Friday, September 26, 2008

Woah... I'm broke and jobless!

This is pretty cool...

Ever have one of those days where you feel like, damn, I am really at the heart of my generation's experiance? I mean... I was punk rock and listened to Anti-Flag when I was a teenager. I saw Marilyn Manson live on the tour for his last good album (Holywood). I protested the Iraq war before it started at the big Demos in January 2003 in DC and February 15th in NYC. I helped start antiwar groups and went to different cities to attend political conferences... I went to college and was a student activists... I protested the IMF... I lived in New Orleans for a month post-Katrina and got to learn about it... I road tripped a bit before gas prices went all to hell... Oh and I've been on my way to become a famous rock star, recording electronic music in home studios, counting my Myspace plays, and even playing a few larger and/or well known clubs around the country.

Well today I just joined the ranks of our nation's waiters who've been laid off due to the slow economy. Where I was we did a lot of theatre rushes. I got hired in May and was there for the end of the theatre season. Being able to work 4-5 days a week, get most any time off you want, wake up at 1pm, come in at 4, stay five hours and then leave with $100-$150 is pretty awesome! Anyways theatre season ended in June but I stuck around through the slow months because, number one: getting another job would mean to have the debate about whether or not I want to still be a waiter, and if I would still be one, I'd just have to learn a new menu and a new place all over again, and number two: I've had seasonal jobs before. I know how to economize during the slow months and managers usually help you out if you've been around for a while when business picks up and you get better shifts. I was figuring theatre would bring us back to life again and coworkers who had been there longer said I shouldn't quit and that money would be great again come the fall.

Well it's the fall and theatre season is going on again but business isn't really picking up so today I came in for my shift, got told the news, got my last check, and left the restaurant for probably the last time. So much for my source of free delicious olive bread...

LUCKILY, my last check, plus the refund I got for turning in my uniform (they took a deposit out of my training check in case I were to run off with it), plus the twenty dollars my loving mother stuck into an envelope along with some news clippings I got in the mail today, all worked out to *just* enough to cover rent, which is due in four days. So that's effing sweet.

So I have rent for a month... I've also got a lot of meat in the freezer what from the marmots and beef I've bought in bulk that had been randomly cheap a while back... I have about half the 20 lb bag of pinto beans left and about 3/4 of the 20 lb bag of rice... I won't starve... at least as long as the gas bill gets paid... that is at least sort of comforting!

* * *

To return to the beginning of this blog, and the broader root of my matter at hand, what really is so special about me getting laid off? People get laid off from all kinds of jobs for all kinds of reasons all the time. Why is this so special?

What's so special about this is that it isn't just me. What has happened to me is at the heart of our economic situation. When American capitalists started to offshore a lot of our economic (such as manufacturing) base, we were told not to worry, that there'd be new types of jobs created for a new economy.

A lot of these jobs were tech jobs... but that was always sort of a mirage. When I was in high school and a big computer geek (President of the Amateur radio club, a licensed Ham, in AP Computer Science, and able to program in Pascal, C++, HTML, and JavaScript, an avid reader of 2600, and a bit of a phone phreak on the side), I was already able to see that there was no future in tech and I shouldn't go to college for it. There were already so many people who knew so much about computers they'd probably get the jobs before I was out of school. Add to that the fact that the internet makes software development and technical support easier to offshore and you're looking at a very flimsy, easily and likely offshorable, economic base.

If that's not enough I was still in high school for the dot com bubble, and I saw Worldcom, Enron, and a lot of the tech market all go to hell. So that's a double whammy of a big red warning sign right there: instability, corruption, and now a lot of people better skilled than me fighting each other over the remaining jobs.

Besides... computers are just hack work! I was really drawn towards politics... reading Howard Zinn, learning about Latin America, interventions, the School of the Americas, Sanctions Against Iraq.... there were so many problems and so few people really trying to take them on.... surely it must be more socially relevant and useful to study politics!

