Sunday Nibble #59: 408 days later


March 20, 2020. The theatre company where I’d done improv and worked a second job had shut down ten days earlier — “Temporarily, of course.” But this Friday afternoon, the day after the start of spring that year, was the day that the Mayor of Los Angeles made the announcement, only a couple of days after the Mayor of San Francisco had made the same announcement.

The city was shutting down, and all non-essential businesses were to close. Masks and social distancing were required, and frequent handwashing was advised. Everything became quiet, and strange, and tense.

Grocery stores were still open in those early days, although they all had long lines outside and very limited occupancy inside, and we all remember the abrupt disappearance of toilet paper, soap, laundry detergent, and meat from the shelves.

It wasn’t until later that we learned the TP thing was not due to hoarding but rather to a shift in supply and demand. With people going to workplaces every day, that’s where most of the TP got used. Suddenly, demand in those places cratered while demand in private homes shot up.

The problem was that office TP and household TP were produced in different facilities, to different standards, and with different supply chains. One wound up with a surplus, while the other wound up with a demand it couldn’t immediately meet.

But you’ve probably forgotten that when TP finally did start to become available in stores again, it was that one-ply, terribly thin, shit-quality (pun intended) stuff we all knew from our work crappers. A friend of mine describes that kind of bum wad as “Bible paper” in terms of thinness, and he’s absolutely right.

Of course, I happened to start the lockdown with a nearly-new four pack of the really good double-ply stuff, and since I don’t go through TP that fast, I wasn’t really worried about that. No, I had bigger things to worry about. Like… money.

See, I’d lost both of my jobs in the same week, with no idea when they’d come back, They had barely kept me afloat as it was, and I’d been relying on the dwindling remains of my savings that I’d had to start dipping into back in 2018, as well as the largesse of friends who loaned me what I needed. (Damn, I hate having to rely on that.)

But then a couple of funny things happened. The first was, of course, the original stimulus check. Thanks to being able to deposit via my phone, I still have mine sitting in front of me, and that $1,200 did help, even it was delayed because some egomaniacal manbaby had to stall so he could slap his name all over them.

I actually found out while writing this that I’m getting another check, presumably the $1,400 version, very soon, and it really makes be feel guilty because, basically I’m now at a place where I don’t need it. Oh, I’m not rejecting it because I’m going to pour it right back into the economy getting two very necessary but delayed car repairs done that will only leave maybe enough to rent an AMC Theatre for a private screening with friends. But I figure, that way, the money really is helping to stimulate the economy. Percolate up and all that, right?

I think the date on the first stimulus check is May 1, 2020, which was the same day as the biggest disaster of that year for me, as I commemorated here yesterday. That was when my dog Sheeba died, making my isolation at the time complete.

Needed money, tragic death. Good thing, bad thing. They love to travel in pairs. But there was another fortunate accident, and at least I got to take advantage of that one almost immediately.

This revolved around unemployment, which I applied for on the same day the Mayor made his announcement. Now, I heard horror stories from a lot of people, who took forever to get approved. The thing was that I had only started my full-time job the August before and the theatre job was pretty much part time. So, when I went to apply, I still had an open claim.

This meant that I basically just jumped right back in. Sure, the weekly benefit was a lot lower but there was that sudden $600 a week from Federal unemployment. This meant that, for the four months I was collecting, from April through July, I was actually making more being out of work than I had been while in it.

Around July, I started back very part time at the old job, eventually transitioning into going back full time — and to the office mostly — in September. Of course, the “office” was the boss’s house, and at most there would usually be four people in it, all masked and in separate rooms. On those rare occasions when one of the employees who was working remotely did come in, they were also masked and in their own private room.

The boss still did set us up to all work remotely, which was a good and complicated trick considering that the field was health insurance, meaning that we couldn’t all just call in from our home PCs. Nope. We each had office laptops that were encrypted as hell with a bunch of layers of authentication and security to get in, and his IT contractors had kill-switch ability on all of them the second they might have been stolen, lost, or otherwise compromised.

Yeah, remote-bricking an entire computer. It was some serious James Bond level shit.

There was also a VOIP clone of my office desk phone at home, which was very weird. And so for the rest of 2020, I mostly worked in the office, usually only doing the from home thing on weekends, not moving over to more at-home until the end of our busy season in late December.

And, of course, the money anxiety came back. Luckily, thanks to the ridiculous unemployment benefits, I sort of had savings again, but was looking at expenses kicking the shit out of income by about, well, this time in 2021.

But then at the beginning of December, an old friend and coworker contacted me and explained that he was now Creative Director at a company, and did I want to write some freelance articles for them?

“Hell yes,” was my response, and it also happened to relate to the subject matter I’d spent the five years leading up to life’s big rug-pull in 2017 writing about, so it was perfect. So was the money! So from December to February, I wrote four articles a month and made a nice bonus.

But then a funny thing happened. My friend contacted me and said, “Hey. Want to work for us full time, on staff?”

“Does the Pope shit in the woods?” I thought. “Hell yes,” I said.

“Make us an offer, then,” he told me, and my brain exploded.

See, the norm I’m used to — and probably the one that most of my American readers who aren’t on an executive or “talk to my agent” level is this. The way a job offer works is, “Okay, here’s the position, here’s the rules, and we’re going to pay $X” — usually expressed as either per hour, or salary per year.

And we are trained to never say, “Oh, okay. But I’d need $X+ to take the job.” That’s the fastest way to lose it. And when I suddenly was put in the position of having to come up with my own price, I realized how many times I’d basically been totally fucked and undervalued in the past.

(Hint: most of you have. Resist in the future!)

Still, I didn’t want to be unrealistic and ask for too much, but I also didn’t want to ask for too little. What I did know was that by the time my last job imploded when the company went under, I was pretty happy with what I was making. I could pay all my expenses, save money every month, and handle both occasional emergencies and little luxuries.

So I did what I felt was most fair. I started with my final salary at the last job, calculated what it would have been after three years of raises at what I’d typically received each of the ten years overall I’d worked for the company, then adjusted for inflation.

Yeah, it was a bigger number than I’d ever earned in my life, even when I was working in TV, but it didn’t feel that outrageous, so I pitched it to my friend and said, “If this sounds ridiculous, please let me know.”

Apparently, it wasn’t. So as of March 1, 2021 —346 days after lockdown began, which is 49 weeks and 3 days — I left my fun but low-paying job in the Medicare field and moved back to my favorite, which is writing stuff.

And, in perhaps the most ironic twist of all, I’m working with a multi-national team so that everyone works remotely anyway.

You’re reading this on May 2, 2021 — day 408 since lockdown began, aka 58 weeks and 2 days. Or another way to put it is one year and 44 days. And so much has changed in that time it’s ridiculous.

I had my first vaccine shot on April 24, and will have my second Moderna jab on May 22. I went back onto company health insurance May 1 and won’t have to deal with Covered California and their stupid, wonky website again for a while. And I’m already making more than I spend, am saving money and, most of all, am preparing to bring a dog back into my life.

So… 2020 was a long dark tunnel that really capped off two pretty shaky, shitty years for me in the first place. But I managed (somehow) to slither through it alive, and it looks like 2021 is going to become another rebirth — hey, the Phoenix deal is my thing, and at this point, I seriously think I’m finally going to just break down and get my first (and only) tattoo, and yes, it’s going to be that damn bird.

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