The Unemployment Office
When I first moved back to Rocky Mount in 1995, I immediately began job hunting. My first stop was the Employment Security Commission. Now I refer to and have always referred to this agency as the Employment Security Commission. A friend of mine, Tyrone, teased me for calling this state run agency the Employment Security Commission. He said everyone else simply calls it the unemployment office. I told him that I could understand folks not wanting to say those three poly-syllabic words. What a mouthful! “ But why call it the unemployment office,” I asked. “Why not the employment office. Unemployment has such a negative connotation.” It just kind of means that if you continue going there you are going to remain unemployed. Tyrone agreed that calling the office unemployment office was negative but he wasn’t going to use the gargantuan term Employment Security Commission. We agreed, like friends do, to disagree.
Over the last 10 years I’ve found myself trudging down to this office on at least 3 different occasions of unemployment. After finally securing a position with an insurance company in 1998 and working there for three years, I was fired. How humiliating? I really didn’t want to be fired. I’ll admit, I was sick of that job. I didn’t want to be without the income and I was tired as hell of working up in that camp. I wanted to somehow be “relieved of my employment” and still collect the unemployment insurance. Yes, I was definitely entitled to unemployment benefits after being there three years. But who really wants to be fired? That couple of hundred dollars a week went a long way in helping to keep my family with a roof over our heads, electricity and food. Still, being fired was humiliating. In the eyes of family and friends who didn’t know the history of my working with this company, I had to have done something really bad and really wrong to be fired. I must have just been the ultimate screw up to manage to get myself fired from that good job. What the hell did I do?
I have a natural tendency to be introverted. Not shy so much as introverted and very private. Once I’m comfortable around folks and begin to let my guard down a little, I may become a bit more assertive. But at work, I kept getting written up for saying things that the white girls said all the time. Okay, I know I’m not white. I can’t even pretend to be white. There is very little in my collective lifetime of experiences that could even suggest that I may be white. Okay, I graduated from a white state college, but that was a bit of an accident. I was educated at an HBCU and the diploma came from the white college.
Some of my musical tastes are a bit questionable but I make no apology. Music is universal. I grew up in the infancy of MTV and if I wanted to catch a Black video I had to watch Poison and Brett Michaels, Van Halen, Genesis and grew to really like the music. But also growing up in the south in the 70s and 80s, I remember we had no Black station until maybe 1974. Then we got WRSV Soul 92. Charles O. Johnson. From 5:15 until 5:30 every weekday you could call the station and be heard on the air 'checkin’ in' for people as we called it. Great memories! Up until that time we listened to the white stations. Black music was played from noon until 6:00 Monday thru Friday, but any other time, we were listening to Three Dog Night, the Carpenters, Anne Murray and others.
Also my church is quite proper and worships very solemnly. I grew up on hymns. Very little gospel was played. I also took piano lessons from age nine until age 16. My teacher’s curriculum for us focused mostly on classical music. Therefore my musical repertoire is protean. I like that word - protean. But I digress.
The white girls could come in to work and moan and groan and say “Why did I come to work today? I could be at home doing so many other things. Larry is getting on my nerves. I’m looking for another job. I just did report and I’m not going to do it over. That isn’t my job. Yada yada yada. Man, this would go on all the time. Everyday -day in and day out.
Then I have a bad day one day, get up on the wrong side of the bed, go to work and say something negative and I get written up for having a ‘bad attitude’. I don't remember what I said. Doesn't even matter now. I have the audacity to open my Black mouth one day and say the same things the White girls had been saying every day for three years. They tell me I have a ‘bad attitude’. I say it’s not attitude, its perception.
Not only am I written up, but I am escorted to the conference room like a criminal along with three of my superiors. I’m told I shouldn’t have said what I said because I have a ‘bad attitude’. I say it’s not attitude, its perception. You know who I think had a bad attitude. The guy who shot up the health club in Pennsylvania had a bad attitude. Or how about the guy in Carthage NC who shot up the nursing home. He had a bad attitude, I would say. And the young guy at Virginia Tech a few years back had a bad attitude. , But me? Naaa! Not so much a bad attitude as I was simply having a bad day and who doesn’t have a bad day occasionally.. Needless to say I was eventually fired after I took a trip to Amish country Pennsylvania with my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop.
Anyway, whether I actually had a bad attitude or the company perceived me to have a bad attitude, my ass ets didn’t have a job. So I go to the Employment Security Commission and file for unemployment benefits. I began to feel a little better after speaking with one of the employment counselors there. She told me she’d seen many people from my now former company come in to apply for unemployment benefits. So I realized it wasn’t really about my bad attitude or even that I had taken a trip with my daughter. These folks were simply cutting their payroll. Reducing operating expenses at my expense.
So I filed for the unemployment benefits and looked for other work. What the hell was I going to do? I did not want to teach, but took my ass ets (and liabilities) down to the Edgecombe County Public Schools office anyway as well as Nash County Public Schools. No one called me.
