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Posts Tagged ‘unemployed’

The start of a new year is always a time for hope — whether it has plans and plots behind it (I’ve looked at my budget, and I’ve figured out how I can start saving money for retirement!) or whether it’s simply based on generic optimism (This is going to be my year, I just know it!)

For some portion of us, that hope will be repaid. For others, it will vanish before the month is out.

(I was tempted to write “for most of us, it will vanish before the month is out,” but that seemed exceptionally cynical. Things work out for some people. Who keeps statistics on the pursuance and fulfillment of hope, anyway?)

This installment finds my grandfather at the start of a new year, striking out on a personal project with at least some degree of hope.

Unfortunately, “striking out” seems to have been the operative phrase.

On January 4, 1971, my grandpa made an afternoon visit to the local unemployment office and returned with nothing. (I assume the zero with the dash behind it is a reference to his job search, and not to something else.)

This was not his first visit there — the office is mentioned on calendar entries from the end of 1970, as well. But, maybe the start of a new year rekindled his hope that somebody would be looking for an experienced draftsman.

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A week later, the same thing, only at a different time:

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A week after that, the weather turned cold and crappy. My grandfather made the trudge out anyway, and was rewarded for his persistence with nowt. (The big blue temperature marking only seems like another giant goose egg in this context.)

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One more week of Mondays in January, one more week of sloppy weather, one more week of returning home empty-handed:

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The 1971 calendars say my grandpa made one more fruitless expedition on Monday, February 1, and then — miracle of miracles! — landed an interview on Wednesday, February 10, with a company called Sonic Engineering. (Whether the interview arose from the unemployment office or from my grandpa’s own shoe-leather reading of the help-wanted ads is lost to history.)

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I know very little about Sonic Engineering except: (a) it apparently had an office in Norwalk, a community or two over from Stamford; and (b) it didn’t hire my grandpa.

And after that, the visits to the unemployment office disappear from the calendar, as do any additional references to interviews or jobs. (My grandpa’s heart attack in May of that year put paid to any remaining job-search aspirations.)

Am I trying to rain on the hopes of the new year? Definitely not. As I said, some people’s goals and wishes come true.

Maybe the message is that sometimes, if you don’t get what you want, you end up doing just as well or better in the end.

My grandpa was 60 years old in that first week of 1971. He would only have worked a few more years anyway; I don’t perceive that his life was that much worse because he didn’t. Maybe another job would just have been another source of stress.

He might have liked to have a few more years of paychecks in the bank, just on the general principle that you can never have enough money. Whether he would have spent that money or not is another question. As it happened, he got by without it.

So, hold tight to your New Year’s hopes … but if you don’t get what you have in mind, be flexible and wise enough to move with what you do get. Things have a way of working out.

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Last week’s arcane journey into the world of instrumental intonation might have been the least-read thing I’ve ever written in this space.

I dunno … I thought it was interesting, but I guess I disappeared into the notes and staves a little too far.

So, for this installment, we’ll take things back to my grandpa and his interactions with the world around him.

The fodder for this post might be the most personal note of my grandpa’s I’ve ever posted. I found it in his previously mentioned journal of work and personal information. It’s possible no one besides my grandpa had ever seen it; I doubt he showed it to anybody.

Depending on how you interpret it, it shows a side of him Hope Street has never shown — bitter, disappointed, and maybe a little vulgar.

Hard-working man that he was, it was his job that set him off.

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One of my grandpa’s two surviving journals includes a poem, torn from some sort of printed publication, called “Ode to a Draftsman.”

The poem, in rhyming doggerel, expresses the frustration of fixing all the company’s problems — only to have the solutions credited to people higher up on the totem pole. (No copy of the poem seems to exist on the Internet.)

At some point, my grandpa sat down and wrote his own ode to a draftsman’s weary, underappreciated lot … except that his dispensed entirely with rhyme and went straight for cynicism.

The “shoot in de pentz” ending could be some sort of lighthearted dialect joke — more on that in a second — but it doesn’t strike me that way.

I’m not sure if a “shoot in the pants” is a kick in the arse, a grab-the-belt-and-toss bum’s-rush, or something altogether coarser.

But to me, that detail is the key that sets the tone. Our narrator isn’t getting shown the door, or being put out to pasture, or some more genteel euphemism. He’s getting a raw deal, not at all in line with his years of contributions to the company.

I find it interesting that my grandpa wrote this in the sort of ethno-American dialect he might have heard as a child going to vaudeville shows. (It’s either overdone mock-Brooklynese, or five-years-off-the-boat German-American.)

Perhaps he intended that to be his alibi if anyone else ever read it: Oh, just a little doggerel. I was only being silly. Only joking.

