I am back in uniform today. One of the changes this new life has foisted on me is as dramatic as it is subtle. I used to wear ties to work. Okay, it wasn’t every day or anything. I did work in radio after all. In fact, I had what I internally thought of AM days (suits and ties and the sort of things appropriate for a serious news or talk station) and FM days (jeans and untucked shirts and other things appropriate for theoretically hip music stations.)
Now every day is what? A ham radio day? Isn’t that the hobby radio thing that people do from their homes? My grandfather was a big ham radio enthusiast and I don’t think he ever wore socks. These days neither do I.
Hoodie. T-shirt. Jeans. A pair of those rubber-soled slippers that you can wear outdoors. This is how I dress for the work of looking for work.
This is the uniform.
I can confirm this, by the way, after my first visit to the local branch of the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment. I don’t know that I would have chosen this outfit for my visit had I known I was going there but I (kind of) ended up there accidentally.
Back when I had a job (last month) there was a rhythm and routine to the mornings in our house. I am the first up, giving up to the alarm after only two trips through the snooze button. I pass by the bedroom of the older kids who, remarkably, sleep soundly through their wailing alarm. Everyone else wakes up while I’m in the shower. I know this because our one bathroom is a veritable Grand Central Station during this time as everyone pays a visit. One day, when we finally move, I look forward to having a shower during which no one opens the door to let all the hot air out.
Once I’m dressed, the flurry of activity is at a frenzied pace. The air is punctuated regularly with screams of “MAGGIE! YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE!” This is something everyone, even the babies, seem to understand. Everyone, of course, except for Maggie. She seems to believe that you can will time to stop while you look for a book, second sock, or her uniform tie.
Eventually, she and I fly out the door, down the stairs, into the car, and around the corner and three blocks away to her school. “Maggie, you’re going to have to run,” are my parting words for her every day. Off she goes.
Back to the house, twins dressed, Henry dressed, I make some travel mugs and all off us make our way down the stairs. Amy and the boys get into the mini-van and I into my 10-year-old Volvo that is thankfully managing to hold itself together.
And then, finally, blessedly, we’d go our separate ways to work.
This routine has remained mostly the same, even without an office for me to report to. There have been some adjustments, of course.
Now it is I who gets into the mini-van and Amy into the tan tank of safety. I take all those boys off to school and then U-turn it back home.
We now have a new routine, you see. But it has taken some awkward adjustments to get us there.
In those first few days of “looking for a new professional challenge” I wasn’t quite able to switch gears so quickly. Amy, bless her heart, I think understood this and was happy to continue to drop off and pick up all the kids despite there being really no good reason why I couldn’t do it. It was during one of these early days that I accidentally ended up at the unemployment office.
We were in full routine. Everyone flying about. Maggie was going to be late. Down the stairs then back up.
I made the travel mugs and we made our way down again. I got all the babies buckled into their car seats, my goodbye wave from Henry and goodbye kiss from Amy.
It was at this point, while watching the van driving away, that I looked at the travel mug in my hand and realized I had nowhere to which to travel. It was, surely, a depressing realization.
Standing on the sidewalk, I decided I couldn’t really bear walking back up the stairs and drinking from my trusty stainless steel Black-And-Decker “Brew ‘N Go” mug while going nowhere. It ain’t called the “Brew ‘N Sit On The Couch.”
The one place I needed to go was the unemployment office. I had looked up its location the day before. I knew where it was; I had car keys and the mug.
It was this set of circumstances that had me sitting in one of the single most depressing offices ever while wearing slippers. Forty-eight short hours before I had my own office. Now I was sitting in this white-walled, linoleum-floored, bathed-in-fluorescents palace dedicated to those of us who had nothing better to do. And, I was wearing slippers. Slippers!
All because of a travel mug. I filed my claim with a very nice lady and left behind three other guys wearing hoodies. I drove back home and finished off the mug which, ironically enough, I wasn’t allowed to bring into the office with me. By the time I got back home, the mug was empty and it had served its purpose.
I recall not what I did for the rest of the day but I do know it helped me get by that initial awkward transition. By the following Monday, I was the one in the van and I even put on a pair of real shoes on most days.
I’ll put on a tie again someday. I’ll have an office again someday. I am very confident of these things, perhaps naively so. In the meantime, I intend to make the most of my new circumstances. I will enjoy comfortable clothes, the fireplace in my new “office”, and drink from a travel mug in my living room if I want to.