Saturday, July 16, 2011

Of shirts and full employment

I've been meaning to make this blog post for awhile now, but just haven't had the time. That is in a certain way a good thing, because I've been so crazy over my head with work that things like non-movie blogging tend to get shunted aside.

Although I'm ready to ramp down from the insanity of the last couple of months, being overloaded with work is better than having no work. I lost my job at the Indy Star in December 2008, and did not find another full-time job until April 2011. Things were finally going well in the months before I found my new job -- I was doing the stay-at-home Dad thing with our new baby, and had enough steady freelance work to bring in a decent income.

Then the job appeared, as suddenly and unexpectedly as the old one went away, the baby went into daycare, and I kept a large chunk of my freelance duties. The bucks are rolling in now, and I have no free time at all, but I'm proud in some way to complain about how busy I am.

A few weeks ago I found myself doing something I had not done since being laid off: Dropping shirts off at the cleaners to be washed and pressed. And it got me thinking about the little ways our lives change when jobs come and go.

I divide my wardrobe into two areas: Work clothes and casual. I have perhaps 15 decent button-up shirts that I set aside for business attire. I wash everything else at home, but the dress shirts I've always taken to the cleaners because A) I'm terrible at ironing, and B) I hate doing it to the point that I didn't even own an iron or board anymore.

It was a modest luxury, getting those beautiful crisp shirts back from the cleaners, something I spent perhaps $25 a month on. I didn't really think about the money, since I made enough for small time-savers like this. I figured, I do my own yard work and change the oil on my cars myself to save dough, so dammit, someone else can iron my shirts.

When I abruptly became unemployed, even tiny luxuries went out the window. We had managed our finances well, so there was no immediate crisis, but things we had grown accustomed to, like going out to dinner once or twice a week and having your shirts pressed, became expenditures that had to be curtailed.

So the end result was I just didn't wear my nice shirts. Sometimes I would look at them wistfully, hanging neatly on the left side of my clothes rack. Then I'd grab an old T-shirt from the right side for a day of writing and changing diapers.

Even when I started making enough freelancing that we could afford it, I resisted wearing these shirts, because then I would have to pay to have them cleaned. I suppose I could have washed them myself and endured the wrinkles. But it was more of a mental block than a rational decision.

Part of me felt I didn't deserve to wear the good shirts -- I was an unemployed bum, and nice business attire is for people who have jobs.

Again, that's not logical, but it's a symptom of the toll losing your job takes on your psyche, in ways big and small.

Anyway, I'm wearing the good shirts again, and taking them to be pressed a couple times a month. When I went back into my neighborhood cleaners for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by name, despite having not stepped foot in there for more than two years. I guess I was one of their more regular customers, who brought in steady if modest business, and they were glad to have it back.

And I'm happy to give it to them.

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