Aside from the temporarily debilitating blow that my ego took when I was actually “eliminated” from my former employer, unemployment has been quite a refreshing break from the almost 10 years I toiled without a real vacation. I have time all my own, and for once, it’s nice to answer only to..my hunger.
However, unemployment isn’t all lazy days of fun, food and freedom. Unemployment is a double-edged sword. Just the prefix “un” makes unemployment out to be negative. Everything I’ve ever learned or heard about the adult working life from my parents is that not having a “regular” job is unheard of. People are supposed to work, otherwise how on earth do you expect to pay rent, utilities, insurance premia, not to mention food?!?! Yes, being jobless is starting to seriously cramp my dining style, but there is another unemployment issue that goes beyond the mere fact that one is not earning money from “the man.”
It is called the Employment Development Department (EDD). The EDD is the government agency that aside from doing whatever official, stamp-here, sign-here, in-triplicate, paper-pushing they do in various fluorescent-lit buildings around the country to make sure that people are contributing to positive percentage growth statistics, is also known as the source of your unemployment check. When I first realized that I’d actually be eligible for unemployment compensation, I was elated and filed my claim before I even had my first in a series of farewell luncheons with envious co-workers. The ominous visions I had of waiting in line for hours on end, shuffling a two orthree paces only every few minutes, still trying to maintain my personal space behind a cranky bus driver and in front of a greasy factory worker, were replaced with a glorious little form that simply required a few Xs, a signature, and a stamp. Unemployment checks would get mailed to me every two weeks.
The Xs, however, proved to by my problem. The questions for which you’re supposed to make an X are basically asking if the EDD really should be sending you free money, i.e. if it weren’t for the fact that some employer was accidentally high when they accidentally issued a pink slip with your name on it, you should be working and earning money? Well, duh. Obviously. So every two weeks, I checked off that yes, I was able to work, no, I was not too sick or injured to work, yes, I was looking in earnest for another job, and yes, yes absolutely I would have taken a job if one had been offered to me. With my Delicious signature, the little form went off into the great unknown called the USPS. A few days later, a watermarked-for-authenticity check would arrive with my name on it. I love unemployment. I love the EDD.
Are they crazy? Who in their right minds would actually say no, instead of looking for a job, I was making egg salad pita pockets and blogging about it? Hey now, I’m not saying that I ever lied on any form that I sent back to the EDD. I’m just saying that the EDD sure puts a lot of trust in the honesty of poverty-stricken, starving, bound-for-homelessness rejects. That’s right, rejects. We’re unemployed. That means our employers didn’t think it was worth our painfully mis-valued annual salaries to keep us. Self-pity is so unbecoming, isn't it?
Anyway, the EDD isn’t that stupid. They do their due diligence, as I very nervously read through a somewhat vague letter that they sent me within the first few cycles. The EDD had scheduled a time for a “meeting,” the purpose of which was not completely clear, and had sent me a form that, presumably, I was to fill out with information about my attempts at searching for work. I’m sure I was just barely perceptibly perspiring. They wanted names, numbers, etc. I started to breathe hard. I had to meet with some official EDD government scary person to prove I was looking for work! My mind started doing backflips. Didn’t I send a resume out last week to that company in Century City? I’m sure that I emailed someone in my alumni network about open positions. But how was I going to prove that? My imagination sort of ran away with itself and pretty soon I envisioned myself on the graveyard shift at Benito’s scraping dried cheese off the tiled floor to pay back all the Unemployment checks I had already received.
What. A. Sham. A sham, I tell ye. I went to my “meeting.” I even dressed in business casual, as if I had just come off an interview with a young, new Web 2.0 company that didn’t require suits to interview with a CEO who doesn’t own a tie. My EDD meting was with someone who was the equivalent of a college career counselor who sat me down in a 30-year-old chair in a cubicle that was 20% too small for her 20-year EDD veteran butt. She took the form from me which I had filled out with painstaking attention to detail, did a once over that took nolonger than a nanosecond, then handed the form back to me. She didn’t even read it. She didn’t even look to see if I had written “Gargamel” as the contact at “Smurf and Co.” to whom I had sent my resume last week! I was a little annoyed. What a deceptive, overly time-consuming little formality.
