I went to a job fair on Thursday in a local hotel ballroom. It was scheduled to begin at 10 am and so I arrived 20 minutes early. By then there was a group of a couple hundred people waiting at the locked doors. When the doors opened, I was swept in with the tide of job-seekers.
The fair consisted of 15 “exhibitors” of which 5 were colleges & training schools looking to recruit students. Most of the remaining exhibitors were for companies that do things like paste advertising billboards onto automobiles.
I had attended so as to apply at a local retailer that was seeking management candidates. When I entered the fair I made a beeline for their booth, where I was 2nd in line to receive a job description & application package. By the time I filled-out the paperwork 10 minutes later, I found that I was well over 100th in line to hand it in.
For this past week, a local grocery had a flier posted in its window saying cashier applications would be taken this morning. I arrived a half hour before time and was, therefore, 4th in line. Since I shop at the store regularly, the cashier on duty recognized me on my way out & I stopped to talk. She said she must have given-out 1000 applications during the week.
My valet, Higgins, silently entered my stateroom earlier than usual. It was the crack of noon. He leaned over my custom double-king-size bed and gently nudged my shoulder to awaken me. “Sir,” he implored in the sort of hushed-tone one would use to awaken an infant, “you must dress and go into town for your appointment at the unemployment office.”
My groggy voice returned to him, muffled by the eider-down pillow covered with satin pillowcase in which my face was half-buried. “Go ‘way, Higgins, come back and rouse me in half an hour.” I reached my hand out from under the Siberian goose-down comforter to wave him off impatiently.
“A thousand pardons, sir,” Higgins replied consolingly, “but yesterday evening, when you gave instructions to awaken you at noon today, you impressed upon me the importance of your being prompt for this appointment.” He straightened-up and gathered my champagne glass and bottle from the night table. Then his voice took on a note of imperiousness, “I have taken the liberty of drawing your bath and laying-out your special unemployment office ensemble.”
I yawned, stretched, then threw-off the luxurious bed-coverings and sat up. “No, Higgins, I think it best that I do not bathe this morning.”
Hearing this, Higgins, who was walking for the door, halted in his tracks. He half-turned so that I could see his profile but still I could see that the blood had drained from his face. He was barely able to disguise his dismay. “Am I to understand then, sir, that you shall go to your appointment…” he searched for the word, “unwashed?!”
“A man must do what a man must do!” I replied emphatically. “When in Rome…and all that sort of thing.” I added.
“I see.” He replied slowly and with noticeable resignation he added, “Very well, sir.” He then hurried out, closing the door silently behind him.
Minus my usual morning routine of brushing teeth, combing hair, and shaving, it took me almost no time in the lavatory. I quickly donned a dirty t-shirt, baggy faded jeans, and a pair of well-worn flip-flop shoes. In the midst of dressing, I felt a longing for my usual attire of Armani or perhaps Hugo Boss and a comfy, comfy pair of hand-made Bertolis to clad my feet. But, I reminded myself, I must be strong for I was not going to the country club this afternoon. I was instead visiting the unemployment office, or as it was now called “the job center,” to file my request for extended unemployment benefits. And once that was done I would rush to shower, change clothes, and the missus and I would celebrate with a meal in the finest French restaurant, accompanied by a bottle of Romanee’ Conti.
I made my way on deck to discover that my chef, Marcus, had outdone himself with a feast fit for a king: a steaming pot of Hawaiian Kona coffee, truffles and cheese omelette, fresh croissants, buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, and Scottish Oats porridge with a tot of cream and whiskey. As always, Higgins had laid-out the morning newspaper on the table with the page folded to the latest stock quotations. He doffed a cloth napkin onto my lap and stood-by behind me. “Bless his soul,” Higgins told me as I dug into the exquisite repast, “Marcus heard of your impending pilgrimage and hoped to allay some of the discomfort.”
“Please relay my compliments to him.” I heartily replied. “And please also relay to the Captain that we shall set-sail early tomorrow morning at his discretion.” After thoroughly satisfying my hunger, I sat back to enjoy my third perfect cup of coffee. As my eyes scanned across the other yachts in the marina, I again addressed my servant.” I take it that Mrs. Girdle, as is her habit each time we dock, has gone shopping?”
