Monday, Jan. 7
It’s the first full day I am furloughed, but I’m not sleeping in. My wife goes to a hot yoga class on Monday and she gets up at 5:30 a.m. to get there on time. I get up then, too, because she needs every light on.
The kids are awake and I’m getting them ready for school. I have to dress the 5-year-old in his school uniform; help the 7-year-old find his school pullover — “not sweatshirt!”; there’s a big difference — and keep the 3-year-old from destroying whatever she comes into contact with.
Usually I’m getting myself dressed, too. This morning, we’re discussing what type of language is appropriate to use at school when the 7-year-old asks, “Where’s your uniform, Daddy?” I tell him that I don’t have to wear it today, because I’m off work.
“Is this like when you had jury duty?” he asks. I tell him this is different.
“Are you fired?”
“No, I’m furloughed,” I say.
“That’s a new F-word!” he says.
I work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, on the telecommunications support staff. Some of us from work are in a group chat together. Usually, we talk about sports and current events. Today, we are the current event.
“Don’t watch the news,” someone says. We share advice on how to stay afloat while we’re not getting paid. Someone explains how to contact the mortgage company and request a month’s reprieve without incurring penalties; someone else describes how to contact utility companies.
I chime in to say that I am watching a “Sopranos” marathon on HBO. I should be cleaning out the gutters, but instead I’m clearing out the DVR.
Another co-worker says that I should cut the cord and get rid of cable. Well, I have some time to explore that option.
Tuesday, Jan. 8
School drop-off is a success. I run to the grocery store afterward and pick up juice, pull-up diapers and fruit. I’m in and out and back home in 30 minutes — faster than it ever is. But usually I’m not grocery shopping at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, I’m on my way to work. Traffic in D.C. always drops during the holidays, and returns full force the second week of January. Not this year.
A few of my neighbors ask if I’m affected by the shutdown. I say not yet. I’m off work, but my pockets are O.K. for now. Most of the museum staff is furloughed like me. But skeleton crews are still at work, some unpaid.
The Matisse cutouts still have to be rotated in and out of light; the Van Gogh has to be guarded.
We call the people doing this work “the Essentials.” That would be a great name for a band, I think. I imagine seeing that on iTunes. Then I think that if this goes on for much longer, I’ll cancel my Apple Music subscription.
The first week of the shutdown, when we were still open, the museum got a call from someone who had tickets to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture that had been bought months in advance. The caller had Grandma come up from Georgia to see it, but the museum was closed when they arrived. The caller was glad that the National Gallery was open and had an exhibition of photographs by Gordon Parks to enjoy.
The gallery was closed the next day.
President Trump gave a speech on television saying that the shutdown is all about the “wall.” I remember that last month he tweeted that “most of the people not getting paid are Democrats.” When I heard that, I thought about how many of the federal workers in Washington are African-American, which I think might be how the president meant it to sound. Funny, we tend to see ourselves as American citizens who have a right to pursue happiness — which is kind of hard to do without a steady income.
Wednesday, Jan. 9
My wife, Tracie, is getting ready to go to her job as a massage therapist. She started her business during the recession, when I was laid off from a nongovernment job. She usually works four days a week, but is adding extra hours during the furlough and thinking about adding an extra day.
I pick up my mom and take her to get some medication. Her senior center had a field trip to the National Gallery scheduled for Monday. Now, of course, it’s canceled. Since there are no other free museums open, the whole outing is off. It’s probably for the best, my mom says. Another trip to the casino instead isn’t great for the group’s savings.
I’m making decent progress on the DVR — 70 hours left. That’s a lot of TV. It probably is time to cut the cord.
On stage at a comedy show, I talk about the furlough. Some of the audience is off work too. I say that I’m looking for a job that the president won’t shut down. What should I do?
Pole dancing is suggested. No one really wants to see that, I say. A woman in front says that she does it and I ask if she’s hiring. It’s Saturday energy on a Wednesday.
Thursday, Jan. 10
After school drop-off, my wife and I have check out a possible day care center for our youngest. We like the place and fill out the forms. We may be able to qualify for financial help while I’m out on furlough. I’d much rather be at work earning my keep, but to be honest the assistance would be nice.
“Are we getting a paycheck?” That’s the talk on group chat today. It’s close to payday, so close to when we’ll really be noticing what the furlough costs. I don’t follow the advice to avoid the news, and I see the president walked out of a meeting with Democrats. It doesn’t seem as if we’re any closer to ending this. And we’re on track to break the shutdown record.
My wife and I start watching a show on Hulu and we decide we’re going to cancel it soon. We’re thankful that we’re this fortunate — that the first things we need to give up are Hulu and Apple Music.
Friday, Jan. 11
The 7-year-old asks if I want to go back to work.
I tell him that I do very much want to go back to work.
“Good,” he says.
“Because I like to visit,” he says.