I never thought it would be like this

April 2, 2010

By STACEY WARDE

Worried that I might sink into a hole, squeaking out an inadequate living as a part-time farmhand, Mom suggests that I look into an opening at Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary, not far from where she lives.

“They’re looking for a funeral director,” she says excitedly.

“Mom, I’m not qualified for a position like that.”

“You might,” she responds. “You’re good with people and you’re low-key.”

I try to imagine myself—sober demeanor, faint smile, slight signs of hope and compassion carefully constructed across my face, voice subdued—doing the business of a funeral director: “So sorry for your loss. How may we assist you?”

A warm, professional grasp of the hand and on to the next order of business. “So sorry for your loss….”

“Mom, thanks. I’d really like to stay in the field I grew up with. I like stories.”

I’ve spent most of my adult life pursuing stories for newspapers and magazines. I grew up believing that there’s a place for stories that present life not as another promotional campaign but as it is actually lived by real people. Unfortunately, the market for these kinds of stories seems to be dwindling.

“You could get a whole bunch of stories working at a mortuary.”

“I’m sure I could, Mom.”

She tells me it’s worth looking into; the job has been advertised for more than three weeks, she adds; they might just consider me. “It doesn’t look like they’ve found anyone.”

“Mom, that’s what businesses do; they run an ad for a few weeks, build up a candidate pool, and make their selections.”

“Well, you could look into it, get some stories, write a book and get rich.”

“I’ll look into it, Mom.”

It’s not a bad idea, really. There’s likely to be more job security in this business, of course, because there’s never a shortage of dead people. It’s unlikely to be a dead-end job (no pun intended), and the story possibilities…well, you’d have be six feet under not to see them.

I go online, find the mortuary website and locate “career opportunities.” The site lists openings for Assistant Sales Manager, Family Services Counselor, Sales, and Operations Manager.

I click on operations manager, curious what duties such a position at a mortuary might entail. Assign holes to be dug? Bodies to be dressed or cremated? Gravestones to be lifted, set into place? Coffins to be bought and sold?

The ad reads: “Premiere…mortuary seeking an individual looking for a challenging opportunity that offers the ability to grow and develop a strong employee staff.”

The “challenging opportunity” sounds interesting but the ad offers no details. I can only imagine the possibilities: “Hey Hector! How come you haven’t filled that goddamned hole yet? It was supposed to have been done yesterday. We have another graveside service scheduled in the next plot at noon. What’s taking you so long? … The furnace broke down again? Damn it! We’ve got five stiffs whose ashes we’re supposed to deliver by morning….”

As for growing and developing a “strong employee staff,” I like people but have never felt comfortable managing them: “Here’s the deal guys, I’m used to working a deadline, just not at a mortuary.”

Unfortunately, they want an “experienced manager with a minimum of 5 years of funeral home management experience.” That eliminates me right away. The call volume of “over 700 cases” a year I could handle. Hell, I used to handle almost that many calls in a week as a newspaper editor.

Additionally, the job prefers an individual who’s a California licensed funeral director. That’s probably a good idea. Someone with a license can be expected to get the job done right. No Maxwell House Coffee cans as urns in this business.

Next, the Family Services Counselor’s duties include “promotion of the funeral home through public relations.” Well, here’s another opportunity to create stories. “At Fairhaven, everyone’s dying to get in….”

I hate public relations. I agree with the late comedian Bill Hicks, who said that people who earn their living convincing others they should accept things that aren’t true, or buy things they don’t need, should just go ahead and kill themselves. “You’ll be doing a public service,” he says.

I also hate sales and skip over the remaining ads, so much for career opportunities in the funeral business. The year 2010 seems to be the year of deflated career options.

The latest reports suggest that many boomers like myself are working at “survival” jobs such as checkout clerks at chain hardware stores earning $10 an hour; or the lucky ones have found positions for which they are severely over-qualified at slightly more than $10 an hour and far less than the six-figure salaries they had before the economy crashed.

“I never thought it would be like this,” they collectively groan. “I was supposed to retire and spend my golden years taking it easy.”

In a recent Frontline episode on PBS, “Close to Home,” which features a local hair salon in the upscale Upper East Side of New York City, a woman in her mid-forties laments: “I’ve had to borrow money from my mother just make ends meet.” She’s embarrassed, and surprised that she’s admitting her sudden unexpected dependency as an adult.

A former middle-aged executive who’s been out of work for more than two years admits he never anticipated long-term unemployment. The hardest hit age group in the U.S. for periods of unemployment lasting two years or longer are people 50 and above.

And so it goes, as regular salon customers complain of their reduced circumstances: “I never thought it would be like this.”

Welcome to the economy of dashed hopes, where nearly an entire generation is forced out of retirement to survive the sudden loss of personal financial resources built up over a lifetime, where careers have been severely downsized or eliminated entirely, and where a banking industry on the verge of collapse, recently bailed out by the federal government, refuses to renegotiate home loans for people unable to make ends meet.

So far, we seem to be taking it in the shorts without much complaint, but here’s what one struggling homeowner recently said he’d do if the bank refuses to renegotiate: “If the fuckin’ bank comes after my home, I’m gonna call my buddy, who’s gotta ‘dozer, and I’m gonna have him bring it over here, and I’m gonna get on that thing, drive it off the trailer and plow it right through the middle of that fuckin’ house. And you know what? I’m gonna tell the bank, ‘You can have your piece-a-shit house.’”

Another friend recently called me a “malcontent” because I’ve never been happy with the status quo, with the little bit of truth or good that squeaks out of Washington, D.C. or Sacramento; I’ve never quite trusted Wall Street. I do, however, see something positive in the crumbling condition of our global banking and business enterprises, which seem to have forgotten the smaller economies of Main Street.