“Oh, indeed, sir.” said Higgins with a hint of amusement. “She left about nine-thirty this morning.”
“Ah. She will, of course, return to us with arms full of purchases from the most exclusive shoppes.” I chuckled, “But I suppose it’s only money, eh Higgins?”
“In truth, sir.” nodded Higgins.
As I sat breathing-in the pure air and sunshine and listening to the gulls, I began to ruminate upon my great, good-fortune. Whereas only a short year ago I had been just another working stooge, my life had taken a turn for the undeniably better when I had lost my job. Since that time, unemployment benefits have afforded me a life usually reserved only for a relative handful of aristocrats. Once upon a time I struggled to pay my bills and now I live in sumptuous luxury, thanks to the public trough: a villa in Southern Italy, world-travel aboard my yacht (which once belonged to Aristotle Onassis), holidays in the Caribbean, hobnobbing with the jet-set at Cannes and the Riviera. The only fly in the ointment was that, every few months, I had to return to the United States to put in another request for more unemployment. However, it was a small enough price to pay.
“I suppose, Higgins, that if I were still working for a living I would now be having lunch. Probably something like a Big Mac and french fries.” I felt my stomach rebel at the thought.
Higgins answered impassively. “That is likely sir.”
“Well then,” I raised my fine china coffee cup for a toast, “here’s to the great American taxpayers. Long may they remain suckers!”
My trip into the city was uneventful. To assure my arrival in a state of optimum, sweaty dishevelment I ordered Sagamore, my chauffeur, to keep the limousine’s windows down during the drive to the unemployment office. But I emphasized he was have the car properly closed and chilled for my triumphant ride home. He dropped me off two blocks from my destination.
As I walked within sight of the job center, I changed my sunny demeanor to the one of proper hangdog shame. I shuffled through the door to take my place in one of the interminable lines. The greater part of an hour passed before I reached the head of the line. Once there, the receptionist assigned me a number and pointed to the overcrowded waiting area. Once there, I found no available molded plastic chair on which to sit, so I wandered about, being sure to listen for my number to be called.
I walked over to the wall-sized bulletin board on which was posted huge numbers and variety of available jobs of all descriptions. I pretended to look them over carefully but inside smirked that I would never be willing to work again as long as unemployment was available. A young black man dressed in regulation droopy pants, muscle shirt, and backwards ball-cap stood to my side, perusing the listings. We happened to lock eyes for a moment and he gave a broad smile. “Ain’t this a buncha bullshit?” he giggled. “Like I’m gonna take one of these jive-ass jobs and give-up my penthouse apartment and rolls? I never had it so good; wish I woulda lost my job a long time ago!” He laughed and slapped his hand onto my shoulder.
“Shhh!” I cautioned him, “You’ll give it away!”
He quickly sobered. “Oh, yeah, right.” We went back to pretending to look at the jobs. He muttered to me out of the side of his mouth. “I can’t wait to get outta these garbage clothes and back into my Jaegers. But like I told my butler this morning, “A man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.”"
“That’s the same thing I told my butler this morning!” We both laughed stealthily. Then the loudspeaker called out “number two-hundred-twenty-four” and he said, “That’s my number! Gotta go. Good talkin’ to ya; take care!” and he hurried away.
I strolled again to the waiting area, where a couple seats had been vacated. I settled uncomfortably onto the cheap plastic chair. Across the way, a thirty-ish caucasian woman in a day-glo pink jogging suit spoke loudly into her cell phone, “…I don’t care how much extra it costs. I’m expecting forty-five guests at this dinner and when I hired you to cater it you assured me there would be no trouble obtaining Almas caviar. Certainly, fly it in by priority shipment if you must! And don’t call me again because I’m in the middle of an important meeting!” and with that she hung up.
Sitting down the row from me, a thin young asian woman whose arms were covered with tattoos said sympathetically, “It’s so hard to find good help these days. You know, I had to fire my maid last week because she showed-up drunk!”
The middle-aged black man beside me spoke up. “You probably did her a favor.” he grinned, “Now she’s on unemployment and got a maid of her own!” We all laughed uproariously. Then, realizing someone in authority might overhear, we fell silent.
