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Archive for July, 2009

Well, I wouldn’t say that I don’t like them. It’s more that they don’t like me.

I’ve had cats in the past. Those sneaky little jerks hide just on the other side of a corner and wait for me come strollin’ along, whistlin’ a happy tune with my guard down. And when I do, it’s akin to an all-out kamikaze mission. They pop out like they’ve been launched from a cannon – or CATapult, if you will – claws unsheathed and teeth glistening with the sweet anticipation of savoring human flesh. As one of these war-cats latches on to my leg with its claws and face, I scream like a school girl, thrashing and kicking until the beast finally lets go and is thrown into a wall or some kind of bundle of live electrical wires.

Now, when I was a child, I lived across the street from a dairy farm. The barn was home to many cats who killed mice for the delicious reward of fresh cowjuice. I wouldn’t say they were ferrel cats because they were friendly to humans and always looking for attention. Being a young animal-lover, I would scoop the kittens up, sometimes 3 at a time, wrap them in my oversized B.U.M. Equipment t-shirt and carry them back to my house, causing my mother to exclaim in her IWantTheNeighborsToHear voice, “JESUS MURPHY, Matthew! We don’t NEED any more damn CATS! Take them BACK to the BARN right NOW or I will turn them into MEATBALLS and FEED them to your FATHER!”

So, in short, here’s what I think happened:

The kittens I wrapped up in my shirt and took to my parents house – then re-wrapped in my shirt and took back to the dairy farm- told their brothers and sisters about the crazy lady across the street who turns kittens into meatballs and the fat little kid with a bad haircut who comes to collect them. Being barn cats, they multiplied like crazy, passing on the legend of the cat-meatball lady and her kitten-collecting son. Eventually, this cat tale reached every corner of North America, causing the feline population to despise me and feel that they have to defend themselves from the clutches of my grasp or end up on my father’s spaghetti.

Yesterday, I adopted a stray kitten that one of my local twitter-friends found living inside the engine compartment of his neighbor’s vehicle. My wife has wanted a cat since we’ve known each other because she grew up with them not attacking her. I’ve always been content to have a big, dopey dog by my side, protecting me from a surprise feline frenzy. But with her birthday on Saturday, I figured I’d A) get her a cat for her birthday and B) do a good deed by rescuing a kitten who needs some love. The wife loves him and we’ve decided to name him Luigi Rigatoni Fettuccine Alfredo. But we just call him Noodles.

I think he’s too young to have heard the legend of the CatMeatball, so I’m hoping I can have a fresh start in regards to my relationship with cats. Unless the legend has become engrained in their DNA through some evolutionary necessity.

We have a vet appointment this afternoon to assess the little guy’s health and get rid of the fleas. I’m trying to keep the dog away from him until the flea thing gets resolved. Although, the dog spent the better part of yesterday cowering in the corner. A 90-pound Chocolate Lab and he’s scared of a kitten. I don’t blame him. Cats can be vicious.

In employment news: Bad news for Wifey. She did not get the teaching job she interviewed for a couple weeks ago. It’s unfortunate and takes the wind right out of our sails, but I think there’s got to be something on the horizon for her very soon. School starts in a little over a month, so I’m guessing the counties are assessing their needs and will be calling soon.

I had a phone interview on Monday that I feel very confident about. I’m looking forward to hearing back from them. As always, I’m researching companies and trying to grow my freelancing opportunities. I wish I had a crystal ball to see where I’m going to be in 6 months. It’s the uncertainty that is so unnerving.

This is Day 106, folks. Trying my hand (again) at cat ownership. Hope the little guy is healthy and doesn’t want to eat my flesh. Here’s a pic:

Me & Noodles

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I like free stuff.

T-shirts. I have drawers full of free t-shirts. Promotional ones. T-shirts I’ve won in contests or scratch-offs or inside 30-packs of Labatt Blue Light. And I wear them. To cut the grass or to sit around the house. For the most part, you won’t see me around town sporting my Canadian Football League tee or my sleeveless Genny Light attire, but believe you me, I rock those tees like nobody’s business underneath polos and button-ups.

Hats. Ball caps. Free ones. Again, about 10 hats from Labatt Blue Light and other promotional giveaways. My favorite is a Buffalo Sabres hat with the old school logo. Free. From a promotional giveaway. Fits like a glove. Or a well-fitted hat.

