The Preds Are Back To Work (And So Am I)

Nashville Predators fans were back in force this past Holiday weekend at Bridgestone Arena, as the citizens of Smashville welcomed loudly the return of NHL regular season play to Music City with a pair of sellouts, on Saturday and Monday nights.
(File Photo: | Kim Green/WBUR, Boston)

Hockey is back — but that’s not the only reason that why I am as well.

If you truly missed the NHL and the Nashville Predators, then you’re probably as happy as a clam right now (well, sort of).

Prior to their current seven-game road trip, which starts tonight in Minnesota, the Preds embarked upon their lockout-shortened 48-game 2012-13 season with a brief two-game homestand, opening this past Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets, followed by a MLK Day Monday early evening contest versus the St. Louis Blues.

Despite the fact that both games ended with the Preds on the short end of shootout losses (3-2 to the Jackets and 4-3 to the Blues), the Nashville faithful was back in force at Bridgestone, welcoming the return of NHL Hockey with sellout crowds on both nights and proclaiming that Smashville is once again in full swing.

Hopefully now, I can say the same thing for myself.

You knew where hockey went, but in case you’ve been wondering just where Predators AJenda has been since the end of last summer, I unfortunately can’t really give you a definitive answer. Obviously the labor stoppage that would eventually claim more than half of the 2012-13 NHL season’s physical calendar (and nearly as many games) indeed played a big part in my absence; but it was more than just that for me, personally.

It seems a funny thing happened on the way back from Treatise Interruptus, folks.

I’ll give you fair warning right here, this really isn’t a hockey post, and it really doesn’t even belong on this blog, due to its more personal-than-usual-even-for-me flavor. However, it’s something that I feel the need to get out into the open, if not to explain my absence to those of you who actually missed this space, then to explain to the significance of why I was gone in the first place.

Full Disclosure
It’s not easy even for someone as overtly transparent as I am to admit, but I guess you could say that the reason I disappeared last summer was because I sorta got lost. In fact, by the time the lockout hit on September 16, 2012, I’d already been lost for months — lost in the shuffling priorities of my own personal lockout.

For even last spring, while Preds fans struggled to come to grips with their team’s unexpectedly early second-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I too was struggling, but with something far more consuming than the emotional incursions of doubt, disappointment, and blame associated with the realization that your favorite hockey team might not be as great as you had hoped.

My struggles continued into June and burst into full bloom by July, coinciding with the Preds’ gut-wrenching personnel losses of fan-favorites, Jordin Tootoo and Ryan Suter to free agency, only to be ratcheted even higher by the protracted and painful saga that was the Shea Weber offer sheet match.

I attempted to channel my angst into something that might fill the growing pit in my stomach, which I had generally assumed was being caused by my frustration over ungrateful players and greedy, self-entitled agents. I subsequently buried my head into research to uncover and expose these self-trumped injustices. Yet for all of my hours and hours of reading, writing, and Googling, I turned out a grand total of three complete posts from the end of last season through the end of the summer — and even at that, one of them was the beginning of a multipart series that I never finished.

It just seemed impossible for me to say what I wanted to say. I was spinning my wheels, big-time.

I grew more and more frustrated. I began to doubt myself. I began to question whether I had then or ever would again have anything meaningful to say.

All the while, however, I was in denial about something else that was going on in my life — something that I knew was affecting me a helluva lot more than I wanted to admit.

I now realize that my dearth of output had nothing to do with the subject matter about which I was attempting to write; it really had nothing to do even with hockey. Sure, I was frustrated about the lockout — everybody was — but no one else that I knew of had completely shut down, right? So what was my problem?

Once again, it’s a tough thing for a man to explain without feeling like a wimp.

Being out of work for two out of the last three years will do that to a guy.

Yeah, when faced with not being able to buy gas or pay the mortgage, you realize that whether or not a blog (that you do as a hobby) gets written is the least of your worries.

