by Sean McConeghy

Do-It-Yourself Botox

Until recently, dinner at the Duncan house in Gary, Indiana, was a relaxing affair.  James, an insurance executive, would typically go over claims on his Blackberry, occasionally calling a colleague to discuss a particular case.  His wife, Monica, would check up on plans for fundraisers she was planning for the charity she runs.  Meanwhile, their teenage children Matt and Sandy would text their friends about weekend plans, school gossip or the people they were dating.

With recent increases in cell phone rates, however, such quality time is no longer possible.  That valued half an hour has now turned into a 10-minute awkward silence interrupted by the occasional platitude or routine question.  “How was your day?” starts the nightly performance, which is without exception followed by “Fine. Yours?” “Okay.”  James later compliments his wife on the dinner, but it’s clear that nobody at the table is especially comfortable.

“These are hard times,” said Monica.  “The higher rates leave us no choice but to cut down on our cell phone use, and it’s tearing our family apart.  I don’t know which is worse, that painful period of queasiness all of us prepare for all day or the arguments that start just to break up the monotony.”

Sadly, though, the Duncans are not alone.  Newlyweds Mark and Karen Newberry of Houston are already staring at each other across the table.

“Five months ago I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Karen,” Mark, 35, reflected.  “She was so beautiful. Her lunchtime calls always brought a smile to my face, and the way she would send those smiley faces at the end of her texts. It was just incredible to know that the love of my life was just a phone call away.”

Times have changed, though.  “The only time I get to talk with her now is when we’re together, and I just don’t know if I can handle that.”

Diners aren’t the only one who have noticed the change. Pietro Conti, the owner of Pietro’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Seattle, said that his place just isn’t the same. “This place used to be filled with smiling people chatting away for hours. Now that the only people they talk to are the ones sitting opposite them, they just stare across the tables in silences so deep, you’d think this was a Trappist monastery.”

When this crisis will finally end and allow meals to return to normal is anybody’s guess. If it doesn’t end soon, though, you might want to consider investing in companies that sell microwaveable dinners. Any meal that last longer than a commercial break could soon be a thing of the past.

Sean McConeghy has spent most of the last decade traveling around the world, mostly teaching to support that occupation. He’s currently in Honduras starting his own business. He is working toward his Rhett Butler moment when he can say to his former life, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

All Downsized Living blog posts are fictitious and satirical. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental and unintentional.

 

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by Sean McConeghy

Do-It-Yourself Botox

Tim Smyth might look like any other 13-year-old, but what this young boy has been through is something no child should have to endure.  Heading into his birthday in late January, Smyth had his heart set on an Xbox 360, along with two other games, Grand Theft Auto IV and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Unfortunately for him, his parents just couldn’t afford the $420 price tag.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Smyth.  “I took out the garbage twice last month, didn’t curse at my mother for three weeks, and this was the thanks I got!”

When reached for comment, Smyth’s mother burst into tears and said,  “I can’t believe this had to happen to him when he’s so young. I would like to give him an outlet for acting out the gratuitous violence and sexual content he sees on Showtime after we’re in bed, but I just couldn’t afford it.  Now Tim has been forced to take up soccer.  Soccer! Can you believe it?”

Sadly, stories like Smyth’s are happening all across the country, and the recession’s forgotten victims seem to be suffering the most.

In Springfield, Missouri, nine-year-old Jack Mazer is also having a hard time.  Counting on his parents to plunk down nearly $200 for his new Wii and his chance to imitate his favorite basketball player Kobe Bryant, Mazer stormed up to his room in a huff upon discovering that his parents had instead gotten him an unidentifiable orange orb.

Jack’s father Mark, who apparently was somewhat familiar with the strange object, said that he had vague recollections of using it in his youth.  After years spent sitting in front of the TV, though, he had to admit that he was no longer sure of what to do with it.  “I hoped that my son would be able to figure it out, but apparently I was wrong.  I may now have to take the drastic step of spending time with him rediscovering its use,” he said.

