Monday, August 3, 2009

PA Debit - It's nowhere you want to be

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. - I made a trek last week to the local Rite Aid to pick up only the essentials: An albuterol inhaler and some gummy bears. I set my items down on the counter, and swiped my official Commonwealth of Pennsylvania debit card without thinking about the keystone emblazoned there on the flimsy piece of plastic.

The cute 20-something guy on cash register duty hadn’t said much more than the typical “Good morning, how are you?” when he broke the silence as I was punching in my pin: “So, you’re unemployed, huh?”

I paused -- and I wondered if there was something about me that said “Hey, brother, can you spare a dime for the bus?” I almost said something smarmy about the poor economy and it being tough out there when the young man reached into his back pocket, whipped out his wallet and unveiled his own official debit card through the state unemployment office (one each of us in the bread line get with our first unemployment payment.

My bad.

For the first week of unemployment I was mostly in shock. That rapidly morphed into bitter, self-pity mode with only two possible options: Sleeping until the end of time or fleeing to Mexico with my few assets to live like a queen as the proprietor of a road-side stand to peddle trinkets to tourists.

But then, the day after I got my walking papers from the Observer-Reporter, one of college friends e-mailed to let me know she’d been let go from the public relations job she’d held for years. A few days after that, two other friends let me know that they, too, had been furloughed.

So when John or Jim or Jebediah there behind the counter commented on my card, it wasn’t out of judgment, or some unconscious social ineptness, as I had first assumed. It was just a bit of conversation, a few brief moments of understanding between strangers. And oddly, when I left the store, I had one of those “Wonder Years” moments of clarity. Yeah, it is tough out there. But we’re all in it together. Whether we’re behind the Rite Aid counter or freelancing for a small local daily, we are all just trying to get though this.

I left comforted that if I have to be in the so-called bread line for a bit, at least I’m in good company. I thought being unemployed made me a loser. A 28-year-old has-been -- embarrassed because I thought what if I would have worked a little harder, or wrote a little tighter.

Nope. Not the case. And it took that inconsequential chat with John or James or Jebediah that helped me finally get it.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at


  1. There is definitely a stigma that goes along with these debit cards. But that's pretty cool how that one moment with the cashier made you feel a little different about this unemployment thing. We're definitely all in the same boat, even those who still hold a job.

  2. Too true my friend. It made me feel all transcendantal.

  3. It seems to be degrading, but the card probably makes it easier to access YOUR money. At least you are not required to get barcode tattoo on your neck.

  4. If you didn't say so, I'd have thought that you got that card if you were a state employee or if you used a state credit union... I think it's pretty discreet... and only those "in the know" are... well... in the know

    It sounded like a touching moment, though... connecting with a random human being on such a random and arbitrary point... reminds me of something that Pope wrote about a spider web.

  5. Good point about the card looking like a state employee credit card. I guess that stigma is more in our heads than anything else. Well, at least we've blown the lid off this story!

  6. I think it was more me being subconsciously embarrassed about having been laid off. But I love when stuff like that happens. You think you're getting an inhaler and you leave with some perspective. It reminds me of what JD Salinger said: "Some things are hard to remember." And I agree it could be one that simply said: "No Jobby Job."

  7. My card has "Governor Edward G. Rendell" on it. The other day at Target when I checked out with my brand new Slinky the cashier said, "Thank you Mr. Governor." They must have sent me the wrong card but I'm not complaining.

    **This is a joke. I did not receive a card with the Governor's name on it nor did I buy a Slinky at Target. It was at Wal-Mart.**

  8. "Edward G. Rendell" is what is written on the statue on my mantle...

  9. E... I take it you're a state employee and have since applied for the no-interest loan that the guv thinks gives him mantle statue status?

  10. And Greggers, you should know better than to joke around on the internet. I can only imagine how many people are going to take that comment seriously and rake you over the coals. I will not be one of them, however, and instead will start referring to you as "The Guv" from now on.

  11. I will now refer to you as "Fast Greggie."