Except I don’t think he was.

For one thing, he initialed it, as if to emphasize his authorship and approval. He didn’t have to; no one else ever wrote in that journal. But the initials at the end imply: This is my story.

I’m not sure when he wrote it, or who inspired it. It seems most likely to me that it dates to one of the following periods:

  • Sometime between mid-October 1969 — when longtime employer Time Inc. probably told him he was losing his job — and mid-January 1970, when he lost it. (I consider this the most likely time period, which is why I dated this post “winter 1969.”)
  • Sometime in September 1970, when his final employer, John C. McAdams and Sons, let him go. (I consider this less likely because he was only there for five months or so, and probably didn’t have a deep emotional connection to the place.)
  • Sometime in late 1970 or early 1971, when he was still seeking another job but couldn’t find one. (I’m not sure the tone of the poem quite supports this, but it’s a possibility, however distant.)

To me, the punning sketches up top also betray a concern about work. The journal has several pages with punny drawings — maybe we’ll get back to them in a future installment — but I think the idea of an “unemployed” clothesline came to him when unemployment was on his mind (even if he wasn’t quite there yet).

From a 21st-century point of view, it’s easy to interpret this as an ode not just to draftsmen, but to all skilled, higher-cost workers of about 55 or older who are starting to hear hints that it’s time to go put their feet up.

That will probably be me in about a dozen years. The thought of an impending future shoot in the pants has occurred to me before. And I expect it will cross my mind again on other Monday mornings, when I sit down at the desk to give wid mine head ideahs.

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What we have here is the resume of a man who will never work again.

Fall 1970. Click for larger version.

Before we get into the nut of today’s post, let’s look at what a resume looked like in the fall of 1970:

“Age 60 yrs.” Seen from today’s viewpoint, this is a heartbreaking, dead-stop way to begin. Today’s business world is not kind to 60-year-old job seekers, unless they have friends in high places. You might as well lead off your resume with “Hobbies: Treason, marihuana and statutory rape.”

That being said, my grandfather had succeeded in getting a new job in the spring of 1970, when he was just shy of 60. So maybe things were different then.

“Health very good.” This from a guy eight months away from having a heart attack. I wonder what he thought when he went back and looked at this resume afterward, as he presumably did.

“5 ft. 7, 135 lbs.” What might have motivated my grandfather to consider this relevant to a potential employer? Perhaps he felt it connoted some degree of physical fitness that might have offset the perception of his advanced age. (i.e., “I may be old, but I’m spry.”)

“Protestant religion.” I may be way off the ball here, but I interpret this as possibly a pre-emptive strike against anti-Semitism.

I have met any number of people over the years who have incorrectly assumed, based on various cues, that the Blumenau family must be of Jewish descent. It’s not an issue or concern for me, but it might have been during my grandfather’s working life, when attitudes and practices toward hiring might have been less enlightened.

This strikes me as the kind of info you would put on a resume only because you felt you had a reason to do so. If anyone can offer another possible reason, I’d be interested to hear it.

So why was my grandfather working on his resume, anyway?

Nov. 13, 1970.

In the midst of a brisk November rain (which presumably made it hard to hold a candle), my grandfather was trying to find work.

He was not alone. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate that month was 5.9 percent, a full point worse than where it had been in June of that year and two points worse than January.

After more than 38 years in the workplace — the majority of it with Time-Life — he had been let go by his most recent employer in September.

Presumably he wasn’t ready to think of himself as retired yet. Maybe he liked the daily regimen of work. Or, with a kid in college, maybe he didn’t think he was in a financial position to retire. But, whatever the reason, he was still holding out some degree of hope to take up his draftsman’s tools again.

His heart attack in May 1971 would change that. I’m not sure he was still looking for work by then; but if he was, that’s when he stopped. By the time I was born, my grandfather had been retired for more than two years, and scenes like this were part of the past.

My grandfather at work, Time-Life, 1964.

Incidentally, for those of you who are thinking, “He has his grandfather’s resume? Does this family throw nothing out?”: I found a manila folder with the resume packed in a box of historical newspapers I inherited.

Not sure how it got in there but I’m glad it did. It’s a real flashback. They don’t write resumes that way any more.

I even gave a moment’s thought to changing some of the dates and posting it as a job-seeking resume on Monster.com or CareerBuilder, just to see whether it got any bites — or whether I got any quietly horrified emails from HR professionals saying, “Um, your resume needs some work.”

I figured I’d just get a lot of spam make-$800-a-day-from-home offers, though, so I decided not to do that.

William H. Blumenau already paid his dues on the job-search market. We’ll let him stay comfortably retired.

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