The Dreaded Dinner Party

Before losing my job, I never would've said that I was someone who found her identity through her career. In fact, when people asked what I did (writing, editing) I often wanted to tell them something else instead. Being a writer sounds more glamorous than it actually is and when people find out I've covered energy markets and town council meetings, their eyes typically glaze over faster than if I were detailing new Roth IRA restrictions.

Still, when someone asks, "Where do you work?" or "What do you do?" it's nice to have an answer. I guess I hadn't realized how often these questions popped up until I attended a friend's birthday party a week after I was let go.

Basking in the sympathetic glow, I answered each new acquaintance's inquiry this way: "Work? Oh, I was just laid off last week."

Unfortunately, their compassion was quickly replaced by full-scale interrogations worthy of a district attorney. "What will you do next?" "Where have you applied?" "Are you working with a headhunter?" On and on they went until I had to leave because I couldn't take it anymore (and the hosts had run out of Prosecco. I can't remember which came first.)

So fast forward to last weekend when my husband and I were invited to a local dinner party. Now we haven't seen most of our neighbors since before our town turned into Minsk West. With both of us out of work, it was hard to imagine how we'd navigate the potential conversational land mines.

"How's work?" is typically the go-to question people ask after, "How are the kids?" and honestly, it would've been easier to tell people we'd both contracted an STD or were interested in "swinging" rather than have to confess that we're both unemployed. (I should mention that we live in an area where you're an object of pity if your summer home is merely a rental and your cleaning lady doesn't drive a Lexus.)

Going into the party, I'd decided I'd tried to play it off casually, "Oh, you didn't hear? We're collaborating on a fragrance. Yes, it's a heady mix of the stink of desperation blended with the scent of fear and a whiff of hopelessness." I'd also armed my husband with this bit of advice, "If anyone asks, we just say we were so inspired by the Olympics that we've decided to leave behind our careers to pursue ice dancing. Yes, we're double the ages of Davis & White but that only makes our move that much more courageous."

Friends and neighbors who hadn't seen us since it all "went down" looked stricken when we told them. And yet I could almost see them picturing the inevitable "For Sale" sign on our lawn. This, of course, would come after our weekly yard sales where we slowly sold off enough possessions to buy a supped-up version of the RV Walter White and Jesse Pinkman used for their "cooks."

While everyone was very nice and all "give-me-your-resume-I'll-pass-it-on-to..." I could see the wheels turning: "Don't get into a summer camp carpool with them. Either they'll try to steal the kids' lunches or they won't be able to afford gasoline." or "Maybe a family with twin girls will move in!"

Then there were those who whispered co-conspirator-style, after glancing over each shoulder, "You know, I was out of work for six months," as if they were revealing a secret love for cross-dressing.

Still, it felt good to come clean and doing it in one ripping-off-the-band-aid-swoop made it a bit easier. And I suppose the fact that no one boxed up the leftovers for us to take home only goes to show these people believe we are still ultimately employable.


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