Shortly thereafter, my number was called. I ambled into my caseworker’s office with an attitude of dejection. Ms. Breene, the thin, nervous social worker sat behind her desk with my file open in front of her. “Hell, Mr. Girdle.” she said.
“Hello.” I replied.
Before I even had a chance to sit, she asked, “Have you been looking for work?”
I nodded again and said, “Oh, yes” I lied. “Every day.” I almost burst-out laughing.
Ms. Breene made a quick notation in the file. “Alright then. We will give you another four months of unemployment. See you again in four months.” Then she looked up and with a smile and a wink she said, “Say hello to Higgins for me.”
I smiled at her, turned and walked out. As I exited the building, across the plaza I saw the young man whom I had met at the job postings. “Hey, Mr. Two-Twenty-Four!” I shouted happily.
He stopped talking to the pretty, young woman who had his attention. When he saw it was me he grinned and called back, “Going home to cool-off in my swimming pool.”
I nearly danced the two blocks back to my limousine. Sagamore had the interior cooled to perfection. And that was not all he had cooled to perfection. Waiting for me in an ice bucket was a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon. A string tied around the neck of the bottle held a note from my wife that read, “Let’s Not Ever Work Again!”
As my car pulled-away from the curb and I poured a glass of the bubbly, I wiped-away a tear of joy. As my new friend, Mr. Two-Twenty-Four said, “I never had it so good!”
On Sunday, President Obama and his eagle-adorned bomber jacket made a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan. While there he also took Afghan President Karzai to task for his government’s corruption. Obama lecturing Karzai about government corruption is like some small-time hood being rebuked by Don Vito Corleone.
And while I’m on the subject of President Bush… oops, I mean Obama. I see our Commander-in-Chief is cutting the 2011 funds for the home heating assistance program by 35% ! The program has seen record applications for assistance each of the past three years. And let me tell you, because I know first-hand, those applications are not easy to make. Here in my city, the poor stand in line during freezing weather in the middle of the night to get in the office first thing when it opens; otherwise no heat for you! People literally camp-out all-night like they are trying to get tickets to a rock concert, just to assure their place in line. As it is, the program has a daily quota of serving maybe a dozen people when three or four times that many are in line, so most the people who need help get turned away. And to add insult to injury, since the process takes most of a business-day to complete, that means applicants often must miss work and, therefore, money in their paycheck. Record numbers of Americans are clinging to this program in order to stay alive and the Prez cuts the funding by a third. And this guy is supposed to be the Liberal/Marxist! Maybe in the 2012 budget he will call for keeping poor people warm by burning them as fuel in the furnaces of rich people’s homes.
In other news, I see Congress has deluded itself into thinking it earned a rest, so it started a 2-week break on Thursday. Technically this is not a break, because our “public servants” are supposed to be going back to the offices in their home states to work & keep in touch with constituents (please let me know if you spot any of them around your town). But before leaving to touch the voters, they blew off a few pressing issues like making sure millions of unemployed will continue to get the money they depend on in order to live. Too bad Obama did not stay in Washington, D.C. because he would have probably called them back into session to tackle this vital issue….Just kidding! Obama cares no more for the plight of the unemployed than does my cat!
One of the main lessons I have learned from the Obama presidency is that dark skin is no automatic indication of a person’s compassion or progressive-politics. Most of us made that assumption (and some still do), helped-along of course by B.O.’s talk of “change.” Now that he is in office we find ourselves stuck with just another reactionary power junkie who prosecutes war while tossing poor people on the trash heap.
Please won’t some Obamapologist remind me again how much better-off we are than if McCain had won?
I haven’t had health insurance in 9 years. The end of my coverage coincided with my downsizing out of a 20+ year career in the printing industry (another of the multitude of enterprises America no longer has within its boarders). I still remember how ecstatic I was back in 1980, when I got that job; my first that not only paid well, but had fringe benefits like health insurance and a retirement pension. It was a real “grown-up” job like my parents had.
