The Village People Unemployment Recovery Plan

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The YMCA has been synonymous with unemployment for me for years. I think it came from the time when a family friend lost his job and moved out of his home when I was a teenager. I heard he was living at the Y, and I was astounded that you could rent a room there.

According to the Village People, there is a lot you can do at the Y. And I suppose the whole unemployment/Y connection is a fairly common association for more than just me.

Just listen:

Young man, I was once in your shoes.
I said, I was down and out with the blues.
I felt no man cared if I were alive.
I felt the whole world was so jive …

That’s when someone came up to me,
And said, young man, take a walk up the street.
It’s a place there called the Y.M.C.A.
They can start you back on your way.

We started a family membership at the Missoula Y last fall, when an early freeze made running outside miserable, or at least more miserable than normal.

I don’t know if the membership at our Y is different than in other towns and cities, but there is a curious mix of wealthy, middle class, blue collar and unemployed folks. My general practice doctor works out there, which always makes me self conscious and somehow willing to raise my heart rate more than I normally would. Some strange confidence that he would whip out a defibrillator and save me if I collapsed, obviously.

Once I overheard an unemployed man say he had nothing else to do besides working out now and wait to collect benefits. He had worked at one of the local mills that shut down. I’d covered the last day at Stimson Lumber Mill for the newspaper and produced this video, so I felt a connection to this guy.

Still, when he approached my workout partner and I and wanted to chat about life, I kind of dismissed him. I think I felt some pity for him at the time, and it made me uncomfortable. Now that I’m in his shoes, I realize it was pity.

There’s something about the well-used feeling of most Ys. They lack that polished, moneyed feeling of high-priced gyms, and users often feel a greater sense of ownership. At least I do.

Stan is always leaving the locker room at around 6 a.m. I only know his name from the big STAN embroidered on a patch on his work shirt which hangs on a thin rack near the door.

Since I’m arriving and he’s leaving, I assume he shows up at 5 a.m. or earlier to work out before going to a full day of manual labor at whatever auto shop or tuneup place he works at. I always admire Stan’s dedication.

Stan once asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I’m a reporter at the local newspaper. It was easier than explaining that I was the digital manager. His eyes lit up and he said, “Gosh, I bet that’s a great job.”

I told him I felt like the luckiest guy in town.

I don’t know what Stan thought as he went to work that day. He may or may not have thought about my job some more.

But later, as I was on the rowing machine, I listened to two lawyers talking about their plans for cycling through Spain with their wives and some friends in the summer.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about what it would be like to be a high-profile lawyer with a sailboat and a cabin on the Flathead.

Greener grass and all that.

The Y is such a classless meat pit where doctors toil side by side with laborers. I could people watch and eavesdrop there all day. A microcosm of community, the Y certainly has the potential and obviously has given some a new start. We’ve seen a lot of layoffs and job losses in Missoula in the last three years.

“Hey, can I get a spotter over here?”

Perhaps the Village People said it best:

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, what do you want to be?
I said, young man, you can make real your dreams.
But you’ve got to know this one thing!

No man does it all by himself.
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I’m sure they can help you today.

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