro fiasco, I had only two jobs: First, at a Manhattan real estate brokerage firm, from which I was fired for listing every apartment as ‘Pre-War’ (In my defense, I was in my early 20s and quite cynical). Second, as a door-to-door Wikipedia salesman, from which I was fired for failing my drug test, which I attributed to having put ‘C’ for every answer, only to discover later that they’d only asked for a urine sample (In my defense, I was quite intoxicated at the time). And it turns out the one life lesson I did learn from attending The Online School of Hard Knocks was that Online college degrees are basically worthless.

I decide the situation calls for some mild embellishment of my attributes and achievements e.g “Knowledge of the sound of one hand clapping,” and “Once summited Everest three times consecutively: First for sport, then to retrieve my thermos, then to see where my car was parked.” This seems like a sound strategy, as it lands me an interview. But I quickly discover that telling outright lies about myself carries some risk. Upon being asked where I see myself in 10 years, I immediately regret listing ‘clairvoyance’ under ‘Special Skills.’ Of course, had I known better – or, better yet, were I actually clairvoyant- I’d have taken a more humble approach, like describing my typing skills as, “nothing to write home about.” But what’s done is done.

My hopes rise when its suggested we play The Desert Island Game, which, for the uninitiated, consists of choosing the one desert island on which one would want to be stranded with one’s favorite film, book, and album. “Cheesman Island!” I hurriedly blurt, thinking its relative obscurity will prove me a man of discerning taste. Instead, his right eyebrow rises in confusion. It’s clear he’s never heard of it. My heart sinks like a rock in a tub. Without fail, in every Desert Island game there’s one lone oaf who comes off as a pretentious twit. And here I am, that very oaf, that same twit. Mercifully, he abandons the game, and asks me to name my favorite television show. At which point I inform him that I don’t, in fact, own a television. A look of admiration comes over his face, but quickly dissipates when I explain that I lease one instead.

From there, things unravel.

Asked to describe myself in four words or less, I say, ‘unable to follow word count guidelines’; asked why they should hire me, I say that if they don’t, the terrorists win, or at least receive a Certificate of Participation; asked the first thing I’d do upon being hired, I say, “kick ass and take office supplies”; asked for an example of my overcoming an obstacle, I detail my harrowing escape from a shopping mall, as proof removing my shirt to show the tattoo of the Mall Directory that covers my entire back; asked how I’d increase productivity, I lay out my plan for a new The Industrial Revolution beginning with a more literal approach to “Take Your Child to Work Day”; finally, asked if I had any questions, I say, ‘do you know who my dad is?’, knowing full well who my dad is, but thinking it will garner sympathy. Only later do I realize I more likely sounded like an entitled, privileged twat.

After several days, an email arrives, containing the same condescendingly appreciative tone as those from the publishing house and patent office who rejected my cyberpoppunk novel and idea for a lamp that turns on and off at the sound of one hand clapping, respectively.

So there I am, penniless and sans prospects. No longer can I explain to my roommates that my conspicuous presence at the apartment during normal work hours is due to my budding career as a Thomas Pynchon celebrity impersonator. No, I must confront the cold, hard truth: I have no other recourse but to move back home and live, once again, with the television that raised me.

Doubtless some of you would find little reason to get all worked up about moving back home. What’s the big deal, you’d ask. Happens all the time, you’d say. And in the case of most people I’d be inclined to agree. Certainly I wasn’t the first to return from whence he came, nor would I be the last. For most of my peers a quick retreat to the home base, to take inventory and plan one’s next move, is nothing of which to be ashamed. My own private discouragement perhaps become clearer when I explain that I was, in fact, a child prodigy.

It’s true. Some years ago, I was surfing the web, when on the monitor’s upper third quadrant flashed a banner advertisement for an IQ test. Modesty precludes me from revealing my score; let’s just say it was enough for my parents to bring me to a local psychologist, to determine not if I possessed any extraordinary gifts, but which. You can imagine our collective dismay when she not only refused to legitimize the test score, but claimed the very fact that we presumed a banner ad IQ test could accurately prove that I was highly intelligent was, in and of itself, proof that I was not. Perturbed but undeterred, I acquiesced to a battery of tests, the results of which concluded that I was, by every available metric, completely average. In other words, I was not child prodigy, but rather a child prodigy, to wit, I possessed a prodigious talent for being a regular child. And it was true. At 8, I embodied 8. At 10, there was none more 10. It was as if I’d gone down to The Crossroads and made a deal not with The Devil, but with whoever’s in charge of Purgatory. All day, “everyday”, and so on. Social outplacement a common problem of the gifted, I was relieved to discover there were thousands like me, all belonging to The National Association for the Advancement of the Alternative Assessment of Child Prodigy.

