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My morning with the unemployment office (the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.)

a play in one act

John Bear sits bleary-eyed in his boxers in a one-bedroom apartment, early in the morning, clutching a phone. The same four bars of hold music play for over an hour as he remains on hold. Occasionally, a robotic voice says, “Your call is important to us, please remain on the line. Your call should be answered in no more than … [a different robotic voice comes on the line] Four and a half epochs.

There is a crackle, then a voice.

Operator: Thank you for calling the Department of Unenjoyment, this is [unintelligible] may I help you?

JB: Yes, when I certified my unemployment claim for the week it told me I needed to call in, so I’m calling in.

Operator: And why are you calling today?

JB: Uh, it told me to call in.

Operator: What told you to call in?

JB: The screen on the computer. It said I needed to call in within five days. I’ve been trying all week. I was starting to get freaked out.

Operator: What is your name?

JB: John Bear.

Operator: And why are you calling in today?

JB: The computer told me to.

Operator: Who was your last employer?

JB: The Bethlehem Hardly News.

Operator: I’m not showing that. You didn’t put any earnings on there for this week.

JB: I haven’t worked there in two months. That’s why I’m applying for benefits.

Operator: Then what are these entries for August?

JB: Oh, that’s the other paper I freelance for. Sorry. I was confused.

Operator: So the Bethlehem Hardly News isn’t your last employer.

JB: I’m sorry. I misunderstood. The Hardly News was my last full time employer, the reason I am applying for benefits. I freelance for the NuTimes. I told the last person I spoke with about it. I filled out the forms. I thought you meant my former full time employer.

Operator: So what is your current employer?

JB: I work for The NuTimes. That’s N-U-T-I-M-E-S. I'm just a freelancer. But it's not full time. Not even part time. It’s not much money. I only reported it in the spirit of honesty. Really, it’s twenty, forty bucks a week.

Operator: I’m not showing any employer with that name.

JB: Try capitalizing the T.

Operator: What?

JB: Try Capitalizing the T. Big N, little u, Big T.

Operator: Oh, it’s Nu, not N-E-W. You should have told me that.

JB: I did.

Operator: You didn’t claim any wages for the NuTimes. You don’t work there anymore?

JB: Yes. I just didn’t get a check last week. I get checks for, like, twenty bucks for blogs and articles. It’s not a lot of money. I didn't get a check last week, so I didn't report it.

Operator: So you don’t work there anymore.

JB: Yes, I still work there.

Operator: What do you do there?

JB: I’m a freelance writer. I get paid by the article or by the word. Really, it’s not much. I just didn’t want to not report it.

Operator: And you don’t work there anymore.

JB: Yes, I still work there. Are you even listening?

Operator: And what do you do?

JB: I’m, I’m a writer. I get paid by the article.

Operator: And why are you calling today?

JB: I told you. I was told when I certified that I needed to call in.

Operator: Please hold.

[Thirty minutes go by. This time there is no music.]

Operator: Sir?

JB: Yes.

Operator: Why are you calling?

JB: I was told to call in. I don’t know why.

Operator: I need you to give me the dates of when you were working for NuTimes.

JB: I’ve been working there for four years. This should be on there. I spoke with someone. I filled out forms.

Operator: I show that you’ve only been working there since August.

JB: That’s, I sent, I sent in the money I made because I wanted to be honest. I have been working for that paper for four years and I still work there. I’ve worked there since 2006.

Operator: I’m going to need you to give me those dates in August when you worked.

JB: I, I just write articles. I don’t have set dates. I don't get paid by the hour or anything.

Operator: Then you are going to have to call back.

JB: No, no, no, no. I’ve been on hold for an hour. I've been calling for days. I need some help.

Operator: And why are you calling?

JB: I told you. The computer told me I needed to call in.

Operator: I need the dates you worked.

JB: Can you give me the dates of Sundays in August? That’s when I certified. I don't have a calendar in front of me. All I can give you are the Sundays I certified on the computer.

Operator: I have those but they are on another screen.

JB: Can you look?

Operator: Why are you calling?

JB: Oh my god.

Operator: I’m filling out another claim for NuTimes, since you don’t work there.

JB: I do work there. I told you. I still work there. I worked there before I worked at the other paper, The Bethlehem Hardly News, the paper that I no longer work at.

Operator: What is your supervisor’s name?

JB: At the NuTimes it's Clarissa Del Curto.

Operator: What’s that? I can’t hear you.

JB: Clarissa Del Curto.

Operator: Sir, I need you to stop yelling.

JB: I’m not yelling. I just don’t think you are listening to me.

Operator: Spell the name.

JB: C-L-A-R-I-S-S-A D-E-L-C-U-R-T-O.

Operator: I’m going to send out another claim because you don’t work there anymore.

JB: But I do work there. I have worked and continue to work there.

Operator: Then why are you calling?

JB: Oy Vey.

Operator: Is there anything else I can help you with.

JB: Yes, why haven’t I received a check yet.

Operator: It says you have holds on your account. Why do you have holds on your account?

JB: I don’t know. That’s why I asked.

Operator: It says you were terminated from your last job.

JB: I was. That’s why I’m trying to get benefits.

Operator: And you’re working part time.

JB: I’m freelancing. It’s not much money. I put it on the form because I didn’t want to leave it off, wanted to be honest. It can’t even be qualified as part time. It’s on a per article basis. It’s not rent money.

Operator: A adjudicator should be in touch with you about that. It takes six to eight weeks.

JB: Someone called me about that weeks ago. I told someone about the freelancing weeks ago.

Operator: Then why are you calling?

JB: Really? Are you serious?

Operator: It takes six to eight weeks.

JB: I think it’s been almost that long. I’ve been out of work that long.

Operator: It’s been seven weeks.

JB: So another week.

Operator: Why are you calling today?

JB: Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable.

Operator: Is there anything else I can help you with?

JB: What’s your name?

Operator: It’s [garbled]. Is there anything else I can help you with?

JB: No. No. No.

Operator: Have a nice—

[John Hangs up. Fade to Black]

 

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