I applied for lateral entry teaching jobs and a job with both school systems as a substitute teacher. Now as unbelievable as this is for most folks to believe, I do have a college degree. My degree is a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems. I studied programming /systems analysis and design. As antiquated as these third generation languages are now, I learned COBOL, FORtran, and Pascal. Can also program in Visual Basic and taught myself several software application languages. Amazing for a Black female, right?
Whenever I’d begin a new position, my new co-workers would discover that I knew how to use a computer, they’d immediately begin to express their approval. If I could use a computer, I must certainly know how to type.
“You know how to type?” they’d ask with glee.
“Yes, I can type.”
“Hey everybody, she knows how to type! Can you type a letter?”.
My knowing how to type usually caused much jubilation wherever I went.
“Can you make a flyer?”
“Hey y’all, she can make a flyer. Can you make a table?”
“Uh. .. I guess so”
“Hey, y’all she knows how to put this information in a table.”
Again, much excitement and celebration would ensue over my typing skills. So I typed and smiled. And made copies and smiled. And answered the same damned questions over and over and over for close to ten years in several different jobs and smiled. You know how it goes. Same job, same co-workers with different faces, same management staff in different faces at different companies.
But I did what I had to do to keep food on my table and make sure that my ends could look out over the horizon and see each other from a distance because the ends sure were not meeting.
There aren’t many choices here in Rock City. No offense meant to anyone who does what they have to do to legitimately provide for their families. As the comedian, Katt Williams would say, make your paper, boo boo. If you like it I love it. I knew that I couldn’t stuff cotton into bottles. Or operate any type of processing machine. Or do anything that required me to perform the same repetitious movements or repeat the same phrase over and over and over eg “Would you like fries with that?”
I have serious ADD – I get bored very easily and it does no one any good to have me do the same thing over and over and over. I did not want to teach, but I eventually felt that I would be teaching or saying, “Would you like fries with that?” So I did take my ass ets (and liabilities) down to the Edgecombe County Public Schools Systems office and Nash County Public Schools. Why not Wake, Wilson or surrounding counties? My automobile would not go in reverse. Transmission problems. I couldn’t trust driving it but so far. But anyway after “putting in applications” all over the place, no one called me.
I did apply for lateral entry teaching jobs and substitute teaching jobs. I truly in my heart did not want to do either. I don’t know if the apathy showed on my face as I completed the necessary applications and went through the motions of taking physicals, updating immunizations, tuberculin skin tests and attended a blood borne pathogen seminar. After doing all of this, I was called to the Braswell Memorial Library for employment. I’d been volunteering at the library for about six months when they offered me a paid position. The same day I was to start working at the library, I received a call from a teacher, I forget which school system, who needed me to come into to substitute. So I was done with the Employment Security Commission office – just temporarily. Who knew I’d be in this boat again?
When you’re unemployed, you must keep records of the places where you’ve applied for jobs. You must also call the Employment Security Commission each week and answer five questions about your employment status. This can also be done online. But basically each week, you must report whether or not you’ve worked during the week in question, received any type of money, if you were available for work and looking for work.
Most employers now have it set up so that you can apply for jobs online. This makes it convenient but also takes away from that human touch. Those sparkling personalities don’t translate well over the internet. We’re almost becoming a society that it’s not necessary to interact with people at all. All information that you would use to apply for a job in person, on a job application, is now online.
Most companies also have online psychological tests that must be completed as well. I’ve been failing psychological tests all over the place! Not that the test has picked up on the fact that I AM indeed psychologically imbalanced but I refuse to lie on these tests. I know what answers the test is looking for, but why lie?
The questions are all rather mundane. Question: What would you do if a customer dropped his/her wallet and it was full of cash? My answer: wait until the customer leaves the store, count the money and have a nice meal for my family that night.
Question: What would you do if you realized a customer had given you too much money and you didn’t return that correct amount of change? Answer: Money can just stay in the drawer and I’ll deal with it later. (I’m not going to run out into the parking lot to catch a customer for twenty-five cents to have you later say I abandoned my work station. I’m not the sharpest tool in the toolbox, but go figure.)
Question: What would you do if you saw another employee stealing? Or what would you do if you saw an employee using drugs? Answer: It’s they’re business. I ain’t getting in that. My name is Bennet and I ain't in it'
Question: It’s a gorgeous warm sunny day in early spring, after many weeks of cold and snow, do you call in sick? Answer: Hell yeah! I’m calling in sick.
Question: Have you ever stolen anything from work? Answer: Does a notepad count? I answered those tests as truthfully as I could just as if I had electrodes hooked up to me measuring my pulse rate with a stencil drawing little lines on graph paper.
I know the answers they were looking for but why lie? I failed a psych test for a job with Dollar General and also with Wal-Mart. Now lest we forget, I worked for Wal-mart several years ago as a department manager. Now I can’t pass Wal-Mart’s psych test? There is a certain irony there.
So back to the unemployment office I go.