Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Unemployment Diary: The Department of Labor

Being an unemployed baby daddy means being at the beck and call of the government should they need to see you. Since they are doing me the favor of allowing me to collect the unemployment money I already paid for they want to make sure I am not slacking off. You know, that I'm taking this stuff seriously and have things together like, say, a resume.

So, the other day I trotted down to downtown Brooklyn, right off Flatbush Ave and Atlantic to see the New York State Labor Department. It was raining pretty heavily and was cold, an archetypal New York November day. I didn't have a hat, or an umbrella, but I looked pretty dynamite because I had just gotten out of an interview, natch.

Before going in however I took a quick pitstop at the Fulton Street mall, to buy an umbrella and get a quick bite. To get the umbrella I walked up to a guy with a storefront open to the street. I asked him how much, he said $3. Sounded good, especially as it was freezing cold and wet. So I handed him a $20, and he gave me one of THOSE looks.

"Okay, hold on," he said. And then he vanished into another building for about three minutes, while I held my newest acquisition. After not too long he came back with the change, after hassling another merchant inside to make change for him. Seriously, I know the economy is bad, but how hard up do you have to be to not have change for a $20 ... when you're a store?

After that I walked into the local Burger King, to order a coke and order of fries. There was a cop inside. Typically this isn't a good sign. But I got my order just the same, and sat down at the window. There wasn't much to see, just the teeming masses, huddling here and there. Some smoking, some eating, most looking to get out of the rain, like me.

Following that I walked into a pawn shop that looked like it was going out of business. Again, not a good sign for the economy when even pawn shops look like they need a pawn shop.

Anyway, the line at the Labor Department building was pretty long, though it moved somewhat quickly. Once inside I was made to go through what they described in advance as an airport-grade security check. Meaning I had to take off my coat, empty my pockets, take off my belt and all that. I was allowed, however, to keep on my shoes. Take that terrorists!

(Sidenote: The terrorists might not have exactly "won," it's true--after all on the orders of our ex-commander in chief we still had the freedom and, nigh obligation, to go shopping. But with the gynecological-grade security checks we now have to go through every time we get on or off an airplane--which doesn't make me feel any more safe anyway--I still wonder sometimes if they didn't kind of win. At least a little. After all, how many billions have been wasted in an effort to make it look like we're "doing something" about airport security, when all we're really doing is not allowing people to bring 7-UP onto an airplane? And then we invaded Iraq ... )

Once inside, and cleared of any substances that would presumably sabotage the New York Dept. of Labor I waited in a room that had classroom style desks, with the seat and desk attached.

I filled out a questionnaire, explaining my experience and special skills, which meant I found about six different ways to say I know how to write and edit, and that's about it. For the millionth time in my life I also got to reflect on the fact that, yes, I only speak English fluently and never served in the military. It all made me wonder how qualified I really was for, well, anything.

Before not too long I followed an man in a yarmulke, schlepping all my gear, to another room down the hall and met my counselor. She was very pleasant, and almost certainly from China, as her English was spotty, but we understood one another fairly well.

She explained that I should email her my resume, although I had just handed it to her, and that there are various programs I could take advantage of. (Oh, I almost forgot about this, inside the first room I was handed a flyer about free or cheap healthcare for families through Medicare. I might have to look this up.) She also explained that I could speak with other counselors about whatever job related stuff it was I was thinking about.

"We see alot of people like you, editors, from newspapers and magazines," she said. I sighed, tell me about it.

Our conversation was going so well, in fact that I thought, hey, maybe she has a job that's worth considering, maybe for down the line. Helping people find their mission in life, working to make them happier. It sounded interesting.

"Can I ask you something? Do you like YOUR job?"

She paused for a moment.

"It's okay," she said. "The best thing is when it's over I go home and forget about it."

Well, alrighty then.

Although I had been ordered down there by the state (seriously on their letter they wrote that if I didn't make the meeting "MY BENEFITS COULD BE DELAYED") I am still glad I went. It made me feel not quite so alone, or hopeless in this quest.

I do believe what I do with my life, and my enjoyment of doing this, is important. To me and to the betterment of the planet. In some small way perhaps, yes, but still. Sometimes I feel some faint stirrings to pursue ideas that I hadn't done before, and the people down there really do want to help. It can be good to remember that there are people that are not only interested in helping you, they are paid to do so, even if it's through my taxes.

I walked out, feeling good. It was still raining, but I had my umbrella. And some leads to pursue.


Holly said...

Interesting story. Thanks for taking us on your journey. Good luck on the hunt!

David Serchuk said...

Hi Holly,
Thanks for the note! I plan to keep posting about the hunt as I get more to write about.