EMPLOYMENT UNKNOWN • by Russ Bickerstaff

Some things don’t show up on a job description. You might not always know what is expected of you. It’s fine so long as there’s a paycheck. That’s what I keep telling myself. I really have no idea how long I had been unemployed prior to my current job. I really don’t know when I started working my current job. I  really don’t have any idea what my current job is. The important thing is that I keep getting paid. It’s not a whole lot of money, but it’s enough to get by quite comfortably. I’m not saving for retirement. I’m not paying off student loans. And I really have no idea when the money’s going to stop coming, but I figure I’ll deal with that when and if it happens.

Of course, prior to this I’d been laid off from this other job I had a few years ago. It was the last job that I knew I had. I’d interviewed for that job and everything. I loved that job. Felt awful losing it. I filed for money from unemployment knowing that I would get SOMETHING. It’s weird: on a technicality I didn’t qualify for unemployment compensation. I didn’t find this out until a year later, of course. Something was said to me on my way out of a job interview that made me look into it.

I was on my way out of this building I was interviewing at when this guy walked up to me. I never saw him before in my life. He looked right at me and asked me if I was interviewing for the job. I told him I was. He shook his head and told me that I shouldn’t quit what I’m doing. He told me that I was doing a really, really good job and that I shouldn’t get discouraged. He told me that all I needed to do was take the work a little bit more seriously and I’d do fine. It was one of those awkward moments, you just sort of nod and let it pass. I guess I just assumed that he’d mistaken me for somebody else. I didn’t want him to get embarrassed and I didn’t want to be impolite, so I didn’t say anything about it. I just let him walk away.

But it got me wondering, so I checked it out: there were direct deposits to my bank account from “Employment.” There were these weekly payments coming from “Employment.” I’d assumed that actually meant unemployment compensation, but I guess I’d never given it much thought. I’d kept my file up to date with the unemployment office online. I figured they were handling it. They weren’t.  If they  let me know I didn’t qualify, that notification must’ve ended up in a spam folder because “employment” wasn’t unemployment compensation — it was something else altogether. Didn’t have the foggiest idea of who it was, though.

I’d asked the bank about it, but they weren’t of much help. I guess I should have asked that guy about it more when I ran into him on my way out of the job interview. Of course, when you’re getting paid and you don’t know why, everything becomes part of the job. Really, if I was going to be paid by some employer I didn’t know to do things that I was already doing anyway, the least I could do was pay a little bit more attention to everything I did. And so I started being a lot nicer to everyone I met. You never know who might be a supervisor or a client or a co-worker. And if other people are where I am with “employment,” I figure that any stranger I meet might not be entirely aware if they’re a supervisor or a client or a co-worker. So I’ve been trying to help everybody out. It is, after all, my job.

In the end, I guess I figured that I might as well take the guy’s advice and get serious about it. I invested a little bit of money in it. Now I dress in business casual wherever I go. I have business cards. My name is right there in black Times New Roman  on a simple, white background. Underneath my name it says, “Employed.” There’s nothing else on the card. Just my name and occupation.

Russ Bickerstaff is the Contributing Theatre Editor of the Shepherd-Express: Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s free weekly metro paper. He has had half a dozen short plays produced on tiny stages in the city. (He, his wife and their upcoming daughter are all quite short as well.)

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