My excellent health has enabled me to go these 9 years without the wallet-draining help of the medical profession. I attribute my good health mostly to my long-standing belief in positive thinking and what used to be called “health foods.” I don’t have the highest opinion of doctors. I really think they aren’t good for much beyond operating if you’ve got something like appendicitis or diagnosing an obvious condition like diabetes. Anything more complex and their attempts at a “cure” may be worse than the ailment.
But in spite of that, I know modern medicine has its place in civilized society. I don’t forgo medical coverage out of choice, I would love to have it if I could squeeze it into my minuscule budget. Ah, the luxury of being able to take my sore throat or aching foot to a physician and receive treatment…
(Excuse me, I was lost in reverie for a few moments) Delirious from the hope induced by Obama’s election, I truly thought America’s politicians were, at long last, ready to provide their citizens with universal access to health care.
Wow, was I wrong! And now, it looks like Americans not only won’t get universal coverage, their crazy government will try to force the poorest ones to buy insurance coverage, under threat of being branded as criminals and fined. Only the twitterpated mind of an insulated-from-reality Washington, D.C. multi-millionaire politician who gets perks like free haircuts (and free healthcare) could think that this is any kind of fix for the problem.
“Where in blue blazes are people who were too poor to buy insurance in the first place supposed to get money to buy insurance when they’re forced?” ask many sane Americans. “Don’t worry,” the multi-millionaire politicians assure us, “they can apply to the government for assistance to pay for their forced insurance.”
Well, as one of America’s many financially-ruined citizens I have first-hand frustrating experience with applying to the government for assistance. To cite two examples out of many: 1) so that my working, divorced daughter could go to college, she needed financial help with my granddaughter’s daycare. That took seven weeks of almost daily calling the social workers and, finally, in desperation a call to our state governor’s office hotline to get results. 2) I applied for heating energy assistance for this winter, which involves getting up about 3 am in order to stand in line in the freezing cold outside the application office to get one of 25 entrance tickets at about 8 am.
I was 17th in the heating assistance line that day, because some people camp out there all night. There were about 50 people in line, which means a lot of people turned away each day. My point is that there will be a lot of poor people spending a lot of their time going begging “hat in hand” to the bureaucrats in order to buy insurance.
I was once solidly middle-class and paid taxes for 37 years before being destroyed in the Great Recession. I was surprised at how confusing, uncaring, and inadequate our social safety net is. Pray that you don’t have to find out also.
I know my friends think I’m nuts. And I guess I am. It’s from the pressure of everything: the downsizing from my job after 22 years, the bankruptcy of my business (mostly due to the ruined economy), the discomfort of those around me who have lost their jobs, houses, most importantly their self-respect. I help Myrtle with her non-profit, as I have for 20 years, and each day the line of people needing help gets longer.
So I’ve been driven nuts. I was always goofy but it used to be in a disconnected way. I would spend most of my time reading books or working in the garden, occasionally emerging to pitch in at church, help-out at places like Habitat for Humanity, or attend a protest rally of some sort. But the bigger world wouldn’t leave me alone, until now I fight the urge to become like Howard Beale in the movie Network, screaming out to the world, “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
The urge increases and the energy must go somewhere, so I try to find a constructive outlet. I make comments to online sites, I occasionally go to protests, when I come across an interesting news article I forward it to my homeys, and I talk and talk and talk to them. They endure it with patience and a reserved smile when I try to engage them in a discussion of deeper implications. They often agree that something must be done, but they aren’t going to do it. One old friend can’t find the time and energy to fight the system even though he’s unemployed, bankrupt, and uninsured. It wasn’t always this way. Last week, I finally asked a friend of nearly 40 years why he has lost his spark. He and I used to go to protests when we were younger; we used to write letters to make ourselves heard. Now he’s old and tired and, although he complains and hates the way the world is, he’s not going to try and change it. I, on the other hand, don’t believe in just complaining. And when I complain about the world to Myrtle, she asks me, “And what are you going to do to make it better? (That’s one of the reasons we get along so well together). I believe in taking action. I’m also old but feel fired-up. As I commented to my friend, “I’m just getting started.”
Is there something in the water supply that makes Americans more passive as time goes by? And why is it seemingly affecting only those who want to make the world better? The selfish and lunkheaded have become louder and more aggressive in recent years, while the tolerant and reasonable grow strangly quieter.