Back in May, when I was laid off from my job of three years as an editor, two close friends were laid off at the same time. They both live in California and are well-paid executives in their fields.
One of them is an IT project manager who just bought her second dwelling in San Francisco, and the other one is a timeshare condo executive with a business degree from an excellent school.
The IT manager IMed me to gleefully express that she was starting her “funemployment” by purchasing a new, powerful iMac for her home office, and the timeshare executive immediately sent an email that she was going on a meditative retreat to Bali for a month, since six more months of her contract would be paid out.
I stared at this news and felt extremely happy for them both with not a jot of ill will, because I’m that kind of broad-minded human.
Or, OK, maybe not.
Due to my circumstances (I had “enough” stashed away, but what’s enough, really?), I think I called the timeshare executive a colorful word in response to her Bali email and told the IT manager never to use the term “funemployment” to me again.
Something that being unemployed since May has taught me (four months and eighty rejections later) is that 40-something editors with relatively few years of editing experience are not marketable.
In short, my job lately has been to scramble, both for my raison d’etre while having no employment, and for employment itself.
Scrambling has led me to a few conclusions that I thought I’d share.
The first is derived from an important moment in "Ghostbusters." In short, “When someone asks if you’re a god, say yes!”
(When opportunity knocks, open that door!)
That brings us to the crux of this article. My new writing niche is, well, toilets.
Recently, the good people at Charmin’s PR firm read my road trip article “I’ve Peed Everywhere, Man” and asked if I’d be interested in trying out their mobile app, aptly named SitOrSquat.
On top of all the other mid-life crisis stuff happening to me this summer, it was also my 12th wedding anniversary. “Do you mind if I try out the app while going on an anniversary road trip?” I asked Charmin’s PR firm.
These kindly people believed in my toilet-writing so much that they agreed, so I took it up with my husband.
“Hey, Dave, you know how the 12th anniversary is supposed to be the silk or linen anniversary? Do you mind if ours is the toilet paper anniversary? It’s no trip to Bali, but we can try out this toilet review app on the way to the beach.”
“Sounds affordable,” my husband agreed, so I told Charmin that the trip was a go.
The mobile ap fills a clever niche that I never really thought about until I wrote about bathrooms on road trips. It exists for That Important Moment when you get off the highway of life, look at the 7-11 on one side of the road and the Circle-K on the other, and have to decide where to plant your rear for a while.
The existential nature of this question is so deep that having guidance of any kind is a huge relief, especially when it comes in the form of little red (squat!) or green (sit!) toilet paper rolls pinned above map locations.
The app isn’t shy -- it names and shames, and you can see the exact location of a bad bathroom. If people choose to share why it’s good or bad, you can read about that, too.
Early Saturday morning, we drank a whole lot of coffee and water (the better to pee with, considering the number of toilets we’d have to hit), and set out on our quest.
As we pulled out of our home city of Orlando, we were listening to the local band Soliloquists of Sound. The song about the city was playing, one lyric of which particularly struck me as we hit the road. “I work for the man anywhere I can/but I got a plan to be my own man now.”
As we drove, I realized how hyper-conscious I’ve become of people who have jobs.
Heading toward our first bathroom, I saw a man standing on the steep-sloped highway divider between Tampa-bound and Orlando-bound I-4. In front of him was something that looked like an enormous moon-roving Roomba, a low green machine with tractor wheels that seemed to be able to pivot in any direction. It was mowing the steep slope while the man with the remote steered it.
“That’s cool. I’ve never seen that before,” I thought to myself. And then, “That man has a job and I don’t.”
This thought has been occurring more and more often lately.
An enormous blow to my pride happened right before I left for the road trip. I was rejected from working at Target after filling in their online application with relative honesty. As we passed red-and-white logo after red-and-white logo, it felt like each sign was asking me whether I, a woman in my 40s, was relevant to any kind of work at all anymore.
The inbound traffic was fierce, heading to the big entertainment conglomerates on the west side of the city. The outbound traffic was light (I pondered why more people weren't heading to Florida’s gorgeous west coast).
I took the opportunity to bring up my thoughts about my two friends.
“Why are they so carefree about their future occupations? Aren’t they worried at all?”
“They’ll both likely get hired soon. Those two busted their arses to get where they are,” Dave pointed out. “We’ve never had that kind of priority about work. We work, but we value the time we don’t work much more.”
He was right. I value all kinds of things that don’t include sitting at a desk, including moments of extreme playfulness like this one, where it was the two of us on the road thinking about nothing but the, er, next bathroom.
This point is the crux of the second lesson about unemployment that I’ve learned. Unemployment is not impersonal -- it really is actually all about me. Much like the straightforward nature of a bathroom review app, unemployment is about what I can offer people right now, and how I’ve represented these things to the world.
This was a tough lesson for me to learn, that all the weight of my past decisions are on no one’s shoulders but mine, but at least I’ve learned it well enough to write the lesson down.
“Speaking of bathrooms, we should hit one,” I said.
I consulted the app, and it led me to a likely suspect -- a well-reviewed Circle-K off a convenient upcoming exit. We reached the Circle-K and I immediately felt both sheepish and excited. Don’t mind me, sales clerk, I’m just here to write about your toilet for a international online magazine.
The Circle-K toilet was a good one. Everything was as clean as a moderately aged Circle-K could be. The toilet was a one-seater, but it was properly accessible, with a baby-changing station, an air-blowing hand dryer, and toilet paper that was neither too thin nor too rough.
(Something that might make this app even better would be a rating for toilet paper quality -- I mean, it’s Charmin’s app after all!)
Because of this, I learned to trust the collective voices that make the SitOrSquat app successful.
Back on the road, I asked Dave how he found his bathroom experience.
“The thing about SitOrSquat,” Dave said, “Is that if it’s pee, people who have certain genitalia don’t often need to do either of those things, sit or squat.”
“Good point,” I said, pondering the demographic of people who would find such an app relevant. I definitely found it relevant. “The name might just be cheeky. The point of the app is cleanliness and accessibility.”
Several more bathroom stops later (you can see the video of each bathroom experience at the end of this article, if you like), we made it to the beach.
We stood together on the hot sand of a beach in St. Petersburg, and I thought back to a July night 12 years in the past. Back then, we were in the middle of the sand dunes of Oregon, an almost endless expanse of dry, wind-furrowed hills leading to the Pacific. It was night, and a touch chilly, and Dave put his arms around me to warm me up.
“Do you want to get married?” he asked.
“You’ve probably been drinking,” I replied. “We’ll talk in the morning.”
In the morning, he turned to me and said, “I was serious.”
Two weeks later we were married. Twelve years after that, the sand was hot and it was the middle of a Florida afternoon, and life had somehow landed us a few thousand miles away on the gulf coast, reviewing toilets.
“I know you’d like to have a job,” Dave said, taking my hand, “but I kind of like what comes of you scrambling.”