Tag Archives: capitalism

The Unemployment Chronicles: Chapter 1

27 Sep

I’ve often said that what I do for work is the least interesting thing about me. Now, almost two weeks after my company severely downsized, catapulting me into unemployment, I’m left wondering how true that really is. Funny thing about working full-time is you spend so many of your waking hours working towards someone else’s goals that you lose sight of what it is that you want. And then when that job goes POOF, along with the barely enough paycheck, you’re left picking through the rubble, trying to find the you that you were when the whole thing started.

When I first found out I was being liberated from my paycheck, I tried to focus on the possibilities time would give me. I could get back to the person I was before the pandemic started. I liked her, she was fun and productive and adventurous. Being her was somewhat effortless but getting back to her, that’s proven to be a bit more of a challenge. It’s like that corporate train with its steady paycheck and paid vacation is an addiction. It got me thinking about how I could progress in that world even as I saw my favorite parts of myself going dormant. As if money – humanity’s arbitrary and uncontrolled measure of value – is somehow enough to displace our joy. If you really think about it though it makes sense. Our jobs are how we relate to one another and how we make our money provides the means through which others make sense of who we are as people and what roll we play within society as a whole. Our jobs are also how people determine our usefulness to them and their own potential career advancement. Honestly, sometimes it feels as though our entire lives are just very, very long networking events. And, in my personal opinion, there is very little joy to be found in a networking event. Like spending all your free time scrolling through LinkedIn, only in person. Yuck.

I’m not entirely certain what the point of this piece is. Maybe it’s to tell people,


in one fell swoop so I can avoid the awkward conversations I have with people when I tell them in person that I don’t have a job. We have been so conditioned to blame individual actors for every little thing as opposed to looking at institutional failures. The result is that when I inform people I don’t have a job, though it is through no fault of my own, I end up feeling like a deadbeat loser with no future.


Anyway, it’s like a rollercoaster. Sometimes I feel pretty lucky that I have this time to get back to myself and really think about what I want to spend my time doing. In the evening, when I think about what the next day might have in store for me and I get the chance to truly focus inwards, I consider a lot of different paths I could take.

  • I could train for another half (or full!) marathon
  • I could write a book
  • I could go back to school and get my PhD
  • I could try and get a job in radio
  • I could get in my car and just, drive, aimlessly, with no real goals or ambitions (Is this a parallel for my life? Perhaps.)
  • I could throw my phone into the ocean

And then in the morning when I wake up, the hours stretching ahead of me and I’m presented with yet another bureaucratic hoop to jump through to qualify for a whopping $504 a week (pre tax!) from New York Unemployment, it all seems a little daunting. I don’t know. I guess all those times as a little girl when I answered the question

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Answer: a marine biologist, duh)

I never truly realized what it meant to grow up. To live, to build community, to earn your way, to find joy. So here I am asking myself that same old question: what do I want to be now that I’m grown?

Answer: Honestly, I want to be a lady who lunches. Imagine living a life that allows you to have long, fancy meals with your friends in the middle of the damn day. And when you’re not having lunch you’re doing other things. Going on a road trip, perhaps. Searching for turtles in a lake. Noodling around in some night market somewhere, looking for a snack. Hey, a girl can dream.

Tip #17 on Being a Good Bar Customer

24 Jun

Alright, once again with the tips. But first, a little background information for you. In case you didn’t know this about me, I really don’t like money. Or, well, I guess that isn’t fair. To be more accurate: I really don’t like what money does to people. So many of the problems that we have in this world can be traced back to money and what it does to people. Here are some examples:

  • The looting of the Amazon and other natural wonders
  • The fact that we cannot seem to get our heads out of our fucking asses and enact actual, reasonable gun reform
  • The Detroit water crisis
  • The lack of actual, sustained help for New Orleans and all its residents regardless of race or economic status in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
  • The fact that Hurricane Katrina did the damage that it did in the first place
  • War
  • That athletes, musicians, politicians and basically every other male in power (and many of those not in power) get away with sexual assault and rape
  • Global warming
  • Donald Trump

You get the picture. All that being said, I do understand that money is a thing that is necessary for survival in this world and so, in order to make survival possible, I work. And when I work, I want to make as much money as I can. And that, friends, is a team effort. My ability to make money really depends on you coming into the place that I work, ordering the things that you want from me, and then tipping me appropriately. My livelihood depends on you. That’s right. You. (I am pointing at you right now. Is it making you feel weird? It should.) But that’s not all! It also depends on you understanding that the seats at my bar and tables are like real estate. You rent a space for your ass by buying things and tipping me on them. And when you stop buying things, and stop tipping on them, you abandon your rented space and make room for the next guy. This isn’t to say that the second you take your last sip I expect you to walk away from whatever conversation you’re having, game you’re watching, or Tweet you’re Tweeting, but it is to say that you should be aware and respectful of my need to pay my rent and buy food for my two adorable little kitties. Stories!

