Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Afternoon at Unemployment Land: The Most Miserable Place on Earth

It came in the mail a week ago.  It was bright orange, as foreboding as a piece of paper can be and instructed me to report to the unemployment office for career counseling on Tuesday, December 2 at 2:30pm.  I believe my exact reaction was "F-ck", but I'm not 100% sure because I was immediately distracted by the questionnaire I had to fill out.

Do you have a resume?  Yes.
Do you need help obtaining a GED? No.
Is English your second language? No.

If these questions were any sort of precursor to the afternoon I was in for, surely this would not be time well spent.

Mustering up the most positive attitude I possibly could, I headed downtown thinking that I would at least have the exciting opportunity to watch our city's government at work.  When I entered the building and checked in at the visitor's desk, I started to feel a little down on myself. Maybe it was because as soon as I said I was going to the 7th Floor, the man behind the desk yelled, "Oh, You're Going to Your Unemployment Today!!".  Yes. Thank you sir and thank you for announcing it to all the well-dressed, good looking people who are getting off the elevator on 4, not 7.  Even the landscaper-esque man standing next to me, who I was sure was riding to the same floor as me, got off on 4.  So there I stood, the last man standing on an elevator headed to the saddest floor of any building I've ever been in.

When I got off the elevator, I was anything but alone and the jovial, Will-Smith-Circa-The-Fresh-Prince-of-Bel-Air-Wanna-Be security guard let me know it.  He cracked jokes, was louder than my mom and her sisters after a few glasses of wine, and commented to one of his colleagues about us, the unemployed, saying "if I don't keep them in line, they start fightin'!"   I'm sorry, I didn't know that I, the girl who oh so politely asked him if he could point me in the direction of the ladies room just a minute before that, posed the threat of violence as I took my place in line. At the first checkpoint, my ID was checked and I was herded onto another line a little further into the room.  This was my opportunity to finally get a look at the cast of characters who were now my peers.  I expected the crowd to resemble the crowd at my local OTB, but was greeted with a mixed bag of people that was mostly comprised of professionals.  In fact, it was fairly easy to discern who was unemployed vs. who worked at the unemployment office, because we, the unemployed, were dressed better and more full of life.

When I reached the second checkpoint, I was greeted by a man so old that not only shouldn't he be working, but he shouldn't have been alive.  He was less a man and more the tiny, pale skeleton of a man who has had the life sucked out of him by 100 years of working check-in on the unemployment line.  He used all the strength he had to staple my paperwork together and tell me to take a seat amongst the blank faces waiting behind him.  I took note of his outfit and would later find out that all of the employees in the office shared his fashion sense and wore what I've decided to call the "Unemployment Workers Uniform."  It consists of a hideous tweed jacket, a mock turtle neck that's seen the washing machine one too many times, a pair of pants that are too big and a large, ugly accessory (his was a pinky ring, others donned brooches, hats, and velvet flowers).  I'm just amazed that so many people could wake up in the morning, peek in their closet and think, "This is the Perfect Ensemble!".

After sitting for about five minutes, a Rosie Perez like voice shouted, "Will the two-thirty appointment please follow me!"  En mass, about 50 of us stood up, collected our things and were instructed to please move all the way down and fill in every seat.  When she shouted to the table next to me, "Will you gentlemens and the lady please move down one,"  I couldn't help but say to myself, "How is someone who yells across the room and uses the word 'gentlemens' going to help me get a job?"  

As I sat there, watching her instruct everyone to fill out the form that should have already been filled out before we got there, I took a look around the room.  One depressed face after the next greeted me, it was like the DMV on crack, no one wanted to be there and on top of that, everyone in this room had lost their job.  Although if I had to guess I would say that, like me, the other people in the room, young and old, were less distraught about losing their jobs and more annoyed that they had to be there.  What struck me most though was just how normal everyone was, and when a tall blonde walked in and plopped her Louis bag on the table next me I thought, "My sister."  

After twenty minutes of collecting every one's paperwork, the lecture began.  A woman about the same age as my grandmother asked if anyone had ever heard of LinkedIn?  I almost responded by asking her if she had ever heard of the Internet, but thought it was best to just stay quiet. Shortly after that, she suggested we use "Faceplace" to network for our job search. No one attempted to correct her, but instead we all just rolled our eyes at each other.  I sarcastically thought to myself "Yes, Facebook, with my pictures of Vegas, status updates like 'Jane is 4 champagnes deep on a Sunday afternoon' and snarky comments from friends like, 'I can see your camel toe' is really going to help me make my next career move.  Perhaps I could become a hooker using my social network?  I would be hiding the truth if I didn't tell you that there was about five seconds, that I was half inspired to go out there and change my life, but as soon as the Powerpoint started it ended.

Luckily the presentation lasted about five minute and afterwards we were instructed to stay put. Some of us would be called in for a one on one meeting while others would be dismissed and that it was completely random.  We all shifted our eyes nervously as the first few people were called into their one on one's.  Then, an ancient relic of a woman entered the room with the stack of dismissals and took a good twenty minutes for her to get through calling the names. I began to get desolate.  She had finally gone through every name in the pile and mine was not one of them. There I sat, one of three people left out of the fifty or so that were in that room, knowing that not only did I get selected for a one on one, but worse, I had to wait for it.  

When the young, plump and possibly recently immigrated case worker called my name and led me to her desk, I did my absolute best to be as cheerful as possible.  "How's your job search going?" she asked.  I told her things were going great, that I was using my contacts to network, had a few interviews scheduled including a second round coming up and left out the part that I'd rather be a stay-at-home-anything than go back to work soon.  She looked surprised and said, "Well than I guess you don't need help with your resume since you're getting interviews."  Correct.  Then she continued, "Then let me show you the Internet."  No, I am not kidding. I am 100 percent serious that this is what she said to me just before she asked if I've ever heard of a Podcast.  I did my best to act appreciative and after each item she showed me on this mysterious interweb, I interjected and let her know that not only was I aware of it, but that she should let me show her another, better site/widget/whatever. 

Not a minute too soon, just before I broke down into a pile of hysterical laughter and/or tears she wished me luck and sent me on my way letting me know that should I ever end up back here, which in her opinion I likely would, there are many resources to help me.  Thanks.  

Luckily they only make you attend once and I'd be lying if I said I didn't learn anything.  I learned one lesson:  City Government is like Ellis Island.  It's where the tired, poor, huddled masses go to work and where the energetic, well dressed, but unemployed masses go to have the life sucked out of them for 2 hours on a Tuesday afternoon.  I do not plan on going back in either capacity.


Amanda said...

I'm fairly certain that I have found my calling... You know I can never resist an oversized tweed jacket complete with velvet flower. Fantastic.

BurnTees said...

how exactly do you get a job there? do they give jobs to people who have been collecting unemployment for like 10 years and finally they say, "look, you're never going to get a job anywhere, so we're giving you a job here cause we feel so sorry for you you dumbass."

brynnita said...

i can see your cameltoe.