Tag Archives: Adventures in Somerville

Tangled Up in Red Tape: Fun with the Unemployment Office

Into every unemployed person’s life, a giant roll of bureaucratic red tape falls. However much I’ve enjoyed my extended stay on the couch, there are certain annoying things I’ve had to tend to.

The day after my sacking, I called the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance in order to register for unemployment. I’d been told not to expect sympathy or kindness, let alone patience, and as I dialed, I steeled myself for an interminable hold time followed by an unpleasant encounter.

I have to say that despite the long wait for my call to be received, my initial encounter proved relatively painless. The man on the other end of the line was witty and charming, and he chatted a blue streak as I gave him my information. When it came time to talk about my severance package, he was a bit too chatty. I told him that yes, I had received a severance package, and I read to him the section of my letter detailing how the package had been calculated, as he interrupted me to ask about the particulars. I was a bit nervous that he hadn’t gotten everything down, but he assured me he had. He told me how to call in every week and then transferred me to the line where I could apply for direct deposit of my checks.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, I thought after I hung up the phone. So long as I call each Sunday and sign on, I’ll be fine. And call in each week I have. I figured that when my severance period ran out, the checks would start coming in until I made it as a freelancer or begrudgingly took another office job. I’d received a letter from the good unemployment folks saying how much I’d get, and I hadn’t received any requests for more information. Everything was all set.

Or so I thought.

On Friday, I started looking into health insurance options. My current coverage runs out at the end of the month, and there’s no way I can afford the COBRA payments. I decided to apply for Commonwealth Care, but as I was filling out the application, I noticed that they required information about my unemployment compensation. The Division of Unemployment Assistance has a handy Web site, so I figured I’d check there to confirm my payment information.

I logged into the site and noticed a big red alert telling me that they still needed information about my claim. Blood pressure rising, I clicked on the link. “Your employer has told us you received a severance package,” the notice read. No kidding. I told you people all about it. There was an online form where I could provide the information, so I figured I’d fill it out just in case something was missing.

Now I’m an intelligent person. I can fill out a form. But this form confused the hell out of me. I got through most of it but when I came to the question asking me if I’d signed release as a condition of receiving the severance package, I was stumped. The first part was easy enough. I had indeed signed a release, and in so doing I agreed not to sue my former employer or speak of the company disparagingly. So I checked yes. However, the second part of question asked me about the duration of the agreement. Forever, I thought, but the drop down menu did not allow for a “forever” response.

I really didn’t know how to answer this part, and I had to fill in something. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to call the unemployment office. After two tries, I got through the touchtone menu items and was told that I had a twenty-five minute wait. I grimaced and resolved to wait it out.

After about thirty minutes, a gruff woman answered the line. I told her who I was and tried to explain my situation. That took a while, as she kept cutting me off, thinking that she could answer my question. “No,” I said, “my question isn’t ‘What’s a severance?’ My question is how to answer the question asking about the duration of my severance agreement. So far as I know, it is in effect forever, but the menu only involves weeks and days.”

We haggled for several minutes, during which time the woman on the other end of the line told me about how busy everyone was, before she finally told me how to answer it. I then said, “You know, I provided this information when I filed my initial claim. Is there some reason why the information wasn’t recorded?”

“This is a different department,” she replied.

“OK. Well, I have also made my claims each week and have been told that if any more information is required of me that I would be contacted. Can you tell me why I only found out about this when I checked the Web site myself?”

“We’re incredibly busy. Now, you’ll also need to fax a copy of your severance agreement to your adjustor. Do you have a pen?”

I replied, “Yes, but I do not have a fax machine.”

“Does your husband have a fax machine?” I could hear her rolling her eyes at me.

Whaaaaat? “I don’t have a husband.”

“Well, there are plenty of places where you can find a fax machine, so here’s the number.”

I took down the number, thanked her for her time, and filled in the rest of the online form. I clicked “submit.” I received a message saying that the form had timed out and that I would need to fill it out again. Fuuuuuuuuuuuck. Are you even serious? I filled out the form again while singing, “Fuck the Employment Office. You’re so mean to me . . .” to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

My roommate told me that I could probably find a fax machine at one of the convenience stores on Broadway. I grabbed my release agreement and headed out to find a fax machine. The first store I went to was mobbed with the Keno crowd, so I went to another shop. To my great joy, they informed me that they had a fax machine. I handed over my papers, only to realize that I had forgotten the number. So back home I went and retrieved the number.

When I got back to the store, the young man who helped me was gone, replaced by a woman who only spoke Portuguese. I have only a little Spanish, but we somehow managed to make the transaction. She took my papers and went out back. After a twenty-minute wait, I got the papers back, paid my five dollars, and hoped for the best. I went home and collapsed on the couch. That night I didn’t sleep well, wondering if my claim was going to be stuck in the bureacratic loop.

