I had been there before, during the divorce. But that was seven years ago. I'd forgotten how long the sidewalk is from the parking lot to the door. People driving by look at you.
I returned today to apply for food stamps. Seven years ago, separated and unemployed, I'd applied for and received a food stamp card. Soon after I was fortunate to find a good-paying, (although part-time) job. I cut up the card unspent.
I'm blessed to still have that good-paying part-time job. Over the years I'd worked additional part-time jobs that helped me buy this house and keep the electric on. The garden has kept me going. Kind neighbors let me use their wi-fi for free.
The Friday before Super Bowl Sunday I was summarily fired from a second part-time job (the guy who pulled the trigger was a Patriots fan). Since then... not even under-the-table work.
Inside the assistance office I asked the the young woman at the front desk for an application, and she gave me one. I sat in the crowded waiting room and completed it. Over the loudspeaker numbers were being called; I remembered you were supposed to take a number. I went back to the young woman's desk and reached for a number. She snatched it away from me like it was her wallet. You don't do that! she said. Make a line!
Make a line? Make a line! It isn't fair to the people who are waiting if you cut in front of them, she said.
But I need a number so I can get to talk to someone about my application, don't I?
She answered my question with a question: "Are you turning in your application?"
I didn't know what to say. My application was there on the counter between us. "There it is," I said with a helpless laugh. "I don't want to be unfair to the people who are waiting," I said -- about six people were lined up at her desk. "But what do I do next?"
"You don't talk to anybody today," she said. "You have to make a line and then give me your application."
I went to the end of the line and waited. The 60-something security guard looked at me. I looked back. I didn't get up this morning and decide to go to the CAO to cut in line and increase his heart rate -- or mine.
When my turn came the young woman opened my application on the counter top. People standing near me in the never-ending line could see it; my name, address, phone. I doubt they cared, but even so.
The young woman spoke rapidly. "If you qualify for emergency food stamps they will call you at this number" she pointed to my phone number. "If you don't they will send you a letter in the mail. That's all."
"Okay," I said. That was that. I left, and walked the long walk back to my car.
Brenda Heist has my sympathy and support all the way. In this prison camp called life it's never easy. Anyone who calls her selfish better take that long walk themselves sometime.