A New York Story

My new best friend, Twindaddy, ran a contest to write a tagline for his blog. The grand prize winner (that would be me) won a guest post on his blog, which I have hurriedly taken advantage of before he had a chance to change his mind.

I decided to run a post from 2010, long before I migrated to WordPress, so it’ll be new to most of you. With all apologies to Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I lost my fucking job

I wasn’t going to write about this because it’s personal but I feel inexplicably compelled to do so. Only my family and some friends know this happened. Well…until now.

In December I lost my job. Benevolent Dictators, Inc. was J.P. Morgan. I lost my job at J.P. Morgan a year to the day from when I lost my job at Morgan Stanley. The reason I steered my career into investment banking wasn’t because I found the work to be so fascinating. (Unfortunately for me, most of those things are not money-making ventures.) My rational was, what could possibly go wrong? It’s New York City finance, for cryin’ out loud!

Losing my job a year ago at Morgan Stanley was heartbreaking. During the course of 2008, I watched many good friends get canned, but I survived several rounds of layoffs. I began to think I was immune. If they hadn’t laid me off by now, I surmised, then I must be safe. But at the end of the year my department was gutted. I loved the work and despite what you’ve read about the industry, Morgan Stanley wasn’t such a bad place to be. It retained its humanity, even in it’s darkest hours.

Four wretched months of unemployment followed. Unless you’ve been through it yourself, you can’t imagine what it’s like. Each morning, my two little girls would get out of bed, walk downstairs and see their father humped over a laptop trying to find any kind of job while all the other dads went off to work. I was damn lucky my unemployment only lasted four months. I have friends who were laid off the same time I was who are just now finding work.

I was hired by J.P. Morgan last April. That’s when the real fun started.

J.P. Morgan is a great place to work if you’re obsessed with money and career and don’t give a shit about your children or your marriage. 10-12 hour days were mandatory. By the time I got home at night, The Daughters were fast asleep. I went a solid eight months without ever seeing them. I became a ghostly specter who floated through their lives on the weekends. Tucking them in over the phone became the norm. I had the same, sad conversation every night with 3-Year Old:

3-Year Old Daughter: Daddy, are you almost home now?

Me: No, sweetheart, I can’t come home yet.

I became detached and isolated. When I was single and lived in the city all those years, I use to thrive on isolation. I loved it. This was different.

I wasn’t the only one at J.P. Morgan who missed their kids. The air was thick with sadness. Nobody spoke to one another. It’s as if Kafka and Dickens collaborated on a nightmare. I would have quit except I had nowhere to go and if you resign, you’re ineligible to collect unemployment and COBRA healthcare coverage. [Don’t get me started on COBRA.]

I was let go just three weeks before Christmas which I initially thought was a callous thing to do. But instead of having a miserable holiday and not seeing my family, I was liberated. I reconnected with my girls. I was torn between the wretchedness of being unemployed for the second time in 14 months and the cathartic joy of being home again and no longer working in a pit of greed and despair like J.P. Morgan.

* * *

This time around, my period of unemployment only lasted five weeks. I have a job. Sort of. I found a consulting gig at Retirement Conglomerate, Corp. I’m not making as much money as I use to, don’t have any benefits or job security and my tenure could end at the conclusion of my project. But getting a paycheck and having a place to go in the morning again is delightful.

Behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud. My job is in New Jersey. That means that for the first time in almost 25 years, New York City is no longer a part of my daily existence. Even when I moved to New Jersey eight years ago, I still worked in the city and saw it every day. For the time being, that singular joy is over for me. When I step out of the office, my feet no longer alight onto brightly lit Manhattan streets. It feels like someone took a metal scoop and dug out an important part of what defines me and dumped it in the gutter. What am I without New York? Anything? I can occasionally grab a train into the city in the evening, but it‘s not the same.

My heart’s desire is to find a job in the city. This morning, The Times reported that unemployment in New York is at 10.6%, which is well above the national average.

Here’s hoping. Keep a light on for me, NYC.