The last time I was unemployed was more than 20 years ago. I was changing careers, leaving hotel franchise sales to return to my roots, computers and technology. Recalling those days brings to mind the smell of a freshly printed newspaper with a classified section whose ink would leave my hands darkened and dirty. And I recall the #2 pencils and institutional cleaner at the Department of Labor (Unemployment) office where I had to wait my turn to meet with a counselor and answer questions in order to receive my benefits. My memories of that time remind me of the black and white portion of The Wizard of Oz, where there is a vague sense that it is a dark time, and it is hard to place what is missing until life returns to vivid color.
This past March I left the company I worked for during those 20 intervening years. The parting was bittersweet, as are some of the aromas I connect with my current unemployment memories. Being unemployed in Wilton today smells like coffee. Mind you, I don’t drink the stuff and never have. But job searches in 2015 are mobile quests.
At Starbucks that bittersweet smell comes from roasted coffee, flavors, hot chocolate with whip and the sweet Italian language used to describe the result. Little communities within the store that only meet in the line where they await the smiling baristas. My group comes with laptop in hand, scoping out tables near outlets, checking email and working our network. The currently employed and students rush to their next destination. And there is a group of comfortable retirees, in the comfy chairs at the far end socializing and swapping stories about their children.
Across town unemployment smells like bacon, eggs and toast. At CT Coffee and Bagel (Jim’s place), Jim and his family make quick work servicing the locals who come through the door. While sitting at a table searching online job boards, I say quick hellos to friends from Wilton Newcomers who stop in for coffee or a bagel to go. We exchange status updates while the regulars stand by the coffee and chat with Jim about the Yankees as he works. There are lots of first name greetings going around while I submit another résumé to lead a software development team in Stratford.
Some mornings are spent surrounded by the smell of syrup. At Orem’s Diner the atmosphere is relaxed, with people casually socializing over meals that take a while to eat. I have met people for interviews or just to work my network. Walking in I may spot the Weston police sergeant whose daughter is on my daughter’s competitive cheer team. (He later walks out, raises his handcuffs and points at me as he strolls past the window booth where I am meeting a potential, thankfully good humored, employer. Fingers crossed!) I see parents I’ve known since Driscoll School (now Miller-Driscoll), residents I’ve met through the Wilton Education Foundation, and other familiar faces.
As you have probably guessed, I like get out of the house sometimes as I seek new employment. Sometimes I need new scenery, and sometimes it’s just to escape the upkeep and yard projects that always beckon. Coffee Barn is a quieter refuge. There the aromas of hazelnut and vanilla coffees are joined by the smell of the dark wood in the loft where I can sit and quietly peruse GOOD Morning Wilton looking for stories about people with whom I should network, and local companies who surely would have already made me an offer if only we had met sooner.
Other scents have marked my journey from software factory to olfactory. There’s the smell of leaves when I take a break to clean the yard, the pungent aromas of dirty laundry after team practice, and days remembered by the lingering fragrance of teriyaki from the dinner I conjured up the night before. Lunch with a former coworker at The Little Pub smelled like beer and burgers. Job searching smells like Pinocchio Pizza at the kitchen table. Yesterday was infused with the bite of freshly cut oak as I felled a tall tree in the back yard (without hitting the house and only going through one chainsaw blade)!
I’ve come a long way from the #2 pencil and newsprint. I’m hoping to re-enter the rat race soon, looking forward to finding just the right match with an employer. Maybe my next job will smell like an office building in Wilton, like a train to Manhattan or like the desk in my home office working remotely. When that match has come and I am working again you can ask me what it smelled like. I might just answer that it smelled like victory.