« Previous | stories | Next » log in to write entries / post comments

The Perks of Being Unemployed

by Elizabeth Lash

You have to have a good attitude when the economy slows down. While getting a job is a noble pursuit, it's important not to lose sight of the pleasures of joblessness. Whether you're a student looking for summer work, or a grownup looking to finance the habit of adulthood, there are plenty of things that you can do when you have trouble finding (or keeping!) a job.

Go out and explore: you never know what you'll find.
After yet another fruitless temp interview in Boston's financial district I wandered around and found myself on a busy street where vendors sold frozen lemonade and hot dogs. An Andean band played under a yellow tent, haunting the streets with their wind-like sounds, while next to them a woman sold red, pink, and yellow-colored fringe blankets, faintly reminiscent perhaps of the musicians' home country.

From there I found myself in a genuine Chinatown grocery store, wending my way politely to the freezer at the back. There I found enough frozen spring rolls and cream buns to last me for several TV dinners' worth, for less than three bucks. And I didn't even have to tip the delivery man.

Find out the bargains around the city.
When I was told my new job wouldn't start for another few days, I shrugged and wandered over the pedestrian footbridge over the highway and went for a walk on the Charles. The sun shone, the pedestrians walked, the bikers biked. And the sailors sailed, as I discovered when I stumbled upon Community Boating. There I found that I could do all the sailing I wanted for 2 and a half months for $90 bucks or 1 and a half months for $60. This included use of the sailing boats, instruction by members, lessons. The same deal also applied for windsurfing and kayaking. And I found out that I could attend Rigging and Shoreline classes that evening - for free. I never wanted to sail before, but at that moment I imagined myself getting tan, fit, and well versed in nautical lore after a summer spent sailing on the Charles.

Play pranks!
On yet another day where I was told I was not needed to work, I bought myself a cream cheese on toasted bagel and walked over the footbridge to the Charles. I had a strange urge to throw something in the highway. Honest, the cars weren't that close when I dropped the bagel! And no one is the wiser (except you). Just don't do anything that will get you in jail. Life is not like Monopoly; you might have to wait a few years rather than a few turns to get out of jail.

Stay in shape.
If you're a college student and you're staying around the area, you can swim, bike, lift weights, and more just by flashing your school id at the right person: your school gym's security guard. Go in with your friends and use their ids if that fails. You also get to find out the hidden perks of your gym with all the extra time you have. I had never swum at the school gym, but one of my housemates dragged me along and now I'm hooked. It even has training schedules, and I've been following them to become buff. And as I walked down the hall from the pool one afternoon, I discovered we had a sauna. Hallelujah! Now I have a great incentive to get me to come to the gym on cold, windy days. Now if only they would install real showers and a steam room ...

Be ready for spur of the moment activities!
One of the great things about being unemployed is that you can meet with your friends, eat out, and go away for long weekends ... without angering your boss. When one of my housemates decided to pick up and leave for her family's house down at the Cape Saturday afternoon one, my other housemate and I were ready to go in 20 minutes and spent the weekend swimming, kayaking, and eating ice cream until we were sick.

Get great things for free.
Key word: barter. My housemates and I take care of their aunt's dog Bailey and she brings us good things like cookies and entertainment. Well, this aunt is the entertainment because she regales us with stories like her sudden trip to Alaska, Hong Kong, and her multiple career changes. She promised to teach me photography (she's a photography professor at Tufts and freelances as well) if I would help her build a darkroom in her apartment. We take care of this housemate's parents' kids occasionally, and they pay for a Poland Spring man to bring us fresh water every month. The parents also get us awesome seats to concerts. My housemate's dad offered to get us center seats at the Tweeter Center, four days in advance of a sold-out Aerosmith concert.

Hit the Beach -- Real or Imagined
You don't necessarily need well-connected friends or housemates to do have fun. In Boston, there's a beach that's accessible by public transport, if you're willing to get up early and switch a bunch of lines. Just bring a suit and a friend. Or if there are no beaches in your area, invite some friends over and spend the day sun-tanning, reading old beauty magazines (that you picked up for cheap at a used bookstore), and painting your toenails. And if you really crave the sounds of the beach, buy a cassette or bring a seashell to the lawn party. It'll do, just close your eyes and imagine.

Free entertainment:
There are also plenty of cheap concerts at bars with no cover required, as well as free outdoor concerts. Read the Boston Phoenix or the Improper Bostonian if you're from Boston, TimeOut NY if you're from, well, New York, or hit Citysearch.com for events in the city closest to you. You don't necessarily have to go to the biggest concerts, just the free and cheap ones. You never know; you might discover a hot new band. And then make bundles of money being their promoter! (Well, you can dream. After all, isn't that a perk of being unemployed?)

Bring your lunch on outings. You can design the sandwich any way you want; the ingredients are just as fresh as a deli's; and it's cheaper. You can save the $100 a month (at $5/lunch) and use it for membership at a sailing club or gym, or for a new guitar. Maybe even for the rent. (Nah ...)

Look for work...
Apply to Starbucks when you're feeling the urge for a caffeinated drink. Out of four times I applied to a Starbucks, twice I got a free drink. Their rationale: poor suckers, only about 100 other people have applied, I guess we could spare them a drink. They have to be nice, cause they still want you to drink their gourmet coffee at $4 a pop. It's just another gimmick, but I'm all for it if it gets me one of their new Rasberry Frappacinos.

So that's about it, folks. Go out, search for jobs, and pray you won't get them. That way you can continue to tour your city, enjoy the sunshine, go to concerts, travel on the weekends, and get drinks on the house. One more thing. Be nice to your parents and your friends, and enjoy the perks while they last. You never know when the vacation will end and you'll actually have to [gasp!] get a job.

Elizabeth Lash is a student living and working in Boston (for the time being) although at heart she is a New Yorker, baby! She loves walking around, getting lost in cities, reading, taking dogs for a walk and knitting the scarf she has been working on since February.