We asked our go-getting intern Jon Golbe to go get a job. He said, “What kind?” and we referred him to a program run by the government welfare office and overseen by a private company called Career and Educational Consultants. It has a very good track record. PS: What next?
To be accepted by the CEC, I had to first get on welfare. Once I set that up, my case worker told me to show up for my first back-to-work meeting Monday at 9 AM sharp. "Not even five minutes late.” On Monday morning, I arrived at the CEC building twenty minutes late and expected the job train to have left without me. Luckily, class hadn’t begun.
The place looked like it had been built in the 70s and then forgotten. The classroom walls were covered with frayed posters with slogans like, "We are a product of the choices we make, not the circumstances we face," and "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." As 10 AM approached, the classroom slowly filled with old, anxious people, one of whom, a weathered lady named Constance, sat down across the room from me and said, "You are gonna get hired before any of us."
My workshop facilitator was Robert, a wild-eyed guy with knife scars on his face. He wore a suit vest, a shiny tie, and slacks, and he talked really fast. Also, he repeated himself a lot. The refrain, “I used to be on welfare myself,” was almost like a tic.
He spoke about proper language and proper hygiene and returned several times to the importance of carrying a pen. He was a natural orator and illustrated his points by using our names in hypothetical job-interview scenarios.
"Constance, let's say you and Jon are competing for that position at UPS. Jon wears a nice suit to the interview, and you just wear your street clothes. Now who do you think will get the job?"
The emphasis on dressing nicely is so central to the CEC’s program that we aren’t allowed to wear jeans to meetings. The idea is to teach us how to show up somewhere every day in business clothes, but the outfits some of us are putting together are a little bit of a parade.
Anyway, after two days of workshops, testing, and sitting around waiting for the day to end, I finally met with an employment specialist. She immediately offered me a receptionist-type position at Tavern on the Green that would go from 1:30-10:30 PM Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.
I turned it down.
Wide-eyed, she warned me that if I don’t get a job in 45 days, I’ll get assigned to WEPA "work experience" program. That would probably entail working for the Parks Department or the MTA for $68.50 every two weeks. I nodded and said I understood, but I didn’t want to give up my weekends. She told me I had better “take a look at myself.”