That’s pretty much been my financial reality ever since November of 2009, during the height of the Great Recession, when the company for which I’d worked 11 years decided to lay off 15% of their employees, most of whom had 8-15 years of seniority. From that point on I was out of work for 14 months before acquiring a one-year contract position with a Nashville software company in 2011. That contract ended a little more than a year ago, in January of 2012.

That’s just 12 months out of the last 38 in which I’ve drawn a steady paycheck— apart from my state unemployment assistance, which I began receiving just last year and was supposed to run out this month. Thankfully, Congress extended the benefit for those in my situation, so as of now I have another 12 weeks of emergency benefits remaining. But even with my unemployment supplement over the past year, combined with my wife’s salary, we still make just barely enough to meet our monthly bill commitments (which are extremely basic compared to an awful lot of people).

We have but one genuine extravagance: we’ve been Predators season ticketholders since the 2000-01 season; and you have no idea how close I came to giving those things up last summer. As it was, we had no choice but to downgrade from our full season to a half-season package in order to keep them at all; and if not for the help of a friend who chipped in to take a few more games off of our hands, we likely wouldn’t have even been able to afford the half-season plan.

So why exactly am I here, you ask, splaying myself in public, telling you about all my financial issues? Well, it’s certainly not because I’m looking for a handout or pity.

I’m a big boy (well, not really, but you know what I mean…); I know that shit happens, and at some point everybody steps in some — whether completely by accident or by simply not paying attention. Sure it stinks, but eventually you’ll either find a way to scrape it off of your shoe, or get used to the smell and continue on. In that vein of thought I don’t blame anything or anyone for my circumstances, per se. A person in my position who can still afford to even consider holding onto NHL season tickets in any shape or form certainly doesn’t qualify as someone whom most folks would choose to feel sorry for.

The reason that I wanted to take this complete left-turn from typical content offerings is because of what my situation over the past three-plus years — and particularly the past 12 months — have taught me about myself, our society, and the way we view the things that happen in it.

Unemployment changes more than just your financial circumstance; it alters your perception as well — or at least it should. It takes those things that “other people” have to deal with and sticks them right in your face until you acknowledge them, and accept that YOU are now the one of those people that nobody cares about.

And honestly, that surprised me; it humbled me. It forced me to reevaluate a lot of how I perceive myself and those around me. And I hope that if you were like I was, it will do the same for you.

Cynicism Takes A Holiday
I always thought that I believed in the maxim, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”; however, I found out first-hand that’s a lot easier to say than to actually do. And now I honestly don’t believe that it’s even possible. We are so limited by our perceptions — of class, of socioeconomic status, of our particular worldview — that I have to wonder if anyone could truly empathize with someone facing the loss of not just a job but their life’s vocation unless they too had a similar experience. And that’s not really anyone’s fault because we all fall into the same trap.

My Mom had a favorite old pet saying that was intended to an innocently-jovial dig, but nevertheless expresses the unfortunate truth of how we often really are, even when we’re not trying to be: “Ya’know I feel for ya, but I just can’t reach ya.”

I had never considered myself to be an uncompassionate or condescending person, yet I’m now amazed at how little credit I gave to the millions who preceded me into the unemployment lines when the economy tanked in 2008. Even soon after I got laid off, in late 2009, I still thought that I was different from the rest. I figured that I’d have no trouble at all finding another job, despite the disparaging reports buzzing about in the media, detailing the woes of people in my age demographic who after being laid off were forced to abandon their previous, well-paying careers in favor of often menial part-time or otherwise minimum-wage work, because no one would re-hire them in their chosen fields, regardless of experience.

But of course that wouldn’t happen to me, right? Surely I was the exception to the rule. Now 38 months later, with only a 12-month contract-work band-aid in the 2011 to stop the bleeding, the wound to my pride and professional personhood is still gaping. By early last summer I realized that I was now one of those sad sacks whom I had previously dismissed. Flipping burgers or delivering pizza was surely in the offing.

Once the 2011-12 season had concluded and the Preds were out of the playoffs, I decided that my primary focus had to shift to finding a job even more so than it had been previously. Nevertheless, I intended to keep writing, but as the months passed and the depressing scenarios involving Toots, Sutes, and The Captain played out, it all really started getting to me.

