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Working Stiff

Looking for a job feels like a continuous dead end, even for an embalmer.

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Your unemployment benefits are about to run out. In the last eight months you've sent out 972 resumes that garnered no interviews and a mere three "we-wish-you-well-with-your-job-search" letters. The economy is in the toilet and the jobless rate keeps creeping upward. You've borrowed so much money from friends you've started to turn down dinner invitations. What you're doing isn't working, so it's time to change what you're doing.

OK, so what's the objective here? That's easy--gainful employment. You've dutifully read every article in print and on the Web on job-hunting strategies. Networking seems high on the list of effective ways to get yourself employed, but networking involves, gasp, dealing with people. Your misanthropic tendencies preclude chumming it up with a group of strangers in support groups for the chronically jobless which are popping up like measles in every corner of the city.

There are good reasons why you chose the life of an embalmer. One of them was not having to engage in idle chatter with co-workers over their ongoing medical conditions or son-in-law's alcoholic inclinations. But the market's tight and independent morticians are being taken over by the mega-morgues--Wal-Marts for the dead. You're willing to do just about anything to continue writing rent checks and keeping your dwindling supply of Oreos from exhaustion. In a last ditch effort to find work you turn to a dreaded option--the employment agency.

In a moment of youthful arrogance you promised never to step foot in these flesh-peddling cauldrons of capitalism. What could be worse than to have someone "market" you as if you were a commodity in need of a buyer? Being homeless and hungry, that's what, so you steel yourself for the ordeal and dive into the nether regions of your closet in search of looking-for-a-job clothes. You want to convey confidence, professionalism and success (despite the fact that you've been out of work for months and your closest friends are starting to look at you with a mixture of pity and embarrassment).

Time to suit up. As you brush the cobwebs off a classic black number and reach into the pockets to clear out wads of long-ago chewed, foil-wrapped gum, your fingers encounter a mysterious sticky substance and a plethora of tiny, hard, round pellets. A quick smell test confirms your suspicions--a mouse used your Yves St. Laurent suit as a toilet.

You're nothing if not resilient: A damp paper towel and a sprinkle of talcum powder in the pocket (to mask the smell) and you're on your way. Destination: Rat Race Employment Agency, a company whose motto is: "We get you back in the game." By now you're having serious second thoughts about "the game," but your options are non-existent: Find a job or face a fright-filled future.

You take a deep breath, put on your public smile (something between a grimace and a sneer), draw on your rapidly diminishing reserves of self-worth, and walk into Rat Race. A chipper 20-something greets you with a smug smile ("I'm working and you're not") hands you a clipboard and an application and directs you to a row of plastic chairs lined up against the wall. Each chair is filled with other supplicants, or is it applicants; at this point in your life you can't tell the difference.

Rather than disturb 20-something--now deeply engrossed in a telephone conversation while tapping away at a keyboard--you lean against the wall, try to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible, and start to fill in all the little boxes designed to reduce your life to four pages of pertinent information about your education, previous employers, references, interests and anything else you think relevant to the task of painting yourself in the best light possible.

Some applications are friendlier than others: This one is not. In bold uppercase letters at the top of the "List all Previous Employers" section are words that stop you cold. ACCOUNT FOR ALL TIME NOT EMPLOYED. This is going to be tricky. You could try "caring for a sick parent who died a slow and agonizing death that took eight years." Or perhaps the tired standby, "traveling," which in this case is not an entirely untrue statement. After all, you were in Asia. The agency doesn't have to know that you spent nearly a decade at the foot of a guru trying to find yourself and enlightenment until you became disillusioned when the master was unmasked as a pedophile.

In a fit of self-righteous pique you tell yourself you were right all along to avoid the demeaning scenario of trying to "sell yourself" to someone who in turn will attempt to sell you to an unknown third party. You toss the clipboard on 20-something's desk, tell her "something's come up," and turn your back on Rat Race.

Back home you quickly change your piss-tainted suit for comfortable sweats, break out a box of Oreos and power up the computer. This is it. Networking is out. Employment agencies are out. Sending out résumés has cost you money and brought no results. The last option: computer job boards.

You hate job boards. The idea of joining millions of job-seekers in what is sure to be a futile search leading nowhere is disheartening. Your friends keep telling you you've got an attitude problem, that when it comes to finding work you do whatever is required. Maybe they're right you think, as you moodily munch your 11th Oreo and type "embalmer" in the search field, expecting to read "your search yielded no results."

But wait! There it is! One job opening! In the entire country there is one job opening posted on the Internet for embalmer. So what that it's in a town you've never heard of in Nebraska. So what that you'll have to trade Tucson's merciless sun for Nebraska's numbing cold. This is a JOB we're talking about here. You upload your résumé, hit send and lean back.

You're on your way.

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