Monday, September 22, 2008

“Work To Do”

“Sang It, Ron!”

You may have noticed a sparseness in my posting of late. It was not without reason.

In my life outside of Group News Blog, things are changing. And the thing that changed most of all was I needed a new job and then got a new job. Thank God! And much of my time of late has been spent learning new things, and buffing some things I knew well in a hobby / fun sense to a high shine for application in my new gig.

Gobs of training. Technical stuff. Some travel to facilitate that learning, too. But I've done it, and I thank you all for your patience while I got my feet up under myself again—I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

One thing I have come to realize in a major, and deeply personal way as I have changed / enhanced careers is just how awful the job market really is out here. It's one thing to write about it. To read about it. To know the numbers on it (i.e. The country needs to create around 175,000 jobs monthly to keep pace with new workers seeking, and existing workers leaving the market—and we haven't been hitting that mark with any consistency under the Bush administration).

It's another thing to live that shit out in real time in one's own life. When you can attach faces—anguished faces and breaking voices to those numbers—folks like the guy I saw riding back to Brooklyn on the train quietly destroying himself over an apparent flubbing of an interview to manage a Popeye's Fried Chicken franchise, or the fellow angrily dumping the contents of his briefcase into a subway trash can at the 51st Street station on the “6” line, and as people slowed to gawk at the sight, fairly roared “I just got fucking fired, okay!?”—when you see these people, and then have anxiety roil your own gut because you're out there looking to hook on in the same market that is killing them, you don't just get the picture...the picture is burned into the back of your eyelids forever.

I have worked pretty much non-stop for the last twenty-five years, and what we are going through right now is the worst I have seen in that time in terms of an across-the-board economic meltdown involving falling stocks, failing banks, home foreclosures and yes...dwindling to the point of utter evaporation —of jobs.

I feel it as a writer for this blog as much as you the readers of it do. It's scary out here.

A week ago, I was coming home late from work—having bopped by to do the whole benefits enrollment thing on the work computer—when I was walking down Seventh Avenue in the fifties. There were a few odd lights up on the street—video lights I would later discover—and what seemed to be a “red carpet” procession coming out of a building. I automatically assumed industry or fashion biz “party” (as “Fashion Week” was in full swing here).

But as I neared the focal point, lights trained on the door of a seemingly non-descript glass tower, I noticed one man coming out of the place. He was holding four coffee mugs from four different financial institutions, the handle of each around a clenched finger of his left hand, while balancing a water-starved potted plant in his right.

“Well...that ain't Tim Gunn.”, I mused to myself. And then I noticed it was a steady trickle of just regular people—plain, old “cube rats” carrying all manner of strange shit out the door and down the block. Some walking to late-model cars or down the street to the subway a block away, and others to the curb where a waved hand beckoned a cab somewhere. And where I immediately realized that those cabbies tips would be a tad lighter than the usual.

These were the soon-to-be refugees from the hours-from-defunct Lehman Brothers.

They toted odd talismans of a finance industry gone sour like milk left out for a summer's fortnight. One woman carried a big, inflatable Wall St. Bull. Another carried huge, foam core-backed blow-ups of pictures of partying fellow Wall Streeters from more flush times. A haggard-looking fellow struggled with three laptop bags and a small box of papers—probably a stack of just-printed resumés.

Schadenfreude naturally prompts one to feel little for these people. We tend to see them all as Gordon Gekko-ish,“big, swinging dicks”. But the fact of the matter is that while a few of the people trudging dejectedly out of 745 Seventh Avenue may have been the contrast-collared bastards who led us into this abyss (most of the bigwigs stayed away lest they be the butt of catcalls—or worse from pissed off underlings), many more were just cube rats. Not rich. Not poor either. Just that nebulous in-between that puts in its hours and cashes a check for it. A shit load of 'em leveraged heavily against student loans for degrees that won't mean squat now as the industry gets a forced, financial “gastric bypass”, where there won't be the space anymore for that many jobs. The big guns are gonna be alright to a degree—much moreso than the Schmoes and Sues I saw carrying the trinkets of a better time down a midtown street.

I don't know what that guy was gonna do with all those extra mugs he was toting. Maybe fill 'em all with coffee all at once so he doesn't have to get up for refills as he stays up late re-doing his C.V.? Who knows?

What I do know is that people are hurting out here. Big time.

When a place like Lehman Brothers closes and the late-night cleaning crew that emptied all the Starbucks™ Double Shot cans and Clif™ bar wrappers from the trashcans doesn't have to do that anymore, the cleaning company lays off people who are “in excess”.

The “grease” trucks and vendors who sold bananas, muffins and coffee for breakfast, and hot dogs and sandwiches for lunch on the street in front of these places, counting on three to four hundred people from the building every day to stake a profit on, will have to move somewhere else. You don't waste money cooking food in front of a “dead” building. And decent vendor spots are like gold here in NY. You move too close to someone else's selling territory and you get scalding-hot sauteéd onions tossed in your face.

“Times is tough.” The lovely Mrs. “LM” works on Wall Street in insurance (a major firm)—so you can imagine the trepidation she and her co-horts felt when it became clear that AIG, the industry's biggest wheel, was not just at death's door, but was being invited in for Strychnine cookies and a spot of Hemlock tea, that trepidation seeped into my house, too, right after I'd (thankfully!) just gotten the new job.

It wasn't pretty.

In fact, it's ugly all over.

But, we're coping.

Through the half-assed bailouts of connected pals and entities while regular folks are told to pound fucking sand, we're all coping.

So, I'll be here more often now that things have settled a bit, thank goodness—ready to analyze, and share and just plain old talk again.

And speaking of talking, feel free to take this opportunity to share any stories about how this economic meltdown is affecting you or anyone you know. We're all going through this collectively it seems—we may as well get it off our chests collectively while we're at it. Keeping it in is bad for ya. dontchaknow?

Now, you sang it Eddie, Walter and William...“For The Love Of Money!”