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Living on Love

By Tasha Petty

Valentine Kiss
Original Photo by Tanya Chalkin

On September 15, 2008, when I was called into my boss’s office, I was shocked to think that in the midst of an economic downturn I would be receiving another promotion. The HR director was on the phone and a slip of paper was pushed across the desk at me detailing the $2342 I would be receiving for my…lay-off!

How did I not see it coming? The reports had been rolling off news desks for months about the state of the economy and the slowing in the building industry. I fooled myself into believing that I had job security, given that I was the only one in the firm with a thorough understanding of 3D S Max, Combustion and Premiere. “Remain calm,” I kept telling myself. “Don’t go postal, you need a good reference.” I remained so calm, in fact, that I consoled my boss. “It’s OK. I understand,” I kept repeating over and over. I felt better (I admit with guilt) after finding out that four others had been laid off as well.

Getting pink-slipped is the worst self-esteem smack down that I have had since I peed my pants rounding third base of the championship kickball game. I knew I shouldn’t have had that tenth beer. But getting laid off was different. I couldn’t have stopped at nine beers. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it.

“So, now that you don’t have any money, what do you do?” a friend asked me recently, as if my world might have stopped and spiraled into some uncertain depression and boredom.

The first thing I did was file for food stamps. I arrived at the food stamp office wearing my most ragged clothes, with a self-inflicted black eye and a pillow under my shirt thinking it would help my case, and it did. Since then I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking elaborate meals that I could finally afford with the whopping $170 allowance they put on my card every month; Salmon with crab cake crust, North Carolina style pulled pork barbecue sandwiches with homemade coleslaw and dressing, rosemary pork loin with roasted veggies, homemade bread with French sea salt, elaborate masala dishes.

After receiving all of my severance pay, I filed for unemployment and crossed my fingers that my former boss was not going to fight it on the grounds of my breaking the rules of the employee handbook, such as my habit of having a bottle of red wine with lunch or my favorite self-imposed dress code rule, no-pants Fridays. He did not, and now I receive two-thirds of my former pay for a total of up to six months. I can only describe the feeling of receiving money without earning it as cheating – cheating my boss, and worse, cheating my co-workers out of a fair chance of keeping their employment by straining the already struggling business. My friends reassure me that it’s fair because I paid into the unemployment benefit pool while I was employed. It’s nice to know all those taxes go to something worthwhile.

Now that I make less money, I decided it was time to get smart and spend wisely. I registered on the free money management site mint.com (It has been highly rated and has received numerous awards). I quit my expensive drug habit and stopped buying $300 hair extensions and put all that money into my savings account. I analyzed my 401K and rebalanced and reallocated my funds. I even began lecturing my still employed friends on the importance of saving, the joy of compounding interest and Roth IRAs, and the prudence of investing in the stock market while it’s down.

I registered with every online employment site in Austin; monster, hot jobs, gov jobs, statesman jobs, Austin strippers, volt, ut jobs, work in Texas, and others. I created an online portfolio with my resume and all of my work samples. I took the required typing test for my file. 48WPM with 98% accuracy, thank you very much. I tapped into Linkedin again. I emailed my entire network. Unfortunately most people responded that they wished they could help, but their companies were struggling and they we’re fearing for their own jobs. I apply to the required 5 jobs a week, rarely even getting so much as a confirmation email that my resume was received. Ouch.

I haven’t spiraled into depression yet, but boredom has certainly set in. In an attempt to ward it off I have been trying to keep busy, giving myself little projects to do. I try not to leave the house too often, fearing that I might wind up at the mall for a little retail therapy. One might say that all this free time has created new neuroses within me. I collected, pressed and painted fall leaves for necklaces. I saved, cleaned, and cut beer cans for a yet to be created mobile. I clean the kitchen obsessively. I collect acorns at the park and feed them to the squirrels in my neighborhood. I watch them from the window as each day they grow fatter, happy in knowing that I am giving back to my animal community. I take meticulous care of my nails – filing, buffing and cuticle cutting nearly daily now. I do the same for my dog and cat. I file and re-file my papers religiously.

I have become envious of all my friends who still have their jobs.

Quite often I find myself daydreaming about money and what I would do if I had it. For example, if I had $10 million I would travel the world and take photographs of people in need, so as to bring their plight to the attention of the Western World. Then I would stay and help those very same needy people, just like my idols Mother Theresa, Bono, and Angelina Jolie. I would adopt a child from each country and bring them back to Texas to work in one of the restaurants or hotels that I have opened. I would start a non-profit to increase public acceptance of railways as a reliable and romantic form of travel and would pay myself to lobby on Capitol Hill for the creation European-style bullet trains and to get “On the Road” onto every high school reading list. I would start a branch of PETA called “No Squirrel Left Behind” that would aim to make sure no squirrel goes nut-free through the winter.

But ultimately, the one thing that saves me from complete boredom and insanity that joblessness and brokenness brings on is my girlfriend. Now that the checking account is nearly drained, there is not much left to do but sit around and talk, or cook, or listen to music, or make art, or laugh together. I am truly “living on love and buying on time,” and agree that “without somebody nothing aint worth a dime.” Thank you Alan Jackson for your wise words. Country songs really do say it best. And as always, the best form of entertainment and exercise is free: sex! Here I come Valentine’s Day.

Author: Tasha

Category: life stories

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