Knick-knacks. Shot glasses. Hockey pucks. Mugs. Candles. Pens. Keychains. I’m a sucker for all things knick-knacky. Drawers full of useless memorabilia. 1988 youth soccer tournament? Oh, I’ve got a little hacky-sack soccer ball. Oktoberfest 2001? Yup, I have a beer stein from it. Proudly displayed on top of my desk. Holding my pennies.

Food. I love me some free food. If I happen to be at the grocery store when they’re doing some in-store sampling, the attendants will know me by name by the time I fill my cart with frozen pizzas and Hamburger Helper. I’ll even be that guy who circles around and pretends to read over ingredients labels while they set up the table. Yes, I WOULD like a sample of granola yogurt and goat cheese on a cardboard cracker.

Because I like free stuff.

When you’re unemployed and really trying to hold on to the little money that is coming in, finding free stuff becomes an adventure. Not only the free t-shirts and promotional junk, but outings and time-wasters. It’s tough enough to keep the wife entertained when we’re spending money on movies, dinners and vacations. Now the challenge becomes finding the best way to take advantage of some of the free stuff our city has to offer. Parks, museums, the river – that sort of free stuff. It’s causing us to change our way of thinking on what constitutes a “date”. Guess what? Dates don’t have to cost money. And you can wear a promotional amusement park t-shirt and a beer-branded winter beanie while on a date to the grocery store for free ham biscuit sample night.

Because that’s how we roll. We’re getting by. Rediscovering that there’s more to having a date night than spending money. As long as we’re enjoying the time together and playing catch with my free D.A.R.E. frisbee from grade school, we’ll be just fine.

This is Day 103, folks. Had another interview this morning. I think it went well. I’m crossing my fingers extra tightly for this one. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for me. I want it bad and I think I’d do a great job with this company. I should know more in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, keep sending the positive vibes my way. If you need me, I’ll be downtown, periodically walking by the Vitamin Water truck in various disguises. I should have a fridge full of free Vitamin Water by the end of the week.

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I have lived in the great city of Richmond for nine years. In the last 100 days, I have met more people and made more professional and social connections than I have in the all the years past. This is all due to my unemployment, and mostly because of this blog and social networking functions like SMCRVA.

In this blog post, I’m going to give you some healthy advice on how to successfully kick unemployment’s ass and get through the tough times like when all your friends are going out to eat but you can’t go because you need the extra money to pay for the internet access so you can send out more résumés. Basically, I’m going to recap the last 100 days of my life. Here we go:

I was shaking when I came home mid-shift from work that day. It was a Wednesday. I had been working nights, so I told my wife I just wanted to watch Lost (best show EVAR) and we’d talk about it afterwards. I may have been in a state of shock because it was totally unexpected and I had not anticipated having such a conversation with my supervisor. When the show was over, we turned off the TV and talked. There were tears. Not on my end. Money was already tight and we were barely squeaking by with a steady paycheck. Our minds immediately went into worst-case scenario mode. I swear, we almost starting packing that night because we just couldn’t see ourselves making rent. Anyway – we decided then and there to put our personal plans on hold and focus on me landing a job and her becoming a teacher.

The first couple of weeks were spent glued to the computer, updating my résumé and sending it out to any company that would accept it. I heard nothing for a long time. I started writing this blog on Thursday morning, on Day 1 of my unemployment. I gained a few readers right off the bat, probably because of the facebook and twitter updates linking to the posts. These readers were mostly local and through them I was electronically introduced to even more local people, who became twitter followers and linkedin connections. My professional network had started to grow, even though I didn’t have a profession to network.

Going to face-to-face networking events and “tweetups” (yeah, I hate that word, too), gave me the opportunity to hand out some self-made business cards promoting my writing/blogging/marketing/designing/whateverelseIcando. I got a gig writing some articles on a freelance basis for an SEO company, which in turn, gave me the writing samples I needed so I could send them out to other companies looking to hire freelance writers. Still, the money gained from the freelance writing is not even coming close to what I was pulling down at my former job. But it’s keeping me busy and gives me a reason to wake up and accomplish a goal – knocking out an article (or two) by noon.

I also scored a part time job at the mall through a former coworker who works weekends at the retail establishment for the extra scratch and the discount on cargo shorts. The job is easy, but it is paying about the same as what I was making at Subway in college. So far, I’ve probably made negative $234 dollars, because of the gas it burns for me to get there and the money I had to spend on clothes to wear while working.

