and now a few words about public assistance

This is for those who call us “takers,” the Paul Ryandom of America species.

Try it sometime, if you dare. Lose that job – the part time pseudo-professional position that kept you at the poverty line. Yes, lose that meaningless 40-hour-a-week grind portrayed as a part time adjunct. The one that rewards you with a $97 tax refund. The one that allows bratty students to spew their nastiness in a post term “evaluation.”  The one with a department chair who keeps you hanging on the possibility of a course up until the night before the start of term. The four-year career of arbitrary class assignments. Yes, that one. Lose it.

Now don’t stop to wonder why. Don’t belabor the inequity of it. OK, you can have a week. Get all the venom out. Be sure to keep it private, between trusted friends. Don’t you dare do it publicly! You are being watched, you know. The university has signed on to Google, so your every movement online is tracked, recorded and available to the voyeurs known as admin.

So, ready to move forward. But wait. You have earned that unemployment. After all, they have taken it from you for four years. Now it’s time to collect. Find your online form and start applying. Jump through the hoops.

Now, you begin figuring. There is nothing in savings. Bills are on your calender. You match the numbers and too soon, realize you are broke. You open the refrigerator. Eggs. Cheese. Pasta. Cream for coffee. You open the pantry. Old flour. A can of soup. You check your birds’ supply. Half a bag of sunflower seeds. Half a bag of powdered egg yolk. Some treats and millet. You check on the bunny’s pellets and hay.

Perhaps food stamps will help. You can buy the fresh parsley and red-tipped lettuce, the Macintosh apples and bananas for the bunny. Maybe seeds for the bird. And it would be a comfort to have that coffee. A cheese omelet. Baked potatoes.

So you start another process. Complete the form. Upload the documents. Wait.

By the third week, you are truly broke. Craigslist to the rescue. You make $135 in a day, selling a Chinese urn and an outdoor bunny hutch. Now to ebay. List every item in your home that can be shipped.

Take a look at PayPal. Withdraw $40 to cover the auto insurance. Forget about your phone service. After all, there’s Google Voice, compliments of your former employer.

The final paycheck arrives and all of it goes to the water and electric bill.

You’ve been unemployed for four weeks.

There’s a problem with your food stamp card. You call and the person tells you there is no problem. But he sees lots of “issues” with your unemployment application. You realize that your life is open to these people – all these people. The ones with jobs.

You call unemployment. Wait 22 minutes. Google voice shows you the time. This person says it is in “adjudication.” It might take eight weeks before you receive a check. It’s all mysterious. What is adjudication? Why adjudication?

You go back to the grocery store, confident your card “works.”  It does not. You leave a pile of groceries and apologize to the Winn Dixie cashier.

You call Chase Bank, which handles the food stamp cards. They tell you the card was “cancelled.” They send you another. You try it in week five. This one doesn’t work either. There is no money deposited. The food stamp person says it’s your fault for not using the card. You must wait a week and call back. In the meantime, do not use the card.

You still have not received an unemployment check. You have no money. No food. The bunny and bird are on a restricted diet. You worry alot about the bird. There is no substitute for black hulled sunflower seeds or sprays of millet. Your friend takes you to the grocery store and buys $67 worth of goods. You have lettuce for the bunny. Coffee, cream, eggs, fruit, toilet paper, sliced ham, baked beans, bread, mayo, avocados. You feed the carnivore bird tiny shreds of ham. There is one day of sunflower seeds remaining.

Meanwhile, you continue the search for a job. Your overpriced MFA doesn’t matter. Your search agents come in daily. CareerBuilder thinks that customer service jobs are somehow related to writing and teaching.

Oh by the way, that tooth – the one that came loose after the gum infection and dangled in your mouth for weeks – it fell out. Yes, now you change your perception of self. Any semblance of “professional” has vanished. In its stead, enter terms like  “poor white trash.” You search fervently for online jobs where your face does not show. You master the art of speaking without a lisp.You learn to keep your lips sealed. Insipid smiling.

There’s a site that you recall from the Chronicle of Higher Ed where professors write essays for students.You find it and bookmark it and debate your ethics. Plagiarism is like suicide. The student is determined to do it. Why not profit from their laziness? After all, plagiarism is a subjective notion at your former university. You recall the student essay with the notes at the bottom, written by a “friend” of the student.  That was not plagiarism so much as blatant dishonesty. But the student whined and the university’s plagiarism committee decided it was not plagiarized. Your charge is discharged and you are charged with grading the essay as if it were a legitimate piece of original writing. You say fuck it and ignore the order. Maybe that’s why you are unemployed this term.

Where are you now? Sitting at home, watching Wendy Williams on TV. You never watch daytime tv. You have a hard time keeping up with the days of the week. Your to do list is connected to immediate needs and financial emergencies. Every morning, you check eBay. Nothing. You wander from room to room and wonder what can be sold. You place your mother’s fine china up for auction. No one touches it.

You call one of your creditors to stop the automated bank debits. You assume they will understand when you say, “I am unemployed. I have no money.” But they do not. They become insistent. Threatening. You decide to run away. Start a new existence somewhere else. But there is the bunny and the bird.

One day you find a line in a letter and are guided to the Chase site for your food stamp card. After the rigamorole with registering, you discover there is $67 in the account. But is it really there? Can you stand going to Winn Dixie yet again to be told by a machine that the card is rejected?

You email the unemployment office and receive automated replies. Still no deposit. It’s been six weeks. The first NSF check comes through the bank account. In a week, the gas will be due, then the internet, then the electric & water. You no longer open the envelopes in the mail. Your only reprieve is the lack of collector phone calls because you have no phone service. You email unemployment a second time. Another automated reply.

Week eight: you begin sleeping during the day. The tv is like a magnet. Your anchor. Your touchstone for reality. See – there are ordinary people with nice clothes and nice smiles and quick minds and money to spend. This is a possible reality.

You are lost now.

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