Saturday, May 22, 2004

On being unemployed 

If the contract had come through... But it didn't. If the family support had been able to continue... But it couldn't.

And then the cut-offs began. In September, the phone. In October, the electricity. And finally, the gas, which meant the cooking and the heat. In the winter. All that was left then was the freezing apartment, and on December 1, I told my long-suffering landlord I was going, and used up the last month's rent.

Every night sleep was a methodical battle, as I arranged the covers, all the coats, all the sweaters over and around me to seal any chink against the cold.

What saved the situation, was, first, my fellow bloggers Leah, the farmer, and tresy, who paid for the Blogger Professional when I had no money to contribute.

Second, public space. Having no phone, gas, or heat I could deal with: But no Internet connection would really have been a problem. Fortunately, the Philadelphia Free Library has Internet terminals, and so I would walk over in the morning and move, nomadically, from terminal to terminal as each 45 time minute expired. Here, I was in strange company, since a crew of street people were doing the same thing. The public terminals are a catchbasin, filled with students, the poor, unemployed IT professionals—I looked over the shoulder of one terribly scruffy guy, and saw he had a network administrator's resume a mile long—the homeless, and, as we know now, potential terrorists. And here, too, the end was approaching, since the Library, at wit's end with the homeless monopolizing the system, was about to install card readers, so that only paid-up patrons would be able to use the system, and then only for a single session.[1] And that wasn't enough time, and anyhow I didn't have the money. That would have been more than my food budget for a month!

Electricity: Every night I unscrewed the lightbulb on the stairs, screwed in an adapter, and ran extension cord into the apartment, so I could use a hotplate; the laptop, too, sometimes: Later, I learned that there was a vagrant WiFi signal that I could just pick up, sometimes, if I held the laptop at the right height and angle.

Food: I discovered dollar stores. Dollar stores are amazing and wonderful, especially if you don't care about brand names. Chinese Crest! Turkish soap. And two nights worth of spaghetti sauce for one dollar. My worries about retirement have been considerably reduced... Oh, and charity? It isn't. I had the foolish notion that I could go to a church for food, if I needed it. Not a chance—they all had means testing, which required a checking account, which at that point I didn't have.

Fortunately, at this point a friend arranged to fly me out to California for a conference, and I was able to update my linux system to install the WiFi drivers I was previously unable to install. This meant that I was able to go to coffee houses, rent my seat for an hour, and connect. Not Starbucks, of course, but the local houses that compete with the chains by offering a free connection. Far improved from the library, where the librarians had me classified as an abuser of the system, as I was, but had no way to protect the system from me.

Now that I had a reliable Internet connection, I discovered that there was a salaried job—after two years—that I could apply for, and so I got a prepaid phone to have a number on the resume, and applied. Remember the month when Bush created 500 jobs? The job I got was 1/500th of the job creation total in that month.

And then a fellow coffee house patron mentioned Craigs List, and all in the one week between Christmas and New Year's I used it to find a new, cheaper, and better apartment, then found a mover, and moved.

This experience explains why I give Bush zero credit on the economy, or the Wecovery.

For one thing, it's obvious that the recovery we are now in—even if all the jobs are for manicurists, security guards, and other providers of personal services—happened in spite of Bush, not because of Him. When two hundred billion of war money gets injected into the economy, it would be remarkable if the economy did not grow. Especially with Greenspan inflating a housing bubble.

And I rememember a lot about Republican policies and actions when I was unemployed.

I remember the Bush promises, promises about all the jobs that would be created through His policies. And then month after month after month after month of nothing, with all the professional employed analysts and MWs acting surprised at the most obvious thing in the world: that the horrible job market was a touch of the overseer's lash on the backs of those who had jobs, to make them work harder for the same money ("be more productive").

I remember the Republicans not renewing unemployment payments. Over Christmas. Not that I had any, but one thinks of others.

I remember the Republicans trying to take away overtime—another touch of the lash. How many families, right on the edge, would be pushed over the line into my condition if their overtime disappeared?

I remember countless acts by the Republicans to give more to those who were already rich, and take away more from those who were already poor.

And do I have any confidence that I won't be thrown on the trash heap again, with millions of others? Of course not.

Give Bush credit for the economy? Don't make me laugh. It hurts too much.

[1]I don't think, unfortunately, that the library was wrong in this. A few months later, a streetperson—who I am almost certain I sat next to; he was, of course, browsing porn—raped and almost killed a little Chinese girl in the Independence Branch, who had been brought there by her non-English speaking grandmother, on the premise, no doubt that the library was safe.

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