I have been taking a lot of coffees lately. I say "taking" because most of the time my employed friends pay for them. As they regale me about the toxicity of corporate life, and how they'd much rather be off somewhere writing their novel or screenplay, the act of talking about themselves seems to have a cathartic effect: the stingiest among them open their wallets and pay my tab.
Mind you, I am not looking for free coffees or, as the case may be, free carrot cake. But it's just one of those perks, you might call them, of being unemployed.
And I'm becoming a better listener, too. Just yesterday a friend who works at one of the television networks spent nearly our entire coffee session telling me about the unnerving last minute script changes to a recent hour special. Moments before they were going on air, the anchor weighed in, the Executive Producer weighed in, and even the President of News Operations weighed in. It was pandemonium. But the broadcast came out smashingly, thank God, and my friend and some of his colleagues can now take a much-needed breather.
Which brings me to a guilty schadenfreude I've developed over the past year. As I nod and listen while one friend who runs the video division of a multinational news organization tells me how little they have to pay freelancers, or how tight their deadlines are; or as I hear that within a month of a friend's hiring at a reputable newspaper nearly all her colleagues have either resigned or been laid off, I quietly realize I'm one of the lucky ones. With my gig, there are no such pressures. No deadlines. No tensions with colleagues. No fights over raises. No gossip in the hallways. No arguing over what constitutes a sick day versus a vacation day. No bruised egos. No bossy office managers. No office crushes. No ringing phones. It is remarkably silent in my home office. Just the sound of me typing e-mails to potential employers, most of whom have little interest in taking our relationship to the real world.
I should confess to another perk, of which I am rather embarrassed. This relates to the underappreciated fact that today the unemployed are often unrecognizable. For it is not in our skin color, our accents, our behavior, how we dress or where we hang out, that we reveal our unemployed status. In fact, many of the unemployed are just like you and me: we mix and mingle freely with the employed. We "pass" as one of them, and many of our friends don't know our little secret.
Passing has its perks, too. A former colleague who I know for a fact is unemployed asked me for a coffee. I found room on my schedule and when we met, I took the tab, tipping my hand to suggest, for those keeping track of such things, that I was the employed one. She started talking about the jobs she's had since we sat on opposite ends of an office a decade ago, in departments that didn't interact; and about her personal life, ending with how she'd arrived at the decision to follow her dream to be on the creative side of the entertainment industry. Which brought her to the "pitch" of our meeting: did I know anyone at company X and might I be able to make an introduction?
As it happened, I did have a contact at company X, who I promised to e-mail the following day. We parted ways and I headed back to the home office feeling better about myself.