On the Dole

July 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

“I gotta be here ’til five anyways.”


There isn’t much to do in Hull off-season. All the shops are boarded up against the fierce nor’easters that dump snow from Christmas into spring. Unemployed, I occupy myself at the IBM, a waste of time, but what else is there? Play with Hallie and the dog, muddle through the want ads.

Sandra’s into health food, pinching pennies. We eat homemade bread and yogurt, granola (not much meat), wear homemade clothes.

Hull is where Hallie discovers language, making up words that work their way into the family lexicon: “odeleo” is a telephone; “nummy-nums” are Sandra’s tasty tits. Turds are “brown benanas.” Sandra draws pictures with verbal captions—”flower,” “apple,” “book,” “love” (a heart)—and she learns to read. Before she’s two, she’s mastered Dr Seuss. We realize she’s gifted.

Hallie in the Snow

Hallie hates the snow.

With unemployment over nine per cent—the worst since the Great Depression—and twice that in Hull (and me too qualified), I can’t find work. The only jobs are those the government provides to ease the crisis, through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), available only to people on Welfare.

I clearly qualify. (It helps that I’m a Veteran.) But it takes a month to weave my way through the bureaucratic paperwork, standing in lines (sometimes the wrong ones), waiting weeks between appointments to be interviewed, reviewed, re-interviewed, first to prove my poverty, then to apply for a job.

And the way they treat you! One can’t help but feel ashamed, humiliated, abused and scorned, and angry, frustrated, homicidal.

The perfect example is the fat slob who keeps me and so many others waiting from nine through lunch ’til after two in the crowded room outside his cubicle, who (when at last my name is called) rambles on about the people he has to deal with, deadbeats, telling me their secrets, on and on, until I politely suggest, in the interest of his time and those still waiting, that we get on with the interview. “No sweat,” he sneers. “I gotta be here ’til five anyways.”

Once qualified for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), I can and do apply for CETA jobs, but there far more applicants than slots, mostly local and connected, and I’m over-qualified. The final straw comes in the middle of February, when I confront a certain employment counselor with my suspicion that a job for which I’m perfectly qualified has been filled by his perfectly unqualified nephew, and threaten to go public. In no time the establishment creates a special new position just for me, at the highest level CETA pays, assigned to the Town of Hull. I start next week.






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