Hi, I’m a thirty-six year-old, unemployed, newly divorced mother of three who just had a breast cancer scare, and it took some clerk in the Employee Development Department to completely rattle me.
A notice in the mail said that someone would call to interview me on Thursday between ten and twelve to discuss the circumstances of my termination and determine my eligibility for unemployment. I had plans to be in the Sierras with family that day, and would certainly not be home to take that call.
No worries, I thought, I’ll just ask them to call me at another number. After waiting eons to get an operator, I started to feel uneasy. “You don’t want to reschedule,” she sighed, “You’ll only get scheduled way out. I’ll see if I can get someone to change the contact number, but if I get another call, I’ll have to jump off.” Okay. Hang up whenever. That’s why we pay taxes.
I was napping (of course) when the call came. I sprang alive, limbic system fully engaged, sat bolt upright, and chirped “Hello!”
What followed was an interrogation not unlike the one I received from Sister Mary Wojnicki when I was caught smoking in the sixth grade. I answered more detailed and invasive questions about my whereabouts and ability to report for work than I answered with a wooden ruler poised over my knuckles. I was in trouble with the principal on a semi-regular basis, but I’ve only been unemployed for 22 days and already I was sweating it.
“So. About this interview. You asked that we contact you at a different number?”
“Where are you?”
“Uh, in the mountains, at Lake Tahoe.”
“When did you go there?”
My palms were sweating. “I drove up Tuesday night.”
“When you say ‘night,’ what time do you mean?”
“Um, around 4 o’clock.”
“And your normal working hours are nine to five?”
“Well, I held an executive level position—there are no set working hours, but four is not out of the question for end of day.”
“I see. And how long will you be there?”
“We’ll leave early tomorrow morning.”
“At what time?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Six? Seven?”
“Uhuh. And how long does it take you to drive there?”
Great googly moogly, she was a tough crowd. “Four hours.” In Bizarro World. It takes at least five or six, depending on potty stops and spills and fighting and crying and eating and anything else that could happen with three children under seven in the back seat.
“Four hours. So, you could be ready and available to work tomorrow if called?”
“Look, this is not a temp job where I would waltz in the same day. I’m positive I’m not missing an opportunity to work by spending a few hours on the road. I have my cell phone at all times, and internet access here. If someone were to call me, it wouldn’t be for same day employment.”
There was a long silence while she typed and typed and typed. What was she typing? Was she playing Tetris?
“So, about your termination.” She asked a long series of questions and then dropped the bomb.
“Did you ever receive any warnings or write ups?”
“Uh, listen: I’m really not at liberty to discuss any of this.”
“That’s what they said, too. I had to ask because it’s part of the interview. They’re not contesting your claim, by the way.”
And with that, it ended.
I’m thinking of calling her back and asking if she has anyone inside Customs Criminal Service. I have a shipment of Sobranie Black Russian cigarettes going to Lithuania via the Sudargas customs road post.