Not being able to enjoy imaginary worlds is a comparatively minor problem for these forgotten youth. They are also being confronted with massive psychological trauma.

EstebanMario Esteban, an 11-year-old in Colorado Springs, has been catatonic since late December. Esteban’s mother, Lupe, described the traumatic event: “We were hoping that we’d be able to get Mario a PS3 during the after-Christmas sales, but we just couldn’t swing it.  Mario came to us begging, but we had to tell him no.  Then he asked us the question every parent dreads: ‘What do I do now?’  Then… I’m sorry, it’s just so difficult for me to talk about it… I told him that he had to go outside and use his imagination, and that’s when…” Her voice gave out before she could finish.

Fortunately, there are occasional bright spots in this otherwise devastating phenomenon. After receiving only clothes and a few books for Christmas, 12-year-old Francis Barnbey got an unexpected present: some chalk and a rubber ball from his grandparents, who explained that their children had used those items themselves.  “Your parents used to play with these when they were young. Maybe you’ll enjoy them too,” they told him. Barnbey’s 15-year-old brother then stepped in to help him draw nipples on the ball.

Even with hopeful stories like the Barnbey’s, most American children continue to wander playgrounds aimlessly, desperately waiting for the day when they will once again be able to spend six hours a day staring at a screen with their friends.  Sadly, though, that day does not appear to be in the foreseeable future.

Update:  Since this article was first written, Tim Smyth has discovered his creative side.  Now rather than pretending to steal cars and run over old ladies, he’s doing the real thing and is now wanted in four states.

Sean McConeghy has spent most of the last decade traveling around the world, mostly teaching to support that occupation. He’s currently in Honduras starting his own business. He is working toward his Rhett Butler moment when he can say to his former life, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

All Downsized Living blog posts are fictitious and satirical. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental and unintentional.

 

 

by Blair Adams

Hailed as the “Julia Child of our times,” 29-year-old chef Rob McGuire is leading a food revolution that is taking America by storm: It’s called Recycled Cuisine, and Rob is showing Americans that fine cuisine is as close as the nearest Dumpster. Using carefully selected ingredients from trash bins around his hometown of Seattle, Rob creates interesting and innovative recipes that are scrumptious and easy to prepare.

He typically goes “shopping” for ingredients twice a day at two o’clock in the afternoon after breakfast and lunch, and then again around nine or ten o’clock, when the dinner hour is over at most restaurants. “I always use fresh ingredients,” he explained. “You never know what you’re going to find in a Dumpster, and that brings an element of spontaneity, randomness, chance and unpredictability to these recipes. It’s very exciting.”

Rob McGuire is pioneering a new movement in American cuisine.

Rob McGuire is pioneering a new movement in American cuisine.

For instance, Rob is famous for his rice croquettes, which he makes by waiting outside of Asian restaurants. There he takes all the rice left over from people’s plates, combines them with different ingredients such as mushrooms, bell peppers, and shrimp, rolls them into balls, and then fries them on the spot with a portable cook stove he brings with him. Rob points out that anyone can do this with a campfire, skillet and cooking oil.

Shish kabobs are another specialty of his and can utilize any type of cuisine as a source of ingredients. “You can find the ingredients in almost any restaurant trash bin,” he said, “and the possibilities are endless. You can really be creative and even combine ingredients that you wouldn’t think go together.” Making shish kabobs is easy, he explained. “You just find any old stick, and go to it.”

His increasingly popular cooking show, Dumpster Diving, on the Food Network, is winning millions of fans all over the country, and his cookbook has been on The New York Times bestseller list for seven months. Rob went to the Cordon Bleu academy in Seattle, but like so many other cooking school graduates, found only $10 or $12 an hour jobs as a line cook waiting for him when he got out. That wasn’t nearly enough to pay back the thousands of dollars of student loans he had taken out, so he had to think on his feet. Recycled Cuisine was the result.