Well I studied politics and I got that degree but I made the mistake of studying them in Washington DC. I learned a lot there about just how institutionalized and bureaucratic the world of "NGOs" and "Non-Profits" are. These groups claim to help people, either through working professionally to "fight the man", or to provide services to people after the government decided to stop providing them. Anyways seeing these groups operate for 5 years in DC taught me that most of them, up close, are really quite bureaucratic and unaccountable. They want people who will work for minimum or damn near it while the executives turn donation money into comfy salaries and nice apartments. The workers at the bottom are supposed to feel good because they're working for a "good cause"... people donating to them are able to feel better about themselves... but they're not really accountable, or even effective, organizations, in a lot of cases.

For former activists turned bureaucrats it's all about control. Idealistic college students think it's awesome they can get a job as an 'organizer' for a union... union bureaucrats think it's awesome their organizers are totally dependent on the bureaucracy for their jobs. Meanwhile they don't have to develop leadership from the grassroots, which might potentially generate support for independent rank-and-file movements and leaders.

I left DC rather jaded about the most obvious applications of a Political Science degree.

So where did I go? The same place the executive chef at my first three star restaurant went. He was also the recipient of a Political Science degree, and he also found out that, if the political world is all corrupt and horrible, at least you can make good money in restaurants!

For this chef as well as for me the restaurant industry offered a lot more than the solution to an existential crisis. According to the Bureau of Labor statics, along with health care (nurses, hospitals, EMTS, etc...) the restaurant industry, as part of the broader service economy, was one of the places that expanded the most in the 90s and 2000s, while a lot of other sectors (Flint, MI anyone?) declined. Sure the hours were long and a lot of customers are assholes but at the end of the day you can (or shall I say, could?) make good money there. Also, the restaurant industry seems to attract a lot of interesting people. I met more interesting people in restaurants than anyone else- goth nights and bars included! So at least there were always people to talk to about interesting things, cool stories or other parts of the world or other languages to learn about while on the job...

Well unfortunately like a sub prime loan the service economy's expansion, while perhaps hyperbolic to call a time bomb, had a lot of built in problems. It was designed to accommodate the rising fortunes of a middle and upper middle class. Even working class people who worked their butts off in the 90s at least had a steady source of income and once in a while would like to go out to eat and feel special. But when things get tight around the wallet the first thing to get cut is luxuries and that means eating out. Thus what the expansion of the service economy meant was really an investment in a very fragile economic sector.

The housing market and the construction boom ballooned off hype until it finally popped. That was inevitable. But what was not ineveitable, and what has made things so much worse, is The War.

Not unlike an arrogant, manipulative banker willing to sign off on and then peddle away a bad loan, the collective arrogance of the American ruling class to let George Bush gamble away stability for the crap shoot of militarily taking over mid east oil reserves has turned a cyclical recession into what mainstream pundits are calling "a 'perfect' economic storm." It's not just less new construction, or a decline in job creation- but an entire break down of infrastructure.

Some critics of the war rightly point out it was an irresponsible gamble of our standing in world, and, of course, the lives of a lot of brown people and American soldiers. But the lives of brown people and American soldiers get gambled away all the time.... Shit, you remember "Who started" the Vietnam war? Or "why" World War I happened? People seemed to be all about them when they were going on but no one can really offer a straight answer that makes sense and seems worth dying for today...

But the Iraq-Afghan wars, being as they are over the most strategic square feet of the world's most important (and dwindling) economic resource, were even more of a gamble than many other military conflicts. At stake wasn't just the lives of people in the Mid East, or the lives of soldiers... at stake was our entire infrastructure. When George Bush rolled the dice on oil he rolled the dice on your car, on your affordable house with the long commute in the suburbs, on the globalized networks of commodity production and distribution, on the mechanization and corporatization of agriculture, and most important of all (for waiters!); on the service sector. Once things got tight, and a recession met with out of control oil speculation, service workers, like a lot of people, such as yours truly, got the shaft.

Now of course there's still plenty of rich people. The government's been giving billions in bailouts to banks lately in order to keep the rich rich. Perhaps so many have deserted Bush over his many failures we can interpret these bailouts as a desperate attempt to shore up his remaining support among wall street moguls by keeping them structurally intact as a unique social class?

But even people with some money and some investments might feel the pinch a little. Perhaps instead of spending $100 on dinner for two, AND picking up theater tickets, they'll do either one or the other. Or maybe they'll eat at home first. Or heck maybe just rent a movie or watch one they already own with someone who hasn't seen it yet.