I stepped up my efforts to find appropriate work even more, spending literally hours, several days per week searching and applying for anything related to my professional field of web and/or graphic design. I met with and fielded calls from dozens of recruiters, all of whom were sure they could find me the perfect fit, yet only to see opportunity after opportunity fizzle out in the end.

The individually-crafted cover letters; the wonky online job applications that would kick you out or throw an error after you’d spent an hour filling in the redundantly detailed job history info they required; the face-to-face first and second interviews that seemed so promising but always ended with another dreaded, “Dear AJ” email.

It was maddening. It was devastating. It was both physically and emotionally draining.

Sorry folks, but at that point I just couldn’t blog anymore. I really couldn’t do anything else besides look for work; that was my new full-time job; my mind simply didn’t have any other room to spare.

So is it any wonder that I couldn’t find the time (let alone the motivation) to write about the petty disputes between billionaire owners versus millionaire hockey players arguing over how they should continue to spend MY MONEY?

I didn’t think so.

However, that doesn’t mean that now, after the lockout’s weeping and gnashing of teeth has been replaced by the sunshine-and-lollypops-vibe of the NHL’s return, that I won’t yet revisit the subject at another time…soon.

Like it or Lump it
So there it is, such as it is. My blog was AWOL for nearly six months. Forgive me or deride me as you wish. I only ask, however, that you might deeply consider your own attitude regarding those in a circumstance that is still far from being corrected in this country.

The jobless rate in America as of last month was 7.8% but that figure is seasonally adjusted to count the many temporary jobs that come and then go with the year-end Holiday Season. The REAL unemployment number for 2012 was 8.1%, the highest sustained rate (three-plus years) that we’ve seen since the 1980s.

This isn’t a minor hiccup, folks; it’s a problem we’ve had for awhile that ain’t goin’ away anytime soon.

So if you have a good, steady job, please be thankful for it, and bust your hump to keep it that way. Don’t ever take it for granted.

And if you know someone on the outside looking in right now, job-wise, for gawdsakes, give ‘um a hug, look them in the eye and tell them to keep fighting. Take it from someone who knows, they need that.

As I said at the top of this story, The Preds are indeed back, however, that’s not the only reason that I am as well. I’m back because it appears my circumstances have finally changed. Yep, fortunately (for you), one of those unemployed folks I just asked you to physically lay hands on now won’t necessarily have to be me.


Although the final draft of my personal CBA hasn’t been officially signed yet, there was agreement in principle as of last Friday between myself and my prospective next employer. According to the recruiter I’ve been working with, the official job offer is supposed to happen today, but it’s already been decided.

The NHL is back, Preds AJenda is back, and thankfully, I am too.

You can look forward to new content here on Mondays and Fridays throughout hockey season, with additional special posts whenever necessary and/or time permits. Thank you for your patience, and here’s to a great 2013 in Smashville!


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3 Responses to “The Preds Are Back To Work (And So Am I)”

  1. Jeremy Sargent January 23, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    I am so proud to be a contemporary of someone with this much resolve and drive. You are in my our prayers and though I’ll never know exactly what you went through, I kinda went through the same type of thing searching incessently for a job for the last year and a half and finally got rewarded and start on Feb 11th.
    Your blogs are top notch and the personal touches are what make them unique and spot on from a fan’s point-of-view. Keep up the great work and know that we support you and all your efforts.
    …and of course…GO PREDS!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Robbie from Canada January 23, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Long time lurker, first time commenter. What a thoughtful post. My family has gone through bouts of joblessness, some for short periods of time, some a bit longer, but nothing like you have discussed here. The feelings of helplessness and worthlessness can build up, and I can only imagine what you have gone through. Congrats on the new job, and hoping things look up for you, your blog, and the Preds in the new year. All the best.

  3. Cisar January 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Good to have you back, AJ. Congrats on the job. I will again look forward to your posts.

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