We’ve been challenged to reduce consumption, to find more sustainable models for doing business, to turn to our neighbors and friends for help and support, and to think independently from the “experts” who run our government and industry.

In my own neighborhood, we’ve talked about how to grow more of our own food, and ways to earn a little more money by selling the surplus, and saving money by doing more of our own repairs. Maybe it’s a pipe dream but already one of our own opened up his yard as a nursery because he can’t find enough work as a landscaper.

Selling plants won’t make him rich, he says, but it’s a better alternative to having nothing.

I’ve never lived so close to the ground, planting, tending crops, working as a farmhand, as I have in these reduced circumstances, thinking how much better it is to be above ground eking out a living than to be below ground pushing up daisies.

Still, there’s enough uncertainty and desperation in this economy for people like my mother to suggest that maybe, just maybe, her malcontent of a son might qualify for another ground-breaking endeavor. I won’t waste my time pretending that I might qualify for such an opportunity, but at least it’s an opportunity.

Stacey Warde is a veteran journalist and former managing editor of The Rogue Voice.


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6 Comments

  1. Spectator says:

    Stacey,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your story, and sympathize with your situation and frustration. Perhaps the answer to better employment is to shave your beard, get a haircut, and work for some sort of progressive legislator in a very progressive district so your employment will not be short lived. Do not work for Harry Reed, Baxter, or Moonbeam.

    During these times they especially need a good wordsmith. After all, their world revolves on BS and spin. It seems that you would be able to spin fantasy better than others.

    In the meantime, take heart that all work is good work, and farmhands are necessary to feed the populace. It is honorable work. I wish you the best, but you will never be at your best if you allow your attitude to make you a beatnik.

    (-2) 8 Total Votes - 3 up - 5 down
  2. Cindy says:

    I to miss the Rogue Voice. I enjoyed your style of writing and you had me in stitches more often than not with your humor. Lets all hope that we will be able to pull out of this. As depressing as Bob’s post is I have to agree that he is right on the money about how all this came about. Let’s hope we can save ourselves. Best to you Stacey, keep your chin up, the majority of us are having similar problems and concerns, your not alone.

    (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  3. bobfromsanluis says:

    Stacey: Welcome to the outcome of of nearly 40 years of Reaganomics. For those who say that “trickle-down” didn’t work or didn’t work well, just remember, it didn’t work well FOR US. For the upper upper elite, (the top 5 % economically) Reaganomics worked only too well. The outright war on unions started by Reagan was just one part of elevating the rich even more, and lowering the wage rate for everyone. Prior to Reagan, the CEOs of most of the Fortune 500 companies received around 30 to 50 TIMES what the lowest paid employee made, now, some CEOs are “making” more than over 1000 TIMES what the lowest paid worker makes, and that is only counting those fortunate employees working here in the US. If you count those workers in the overseas factories, the CEOs are making somewhere around 5000 TIMES what the lowest paid gets. This was all in the “plan”; in our countries history, we have had a really strong middle class only twice, when our country was born in the 1770s and 80s, and two hundred years later, in the 1970s and 80s. Since the early 80s, wages for the unskilled AND skilled workers have not kept up with even inflation. And what is the newest target for conservatives in their march to turn the US into another third world nation? Federal, State, and local government workers who have wisely opted to not pursue wage increases other than COLA, but have put their negotiating skills into better and better retirement packages, which, due to the slow spiral of “reducing government to the size that it could be strangled in a bathtub”, and the removing regulations that pulled us out of the great Republican depression, state and local governments find themselves not being able to afford the retirement obligations that were negotiated in good faith.
    Stacey, I too find myself thinking “I never thought it would be like this”, and as sure as it is possible to put the blame on myself for not making better decisions, I know in my heart that it didn’t have to turn out this way. Another part of why we are in this situation is due to the Supreme Court “installing” George W. Bush as President; can anyone truly believe that we would be in this same situation if Al Gore had taken his rightful place as President? The looting of our national treasury by the cronies and supporters of Bush and Cheney by the likes of Halliburton, KBR, Brown and Root, as well as the selling of our national resources for pennies on the dollar to “energy” companies and logging concerns was not something that just “happened”; no, this was all planned, to make us as poor as possible. If you are struggling to simply keep a roof over your head and some food on the table, you aren’t as likely to pay attention to politics, to protest, to interfere with those in power enriching themselves even more, grabbing more power. We had a slight break in the desire for a permanent Republican majority in 2006 and reenforced in 2008; will that be enough to overcome all the bad that has been unleashed since the the patron “saint” of the rich unleashed this attack on the real American way of life? Too soon to tell, we progressives cannot let up, the Republicans cannot be permitted to regain the majority to finish turning America into the third world nation that they would like to see.

    (3) 13 Total Votes - 8 up - 5 down
    • Spectator says:

      To Bobfromsanluis:

      What you write is old hat progressive spin and lacks substance. Now that we have the anointed one as president, and the congress controlled by progressives, there is great unrest in the country. This unrest does not come from uneducated fools without a sense of history. It is because they understand that the policies of Marx and Engal have failed: these policies never enriched the lives of common men.

      And you would want the US to become as the Soviet Union in the past. You will sell your freedom cheap for government handout..

      (-3) 7 Total Votes - 2 up - 5 down
  4. bustamove says:

    Stacey,
    I feel your pain and your mother could be my mother. I miss the Rogue Voice and thanks for popping up here. Taking an $8 an hour job because it’s a job doesn’t make anything o.k. I truly wish that I was independently wealthy and could support The Rogue Voice to come back in print. Tell your mother she did a great job and that you are a fabulous person and a son to be proud of. Viva le resistance! You are the best the Central Coast has. Yes we have to be born and yes we have to die but all in the spirit of living.

    (8) 16 Total Votes - 12 up - 4 down

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