For reasons of food safety, Rob frequently tells people to always cook food thoroughly and avoid scavenging raw or fresh foods such as salads. Cooking at high temperatures kills bacteria, which is an important consideration with this type of cooking. Instead, he says, weeds like fennel and chicory are edible and available at many vacant lots. He also makes delightful salads with Miner’s lettuce, a common plant found throughout the West Coast. His cookbook even includes a section on how to grow salad greens in tin cans.

So people don’t feel stigmatized by using such unconventional cooking methods, he emphasizes the innovative nature of his cuisine. “Cooking has been evolving this way for centuries,” he pointed out. “People have always used whatever ingredients they had at their disposal. For example, in order to stretch a piece of meat, Genoese sailors just put a little bit of the meat in between two squares of pasta—and presto, ravioli. Just think of yourself as writing a new chapter in culinary history.”

Blair Adams is the editor of Downsized Living.

All Downsized Living blog posts are fictitious and satirical. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental and unintentional.

 Photo credit: iStock

by Blair Adams

With jobs scarce and middle-class jobs gone the way of the black-and-white TV, is it still possible to achieve the American dream? Joanne Horvath, an employment specialist at Berenson Personnel, a leading temp agency, thinks so.

“You just have to dial down your expectations, and imagine your job search strategy in a whole new way,” Horvath said. “In today’s economy, where there are so many more applicants than there are jobs, stellar qualifications aren’t enough. For example, some employers hold a raffle where the winning ticket holders are the ones who get to apply. Also, the hiring process itself is a lot more cryptic. Most employers refuse to hire people who are currently unemployed. If you’re an expert in your field, you’re overqualified; if you’re a star performer, you’ll want too much money; if you have years of experience, you’re too old; and if you have a new degree or certificate, you have no experience. And for most jobs, there’s no tolerance for learning or transfer of skills from one field to another.” Therefore, she went on, job seekers need to find creative ways to stand out.

There are plenty of opportunities available to the resourceful.

There are plenty of opportunities available to the resourceful.

Twenty-eight-year-old Lane Martin of Kansas City, Missouri, is one example. When a recent hiring fair for a dozen part-time clerks’ positions at a local Walmart drew more than 3,000 people, Lane got creative, took matters into his own hands — and won.

A recent graduate of NYU with a degree in engineering and a master’s in urban planning, Lane had sent out 600 resumes but never got called for an interview. Needing to bring in some cash, he went to apply for a position at the fair. But after standing in line for six hours and seeing that his prospects were dimming by the minute, Lane decided he had to do what he had to do — make an impression no matter what. He took a page out of the old seventies playbook, doffed his clothes and ran, stark naked, to the front of the line. Hoping to imprint his name on the interviewers’ memories, he saluted the Walmart representatives, handed them his resume and said, “Lane Martin at your service.” Then he ran as police keeping order at the event came after him.

A former high school track star and an avid jogger, Lane ran so fast down the street, he quickly eluded the police, and a courier delivering a package couldn’t help but notice. The courier flagged Lane down, took down his contact information and hired him the next day. At $8 an hour, the courier’s job is way more than he was making at his old, interim position as a waiter.

But running naked isn’t the only way to stand out from the crowd. Rick Nevitt, a 38-year-old former ad executive in Phoenix, Arizona, thinking he didn’t have a chance in a field of over 300 applicants, barked and howled like a dog during a recent interview for a sales position at a car dealership — he got the job. Other job applicants have parachuted to their interviews in costume or fixed Caesar’s salad at the interviewer’s desk.

Horvath said, “If you asked me what the American dream is now, I couldn’t say. Last week we had one guy come in who was a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, and he couldn’t get a job. So I asked him, ‘Can you do anything else, like sing or tap dance?’ All I know is, in today’s economy, always think and do the opposite of what makes sense.”

Blair Adams is the editor of Downsized Living.

All Downsized Living blog posts are fictitious and satirical. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental and unintentional.

Photo credit: iStock