The great unemployment coffee experiment

coffee beans and iced coffee

You spill my coffee beans. But you also give me a tasty beverage. Do I slap you or hug you? I'll get back to you with my decision. (courtesy of

I’m a creature of habit. My morning commute to my five-month freelance gig always included a stop for coffee. The project’s long hours made caffeine a necessity. Soon enough, the caffeine headaches made caffeine a necessity. My trip always led me past one of two decent coffee places, depending on the route. The fancy-sounding though utilitarian Pret A Manger – located between the R train and the office – was one. The tasty though overpriced City Bakery – located between the F and V train and the office – was the other. A Pret iced coffee cost me $2.49; a City Bakery iced coffee $3.00 or $3.75, depending on the size. Both were well within my budget while employed.

The freelance gig ended a week and a half ago. The smartphone I was helping to market successfully launched, and is available in a store near you, and 137 stores near me. I won’t say which smartphone it is, though here’s a hint: touching a certain spot with your bare hand won’t hang up your call, unless that spot is the disconnect button. If you need another hint, follow me around and listen. You may catch me inadvertently humming the intro music to one of the videos. It’s forever burned into my temporal lobe.


Smartphone zombies rule the earth, or at least New York sidewalks

person on sidewalk with smartphone, from point of view of user

I'm being social, by ignoring the people around me... so out of my way! (courtesy of The New York Times)

Walking consists of two major components: moving your feet and looking ahead. If you don’t move your feet, you stay in one place. This is called standing, or, in New York, tourism. If you don’t look ahead, you run into things, or things with the right of way run into you. This is called stupidity, or, in New York, stupidity. Over the last year and a half, many pedestrians on busy city sidewalks have decided that one major component of walking doesn’t matter anymore. Anybody care to guess which one?

When I unceremoniously left the job market in late 2008, most people still used regular cell phones. We made phone calls and sent text messages. We played that game in which a bouncing ball makes blocks disappear. Then we put the phones in our pockets and walked. We did one thing at a time, as our parents taught us, and we did it well. The trendsetters who walked among us while talking and texting were seen as oddities, and belittled mercilessly. Life was simpler then. Men held doors and tipped their hats. Women curtsied. People had, you know, jobs. Maybe I’m just remembering a New York that never was, like in a Meg Ryan movie on WE TV that you can’t turn off even though you’ve seen it 100 times, memorized all the funny parts, including the fake orgasm in Katz’s Deli, and find Billy Crystal’s hair really, really disturbing.


Jobless need not apply, and less

The call went out. Maybe you saw the big “U” projected onto the Empire State Building. Maybe you heard the siren song blaring from large speakers mounted on flatbeds circling the city. Maybe you received a little note slipped into your pocket as some nondescript pedestrian brushed by on the sidewalk. RT (Russian Television) needed an unemployed person, an expert, stat, to comment on this bit of ridiculousness…

Looking for work? Unemployed need not apply

Who better than me, unofficial spokesman for the unemployed? Okay, so the call was an email. And I’m not technically unemployed at the moment. Oh yeah, and I can’t form a coherent sentence without my monkeys and their typewriters. But let’s not fuss over exactly how it all went down. I got the gist right. My blog and I were in the right place at the right time. The rest is television history.


Let the music play… and I will kill you

Morning and evening rush hour on the subway is quiet time. The trains are crowded with commuters. But everyone sleeps or reads or daydreams or listens to music through headphones. Nobody talks, and nobody bothers anyone. It’s a very New York feeling to be surrounded and still alone. And during rush hour – when you’re still half asleep or tired from a long day – it’s a very welcome feeling.

This Rush Hour Quiet Time rule – more commonly known as the Shut the F**k Up Before I Jab You in the Larynx with a Bic Pen rule (STFUBIJYITLWABP) has been understood and respected by generations of NYC commuters, dating back to the early 20th century. Of course, in the those days, it was called the Scram With That Funny Business Fella Before I Let You Have It In The Larynx rule (SWTFBFBILYHIITL). Even a simple “good day” or “bully for you” brought about swift retribution. People work, and people value their larynges… then and now. In fact only three unwritten rules have ever been more important…

  • Don’t pet the rats.
  • Don’t sit in a wet spot.
  • Avoid the empty subway car on an otherwise crowded train, unless you enjoy smelly homeless people fermenting in their own sweat.


The more things change, the more they stay different

a pile of spare change

The contents of my bank account. (courtesy of

So much has changed since I last held down a job and forced it to stay. Some of it’s good; some of it’s not so good. And some of it just is. Let’s review the high points. Class, please follow along. This material will be on the final…

  • I have two beautiful young nieces, whom I’ve secretly vowed to make avid football fans, once they’re old enough to understand one immutable truth. Large men running into each other and falling down is a beautiful thing.
  • The country has a different president. Maybe you noticed. Maybe you voted for him. Maybe you even swooned as the world crowned him America’s savior. And maybe you recognized he’s just a man with a lot of work to do and a lot of people standing in his way. Any way you spin it, I was last employed during the Bush administration.


The unemployed guide to taxes

1040 tax form and federal government building

Taxes during Armageddon, as imagined by someone who just discovered Photoshop. (courtesy of

I like doing my own taxes. And, no, I’m not insane, at least not like the drunk guy dressed as a female clown who rides his three-wheel bike around my neighborhood with a live parrot on his shoulder. My insanity – since that’s what it probably is – is more pedestrian and middle class. There’s something satisfying about sitting down with a pile of forms, statements and receipts, and ending up with a single number. This is what I owe the federal government or, preferably, this is what the federal government owes me.

Another number tells me a lot more about my life this past year. It sits near the bottom of page one of the 1040 – line 22 to be exact – after the words, “This is your total income.” That number sums up an entire year of working. It’s not a perfect measure. It lacks detail and nuance. It glosses over the personal and societal value of my accomplishments. It entirely ignores what I’ve learned and experienced. It does tell me one thing – how much money I earned. And that number was pretty damn small in 2009.


Twittering my life away (2010-04-05)

Twittering my life away (2010-03-29)

Twittering my life away (2010-03-22)

  • City Bakery will be the end of me. How dare they make such delicious cookies? #
  • President #Obama Signs $18 Billion Jobs Bill… #unemployment #
  • Note to Union Square art vendors… that black and white picture of the Brooklyn Bridge I've seen 100,000 times is not art. #

Twittering my life away (2010-03-15)