Millennials, as a general rule, struggle to find jobs after graduating, have to move back in with their parents, and, once they do find a job, struggle with underemployment. These are all issues that I have personally faced. I’m sure most people survive these indications of the weak economy with grace and tact. I can’t say that I would always classify myself as one of those people.
This following.. incident… is one I swore I’d never tell anyone, because it’s embarrassing on many levels. But in the spirit of being an open book (which no one asked me to do, by the way, I just decided to do it) I will share.
It’s coming to you in two parts because it will be more suspenseful that way because it’s a long one.
Right after the boyfriend and I moved in together, we were struggling (as most millenials do) to make ends meet. The boyfriend was looking for a job like it was his job (although they don’t pay you for that) and I was a receptionist at a furniture store. We were barely making it. I mean barely.
So I was applying everywhere, too, when I had the time. EVERYWHERE. Sure, I can probably work in a train station. Sure, I can admit patients to the hospital. Sure, this link says open position, let’s apply.
And no one was calling me. And no one was calling him.
It was bad.
So, after long discussions and budgeting plans and an overall feeling of complete frustration, we decided that we should take advantage of government assistance. Everyone, hold your judgments. Seriously. We applied for food stamps (Food stamps are also known as SNAP.)
And boy, does my county put you through the ringer when you make this decision. We had to send in proof of employment and non-employment, copies of bills, copies of birth certificates and socials, letters from employers, letters showing we were applying for jobs, and vials of blood. Okay, I’m lying about that last one. But I was calling and e-mailing and faxing everyday trying to get us some help.
Finally, I sent in what I thought was our last piece of missing information. A few days later, I received a phone call from my county’s agency asking me to come in for an interview. Just an interview, no other information. Was this for food stamps? I asked. And I was told it was.
I Googled it and it turns out sometimes you do have to interview for food stamps. It’s actually not uncommon. A friend of mine in another state went through the process and an interview was required. It made me extremely anxious to think about explaining myself and my life to a stranger. But, if that was what had to happen, that was what I was going to do. I wrote “food stamps interview” on the calendar on the refrigerator.
A few weeks went by, and I was feeling more comfortable and confident about the food stamps interview. The boyfriend was at work on the day of the interview and I had the day off. He offered to go with me after he got off work, since the food stamps were for both of us, and we almost decided he should go. He didn’t though. It would have been a close call time-wise if I waited on him and I felt like I could do a good job representing us.
That morning, I went to the gym, cleaned the apartment, and did not shower. Let me reiterate this: I hadn’t showered. At all. I decided to wear jeans, a purple t-shirt that said volunteer on the back, and really old pink Nike flip flops. I also wore a grey jacket with holes in the sleeves. And a broken zipper. I think I had make-up on.
It didn’t matter what I looked like, I thought. Just needing some help here.
I felt the nervousness returning during the drive to my county’s office, but I had since decided that this was: 1. not a permanent solution to lack of funds and 2. the proper use of the system.
Once I arrived, I found the correct building and confidently entered through the double glass doors. I saw an extremely long queue wrapping around in the main lobby, so I just stepped right in line. Honestly, I felt confused about where I was supposed to go. Was there a specific meeting place? Were all these people here for interviews? I remained in line, slowly inching forward.
After a few minutes a side door opened and I heard my name called above the noise of the crowd of people waiting. Some of them turned to look at me as I stepped of line. I found a very nicely dressed woman, holding a clipboard, looking around the lobby. She must have called my name.
I (still confidently) walked up to her told her my name. She looked me up and down (like, literally, her eyes went up and down over me and I could sense some sort of disbelief.. and maybe disgust.. emanating from her). She just stared at me. I told her again she had called my name. Maybe she hadn’t heard me. It was kind of loud in the lobby and I could feel the eyes of the other people on my back. She stared some more. Finally, in what seemed to be a decision against her better judgment, she took me through the door, out of the lobby, and down a long hallway to a snazzier looking waiting area that appeared to be right outside an office.
I noticed the leather couches and leather chairs in this new room were full of people and there were no available seats. The (who I now deemed snarky) lady got me a straight-back, wooden brown chair and asked me to sit and wait. She informed me that they were behind schedule. I nodded, thanked her, and sat down.
I admit, at this point, I thought things were a little off. I had a strange inkling that maybe… but no. It couldn’t be.
I surreptitiously let my eyes roam around the room and I observed that all the other occupants of the waiting area wore extremely dressy clothing. This struck me as odd. But then – of course- these people probably came from their jobs. It was the middle of the day, after all. And that’s why there was a guy in a suit and a woman in a dress and heels. They all also seemed to be holding papers, and I had arrived with nothing. I texted the boyfriend but we decided it wasn’t that strange, that I was just feeling my usual anxiety, and he wished me good luck.
Minutes ticked by. The others sat very properly and attentively in their leather seats, legs crossed, ankles crossed and hands folded in their laps. I, on the other hand, busied myself by scrolling through my phone and texting and commenting on Instagram and playing solitaire. The minutes turned into one hour. Then an hour and a half.
Others went in the office and came out looking sure of themselves or looking distraught. Maybe this interview was going to be more intense than I bargained for. Some of them gave me a side-eyed look as they walked by, but I didn’t pay them much attention. I was too busy playing Scoops.
The door to the main office opened and a man in a suit and tie walked out.
I heard my name called. It was my turn.
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