During the World Cup last year I was at work and my bar was packed. But there, at the bar, was an empty stool. How odd! Upon closer inspection I came to realize that two people sitting at the bar were saving the stool for someone who had yet to arrive. Now on a normal day when there is plenty of space, I wouldn’t mind that. Save away! There’s nothing better than getting to a bar to meet your friends after a long day of work and finding that they have saved a seat, just for you! But on a day when the bar is jam packed with people wanting to pay money for things (and tip on those things) saving a seat is sort of cutting into my business. People notice there is no space and move on to another spot. Or, because they are behind a wall of people, they are not able to buy drinks with the regularity that they, and I, might like. And so I looked at the people saving the seat and I said

Excuse me, but do you think you could move your bag so someone could sit in that seat?

And the lady of the pair said

No, I’m actually saving this seat for someone.

So I smiled and said

Yeah, that’s great, except that certain someone isn’t here yet and we are well into the first half of the game and there are other people who are actually here now and would like to sit.

She stared at me. I stared at her. She moved her bag. Therefore I won. I almost always win staring contests. Her friend, by the way, didn’t arrive for over an hour. So this lady and her companion were actually going to sit at the bar as person after person asked if they could sit and they would respond

Nah, my friend is coming.

Only their friend was not really coming. Not right then, anyway. And the two people sitting at the bar only had one drink each. And then they drank seltzer! And didn’t tip on it. (Which, if I’m being honest, might have had something to do with the fact that I had told her she couldn’t save a seat for her incredibly tardy friend.) So that’s another thing. Don’t occupy a seat at the bar for like 4 hours and only drink seltzer! I mean, whatever, occupy the seat, but do like my friend Cherie does when she drinks seltzer and tip on your soda! Don’t be that guy at the coffee shop who occupies a table for like 5 hours and drinks one cup of coffee. No one likes that guy. That guy is a dick.

And here’s another thing. No one likes to be all packed in like sardines at a bar. I understand that. That is why I don’t hang out in busy bars. I work in them; I do not hang out in them. Busy bars are awful when you don’t have a giant slab of wood protecting you from the masses. And even when you do have that lab of wood they sometimes suck. And so I understand the desire that some people have to make a space around them by saving a seat with their backpack for no reason whatsoever other than to keep someone else from elbowing them. But the thing is, that’s rude. It is rude to other people who are stuck standing so your backpack can take a load off, and it’s rude to me who wants to make money off the seat your backpack is occupying. So unless you want to pay rent on two stools by tipping me double on every drink you have, put your bag on the floor or on one of the hooks conveniently located under the bar for just such an occasion. Or! Be one of those people who travels with their own hook! I always admire the foresight of those people.

So yeah, I don’t know, guys. I guess it all comes down to respect. Respect the fact that the bar only exists if people buy things, and your missing friend and your backpack do not buy things. Respect the fact that under the current system I can only survive if you tip me and, again, your missing friend and your backpack don’t tip me. And respect the fact that you are not, in fact, the only person in the universe. There are other people here, too. People who aren’t missing or an inanimate object that you use as a means of conveyance. Other people who want to go out, have fun, drink drinks, watch games and, yes, even sit down on a bar stool. So please, let them sit.

Goodbye, New York Road Runners

23 May

You know what I don’t like?  When people say “I’ve been doing _________ since before it was cool.” It’s like, okay great.  I’m happy for you.  Way to make everyone else feel like an asshole.  That being said, I do get some portion of the sentiment behind it.  And so, obviously and as I am wont to do, I started thinking WAY too deeply about the statement and have decided that it can be interpreted in a few different ways:

Way #1: When I was doing ______ there weren’t as many people doing it, so it wasn’t as crowded/expensive/over policed/over saturated.

Way #2:  Now that everyone is doing ________ I feel sort of like a poser doing it even though I have been doing it forever and that fucking sucks.

Way #3:  Some combination of the aforementioned two ways.

Okay, so, now that we have out of the way, I would not say that I have been running long distances since before it was cool because, really, running still isn’t cool exactly.  And I also haven’t been running for that long and I really think to even almost get away with such a statement you basically have to have started doing whatever thing that you’re complaining about everyone else doing for at least like, 75% of your life. I have only been running for just shy of 50% of my life and also I don’t take myself all that seriously so, you know, statement off limits.  Anyway, all of this being said, something has been happening to running and I do not like it one bit.

One of the things that I have always loved about running is that even though it is an individual sport, there is so much support amongst the running community.  This is part of the reason why that stupid viral Facebook letter to an overweight runner made me so darn angry.  I have just always found that more than anything else, runners want other runners to have good races.  We all know the work that went into training for endurance events and we all know what it feels like to have a bad day.  You know, for your legs to feel like led, to have to shit halfway through, to be sick, or crampy, or have an ill-timed injury.  You never, ever want to see a fellow runner limping through a race, or a training run, unaware of whether or not they will be able to finish or if the nagging pain in their hip, their foot, their quad means a few months off.  And this is not only true amongst us amateur athletes.  The pros in the sport are just as supportive of one another.  Take, for example, the support that Meb Keflezighi got from Ryan Hall and the other US runners at Boston this past year.  And that is only one example of many.  It was the loss of that sort of camaraderie among runners that made this year’s Brooklyn Half Marathon so…upsetting.

I had decided before running this race that it was going to be my last race with New York Road Runners (NYRR).  I’m not going to go into all the problems I have with this organization, especially since I have talked about the intense price increases over the past few years on this blog before.  I just think that in an effort to ride the wave of popularity that running has been experiencing over the last number of years, NYRR has forgotten about all the people who have kept them afloat for decades.  I don’t know, maybe I am just being grouchy but I really think that all the extra bullshit that accompanies a lot of the NYRR races these days really take away from what is so great about running:  it’s simplicity.

I guess it is partially that along with its new found popularity, running has been the latest to fall at the feet of Big Business.  People spend hundreds of dollars on watches that they don’t know how to use; they fall prey to ridiculous trends about appropriate sneakers without doing research into the benefits and possible problems of wearing them; they spend so much money on races just because the bib pick-up involves a “pre-party” AKA some lame music playing in the background and a bunch of companies hawking their wares.

The thing about it, and I suppose this isn’t entirely NYRR’s fault, is that capitalism does not bring out the best in people.  There is no “team” in capitalism.  It is every woman, man and child to her/himself.  Capitalism, to me, is largely what our national obsession with individualism is born from.  The attitude that goes along with people needing to have the newest gadgets, the nicest clothes, the trendiest sneakers is the attitude that leads to the terrible fucking race that I ran in Brooklyn.  Honestly, I have never seen so many people literally push through other people to get ahead.  I have never seen so many people cross in front of waves of runners to get to water stations without verbally letting people know or even checking over their shoulders.  I have never seen so many people leave water stations and drop their uncrushed cup in the middle of the road, a big runner no-no because it rolls around and can trip one of the thousands of people who come behind you.  When you run a race, you always check your surroundings, you always communicate with other runners, and you really always crush your damn cup and throw it off the course.  Sure, running is something that is individual.  You aren’t relying on other people in the same way as you might in a soccer match or a relay.  But you are not doing it alone.  You are running a race along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people and you have to respect that the race is not just yours, it is everyone’s.  All the other people running trained hard, paid the price, woke up at 4:30 in the morning and your pushing, your cutting off, and your not crushed cup could really make a difference not only in their time, but in their safety and their enjoyment.

Maybe I was just running around a shitty group of people but it really made me sad.  It made me remember when I ran the New York City Marathon, yes also organized by NYRR, back in 2006.  I was going through the Queensboro Bridge and there was a blind man running near me.  The bridge was dark so it became a little difficult for runners to see other people, especially if you weren’t running near the sides.  Without saying a word, a whole group of runners created a protective circle around this man, making sure that the darkness and other runner’s inability to see as clearly would not impact his race or make him unsafe.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and really made me proud of my community.  In that moment, it was like everyone was running the race together and our achievement was entirely dependent on the achievements of those around us.  At the Brooklyn Half this year, it was everyone for themselves.

Maybe part of the reason for this was that in an effort to, I don’t know, make more money, NYRR allowed way too many people to run the Half.  There were over 25,000 people that ran the race this year, meaning that for a lot of us, we were completely jammed up for the first 8 miles.  When you have a race of that size, you simply sacrifice some of the other things:  in my opinion the enjoyment, but certainly the speed.  (And don’t even get me started on the fact that they gave us half-filled dixie cups of water at the end of the race rather than full bottles.)

