Government Cheese


I here do publicly admit to my taking  part in a private scandal to swindle some government cheese. And then becoming swindled myself.

The year was 1983. I had just recently “quit” my government job, working for the County sheriff as a clerk, that I might better spend my summer time basking by the seaside. Nepotism was written all over this position from the start, and its questionable aquisition. Such as the fact I was awarded this clerks job, and was only required to type 40 words per minute. Later occupational testing revealed I was only barely capable of typing 38 words per minute. You do the math!

My Summer digs, post-Sheriff's Clerk job (image via Bing Images)

So, being ungrateful for the political favoritism/intervention which won me this hallowed role in government, I walked in to the Under Sheriffs office one day, and dropped a letter on the mans desk. I demanded to be paid for 8 months of back ‘comp’ pay which, according to the rules of my government union,  should have been paid with time-and-a-half. But I was only given straight time, in the form of hours off, thus it would appear I was owed at least a hundred hours of half-time pay. Mind you, I earned all of this ‘overtime’ by taking advantage of paid sick time. And each day I called in sick, the pile of summons and complaints on my desk, upon my return to work, was literally a spilling mountain of lawyers papers which required me to work through my lunch break to finish. Each lunch break worked earned me yet more ‘comp time’ (instead of actual pay). And so this, in turn, required  me to take off work, to use up that earned comp-time.  Which then caused my work to literally pile up on my desk. Which necessitated working more overtime, which created a deeper pool of free-use comp-time to dive into. Which I gladly swam about in.

(photo via Bing images)

So, in the end, I figured I averaged only four days of actual office-time per week, what with regular legal holidays, sick and vacation time and all. This went on for 8 long months, until the stress of working a 24 hour work week finally got to me. In utter exhaustion, I rented a room in an old, dilapidated hotel in Ocean City, by the beach, and planned to spend the summer days sipping cool Bloody Mary’s by the ocean, with a view of a ferris wheel from the Purple Pussycat Hotel’s porch.

Oh, yes. The Hotel had once been called the Purple Pussycat. In the swanky seventies, a pot-smoking pair of brothers, sons of a wealthy attorney, were given control of an aging hotel near the beach. They painted it purple, layered the rooms in various violent shades of shag carpeting; black walls painted with neon peace signs and Flower Power images were lit with black lights, and the acid trips began.

By the time I had moved in, the feeble attempts to rename the building “The Southern” and paint the building white were frustrated by rain and ocean air – it was fastly turning purple again. 

My plan to submit my letter of resignation to the Under Sheriff and receive 6 months of well-earned unemployment failed. I learned the only way I could get the extended freebie monies was to get fired. And the best way to get fired from my government job was to piss the administrators off. And the best way to piss a politician off was to criticize the fact that they had hired my incompetent ass in the first place! So this I did, in the form of a scathing letter, which resulted in my being called into the Bull Dog -Under-Sheriff’s office, whereby he did yell and scream at my delicate, willowy blonde 21-year-old ass.

Whereby I did stand up and point my finger directly in his face as he sat at his government desk, and proceeded to bellow at him, (exact words here) : “I put you in that desk, and my vote can take you out!”

He was appalled – his eyes bulged and his rounded gut froze from its usual gelatinous rippling undulations of proud, unquestioned authority. In my pink, knee-length cotton dress, long honey-blonde curls cascading over tender-thin, feminine shoulders, I continued to pound into him, letting him know what an unqualified buffoon he was. I judged his every decision as under-sheriff. I paced. Hands fisted on model-thin hips balanced on 4 inch heels as I sashayed back and forth, yelling and snorting and more pointing in his face and then throwing my hands up into the air in disgust. It is the stuff unemployment dreams are made of.

 He fucking fired me, alright!

I could not have been happier!!! To hear those magic words in the pre-Donald-Trump era was so, so beautiful – You’re fired”.

This had the instantaneous effect of stopping me in my tracks. I turned to face him, shocked -”really?” I queried with genuine surprise…

As if getting fired should have required more effort on my part.

Which part was it, exactly, which had sealed the unemployment deal for me? When I shouted in his face, “You just sit there in that big chair of yours pointing your finger and expecting people to jump with fear every time you bark an order!” (he was also directly in charge of all of the court bailiffs you know, the guys with guns who stand around in the courtrooms making sure you don’t pull a gun? And the correctional officers in the jail. Hmmm… and I was going to take this fat bastard down single-handedly that morning?)

Any way, my devious plan worked, I was officially fired, and suddenly became a more agreeable person again. With a pleased grin, I paused, and then sweetly asked, “Should I leave now, or finish out my day?

