Green Street Cafe

Diary of a Downturn

November 12, 2008

Sitting on the bench with others at unemployment. There is a long line – I need to check my status. They said I just had an hour to wait to meet my caseworker. It’s been over and hour and a half. Then they told me, “she’s probably looking at your file.” Well, that was another twenty minutes ago. It’s all about making sure all your T’s are crossed and your I’s dotted. Ice River is hiring and interviewing but they never called Me. I put in my application months ago and today they are interviewing until 7pm. I want to wedge my way in there. Today.

So it’s tough all over. Steve, an electrician lately from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is worried about saving his mortgage. He’s been in the northeast a while, but says of Michigan, “Its been getting slow the last four years.” Now he just wants to make sure all his paperwork is filled out right. A woman comes out and tells him he’s going to be fine.

“Thanks, ” he says, and with a nod to me and a “Good luck” he’s out the door.

No coffee, no beverage. I’ve been her three hours now. Three hours! I got here just before 10 am. Now It’s 12:48. I’ve read all the papers, read all the job listings, and now I’m sitting on my hump, making sure the people that manage the desk are taking care of Me. I don’t even know if I’ll be getting an unemployment check! Nobody’s telling me anything.

I would complain about my situation, complain about the company that laid me off or complain about the remodeling company that wants you to “just put in the windows” or some such problem.

The fact is: that this is My Spot. I made it what it is. And I need to improve it. Sure, people mismanaged my skills and I’ve been working Outside of my Employment Strengths for some time. I want warehousing, forklift driving, that’s if I only end up with a 40hr/week job. But ultimately it is the Writing I want to take off. For THAT to happen I need to write, write, write & sell, sell, sell. Every day, all the time… like Now.

Huddled over my pocket notebook, scribbling fervently with ink that could smear in a hard rain, I scratch out my living, my life, so that all can see. I rip out what little patience I have left and try to capture a moment… give a window of understanding to the next “Joe” who may find himself in my shoes.

Blog. I can Blog. That’s a spot but it ain’t print and it pays Nothing.

Radio. Writing. Theatre. Journalism. Berkshire Eagle. Berkshire Magazine. Something!

Finally, I get to talk to the woman interviewing people… my caseworker I assume. She was coming to the desk, tapping people that had come in after me, so I asked her if she’d seen my name. She checked in her office and came back. Seems she put some folders on top of My Piece of Paper. Ain’t it always something.

I finally get in to see her. It’s a nice office… clean, kind of sparse. A subtle September chill cascades off the windows behind her. She takes a seat at an L-shaped metal desk and flips through a few web pages on the computer. In front of the desk are a couple of plain chairs. I park myself in one while she looks up my file. She reviews it and finds the name of my honest-to-God caseworker… in Springfield.

Her part ended, she walks me back to the front desk and I ask her how it’s going. She has been seeing people constantly since 9 am. After one more she’s going to lunch. It’s past 1:30. She points me to a phone I can use to call Springfield. I wish her the best.

When I call my honest-to-God caseworker in Springfield, she looks up my four-month history. She says that my unemployment filing, after that temp job I had, came up that I was canned. A quick call to the temp agency straightens that out. The good news is that I’ll be getting a three-week check in the mail in a couple of days. Hope springs eternal.

Finally, I talk to one of the young ladies at the front desk. “Any chance I can get an interview with Ice River?”

“I don’t think so. They are all scheduled. Did you get a letter?” I tell her I didn’t. “Do you still want me to ask?”

I want to say “Hell, Yahhhh!” with a sneer, but “Yeah, that would be great,” comes out. I sit on the bench. It would be good if all the things you wanted just came out of the sky. That perfect job, the fancy dinner at the pricey restaurant, the clean cut lines of a new car. But that’s not exactly what life is all about. Even if you’re the kind of person that attracts goods and money like a vortex, you still have to be in the right place, at the right time and have the right chutzpa for the moment.

The young lady from the front desk comes back. “They’re all pre-screened ahead of time. Sorry.”

“Thanks for checking.”

“You have a nice day.”

Internally, I curse my missed opportunity, but “You, too,” comes out of my mouth in crystal clarity. I smile politely and head out the door. It’s almost 3:00 and I have a couple of resumes yet to deliver.

I can do this. Yes. Yes, I can.


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