DOWN & OUT IN SAN ANTONIO Part III
The Joys of Rejection
Lawdy, Lawdy, did we have it made!
Forget what I told you before. I did my best to put on the face of the starving artist. My writing deserved at least that. But by no stretch of the imagination were Barry and I starving.
I was sitting on a $30.00 a week unemployment check that came to me like clockwork every Wednesday morning. All I had to do to earn it was not work. I’ll tell you more about unemployment in a minute, but first, I want you to remember this was 1962. A pack of cigs cost about a quarter, a burger 15 cents, gas 40 cents; our rent, for Pete’s sake, was only 47 bucks a month.
Wait, did you think I was supporting Barry and me on my $120 a month? Oh, no! Barry had a full-time job. For the life of me I can’t tell you what kind of work he did. He might have been dealing drugs for all I knew—although, if that were the case he wasn’t doing too well at it, because he didn’t bring home that much. In fact, based on the lower wage scale in Texas, compared to California, he wasn’t bringing home much more than my unemployment provided.
If memory serves me, Barry worked at something that had to do with swimming. He was on the swim team in high school. He had the natural body for a swimmer: tall and lean. To complete the description, he had large, sleepy eyes—the kind the girls swooned over—and that always-deeply-tanned skin … neither of which enhanced his swimming abilities.
I know Barry wasn’t too happy to see me sitting at my desk when he trudged off to work each day. That’s probably why I forced myself to get up earlier than I wanted to, just to have my fingers poised on my typewriter keys as he glared over his shoulder at me before slamming the door.
I might have been imagining all that, though. He never brought it up verbally. But if he had … I was ready:
“Like the Renaissance masters before me, Barry, I have my patron as well. The entire State of California has commissioned me to produce masterpieces of literature.”
It was true, I felt a certain obligation to them, at least until I’d used what remained of my original 32 weeks of benefits.
It’s time. I need to offer a primer to my U.K., Aussi, and Canadian readers whose country might not have an unemployment compensation system similar to the US’s—to let them know how it works—or worked, in 1962. A worker had a certain amount deducted from his paycheck each month by his employer for something called “withholding”. I don’t know exactly how it worked, and that’s not important, but when you became unemployed you were paid an amount relative to the level of your “withheld” amount. The more you earned as a worker, the more you received in benefits. That’s not all that important either.
What is important is that my $30 a week came with conditions. It’s true, California paid me for not working, which responsibility I fulfilled quite well, thank you. They expected me to look for work. It was not on the honor system.
If I still lived in California, I’d have visited the unemployment office every Monday, carrying with me an envelope. In it would be a sheet of paper divided into six horizontal columns, each with the name of the business I inquired after for employment, and at the other side the signature of the person refusing me the position. The clerk at the unemployment office would scan the list, sometimes tapping his pencil on one or two, and giving me an over-the-top-of-the-glasses look to see if I might possibly crumble and admit to forgery. Then he’d stamp the sheet, go through his stack of checks until he found mine, and slide it across the counter to me. “Next …”
So before we left for Texas, I made sure my benefits were transferred. The rules were basically the same. The differences were that I couldn’t go into the Texas office; faxing or scanning documents to California weren’t an option in 1962; so, I had to mail out the completed form by Monday in order for them to receive it in California before Friday, so my check would arrive on Wednesday.
With that as background, we can begin with Jay’s Journal entry.
Feb. 12, 1962.
It’s Monday evening. Barry came home, grumpy as hell. Apparently the only thing that got him through the day was knowing he would be at Betty’s house tonight. But then he called her and found she has the mother of all colds and doesn’t want him to see her like that. The fact that they went to a drive-in movie Friday night would account for his sore throat this morning, and tissue wads I found on the kitchen table, later on, and had to deal with, were more evidence of it. It also meant, if he drank his coffee on the couch, I could expect to find—and did—tissue jammed deep between the cushions. He was always doing that.
Of course, with all the cleaning up after him, I’ll be the one hacking and coughing by Wednesday.