Let’s not forget the wife in all of this. My wife is the hardest working and most driven woman I have ever met. She has never turned down an opportunity to make $3 or $300. She wakes up at 6am and sometimes won’t return home until after midnight. All in the name of paying a car payment or being able to buy us a can of soup. I cannot even begin to explain the guilt I feel for the fact that she is constantly working. Baby sitting, running a day camp, slingin’ brunch & bloody marys – she does it all. I can’t wait for her to get placed in a great school so she can concentrate on being a teacher. She’s going to rock the fingerpaints and macaroni art like a modern-day Frida Kahlo. Except without the whole unibrow thing.

So we’ve endured the past 100 days. We’re surviving. I haven’t stopped sending out résumés, and I’ve gained a little more freelance work. I’m still networking like a champ, professionally and socially. It’s because of the social networking that I have the freelance jobs and one of the two interviews I had yesterday. I have a follow up interview this afternoon. I have another interview on Monday. I will give more details later, but two of those three interviews are for jobs that are not in Richmond. One of them (the follow up) is actually quite far from Richmond. Doesn’t hurt to feel them out and see what they can offer, right? Right.

So how does one survive 100 days of unemployment? By treating every day like your job is to find a job. By meeting the right people who can put you in touch with companies that may need your assistance – even for a small side job. By reluctantly but gratefully accepting the charity of your family. By resigning yourself to doing any work that is thrown your way, including part-time retail malljobs. By eating Ramen and sacrificing the beer. By focusing every day on the type of work you WANT to do and actually doing it either for fun or for minimal profit – just to keep you sharp for when that sweet job comes a’courtin’. And it will.

This is Day 100, folks. Still spend a good portion of my day clicking through the job boards. Managing life on a strict budget. Making great connections. Hopefully taking the necessary steps to ensure this blog doesn’t reach a 200 Days edition.

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For your amusement and reading enjoyment, I give you a detailed account of the dream I had last night:

So there I am, right? All business-casual with my oxford button down collar and flat-fronted khakis (because, really, pleats make you look like you’re carrying a sack of potatoes in your pants). And I’m in some very modern office building with dim lighting and fancy molding and impressionist artwork and a juice bar and casino-type carpeting (you know, the red paisley stuff that makes you want to shove dollar bills into machines?) and expensive furniture and iMacs everywhere.

It becomes clear to me that I work in this building. Obviously, doing important stuff that only super-talented people like me can do. Maybe I’m CEO of AwesomSauce or VP of CreativeLounging or Bossman of MakingFlatFrontedPantsLookGood. Whatever it is, I’ve got to be an important person, right? I mean, this is my dream, so I should at least get my own executive bathroom and fully-stocked liquor cabinet.

I’m taking in the sights of this ultra-hip, almost nightclub-like office when I’m greeted by one of my managers from the mall job. Oh. She’s here. Great. She’s got the same over-the-top enthusiasm about classy office business as she does about selling cargo pants. And she’s showing me around and yapping away about my schedule and availability or something. My deductive reasoning tells me that she is also my boss in my dream realm. Hooray.

As she’s telling me about the law firm (yeah, apparently this is a law firm – a very important law firm with young lawyers and European house music pumping through the speakers in the ceiling), a group of lawyers start walking our way. One by one, she introduces me to the stylish and hip professionals with frosted hair and skinny ties and Norwegian model-esque features. The man at the end of the line, however, is instantly recognized as my previous boss. We exchange an awkward handshake and he says something like, “Good to see you. I look forward to working with you again,” and stifles a snorting laugh as he walks away.

Okay, great. So two of my bosses work at my new office. This very important and trendy law firm. Maybe I won’t have to deal with them because I’ll be toiling away at a very secret and important project in my penthouse office with a view of the city. Aaaaand that’s when I’m shown the office that I’ll be working in. It was clearly a closet at some point and turned into a makeshift computer center that is to be shared with 3 other gentlemen. The 3 other gentleman? My college roommate, a former coworker from a few years ago, and some dude I follow on Twitter.

MallJob manager leaves me to get settled in and I pull up an extra-small wooden chair (like the ones you had to sit on in 1st grade) to the extra-small table with 4 old, crappy Dell computers on it and say hello to the fellas. I ask them what we are supposed to be doing, and they reply, “Nothing. Just waiting.”