This certificate of NAAAACP membership still hung proudly on display on the refrigerator in our kitchen, next to the slightly smaller refrigerator I made in my after-school Dadaism art class. They were the first images to greet me as I entered my home; stark reminders of my precipitous fall from grace.

I made my way through the house, up the stairs, and into my bedroom. The first thing I noticed was the poster of a mid-flight Michael Jordan tacked above my bed. A wave of nostalgia swept over me as I recalled the first time I laid witness to His Airness, as he soared, eagle-like, toward the hoop and, in one fell graceful swoop, flushed the ball through the netting, then returning ever so lithely to the ground he’d seemed to have risen from days earlier. Memory fails me as to what commercial it was for – I want to say Nike, but it could very well have been Gatorade, or even McDonald’s – but that is irrelevant. What mattered was that this man was representing a brand in a way that I’d never seen nor thought humanly possible. Sure, there had been spokespersons before, but this was a spokesgod. (Could He build a brand so big that even he couldn’t raise its profile?)

I spent hours in my room reenacting those commercials, until I knew every slogan by heart, hoping that one day I too would represent a multinational corporate conglomerate.But the dream died, as dreams often do, when a few days later I saw our garbageman actually riding on the back of the garbage truck and decided at once that I must do that.

I felt again that burning desire rekindling in my gut. But it was soon extinguished by the stark reality of my circumstances.What brand would possibly want me as a spokesperson? What do I have to set me apart besides a laundry list of misfortunes and a pile of clothes in serious need of laundering? Considering the whole of my existence through the prism of a marketing campaign sent me into a deep, melancholic daze, my only company a charcoaled cloud of self-loathing. I felt as useless and inconsequential as the American food items on Chinese restaurant menu.

To add insult to misery, my lack of insurance forced me to try alternative methods to cure my depression. First, I signed up for a class on Self-Defense Mechanisms, which taught using techniques like Regression, Denial and Repression to block unpleasant thoughts and ultimately escape from the grips of reality. But the fear of not being good at it was so much that I decided not to go. I sought a program that I could do from the comfort of my home, finding one in the form of Self-Administered Stockholm Syndrome, wherein ones isolates oneself from the outside world – in effect “taking oneself hostage” – with the goal of eventually being able to empathize with one’s plight, and develop positive feelings for oneself. Instead, I concluded that only a sick, sad moron would want me as a hostage. After my final hope – daily, sustained mantra chanting of ‘Hakuna Matata’ – failed before it even started.

At this point I felt so woebegone that only a bottle of extra strength Woe-B-Gone would remove my despair, a despair which only grew when I realized that such a thing probably doesn’t exist. So low was I that when gazing upward, ants looked like people. But I soon found out that Providence ain’t just a city in Rhode Island.

While putting the Lion King VHS back into my old toy chest, I spotted in the rubble the beginner’s keyboard given to me

On my 12thbirthday. The only previous time I’d felt so depressed was when I received it instead of the Glass Armonica I’d specifically requested. My father, sensing my disappointment, suggested that I put its ‘blues’ preset button to use. I ignored both his suggestion and the keyboard, which I tossed in the chest and never once touched. I knew then, as I knew now, that he was being glib, but I was at the end of my rope, and desperate times call for 12-measures, and so I rummaged through the plastic rubble and picked up the keyboard.

Well, evidently clairvoyance skips a generation, for bursting from that little yellow button was a veritable gumbo of blues: Hokum n Delta n Piedmont; jump blues, swamp blues, jazz blues, boogie woogie. All this misery in a 2 pound piece of industrial plastic. John Henry in The Machine. I felt a certain omnipresence: All at once I’m in the back of a ramshackle sharecropper-shack turned jookhouse, Robert Johnson earnest warbling in phantasmic harmony with his Gibson L-1, the ghostly notes of the Slow Drag hovering above turpentiners high on ‘shine. I felt in it a friendly combatant on the War of Affliction, beside me in the foxhole I’d dug myself into. The droplets of gloom dripping from to my heart suddenly evaporated.

