The 400-Pound Gorilla In The Room

This is the article I’ve too embarrassed to write for over two and a half years.

While I’ve used this site as a place to have plenty of rants and to share oodles of personal information (hopefully not too personal), I’ve also tried to keep my bitching and ranting to somewhat “global” topics. Telemarketers. Cheap, disposable Christmas lights. People who drive like idiots. Politics! Airlines that give us lousy service. Ranting lunatics with a cause. Useless traffic signs. You know, that sort of thing.

It’s a fine line between ranting and whining. I think I give good rant. I’ve tried not to whine or be a real emotional buzzkill here. Or at least, when I do, I try hard to be vague.

When in doubt, mumble.

Once or twice over the past thirty months or so I’ve dropped hints and out of context comments that let on that “something’s up.” Those of you who are family or know me personally knew what I was talking about. Those of you who paid attention to the category tags probably had a pretty good hint.

Recently, more and more I’ve referred to the “400-pound gorilla,” as in the legendary and proverbial “400-pound gorilla in the room” which everyone ignores feverishly and no one speaks of. As I have been too embarrassed, frightened, and nervous to speak of mine.

Let me introduce you. It’s not a gorilla, it’s a Job. His name is Unemployment.

In January, 2013 the company I had been working for since 1985 (yep, that’s twenty-seven-plus years at one place) closed its doors. The company had done construction and property management, building houses, condos, HUD Section 8 assisted housing apartments, shopping centers, and commercial buildings. Many of these properties, particularly the HUD apartments and shopping centers, we held on to and managed. After forty-plus years together the President and Vice-President wanted to retire, so the whole portfolio was sold off for many millions of dollars in profit.

I was the company Controller, the number three person there, but a better job title would have been “jack-of-all-trades.” With a background in computer programming as well as accounting, and a college degree in physics (building nuclear weapons is cool but doesn’t pay, computer programming and accounting do), I ended up not only doing all of the accounting (with a small staff) but also the computer hardware, software, maintenance, training, not to mention all kinds of odd things that came up such as helping to design our new office space when we would move, coordinating those moves, and so on. Not to mention the towing tank drag tests on superhydrophobic coatings, but that’s a story for another day.

For reasons having to do with my father once being unemployed when I was a teen, my Catholic school upbringing (there it is again!), and just my general psychoses, being unemployed had always been a serious phobia of mine. There were a lot of sleepless nights as the end of the company’s days drew near, as well as visions of doom, gloom, and probably a rain of frogs and locusts falling from the sky with blood oozing from their eyes. As I said – it’s a phobia.

Then I was in it, up to my neck. Unemployed for the first time in my life. At a time when the economy still pretty much was in low gear, unemployment in California was at 9.7%, and we were grateful that it wasn’t still up above 12%.

Strike one.

At the time I was in my mid-fifties. Now, we all know that it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against anyone because of their age. They’re not even supposed to ask how old you are. But in the real world, they can ask when you graduated from college and do the math. Or they can just look at you across the desk (or at your picture on your LinkedIn account) and be pretty sure you’re not in your twenties or thirties.

Strike two.

I had been at the same place, in the same job, for twenty-seven years. There were a lot of good reasons for that (more stories for another day) but in a society where that’s taken as a sign of something horrible being wrong with you, it can be a deal killer from the word “go” on a resume. It was common knowledge, everyone who has any regard for an actual career never stays the same place more than two or three years, right? If you’re not movin’, you’re losin’.

Strike three.

But there weren’t any options in February, 2012. The lottery folks kept not picking my magic numbers (bastards!) and any unknown rich uncles I have are apparently in perfect health.

I started my first job hunt in thirty-eight years, which was my first real job hunt ever.

You see, I got the Controller job because a friend worked there and got me an interview and a recommendation. I got the computer programmer job before that because my college roommate went off to grad school when we graduated. The college job I had working for Marriott was the last time that I had been actively hunting for a job. I was eighteen at the time (the unemployment rate then was 8% and rising, up from 5% at the beginning of the year), had just a high school diploma, and was looking for any minimum wage job I could find. This was going to be just a wee bit different.

I started learning about my enemy, doing research, taking classes. How to write a resume. How to write a better resume. How to apply online. How to find jobs online. How to use job boards. How to get unemployment benefits. How to interview. All of the do’s and don’t.

I had some severance pay. Then unemployment benefits. Then savings. Then retirement funds. Then?

I hoped sincerely that I could get something new in two or three months. That would let me still keep most of the severance package and have minimal financial impact. It could take four months. There might even be some long-term financial benefits! Okay, maybe five months.

Then it was eight.

Twelve.

Eighteen.

Two years. And counting.

As soon as the initial burst of shock and depression passed and the gung-ho optimism that followed was burnt to a cinder, I had to do something. Anything to get out of the routine, get out of the box, try to come up with some alternatives, find a way to not be the three-hundredth person in line for the same so-so jobs over and over and over and over. Isn’t that the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results?

