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Joblessness offers jolts and joys

PERSPECTIVES: Unemployment presents some distinct challenges and opportunities

If I had a job (I don't), I'd be subjected to a six-month performance review right about now. However, in the absence of employment and an employer, I have decided to conduct my own review Ñ an eight-month unemployment review, if you will.

In March I was laid off from my job at a local nonprofit. Tough times happen even at worthy agencies. In my optimism, I thought that this employment impasse would be fleeting: maybe four weeks, six weeks tops. Now it's 32 weeks later. But rather than lament about this unwelcome milestone, I offer up a simple pro-and-con review of being unemployed in Oregon.

Pros: Spring and summer joblessness equals a Maui-quality tan as yardwork, home repairs and jogging are accomplished during the peak hours of sunshine, not during post-work twilight. My lawn and garden were weed-free without the use of chemicals. Noxious greenery is no match for ample time, a trusty dandelion digger and sweat equity.

A dent has been put into the mass of unread books purchased at Powell's during my flush years. Also, I've rediscovered the joys of libraries. My house is really clean, all the time. I finally attended a neighborhood association meeting.

Being unemployed means that I can peruse weekday garage sales. And not surprisingly, my need for self-sufficiency rekindles long-suppressed entrepreneurial thoughts.

Unemployment checks are a godsend. They have allowed me to stay in my home and stay out of bankruptcy. Not to sound too sentimental, but the unemployment line also provided me a new friendship with a kindred spirit named Bruce, for which I am grateful.

Cons: No matter how often people encourage me to relax and enjoy the time away from a 9-to-5 routine, I can't. Consequently, sleeping until noon is an impossibility even after 170 consecutive attempts.

Sixty-eight percent of my monthly unemployment income goes to paying my mortgage. Window-shopping has replaced real shopping. Coupons are my new best friends. Only six interviews have occurred out of dozens and dozens of submitted rŽsumŽs.

Rejection, self-doubt and an expanding waistline are new realities to confront. Selling cherished books and CDs for extra cash is a necessity. I begin to fear being generous. I sometimes tell strangers that I am employed because at times I feel embarrassed to be unemployed. I worry about my--age (41) and fret over how my past career choices look on my rŽsumŽ.

I have, as of today, $116 in my savings account. Waiting for the telephone to ring with a job offer makes me feel like a desperate teenager waiting for a dream date who never calls.

Throughout this unsettling period, remaining--hopeful is less of a luxury and more of a survival tool born of necessity. Prospective employers can smell desperation on a man, and it's not attractive. Thankfully, my Maui-like tan offers good cover.

These past eight months have been enlightening and difficult. However, I am a survivor. I will get through this life event a better man Ñ since failure, as they say, is not an option.

So what's my eight-month performance review rating? Sorry, but you'll have to hire me to find out.

Warren Becker is seeking a job in the nonprofit/community service sector. He has a bachelor's degree in communications and lives in the University Park neighborhood of North Portland. His unemployment benefits expire Dec. 17.