Thursday, December 9, 2010

200 Good Things about Unemployment

151. There are no complaints unless you forget to feed the dogs. Then, there may be some impatience.

152. When you have a big zit, no one at the office stares at it.

153. When the Generals change, you don't have to salute the new one.

154. You become known for animal excretions. Your friend tells you she thinks of you when she cleans up her cat’s vomit. Last night, a bat thanks you by fluttering back and forth above your head at 3:30 a.m.  Today, you find bat guano deposited in your guest bedroom. Why is there a special word for bat poop?

155. You hear of job openings for Russian Secret Agents. According to a NY Times article, a neighbor to the alleged New Jersey spies who were arrested yesterday said, “They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”  Come see my garden. My neighbors will attest that I can dig. Is there a Russian employment office nearby? Hire me. (NY Times article is at

156. You eat potato chips and ice cream for breakfast. Eight months of unemployment deserves some sort of recognition. No one is watching. Splurge.

157. You go without underwear. We unemployed should try this. As we walk out of each interview, we will show our moon. What do you think? Shall we start a national trend that can be reported by Brad Tuttle in the TIME blog? Not wearing underwear is a cheapskate strategy recommended in the new book, The Ultimate Cheapskate, and reported by Tuttle, “one way to save, recommended by a female cheapskate, is to go without underwear (at least when the weather's warm).”

158. Somebody always thinks you can be useful around the house. That's me on the ladder. I'd rather be loafing.

159. Happy Independence Day! Enjoy the free fireworks. They are not the ones at your former workplace. My 4th of July photo essay made the cover of Open Salon today:

160. The toilets don’t automatically flush. You can wash your own behind.

161. Heat and humidity are high here. No air conditioning at home. The nuns at my grade school would say that suffering is a good thing.

162. At least the deer flies love you. The females even suck your blood through fresh bug spray. Where do I apply for Buffy's old job?

163. You can poop in privacy. Have you ever been making number two when your boss walks into the restroom? Do you hold it? Do you let it go? Do you hope that she doesn’t inhale? All of us know that everybody poops. But, no one wants to be caught doing it. Even guys. I can’t figure that out.

164. When you visit friends, you look so pitiful they provide you with a free meal. The trick is employing this tactic over and over again.

165. You realize that shopping is not a patriotic act. I just returned from a trip to my home town visiting family and friends. Although it was tempting to shop there, I stayed away. My time was better spent talking about old times and new while sharing meals and laughs. When Dick Cheney and George Bush urged citizens to shop after 9/11, Robert Reich said, "We don't live to support an economy. The economy exists to support us." So, why doesn't the U.S. Senate support us with passage of the unemployment extension? Seems patriotic to me.

166. You can finally clean the refrigerator.
     Yesterday, I used all of our dying vegetables in a sauce over rice. This is a good meal for us unemployed as rice is cheap and the vegetables are from my garden and the farmers market. These fresh veggies are a good thing because they also take a long time to die. The ones from the store have been traveling a week or two before you buy them so they are good at wilting as soon as you store them. These can take weeks to brown and I always take advantage of that attribute.
     Anyway, removing all the vegetable remnants from the bin, I realized that I may not have ever cleaned the refrigerator. You say that you can’t believe that.     
     Well, there was a fair depth of dirt in the two bins and I could not remove one of bins because the door cannot go back far enough to remove it as we’ve wedged the refrigerator under our stairway and built a countertop preventing the refrigerator from coming out of the corner. In retrospect, this design was probably not a good idea.
     I could try removing the refrigerator door to take out the bin. This seems like way too much work for cleanliness. So, I quit. The “white” space under that stuck bin remains littered with food bits but no one can see that, so who cares. There is only so much an unemployed person should do with her time.
     Do employed persons have time to clean the refrigerator? No way. But, now, one side of my refrigerator is clean and you have a good view here of my rear.