This morning I tried to call in to sign on. The line was busy, and so I tried the Web site. While the page took an eternity to load, I tried calling again. I figured I would sign on whichever way let me through first. The Web site won. I filled out the forms (answering four questions isn’t all that hard), and clicked submit.

Upon confirmation of my filing, I was informed that a payment will be going out on Monday. Oh joy! Thank you unemployment office! I’m so sorry I called you the Fuckemployment Office!

So that’s settled. Now I just need to get health insurance. . . .

Mmmmm Doggies! The 89 Bus to Outer Space!

Yesterday evening, I caught the 89 bus to meet up with Date in Davis Square. As I tapped my card, the bus driver called out, “Good Evening! Thank you for riding the T! Doors are closing!”

Startled a bit, I said thanks and took a seat near the front. Another rider pressed the stop button, and even though the mechanical voice registered the request, she called out, “Stop coming! Woo hoo! We’re riding now!”

As she jerked the bus to a halt at the next stop, she thanked every rider. “Thank you, folks, for riding the T! Doors are closing! Mmmmm doggies! We’re riding now! Yahoo!”

I looked around the bus at the other riders. Many wore nervous smirks. Was this the bus to Davis Square, or an alien abduction? “Yes, indeed, folks! We are riding!”

“The bus driver is insane,” I texted to Date. Next text, “She keeps saying whoo doggies! And then she thanks us for taking the t.” I kept looking around. A few riders shrugged their shoulders. Language barriers tumbled down. Amusement registered everywhere.

The bus driver kept it up. “Mmmmm! Doggies! Yahoo! We’re riding. Eighty-nine to Davis Square! Thank you for riding the T! Next stop coming! Bus connections!”

A decided freak she was, but the thing is, people started responding kindly to her. A rider sitting next to me got off the bus at Winter Hill and thanked her for the ride. “My pleasure. People ain’t got no manners these days. I always say thank you. Thank you, folks, for riding the T! Mmmm doggies! Yes, we are moving now!”

She kept this up all the way Davis, where everyone thanked her profusely as they got off the bus. What a fun trip to outer space.

Disney, My Heart’s Devotion! Let It Sink Back in the Ocean!—Another Eavesdropping Story

Last Friday evening, before Fresh Hell played “It’s Fun to Smoke Dust” (see post below), you could have found us at a packed bar in Union Square. There we had discussed, among other things, Florida. Specifically, how much we hate Florida. “See,” Fresh said, “when I think about Florida, I don’t feel so bad about global warming . . . Florida is just going to go away.”

I shook my head. “Ah, Fresh. You really do know how to push buttons, don’t you?”

“Come on, now!”

She had a point, I suppose. Maybe part of a point.

Anyhow, like I said, the bar was crowded. A birthday party had gathered at the end, and the hostess asked Fresh and me if we wouldn’t mind moving down, so we did. We talked some more, and then I had to go off to the loo.

Three women, friends, were already in the stalls when I arrived, and they were gushing about one of the friend’s upcoming vacation.

“Aren’t you excited about going to Disney?”

“Yes! It’s going to be so great. I know I haven’t been there in, like, ten years, but it’s going to be so great!”

“Oh yeah. There’s so much to do there as an adult.”

“Shops, restaurants.”

“It’s just so clean!”

They all flushed at the same time, and came out discussing Magic Mountain. Upstairs, they rejoined the birthday party.

Hmm . . . Maybe Fresh is onto something.

What the Fluff? Dispatch from the 2nd Annual Fluff Festival in Union Square, Somerville

Fluff What the Flufff 2007

Fluff’s still giddy from Fluff’s adventures at the 2nd Annual What the Fluff? festival in Union Square, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the invention (should we say “discovery”?) of Fluff in Somerville, Massachusetts. Fluff was still talking about last year’s adventures at the fest, but this year just flipped Fluff’s little red lid.

Today, not only did Fluff get to consort with other Fluffs, but (insert favorite Fluff gender here) also got to meet Archibald Query, the man who brought the gooey marshmallow goodness to the masses.

Fluff Query

Fluff really wanted one of those prizes for the cooking contest.

Fluff Prizes

Fluff Cooking Contest

Fluff, however, really hoped that Fluff’s friends weren’t hurt in the Fluff bowling.

Fluff Fluff Bowling

There were Fluffernutters, Ice Cream, and a “Fear Factor” wheel (where contestants had to eat something with Fluff).

