Thursday, August 19, 2010

Romance on the Dole?

Our eyes meet across the crowded dining room of the fancy restaurant where I'm eating the priciest entrée on the menu. Like me, he's alone. He smiles. I smile.
He's awfully handsome. About my age. No wedding ring on his left hand either.
My mind wanders to the possibilities.
A companion. A romance. Even . . .
True love.
My friends would be thrilled. Since I lost my job last year, I can't tell you how many people have told me that I need to find a man and get married. (Well, maybe I could tell you, but it's starting to be a big number you might not believe.)

I am not kidding. People actually say this to me. Then, they reason, I would not have to worry about a job or health insurance.

Seriously, people? You call that helpful advice?
Skipping the fact that marriage-as-a-ticket-to-health-insurance is a really poor basis for a union (obviously!), the reality is that being unemployed is just about the most unromantic thing in the world. I'm not saying romance is not possible, but who in their right mind can focus on being alluring and fabulous when they have more worries than money?

I'm worried about piling up bills, dwindling savings and that %$@*&# broken clothes dryer. Oh, and let's not forget I am working about 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week to get my new business off the ground. When would I even fit in this romance?

Truth is, right now I'm more concerned with how I can shave another $10 off the grocery bill than whether or not my legs need shaving to look good in some fabulous date dress I can't even afford to buy.

Life on the dole doesn't leave much time (or energy) for flirtation.

There's also the whole issue of access. You're not likely to meet eligible, gainfully-employed, fully-insured bachelors when you lack funds for social events. These days unless he's interviewing me for a job or bagging my groceries, I'm unlikely to meet an employed man.

And, let's not forget my own lack of marketability either. What man with a fabulous job and lots of assets would want to take up with an unemployed woman? (Maybe the kind that would require a pre-nup just to go on the first date?)

The irony? I'm meeting more men than ever because I attend a large job search group. This crummy job market has hit men over 40 much harder than women. Roughly 60% of my local group are men—all unemployed like me. But, about 99% are married. The other one percent are my dad's age.

True, the rare single man near my age might darken the door.

But, if he ever did, he'd be unemployed, too, now wouldn't he?
And, so am I, remember?

Even if Mr. Single-and-Wonderful-Yet-Unemployed walks in the door and locks eyes with me and the bells ring and the chemistry steams up the room, then what?

We could use my cents-off coupons to pack a picnic and head to the park or occasionally hit the $1 matinee at the already-cheap theatre, I guess.
But, many of those on the dole are in worse shape than I am. They may have totally depleted their savings, have never-ending bills or be out of health insurance.

Mom used to tell me, "You don't need a man to be poor with—you can be poor by yourself."

Now I get it.

Being unemployed and almost broke is no fun. Being unemployed, almost broke and taking on the task of bailing out someone else who may be in worse shape than I am could be an unmitigated disaster.

Did all those helpful people who suggested I marry for health insurance consider somebody might want to marry me because I still have a roof over my head and some savings? For those who have hit bottom, maybe where I'm standing looks pretty cushy.

My mind wanders back to that handsome fellow in the restaurant. We smile at each other again. Oh, he is obviously interested.


Reality intrudes.

There's no fancy restaurant, no pricey entrée, no interested bachelor.

It was a dream.

That's what I get for being half-asleep while sitting in my very-early-in-the-morning weekly job search group. I knew I should've gone to sleep last night instead of looking at job postings until 1 AM.

I force my mind back to the speaker's topic—job search tips. Then, I do what I always do after those meetings: I go home, do the laundry, empty the cat litter box and wonder when I'll be fully employed again.

Romance on the dole? I don't think so. 

#   #   #

Photo Credits:
Wedding Cake: Girl Doing Laundry:

Note: All photos are for illustrative purposes only--author is not pictured.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Break, Broke, Broken

Could somebody explain one of life's great mysteries? How do appliances just know the least opportune moment to konk out?

Do manufacturers install some evil switch inside mechanical objects that program them to go ka-fluey the instant the household starts drifting toward financially broke?