167. When it is hot and humid and you are sweating just fine, you hang out in the woods all day picking wild blueberries. They are free and so are you.

168. You crave ice cream but all you have is cheese and crackers. So, you imagine and it almost tastes like moca almond fudge, my favorite.

169. You call up someone occupying a job you’d like and ask him if he plans to leave it. I just did that. I think I creeped-out the guy. He asked me if he needed to check his car before he started it this afternoon.

170. Your time card is not overdue.

171. You understand the worth of old customs, such as hanging clothes outside to dry. We installed this clothesline last weekend. Essentially, it is a 100-foot rope, with a few feet cut off, hooked from the house to the barn. In between the hooks, there is a piece of waste wood that my partner kept because he knew sometime in his lifetime he would use it. Our yard is littered with similar valuable items including this broken upside-down toilet now joined by Oxeye Daisies and other discarded goods, and a cast iron bathtub that isn’t going anywhere unless hernia surgery is already scheduled. The clothesline cost $4, which was returned by not using the dryer the last time I washed towels. And when I’m bored, I watch the wash flap in the breeze. Cheap entertainment for the rural unemployed: me.

172. You eat homegrown tomatoes, reflect and genuflect. A story.

My tomato ate the Principal: A sad story of taste and Sacrifice

I have a terrible memory. It is the reason I didn't reach beyond a BA in English. I never remember the particulars of a book. In fact, most of the time, I don't remember that I've even read the book or watched the movie. I can view a work of art 27 times before it seems redundant. And if I’ve got a free pass to a museum, I can see the same exhibit over and over again without complaint.

My memory functions fine, unfortunately, surrounding traumatic events. And I remember vividly my tragic grade school encounter with a sliced tomato.

I attended a cruel Catholic school with a policy that students eat everything on their lunch plates. This, of course, was because there were starving children who would be grateful for canned white grapefruit and canned spinach—regulars that made me gag. This was also true of the raw tomato.

Students could not engage in conversation while eating lunch. If you were caught talking, you ate your lunch against the wall for a week or more. This gag order (no pun intended) limited our ability to trade food we did not like. No one would take canned spinach off your tray, but the fate of a sliced tomato wasn’t that limited. Until the day I still have trouble talking about.

No one would take my tomato. I was a cute girl, even a teacher’s pet in first grade, with bangs my mother must have cut with a knife. And I sat through my lunch period not lifting a bite of that tomato to my mouth. All of my classmates were dismissed from the table. School Principal Sister Mary Sacrifice would not let me leave until I ate my tomato. So I sat and stared at the thing.

The tomato began to grow. Soon, it had not only taken over the table, it was nearly as big as the cafeteria, which was the size of a basketball gymnasium. In fact, it was our gym. I began to cry knowing my colleagues were outside enjoying their long 30-minute recess. I cried. And I cried.

As the older kids began to stream in for their lunch period, I sat alone in the cafeteria except for my tomato, which slowly consumed Sister Mary Sacrifice. This was my first experience with Transcendental Meditation.

Then, a miracle happened. Carla Rodriguez, a 6th grader, appeared from nowhere and took the tomato off my plate. For the last 48 years, I have nominated her for canonization due to her heroic virtue.

It took almost that long before I would eat a raw tomato. I could stomach spaghetti and pizza sauce, but no fresh tomato was ever contemplated. And if I accidently got a piece of tomato from a salad in my mouth, I casually spit it out without any concern for good manners.

So my path toward tomato reverence was long and not particularly graceful. Now, however, I grow tomatoes in my garden and eat them from the vine. I’m not sure when the transition took place, but it is over. After planting eight tomato plants in May, I anxiously waited until last week when I ceremoniously plucked the first ripe tomato from a vine. Then, I marched into the kitchen to continue the ritual of slicing, salting and stuffing it in my mouth. After all, there is nothing better than a homegrown tomato.