Fluff Making Fluffernutters

Fluff Ice Cream

Fluff Fear Factor Wheel

Prospect Hill Tower (a local tower) was re-created in Rice Crispy Treats

Fluff Prospect Hill Tower

Fluff checked out some music in front of the Independent, a watering hole with an excellent beer selection.

Fluff The Independent

A little controversy broke out when some people called attention to the absence of Strawberry and Raspberry Fluff at the festivities. Was it possible that What the Fluff? wasn’t being inclusive? Oh no!

Fluff Where's the Flavored Fluff

“I beg to differ,” Strawberry Flufferette said. With Fluff’s flavored friends represented, peace was restored.

Fluff Here's the Flavored Fluff

Everyone ate “Fluffy things,” and a grand time was had by all.

Fluff What the Fluff Crowd

Fluff’s exhausted.

To catch up with Fluff’s other adventures, click on the “Travels with Fluff’ link under “Favorite Posts,” and start at the bottom. Fluff may be from Somerville, but Fluff gets around.

Dinner Theater

On my way home from work yesterday evening, I decided to go out to dinner. Nothing I could think of to cook sounded all that exciting to me, and I felt up for little exploring. I began to mull over my options.

Chinatown? I thought and quickly dismissed it. I’ve hung out there quite a bit, sampling a lot of the Vietnamese offerings there (as a vegetarian, Chinese food can be a little tricky—if you want a laugh, check out Andraste’s cautionary tale).

Oh, I could try a new Thai place and check out a different part of the city. That sounded tempting, and I decided that’s what I would do as I turned the corner onto Broadway and toward home. That was when I saw Fasika’s Ethiopian Restaurant again. I have not had a lot of Ethiopian food, but what I’ve had I’ve loved. Oh god, it is tasty stuff. When I noticed Fasika’s during my move, I was so excited. That was before I peeked inside.

East Somerville has loads of character, and some wonderful eating options (Taco Loco makes some kickass burritos, and the restaurant in the back of Vinny’s Superette is amazing). It also features a slew of dive bars—the kind that have drunk people outside smoking at ten in the morning, staring at their losing Keno tickets. Fasika’s Ethiopian Restaurant is attached to one such bar.

When I first got here, I had decided to try Fasika’s but turned around and walked out when I saw all the drunk people and the Keno sign. Last night, however, I felt adventurous enough to brave it. Why the hell not? I thought. So I went.

I walked into the restaurant side, checked out the tacky décor, and smiled. A young Ethiopian woman smiled at me and told me to sit where I’d like. I sat at one of the mesobs, and she handed me a menu. A divider partially blocked the view of the bar, where a number of late-middle-aged white people were knocking back Budweiser drafts and providing loud commentary on the evening news. Over the divider, I could see the bartender, sporting a teased, bleach-blonde do, serving her patrons without once changing her facial expression.

I turned to the menu, which had a vegetarian section with lots of tempting options. A lentil dish and a vegetable curry caught my eye, and I decided to ask the server what she recommended. The menu also listed a number of Ethiopian wines, and so I decided to try one of those. When she came to take my order, she recommended the curry but promised to include a bit of the lentil dish for me to try. She suggested the honey wine for the food, so I went with that.

My wine arrived in a little bottle resembling an oil cruet (but without the spout), and the server explained that this was the traditional glass (I don’t think I’d had wine the few times I’d had Ethiopian food). “Great,” I said, and took a sip. The wine tasted different from the mead I’d had before but was no less delicious. I had just settled in with my glass when a song blared out of the juke box in the bar. It was some classic rock song I didn’t recognize (and considering that I grew up in New Hampshire, land of classic rock lovers, that is saying something). The fat guy who played it certainly did. The bar was suddenly transformed into his living room, and he started singing at the top of his lungs.

Then he started banging on the bar for emphasis.

Now I’ve seen this kind of thing before (and, have probably done something similar in my youth), but I’ve never seen so many people take it in stride. There was this guy, shouting to the music and banging on the bar, and nobody reacted. They just kicked back their beers and continued to watch the TV.

The song ended and my food arrived. I tore off some of the bread and dove into the curry. Yeah, that’s some really good food. True to her word, the server had made sure that there were some lentils on my plate, and I sopped some up with more bread. She was right—the curry was better, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed in the lentils. I ate happily, enjoying my adventure.

About half-way through my meal, a group of four white yuppies peeked in the restaurant side, observed the bar scene, and boldly decided to try it too. They sat down at the mesob next to me, and laughed at their intrepidness. The server brought them menus, and they started going over their options.

“I told you,” one of the women said, “This place is attached to a divey bar, but I keep hearing that the food is good.” The other woman turned to look at me eating, and I said to her, “The food IS really good.”

“What an atmosphere,” one of the men said, laughing.