The "social contract" between employers and employees that you read about today in history books wasn't so much violently broken all along the line (as in the case of the PATCO or Hormel strikes in the 80s) as it was traded away. In the shell game of the market, ambitious smart young people were promised, at least, decent paying waiter jobs. Or hotel jobs. Or cool ski resort jobs. Or flight attendant jobs. Or computer jobs. Or, (my favorite), comfy financial sector jobs with soft chairs in offices pushing pieces of paper around desks, giving files different names and emailing them to different people.

Not unlike a zit on my chin the wall street traders, speculators, con men and assorted hangers on seemed to puff themselves up ever fatter and more grandiose with every dishonest, unhealthy, immoral, and destabilizing tidbit the economic "leaders" planned.

I'm sorry, and, as most office workers are technically proletarians, it may be against the solidarity of working people to say this- but I don't have a fucking ounce of sympathy for the stories on the radio joking about how high-powered yuppies are having to cut back on strip club visits and cocaine consumption. You know it may piss you off when the reckless pilot crashes the plane you're on into the desert.... but at least you get a tiny bit of satisfaction when you see that bastard is thirsty too!

Well the game is up. Americans are an individualistic, hard working, hardship-enduring lot. They can usually keep their chins above pretty high water. Even if we're working our asses off, if we think we're "getting ahead" at all, and the future will be better, we generally acquiesce and let politicians and businessmen do pretty much whatever they want. If you're making money and doing ok, it's pretty easy to look down on the homeless, or people poorer than you, and tell yourself how it's probably their fault for the condition they're in.

But that's not really the case any more... Not for me... not for the thousands of other young twenty somethings who worked at Benningins, or Starbucks, for a "day job" as they waited for their myspace band (or whatever else) to take off!

One obvious consequence of unemployment is that you all of a sudden have a lot more free time. That includes time to think hard about the world and why it is as messed up as it as. It can also include time to protest and/or direct action-ify yourself against those who are responsible for messing it up. And when you're 25, you're smart, your myspace band is pretty much a hole in cyber space you throw money and time into and see very little return on, and the economy you bought into and developed skills and a resume in order to succeed in goes to hell, well you're probably quite liable to start writing long blogs denouncing the economy, capitalists, and oil executives.

(Incidentally Exxon made over ELEVEN BILLION DOLLARS in the FIRST QUARTER of this year. Exclamation points are rendered pretty superfluous.)

Well it's Friday Sept 26th. I have just enough to cover rent and I have about a 2/3rds tank of gas. Like most Americans, I intend to hide from my problems as long as I can. But when that tank of gas is gone... and I run out of ammo to live off marmots with... and the electric and gas bill comes, and it's time to pay rent AGAIN, I am going to like... totally protest the fuck out of something.

On a side note... the manager was a least very cordial when she laid me off, and gave me her number as a reference and told me a few places she felt were hiring. I got my resumes printed and my nice shirts are all clean and ironed... But I have to think about this for a minute before I walk in somewhere and start filling out applications. I don't think another theatre rush job is a smart idea... And I'm pretty sick of working for people who like to eat small pieces of actual silver and/or gold on top of their chocolate deserts. In fact, at a few of my most recent waiter jobs, it literally was the very same people who ran the economy into the ground that I was at times working for... at least until not enough people could afford to eat there and I got laid off, that is!

I think having a sharp, crispy, analysis of the economy when you're unemployed and broke is kind of like shivering when you're starting to freeze. It isn't necessarily going to save you, but it helps you feel a little better. I guess if shivering is your body's way of telling your mind to do something (build up the fire and put on my layers), studying the economy is sort of like your minds way of figuring out where the heck you need to take your body to find a new job... and/or find out whoever is responsible for this and like, confront them about it in a way that gets results.

Thus... the post you have just read. Laughing fish isn't much, but it is a start, and right now a start is what we need.


  1. Despite the stats, I still see thousands of high paying jobs posted on employment sites - (networking) (aggregated lists) (matches you to jobs)

    I see 75K, 125K and 150K jobs...good luck...Love the gas station logo bush ransom letter