Being out of a job for the first time in my life, I'm also on unemployment for the first time in my life. I have no reason not to—it's my money—and yet it's quite humbling to receive a small fraction of what I'm used to.
Even more delicious, I was asked (aka required) to attend a meeting at the New York State Department of Labor Downtown. My first invitation/summons arrived with a date on which I would be in L.A., so I had to skip it. The remedy for skipping it is being told you'd better make the next date or else risk losing your benefits. They don't ask you when you're free, they tell you. Just because we're jobless doesn't mean we don't have schedules! But I guess I can see how impossible it would be to work around everyone's.
I showed up for the appointment at 75 Varick Street and in the lobby, the person at the desk shouted, "Unemployment? Seventh floor!" to me and another guy who arrived at the same time. This is like that Golden Girls episode where the ladies shop for condoms and Rose's preference for black rubbers gets broadcast to the entire store...except me and this guy weren't going to fuck as a consolation prize for being embarrassed.
"I'm not embarrassed...I'm not embarrassed..." I kept saying, but I was. Not always for myself—at the floor in question, there was a clear sign saying which side of a pair of lines to enter and half the people arriving disregarded it and went the wrong way. Waved to a conference room after being given a new form to fill out to complement the form we'd filled out and brought along with our ID, the next set of oopsies occurred when people kept trying to sit in our lecturer's seat at the head of the room, and trying to take her solitary pen in favor of using something from the many boxes of pencils supplied to us.
I started thinking, "I wouldn't hire any of these losers either." Even though I, of course, was one of them. Being so judgmental is natural, and wanting to feel above the situation is, too. I wondered if many employers might, ironically, be reluctant to hire someone who's unemployed rather than snatching up someone who already has a job.
A lady went around the room collecting the required résumés. Of course, a quarter of the people didn't have them. Many of them looked rather sullen and detached about the whole thing, too. I felt like we should do what's required rather than holding everyone back while sent to another room to print the résumés we'd declined to bring in the first place, but that's me.
One woman was wearing a loose, gauzy summer dress that stuck to her body like one of those devices with all the metal pins that you can press your palm into and make an impression. I could see her bra and panties as clearly as I could see her eyes. She made a wisecrack to cover for forgetting her résumé, and I hated her immediately, wishing I could hire and then refire her on the spot. She would have been more at home with the rest of the building's denizens—a modeling agency was on another floor, something I found out later and that explained the tall, pencil-thin girl who got on the elevator wearing shorts so short I could see her duodenum.
I was surprised by who was in the room of 30 or so people. It was predominantly white guys in their thirties and forties, but with every other gender and ethnicity imaginable. It looked like jury duty—very egalitarian. The lack of jobs seems to have affected at least this one group in direct proportion to society's makeup.
We received a polite, plucky talk about various resources when looking for a job from a short, sweet lady named something creative. Even though I liked her, I was pretty shocked when she opened by saying how glad she was that it was a short work week. "TGIF" is kind of a tone-deaf thing to be remarking upon to a room filled with job-seekers.
Worse, she told us that we really needed a résumé that worked well for us, and if it didn't, we should FIRE IT. I'm sure many of the people in the room were not just out of work but had specifically been fired. Way to make them feel like shit.
Otherwise, it was a helpful enough kind of talk if you have very few ideas about where to begin, making it more useful for people coming back into the pool for the first time in decades, the very young and people who just aren't very astute about how to network. It was painless enough, just kind of a drag. LinkedIn gets a robust recommendation.
Nobody especially paid attention until she offered a hand-out on how to get free or low-cost healthcare. Then, everyone raised their hands eagerly.
On the way out, half the people walked past the elevator accidentally.
I got in with the same guy I'd arrived with, and with an older man who'd been smiling wryly throughout the presentation.
"The irony is," he told me, "I used to work on this very floor 25 years ago. Full circle."
We chuckled and all three wished each other good luck.