“I don’t care what you do” the under-sheriff huffed at me.

“Okay, then,” I said, diplomatically, “I’ll finish out my day. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

So, I finished, for the first time in 8 months, every bit of work on my desk. By lunch, the thing was entirely empty, devoid of paperwork, or the racks of summons and complaints and lawyers packets which normally covered it’s surface. There was, after a few hours of my undivided attention, simply no work left for me to do!

So, I walked back into the Under Sheriffs office at 11:45 a.m., relaxed and ready for my upcoming 3 month, paid vacation at the beach, and said, “I’m done.”

“What do you mean, you’re done?” he asked, only half-gruffly, now that he had so manfully exacted his power over me.

“I mean, I am done.” I explained, “There is no more work left for me to do. I did it all…I think I’ll just go home”

“So, go home.” he says.

I smiled. “Okay. Thanks…nice working with you.”

And with that, I packed up my things, much to the dismay of my nearby co-workers. One whose mouth dropped open at the sight of my perfectly empty desk surface – “I can’t believe it” she said, “I never thought I’d see the day when all of your work was done.”

I shrugged. And went home.

My father was running for State Senator at the time, with the full political support of the Sheriff and Undersheriff, so, explaining my sudden dis-employment to him was sure to be a tiny bit of a dilemma.

 As it turned out, the injured ego of the Under sheriff forced him to fight me on receiving unemployment benefits. Now, I, for one, had not just spent 8 long months slaving over a paper-strewn desk, followed by one long twenty-minute pre-firing confrontation, just so I could be denied my rightful benefits. It took 3.5  months and several appeals, but by the end of summer, you can bet, I got my unemployment checks.







But that left me with the entire summer with no money.

 I painted signs and menus for restaurants. And lived off Government Cheese.


Turns out, every year or so, all of these old atomic bomb shelters scattered throughout our neighborhoods and public buildings, are required to refresh their store of government cheese. These are large, long, 5 pound squarish logs of orange cheese. And due to my fathers political connections, some of those cheese logs found their way into our family freezer. Legally, I was told. And one can live quite nicely for a week or two in an old purplish hotel down by the seaside, just by chewing on a log of orange government cheese.

That’s not to say maintaining the freshness of this cheese, in a 95° heatwave with no refrigeration, wasn’t a challenge. It was. And that you could break into any room in the hotel with just a butter knife, and that drunk college kids coming home from the clubs at  2:30 in the morning suddenly, jealously remembered the skinny girl in room 2-A, who walked about the hotel blatantly, selfishly carrying said orange log of cheese securely tucked under one arm, for all hungry eyes to see, didn’t then conspire to break into my room and steal that block of government cheese. They did. And many a Sunday morning I spent wandering over 4 floors of creaky wooden boards, knocking on the doors of hung over college flunkies, demanding for my cheese back. I did. But that government cheese kept me alive that summer.

So, once again, all I can really say, in recollection, is - God Bless America!

At summer’s end, I took my aggregated unemployment funds and rented a storefront and opened up a business painting signs. My father even hired me to paint  a few of his political billboards.

The consummate American Success story! 

And so, what is your best ‘unemployment’ story?

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Categories: Memoirs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

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23 thoughts on “Government Cheese

  1. I was going to say that your life was exciting and daring. Also, that knee-lenght dress…pink, I was going to ask what color heels?
    But then the video! OMG! I was ready to hide under my bed.

    missed your articles…

    • Thank you, jg. I was out of sorts. I am betting my heels were a matching pink, but then realized those particular shoes came a few years later. Yes, the video is striking, but why is everyone, even the little boy, smiling?

  2. I do wonder why the people in this bomb video seem so darn happy about being under a nuclear attack.

  3. Obviously, you know this is an awesome story but naturally, I’ll pass all that over to say I got gov’t cheese as a kid and it was THE GREATEST. Granted, growing up so poor, it may have been just passable but I remember thinking it was DELICIOUS!

    • Yes, I think it was ‘American’ Cheese. It would do no good to have, say, Swiss cheese, and call it Government cheese. That would’ve been so UnAmerican! I mean, look at all the effort that went in to producing this HAPPY Atomic Bomb Shelter video!

      • Ooops, just read on the cheese label at page top that Government Cheese is actually Cheddar. Makes sense.

  4. I never got any government cheese. We did have government mice, but no government cheese.

    • Well, what kind of government does not feed it’s government mice its own government cheese???

      I now have both my own privately owned cheese, and mice. I have truely ‘made it’.

