Dec. 24, 2001 -- They are young, jobless, and ready to party.
Once a month, unemployed refugees from the dot-com revolution gather in bars
around the country for the latest innovation of the newly downtrodden Internet
generation -- the pink-slip party.
By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
Partiers are given glow-in-the-dark, color-coded wristbands at
the door - pink if you are jobless, green if you're looking to hire, and blue
if you are neither. They drink Bud Lights and tequilas as they network and
study the message board filled with resumes and job postings. They listen to
music selected as a soundtrack to the dot-com demise. Greatest hits include
"It's the End of the World as We Know It," by REM, and Queen's
"Another One Bites the Dust." Some parties even include dot-comedy to
help the unemployed techies laugh at their troubles.
Laid off, downsized, or simply fired, many erstwhile employees
of failed or foundering Internet start-ups appear to be handling the emotional
pitfalls of joblessness pretty well. Just two years ago, the mostly twenty- and
thirtysomethings were poised to take over the world, or at least amass enough
wealth to buy much of it. But that was a different millennium.
Now that the dot-com bubble has exploded in their faces, many
are dealing for the first time with the psychological strains that accompany
job loss. And they seem to be coping in uniquely public ways. In addition to
the pink-slip parties, job-loss support groups and group therapy sessions are
common. In San Francisco, where a large portion of the population works in the
tech sector, laid-off techies can even go to camp. Recession Camp offers
regular outings like golf and movies. Campers also volunteer time to area
Allison Hemming, who organized the first pink slip gatherings
in New York City in July of 2000, says the mood is more subdued and less
defiant these days than when the parties began.
"A year and a half later, people are more humble," she
says. "But they are not embarrassed that they were laid off. That is what
the parties are all about. I have talked to people in their 40s and 50s who are
veterans of corporate layoffs and they say, 'Where was this in the late '80s
and early '90s?' Back then they just went home and felt lousy."
Hemming, 33, says she started the parties after realizing that
people would feel better about themselves if they got together to share their
experiences. She worked for the online magazine POV until it went under
two years ago, and now she runs The Hired Guns, a marketing consulting firm.
She is also writing a book on coping with job loss in the post-tech-bubble
Hemming says while many displaced dot-commers have moved on and
are coping well, others are struggling with anxieties and self-doubt.
"Some people do take it extremely personally, even if they
are laid off because of a company closure," she says. "They go into a
state of what I call pink-slip paralysis. It is a psychological feeling that
has everything to do with inertia. Here in New York it is so easy for people to
go home to their tiny study apartments, pull down the shades, turn on the TV,
and shut the world out."