“Oh, you missed the drunken singing.”

“No! Maybe it’ll happen again.”

“One can only hope,” I replied laughing.

The couples ordered as I finished my dinner. I had a little of the wine left, so I sipped it while I waited for the check.

And that was when the Bon Jovi came on. The guy started up again, screaming and banging about being wanted dead or alive. Howling, the couples stood up for a better view. I did, too. Once again, the bar patrons didn’t bat an eye.

“Dinner theater,” one of the men proclaimed, nodding.

“You can say that again,” I said. Another Bon Jovi hit came on, and the guy kept going.

“Did you like Bon Jovi?” One of the women asked me.

“Oh, for about two weeks in seventh grade,” I replied.

She sighed. “I liked them for longer than that. I had a poster.”

The check came, I paid up, and, bidding goodbye to the giggling yuppies, left for home.

Six O’clock Already…

I was just in the middle of a dream, I thought when the alarm went off this morning. OK, well, it was more like, Shut up! Stupid thing! No one likes you! followed by a slam, but hey, that’s not the point. The point is that I had a lovely weekend, and I was sad that it was over.

My date with McIntriguing on Friday went great, as always. The little black dress was a definite hit. As for the jazz, however, it was a bit of a mixed bag. While there were some very nice moments, the five players seemed a bit too much at odds with each other. It was hard not to giggle after we both observed that one of the saxophone players bore a strong resemblance to a dirty pigeon and that a woman in the audience was wearing a hat that demanded twinkling Christmas lights. We left during the second set and headed to a funky local bar for gin and tonics and conversation. Somehow (not intentionally, honest), we wound up talking around the issue of relationships. Although we weren’t talking about whatever it is we’re doing, we did have similar ideas about how things should go. An interesting conversation, that.

Saturday afternoon my friend Smokestack (an old nickname, and I suppose for fairness’ sake, I should say that my nickname at the time was Chimney) graced me with her presence, and we spent the afternoon and evening gallivanting around Boston. The weather wasn’t overly cooperative, but we managed just fine. She crashed at my place that night, and we went to brunch and did a little more shopping before she left to head back to Portland in the afternoon. It was great to see her.

After Smokestack left, I was feeling a bit sleepy, so I took to the backyard with my book and a glass of wine to hang out on the patio. Someone, I assumed the landlord, had cut the grass that morning. While I was relaxing in the sunshine, my neighbor, the Lawnmoah Man (see this post if you don’t know who he is), went down the stairs to his backyard.

In looking back on that previous post, I realized that I had neglected to mention how I met Lawnmoah Man. I had mentioned a while back that I had gone to Casey’s during the Week of Wrecked Plans and that I had fended off the advances of a man who couldn’t pronounce the title of my book but drunkenly claimed to be fascinated by cultural anthropology. Well, that was Lawnmoah Man. That evening, Lawnmoah Man was very, very drunk. He made me a little nervous (he’s a big guy, with a shaved head and a lot of tattoos), but I let him chat me up for a bit. That is until he said, “Well, yer kinda cute, Sassy. Whatcha doin’ latah?” which prompted me to say, “I have to go now. Bye,” and leave. I felt a bit bad about responding that way, but given his condition, I was worried about how he’d react to being turned down. I’ve since learned that he’s basically a nice and harmless, if a little dim, man. But he’s still not my cup of tea.

A boy of about ten soon joined Lawnmoah Man in the backyard, calling LM “Dad.” They were playing with a remote-control car. Lawnmoah Man sauntered over to the fence and said hello. “I mowed yer lawn this mornin’,” he said, beaming.

“That was you?” I said, surprised. “I assumed it was my landlord. Well, thank you. That was nice of you.” Please go away now, I was thinking, along with, Oh shit. Why would he mow my lawn? We chatted for a couple of seconds, and his son called out to him to see what he was doing with the car.

Phew, I thought, and went back to my book.

There was a little commotion near our fence, and I saw Lawnmoah Man with the controls of the car, trying to get through a little gap in the fence. He eventually got the car through, and it headed down the little path, through a bush, and landed at my feet. Oh double shit! What is going on here? I mean, come on, he saw me with McI that time. What is he doing?

“Heh, heh. I just wanted to see if it would work,” Lawnmoah Man said. “How are ya doin’?”

“I’m fine, I said. It looks as though it did work, didn’t it?” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I just sat there, looking down at the freshly mown grass.

He said a few more things, and then got the car out of my yard. I went back to my book and the sunshine. After the sun went down, I went back upstairs. Smokestack called me to let me know that she got home OK, and we chuckled about Lawnmoah Man. I then listened to some music, and went to sleep.

And now I’m at the end of another Manic Monday.