Mr. Murphy told me that because I was terminated “without cause” I could collect unemployment compensation. This is the first time I have ever heard of it, so he explained that it was a sort of public insurance fund set up to help tide people over until they found their next job.
I asked him what “termination without cause” meant, and he explained that the phrase applies to people who were fired through no fault of their own. In my own case, I was fired because my employers could no longer pay my hourly wage and remain in business; and that was certainly not my fault.
Since I have no means on this planet, I had no choice but to “file for benefits,” as they say. I proceeded to the appointed place: The District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services, Office of Unemployment Compensation. It’s downtown, so there was no problem using my now dwindling means to get there on public transportation.
What a mess! There is absolutely nothing in my professional training to prepare me for this backwash of Humanity! The unemployed are there in great, unwashed numbers; hardened by hardship into low expectations for their lives. The bureaucrats weren’t much better. They had seen so much Human suffering that they were completely untouched by it all. On all sides, there was a lack of compassion that Homelander physicians would have considered pathological!
But this is Earth, and not Homeland. In my present state it is better to use the system than lament its condition!
The whole process seemed to consist of standing in lines and filling out papers. I grabbed my forms and sat down in a chair next to a grandmotherly-looking woman who was using the side of her purse as a writing desk. I had to use my knee.
“This is the first time this has happened to me,” she complained to no one in specific, “and at such a bad time!”
“I think this sort of thing makes it a bad time, whatever things are like,” I observed, trying very hard to make my knee keep still.
“Here, use this,” she said, and handed me a small book that had been on the floor under her chair, “I brought this along to read while I’m waiting, but I can’t read it now!”
“Thank you,” I said. And then I inquired about the circumstances that brought her to the Unemployment Compensation Office.
It turned out that she had been a sales clerk in department store that had decided to leave the city for the suburbs. “I can’t really blame them,” she sympathized, “business was down real bad. But I can’t get way out to those shopping malls!”
Then she looked down at her form in horror. “Omigosh!” she exclaimed in frustration, “I have completely ruined this form! I’m just so preoccupied with my grandson that I can’t keep my mind on anything!” She looked up at the long lines with a sigh, “Well, it looks like I got to go through that awful line again. It was nice talking to you.” She gathered her things and began to stand up, but I told her to sit down.
“I didn’t think I would fill this out right the first time, so I got some spares,” I revealed. I handed her a fresh new form.
“Bless your providential little heart, young man!” she smiled. “This world is certainly a better place with people like you in it!” I winced a little at that one.
I asked about the grandson.
“Oh, he’s in the Washington Hospital Center,” she said, “Do you know where that is?”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied, “I was there when I broke my leg.”
“Oh my, your leg,” she said quietly, her eyes inspecting my legs. “Legs are precisely the problem my grandson has. They’re going to amputate both legs from the thighs down! He was in a motorcycle accident, and they say they have no choice.”
This was a bit sudden, and I was overwhelmed at this tragic story. I sympathized with her the best I could.
“The legs aren’t really his problem,” she confided. “He’s given up on life completely. He has already refused physical therapy in advance and absolutely forbids them to fit him with a prosthesis!” She paused thoughtfully, “I don’t know what to do, and I am his only living relative.”
That got my mental gears turning. Suddenly I told her that his main problem was feeling sorry for himself, which is as self-destructive as it is understandable. She looked at me in surprise. “How old is your grandson?” I asked. She told me he was in his early thirties. “Is he a professional athlete?” The answer was no, but she wanted to know what I was getting at.
He doesn’t need his legs, I announced somewhat presumptuously. It is a horrible tragedy that he lost them, I’ll grant that; but it doesn’t really affect much. Then I explained: he can’t ride a motorcycle anymore, but he can drive a car without legs. He’s too old to take up athletics. Even if he can’t be fitted for artificial legs, he can go just about anywhere in a wheelchair; even on the Washington subway! Her expression brightened. As long as he has a good mind and two strong arms, he can still do anything he wants! Except play basketball. She smiled.
Tragedy is a sad thing, I concluded; but isn’t surrendering to a tragedy even worse?
We discussed this at great length, and finally she became very optimistic. Why, he could drive a car! He could get married and have children! He could have this job or that job!
She kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you so very much! I’m just going to march right into his hospital room and tell him to straighten up and fly right! I can tend to this later.” She crumpled up the half-completed forms. “So what if he’s handicapped? Lots of people have much worse handicaps and they don’t give up on life!” She got up to leave, “It was really lucky I was sitting next to you.”
Unfortunately, I still had a lot of blanks to fill in, so I got to work.
After a short time, the woman returned.
“You’ve been so good to me, I can’t bear to walk off and leave you unrewarded!” She reached deep in her purse. “My mother gave me this, and I’ve been keeping it a long time. But you certainly deserve it!” She handed me a large, tarnished coin.
It was a silver dollar, dated 1888.