Something certainly looked wrong, but I rarely trust my gut because I have crap powers of intuition. So I looked away from the screen to stare at the wall and center myself, took a deep breath, and turned back to look again at the computer to see what information it held. Yep. Someone had definitely made a mistake. And I am possibly out $1500. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
God dammit. Seriously!? “It’s easy,” the thing had said. “Claim your benefits every week on this website, and they’ll direct deposit your check the following Monday,” it had said. Well apparently it’s not that fucking easy, I thought, as I examined the smoldering digital wreckage the state of New York had made out of my unemployment benefits.
For starters, the first check was apparently sent to me in the form of a debit card, which is the actual stupidest way to send someone cash outside of attaching it to a fucking squirrel and kicking it in the general direction of its intended recipient. Next up to bat for the let’s make Nathaniel poor team was the fact that the weekly checks were for $60 less than I had been told they would be, which sum itself was already $200 less than any human who pays rent and needs to eat can afford to live on in this god-forsaken miserable shit-hole of a major metropolis. I kept reading. Oh, it also appears that half of the weeks I claimed for are not appearing in the list of weeks that I claimed for. Because that makes sense, right? Why would you pay a person for all of the weeks they said they were unemployed? Get a job you bum.
And what’s this? Oh great. Even better! This line here says that payments were suspended a month ago. This is fucking absurd. I almost suspect that the NY DMV tipped the Dept. of Labor off that I owed the state $200 and they decided to wreck my day, but there is no way the government is that well-coordinated. God dammit.
Ok. So, we have a problem here, Nathaniel. And also a good reason for why I should double check matters that pertain to my personal finances. Or at least look at my bank account more than once every five months. As it turns out, Nathaniel, not checking your bank account out of fear that something may have gone wrong actually increases the chance that something might go wrong. Who taught me what laissez-faire economics was? I think they owe me money.
I spent the next 10 minutes looking through the online form trying to figure out some way to fix this mess. There did not appear to be any opportunity to write information anywhere online to correct this. There was also no option to message some sort of customer service agent who could explain why I had stopped getting paid. Which meant… oh dear sweet and vengeful God, what have I done to make you hate me so? I am going to have to call the government.
“Is something wrong?”
The guy I shared an office with at my day job must have heard the increasingly exasperated sounds I was making in my corner. I do this thing where I continually mumble some combination of “really? Really?” “Are you fucking kidding me” and “Again!? Again!?” repeatedly under my breath whenever I’m frustrated. “The department of labor fucked me out of a lot of money and now I need to figure out how to get it out of them.”
“That sucks. You should call them.”
Oh, I should call them, huh? Look at this guy over here with all the thinking, we should listen to him. Why didn’t I come up with that on my own? Dude if you’ve got all the answers you shouldn’t keep them to yourself like this, the world needs your fucking input.
“Yeah, I will.” You’re a coward, Nathaniel.
Since there were no plausible ways out of this problem that would result in me getting money without calling, I dialed the number on the screen. (What follows is almost literally the response received by calling the department of labor. I was so amazed by how circuitous it was that I actually wrote it down)
The phone rang twice before the torture began with an automated voice.
“Please note that a 1099 can only be mailed upon request,” OK great I don’t need a 1099 how often do you get that question that you tell people that before they have the opportunity to even tell you what they’re calling about? Who is dumber, the government or the legion of unemployed people among whom I had been just another number on a monthly chart? Despite all indications I may have given I swear I am a smart person and do not deserve this is there like a fast lane through this? No?
The message continued. “Press 9 for the main menu,” and I pressed 9. The voice continued “are you calling to file a claim? Please file on our website,” If only, buddy. I did file on your website and you fucked me, so now I’m here. “If you are calling about severance, we suggest you check your claimant handbook or the FAQ’s on our website. For more information about fraud alerts, press 1. To continue to the main menu press 9” Wait you said to hit 9 for the main menu and I already did, so what menu was I just on and how many menus are there? When did I become Joseph K? Is that the sound of Kakfa weeping out there in the dark?
I pressed 9 again. “Press 1 for your representative. To complete your claim press 2. To file a new claim press 3. For contact information or to listen to quick answers about options, press 4. To speak to a rep about a claim, press 5.” Which button turns the screws on my brain? Which button reveals that my dreams were nightmares all along; that the world is cruel and its arbiters are not angels but devils amusing themselves as they ferry me to the void? I pressed 5.
“Remember, our website provides detailed updated information, you can check everything and obtain the answers to frequently asked questions online at www.labor.ny.gov” stop trying to funnel me to your website! Your website is the only fucking reason I’m here. “If your question pertains to how your benefit claim was calculated please check page 8 of the online handbook before calling,” Someday I hope to have a reckoning with whomever you have locked away performing these menial financial gymnastics and who, in his infinite wisdom, decided to choose for me a benefit rate that has forced me in turn to make a choice between a roof and food. Someday.
“You must certify each week you are unemployed, which you can do online. You must meet specific work search requirements to receive benefits, check your handbook for more information. Remember, it usually takes at least 3 weeks to process your claim and for benefits to begin. You can check your status on our website. New York State Department of Labor is an equal opportunity program provider. Before we get started I need to collect some information. Enter your 9-digit social security number.” I entered my number. “Now enter your pin,” and I entered my pin, which number is known only to me and the lunch ladies at my former middle school.
The voice chimed back, “You have a valid claim! You can check your status online at this location, or by calling this number 888 581 5812 for NY residents.” Wait I thought I was checking my status by calling the number I’m currently on the line with?
The voice continued, “If you have other questions, please remain on the line for more options. If you are calling about status of payments press 1. If you have a question about claiming your benefits, press 2 If you are calling about status of claim, press 3.
I pressed 3, and an actual ring tone began. An actual ring tone, not the tone that is just doing the rounds for a second before another automated voice picks up. This is it, Nathaniel. Finally. A human voice. Ring. Ring. Ring.
The phone rang five times. Each ring representing both my plaintive cry for help and another slice taken out of what remains of my sanity. The expected voice never came, though I would have waited for it forever and a day.
Another automated voice came on the line. “We’re sorry, we are experiencing an extremely high volume of calls. Please call back. later. Our regular hours are Monday to Friday from 8-5. Answers to commonly asked questions can be found on our website. Good bye.” The voice signed off and the phone line and vain thoughts of a world where things worked out for me and I was happy died together
Fuck the government. I’m voting for Trump.