I just think that what NYRR is helping to usher in is a complete change in the attitude that surrounds running and that is decidedly not cool.  I don’t know.  I run races because it’s fun, it’s nice to have a goal and it helps me place my running squarely within an equally motivated and supportive group of people.  That feeling is gone from NYRR races and so I am bidding them a not-so-fond farewell, taking my $20 stopwatch and keeping my fingers crossed that those pushers, those cut off-ers, and those cup non-crushers don’t follow me.

An Open Letter to my Student Loan Provider

28 Mar

Dear Nelnet, (Or, as I affectionately call you, Numbnut),

I would like to begin this letter to you, Numbnut, by pointing out that I have in fact been making regular payments on my student loans despite the fact that I have yet to go into repayment — well, until last week and without proper warning.  I have been expecting some sort of appreciation, some sort of lowering of my monthly bill that at this point must be paid starting on January 1, 2014.  But do I get any recognition?  Any significant changes to my AutoPay amount?  No.  I get pointless and angering emails.  Which is why I am writing to you today.

Yesterday I received an email from you entitled “Questions about paying your student loans? We can help.”  It seemed promising.  I opened the email, hoping against hope for the message to reveal something like “Out of millions of indebted students in the United States, Warren Buffet has chosen you to be the recipient of a grant that will pay your loans off in full and allow you to travel the globe for the foreseeable future.”  In lieu of that news, I would have taken some advice on ways to scam the system and somehow lower my 6.8% interest rate or some tips on working my loan payments into my monthly budget without skimping on the things I love (books! wine! overpriced clothes from Made Well!).  But no.  What I got was a few phone numbers and the following statement of email intent:

“We wanted to check in to ensure you are having the best student loan experience possible.”

Well, since you are “checking in,” let me be honest with you.  No, Numbnut, I am not having the best student loan experience possible.  You know what would make it better?  The aforementioned note about Warren Buffet.  Or perhaps having someone explain to me why it is that I am paying 6.8% on the cost of borrowing money to go back to school (which you all said we should do because the job market was/is terrible and this will better prepare us for the future meanwhile the future is here and, um, where’s your half of the agreement?) while the interest rate on my savings account is at something like .7% AKA nothing.  Maybe you could tell me why I took money out with CitiGroup, had it bought up by the government, and then somehow had it sold to you, Numbnut, without my approval or consent.  Maybe rather than taking on systemic issues, you can explain to me why, although the people I talk to at your call center are unbelievably friendly, they have absolutely no idea what they are doing.  When I called last week to inquire as to why my interest payment, which had been hovering around $35-$45 every two weeks or so suddenly shot up to $150 after a mere 10 days I was put on hold for at least 5 minutes — a cost I was paying because you are not toll free — at which point the very friendly, though ill-informed, call center guy hemmed and hawed through an explanation that basically amounted to “I have no idea.”    Maybe you could use the exorbitant interest rates being paid by me and my co-students, the interest rates you are presumably making money on, and actually teach your call center people how to do their jobs.  It doesn’t help that they are available 24/7 if they are completely ignorant, like the rest of us, about what you do and how it works.

I could keep going, Numbnut, but I think you get the point.  I think you and your cohorts are hustlers taking advantage of millions of people who wanted to propel themselves forward by getting their BA, BFA, MA, MFA, PhD, JD, MD, DVM and whatever other combinations of letters people might want to acquire.  I think this whole system is going to blow up in your face and mine when countless students default on their ballooning student loan debts.  I think when that happens people are going to bemoan the fact that we are awash in bankrupted lawyers and doctors and librarians when what we really need are people with “real skills.”  Honestly, I think this whole thing is a racket that will only serve to increase income inequality and lower the quality of life, not only for people who can’t find jobs but for those that can — with student loan debt amounting into the hundreds of thousands for some people, job choices becomes less contingent on what you believe and more contingent on your ability to pay off your monthly loan bills.

So, no, I am not content.  I will grumble every single time I make a payment, as I have been doing for the past year, because I am fully aware that I am being hoodwinked and that there is nothing I can do about it.  So don’t insult my intelligence.  This system is rigged in your favor and you will benefit for as long as it continues to function.  Do your thing.  But don’t act like you give a shit about my “experience.”  All you care about is the money.  That’s called capitalism.  You can expect your next payment at the beginning of the month.