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October 04, 2008

Bad news in fast times: asking for a lifeline

October 4. Day 96.

I fell asleep slowly last night, thinking of my parents.

My father called me from Texas, where he's made his home for the past 15 years as an architect after my parents separated, with some news.

He lost his job.

Pushed out for younger workers. Textbook ageism. If he still had any disposable income or I had a law degree, I'd tell him to sue.

Then he asked me about using Craigslist, calling it, simply, "Craig's," and with that elision the profound and disheartening realization sank in that this technology gap may make the difference between retiring with a healthy nest egg and barely scraping by. People who aren't friendly with Craigslist, who don't gmail, are (some may add, be it with cruelty or justice, "at last") being shown the door.

Yeah. I'm sick as hell of hearing about the boomers. You don't want to relinquish power? You're threatened by the millennials? You lost the primaries to Obama? Boohoo. The most selfish generation out there, who spawned the second-most selfish generation, Generation Y/Generation Me. (Or, as I'm sure they're already starting to moan, Generation "Why Me?") The boomers need to retire already. Let go. Give it up already. Go fly a kite. Our turn.

But as soon as I write these words, I think of my parents. Their struggle for relevance in a cannibalistic world. Ambition, I remind myself, is survival. We are all boomers.

A few hours after we hung up, I came across an excellent blog, Threatened Journalist, which details the meltdown of a venerable San Diego institution, the Union-Tribune, written by an editor still working there. Whatever you think of its quality or relevance right now, it's still one of the few remaining family-owned newspapers in our country. In a few months it will take an even sharper nosedive, once the paper sold to the highest bidder. So many people have lost their jobs over the past few months, mostly older journalists who in their best articles gave a nuanced context that will be impossible to recreate by even the most talented newcomers. I sigh to think what the world will be like without them, or without my father, contributing their art.
My father, though, is not even a boomer. He was born during the war and grew up under a torturous regime where he was punished every day for refusing to join the Communist party. He and my mother arrived in the U.S. with a suitcases filled with books and art, scraps of a life blown to pieces by exile. He worked tirelessly to build a name for himself as an architect, creating some of San Diego's iconic downtown skyscrapers.

To be told, three decades later in Texas, by a visiting partner who refused to look him in the eye, "Your skills are not what we're prioritizing currently."

I am disgusted.

I asked Mr. A if he could get his hands on some free bootleg copies of expensive professional software. So my father, instead of relaxing, oil painting, and playing with his grandkids (oops!), will spend the next year learning the latest software programs and searching for the job he shall keep for the rest of his life -- if he is "lucky" enough to continue working to the end.

Gained: Hope for a tiny, tiny solution for part of a much bigger problem. If anyone is interested in seeing his digital portfolio, which includes portraits, watercolor renderings and residential and commercial blueprints (new and remodels), please let me know.
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