  5. Oh my gosh…I just love that story…and I can just soooo see you doing that too. You go girl!
    That reminds me of standing toe to toe with the well-over-six-feet-tall, elementary school principal on the curb as he was greeting parents on the first day of school and reading him the riot act. Pathetic “little” man had a problem with trying to intimidate by getting ‘reeeally’ close to you so he could look down upon you when he spoke. Yeah, well he’d never met the likes of this little 5’4 pain-in-the-ass! I was merely trying to persuade him that my daughter should be placed with another teacher that year and to emphasize how displeased I was that he had totally gone against my wishes in this and put her wherever the hell he wanted, and he got all ugly on me in front of the other parents. I think his exact words were if I didn’t like it I could take my children out of the school and place them elsewhere.’t!! Yeah, I stepped right up to that SOB, told him that this was my children’s neighborhood, this was the school district we lived in and I had no intention of relocating them to another school to appease him, and that he in fact worked for me, I paid his wages, and he better start acting accordingly. Chicken shit made the teacher call me and persuade me to let me daughter stay in her class. He dodged me for the rest of the time they went there.
    Sometimes you just gotta kick the stool out from underneath em! Take no prisoners!!

    • Ahhhh…the Classic Intimidator. I remember reading about this type when I began selling Real Estate in my twenties in Washington…that famous book :Winning Through Intimidation”, chock-full of theories and character types. The thing is, it is not only people in positions of authority who practice this silliness, to test their limits it seems, but even those close to you. Life seems to me to be one long game of ‘Alpha Dog’ these days. Glad you gave it to that guy, but good. Much better than his intended effect, to quell your voice and dominate with getting his own way. Most people cower to this type. Good for you.

  6. Gemma Sidney

    I’m currently living my best unemployment story, so I’ll let you know how it ends. I’m not doing so well at it right now, though, cos I’ve just spent 2 days working privately for my boss. And I was trying so hard to do nothing.

    But summer is coming, and my own version of the Purple Pussycat is calling my name…

    • Well, good for you! Your countdown has finally come to it’s fruitful conclusion, and you have left your job, just in time to enjoy a European summer. And then get married, right? Hope you find the Purple PussyCat of your dreams!

      • Gemma Sidney

        Thanks Spectra. That’s right – the wedding is just over a month away now. Eep.

        • Hey, I can’t reach your blog through clicking on your name. There seems to be no link again, just your e-mail.

          • Gemma Sidney

            Oh no! I haven’t changed anything… for me it’s accessible when I click on my picture, under “Personal Links”… here’s the address just in case: but I haven’t written in a while, there will probably be a new article arriving sometime this week…

  7. There’s so many things you can do with cheese. I always miss it when it’s not around. Cheese nips are not a good replacement. They don’t melt. But if you’ve got enough for a beach BBQ, then you’re doing okay.

    • This leads me to believe you have actually tried to MELT the cheese nips.

      Iron Chefs would encrust something with those cheese nips. Like lettuce.

  8. My grandparents were on some type of public assistance which involved them receiving Government cheese. And when my grandma served it, she would always say, “It’s government cheese!” and smirk. It was really good. I miss it.

    • Ahhh… that good old-fashioned Comfort Food!

      I read on Wikipedia that the Government Cheese program began in the early 1980′s, and was indeed given to those as part of Public assistance and Food Stamps. And Senior Citizens on fixed incomes would certainly have qualified. In my state, they will give you a food stamp card, even if you only qualify for $10.00 a month. Every little bit helps. I don’t think they give out Government Cheese anymore. It’s all pure nolstalgia now :(

  9. As a fellow government employee… I TRUELY enjoyed this! lol

    • Oh, you would count the ways! How many “I Quit!” scenarios you must have run through your mind…it’s those govm’t Benefits that keeps you there, I’m guessing?

      P.S. – Welcome aboard! And thanks for your visit.

  10. eric

    love that article, you should write a book. my grandma used to get those big blocks of government cheese but it was never the same, sometimes it would be like plain yellow american cheese and other times it was more orange colored and tasted like cheddar and sometimes it was almost white and similar to swiss cheese without the holes in it. i for one, being unemployed for over a year now, oh wait, i cant be unemployed because obama fixed the economy and everyone has a job right? well i recently applied for government food assistance, no way did i think i would get approved being a single white guy with no kids and lives with my dad, but sure enough they gave me a card like a debit card, and they put $200 a month on it, which is more than i ever spent on food even when i was working, no more 99 cent frozen dinners for every meal anymore. best part is even when i do start working again i will still get the $200 a month food benefits as long as i make less than $1170 a month, needless to say i am going to make sure to get just enough hours that i come in barely under that amount.

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