Guess my dad has it figured out after all. Showing up with his handyman tools, he always jokes ,"Be sure never to mention in front of the appliances that you have no money. They'll break down for sure if they find out."

Current situation: The air-conditioner picked today to pitch a snit-fit.

I live in the Deep South. I mean, the really, really deep South. The magnolias-peaches-armadillos South. Yeah, that one. The one with months-long stretches of heat and humidity. Today's temperature: 96. (Down from the 100s last week.) Today's heat index: I don't know. Suffice it to say if I wanted to cool off, I could try some nice Southwestern desert area.

So . . .

For the third time this summer Old Faithful is not.

The good news? It only cost $85. If I'd waited, the motor would've have burned out the repair guy said. Approximate cost: $400. OK, so saving $315 makes me feel a little better. And, the repairman, who is also a friend, has been kind—his first repair was only $50; the second was free.

This month marks the eleventh month of my "work break" (AKA known as "life on the dole").

With every month that passes, my bank account dwindles a bit closer toward "broke" status.

And, not a month goes by without something in my house breaking down.

Break, broke, broken.

Yep, I am literally living the conjugation of a verb.

Remember when I told you my clothes dryer stopped working? "Super Dad" did his best, but after three days work, he declared it unfixable. No big deal. I strung up a clothes line in the garage and now I dry my clothes that way—a nice "green" alternative, with many positive benefits.

Line-dried towels? Yep, they're stiff as a board. Excellent for exfoliating the skin.

Waiting until the last minute to do laundry? No way, it takes three days to dry in this Southern humidity. I have learned to plan ahead.

Tumbling a shirt to get wrinkles out? Not possible. Ironing required. Lifting hand weights builds biceps, right? I hope no one notices that I'm only "ripped" on the right side.

True, in the beginning, there was a certain novelty about hanging up wet laundry—like getting back to nature, being "earth conscious" and all that good stuff.

However, eight months later, I can tell you the novelty has worn off—completely.

But, it's a new life experience. I've learned something along the way. That's got to be worth something.

Meanwhile, other things around the house have decided I need a few more life lessons:

The backyard water spigot leaks under my kitchen sink. I drag the hose from the front yard to water my patio tomatoes.

The toilet stopped flushing. Dad replaced the malfunctioning parts.

The bathroom faucet began dripping. Dad fixed it.

The ice maker stopped working. I repaired it myself. Yay, me!

The gutters need cleaning, but I'm not brave enough to climb a ladder against a two-story house (and I don't want Dad up there either).

The house needs to be pressure washed.

Even the car got in on the act, needing repairs totaling more than $300 in May.

"What? I thought you started your own business?" you ask. "Isn't it going well? Don't you have any money from that?"

Well, the answers are yes, yes and coming soon.

See, before you make a dime in a new venture you have to spend start-up money—all of which came from already depleted savings.

Choose one: Invest in a business that will be financially successful later on or "invest" in fixing stuff that breaks right now. The choice is obvious: right now, what Dad—or I—can't fix stays broken (unless it's a mandatory thing such as the car or air conditioning).

Indeed, I'm looking forward to the day my bank account loses its "broke" status. And, most of all I'll be glad when all the brokenness around my home can be speedily repaired.

But, in the midst of my break/broke/broken state, I still remember what's important.

I'm grateful for the break in my career that is allowing me to pursue a new path—one I've long wanted to take. Without the "opportunity" that being jobless created, I never would have taken the plunge.

I'm thankful my bank account is not truly "broke" even if it feels like it—there are still funds left for real emergencies.

But, most of all, I'm thankful that, while my house and appliances are on a breaking streak, my spirit hasn't succumbed to the same. I've never lost sight of the end game: I know that I'll eventually get my life back—and in better shape than it was before because this time I'll be my own boss.

So what if I paddle with one oar through this a sea of brokenness? Land is in sight and of one thing I am very sure:

Stuff is broken, but I am not.

#   #  #
Photo Credits:

Clothes on Line (Note: Woman in photo is not Ariel):