Monday, February 16, 2009

Portrait: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I quit my job four days after the stock market crash in September. I was working as an advertising copywriter, and it was supposed to be “the job” – that first real, salaried job out of college, the one I’d been scraping for a year to find. It wasn’t what I’d hoped – as the new employee, and the one who least shared the interests of the tiny company’s owner’s, I was the fall guy. Even the intern passed work off to me. I learned pretty quickly from the girl who’d vacated the position a month before that it would always be this way. There was no where to go but out, and so I did, leaving my key on the desk a few minutes before noon, emailing my bosses a curt good bye, and flying home on my bicycle, finally relieved of the nervous stomach ache that had plagued me for the month and a half I’d worked there.

I work at a coffee shop now, making roughly $200 less than my monthly bills. A combination of savings and tips have carried me through the past four months. I just picked up some contract work for a company I worked for last spring and summer, so I’ll be okay as long as I keep hoarding money like a Depression widow. My café is near a lot of corporate offices, and the people being laid off, or on the verge of it, have a lot more than I do to worry about. These are people who have been with their companies for years, who have families, who thought they’d earned some security from years of service. It’s different for me. I graduated from an arts program in a country on the verge of a recession. I’ve been on the brink of disaster since birth. I’m used to this. That’s not to say that I like stretching $7 worth of groceries for three days, or living without insurance, or working 50 hour weeks on top of trying to write, but I can do it. I don’t really have the choice. I know a lot people whose families have helped them along well into their 20’s, and it’s hard for me not to be jealous sometimes. After a while, you start to think that you’ve built enough character that you deserve a free ride. It’s not going to happen. The most I, or anyone can do, is keep going, not because it’s easy, or we want to, but because there aren’t any other options.

Jaime, age 23
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania