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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Survival stories / Success stories
- Subject: General Interest
- Published: 04/01/2011
RECESSION (Approx. 3,200 wds.)
Headlines: California Jobless Rate Over 11%; Foreclosures Soar State Workers Furloughed.
Outside it was a typical winter’s day in Sacramento, gray with a chilling wind and wet. Inside the Brady advertising agency, Bill Parker tried to look alert and competent while the man on the other side of the desk, Sam Brady, scanned through his resume. Parker was a man in his late 40’s, a little over average height, about average weight. He had a pleasant face, wore glasses that made him look somewhat intellectual and had thinning hair. He also had the haggard look of someone under stress who wasn’t sleeping well at night. He’d been out of work for over a year.
“So you worked at the Dixon agency?” asked Brady. He was around 50, a large man who’d run to fat, jowly, with tiny eyes in a plump face.
“For fifteen years.” And he’d thought he’d be working there for at least 15 more years. Then the recession had come.
“Does Ruth still have that red hair?”
Ruth Dixon was well-known in Sacramento, the capital of California, where she’d started one of its first advertising agencies. “She did, the last time I saw her.” After he’d closed down her agency, Ruth Dixon had embarked on a tour of Europe and, as far as Parker knew, was still overseas.
“And what did you do there?”
“A little bit of everything. It was a small agency so we all handled a lot of things, copy, media buying, market research.”
Brady nodded. “I know. We’re pretty small ourselves.”
In fact, Parker had never heard of the Brady agency until one of his old co-workers, also still unemployed, had suggested he give it a try. “Sam Brady’s a nice guy and, who knows, he may have something or be able to give you a lead.”
“So Ruth decided to close up shop?” asked Brady.
“Yes. Two of our clients left and she decided it was time to quit.”
Brady nodded again. “It’s been tough. And there aren’t too many ad agencies in town. Have you tried San Francisco?”
“Yes, even LA. The recession has hit there, too. I haven’t been able to find anything.’
“I see you worked for the State for a while.”
“Yes.” Parker had worked for an ad agency in San Francisco. This was when he was young and single. When that agency had gone under he’d found a job with the State. Then he’d met and married Amy. He’d transferred to Sacramento, the headquarters for almost all State agencies, to get a promotion. He was soon tired of working for a bureaucracy with its endless meetings, countless memos, incompetent bosses and fear of rocking the boat. When the chance of a job with the Ruth Dixon agency came up he’d grabbed at it.
“Have you tried going back there?”
“I don’t really want to. Besides, the State is feeling the crunch, too, three furlough days a month.”
“Yes, I read about that.” Brady’s phone rang and he picked it up. He listened for a moment, then said to Parker, “Excuse me for a moment, I have to take this.” Parker listened for 15 minutes as Brady spoke into the phone. It sounded as if he was trying to mollify an unhappy client. Parker had already decided that he’d put on his best suit and driven to downtown Sacramento in the rain for nothing; this was just a courtesy interview. Sam Brady was a nice enough guy, but his agency had no jobs to offer.
When Brady finally hung up the phone, he said, “Sorry about that. You know how clients are, and we can’t afford to lose any. Let’s see. Oh, yes, do you have any computer skills?”
“I can type on a computer; that’s about all. My daughters know a lot more than I do.”
“Yeah, I’m in the same boat. Well, I’m sorry I can’t do anything for you. We’re just barely keeping afloat as it is. But I’ll keep your resume on file, and, hey, if I hear of anything, I’ll sure let you know.”
Parker stood up. “Thanks, I’d appreciate that.” Brady heaved himself out of his chair and they shook hands. Don’t be disappointed, Parker told himself. You expected it. He went outside in the rain. The dismal weather matched the way he felt.
* * *
Headlines: Sacramento Unemployment over 13 Percent. State Deficit Reaches New High. Housing Slump Continues.
