A Case of Unemployment

Nathaniel parked this week’s tin can where he knew cool shade would be when he finished for the day. He struggled for a few with the lock. White sedans. Always a bit different. Always the same.

“Take a coupe next time.” The kid behind the desk tempted him.

“And pay extra?” Nathaniel smiled at this college graduate, working at Enterprise in order to stay current with student loans.

Is that why these kids stay in school so long? Nathaniel wondered.

“When I was in college I couldn’t wait to get out,” he told the kid.

That’s because I knew school was not the goal. Graduating – getting a job – was. But these kids. Sometimes coming to his office to appeal disability claims. Usually unemployment claims. They all looked the same to him.

Once inside the office he knew where he was not. Not Bakersfield. Here he had to stand up to work the copier. Not Oxnard. Here the computer was on the right. Each office designed to allow him to function as receptionist and secretary as well as appellate court judge from behind a desk.

Always a bit different. Always the same.

First appeal he tossed on the table in front of his desk. Another college kid he guessed by the giant white tennis shoes shuffling in the waiting room. He could see them looming through the frosted glass.

“Why don’t you just be done with it,” he found himself asking the kid, after he’d closed the case. Tennis Shoe, now hopeful his unemployment would continue, smiled.

“I got out as soon as I could,” he said to Tennis Shoe, stopping him before he could walk out the door. “Couldn’t wait to start my career. Engineer. Mechanical engineer.”

“How’d that work for ya?” His next appointment said. Nathaniel leaned into the sarcasm. Didn’t this smart ass want to know why Nathaniel was not working as a mechanical engineer now? Huh? Didn’t he want to hear how it was done?

Nathaniel watched Smart Ass disappear out the door. He considered throwing a wrench in his disability claim, but that wouldn’t be right.

He was still fantasizing about it as he counted, silently, each mouthful of his all-expense-paid caprese panini.

Mastication nowadays instead of masturbation. Different. Same.

Nathaniel would never laugh out loud in public. He would laugh at his cleverness later. He wished he’d told Smart Ass to his face that the reason he’d left the aerospace business was that he tired of the adolescent thrill of exploding his rockets over the Pacific at Port Hueneme. That he earned his law degree nights on his way home from missile madness.

Making missiles madly.

These kids today. They take classes like Communication. I don’t know what that is, he thought. First job and they manage to get laid off so they can claim unemployment. Or a back injury.

Nathaniel chewed and used the napkin to clean carefully under each well-manicured fingernail. He tipped the waiter, probably another college kid from the looks of his ears – What did you call those cork-sized inserts? After, he finished up in the bathroom. He washed his hands vigorously with soap and warm water. Friction was key.

Typical San Luis Obispo coffee house. Chalk for all your graffiti needs.

He considered a big of tagging. His hotel room number followed by For a boring time, call Nathaniel.

Back when he’d first started as judge, he’d discovered he could order sex the way you order a pizza. Back in the day.

But it wasn’t really graffiti, was it, when the establishment provided the accouterments?

Gratuitous graffiti.

He remembered to return those few minutes early even though he knew she wouldn’t be there.

His ten o’clock. She had come prepared to argue Cervisi. They always come prepared with the wrong information. This part-time temporary community college English teacher in her sensible shoes. She hadn’t realized it was all about her identity.

Over ten years at the same college and her contract referred to her as temporary.

Both excellent examples of dysphemism.

She’d done this to him, this rekindling of terms like dysphemism, and the alliteration. He’d felt moved to tell her – so he did tell her – he’d attended every English class offered when he’d returned to community college to do the GE for his law degree.

And he’d had teachers like this woman. Aging. Hard working. And, he imagined, with very little to show for either. Laid off by her school district and nothing she could do because she was temporary and had been for over ten years.

She showed up and the door was still locked. She showed up and he said to her, Just between us girls, leaning forward, something he rarely did with any of his appeals, with anyone at all come to think of it, probably because she was there when he returned. She’d taken him up on his offer of a second chance. He repeated for effect, Just between us girls, I bet I could get an AA degree in English.

She said he could teach law since he was a judge.

He documented and recorded her social security card, the evidence she’d neglected to bring earlier. He assured her the claim would now go through. She stood up, and thanked Nathaniel very much for letting her return with the necessary documents. He did not say to her that he would never ever waste his time as a temporary.

She reached out her hand.

Nathaniel took Temporary’s hand. He was pretty sure she was clean. She looked clean. But he used the antiseptic gel, the kind of gel he kept next to the phone in every office, just the same.

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