I’ve been happily uninterruptedly unemployed ever since.
Like I said, unemployment is a welcome break. However, when you remain unemployed for longer than a few weeks, a strange physical phenomenon occurs. You become complacent, content with the check that comes in the mail that is but a mere fraction of what you used to receive, but is still enough to survive. Financial complacency then bleeds into the rest of your life, wreaking havoc all over your apartment, your desk, and most noticeably, yourself. Your apprearance goes through an evolution, and though the changes are gradual from one day to the next, when you look at yourself in the mirror today and compare the reflection to a photograph of yourself six months ago, there is absolutely no resemblance. Who was once a trim, energetic, outgoing, radiant beauty standing confidently tall in all her five feet and six inches (in heels) is now an unshowered mess of flabby cellulite hiding under a rumpled, crumpled mess of unlaundered sweats, permanently hunched over from sequential marathon three-day sessions at her laptop. Glowing? If the bright blue glow from the computer screen at 2 am reflecting off of pallid, ashen skin that hasn’t seen the light of the sun is glowing, then yes.
Such is what happens to a foodblogging hermitess who rarely, if ever, sees the light of day. My mind has has denatured and sloppily folded back into itself, my body has withered into a weak and
flimsy ragdoll, and my skin has faded to a deathly pale. At least, that’s what happens to an extraordinarily unemployed food blogger, I, she who rolls out of bed at noon and makes coffee in the darkness of my apartment that is shuttered by vertical blinds that are thick with dust because they have been motionless for days. Then at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I may actually brush my teeth because I have to go down to the mailbox and sift through my junk mail for that one envelope from the EDD, and I might be forced to spend 39 seconds in the small cubic volume space of the rear building elevator with a neighbor, which I might secretly look forward to because it might be my only chance to actually use my vocal chords and speak to another human being. Might. Sometimes I don’t step foot outside my apartment. Human beings sheltered from all outside contact? From sunlight? It’s scary. I should get out more.
But protection from the elements, shelter from environmental disturbances, solitary habitation is a beautiful thing if you are...a garlic chive. It is pampering, luxurious coddling, indulgence, a quiet Asian Zen. Your dark green blades are trimmed down to the soil-level, then lovingly protected from the glaring, burning rays of the white hot sun with perhaps some straw if its rustic, or maybe a homemade lean-to. In fact, the gardener may go all out for you and grow you in a darkened greenhouse from the get-go. For without sunlight, for without setting root under the powerful UV rays of the Death Star, you will most certainly grow with water, fertilizers, and gentle, encouraging nurturing by your gardender, but you will be thin, flexible, lithe, and fair. And where I am a perfectly pathetic example of how unemployment drains all color, saps all energy and reduces to a lethargic lump, the yellow chive is a pristine balance of pure white and pale, pale yellow, bathed in slippery, shimmering oil and like willowy strips of silk and satin, gracefully somersaulting over its faintly garlic self in a fragrant dish.
Garlic chives are slightly different from the oniony regular dark green chives that we finely chop and add to a baked potato, or God forbid associate, along with sour cream, as a potato chip flavor. Okay, that was hypocritically underhanded, since I love sour cream and chive potato chips. Garlic chives have a flatter blade, like grass, and rather than having an onion flavor, they taste like bacon. Are you paying attention?!??! Of course they have a garlic flavor, that’s why they’re called "garlic" chives!
(Apparently, becoming a food blogging hermit also turns one into a sarcastic, funny-only-to-self bee-yotch).
These yellow chives are something relatively new in The Delicious Life. My brother in law James and his family introduced my family to them only recently, and since then, we can’t seem to get enough of them. When we go to Chinese restaurants, yellow chives are now part of our standard “rotation” – beef or pork stir-fried with yellow chives, which, when they are on the table, even steal my attention away from one of my ATFs, deep-fried tofu. We haven’t yet cooked with yellow chives, as they are somewhat difficult to find at local farmers markets, and I don’t think any of us would actually know what to do with them.
But perhaps I’ll venture to the market this Spring with a freshly cashed check from the EDD, ask one of the farmers for a job, then come back and home and play with my garlic chives.