The Parker family was gathered in the living room of their suburban Sacramento home. Spring in the valley, after the rain and fog of winter, could be nice and earlier that day Bill Parker had mowed both the front and back lawns and pruned the shrubs. Thinking back to the year before, he remembered that then he’d welcomed the free time he had to work around the house. Those were early days when he’d thought that he’d get another job and, in any case, he had the severance pay that Ruth Dixon had given to all her employees. Little had he known.
The night before he’d gone over their situation with his wife Amy. The severance pay was of course long gone. So was most of their savings. Amy had taken a job as a teacher’s aide and that helped a bit but they were still running short. Parker’s 401K had, like many others, taken a hit when the stock market had slumped. They’d tried to shield their daughters, Kate, 17 and about to finish high school, and Jane, 12 and in middle school, as much as possible. They’d given the girls money for new clothes when the term had started. They’d even bought a car, used, for Kate when she’d complained that she was the only one in her crowd without one and that she was tired of asking her friends for a ride. That was a decision Parker now regretted. He and Amy had decided that they needed to have a family meeting and let the girls know how bad things were.
When they were all assembled, Kate asked. “What is it, Dad? Have you gotten a job?”
“I’m afraid not, and that’s what we want to talk about. We have to do a little belt tightening. First, we’re going to have to leave the swim and tennis club.”
“You’re joking,” said Kate. “All of my friends go there. I’ll be an outcast.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a luxury we can’t afford right now. You’re not going to like this either. We won’t be able to go to Tahoe for our usual summer vacation.”
“Oh, no,” said Kate. “You mean we have to stay in yucky Sacramento and roast to death? And we won’t even have the club to go to. Why can’t you just get a job?”
“Dad’s trying the best he can,” put in Amy. “We all have to make some sacrifices.”
“Dad, are we going to have to move out of our house, like the Wilsons?” asked Jane.
The Wilsons were a younger couple with two small kids who’d bought a home on their street at the height of the housing bubble and now, like many people, were facing a foreclosure. “No,” said Parker. “We’re okay with our house. We bought before prices went out of sight so we can handle it.”
“Kate,” said Amy, “More bad news for you. We’ll have to see if you can go to Sac State in the fall. You may have to go to a community college.”
“I can’t believe this,” shrieked Kate. Crying, she jumped up and ran out of the room.
Jane looked worried. “Are we really poor?” she asked.
“We’ll be all right,” said Amy. “I’ll talk to Kate later. I don’t want you to worry.. We’re not in the poor house yet.”
Not yet, thought Parker.
* * *
They were preparing for bed. “Maybe we shouldn’t have mentioned the community college,” said Parker.
“Kate’ll be okay. It was just a little too much to absorb.”
“I hope so. And I hope Jane isn’t going to get down.”
“They’ll be all right. We had to let them know sometime.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“I love you,” said Amy, hugging him.
“I love you, too,” said Parker.
In bed, Parker, as he compulsively did almost every night, went over their finances in his mind. Their only income was from his unemployment insurance and Amy’s teacher’s aide job. With the cutbacks they were making, they might almost be able to cover their expenses. When the unemployment checks ran out, what then? Their savings were almost gone. So far he’d managed not to tap his 401K but he might have to. Neither his nor Amy’s parents had money to spare. The only thing he could think of was to re-finance the house and he wasn’t even sure that, given his situation, any lender would do that.
What a mess. Why hadn’t he seen it coming? He’d known Ruth Dixon was going to retire, but he’d always assumed the agency would continue. He’d even thought that he might take over. That was a pipe dream. He should have tried for something with a larger agency, or investigated agencies in San Francisco or Los Angeles when times were good. But they liked Sacramento, thought it was a good place to live and to raise a family. He should have learned more about computers, maybe taken some classes; computers were the big thing nowadays. He could see about taking a class now, but he didn’t have the money to pay for it; besides, he didn’t know if he had the energy to do it. He was unemployed, but he seemed to be tired all the time. He hadn’t let even Amy know how discouraged he was. He was going on 50 years old. Would he ever be able to get another job? He didn’t know what to do. That was the worst thing, not knowing what to do.
* * *
Headlines: Still no State budget. County workers laid off. Older Men Suffering Brunt of Unemployment.
Summer in Sacramento, thought Parker, was like living in a furnace. The heat made every bad thing seem ten times worse. He was in the State employment insurance office, or unemployment office, as everyone called it. The woman who was quizzing him, a Ms. Carlson, according to the nameplate on her desk, looked like the standard public perception of a State worker; she was about 40, with a sharp-featured face, glasses, thin mouth, hair in a tight bun. “How many places have you applied to in the last two weeks?” she asked.
“None, really. I’ve run out of places.”
“Have you been to any employment agencies?”
“No.” He didn’t think that employment agencies would do any good in this recession. Maybe he should at least give them a try.
“You know you have to give proof of looking for work to keep getting unemployment insurance?”
“Yes, I know. I sent out ten resumes and I check out computer job sites every day.” He actually hadn’t, but they couldn’t know that.
Ms. Carlson looked dubious. “I see you’ve been out of work for a long time, but you have to keep trying.”
Ms. Carlson checked a box on a form. His unemployment insurance was safe until the next time.
* * *
Headlines: Stock Market Plunges. Governor and Legislature at Impasse over Budget. Local Governments Facing Bankruptcy.
The other men, there were no women, in the employment agency’s waiting room all looked much younger than him. Parker had no hope that this agency would be able to help him, but he had to show he was seriously looking for work. As long as the proper boxes were filled in he’d keep getting his unemployment insurance checks. If the checks stopped, they’d really be in trouble.
The bored-looking woman at the desk in front of the room called out his name. “Mr. Giles will see you now,” she said, and pointed to one of the cubicles in back. Giles also looked very young and Parker wondered if he’d just graduated college, or maybe high school. He had a round unlined face, a snub nose and a rosebud mouth. He was looking at what Parker saw to be the application form he’d filled out an hour ago with what seemed great concentration. Unasked, Parker sat down and waited. Finally, Giles looked up and said, “I didn’t even know Sacramento had any advertising agencies.”
“A few. It was a growing market, until recently.”
“Ummm. So what happened, you were fired?”
“The agency lost a couple of clients and closed down.”
“Ummm. A pretty risky business. What’s this about consulting work?’
“I’ve done some jobs for the Brady advertising agency.” Sam Brady had tossed a few small jobs his way. They didn’t pay much, but everything helped.
“Brady. Ummm, never heard of them. So essentially you’re unemployed.”
“Except for consulting work.”
“Ummm, pretty old to be on the street.
Parker felt his temper rising; he told himself to keep it under control. It would do no good to get mad at this young imbecile. “I’d rather not be.”
“I really don’t know where I could fit in your experience.”
“I’ve done copy writing, media buying, marketing, sales research.”
Giles waved a pudgy hand as if none of these mattered. “No tech work, I see.”
“I can operate a computer.”
“Ummm. It’s tough placing anybody who’s so old. I guess you never made enough money to retire on?”
If I did I wouldn’t be here, wasting my time talking to you, thought Parker. “No, I didn’t. Well, do you have something or not? I’ll take a crack at anything.”
Giles shook his head. “No, can’t see anything. Too bad you’re such an old guy.”
“Yes, too bad. Thanks for your time.” Giles began to say something, “Ummm …” but Parker was quickly out of the door and out of the building. It was roasting hot, which made everything that much worse.
* * *
Headlines: California’s Jobless Rate Tops Nation’s. Foreclosures Soar. County Workers Furloughed.
Autumn in Sacramento can be nice, although it’s been known to be 100 degrees even in September. Parker heard the phone ringing as he came into his house but by the time he picked it up it was too late. Well, he was sure it wasn’t important, probably another marketer trying to sell him something. He’d been to a job fair, sponsored by several local companies. As always, no jobs were offered, but he’d filled out a half dozen applications, so who knows. You couldn’t give up, although he was tempted to. He’d met a lot of other older men, all in the same boat as himself. That made him feel a little better; at least, he wasn’t the only one.
His daughter Kate came in. “Hi, Dad,” she said. “Any luck at that job fair?”
“I filled out some applications. Maybe I’ll get an interview.”
“I hope so.” She ran up the stairs.
Kate had seemed to reconcile herself to their reduced circumstances. She’d worked in a fast food place over the summer and had now started community college. She was saving her money, as was Jane, who was doing as many baby-sitting jobs as she could find. Neither one asked for an allowance any more. That was one good thing about his being unemployed, thought Parker, it had made his daughters more self-sufficient.
The phone rang again. Parker picked it up and this time a voice asked, “Mr. Parker?”
“This is Ms. Carlson.”
“From the Employment Office.”
“Oh, yes.” What was this about? Had he shown insufficient evidence that he was looking for work? Was he about to lose his unemployment insurance?
“There might be a job open in the Department of Consumer Affairs. I remembered that you were in advertising, so you’ve dealt with the public. You also have some writing experience.”
Parker felt his blood racing a little faster. Was it possible that this woman could steer him to a job? “Yes,” he said quickly. “As a matter of fact, I’ve had a lot of experience with the public, writing ads, press releases, doing surveys …”
“That sounds good. As I recall, you were light on computer experience.”
“I’m sure I could pick it up.”
“Well, this position may not require much computer expertise. If they ask, tell them you’re competent. As you said, you can pick it up.” She gave him a name and address and told him she’d already made an appointment for him for the next Monday. “I hope you’re available then.”
“I’m available. And thank you, Ms., uh, Carlson. Thank you very much.”
* * *
Headlines: Few Employers Plan Hiring. Homeless Increase. Foreclosures Up.
“We’re going out to dinner tonight,” Amy announced to the girls.
“How come?” asked Kate.
“Have we won the lottery?” said Jane.
“Better,” said Amy. “Daddy’s found a job.”
Jane let out a whoop. “What kind of job?” asked Kate.
Parker came into the kitchen. “With the State,” he said.
“I thought you hated working for the State,” said Kate.
“I didn’t actually hate it. I was happier working in an ad agency, but those jobs are all gone now.”
“Dad’s going to be fielding consumer complaints and writing press releases. It should be a good job.”
“Come on,” said Parker. “Let’s go out and have a good dinner.”
“Right,” said Jane. “Let’s celebrate.”
* * *
Parker and Amy had celebrated in their bedroom before going to sleep. “That was nice,” said Amy.
“It was a nice dinner. The girls were happy.”
“Yes. It’s good not to be an unemployed statistic any more.”
“You were never a statistic to me.”
“You start a week from Monday?”
“Do you think it’ll work out?”
“Don’t worry; it’ll work out.”.
As had become his habit over his long period of unemployment, Parker didn’t fall asleep immediately. Instead, he lay awake thinking about his new situation. It seemed strange not to be worrying about finding a job. He ran over his interview for the Consumers Affairs job. Evidently, the previous occupant, unhappy about furloughs, had suddenly retired and they needed a replacement quickly. Because Parker had once worked for the State it turned out that he didn’t have to take a test and was immediately eligible. The department head who’d interviewed him seemed relieved when Parker, after asking a few questions, had accepted the job. Of course, Parker would have taken the job no matter what.
Parker had also learned that his previous State employment would count toward his retirement. He went over the family finances, something he did almost every night. The State salary, even though less than what he’d been making, should be enough so that they could get by. They could even consider Kate’s going to Sac State next year. And they would rejoin the swim and tennis club. As for the job, he didn’t look forward to the usual bureaucratic nonsense he knew was inevitable, but he’d go along with it. As he’d told Amy, it would work out. He’d make it work out. He felt himself getting sleepy. He wondered if the era of sleepless nights was over.