Here is my favorite way of eating a raw tomato. I do so each summer, sometimes twice a day, in honor of Saint Carla Rodriguez.

Tragic Tomato No More: A summer recipe & ritual
Cut a homegrown tomato into big chunks and put it in a salad bowl. Add sliced homegrown basil. Use a fork to scrape out some Chevre from the container. (I buy Chevre--soft cheese made from goat milk, enzymes and salt--from our Farmers Market. Mine comes from the Polymeadows Farm in Shaftsbury, VT, and I adore it.) Add some sliced raw almonds, which I roast lightly in a skillet and store in the refrigerator. Sometimes I add fresh corn off the cob or wild blueberries from our yard, but these are extra and not necessary. Put a smidgen of olive oil on top, salt and pepper. Chew. Savor. Genuflect.

173.  You play with snake skins. Somebody said there was a job in it for you. So where is that somebody?  For free entertainment, here is a video of a snake shedding its skin. He is quite the performer:  I easily amuse myself.

174. You wait all day for someone from the electric company to show up and when the someone finally arrives, he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. Here is the story.

When we received our last electricity bill, I was concerned that the electric company (We will call them NYE) hadn’t read our meter since December so had estimated charges for the last six months. Bill, my partner, asked why I should be concerned about this. I reminded him that I am unemployed and prone to worry about incidentals including why he cannot handle plastic wrap. I patiently explained that NYE’s estimated readings are always low. He argued that missed readings would then be a good thing. I reminded him that women think ahead, contrary to the script that most men follow, and when NYE finally reads the meter, we may owe them considerably more than one employed person (him) could afford to pay. Fearing an untimely disconnect, I figured having electricity this winter would be a better thing.

So, I called NYE and, as you might expect, was transferred numerous times. I ended up with a young woman who sounded concerned. She agreed six months is a long time not to have our meter read and did I have dogs? Yes, I said, but the dogs cannot be the problem. She did not believe me. Maybe there is a new worker, she said, and the dogs bother her. The only way to find out, she continued, would be to talk with the meter reader. So, she scheduled an appointment for the two of us to meet when the worker would be in the neighborhood--between 8:00 and 10:00 yesterday. I put the date on my calendar, which, of course, is crowded with job interviews. Okay, the last clause is an exaggeration.

I was dressed by 8:00 a.m. and told the dogs we’d take our walk after NYE left. They accepted that, along with breakfast served at their feet. At 10:30, I called NYE. Again transferred a few times, I explained to the young man what wasn’t happening. He confirmed that my address was on the schedule and said the worker had to be on his way.

At 1:30 p.m., I called again and explained to a third person that NYE was supposed to have visited me this morning in order to tell me why there was a problem visiting me. The woman I got this time said she was sorry but I was not on the schedule and that this was her fault. She could have been crying. Would I still like someone to come out today? I had already been confined for five and half hours, so what were a few more hours? I said yes. I could tell she was drying her eyes.

At 2:30 p.m., as rain came from nowhere to flatten most living things, a guy in a NYE truck appeared saying he was there to turn on my electricity. The dogs and I, on the porch and wet, were perplexed but we patiently explained the situation again.

The NYE visitor said, “Let me call in to see what is going on.”

“Believe me,” I said, “I’m the only person who knows what is going on.”

He didn’t believe me. He took out his cell phone. I told him his cellphone probably wouldn’t work out here (we live in a rural area known as the boonies) and he could come in to use our land line. Of course, his cellphone worked, but the dispatcher didn’t answer her phone. I told him I thought she ran to the store for more tissues.

He said he had no idea why someone wasn’t reading my meter. I convinced him to put in a good word about our dogs. He asked for their names, but he seemed to lose interest when I told him one of the dogs was named Snot. He left after reading the meter.

About 3:30 p.m., the dispatcher called me. She had done some research. It turns out that the meter reader hadn’t finished our route since December and about 70 homes were affected. All my neighbors were paying estimated bills and our dogs had been wrongly accused. I told her I didn’t know whether Snot and Buddy would get over it, but I’d help them work through it.

