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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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