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Edmonds is currently working on a video-editing project for a Chinese human-rights group and grant-writing for a documentary on urban gardening, as well as volunteering with Larkin Street Youth Services, where she helps hand out free condoms and clean socks to the street kids who swarm the Upper Haight and Hippie Hill. Turns out that some of the habits of the Organization Kid die hard. "I'm not going to give up on something just because I don't have time for it," she says. "Especially when I don't have a job."
Federally subsidized odysseys of self-discovery. Wine-tasting. Hiking. Bagels. Bongos. If this is the life of the jobless, why stare at your cubicle walls another second? Because funemployment, like high school summer vacation, is a temporally limited joy. No sooner have its elusive promises started to come within reach than they disappear. September's here, kids, and the fun is over.
For Anthony Ferraro, September has arrived. Until this fall, he had what he considered his dream job, working as a video producer at Current TV, the modish, San Francisco–based television station co-founded by Al Gore. In November, he was let go in a round of layoffs.
For Ferraro, who moved to San Francisco from New York several years ago, this wasn't completely unfamiliar territory. He'd lost jobs before. When he got the ax at Current, he says, he made a point of driving straight home and cleaning his Pacific Heights pad with the fervor of a maid in a hotel room. Then he went out drinking. When he awoke the next day, his newly immaculate surroundings helped brighten his mood.
That was six months ago. Fast-forward to a sunny May afternoon at the Peet's Coffee & Tea at Sacramento and Fillmore, where the sturdy 42-year-old with tinted glasses and a black mesh baseball cap discussed his work prospects. There are none. At least not here. Much to his displeasure, he is preparing to give up his apartment and leave San Francisco. He says he will move to L.A., where he hopes to find a cheaper apartment and more freelance work.
"It's done," he said. "It's been six months. In six months I've only gotten three weeks of freelance work. The jobs that are like, 'You do this for a day, make a little extra money' — even those are gone, because there are so many people." A former actor, Ferraro said the glut of overeducated types in the local job market reminds him of the beginnings of the trend that saw television actors auditioning for Broadway productions, bumping off-Broadway aspirants out of the running. "I had a friendly taxi driver the other day," he said. "I was quizzing him. Like, 'How do you get into this?'"
Ferraro had hoped that San Francisco, and his gig at Current, would mark the beginning of a new and more secure phase in his life. After years of scraping together freelance work in film and acting, he had at last found a company he wanted to stay with, and had cash to take on some of the trappings of a conventionally stable adulthood: the PT Cruiser, the one-bedroom apartment. "I got myself into a new situation," he said. "I wasn't so afraid to get HBO2. The iPhone? It's $50 more, but fuck it, I've got to have the iPhone." He paused. "And then when I got laid off I couldn't cover my overhead."
For some, particularly in industries subject to long-term destabilizing factors that pre-date the current downturn — such as old and new media — the Bay Area's unemployment epidemic has dispelled any last, cherished illusions of having a steady job in the first place.
John Henion, a 32-year-old Oakland resident and friend of Ferraro's, was also laid off from Current TV in November. He has health-insurance coverage through his long-time girlfriend, and little trouble picking up freelance work in video production and editing. Unemploymentality, the blog he started with Khadder, another laid-off Current employee, was getting more readers, as well as some attention from the press. (Khadder, in an interesting twist, has scored a new job with a company impressed by her blog entries.) Henion has decided to stop stressing about returning to an office.
"My philosophy is that I can spend all day writing cover letters or writing résumés, or I can just build a brand," he says. He adds, ruefully, "I used to think there was job security in media." As workplace casualties pile higher, one has to wonder just how many industries the sentiment will eventually extend to.
Alexis Mansinne is not waiting around to find out. She has decided to pursue a career path in the classically stable mold — returning to school for a master's degree and becoming a guidance counselor in a public high school. No more will she market glossy magazines or jetset among large cities. She's betting on the idea that sitting face to face with awkward kids will bring more lasting satisfaction than cubicle culture.
"It was cool to say what I was doing," she muses late on a recent Monday morning, sitting at the same kitchen table in her Sunset apartment where she received the news of her layoff. "So much of my identity for so long has been wrapped up in the brand on my business card. And now I don't have business cards. So what does that make me?"
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