Hot Recap: Unemployment Olympics in Tompkins Square Park
Wed Apr 1 2009
Roughly 50 down-and-out New Yorkers participated in today's Unemployment Olympics at Tompkins Square Park. Festivities kicked off at 1:30pm—seriously, what else did these people have to do?—and contestants competed in such games as “Pin the Blame on the Bosses,” the “You’re Fired! Race” and an Office-style Fax Machine Toss, later tweaked to Phone Skee-Ball after flying faxes were deemed a liability. (Stupid HR, haunting employees even after they've been handed a pink slip.)
Many of the jobless participants arrived in pairs, including a number of former coworkers. All seem thrilled to see others in the same financially crippled boat. We rapped with a handful of 'em about the ups and downs of unemployment.
Nick Goddard, right, 26, a former computer programmer and organizer of the Unemployment Olympics
You mentioned that the idea for the Unemployment Olympics “just came to you,” but what was your vision for it?
Well, I got laid off and thought, I like to do athletic stuff and wasn’t pinned behind a desk now. Is this that bad? I wanted to ride my bike, climb buildings, win prizes. One day the idea for the Olympics popped in my head and when I mentioned it to a friend, she thought it was hilarious and told me I had to do it.
So you’re happy with how the day went?
It’s been quite a day. When I initially got to the park, I thought it was the biggest bust; there wasn’t anyone there! But then I saw a ton of people at the other entrance. My heart leaped; everything has smiled down on me today. I put a reasonable amount of effort into this in the past few weeks and probably spent about $200 on everything. It was the best thing, I can’t even tell you.
Mary, 28, Upper East Side, and Luis, 27, Murray Hill
What brings you two here today?
Luis: Both of us lost our jobs at the end of February. We worked on the same team and were partners in crime. We used to joke that if one of us got fired, the other would gather up their stuff. Little did we know…
Mary: Actually, we weren’t really working that hard at the time; I can’t say we were really surprised.
What have you been doing with your time recently?
Mary: Well, it’s only been five weeks.… I’m not actively pursuing employment right now [Laughs], but I’ve been working out every day and Luis and I have started a blog. We write about day-to-day life in NYC as people without jobs. It’s kinda Tucker Max–ish—sarcastic and entertaining.
Courtney, 25, Gramercy, and Jenny, 27, Upper East Side
Isn’t it wack that you’re in your midtwenties and jobless?
Courtney: Definitely. Even after I graduated from college, I never thought about the economy failing and losing my job. It’s just comforting to know that it’s not me.… A lot of people are in the same boat.
Are you currently looking for a new job?
Jenny: Um, yes. [Courtney shakes her head no.] I was working in the entertainment industry, so I might try to do some freelance in that area. But I also want to look into working in travel.
Do you feel guilty playing games in the park on a gorgeous day while the rest of us work?
Courtney: No! Are you kidding me? It gave me something to do!
Jesse Fallick, 24, East Village
You just tossed an office phone halfway across the park. What job did you lose to land you here?
I’m nontraditionally employed: I trade stock options, but not for a company, and I work here and there in nonprofits.
What’s your game plan then? Job hunting? A cruise around the world?
I’m actually working with a few friends to plan a New York version of Laid-Off Camp. It’s become a national movement; I learned about it last month at a seminar in San Francisco. It's meant to facilitate networking, bring community together, and aid people interested in start-up and freelance businesses. Sessions are participant-driven, and the event will have a structured schedule ranging from workshops to keynote speakers to happy hours.
Last, we stopped two ladies from Hell's Kitchen, 23 and 25 years old, who asked to remain anonymous.
Sans your nine-to-five, have you been taking advantage of the city?
Yeah! We’ve been working out a lot and watching a lot of TV—Golden Girls is at noon on Lifetime. We go for long walks, to free tastings, cheap happy hours and double-feature movies on Sundays; we pay matinee price for the first movie and might "accidentally" stumble into a second one. We also ride the Staten Island Ferry, which is great because you can drink on the boat. We’re all about the road sodas. And there’s the Ikea ferry—that's the more scenic route. It’s great: You hop on, go buy a frame for $1, see some sights, and it’s a whole day.
Are you going through a quarter-life crisis, or thinking of changing up what you’ve been doing?
The 23-year-old: Well, my dream job is to be a comedy writer. I’ve taken improv and comedy classes, so we’ll see.
The 25-year-old: I’d love to work for the Travel Channel, and do stuff like what Samantha Brown does. She’s like Rachael Ray for travel but she doesn’t really drink or have an annoying laugh.
So you think things might be looking up?
The 23-year-old: It has to hit rock bottom first, which hasn’t happened yet ,but it will soon, then we’ll be on the way up again. The 25-year-old: I’m just living on a prayer—it's the Bon Jovi way of life.