I try to log on to Twitter, but it appears that the office IT management blocks access to it. I’m bored and don’t know what to do other than to try to catch up with my old college roommate, whom I haven’t seen in almost 10 years.

As we’re making small talk, an engineer from the TV station I used to work at peeks his head into our closet office and says a light has burned out in some room somewhere. My old roommate jumps up and says, “I’ll get the ladder. Any of you guys wanna help?”

That’s when it hits me. I’m a professional light-bulb changer. Or something along those lines. Whatever I am, I’m not a high-powered attorney or a handsome Norwegian model. I’m clearly not making enough money to buy my wife a birthday present (which is coming up in a couple weeks).

Then I wake up. Bed is empty, Wifey already on her way to work. Good to see my old roommate, even if it wasn’t real. Better make some coffee and try to find a job that doesn’t involve any of my former bosses or sitting in a converted closet. I don’t know why, but that dream is very unsettling. If there are any dream-decipherers out there who can help me make sense of it, I’d be happy to hear your impressions.

This is Day 96, folks. More to me than changing light bulbs and looking good in khakis. I hope someone figures that out soon.

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I’ve had the past few days off from MallJob, which has enabled me to get some freelance writing done. I have managed to wake up early every morning, getting a majority of my work done by 11am. The rest of my day is spent barraging businesses with résumés and doing the dishes that Wifey leaves in the sink as a test to see if I will actually get something done because, hey, I’m home all day and the least I could do is put a load of laundry in the damn washer because she’s at work and what do I do all day, anyway? Play on the computer? Talk to my stupid tweeter-friends? How ’bout vacuum? Can I handle that? No? Because one of us is working from sunup to midnight, and it sure-as-hell ain’t me.

She’s right, though. I don’t disagree or argue. I feel like a lazy bum in moments such as right now, when she’s at her second job of the day and I’m pecking away at a post and trying to snatch up as much freelance work as I can possibly get my widdle hands on. Honestly, if you’ve read the last few blog posts, things are starting to pick up, at least writing-wise. So it’s not like I’m just sitting on my butt staring at the computer all day. Well, that is precisely what I’m doing, but I’m actually getting paid for it now.

Working at home, freelancing – whatever you want to call it – is great. I feel more focused and energized than I ever have compared to when I was keeping a strict, regimented schedule in a corporate setting. My professional career has always been of the creative persuasion, but I feel infinitely more creative now. This is probably due to the fact that I get to choose the moments when I express that creativity. I do my best work in the early part of the day, and honestly, in short bursts. Most writers, designers or others in the creative field will tell you that intense, focused 20-minute bursts of innovative energy can produce amazing results. Follow that with a cup of coffee, a short jam session on the bass, or pumping some great music into your head for a few minutes and you’re refueled and ready for another burst of inventiveness.

I usually slow down after lunch. This is the time when I run errands or do some housework or get on the Twitter and gossip. I send more résumés, I throw up a blog post, I jot down some ideas. Sometimes, if I have time, I knock out another article. By the time 6pm rolls around, and assuming Wifey is going to be home, dinner is at least planned out and ready to be made.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy eating dinner with my wife. It’s something that we have never really been able to do, either because of my crazy work schedule or hers. And even now, she isn’t home some evenings because of her 48 jobs. So, for me, it’s still a big deal when we can sit down and have a meal together.

After dinner is dog-walkin’ time. Well, mostly TV time, but it’s summer and it’s prime dog-walkin’ weather around 8pm. But my dog is jerk and he totally ruins the whole experience of walking through the neighborhood with his stopping to pee on every mailbox, tree and bush. By the time we get back, I’m ready to veg out and do some more gossiping and job hunting. I also use this time to catch up on some of my favorite blogs and read whatever book I’m forcing myself to get through at the moment. I’m up late, usually until Conan is over and that turd Jimmy Fallon starts. Hearing his voice is my cue to go to bed before his monologue lulls me to sleep in my recliner.

So there you have it. This routine has been working for me, at least when I’m not malljobbin’. I am actively looking for more freelance work, so hit me up if you need something written or blogged about or promoted or marketed or tested or eaten. And, of course, I’m REALLY actively looking for a regular, full-time job. So you should probably hire me. I can increase your company’s coolness factor by 135%.

