Jay Capelle would give anything to get back his factory job of 32 years. At the same time, he's grateful to have extra time on his hands these days to care for his ailing wife, stay in shape and work on a long-planned baseball documentary.
The unemployed are stressed out about unpaid bills, dashed retirement plans and the loss of workplace camaraderie. But many say life minus work also has its bittersweet upsides, including more time with family and friends, learning new skills, focusing on their health and pursuing hobbies.
There is a wide range of opinions, of course, about just how sweet, or bitter, the experience has been.
An idled auto worker in Wisconsin cherishes extra time with his kids, and his guitar. A former communications worker in Virginia finds time for hiking as a distraction from the job search. But two jobless friends in North Carolina who've played plenty of golf together say enough is enough: They're ready again for the joy of earning a paycheck.
All of these people said they would give up their newfound free time in a heartbeat if they could land jobs. And most spend hours each day trying. But as unemployment spells drag on longer than anticipated, they have allowed themselves to enjoy activities not directly related to the job hunt without feeling guilty.
Alex Swain, 36, of Leesburg, Va., said his fruitless search for work has been discouraging. Since losing his job last April at a wireless communications company, Swain has applied for more than 200 jobs, gone on 10 interviews and has not had a single offer.
But rather than sulking in front of the television when he's not searching online job postings, Swain forces himself to keep up with hobbies like playing music, painting and hiking.
"You can't stay in the house all day or you'll lose your mind," he said.
Others are spending time in the classroom.
Andre Lovato, 55, of Waukesha, Wis., who was laid off from his job at a signmaking company in 2006, earned a degree in printing and publishing from a technical college in December. Lovato, who has applied for 35 jobs since then without any luck, devotes his free time to woodcarving, sketching and computer illustrations.
But as his unemployment drags on, he longs for interaction with colleagues and getting praise for a job well-done.
"I miss showing my work and having people say, 'Hey man, you did pretty good stuff,'" he said.
Brad Palzkill, 39, was laid off from the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wis., last June. This means the family can't afford to eat out as often, and the kids' Christmas gifts were less extravagant last year. But he doesn't miss installing hundreds of consoles in trucks every night, which took a toll on his knees and wrists; and it's nice to have more free time to spend with family and strumming his guitar — when he's not looking for work.
"Before, I used to go to work at 4 p.m. and I'd just see my kids on the weekends. But this is not the way you want it to happen," he said.
In the suburbs of Raleigh, N.C., golf buddies Eddie Shearon and Wes Davis — both of whom have been jobless for more than a year — say they feel an urgency to get back to work so they can have incomes again. But they're not eager to give up the perks of being unemployed.
In addition to rounds of golf, Shearon, 52, now gets to walk his dog every afternoon and make dinner for his wife. "I've reacquainted myself with my wife," he said. "We haven't seen each other that much for 20 years."
For others, the appreciation of extra free time is fleeting.
Diane Rohan, 37, said she enjoyed her early months of unemployment after giving up her job as a baker to move to Los Angeles with her husband. She scanned photo negatives onto her computer and, truth be told, enjoyed sleeping late.
"That wore off after about a month," she said.
David Pemberton, of Smyrna, Tenn., is using his July layoff from Catholic Charities of Tennessee as an opportunity to forge a new career in health care. "I know God has something in store down the road for me," he said.
Capelle, 60, gets depressed and angry when he dwells on the loss of his job at a plant that manufactures boat motors. But he is often appreciative that he can now offer more help to his wife, who is recovering from knee surgery.
He even found a silver lining to the June flood that ruined his basement, the red truck he loved and some of his video equipment. He received a $35,000 insurance settlement, which he has used to pay bills.