The machine that was too busy to talk last week now provides clicks, pops, blown-out music, and a drawn silence that is its own punchline. The silence is broken by the psychobabble rumble of a call center and a woman comes on to ask how she can help me.
Speaking with unemployment requires a certain mindset and vocabulary which I forget between unemployment episodes. There are maximums and BYEs and standby which you are on which isn’t long enough, and you can’t put yourself on standby. I am never upset though possibly amused at points. The money would be nice but I’m not desperate for it.
Having a certain job is a problem, since the system requires you look for work. Unemployment previously emailed that they would pay at most eight weeks with my not having to look for work, attend job skills sessions, and generally return to some semblance of middle school. This phone call says I only have four weeks possible, and that I applied too soon. This is why the denial letter states my claim for standby is too long.
A conversation goes something like this:
I have an email that states I should have eight weeks, which is when I applied.
No it’s only four. It’s when your employer puts you on standby.
So I’m on standby?
No, you can’t put yourself on standby!
So do you need to contact my employer? I got the new job in early May. It doesn’t start until September.
In the silence I remember standing in line at the Hulen Street Target in Fort Worth, back in the eighth grade. I had won a Vic-20 computer in a science fair, and given my mother’s luminescent rage regarding any questioning of the home computer she had already bought, my Dad and I try to return it for cash. I can remember the clerks in their red shirts and working straight faces and my Dad signing things. In the end I think we get $120. I clearly remember the clerks apologizing for the complexity. My Dad said: I’m happy to stand here another twenty minutes for another hundred-twenty bucks. And they laughed.
Twenty years later it’s still no trouble to wait a while for free money.
The woman returns. I have four weeks of free money, she declares, so if I claim at the four week mark, I’ll get my $550 a week. I need to make a claim now, for the waiting week you don’t get paid for. Then let it lapse, sit it out, and call us back to get it going again.
The wait made me consider whether it is right to do this when so many are far more desperate and need the money so much more. Some feel I’ve been productive and am entitled to this money. I don’t disagree, but look at the sick country and see where that mindset can lead. But there is that allure of the free, and how pleasant, how comforting it feels to have money show up in your checking account instead of always dribbling out.
Thank you, I say. Thank you very much.
Okay, she says. Her voice is warmer but she is overworked, distracted, steeling herself for the next call of yelling. You call us when it’s time.
You feel buoyant when you know you have worked the system as an honest man.