Facing Unemployment at 33: a Personal Inventory


Personal inventory: as of this writing I’m two days from being unemployed and two weeks from my 33rd birthday. Perilous times. When I was 19, 20, I used to tell people that I’d die at 33, that 33 years would be more than enough. Talking about this with my friend AG the other day, I wondered what I was thinking. “You said you’d be a king by then,” she said. “You said that by the time you were 33 there’d be no more mountains for you to climb.”

I don’t remember this, but that does sound like me. The closest I’ve come to being a king is being an adjunct professor, which is less like sovereignty and more like a hobby that (kind of) pays, although I do tend to make a lot of proclamations in the classroom. Talking about teaching is boring, though, isn’t it? There’s been a rash of articles by and about adjuncts lately, but I think those have only caught folk’s eye due to their gruesome quality, because they read more like Stephen King stories—those real raw early coke-fueled ones—than anything else.

There’s not a whole lot I can do about turning 33, short of pulling my own card and fulfilling the prophecy, and I can’t do that because I want to see how that new Star Wars movie turns out, and Avengers 2, and both of those are a couple years away. I’ll need to come up with something better than being an adjunct by then, though, because by the time those movies hit theaters a ticket will probably cost as much as most schools pay an adjunct per semester.

So, okay, I’ve been going over my options. Here’s the list–

Construction Worker

Pro: Good exercise, and I’d get to spend more time outside. A job I’d be able to leave at the workplace, that I wouldn’t have to worry about all day and all night when I wasn’t there, doing it. A sense of community with the other guys on the crew. I’d probably have a much higher level of education that a lot of them, but I wouldn’t flaunt it. They’d figure it out, though. They’d probably nickname me ‘The Professor’ or something like that. Maybe I’d organize a book club for all of us, and we’d get together once every two weeks to share our thoughts on whatever I’d selected—Flannery O’Connor or something, and they’d say things like, “This Flannery dude has a crazy imagination!” and I’d say, “Actually, Flannery O’Connor was a woman,” and they’d say, “That makes perfect sense, actually, only a woman could come up with stuff so twisted,” and I’d laugh and then we’d swap tales of women that did us wrong.

Con: There’d be at least one guy in the crew who was smart but not highly educated, who’d be insecure about this, and he and I would be rivals. He’d challenge me constantly, and I’d have to be sort of cool about it and not show him up too hard. He might try to organize some of the other guys against me, and then there’d be friction between that group and the group loyal to me, and as a result productivity would go way down and we’d all get chewed out by the foreman. Also, I’m clumsy and don’t know much about tools, my head is probably too large for a standard helmet, and I don’t want to have to wear one of those orange plastic vests in the summertime.


Pro: People would automatically assume I was brave. Seems like there’s a lot of downtime.

Con: Strong possibility of dying in a fire.

Hair Dresser

Pro: As a somewhat gruff heterosexual man, I’d be a real novelty at the salon. I’d find one with a wealthy kind of middle-aged clientele, the kind where ladies who don’t work, with husbands who do nothing else, keep weekly appointments in the hope that fun highlights will distract from reduced elasticity. The ladies would be a little suspicious at first, but quickly they’d begin to trust me, and that trust would turn to delight once they got to know me. I’d offer a male perspective on their relationship issues and I’d say things like, “I don’t know what a 10 like you is doing with a 0 like him in the first place.” They’d tip generously and offer to set me up with their daughters and single co-workers.

Con: I’ve always suspected that I was born without depth perception, which might make styling hair tricky. Also I have no training and am, as previously mentioned, clumsy. Getting set-up with so many daughters and single co-workers could eventually lead to HPV.

Police Officer

Pro: I’d get to carry all kinds of weapons around, I’d get to speed on the highway. I already relate to society in a largely adversarial way, which seems key. Free drinks from 7-11.

Con: Don’t want to shave every day, don’t want to cut my hair that short. Wouldn’t want to deal with people at parties, once they found out my vocation, asking me a million questions about whether the officer who wrote them a ticket for following too close was just being vindictive.


Pro: Getting to work with a lot of sharp knives and hooks. If I slip a couple free steaks to the poor single mother fallen on hard times, she’ll always remember it and at my funeral she’ll show up and tell everyone how my kindness restored her faith in humanity.

Con: Getting splattered with blood all day. Constant need to pay close attention to what I’m doing, less I accidentally sell some spoiled chicken and end up responsible for the death of some poor single mother and her children.

Supermarket Checkout Clerk

Pro: Really easy.

Con: I have a fucking Master’s degree. Don’t want to get name checked in some politician’s speech about how the economy stinks.

Clerk at Cellphone Store

Pro: Free phone and data plan.

Con: Not a sexual predator.


Pro: Serving the community by giving people guidance and comfort, taking part in a tradition that has developed over several centuries.

Con: Complicated feelings about God and organized religion, partially due to the fact that until around second grade I thought the face on the one dollar bill was God, and not George Washington. Have you really studied the look on George Washington’s face in that portrait? That stodgy motherfucker. He looks a little bored, but he also looks like… GW is the father of our country, I guess, and in that picture he looks like he’s pretty ashamed of how things worked out. He’s looking down that big sloping nose of his the same way Tywin Lannister looks at Tyrion, like how did this awful shit originate with me? I sacrificed things for this?[1]

This creep was running the show? This was the guy who supposedly loved me so much, who was with me, watching me, all the time? Confusing God and George Washington made all the Old Testament stories make perfect sense (for there is the face of someone who kicks you out of paradise for eating an apple, who demands sacrifice and floods the earth) and all the New Testament stuff seem really suspicious. Like Jesus was trying a little too hard to convince us his dad was nice and fun, a good guy, when his dad always seemed to be brooding, right on the verge of losing his temper.

Doesn’t confusing GW with God sound like something that would pop up on Mad Men? Like at the beginning of the episode Bobby Draper would confuse God and GW and Don would raise his eyebrow, and then later Peggy would have developed strong feelings for some handsome Pepsi executive but Don would make her break it off because Coca-Cola is worth three million in billings and Pepsi doesn’t want to run ads during Peyton Place? And Peggy would refuse to break things off at first, but finally she would, and at the end of the episode she’d get a raise.


[1] Actually, I think that dynamic between Tywin and Tyrion does accurately reflect how most of the big religions view their relationship with the Creator.

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