Good morning, everybody.
I was walking outside in some area that looked like a Main Street area of some small town. It was a really sunny day, so sunny the sky seemed yellow. I felt like I was on the crest of a high hill. The buildings all felt really low somehow. There were a lot of people out walking on the street.
I may have been trying to figure out what to get for dinner -- even while I was already eating something like a sesame seed bagel that was two or three times the size of a normal bagel. But everything seemed so expensive. I didn't want to buy anything. I didn't feel like I had enough money.
I suddenly realized that I could go down to some place nearby and file for food assistance. I was employed, but I was making so little money at my current job that I still qualified for food assistance.
I was already walking into the place for filinf for food assistance. The place kind of looked like a post office. It was divided into two rooms. The room on the right had some tables and forms. You filled out a form and took it into the room to the left, where you would be processed and given a meal. From then on you could receive meals from this place.
I felt that maybe I wasn't so bad off that I should use the system. It didn't feel honest. It felt like I was cheating the system, especially since, even now, I had a huge bagel in my hand.
But I justified all this to myself by remembering that for the entire time I'd been unemployed, I hadn't filed for unemployment or food assistance or anything. I'd simply lived during that time off of the money I'd saved up in the bank. So, now that I was working and felt I needed a little help to supplement my wages, it wouldn't be so bad, every now and then, to come to this place for a free meal.
I took the form and got in line. The line spilled over a little bit from the left room into the room I was in. But I was soon in the left room. The left room was dark. The only light came from behind the counters. The counters were along the right wall. The counters were plexiglass-windowed, with little slots at their bottoms for passing things back and forth between the workers.
There were two or three workers taking care of everybody. I was now up to the front of the line. I could see that the worker at the far end had just finished helping someone. He was walking away.
I knew I should walk up to the worker so I could get helped. But I lost my focus for a moment. It took a moment before I could make myself walk up to the worker. By that time the worker was looking over her counter, looking through the window at me impatiently.
I knew that the workers were actually supposed to put a light over their counters to show when they were ready to serve another person. But, I knew, this worker was too lazy to do that. She expected people just to come up to her counter as soon as they saw she wasn't helping anybody. When people didn't follow her unspoken rule, I knew, she decided they were disrespecting her. So she would give them bad service.
I dreaded meeting the woman. But I walked up to her counter and smiled at her politely. She had brown skin and kind of frizzy, reddish-brown hair. She was heavy, round-bodied, and she wore a uniform like a postal worker's uniform.
I handed the woman my identification and some other card. The woman was already looking for ways not to help me. She said that something was wrong with my application. She may have said something like, "You have a job. You make money. Why are you here?"
I might have tried to explain that I was trying to get the assistance for people with jobs that didn't pay enough for them to live on. But I was already wondering if I was cheating the system.
The woman may have told me something about some part of the form I'd filled out, or about some form I hadn't filled out. I needed to fill this thing out. It was for exceptions, like the one I was looking for. I could see a back page and bottom end of a form in my mind's eye. I knew this was what I needed to fill out. I wondered if the woman would wait while I filled it out, or if she'd send me to the back of the line.
I finally got so frustrated that I told the woman, "This is too much. I don't really need to go through all of this. You don't want to help me? Fine. I just won't eat." I knew my situation wasn't this bad. But I wanted, somehow, to make a point to the woman that this situation was much more important, for all the people in line, than she had been making it seem.
I was looking down. Apparently some time had passed. The woman had walked away for some reason. I thought it may have been to get me a form or to talk with someone to see whether I could get an exception.
A man now came up to the counter. I thought that maybe this was the woman's boss, and that he was going to talk to me about getting some exception. The man was shortish, kind of slim, probably Hispanic, with short, salt and pepper hair, eyeglasses, and a small, trim mustache. His hairstyle may have changed at some point to be more of a buzz cut.
The man began telling me that, according to entries on my application, I had recently been bitten by a dog. (This was true IWL.) He said that records indicated I had not been taken to the hospital after the bite.
The man, I now knew, was actually a worker assigned to getting medical help for people who came through this center. The man was now telling me all sorts of standards and regulations regarding what needed to be done to a person once it was discovered they needed medical help. My case, the man explained, was completely urgent and involved. I had a bad feeling I was going to be here for a long time.
The man still kept talking and talking. All the time I was just waiting to explain to the man that the bit hadn't been bad. I'd contacted animal control and the paramedics immediately. Both had told me I was okay and didn't need to go to the hospital.
So I was okay. I wasn't looking for some kind of crazy health care runaround. All I wanted was to get some dinner. But the man was still talking to me, giving me all kinds of discussion about protocol.