child with helmetWe are waiting at a light, my two youngest boys and me, on our bike, when she pulls up beside us: shocking-pink hair streaming behind her. It coordinates with her bike and, more importantly, her helmet: a striped Nutcase. My boys, too, are sporting Nutcase helmets. We both look at our watches. 11:35 a.m. "You're going to the photoshoot, aren't you?" she says. Yep.

The four of us, and several other scruffy-in-a-cute-way Portlanders have answered a call this blustery-cold January day, to ride our bikes in circles with smiles for a few hours, in exchange for minor fame and a free helmet. (I end up with four, one for each of us and an extra for my husband besides. The boys were really cold. The photographer had an extra.)

Sure, they're great helmets; worth $40 or $50 at the bike shop we all passed on our way to the shoot. After a few casual conversations as we bike back and forth, over the Hawthorne Bridge (it's the same one the kid bikes over in Free Willy, if you want a reference, only his ride magically ends at the beach 100 miles away), I come to the conclusion that at least half of us are unemployed.

Them's the perks of unemployment: time in the middle of a Thursday to model helmets in the chilly cold while chatting with other nice people. We score, too: it doesn't rain and we only get yelled at by a motorist driving solo in an enormous vehicle (Excursion) once.

A few days later I see a link on Twitter. I click, because I'd been watching Leverage that very night -- one scene showed the cast walking under that very same bridge over which I'd been riding. "Wanted: A few strong men to play cops, security guards and thugs," read the headline. There's an informational meeting; you could get paid as much as $1,000 a day. They're hot for military background, burly guys, willing to accept sporadic work. All these requirements fit my husband perfectly (not for nothing he was All-State in wrestling, hmm?). One sentence catches my eye, regarding that best-of-all-possible worlds daily pay: "That could make the difference between a family covering its mortgage payment or not."

So I'm sending my husband to the Thug Informational Meeting. And I'm wearing my new helmet with pride. Them's the perks of being without regular employment.

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