Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Mondays After

In the old days, say two months ago, my Monday mornings went like this: run to the bus stop, catch a #18 to work and sip an Americano while savoring that peaceful hour before the newsroom began to hum.
Yesterday I found myself huddled in a lecture hall at North Seattle Community College with four dozen other newly unemployed. Scrawled on the board at the front were the words: "Welcome to Unemployment Insurance Reemployment Orientation." Only a bureaucrat could have come up with that. 
Clutching my Americano, I slid into a hard plastic seat in the front row. I never sit at the front. But one of my former P-I buddies had tipped me off that the front row gets finished sooner.
The earnest lady running the meeting began with a question: "How many of you have never been on unemployment before? Or at least not for many years?" More than half of us raised our hands. I saw kids who didn't look old enough to be there and white-haired folks who thought they'd be retired by now.
She pointed to our information booklets and launched into an hour-long lecture about How Not To Lose Your Weekly Benefit Check Before You Find a Job. 
A photo of a fierce tiger glared at me from the cover of my booklet. A tiger? Hmmm. My mind wandered. What could this mean? I remembered that perky old Esso ad, "Put a Tiger in your Tank." Was the photo some kind of subliminal message? It looked like all of us could use a tiger in our tanks.
Thirty minutes in, the earnest lady twirled her neck scarf and launched into Tough Talk. You MUST be available for work and make at least THREE job contacts a week to file a claim, she warned. Subtext: Don't even think about going on vacation while on the dole. 'Cause if they catch you, kiss your benefits goodbye. 
I waved my hand and asked for clarification. How did she define a job contact? Could I email an employer about a job and count it as a contact if  the person responded? She frowned, paused and said she wasn't sure. My question had her stumped. The reporter in me couldn't help smiling.
The final part of the session was a "one-to-one" chat with the earnest lady. My front-row seat meant I was third in line. She handed me two job openings. I glanced at one of them. My heart sank. It paid half of what I was making two months ago.
I hurried out the door and drove like a bat out of hell to a Ballard coffee shop where a group of former P-I colleagues has gathered every Monday morning since our first, sad Monday after.
 When I explained why I was late, they smiled knowingly and made room in the circle.
(Photo: by Clyde Robinson)

1 comment:

  1. An outstanding journalist and award-winning Stanford Knight Fellow telling it like it is from the trenches of the unemployment office--this is a frightening sign of the economic times, folks.

    Thanks for giving us the low-down, Ruth, and thanks for keeping stories that matter out in the blogosphere.