Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Last week I attended a workshop that can help me "ace that interview," assuming, that is, that all of the online apps and resumes that I'm sending out into various HR departments will ever get me in a room with another person to talk about hiring me. While reviewing her own job experience, the workshop leader -- blond, tall, expressive, pleasant -- let us know that she had been laid off last year too, and that she is sure that each on of us in the room will get a job. She now works exlusively with "dislocated workers" like us. Startled, I look up at her. I'm unemployed, I've been laid off, I'm out-of-work, looking for a job. I've never heard this term before, didn't know that I was being grouped as "dislocated," an assignation that, she assures us, lets everyone know that we are without work through no fault of our own.

I look at the five men sitting around the conference table. We've been segregated out during our state-run orientation as "professionals," a designation that I think has been determined mainly by income. As we go through introductions, this "dislocated professional" status seems all that binds us together; our experiences, backgrounds, and aspirations seem wildly divergent. There's a tall, reedy engineer with a ruddy face and greying mustache; a short, stocky accountant, black yalmulka covering what is probably a bald spot; a white, loudmouthed 30-year electrician and former paratrooper; a younger black man who wants to become a personal trainer, and me. I feel like I'm in a grown-up version of The Breakfast Club, the weird, nervous girl in the back that Ally Sheedy played. We're individuals who are dislocated, but our dislocation is a symptom of the country in recession, the economic system thrown out of order. We're all painful reminders that the smooth operations of capitalism have been wrenched apart, the easy mechanics of day-to-day business stumbling along, limping ahead.

During the break, I stand up, almost gingerly, stretching my arms above my head while I yawn. I've never had a dislocation of a limb before, never felt the pop and burn as a joint loosens, connective tissue stretching, leaving the appendage dangling, sore and painful. It's a word that makes me wince to hear it, this hiss of the first syllable always an indicator of bad news to follow. A dislocated shoulder seems simple - pop it back into place, or in a particularly bad case, open reduction through surgery. But what if I'm a shoulder who wants to be a knee? Where on the body of the working will there be room for me? Where do I connect? We're all cogs in the machine, but the chassis of the machine is slowly transforming, morphing into something new, and each one of us filling seats in overcrowded job centers is struggling to find the place where we will fit.

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