Unemployed; The Worst Of Times And The Best Of Times

Daily Prompt: Are you being served?

What’s the most dreadful (or wonderful) experience you’ve ever had as a customer?


A Long Time Ago

In January of ‘75 I was laid-off from my job. The prospects of being recalled were slim. It was depressing, no job, a wife, and three children. Unemployment compensation was a little less than $100 a week. Our rent alone was $175 a month. There was not much left for groceries, utilities, and other necessities.

After two months of not finding work I started a janitorial service. My first month I had enough accounts to make about $300 a month.

It was in April of ’75 I reported back to the Unemployment office for an interview. I reported to a middle aged woman at a desk. She invited me to sit.

“Have you been looking for work?” the lady said.

“Yes,” I said. “And I want to report the money I’ve made.”

“Who are you working for?” she said.

“I started my own janitorial service,” I said.

“How much did you make?” she said.

“I made $300 last month,” I said.

“That’s for just one month, right?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Let’s just say you haven’t found work until you start to have something on a regular basis,” she said.

“But shouldn’t I report the money?” I said.

She leaned forward and spoke quietly. “Young man, I see you have three children and you just started your business. You are probably a little behind on your bills.”

“Yes, but I want to do the right thing,” I said.

“Do you have expenses with your business?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I bought a buffer, a mop and mop bucket, a vacuum, and cleaning supplies.”

“If we were to figure out what you really made how much do you think it would come to?” she said.

“Maybe $50,” I said.

“That’s hardly worth reporting,” she said. “Now go home and take care of your family and I don’t want to hear any more rubbish like this from you. When you make enough to sustain yourself and family, then we’ll talk. Now leave.” She smiled and patted my hand.

I stood and started to say thanks.

“My husband has sat in your chair before,” she said. “Millions of dollars are spent each year on people who live much better than you. No one on my side of this desk will ever miss the money that will go to you.”

Four months later I was called back to work at my old job.

I never forgot that civil servant.

Years Later

Two years before my retirement I chose a lay-off. I had no children at home and it was better for me to be laid-off than a guy who had an entire family to feed. I was still eligible for unemployment compensation. I went to the local office and they gave me a date to report.

On the time and date they told me to report the place was packed. People were lined up into the parking lot.

Returning in the afternoon the place was empty. I went to the reporting window. At the window was a woman in her mid twenties.

“Your reporting time was this morning,” she said curtly.

“I know,” I said. “There must have been some sort of mix-up. The place was so packed you had a line into the parking lot. That could be dangerous.”

“If you don’t report at the time of your appointment I can deny your claim,” she said.

“I don’t want that,” I said smiling. “So can we just take care of this now.”

“I want you to come back in the morning,” she said.

“Why can’t you take care of it now?” I said. “I live fourteen miles away.”

“You are supposed to report in the morning,” she snipped.

“You’ll be crowded again,” I said.

“That is when you are to report,” she said.

“Listen here madam,” I said. “When I came to this window you were doing nothing more than sucking Diet Coke through a soda straw and munching on cheese crackers. It is your job to serve me. I’ve paid taxes for over forty years, more years than you‘ve been alive. It’s because of me you have a job. Now treat me like I’m a customer and not nuisance. And if I don’t get service with a smile I want to see your supervisor.”

She quickly took care of me. She didn’t smile.

“Whose this lady’s supervisor,” I said.

The supervisor arrived. “Yes, sir.”

Calmly I said, “To many unemployment is a sad and demeaning time. Whether it’s me or some young gal coming in here we should all be treated with dignity.” I looked at the young woman who just waited on me. She looked as if she was about to get fired. “And this young lady has bent over backwards to make this a pleasant experience. I wanted to let you know that.”

The supervisor smiled and thanked me as if she didn’t believe me. She left.

“Twenty-nine years ago a woman in this office gave me a break,” I said. “It’s pay-back time.”

“Thanks,” she said.

I grinned. “You be nice to people from now on.”



  1. Greatest story I’ve read in a LONG time. You’re a one in a million person with a healthy respect for personal dignity, hard work and a great sense of humor to boot. This world needs more you and less them.

  2. After drying my eyes with a paper hanky, I find this one of the nicest, most wonderful pieces I have ever read, all the more that it is so true of the modern day. I find your reaction was super, There is no good pouring more misery on a miserable situation. I am sure not many would have reacted as you did. My husband was laid off at the age of 42, but was lucky finding another job quite quickly. It is a shock when you have a family to care for. It all belongs in the past, but not something you do not forget so easy.

    • When I hear of a friend or family member being laid-off my heart aches. I have always been comforted and encouraged by that woman’s reaction to me so many years ago. She knew what it meant to me. One thing I did not add to the story is that she moved me to tears and she was moved to tears also. Being employed and providing for my family was very important to me.
      Thanks so much for reading and your comments as well.

  3. Now that is one heck of a good way to start my day. Bravo for being such a darn nice guy. And that first lady would have been so proud that you played it forward when you didn’t have to. Great stories.

Blather away, if you like.

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