About a month ago, nine in the morning, a Monday no less, majestically and surprisingly not hungover from New Year's Eve festivities across Manhattan and Brooklyn, I found myself in an elevator, traveling upward to attend a mandatory re-employment orientation session at my local career development office. As the lips of the elevator pulled slowly open at the fourth floor, my floor, I was greeted with a terrifying visage: her eyebrows appeared to be affixed in a gruff stance and appeared to be created with some type of heavy permanent marker, her lips an insufferable frosted pink that belonged in a vending machine, and her hair cotton candy, skeletal wisps, vaguely reminiscent whispers of the glory it had once bestowed upon her head. I could see through this peroxide mess to her round skull beneath. Around her body towered countless sheets of papers and books, so precariously placed, I was certain the entire desk would collapse should she take a quick breath. She motioned for me to take a seat with the others, and await further instruction.
Again I emphasize, this session was mandatory and my attendance required should I try to collect the funemployment insurance; naturally, I wanted to look and dress the part of a competent, employable young lady, such that this would be the only session to which I was summoned. Having no idea what this process is like, I assumed that I would be seated across from some counselor, who would question me about my educational and professional background, what had happened with my prior position, what actions I was taking in my job search. Envisioning this, I wore a modest and well-fitted light gray pencil skirt, a black cashmere sweater, some bold pearl earrings, opaque black tights, and a pair of leather flats with a silver buckle embellishment. Upon my arrival, gazing amongst my peers, I have never felt quite so violently out of place in my life. I was younger than most, by decades, and the upstanding gentlemen who were perhaps closer in proximity to my age bracket appeared as though they were extras who had stepped off set of a poorly directed MTV rap show.
Thankfully, we were soon ushered into a classroom, where we were instructed to fill out paperwork, something government agencies and processes seem to find exceedingly valuable. Gleaning small details from conversations around me, I discovered that some of these people had worked in the same janitorial position for decades, had no notion how to use a computer or the Internet, some were veterans and adjusting once again to civilian life. Penciling in my educational background, my professional experience, I felt rather guilty, as though I had stolen a place at this orientation from someone who legitimately needed it.
In waddled another ancient old woman, whose plaid skirt almost skidded against the floor, and who wore her luxuriously long and thick dark gray hair in a single braid caressing her back; she wrote some basics up on a white board and explained that most jobs now were found through the Internet, that resumes had to be submitted with electronic mail. She played a video for us, indeed a VHS; the shoulder pads on the suit jackets of the female narrator revealed the early 90s production date. This woman's 90s perm and her 90s tailored suit almost made funemployment and job searching seem exciting; the world seemed one of opportunity and delight. During the segment outlining resources available at the career development office, an obviously dubbed over voice explained that all computers had access to the Internet, in addition to electronic mail.
At one point, the smiling and lovely woman on the screen, so far removed in terms of both time and space, said to us, "You may be wondering what first steps you can take to put yourself back on the employed track," to which an elderly, worn out man beside me muttered, "What steps I can take? They don't want us no more."
I certainly did not learn much from the orientation video from a networking and job search perspective, however, overall the experience was a humbling one: seeing face to face men and women who were in dire financial situations, were victims of a deflating economy, trying their best to continue to float along. Superficially, and even a bit more subcutaneously, we as a group had little in common; however, at the core, each and every one of us wanted to do something, with our brains, our hands, our hearts, which made us proud, which was a testament of our contributions to society as living and breathing beings.