When my husband was unemployed, he regaled me with tales of the unemployment office. When my letter arrived last week instructing me to report today, I envisioned long lines of people (some smellier than others) based on his experience.
Some things must have changed in the past three years, because when I arrived, hardly anyone was there except the employees. I was immediately directed to a group of chairs facing a wall. I sat and read my library book for about fifteen minutes until I was joined by another woman about my age who would snurfle every few minutes in that way that indicates she got something up. I was busy being annoyed by that noise when the world's most enthusiastic job center employee burst upon the scene and invited us into a small room full of more chairs and a white board listing available seminars and recommended hot industries, such as healthcare and coding.
The man proceeded to act out everything he was saying with special voices, gestures and wild facial expressions while maintaining steely eye contact with me. Describing people who had worked for the same company for 25 years before they got laid off and didn't know how to interview? Looking at me. Discussing blind people who also have bills to pay and need jobs, too? Looking at me. Sharing about the two full-time representatives who are there specifically to help veterans? Looking at me. And every two or three minutes, the woman next to me would snurfle. She spoke up once to say she forgot her job sheet, which was the entire reason we were there. To show them the job sheets.
It was a little surreal. Like at one point during the presentation, I actually felt high from the combination of the room temperature, the direct eye contact and the awkward.
After the presentation, we were led to computers. Another guy cleared out the screen for me and told me I was going to take a test to see if I was smarter than a fifth grader. It was fourteen questions long. It turns out I am, indeed, smarter than a fifth grader, but I wonder how I would've felt if I had failed. I mean, hey, you're already unemployed - why not have your intelligence insulted at the same time? After my test, I had to go meet with the same guy who told me how he told all the guys who had been in manufacturing that the times are changing. How it's going to be just like when all the farmers stopped farming and went to build Ford trucks. How everything, EVERYTHING, was going to be in the coding, robotics and solar panels. Those manufacturing guys had better go back to school and learn to code or they were going to be left in the dust.
Did I know anything about solar panels?
No, I did not.
I tried to imagine what it would be like if I had just been laid off from my manufacturing job and this man told me I had to learn to code. Images of Donald Trump lawn signs floated through my head as I watched his mouth move.
After he was finished with me, I went to visit a woman who looked at my job sheet they'd sent in the mail and complimented me on my use of dates next to the entries. A lot of people don't put those in, she said. She pulled up my file and asked if I still had my S corp and verified my master's degree and took in the vision of me in ballcap, fleece and no makeup.
I asked her why my name had come up, if everyone's name comes up. She said yes, everyone comes up once, but she didn't know if I would come up again.
"What's the longest you've ever worked for a company?" she asked.
"Seven years," I said.
She looked back at my resume.
"You know, you need to make sure the next one is the right fit," she said. "Trust me, I know, I've been where you are, but make sure it's the right fit. Be patient. It will be okay."
She was the sanest person I'd talked to all day.
"Thank you," I said. "I really hope I never see you again."
"I hope not, too."
I walked back out into the autumn sunlight and tried not to think about solar panels.