This morning I had to dress down for job declination day. I took my pocket tablet and pen with me to scribble down ideas or scraps of description. It took concentration and an opening up of the senses, and if I wasn’t careful a job interviewer might misconstrue it as interest in his position.
The uniform of the day were Levi’s, a pull-over jersey and sneakers. I stopped short of not combing my hair. I couldn’t abandon a certain level of pride. Oh, and my teeth were brushed.
I made sure I parked my MG Midget several blocks away.
My first stop was at “Jones’s Physical Therapy”.
“Do you have experience as a physical therapist?”
“Are you interested in a janitor position, if one opens up?”
I gave him my name and phone number, already prewritten on a slip of paper. “If a job does come up for a physical therapist, you might call me.”
“But you said you’re not experienced as one.”
“I might by then. Would you please sign here, in the meantime, that I asked about the position?”
He blinked a few times, but he signed.
I followed that with an insurance office, where I was rejected because I had no license for selling insurance.
Percy’s Mazda Auto Repair gave me a bit of a fright. He did have an opening—and right away. Did I have any experience with rotary engines?
With my best hick voice I asked, “You mean helicopters?” I actually tilted my head, and let my mouth sag open just a bit, but not to the point of drooling.
He turned to walk away, but by the time I explained my situation to him, he found enough humor in it that he not only signed, but gave me a Nesbitt’s orange soda and wished me luck.
I was on a roll, and feeling pretty smug. The next two were simple walk-in: “No openings, son,” “Would you kindly sign this, sir?” followed by a “Here you go; have a wonderful day.”
My sixth, and final, rejection of the week was to be at “Time’s Rite Clerical Service”. I stood at the front desk, which was empty. A voice from somewhere told me to have a seat and she’d be right with me. “There’s a water cooler. Help yourself. I shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.”
I took her up on the offer and sat with my cup of water. I no sooner sunk into the cushion when a girl, about my age, perhaps a year younger, bent over the water cooler and filled her cup.
She glanced over at me and smiled. When I returned it she walked over to me. She wore a pink sweater and a risky, above-the-knee white skirt. She smiled again when she saw what captured my attention.
“Is your business looking for clerical help?” She whispered, I assumed, so she wouldn’t be overheard, but it unintentionally—or quite intentionally—breathed with raw sexiness.
I cleared my throat and swallowed. “Are you the one who told me to have a seat? The one who would only be a few minutes?”
“That would be Mrs. Pearson. So?”
“No, I’m here to apply for a job.”
She covered her mouth, but I could see the dimples spread on either side of her fingers.
“That’s funny?” But I said it with a smile; I didn’t want her to feel threatened and go back to wherever she came from through the door.
“But they only hire women here, silly.” She looked over her shoulder. “Gotta go.”
“Quick—what’s your name?”
“Carrie, with a ‘C’,” she said, scurrying away and slipping sideways through the door, almost colliding with a silver-haired woman who was trying to occupy the same space coming through.
The woman shook her head, casting a backwards glance through the door. Then, turning to me, she transformed to sudden, unctuous grace. “I am so sorry you had to wait, sir.” She slipped in behind her desk. “Now, sir, how may I help you?”
“Excuse me just a moment, ma’am.” I stood, and withdrew my memo tablet from the front pocket of my Levi’s. I opened it and scrawled, “Carrie, Times Rite Clerical,” and worked it back into my pocket.
The woman watched me closely. “So, how may we help you?”
I sighed. “I’d like an, um, an application.”
“Where—there’s no application, sir. Where’s your—what’s your business?” She pulled her Rolodex across the desk and turned the knob, watching the cards flip while she waited.
What was she expecting to find in her Rolodex? “No, I want an application for employment.”
“Employment?” She made an odd chittering sound and clasped her hands on the desk. “Employment?”
“You know this is a clerical service? We lease out young ladies to businesses.”
“Well … are you a young lady?”
“Then, I’m afraid we can’t hire you.”
“I see. Would you mind signing this form, then?”