Unemployment - Day 28 in Human Days; Day 20 in Business Days
It's been 7 hours and 28 days...since they took my job away.
Today I visited the NYS Unemployment Office in downtown Brooklyn for my mandatory appointment. Few things get me onto the G train, but the ability to hold onto my $405 a week mandates G train terrain. I sat in the waiting room surrounded by dozens of others who are out of work. On the day I was laid off I knew I was not alone in my joblessness. I live in Brooklyn, not a bubble. Even weeks and months before my company's culling, I knew that the unemployment numbers throughout the country and right in NYC were skyrocketing. But until it happened to me, it was all just numbers. Today in the unemployment office, though, I looked around me and put faces to some of those numbers. Not many attractive faces -- I clearly upped the hotness factor in the Brooklyn unemployment office -- but faces nonetheless. And not merely faces...hearts and brains behind those faces. Some even began to speak to one another while we waited, which is a rare thing in New York. One guy cracked wise about how maybe he shoulda worn a tie. I wondered whether a tie would've hindered or enhanced his professional, employment-seeking attire of timberlands and a backwards Mets cap, sweat stains and all.
But those of us around him laughed. And not just at him. There was a charm to his self-deprecating, gold-chain wearin' manner. And a charm to the tragically mustached woman with kind eyes who assisted the Eastern European man with page 3 of the redundant paperwork. A stray hipster lending his pencil to an Asian man. An Asian man saying thank you, wide smiling, at a loss for words and teeth. Two young women exchanging resume tips and phone numbers. A tense-faced woman looking up from her blackberry long enough to take her coat off the seat next to her and offer it to the newest addition to the room. So when the Hassidic man to my left who smelled of urine and Corn Flakes sneezed, I decided to bite the bullet: God Bless you, I said. And when the man to my right kept stealing glances at my clipboard, trying to cheat off of my resume, I let him. I may not have all the right answers, but okay, I'm willing to share 'em. Gosh darnit...We are a community, I thought. Different strokes, different folks, yes. But we are all now a part of this same crisis. Not a personal crisis. A community crisis. We are a community and we are all going through losses and we can either choose to suffer them alone or together. I choose together. And so I write.
I realized almost immediately that I didn't need to wear my pearls. A camouflaged hoodie or chartreuse one-piece jumper would've sufficed. But dress for the job you want, not the job you have, right? Not that any of us there had jobs. We could all be up for the same jobs, suit or hoodie. (Mental note: re-evaluate willingness to purchase chartreuse one-piece jumper if given the opportunity.) This is a whole new era of my life. I can wear anything I want. There are clearly no rules in the unemployment office. I may as well rock it out while I can.
Despite the togetherness I was feeling, the conditions of the unemployment office were not kind. It was hot. Inhumanely hot. I would've stripped down to a wife beater if I had one. (Mental note: Purchase wife beater. Being unemployed is a whole new ball game with new wardrobe requirements.) Why is the government trying to sweat us out? Are we not worth a fan? Is this survival of the fittest? The coolest? We're jobless, but still human. If you prick us, do we not bleed? And if we bleed, do we not ask how much cash you'll take for our blood?!
Eventually the waiting room was broken up into groups and sent to smaller, hotter rooms. I found myself in room 2 with roughly thirty of my new friends overflowing the space, breathing hotness in and out. The case worker entered and explained that we would each be taken to meet with a supervisor, but in a specific order. Union workers got to go first. Then she asked if there were any actors in the room. A highly attractive humanoid raised his toned arm. I considered raising mine. By actors, she said, I mean people who are in SAG and AFTRA. My hand fell to my side, my heart to the floor. So this shitty sweatbox of a government office won't even recognize that I'm an actress. An aspiring actress. A potentially Tony and Oscar Award-winning star of magnanimous but yet undiscovered and unaffiliated talent. Fine. The one actor, who'd clearly been laid off from his role as Buff Deli Clerk #4 on Passions, left the room.
Next group I'm looking for, said the case worker, is anyone who was making sixty thousand dollars or over. Raise your hand if you were making sixty thousand dollars or over. I slowly raised my hand. I could feel the eyes on me. Almost hear the thoughts...Sugar Mama, Sugar Mama, Sugar Mama. I quickly made my way to the case worker with my paperwork. Can I use your stapler? I asked. I'm sorry, dear, staplers are considered weapons by the State of New York. She took my paperwork and stapled it herself. Where are those people going?, one man asked. I dunno, said the woman beside him. Wherever they take the rich people.
Before the richies got to leave the room, our case worker answered some questions from the audience:
Jobless #1: Can I claim for benefits for a past week?
Case worker: I suggest you stay under the radar.
Jobless #2: Can I claim unemployment benefits while I'm on vacation?
Case worker: If you have access to a phone and a computer, are you really on vacation? Stay under the radar.
Jobless #3: What should I do while I'm not working?
Case worker: Use this time to nurture yourself. And stay under the radar.
I'm going to take the case worker's advice. It's time I nurture myself. It's been a while.