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A family history of starting over

Marketplace Staff Sep 18, 2009

A family history of starting over

Marketplace Staff Sep 18, 2009


KAI RYSSDAL: All those predictions you’ve been hearing about how the unemployment rate is going to top 10 percent eventually? They are a bit more solid now. The Labor Department said today 42 states lost jobs last month. That’s up from 29 just in July. It translates into a lot more people starting over, looking for new jobs or completely changing careers.

Commentator Peter Basch had to do just that recently.

Peter Basch: For 36 years I had steady work, flying around the country, doing presentations for investment banks. It was cozy and seemed so secure — until it ended last year. Now, I’m looking for what else I can do.

This is a scary time, especially since my family has a grim tradition of starting over in your fifties, with mixed results.

My grandfather, Felix, was a Jewish film maker in Germany. He directed and acted in over 70 movies. When Hitler rose to power, Felix took his family to the United States. But Hollywood was full of German emigres who knew how to wear a monocle. So, Felix did smaller and smaller parts until 1944 — that year he died. He was only 56 years old.

Five years after that, my father began a successful career as a glamor photographer. For the next 25 years, he took hundreds of thousands of pictures of every actress, starlet, dancer and model. His pictures paid for my private school and my mom’s fur coats.

But in 1972, when he was 51, that industry changed. Dad did a pictorial for Playboy, the Girls of Scandinavia. When he came back with hundreds of beautiful pictures, the new photo editor turned them down, saying they weren’t raunchy enough. My father, shocked and angry, locked up his cameras. And he never took another picture, except for family snapshots.

He had to keep working. So he started a one-man literary agency. He only had a few clients, but he could support himself and my mom. I was out of college and mom could wear fake fur.

Now I’m 53 and it’s my turn. I don’t want to be like poor Felix, so talented but so stubborn. I’d rather learn from my father — be creative and adjust to a changing market.

I’ve been playing with computers since the 80s — optimizing, fixing. My wife, Ellen finally told me, “You know, my friends are all envious that I have a resident nerd. Maybe some of them will hire you.”

Well, one just did. Basch Tech has its first customer and more are on the way. So, I’m trying to be flexible, imaginative and patient.

Grampa? Dad? And Ellen? Thanks, for the lessons.

Ryssdal: Peter Basch is a computer consultant here in Los Angeles.

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