This is Day 92, folks. Feeling good about my routine, but I need more work. Really. I need a lot more work. Or just a regular job. Better go clean up the kitchen before mamma gets home.

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You know what I miss most about my old job?

Lunch.

My former place of employment is located downtown, walking distance to any of the city’s finest midday eateries. Feel like a Reuben? There’s a spot for that. Bowl of chili? Spot for that. Burrito? Yup, spot for that. Beer? Yes. A couple of spots for that, too.

It was a great way to break up the day and get some socializing done while stuffing my face full of whatever can be served in a breadbowl. Just relaxing. Eating. Talking. Laughing.

There is no work to be done in a café, unless you’re toiling away at a tuna on rye. Don’t bring that report with you, Mr. Manager, you’re just going to spill that cup of clam chowder all over it. This isn’t a coffee shop, Trendy Office Hipster, put your laptop or book of ironic poems away and knuckle down on a vegan cheeseburger or some kind of $12 salad. Hey, Depressed Guy with the loosened tie and wrinkled shirt! I feel your pain, buddy. All of our jobs are in jeopardy. Let’s share this plate of extra cheesy nachos while we can still afford it.

Most of the patrons are dressed in their business-casual attire, the occasional executive with gaudy bow-tie, HR ladies with their power-suits and sensible walkin’ shoes. Office Hipster in a tight jacket even though it’s mid-July (as ironically) and messenger bag. Everyone’s just eating and drinking. Trying hard to talk about anything other than the serious bidnizz that awaits them when they get back to the office.

I miss lunch.

This is Day 90, folks. If any of my former coworkers want to get together for lunch, gimmie a call. I’m down for a Chicken Salad from Tony’s or a burger & beer from Cap. Ale.

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One of us has an interview on Monday. It’s not me. It’s Wifey!

Yup, she has an interview at a school here in the Richmond area for teaching either kindergarten or 1st grade. This is big news because Virginia schools are supposedly *not* hiring teachers right now due to the craptastic economy and budget cuts and lack of funds and because they hate children and discourage “fancy book-learnin'”.

She was the darling of the school where she did her student teaching last fall, so I think the connections she made during that time are finally starting to pay off. The school where she would be teaching isn’t located in the nicest of areas, though. Let’s just say it’s off of a street known for being a great place to score meth and its bountifulness of street-walkin’ ladies o’ the night. But she’s got to start somewhere, right? And really, in this economy, we’ll take what we can get with a big, toothy grin and a exuberant “YESSIREE!”. It’s not like a kindergartner is gonna shoot her over a crack-deal-gone-bad. If anything, she’ll probably get a good deal because kindergartners haven’t yet developed a knack for price negotiation. Ah, the moldable mind of a child.

As for me, I’ve got a couple of freelance jobbys in the works. I’ve been writing articles almost every day and have recently been offered a gig doing some blog posts and social media updates for a really cool organization. I’m really excited about working with them and can’t wait to get started. I think it’s going to be fun to do and, hopefully, get my name some exposure and recognition so I can get even more freelance jobs. Details on that job coming soon, so stay tuned.

Still toiling away at MallJob, Inc., selling cargo shorts, polos and skorts. Sure, it’s a silly, low-paying gig, but is it wrong to actually enjoy it? I mean, it’s not rocket science. Someone walks in and says they need a t-shirt. I show them a t-shirt. They buy the t-shirt. The end. It is the least stressful job I have ever had. Then again, I’ve always worked in news, which is nothing but urgency and stress and BREAKING NEWS and NOW and JUST GET IT ON THE AIR and OHMYGODIT’SSNOWINGWE’REALLGONNADIE.

Yeah, the no-money thing really sucks, but I feel like I’m going in the right direction – towards whatever it is that I’m meant to do. Professionally, this is the happiest I’ve been in years. You can tell how happy I am by looking at my waistline. Fat = happy. Also, Cheetos and pizza rolls are wwwaaayyy less expensive than vegetables. I ♥ pizza rolls.

This is Day 87, folks. Really? Has it really been 87 days since my split with my former employer? I may have lost count. And honestly, I no longer care how many days it’s been. At some point, I’m going to stop defining myself by my unemployment and focus on whatever it is that puts a smile on my face and more pizza rolls on the table.

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