Meanwhile, back on the home front ...
A jobless SOS cuts to the heart
So much unsolicited paper ends up on my front porch that a week's accumulation is enough to open a small recycling plant. But the other day, amid the litter of our society's consumerism, there was something unique that stood out from the hot pink and blue circulars advertising new restaurants and astonishing products and grand-opening galas.Skip to next paragraph
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It might have been the bold single word "HELP!" at the top of the page that captured my attention. Whoever deposited it on my porch must surely be in distress, I thought. There was desperation and genuineness about the thick, black words, a plea that immediately struck me as something other than hype. Its simplicity was sincere: "I'm your neighbor."
Indeed it was an ad, but not like anything I'd ever seen. My "neighbor" was a man who "used to manage and direct an engineering/professional service group" for a major technological giant. He'll never know how much six brief sentences told me about the integrity it must have taken not just to advertise in such a personal way, but to leave it at the doors of unknown neighbors.
With the exception of "HELP" and one other word, he chose to use lowercase letters to give his situation credibility. (I don't trust all-capitalized messages.) His sense of urgent correctness must surely resonate with millions at this fork in an economic road: "I am searching for ANY type of honest employment!" His search, he straightforwardly wrote, was prompted by the technologies crash sweeping the nation.
That my neighbor would consider "ANY" job forced me to rack my brain for job openings I knew of. His six well-chosen sentences told me a multitude of things about the stranger I admire. He's resourceful, hard-working, and able to put aside foolish notions about pride, about what others may think.
Another telling thing about the choice to advertise his business acumen on front porches was the courteous tone. He closes with a "thank you" on behalf of his family; he gives an e-mail address and two phone numbers so that neighbors can contact him around the clock with potential leads. At first, knowing all this information about the man made me uncomfortable.
When my husband first brought me the circular, he asked, "Do you think this is real?" I wasn't sure what to make of it; quickly, I gave it a general scan for phony promises or pyramid overtones. One thing defined it as real for me: the man put his last name in the opening statement, and again, in the closing one. It was real all right, that was my gut instinct. He was both professional and personal, the mark of a savvy person with good business sense and a willingness to be creative.
Without a clue about what my neighbor looks like, I could see him meticulously labor over each word. He probably even saved it to a computer file for a few days, hoping a position would come along in the traditional sense before his tour of front porches started.
I haven't called or e-mailed my neighbor yet, mostly because I don't have any leads to pass on. But I also haven't been able to toss out his notice; it has provided inspiration that good people are made kin by the current wartime economic struggles. Americans haven't forgotten how to roll up their sleeves and work hard. I feel a tremendous connection to this man. He is me, I am him, and we are neighbors.
Perhaps I can't throw away the now neatly folded ad because I want to let my fellow American know he's not alone. A lot of us have been downsized, laid off, fired, given a buyout or early retirment, or have filed for unemployment that will run out way too soon. We just haven't spread the word to front porches up and down the boulevard.
• Joyce King is a freelance writer.
By Steven Berbeco
SOMERVILLE, MASS. - I am probably the only American who speaks Arabic and is currently unemployed. I have three graduate degrees, including two in linguistics, and have studied more than 30 languages, but I can't find a job.
Well, that's not entirely true.My in-box has been flooded with job offers: Very Interesting Duties with a National Defense Organization in a Turbulent Area at a base salary that hovers around $70,000. These positions are for the Persian Gulf, "immediate deployment."
A contractor for the CIA offered me a job, too, to provide "summaries of letters, audiotapes, and pocket litter." They're paying up to $105,000 a year.
I thought briefly about applying to be a special agent for the FBI. Someone had dropped an anonymous envelope into my mailbox. Inside was an article citing the FBI's current need for Arabic speakers.
Last month I followed up on a position in Bahrain as a translator for an Air Force contractor. I didn't tell my mother. How could I not check it out? The high salary, a free desert-colored uniform with helmet and flak jacket, a secret briefing before heading out. I couldn't quite find out what I'd be doing, though. The job description changed with each person I'd talk to: I would be sitting in a tent with headphones on for 10 hours a day. Or ... I would be interpreting for reporters in small villages. Someone said that I'd be a "cultural liaison" and I pictured myself wandering the countryside in a Ronald McDonald costume handing out Freedom Fries.