[ed. note: found in a Compton salvage yard, under a pile of scrap L.A. Times vending machines -- first draft of Kimi Yoshino's Gen-X poverty puff piece]
Jobless jitters? Not for these young folks, who are embracing idleness and finding fulfillment in local Del Taco dumpsters.
Brian Smalley was laid off by ObamaStickers.com in late April. He didn't panic. He didn't rush off to a therapist. Instead, the 33-year-old Santa Monica resident discovered that being jobless "kind of settled nicely, once you get used to the heating grate."
Week one: "I thought, 'OK... I need to send out resumes, send some e-mails, need to do networking."
Week two: "Hide from the landlord."
Every week since: "I'm going down to the Ralph's dumpster for free brown bananas."
What most people would call unemployment, Smalley embraced as "funemployment." What other people would dismiss as starvation, he whimsically terms a "starve-cation."
"Economic Depression" once conjured images of tent cities and desperate job-seeking drifters, but for hordes of jobless Gen Xers, there is a silver lining in the new upbeat economic meltdown. These giddily carefree hipsters tend to be single and in their 20s and 30s, happily unencumbered by the obligations of parenthood or teeth.
Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks and free Salvation Army blankets, the nation's new wave of hip funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings. With no timeclock to punch, they travel on the cheap for weeks, bartering mix CDs or sterno or sexual favors for a fun cross-country boxcar trip. They study yoga and newspaper journalism, or grab a quick al fresco lunch at the neighborhood soup kitchen bistro. They participate in fun dance marathons and pole-sitting contests. And at least till the bank account dries up and the tuberculosis takes hold, they're content living for today.
"I feel like I've been given a gift of time and clarity," said Emily Horton, 29, of Austin, Texas. "And sometimes spare change."
Horton, who was recently laid off from her job as a ElectoChill D.J. at a boutique hotel aromatherapy spa, says lack of a daily job obligation has been "a godsend."
"I get to sleep in late at the shelter, and I finally have time to catch up on Tweeting," she says. As she recently mused on Twitter, from an Austin public library: "Recession? More like relax-cession!"
Never heard of funemployment? Here's Urban Dictionary's definition: "The condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life. I found a burrito with only one bite in it; funemployment rocks!"
It may not have entered our daily lexicon yet, but a small army of social media junkies -- and regular junkies --- with a sudden overabundance of time is busy Tweeting: "Funemployment road trip to Portland. Hope this truck driver doesn't rape me! LOL!" "I can finally fit into my skinny jeans. Thanks, starve-cation!"
As frivolous as it sounds, funemployment is a statement about American society. Experts say it's a sign that Americans are slowly embracing a healthier lifestyle that centers on self-actualization, survival, and Twitter rather than the often soul-crushing burdens of corporate careerism. These experts frequently credit the Obama Administration.
"Recession is a great opportuning for people to get outside, enjoy a sunny park bench, and have fun," said Robert Lester, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Business. "And President Obama is making that kind of fun possible for more and more people every day."
Joan Dwight, co-author of "Bro, Can You Spare a Dime: Boulder on $2 Per Day," said that during the go-go Wall Street 80's and recent dotcom boom, many young professionals had lost balance between work and life. "People used to spend too many late nights and weekendsat the office," she said. "Now that most of those offices are padlocked and boarded up with plywood, it has really taken the 'career ladder' pressure off."
Katelyn Martinez, 28, lost her job as a sommelier at an upscale Costa Mesa oxygen bar on Feb. 1, and has no regrets.
"I used to be glued to my BlackBerry all the time," she said. "I can't imagine doing that again, especially after the repo man took it. Finally I can be alone to talk with my thoughts. Many, many thoughts."
For many younger people, Dwight said, work is less central to their lives. According to her surveys, more and more young people are saying they are willing to trade off a high pay, high pressure job for one with flexible schedules and a lot of vacation time. "The new Admistration has been very responsive to that -- just look at all the millions of new jobs with zero salaries and 52 week vacations," said Dwight, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado.
Martinez said she finds herself looking into jobs she would have never considered before, such as selling crab apples or freelance prostitution. What's more important, she said, is flexibility, vacation time and something that doesn't have "that 9-to-5" feeling.
