Day 15 – There Is No Free Lunch

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

September 12, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI waded into the swimsuit-dissolving waters of humiliation today as I entered the Clovis Unified School District’s Campus Catering office to sign Elora and Cami up for free lunches at school. “Free” is a relative term. I definitely paid a bit of a price.

We tried to avoid this. Erin signed up for the free meals program using the new online application system, but when I called to follow up to make sure everything had gone through, they had no record of us at all. I was told by the nice old lady on the phone I could apply in person. So, off I went this morning while Erin and Violet were doing other things far away from shouting kids and that greasy, wet carrots smell that seems to waft through every school cafeteria, all over the world. They were the lucky ones.

After filling out the physical application and submitting it, the lady at the front desk had to remark on what she saw as a discrepancy.

“You filled out here that you have zero income.”

“Yes,” I said quietly. “That’s right.”

“It’s just that there’s a space here where you can say you’re getting assistance from one of these programs, like WIC.”

I lowered my voice to almost a whisper. “We’re trying to avoid those.”

“It’s just that usually people with zero income sign up for one of these.”

“Right. Okay.” Still whispering. “To be honest, we just lost our jobs a couple weeks ago.”

“Oh! Zero income it is!” She said. Loudly. This was a proclamation the whole village needed to hear. “Why don’t you step right over here to this desk. She can help you.”

I got tossed over to another nice woman and she looked over my application. “So, that’s a zero income?”

“Yes.”

Another woman in the back of the office suddenly stepped out from behind her cubicle. “I think we talked on the phone, didn’t we?”

“Maybe,” I said. “You told me to come in because you couldn’t find my application?”

“Yes! That’s right. I did find it actually–you’re the one with zero income. I called you! Didn’t you get my message?”

“No. Which number did you use?”

“Let me check…” She checked at her desk and came back and told me the number.

“Ah,” I said. “That’s the number where I don’t work anymore.”

Everyone laughed.

“Yes,” the nice old lady said. “I heard you say zero income and I knew immediately–ah ha–that’s the one I talked to on the phone. I’m sorry you had to come all the way in.”

“It’s okay.”

“Done!” the lady actually helping me said, producing a piece of paper from her printer. “Here’s the name of your children, and here’s their eligibility. Even if your situation changes, they’ll have free meals for the rest of the year.”

“Great!” I said.

“Because of your zero income.”

* * *

The day started out with Erin feeling better than she has of late, so we were able to resume our morning walks with the dogs. We kept a pretty brisk pace and though it wasn’t terribly hot outside, I was sweating by the end of it. Felt good. Felt productive. Gave Erin and I a chance to talk about the too-neglected incidentals of life.

Directly after the walk, I got a lead on a possible local job that would be both wildly different from what I was doing and, from what little I know about it, might just be perfect for me. Then, later in the day, I got tossed a solid freelance job. These are blessings and I must recognize them.

* * *

In the course of our marriage Erin has gone from cooking Pasta-Roni masterfully to creating entire, restaurant-worthy meals out of just what she can grab around the kitchen. Tonight, we had the most delicious, healthy meal.  This was good because the homemade Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Cheesecake for dessert was just about the most decadent thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. We had our lawyer and friend, Travis, and his wife, Lori, over to feed and thank them for their service and support over the past couple weeks. It was perhaps an inadequate gift, but I doubt you could have convinced Travis’ stomach of that.

Dang. Good day today. I mean, I have zero income, but it was a good day.

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7 comments

  1. The free lunch and everything you’re starting to go through … we went through that even though both my parents were working. He’s a story about that.

    This was back during my childhood, about 9-11, don’t remember exactly when. It was your comment about desert that reminded me of it. One can often have the same issues you’re experiencing without being “unemployed”. My father, save for paying for rent on the property squandered the money. My mom had to work just to make ends meet.

    One time, it was a day before my mom got her next check. We were Hungry. We were kids. We needed food. Privation wasn’t something we were good at of course. My mom looked in the kitchen, hunted all over, and all she could find was some nuts, some flour and some food coloring. That’s how bare the kitchen was. Well, she also had some molasses from the brewery (my dad worked there). So, she made up some sweets using little more than some nuts, the molasses and some flour.

    They tasted great. That’s about all I can remember as this was … well, a long time ago. It kept our bellies from rumbling too much. Enough to survive until my mom’s next paycheck came in.

    To this day, she can’t duplicate that same recipe.

    Sometimes in the smallest of ways, God blesses us.

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    1. You’re too right. And we’ve had an abundance of blessings, both big and small.

      That’s a great story though. I’m sure at the time your parents were freaked out, but that’s really using what you have to the best you can. And you still remember it, which speaks to the experience’s power.

      Like

  2. So what you’re saying is you have zero income? That’s $0.00 correct? Ok just checking.

    I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for both you have lost your jobs. Hopefully things start going your way for you.

    Like

  3. Hopefully, a job comes through in time for you both. As the sole provider for my family, and also having lost jobs while doing so, I emphasize with you. Many of the experiences you describe are a mirror to the ones I’ve had.

    My wife and I especially know how using public assistance can be rather humbling. We have went through the grocery line, feeling unworthy of having food because we were using food stamps and WIC. I firmly believe that you should work if you wish to eat, and I feel like a moocher many times.

    I have found that staying thankful for what you have, like a small job to keep money trickling in, is one of the best ways to keep the stress level down. Good luck on your continued job search.

    Like

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