Sweat glints off Allen Artcliff’s spiky brown hair and his skin is flushed as he dims the lights on a crystal chandelier to the appropriate level of swank. The affable and handsome Director of Food and Beverage at The Crescent in Beverly Hills shakes his head in amazement as the hotel’s dining room and patio fill with well-dressed Angelenos looking for half-price appetizers and $5 cocktails. It’s only been 10 minutes since the start of The Crescent’s second monthly Pink Slip Party and the place is already packed solid. At the hotel’s first party in February, he expected 40 guests — 100 showed up. This second one is well on its way to 200. Artcliff smooths his velveteen jacket and dives into the crowd to check on the food.
Throwing a party may not seem to be the most productive use of time when everybody in the known universe is getting laid off from their jobs. As a go-to activity, weeping quietly in one’s room comes to mind. But what if you invited job recruiters to meet the fashionably unemployed? Why not enjoy mini-curry-burgers and pink martinis with several hundred of your fellow fire-ees, a.k.a. kindred souls, a.k.a. competitors, a.k.a. potential allies? These days, with unemployment surging at 8 percent, these categories are pretty much one and the same. The Pink Slip Party concept, you could say, reinvents the whole notion of getting canned. Take a tragic thing and make it hip, and glossy, and chic and upbeat.
Artcliff, chief architect of party experiences at The Crescent like “Cocktails & A Chauffeur: Party Like a Rockstar, Not a Socialite” and “Mother’s Day Work-Out, Chill-Out,” came up with the Pink Slip Party idea independent of the ones that have been popping up around Los Angeles and New York, and independent of the ones being shopped this very second by rival Pink Slip Party planners lurking in his own hotel patio. (The original, ancestral pink slip parties date to 1910, but became known to modern-day workers in the late 1990s, when downsized tech sector employees got together to dot-commiserate.)
“Done away are the days of job fairs,” Artcliff says. “Look at the way the world is. My hope is for people to say hello, get the awkwardness out of the way, then get the business card. You do have to be in job mode. People called me and asked, ‘What’s the attire today?’ This surprises me a little. You’re going to a job interview. This is your first impression — the first face to face, the ‘let’s talk for five minutes, then book an appointment.’ Then when you walk into the office, you’re not nervous because you’ve met the person before.”
Across the room, a freelance photographer in suit and tie is being interviewed by a TV camera crew. “What are you doing here?” the newscaster asks. “Were you recently laid off?”
“I am networking. It’s the only thing you can do,” the photographer answers, launching into a speech about reinventing himself.
Everybody is talking about reinventing and redefining themselves, so much that you kind of have to wonder which persona exactly will show up at the actual job interview. Sheron Rice — “as in brown,” she says — was laid off a month ago, is now seriously lip-glossed and ready for battle. Is she looking for a job? “Ooh, am I ever! I was in real-estate development for seven years. It’s scary. I saw the change coming. I made so much money. Then as the economy went on, we were unable to get banks to fund our projects.”
She is considering going back to law school. “You have a sense of failure. Even though it’s not your fault.”
The five recruiters, each representing a cross-section of industries — accounting, legal, real estate, healthcare, technology, entertainment, manufacturing — are the belles of tonight’s ball, set upon by swarms of job seekers.
One hospitality recruiter, Wendy Tuttle, sinks into a chair. “What are people asking? Helllllllp!” says Tuttle’s boss, Dave Danhi. “People have been asking for H-E-L-P. Capitalize all that and put spaces in between.”
“People here are going through the same emotions. They’re commiserating,” says Tuttle. “They’ve been saying ‘I’ll take anything.’ But I think that desperation is a horrible cycle. It leads to insecurity and that leads them to doubt their talents. It makes me sad. People don’t have support to lean on in times like these. Maybe it’s the guy who doesn’t want to scare his wife. So I cheerlead for them. Before I can help you with your job, maybe I can help with your mindset. Not to be in the doomsday frame of mind.”
Danhi often refers to his work as “making a love connection” between prospective employee and employer. “People make fun of me. They say, you’re the Chuck Woolery of the recruiting business, but it’s true.”
