By Shadee Ashtari
Carol Sarao, 57, was a successful musician for many years before the economy soured on the music business. For the past seven years, she’s worked a series of hourly jobs and now brings in $240 a week writing web content.
A lot of the problems that I have are maybe of my own creation.
I grew up in northeast Philly. My dad worked for the city, for the health department. My mom was a school teacher. I guess middle class, you know, comfortable. I don’t come from a poor background, or rich.
I was always a musician; I got into it when I was 21 and I loved it. I was just fooling around on keyboards, and during those times — in the late ’70s early ’80s — there was a bar on every corner and the disco thing was huge, so you could just work six or seven nights a week. You didn’t even have to be very good. I wasn’t even particularly good when I started. I didn’t own a keyboard or know how to play chords, but I was young and there was just such a demand for musicians.
I moved to Atlantic city in the ’90s because that’s where all the work was, working six nights a week in the casinos. I bought a small condo because I was doing well then. I still own the condo but I haven’t paid the mortgage in a long time.
For years and years I worked every night. I worked in bands for corporate parties, for a council for President Clinton. The band did really well; we made really good money. I was used to working one night a week at a cocktail reception and making in a night what others would make in a week. It was just always music.
Until about eight years ago. Three things happened: the economy went bad, I married a guy that whacked my credit card, and the music business went down. All of a sudden I’m losing my house, bankrupt, can’t put any money in the bank because the creditors will just put on their leans. There’s like five different judgments on me for the condo fee. I could hit the lottery for $100,000 and it wouldn’t even make a difference.
I never got in the habit of doing a conventional job. After about 30 years of playing in bands and traveling and going on the road and having a great time, the entertainment business kind of collapsed. In the meantime, I’d gotten a master’s degree in writing, but I found that I could not get any kind of a job. Nobody wanted to hire me, an older woman with virtually no experience in any sort of conventional work.
I’ve applied to everything. I’ve applied to Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and they all said, “You’re just not suited to us.” I made the mistake of saying I had the master’s degree and somebody told me that’s wrong because they think you’re going to leave. So I tried to change that, but once you’ve gone into their database, you can’t really. It’s an amazingly involved process these days. Just to apply to Lowe’s you take a psychological profile that goes on for an hour.