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!
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.
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?