You may think this is the end of the story but our real meter reader returned today to read the meter. I ran out to say hello. The young man said he went home sick last time and didn’t finish the route. I told him I was sorry I ever inquired about the issue. Sometime before the last phone call yesterday, I no longer cared that our bill was estimated. I just wanted NYE to get out of my life.

Now, I debate whether to tell Bill the saga of this unemployed day because he will say, “I told you not dealing with NYE was a good thing.” And I will have to agree.

175. Your weekly activity report to the boss is not due. Oh, good news, I actually got a call for a job interview today. Of course, I missed the call but it is captured on my answering machine so I can play it over and over. I'm on a roll.

176.  You can ponder the real mysteries of life, like why do shoes squeak and is it the right shoe or the left? How can you sneak with sneakers that squeak?
177. Recalling today's job interview:
"Can you tell me about a time when you were employed?"
"Well, that's a tough one..."
Let's just say the interview could have gone better.

178. Your best friend tries to tell you something when you ask, “How was your morning?  Did you sleep well?  How do I look for this interview?”

179. Another job, another interview: Congratulations to you. How many hip words can you use in your half-hour interview?  Benchmark, outcome measure, work plan, interactive tools, effectiveness, quality, core principals, strategic plan, performance management, linkage, culture of excellence, overarching framework, indicators, implementation mechanism, objectives, strategies, activities, assessment rating… I am smart. I am cool. I can play the game. Just give me the frickin’ job. Smile. Handshake. Thank you for this opportunity.  
180. When it is too hot to do squat, you sit in front of a fan all day and envision working. But not too hard. 

181. You don't have to wear a bra.

182. You are ordained as a monk after your thousands of hours of isolation, contemplation and desperate prayer, and invited to ride in the Popemobile.

183. You take up a hobby while you’re waiting to be offered the job after your interview. You knit a potholder. You knit a scarf. You knit a tree jacket.

184. You take up another hobby while you’re waiting to be offered the job after your interview. In your first lesson, you draw this tennis shoe.
In lesson two, you draw these apples.

In lesson 743, you are mistaken for Picasso.

185. Your invention to teach men to replace the toilet paper roll makes a fortune from irritated wives. You no longer need a job. Patent Pending.

186. As the autumn leaves fall, you can watch every damn one of them hit the ground.

187. You can carve every damn one of these pumpkins.

188. You can smash every one of these damn pumpkins. And enjoy it. Does that pumpkin head remind you of anyone? Go for it.

189. You answer that perennial interview question: If you were an animal, which one would you be? Hmmmm. I said, "My dog. He lays around all day, but gets scratched when the boss comes around." Wrong answer.

190. You learn to juggle apples. Sometimes you miss. Depression runs in the family, not talent.

191. When the dogs bring home dessert, you are there to smile and nod, and be grateful that most of the flies froze last week in the first frost.

192. You try to sell your furniture, your dishes, your laundry and your husband. Nobody wants your husband, but your dirty underwear goes for big bucks so you are dirtying more.

193. You celebrate your one-year anniversary of unemployment by not working.

194. You redecorate your living room by vacuuming.

195. To avoid the icy streets of the first snow storm of the season, you sit in a Barnes & Noble Cafe not drinking.

196. The fog settles and you don’t have to drive.

197. You cannot afford to go to the dentist. No drilling, no scraping, and no "can you feel that?"

198. You have nothing to do, so everyone is coming to your house on Thanksgiving. Planning for days, you clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, suck up spider webs with your vacuum, and burn every candle you own as there is an unfortunate smell of a composting critter you cannot find.

199. You boycott Black Friday, but participate fully in Stay-at-Home-Saturday.

200. You don't have to pack your lunch.

For Good Things numbered 101 through 150, see

For Good Things numbered 1 through 100, see