At about 2 o’clock each afternoon, Steve Flores puts his young sons down for a nap. And then he takes one.
What is “funemployment?”
It’s people having a good time despite a lack of a job and that little thing known as a paycheck.
Many Louisvillians are finding that being out of work doesn’t have to be a total drag, and they’re doing a fine job turning their joblessness into an extended version of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Rather than freaking out, they’re spending quality time with family and friends, taking cheap road trips and filling up on Louisville’s free entertainment and cultural offerings.
Flores is now a full-time playmate for sons Joaquin, 5, and Diego Miguel, 3. The three recently took a two-week road trip to Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana. Flores says he’s never before had the chance to spend such a big slice of time with his kids.
His wife Jessica’s job as an art therapist helps pay the bills, as do a handful of rental properties the couple maintains.
“I have a very understanding and supportive wife. She says to go out and have some fun,” Flores said. “She said it would be nice if I stayed unemployed through summer.”
He and the boys also have spent their days splashing in the Jewish Community Center pool, and recently, they went canoeing on the Blue River, stopping to pick blueberries at a farm along the way. Jessica Flores also took part in that outing, something she tries to do when her schedule allows.
Her husband also manages to entertain himself. He is constantly searching for new and better happy hour discounts to exploit. On Tuesdays, he and friends drink bargain beers at Cumberland Brews, and on other nights, they munch Maido’s low-price happy hour sushi.
“Our disposable income is less than when I am employed, but we still manage to find ways to have fun,” Flores said. “We enjoy meeting friends out for dinner and that hasn’t seemed to diminish. In a perfect world, I would be traveling more during this time off but I can’t due to budget constraints.”
While Flores’ attitude might come off as somewhat flippant during these dire economic times, you could say that he is just trying to deal with a bad situation in style.
“I have no guilt whatsoever. It’s not my fault I was laid off,” said Flores, whose previous job was eliminated during a round of cost-cutting. “I’ve worked pretty hard over the course of my career so I don’t feel guilty that I’m currently at home while others are at work.”
That is what drove James Kemp — literally — out of town.
Kemp, 39, got a rare opportunity to hop on a motorcycle and cruise the coast.
The Highlands resident, who lost his job as a home-supply vendor last summer, was asked by a bike-buying friend to fly to Florida, pick up his latest purchase in Sarasota and ride it back home. The friend paid the airfare.
If he had not been unemployed, Kemp would never have had the freedom to be an easy-riding explorer.
“I would assume for most people, it would be a shirking of responsibility to do something like that,” Kemp said. “I jumped at the chance. I didn’t even think about it. I just did it.”
The journey opened his eyes to a completely new part of the country.
“I’d never been to Florida, I’d never seen the Gulf of Mexico, and I’d never seen the Atlantic Ocean, and I got to do that all at once,” he said. “It was a bunch of firsts.”
Though the well-traveled Flores has cut back, he still leaps at an opportunity when he can.
In May, for example, the Texas native flew to Austin to visit relatives. Sensing that there were deals to be made, he snagged a cheap seat to see Flight of the Conchords from a scalper looking to dump his tickets just as the duo was taking the stage.
Yes, he has this funemployment thing down.
“I’ve been laid off before, so I’ve been through the routine,” Flores said. “We managed back then, so I figured we could manage again.”
The keyword here, of course, is “manage.”
Damion Waldbrunn, 32, a Highlands resident who was laid off from his job at a credit card company in April 2008, says he has been frugal enough to qualify for funemployment.
“If I know the bills are paid, I wake up in peace,” he says. “I’ve never slept the sleep of the unemployed.”
He also is devoting as much time as possible to his passion.
“I’m living off my artwork and trying to get my name out there as an artist,” says Waldbrunn, a comic-book illustrator, graphic designer and animator.
Still, he’d rather be working. He checks the “help wanted” listings every day.
“The structure will be pleasantly appreciated,” Waldbrunn said.
Although there are promising signs that the Great Recession of 2007-09 is starting to end — housing may be rebounding and companies are starting to curtail their layoffs — economists warn that it will be a gradual and fragile recovery.
When it finally does come, Daniel Taleghani will greet it with mixed feelings.
Let go from Kroger last fall, Taleghani said he loves being free from the shackles of work. And waking up around 10 or 11 in the morning has been a welcome relief.
“I don’t have to worry that I have to get to work on time or that I have to wear this crappy uniform,” he says. “I enjoy it.”
Taleghani, 28, is also a student at the University of Louisville, and his dad has agreed to help him financially until he graduates.
Despite Taleghani’s lack of spending money, he hasn’t cut down on culture. He takes advantage of free summer concerts and monthly trolley hops in the Gallery District and in Clifton/Crescent Hill.
He’s also planning to expand his mind in his free time, and he has great literary goals: He’s ready to tackle Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” — plus a stack of comic books.
“When I was working and going to school, they piled up,” he says. “I’ve got almost two years’ worth of comic books to catch up on.”
Flores continues to look for work, but is determined to find a good job and not settle for the first thing that comes along.
“I am actively looking for a job, but I am being a bit selective since I am at a certain point in my career,” said Flores, whom Velocity readers might recognize as the magazine’s Biz Wiz columnist.
He admits that he is a bit rueful about all this ending, which it inevitably will.
“I know I won’t stay unemployed forever,” Flores said, “but I’m probably one of the lucky few who will be able to look back at this time and actually have fond memories.”