Ed. note: “The Miss Jobless Chronicles” is a weekly series written by Caitlin O’Toole. Read the rest in the series here.
As much as people claim to understand what it’s like to be un- or underemployed, you can always tell who really gets it and who doesn’t. Next to my family, no one has been as supportive throughout this trying time than June.
June is a divorced, 82-year old intellectual technophile who lives down the hall. I’ve never been ageist — I was raised by a mother who received her master’s in gerontology and a dad who used to work for AARP. So I’m happy and proud to call June a friend.
“Caitlin O’Toole,” she says, every single time I see her, even seven years after meeting me. “Love the name. Isn’t that a great name?” she’ll say to whomever she’s with, throwing in a literary reference about it being Dylan Thomas’s wife’s name. “Such a great name.”
Not that she’s forgetful or spacey — June remembers everything. Probably more than the average person. “Didn’t your parents just come back from their 45th anniversary trip to Rome?” she said to me recently. “The furthest my husband ever took me for mine was the Bronx.” I hug her slight frame and she pats me on the back and walks away, turning around only to say, “Keep writing!” She always says that to me.
June finds more job postings for me than I do — and I’m pretty thorough. She’s like my personal assistant. I’ll find notes under my door, written in perfect cursive handwriting, detailing the hottest writing jobs from the New York Times. She follows up with emails.
“Did you apply? Have you heard anything?”
“Not yet, June. But I will. I’ll let you know.”
I try to thank her for being my “personal assistant” by leaving presents at her door — like gourmet jams, biscuits, tarts and chocolates. Once, I left her a “Great Gatsby” t-shirt because that’s her very favorite book. And I always bring her flowers on her birthday. Usually tulips or daffodils.
Whenever I need advice about anything hi-tech, I go to June. The other day, I questioned her about my stereo. I’ve been getting a lot of annoying feedback and can’t pinpoint the problem.
“I’m wondering if it’s the subwoofer,” she pondered. “I’d check that first.”
She was right. I upgraded to a new subwoofer. And my music has never sounded sweeter.
And her technological savvy doesn’t stop at stereos.
Recently, my computer was being sluggish and a website I needed to access for work was not loading properly. I knocked on June’s door. Everyone in the building knows that she has the fiercest, biggest, most cutting-edge 27″ iMac this side of Chelsea.
“I honestly don’t know how to use it,” she said. But as she navigated her way effortlessly around the web, faster than I’ve seen anyone do it, I knew she was being modest. “I’m taking classes at the Apple store. I’m trying to figure out my iPhone.”
“By the way,” she adds, as I get up to leave. “Your status updates on facebook are WONDERFUL.”
On my way out of her apartment, I jiggle the doorknob, unable to figure out which way to turn it to get out. “Just remember — it’s to the left,” she laughs. “Like me.”
June is a staunch democrat and makes no secret of it. She recently attended a pro-choice rally and complained to me about the disappointing turnout. She goes to church and makes it a point to tell me that her church openly accepts people of all persuasions. She goes gallery-hopping in Chelsea. She goes to the latest independent films. She has elaborate Thanksgiving dinners every year, which she always invites me to. “There will be plenty of lesbians there,” she smiles.
I honestly don’t know how she does it. And I’m not saying that condescendingly — like, “she’s so old that I can’t understand how she functions so well” or “look at this nice old lady who’s not rocking in a chair and knitting after 70 years old.” I mean I don’t understand how anyone — at any age — can do all she does. She makes the rest of us look like slackers.
The other night, as I took out my trash, I heard a commotion down the hall. June was having a party, and it sounded like 20 college kids were in there, laughing and chattering loudly. I wondered if was a kegger.
But there has been a sadness in June’s eyes recently that kind of breaks my heart a little. She is evasive about it when I inquire. But when I gently press her, she reveals that her son is schizophrenic and in the hospital.
“He goes in and out of being well,” she allows. “Right now, he’s not well.”
I hug her tightly and she kind of pulls away, her thick eyeliner streaming down her face. I kiss her cheek.
Then I remember the note on her computer: “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.”
It’s the only time June really let me into her world. I mean, really let me in. She never talks about her ex-husband, and I never ask. But she never seems lonely, and is constantly surrounded by people who clearly love her.
Recently, June had her hip replaced. She’s not allowed to walk outside without a cane unless she is escorted.
“I want to walk with you, June. Will you go for a walk with me?” I ask, realizing how condescending that must’ve sounded.
“I haven’t been getting out much. I honestly am a bit timid without the cane.”
Then, late one afternoon, I busted her slipping out of the building with a group of friends. She was going to happy hour at Trestle.
“I’m a little jealous,” I joked. “I kind of want to hang out with you.”
“Oh, we will. We will. I’ll call you. By the way — you look good. You’ve lost weight. Are you writing?”
“This is Caitlin O’Toole,” she says to her friends after a brief pause. “Isn’t that the greatest name you’ve ever heard? A real writer’s name.”
A real writer. Funny, but these days, without a staff job, I rarely identify myself as such. But every day I wake up, I try to give myself a pep talk — and I hear my dad’s voice: “Staff job or no staff job, you are and will always be a writer.”
And as I peer outside my window, trying to structure yet another day, I see June across the street waiting for the bus. And I think to myself, I really should get out more.
Caitlin O’Toole is a New York City-based writer and editor. A native of Washington, D.C., she began her illustrious journalism career as a Washington Post paper girl. She has since written and edited for Sesame Workshop Digital, Star Magazine, The National Enquirer, Glamour, People.com, Parade.com and Washington’s City Paper. Her work has also been featured on Fox News, ABC, MTV and VH1. She lives in Chelsea with her two cats, Lucy and Ethel. She can be reached for work at her LinkedIn page.