Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Last Monday, I missed a phone interview with the California Employment Development Department. I don't know what happened to the pre-interview notice they promised me; I do know that when I got back from my New Year's Eve Trader Joe's run, Mary from the State of California was disappointed to have missed me. The phone number she left was unstaffed, and their email told me to call the main line. This, I now know, is the first rule of the California Employment Development Department: Don't miss a phone call with the California Employment Development Department.

Nine days and about a hundred phone-dials later--I literally called twenty-eight times yesterday--I still haven't gotten through. Sometimes, the system is up-front with me: I dial, please call back later, goodbye. Click! Other times, it leads me on. "Welcome!" it says. My heart beats fast. I have my reference number handy. Five menus and my Social Security number later...please call back later. Goodbye. Click.

This is like the worst radio call-in contest ever.

Rumor has it the system maxes out when the on-hold wait gets longer than ten minutes. Which, okay. Let's think about this. First of all, this is a phone system for every unemployed person in the state of California. A ten-minute hold line is something you have for a popular dentist in a small town, not the social safety net for the most populous state in the union. Second, I'm a big girl. I have a phone with a speaker function. I can be on hold for more than ten minutes if it means I don't have to spend a week of my life calling this phone number. Give me twenty minutes! Half an hour! I can be on the phone all afternoon if it means you'll start sending me the benefits I applied for.

What will I do, you ask, while I wait my turn? Well, I'll search job websites. Futz with my cover letter. Sing along with your hold music. Memorize that message about Congress extending benefits. Make scrambled eggs. Watch "30 Rock" reruns. Catch up on The New Yorker. Clean my bathroom. Clean my kitchen. Clean my living room. Make sure my professional website works. See if anybody's visited my professional website. Make my bed. Check Facebook. Decide what to make for dinner. Make a grocery list. Knit. Write a thank-you note. Write a note of ungratefulness. What does it matter what I do? At the end of it, I will have spoken to someone. The social safety net will have triumphed!

Some day, EDD, I hope we can do these things together.



Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Reality Day

I would like to propose a new holiday. I like to call it Reality Day. Or the Day of Reality. Or, ooh, the Festival of Reality! Whatever we're calling it, Reality Day falls on January 2, unless January 2 falls on a weekend. Weekends go against everything Reality Day stands for.

You may have noticed that today is January 2.

Happy Reality Day!

Here's the thing: until shortly before Christmas, I had a job. It was a good one: I sat in a small, messy room, surrounded by people I liked--people I like, actually, present-tense--and wrote scripts for a comedic educational TV show/DVD series. In the middle of December, my company's financial tether ran out. I was laid off, effective immediately; I arrived at the office at 9:15 and was home, with my lunch leftovers and the fake hipster glasses I'd brought in for a sketch, by eleven.

I decided to embrace the time off. Nobody's hiring the week before Christmas, let alone the week after, so I declared my Winter Break, college-style, and applied myself conscientiously to the task of relaxing. I hung out with my parents, who are local, and with my brother, whom I don't see that often. I stayed up late with friends, playing games and drinking wine and talking, and slept in accordingly, unless I had brunch plans. I celebrated Christmas. I went to my family's cabin and read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in front of the fire. I celebrated New Year's Day with friends and fried chicken and a mini-road trip toward dinner, watching the sun set behind the hills as I drove down Highway 101.

That was yesterday. Yesterday was Winter Break. Today is Reality Day. On Reality Day, we wake up to emails about job prospects and unemployment insurance. We brush our teeth before eleven a.m., in accordance with tradition. We ritually update our resumes and polish up our websites. We call the unemployment people, with the eager expectation of being on hold. We eat the celebratory meal of salad. We get stuff done, because that is the nature of this Reality Day holiday, and we are nothing if not enthusiastic about the holidays. ANY holidays.

It also bears mentioning that I'm days--hours, maybe!--from closing on my very first home. This is the exciting end to a long process; my offer was accepted in August, and now it's January, and if you want to talk about wallpaper or window coverings or my vision for the living room,  I can oblige you allllll daaaaay lonnnng. I'm already planning the housewarming party and daydreaming about sunny afternoons reading on the back patio. All of these happy new-home things are coming...AFTER I've scaled the mountain of paperwork, packing, cleaning, move-scheduling, electrician-calling (what kind of person, I ask you, installs a thermostat on the side of the heater?), address-changing, landlord-wrangling work. This work is not, of course, a surprise. We have hurried up and then waited, and hurried up and waited, and hurried up and waited. (Mortgage lenders also take Winter Break.) And when does it all begin? Reality Day! Hurrah! Here's some newspaper! Let's all pack something fragile!

I realize that I am not the only one celebrating Reality Day today. Millions--billions?--of people around the world are walking into cold, quiet offices today, trying to remember what exactly it is they're doing there. They're removing the holiday music from their iTunes to avoid the confluence of Shuffle and Bing Crosby in June. They're finishing up the last of the See's candy and sweeping up the last (they hope) of the Christmas tree needles from the living room floor. And this is why I think Reality Day should be afforded holiday status: we're gearing up, we're ritualizing, we're collectively adjusting. It's a thing. We're all doing it together anyway; why not build a holiday around it?

Or maybe I just want one last day to celebrate before it's really January.

Happy Reality Day.