"And access to free clinics," she added.
Melissa Browning, 34, is another funemployed L.A. single who has found new meaning in prostitution. After losing her job as a program coordinator for a non-profit Feng Shui education group in late March, Browning decided to go on a three-week interstate highway trek through the truckstops of central Arkansas with two friends, earning up to $30 per night while sleeping in tent-like yurts.
"I used to be so absorbed in the details of work, but prostitution has allowed me to come out of my shell," Browning said. "Now it's just so much easier for me approach new people, in idling semis, at 2 am. It's just gives you such a positive pro-active outlook. I guess that's why it's called pro-stitution."
Joining the world's oldest profession has also given Browning the chance to reflect and contemplate. "Do we work to live or do we live to work? Do I have life goals that are not work goals?" asks Browning. "I guess what I'd really like to know is, who bogarted my meth?"
Both Martinez and Browning discovered that they like themselves better when they're being consumed by hunger rather than their jobs.
"This is the best version of me," Martinez said, adding that despite a distended belly and massive hair and tooth loss, she feels "completely healthy," relaxed and focused.
"I used to talk a lot about living a 'greener lifestyle,' and now I'm finally doing it," she said. "I've given up my car and I'm spending almost all of my time outdoors, surrounded by the beauty and insects of nature. And when I haven't eaten in 4 or 5 days, I can look up into the sun and see angels. It's very spiritual."
Browning agreed: "The rat race puts blinders on you and makes time fly, and then the next thing you know, you've missed the chance to be your more exciting self, or to push yourself in a gutsier, hungrier, more lot-lizard-y direction."
For many funemployed Xers, a proactive embrace of a relaxed "pro-verty" lifestyle often sparks concern on the part of older family and friends, most of whom had settled down and and were consuming over 1000 calories a day at the same age. "I'm not sure older people can really relate," says Smalley.
After losing his job as ObamaSticker.com's director of halo design, Smalley said he purchased a laptop and began gambling his 401k on internet poker from his parent's couch, "which my dad doesn't understand."
"Everytime I lose a hand, my dad looks at me nervously and asks how much money I have left, or if I'm planning to eat him," said Smalley. "I mean, come on, it'll be at least 4 or 5 weeks before I get that desperate."
UCLA's Lester isn't convinced funemployment is unique to this generation. The notion of slackers -- or neo-hobos, or bum-hemians, or whatever label is in vogue -- has been around for decades. What's different, he said, is the new social media that allows the a-vagrant garde to find each other and make plans through Facebook and Twitter.
Alex Greenleaf, one of Browning's traveling companions, points out that they met on a Facebook group originally set up to coordinate Obama campaign volunteers that has since evolved into a e-hitchhiking site for hip young itinerants. Prior to hooking up with Browning, the 36-year-old New Yorker and former Village Voice experimental theater critic was living in Daytona Beach, FL.
"The weather was great, and the bus shelters in Daytona are full of really interesting, literate funemployed people -- including a lot of my classmates from Cooper Union," said Greenleaf. "When we needed money, we would stage a funemployed alley fight and charge drunk fratboys 50 bucks to videotape it for YouTube. Still, I was looking for a new adventure, and being Melissa's pimp has been very rewarding. And much lots more not-brain-hurtings."
The daily lives of the unemployed have never been more public. Many post Flickr sets of their globe-trotting vacations, proudly showing off a deep-bronze tan and washboard ribcage. Others blog about their latest amusing malnourishment hallucination, or broadcast via Twitter the day's weighty menu choices, as @roadkillgourmet did last week when deciding between raccoon and armadillo.
To UCLA's Lester, stories like Greenleaf and Browning's represent more than just a hip new lifestyle trend among America's urbane unemployable literati. By thumbing their collective nose at employment, Lester said they also are sending a clear message to corporate America.
"America's increasingly savvy and educated unemployed are demanding much more from the companies laying them off," Lester said. "Until these failing companies somehow figure out how to meet the expectations of the young workers they don't need, it's unclear where our next generation of layoffs will come from."