In addition, remember this was a phobia of mine to begin with? So filling out applications every day and taking classes at the Employment Development Department and going to networking events and job fairs, all were like dipping me in honey and staking me to an anthill. Then, of course, there weren’t any results, so things started to get a bit bleak.

Almost in desperation, I started this blog.

I got a staff position as Finance Officer with the CAF SoCal Wing.

I got on Twitter and other social media sites.

I started applying to go to NASA Socials.

All of those choices probably saved me from the pit. I know that somewhere out there in the multiverses there are Pauls that gave up and are either watching “People’s Court” and soap operas while downing a pint of ice cream a day, drinking heavily, or both. But I dodged that bullet. None of those Pauls are me.

So that’s good! That’s great! I’m busy. I’m staying sharp. I’m getting out of the house. I’m meeting people. I’m doing some of the coolest things I’ve ever done!

But every day, the little Catholic school boy that still lives somewhere in my head reminds me that I’m a slacker without a job. And my bank account reminds me that there hasn’t been any income in months. The CAF gig is really cool and the side benefits can be fantastic, but it’s a strictly volunteer position. $0.00 annual income. (If I work hard and do well, they’ll double my salary.)

A lot of folks who know what’s going on have just assumed I’ve thrown in the towel and now consider myself to be retired. That is not true. As I tell any who will listen, I’m still too young and pretty for retirement. Almost universally, folks nod, smile, then walk away shaking their heads, convinced they are talking to a fool who will not face reality.

I still send out resumes online almost every day. I still fill out applications online all the time.  I still look for something to get me back off of the unemployment roles, hopefully without putting me too low on the “underemployed” role. I’ve even expanded my search to locations out of state, such as Vermont (remember, family there), Indiana (friends and family there), Virginia (ditto), and Kansas City (one of the places I grew up). At this point, everything’s negotiable, including a move out of Los Angeles and out of California.

Not that the job hunt has been a complete shutout until now. In response to literally thousands of resumes and applications online, there have been hundreds of follow-up emails, phone calls, and phone interviews. There have been multiple tests for civil service jobs with municipal accounting departments. There have been dozens of interviews, and even a dozen or so second, third, and even fourth interviews.

Soooooooooo close a few times. But no joy.

Looking back at this blog, you can see where the ups were (mainly interviews and hopeful days) and then the downs (“Sorry, but…”) If I was off for “meetings” downtown, or better yet, “follow-up meetings,” it meant that we were getting close. Down to the final few candidates for the job. Close.

But “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And thermonuclear weapons, as my high school friend, Kevin MacNamara, always said.

So here we are, with an increasing number of “400-pound gorilla” comments, plus the cryptic comments of  November 12th, 13th, 14th. What’s going on?

I am happy to say that as of next Monday I will again be gainfully employed and a productive member of society!

I will be the Finance Director for Habitat for Humanity, San Fernando / Santa Clarita Valleys, and it is a job that I really and looking forward to. It’s an organization I’m familiar with, that I and The Long-Suffering Wife have been involved with for years, that is staffed by great people who are doing wonderful things for our nation’s veterans.

The stress level two weeks ago was made even worse by the gods having their little fun and games with me after all this time. At that time, not only had I interviewed for the HFH job, but I had also interviewed for another accounting job which looked extremely hopeful. Within about twenty hours, after all of those months of job searching, resume blasting, cold calling, wild goose chasing, and fighting off the occasional bout of terror, I got not one, but two job offers.

Proof positive that God has a sense of humor.

That choice meant that I got to choose the job for a company which I care for much more, which has good people I already know to work with, and not to be overlooked, which is a 0:15 commute from home instead of a 2:15 commute. Each. Way. Yep, my estimate was that I would be spending 20+ hours a week commuting. If the HFH job hadn’t come up I would have done it, of course, but the commute would have been a royal pain. Plus, you know, almost everything else being better at HFH.

It must be fun to be brilliant, or incredibly lucky, or just skilled beyond belief, but here’s a victory for those of us who are just too stupid to give up.

Finally, my undying love to The Long-Suffering Wife who was there always and put up with me through this ordeal.

It’s good to have killed the beast. Now I never, ever want to use that “Job Hunt” category tag again!

4 Comments

Filed under Habitat For Humanity, Job Hunt, Paul

4 responses to “The 400-Pound Gorilla In The Room

  1. Jemima Pett

    So glad it’s all come together for you at last. Have a lovely Thanksgiving, then prepare to be totally exhausted next week. The pace will be different, everything will be new, nobody will do things they way you thought they would, and the first week is tough. I hope all goes well, and don’t worry about blogging… you can catch up in a week or two!
    xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jemima! The change from employed to not was tough, but now that’s the new normal (unfortunately) and the transition back will be “fun.” There will definitely be a shift in priorities!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karen Rodgers

    Congratulations, Paul! That’s good news.

    Like

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