tax dollars at work
instructor pokes into the room, embarrassed by his tardiness. It's
9:10 a.m. He's 10 minutes late. Five of us have been waiting for
The state required our attendance at a two-hour job-hunt
orientation at 9 a.m., March 22, 2004, at the unemployment office
in Seattle. "Failure to attend may result in denial of your
benefits," the letter said.
Our instructor droops over a table as he connects
a cable from his laptop to a projector. He writes his name on the
white board in a teacher's cursive: Ardis.
"Are you here for the job log workshop?"
Ardis asks. "No," says a redheaded white man. "We're
here for the orientation."
"Wait a minute," Ardis says. "Wait
a minute." He leaves the room, puzzled.
Orientation and Assessment is the first of a seven-module
course for people on unemployment. "Research shows claimants
with education, work experience and other factors similar to yours
need reemployment services to make a successful transition to new
employment," the invitation said. We'd study résumés,
applications and cover letters. We'd analyze our skills, abilities
and the job market. And we'd learn "who you are" and "gain
information about yourself."
What could the state teach me about job hunting? I've
worked in high-tech and journalism for 20 years. Two degrees. Freelancing.
Ran a small business. Seven or eight jobs. Laid off a couple of
weeks ago. I've written résumés, bugged friends about
"hidden" jobs, filled out "career assessments."
And now I have to put up with a government stiff who
can't start a workshop on time. He's unprepared. He doesn't even
know what workshop he's in! I just want my checks. Maybe the young
Latino to my left will learn something, if today's class ever gets
going. His wife, sister, girlfriend, I can't tell, sits beside him.
Mountain climbers, eagles and ocean surf on wall posters
inspire us to choose goals, seek opportunity, cultivate vision and
A dark-haired, brown-skinned woman in a wheelchair
rolls in about 9:15. "Are you my group?" she asks us.
"We're here for the orientation," we respond. "Let
me go check ..." she mumbles, rolling out.
"Your tax dollars at work," I whisper to
the redheaded man. The students snicker. Ardis pops in, followed
by a middle-aged Asian woman. "We got to make some changes
here!" he declares. His Deep South accent is out of place.
The woman packs the projector in its box. Ardis unhooks the cables.
He's black, 50ish, round-faced. He's wearing dress shoes, gray dress
pants, a dark polo shirt and a matching suit jacket.
Another black man comes in. His keycard says "Lee."
He's huge, like a defensive lineman, also well dressed, but without
the jacket, and he says something to Ardis. "It was supposed
to be E-I-R, but E-R-I was scheduled," Ardis says to Lee. "I
don't know what happened. I can't explain it." They exit, leaving
the students alone again. It's now 9:30 a.m.
Late students take seats. One of the papers at our
places on long tables is a workshop evaluation. Among the topics
|· A clear overview of the workshop was presented
· Instructor was well-organized
· Time spent in the workshop was productive
"Rate these items from Very Good to Very Poor."
Here's a chance to poke the state for wasting my time.
I've paid unemployment insurance premiums for 30 years. I don't
have to put up with this. Where's my pencil ...
Ardis carries a sheaf of copies when he returns. "They
made a mistake," he says. "And I got to correct it, because
you all looking at me! I don't want" (he counts the students)
"16 people looking for me!"
The fellow next to me wears a black, white and yellow
Pittsburgh Steelers cap. He catches my eye as he takes one of Ardis'
papers and hands the pile to me. A young woman two rows up watches
Ardis expectantly. It's 9:41 a.m. "Now, to make this orientation,
I'll have to rush," he says. "But we'll make it."
The young woman nods.
Ardis gets through the orientation. He hits the high
points, skips less important parts, ends with his phone number.
He finishes 10 minutes early, "because I know you all want
outta here." Ardis shakes my hand as I leave and he apologizes
for the mix up.
My evaluation form sits on the table, blank.