With a new, sunnier frame of a mind, I thought again of what Emerson’d said. Suddenly it was like the Sage of Concord had been trying to speak to me, but I couldn’t hear until now because my left ear bud stopped working even though I bought this pair like less than a month ago; as if I finally figured out you have to jiggle the lock on the doors of perception:

Social networks/media have turned the very act of living into a full time job;what’s shared on them a resume of one’s existence. And like all resumes,the goal is to project an enhanced version of oneself; And as the currency put in these networks grew, so too does one’s investment in it, until it becomes one’s stock persona, living inside this virtual social bubble, which expands and expands until the day it inevitably bursts, as one undergoes an existential crisis, and one takes inventory of one’s life and realizes the seismic inequality between thatworld and the real world, that you and the real you, and the utter fraudulence of it all, and so one loses all confidence in oneself, and one’s whole world- both of them, actually- come crashing down, as one enters The Latest And Greatest Depression.

And in order to recover, I must undergo a self-correction, to wit: This projection of myself must too drift aimlessly through streams of self-consciousness; go spellunking down in the dumps to the bottom of the pit of despair; send my high horse to the glue factory. And from inside this glass house in which it will live, I’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone thrown; For if the underlying force behind my self-aggrandizing is the need to have my life appear as desirable as I perceieved everyone else’s to be, doesn’t it stand to reason that they’re only doing it to keep up with me? In which case, there must exist an entire untapped demographic – a huddled-mass market, so to speak. And while my poor experiences may not be aptly suited to be spokesperson for the Fortune 500, in these times of widespread Depression, are they not for The People?

Yes! I’ll become amassador of the sadder, speaker of the bleaker, stand-in for the bummed-out, mouthpiece for the long-faced, delegate for the desolate, surrogate of the discouraged, speaker of the house-ridden, bringing the noise for those in a funk:

The guy who lost his job standing in line for people outside the Apple store because the guy he paid to stand in line for him at the unemployment office is busy waiting in line to buy the new iPad; the Subway musician who got kicked out for bothering the customers; the rapper so depressed he barely leaves the hizzy anymore; the child star that burned out before it its 13 billionth birthday; the meek still waiting for their Earth inheritance check; the schizophrenic with social anxiety disorder hoping the voices in his head aren’t talking to him; the dreamer whose dreams no one wants to hear about; the fantasy owners whose teams no one wants to hear about; the Chinese Restaurant aquarium’s goldfish living in serfdom since they installed a miniature castle; the Amish man who’ll never get to dance the Electric Slide at his daughter’s wedding; the uncultured heroin addict embarassed to ask which spoon he’s supposed to use; the struggling novelist hoping this is the book that lands him a blog deal;

And sure, being the spokesperson of The People isn’t nearly the same as a universally recognized brand, but hey, everybody’s gotta start somewhere. And in becoming The People’s Also-Ran, The Great White Mope, The Sultan of Sulk, and the Proletariate Poet Laureate, I will have learned the greatest brand of all: Learning to brand yourself.

A few days after my epiphanic moment, I’m approached by two former high school classmates, Constance and Clarence. Though it takes me a second to jog my memory, they recognize me instantly. Perhaps because I still retain that youthful facade of my teens; perhaps because I am wearing my Letterman’s jacket. Whatever the case, we exchange salutations and embraces. Noting my having been in absentia since graduation, they remark that I’d been assumed to have, “fallen off the face of the earth.”(Sadly, this is not a case of folksy hyperbole. Massive budget cuts and a near apocalyptic paper shortage had forced our school to significantly reduce textbook sizes; therefore all history books ended just before Columbus’s discovery of America.) The conversation takes a wistful turn, as we recall glory days: the Friday nights spent downing piss warm sixers before going to the football games; getting kicked off the football team for showing up drunk; Our junior high Goth phase, when we’d huddle together at lunch to strategize how to defeat the invading Hunnic Empire. Eventually the topic comes to the present day, and what we are up to. It seems they’ve each found a great deal of fulfillment in their respective careers. Constance, in her time substitute teaching at an inner city school, has already inspired her students to sit quietly and watch an episode of NOVA; Clarence, a volunteer firefighter, has recently been hailed a hero for rescuing a kitten that was stuck in a loveless marriage.

Finally, they ask what I’m doing with my life; and I tell them the truth: That I’m about to start a new job, and I couldn’t be happier. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog