Friday, December 29, 2006

Life in Reverse

Haven't posted in a while. Chalk it off to the holidays. Or to the fact that I will be starting a new job after the first of the year and all my juicy, inspiring animus has seemingly fallen by the wayside.
It's not like I'm out of the woods. Not by a long shot. In fact, as I write this, I wonder how I will pay for transportation to and from work until I get paid. Then, when I do get paid, there are about three months of immediate payments in arrears . Not to mention obliterated credit, and seemingly insurmountable major debt to contend with.

Hey....I think I feel my animus returning as I realize my new job will pay exactly what I was making about 15 years ago when I left Leo Burnett, a major ad agency based in downtown Chicago. Perhaps it's the first sign of "life in reverse" syndrome that will have me babbling and diapered in my old age.

But maybe the biggest pain in my animus is the realization that I haven't worked a standard
40+ work week in almost nine years. Sure, I have worked more hours than 40 in a given week for many stretches at a time. Yet, I always knew that I would have a reprieve after crunch time.

In other words, at the time when many people are setting their sights on retirement, I am starting over and struggling to find the fire in my belly. And hoping that when I find it, it's not heartburn again.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Ghost of Christmas Parties Past

If you're currently unemployed or part-time, you might become a little wistful this time of year.
No, not about the Christmas bonus. It was never as much as you thought it would be, remember? I know in your heart of hearts you're yearning for the office Christmas party. It was always the traditional time to share warm fuzzies with your esteemed colleagues and the management that you held in the utmost regard. To give thanks for yet another year of productivity and camaraderie.

But, for us nontraditional types, it was the perfect storm of booze, bad judgment and overwrought emotions. I have weathered some of THE most cataclysmic end-of-year bashes. And I relish every last bit of bad behavior that I witnessed and perpetrated.

At the top of my list, as well as many other people's, is the Leo Burnett Bonus Day. Leo Burnett is a megaglobal advertising agency based here in Chicago that for many years gave a 15% bonus check to all its employees on that day, followed by individual group lunches and mutli-location parties until the wee hours of the morning. The instances of inappropriate behavior are too many to cite. Just let your imagination run wild.....advertising folks, a year's worth of sexual tension, large amounts of money, and rivers of booze. Ouch.

In retrospect, perhaps even more significant is what I now refer to as Green Saturday. Hordes of hungover Leo B. employees hitting the streets with nothing but retail therapy in mind. Cha-ching!

I will be fondly remembering some other Christmas party shenanigans in my next couple of posts. In the meantime, feel free to share any of the heartwarming memories that you have. If indeed, you can remember them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Accessories to a Crime

Anyone who has relatives who went through the Great Depression--and I don't mean when Friends went off the air--knows about hoarding/stockpiling. It's the practice of buying vast quantities of items such as toilet paper, paper towel, laundry detergent, canned soup, tuna fish, flour, etc. and placing it in holding areas typically founds in basements, pantries and garages. Just in case. In its most virulent form, this behavior can segue into Packratitis--a dangerous condition in which you're apt to be rendered unconscious by an avalanche of canned prunes. Lot of good "regularity" will do you then.

Little did I know I was following a sociological imperative when years ago, I began my own insidious pattern of hoarding. In my case, not having lived through the Great Depression (only the chronically mediocre variety), this was anticipatory hoarding. Just in case I should...God forbid... ever be poor.

Once again, my prescience has proven a boon. At last count, I have in my possession (and this is no joke):

74 pairs of earrings
7 working watches/2 in need of batteries
42 necklaces
16 bracelets
12 Brooches/pins
54 pairs of shoes
6 pairs of boots
4 pairs of athletic shoes
16 outerwear coats/jackets
22 scarves
28 pairs of dress socks
12 pairs of white socks
15 pairs of tights/pantyhose

I'm hoping the bus driver will accept some of my shiny trinkets in lieu of fare.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Emergency Dining

It's a very scary thought. Eating hospital food when you don't have to. But, in my quest for getting more bang for my dining buck, I have been hitting the local hospital cafeteria. To me, it's oddly comforting in that it takes me back to my youth. I worked my way through college at a hospital.
I remember liking the quiet of my 8 p.m. break in the caf. Having a nice piece of cherry pie and milk. I didn't even drink coffee then. Unbelievable to me now.

On my last visit, I had the beef stroganoff special. The noodles were fluffy and plentiful and the gravy had a nice richness and featured real mushrooms, not the canned variety. They served it with a good helping of sauteed broccoli with onions, red peppers and more mushrooms.

All in all, a very satisfying meal for just $3.65. Perhaps I'll hit some other nearby hospitals and do a culinary comparison.

The only problem is, I have this ridiculous notion that security will haul me away for not being a legitimate visitor or employee. Like they should actually turn away someone who volunteers to pay for a hospital meal......

Friday, December 8, 2006

Branching Out

There is a tremendous upside to being under perpetual financial siege and living the “before” part of a Lifetime movie. It takes so damn little to make me leap for joy now. And this is really, really good because it used to take so damn much to even move the needle.

Allow me share some of the little miracles that have kept the light of hope burning. Just this morning, I was thinking that I wanted to get a little Christmas tree. Without funds, I thought of making a stealth raid with tree trimming shears to my neighbor’s Evergreen patch. I can never keep the different pines straight but these are the trees with long, soft needles. They called to me like the ghost of Christmas past. Then, lo and behold, as I was walking back from the store, I noticed there were several of said branches just lying there in the alley. Enough for a fragrant little arrangement of some sort. All without having to resort to misdemeanor defoliation. I felt as if I had won the Yuletide lottery.

And of course, no Lifetime movie would ever be complete without scenes of touching support from friends. Several friends have come though with major monetary gifts just as I was in my darkest hour. My dear friend, Hillary,
has been a daily source of comfort, laughs and good advice. Ditto for Mike. And my friend and legal counsel, Stuart (, actually called me from the grocery aisle and took “my order” as he dropped a week’s worth of groceries in the cart. I was so touched I could barely speak.

I’m not typically one to throw around the “I’m blessed” language. So, I won’t. I’m too busy decking the halls with found foliage.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

A New Kind of White Collar Crime

Simply put, it's a crime against humanity and all our futures. We're putting qualified, college-educated professionals out to pasture prematurely at an alarming rate. But, all is certainly not lost.

Yesterday, I received a very nice e-mail from Diane Alexander at United Professionals .
Barbara Ehrenreich, best-selling author of Bait & Switch, as well as Nickel & Dimed, formed the group as a way for unemployed and underemployed white collar folks to have a voice and effect change in the vital areas of health insurance and unemployment benefits among other things. Diane asked me to write a guest blog on their site, as well as permission to add my link to their site. It's nice to be wanted. I had forgotten that feeling!

The UP site is a treasure trove of commiseration, as well as real tools like legal resources, job assistance, and news about advocacy and lobbying efforts. Check it out. You will be amazed at just how many folks are out there with true stories of displacement and economic hardship. These people, like myself, have spent long careers contributing to the economy and building the very structures that have since leveled us.

My hope is to utilize this newfound community as more than an opportunity to kvetch and whine. God knows, I don't need yet another outlet for that. I hope to share the wisdom and survivor spirit of my fellow warriors as we refuse to take things lying down.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Once More into the Fray

Fifty is the new 46. On a good day. In indirect sunlight. My delusion places me right there with the likes of the grand dames of ubergraceful aging--Diane Keaton, Sigourney Weaver, Susan Sarandon. You read about their rejection of surgical intervention in magazines like More. And you think, "you go, girl," right before you haul out the spackle, trying to achieve a happy medium between aging hipster and circus clown. Not too much color. Light-diffusing foundation. (Yes, I will gladly spend my last $10 on this modern-day miracle. In a food vs. makeup cage match, make-up inevitably triumphs.)

I artfully dab a little pinky-bronze lip gloss on which immediately seeps into the lip lines around my mouth. Next, I choose a slightly trendy though entirely age-appropriate outfit which I boldly accessorize. I look in the mirror and realize I look like a contemporary version of Auntie Mame.

Then, it's off to one of the infrequent freelance gigs at a downtown Chicago ad agency. I will spend the day mixing it up with twenty-somethings in the businessplace version of a mosh pit.
Low cubicles. Insane noise levels. Cell phones ringing in addition to regular phones.

Cloaked in my carefully arranged look, I remind myself of two important things....
When I hear, "hey dude, it's time for the meeting," chances are I'm being summoned.

And always remember to tuck my AARP card into the deep recesses of my wallet.