One of the questions Tuttle often gets asked is, whether she thinks these parties are better than a job fair. “Do I think it’s better? No. Do I think it’s a crazy-cool idea? Hell, yeah. Job fairs are sterile. Tonight it’s about connection. I’ll look at your résumé tomorrow.”
At the bar, a woman named Taige (downsized, Oakwood housing company) clutches a leather binder tightly to her chest, elbowing a path through people in various states of hope, despair and inebriation. She used to work in Risk Management. She takes a deep breath and declares herself ready to start working the room.
Adrienne, an exuberant woman with long, blond Rapunzel hair, takes a tiny, rationing sip from her half-price Pink Stimulus Cocktail. She was laid off from her $60K-a-year executive assistant job in January. “It’s been tough. I’m not used to this. Sending out a resume is like .” her voice trails off, unable to complete the metaphor. “I need to find some kind of company where the business is stable. Pharmaceuticals maybe? The more people are stressed out, the more they’ll need drugs.”
She peers down at her green stilettos. “I don’t go shopping anymore for shoes. I went to the Westside Pavilion the other day to buy glycerin soap and got so depressed! I was in and out in record time. I went home and had a margarita. I can’t even afford Nine West shoes. It breaks my heart. I tear up just talking about it,” she says, half laughing. “Tonight I talked to two recruiters. I met a few good people. Now I’m having a drink and saying ‘Fuck it.’ ”
There is Jeff, an old-school sales and marketing guy (laid off, BMG Music). He has two kids. “Are they working age?” someone asks.
“No, they’re in the I Need Braces age. They’re 9 and 10.”
Richard was fired first from TV Guide and then from Paradigm talent agency, whose offices are in fact across the street. He gazes at the gleaming white building from the steps of the hotel. “I’m familiar with this hotel because we have the fired people’s goodbye parties here all the time,” he says.
There are haters, too. Like the video-game designer in a skull sweater vest who says he only came for the cheap drinks. He swaggers in and surveys the room with barely concealed disdain. “Who’s gonna give a job to a drunk guy anyway? Does anyone have any jobs to give away? Who’s gonna hire someone who can’t even afford a proper drink?”
Two girls nearby are trading phone numbers. “You’re a Scorpio? I’m an Aquarius!” As one leaves, she calls out to Artcliff, “See you next month.” His Pink Slip Parties will recur every first Tuesday of the month until the economy brightens or until people can no longer afford half-price appetizers, devoting their liquid cash instead to indulgences like rent and groceries.
Soon, a homeless man walks up. He’s neglected to bring a resume, but he does have a dollhouse strapped to his head (which means, technically, he’s not homeless). “The guy told me they were giving out jobs here?” he says to Artcliff.
“It’s RSVP. Sorry, man.”
“People who don’t have jobs are not so RSVP, you know?” says the homeless man. “Aaagh. I’m going to Starbucks anyway.”
PINK SLIPPING IN L.A.
Pink Slip Party at The Crescent. First Tuesday of each month at the Crescent’s Boé restaurant, 403 N. Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills (310) 247-0505 or www.crescentbh.com. 6 to 8 p.m.
Pink Slip Party L.A. Next events this month on April 11 at Staples Center before the Clippers vs. Trail Blazers game. 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A., and on April 29, a luau pool party at the Hilton Long Beach, 701 W. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Hosted by BCS Staffing. RSVPs essential. www.pinkslippartyla.com.
Pink Slipped Mixers 2.0. Next events at uWink in Hollywood (April 21), Bar Celona in Pasadena (April 22), the Back Stage in Culver City (April 23), the Hotel Palomar in Westwood (April 27), Woodland Hills (April 28) and at the Hilton in Long Beach (April 29). RSVPs essential. www.pinkslipmixer.com and Twitter.com/pinkslipped.
SoCal Speednetworking. Weekly events $10-$20, in Ventura, Los Angeles, Simi Valley, Woodland Hills, Glendale, Irvine, and Calabasas. www.socalspeednetworking.com.