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Fugue State: Double Food Stamp Day

Normally, my day would start at eight in the morning. I would often arrive early just so I could get some filing done, have some time to play on the computer, take a short walk and, for the most part, get nearly all of my work for the day done well prior to the first client showing up for their eight o’clock appointment. In this way my days were relatively easy and taken up with writing, listening to books on tape and bouncing a solid rubber ball incessantly against the wall. The only difficult part was actually seeing the clients (some of them were joys, really but, some were anything but) and dealing with the other workers and administration (never, ever a joy).

Today, however, I wanted to get there extra early. I started my day at home, in my small closet-office, sitting in front of my hobbled and cobbled computer with Publisher opened. Once I had finished my work with Publisher I got out my Exacto knife, cutting mat, straight edge and whiteout and went to work to further doctor the reason I was so much looking forward to getting to the office early on this one particular day. Today was going to be double foodstamp day.

My backpack on me, me on my black 86′ Honda Elite 250 and all of us on the road for the 5 miles to the office. The sun was not up, but the mist was, rising to obscure the road and cover my visor as I rode through the early October predawn.

Parking my bike in front of building D, I entered. Seldom was the building so silent. Wending down the hallway to my own personal 3×5, I dropped my backpack on the desk, unzipped it and pulled out a manila file folder and headed to the copy machine. Placing my creation on the glass, I made one copy. One copy only. If I did this right, one copy would be enough.

I placed the original Publisher/cut and paste model back in the folder, returned the folder to my backpack, took a thumbtack from my desk and headed back outside. Out of the front door, to the left, around the side of the building to where, in the next twenty minutes, lines would start to form. It was Tuesday and this was the first foodstamp pickup day of the month. I fully expected this day would not go as smoothly as they anticipated.

The door was locked and, while, when I arrived, my bike was the only vehicle in the lot, there were now more than a few cars, and all there was for me to do was to act as naturally and obviously as possible as I went to a locked door in an area I never visit earlier than I normally arrive while holding a sheet of paper and a tack.

Asimov, in the first Foundation book, in the character of Salvor Hardin, stated “obviousness is the best mode of concealment.” I took my thumbtack and did my best approximation of Martin Luther. With sweeping, quick and sure movements, I tacked at eye-level a sign stating today was double foodstamp day. All you have to do, the sign instructed, was to look at your cashier and say, “double double my food stamps please.”

The folks inside the foodstamp office would never know it was there. The door was always unlocked from the inside after the books of stamps were counted. In fifteen minutes clients would start to arrive for pickup and ask for double food stamps. It was 7:15. Time to head inside, roll up my sleeves and look busy.

Back in my office I checked the day’s appointments, printed out the schedule, threw away the memos I had grabbed as I passed my mailbox, put the few files together which I had not yet properly compiled, turned on my radio and put my feet up on the desk. My first appointment had not yet arrived and I had nothing to do.

7:32 came and I received a call that my eight o’clock was early. Excellent. I gathered the few papers I would need, placed them in order on my desk, and went out to get her. While in the lobby I saw there was a bit of a commotion. BeeBee, the building supervisor, the head of the Foodstamp, AFDC and Medicaid program for our area, was talking to a few clients. I called my client and headed back to my office to start the interview.

Under the sign above my door quoting John Ciardi from his poem, “In Place of a Curse” we passed. “Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled nothing,/gave nothing, and could never receive enough.” I sat in my desk and placed her beside me. All the other workers sat their clients across from them separated by their desk. I took the more egalitarian position which allowed them to see the computer as we input their data and also allowed them to see the sign above it, a quote from Baruch De Spinoza. “In the receipt of benefits and in returning thanks, care altogether must be taken.” Above that a sign stating “Bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an automatic emergency on my part.” Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, stood on my computer. When I knew a client was lying, perhaps about a father supposedly not in the house or about a job supposedly not had, I would squeeze a bulb under my desk and The Shadow would raise his cape over his eyes. “Lamont says you are lying. Would you care to rethink what you just said?” Behind them a framed portrait of Daffy Duck, God of Frustration. From the ceiling hung a large rubber chicken.

A few minutes into the interview I heard sirens. I wouldn’t normally get up to see what the sirens were about and I did not get up then, just continued the interview. A few minutes later a worker came into my office to tell me there was apparently a riot at the pickup door and clients jamming the waiting room insisting they speak with supervisors. The police were there and handing out food stamps had been suspended. They were not sure what the problem was, but people seemed to be demanding double their food stamps and no one could quite figure out why.

It was barely 8 o’clock. Sometimes it’s just worth it to come into work a little early to get something done.


Posted by on March 8, 2009 in Culture, Fugue State, Gainesville, Social


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