03/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Finding Employment Benefits at the End of the Rainbow

Today wasn't all bad. I had a little turkey sausage left in the tube to go with my last two eggs and the remaining slice of bread. My Internet was turned off because of the delinquent bill, but the $2 cup of coffee that gave me access to the dub-dub-dub didn't put my debit card into overdraft land. Blessedly, there was $12.62 in the account at the time of the transaction.

Like the million-plus people in this country over the last two months, I'm newly unemployed. Perhaps worse than most--because there were millions of us before the (de)(re)pression started--I'm an unemployed writer. But I have freelance assignments and, eventually, they'll pay. Something.

There's comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in this widening corner, cowering at the coming turn of the month and all the bills it brings. And it's a little morbid to feel comfort in the shared misery of others. Even as I curse them out for clogging up California's Employment Development Department's loathsome 1-800 number.

How loathsome? Like a bored teenage girl trying to win Britney Spears tickets from the radio station, I tried 27 times this morning to snag a break, only to catch the recorded voicemail that hangs up without even saying "Goodbye." I tried 15 more times after 10 AM. I just needed to ask one person one question.

"Hello, sir? Thank god, I got a person. I know it's crazy over there, you're job ain't easy job. Quickly, here's my deal: I filed the first week of January, completed my questionnaire after receiving the pamphlet, but I haven't heard from you since. I know that I need an interview to start collecting and I need one more piece of mail to schedule that what do I do? It's been six weeks."

I just timed that bit of hypothetical took 22 seconds. I tried nearly every other phone non-1-800 number on the Department's website--read to me over the phone by my patient girlfriend last night--without ever being connected to a person with an answer to my question not frequently asked enough to be included in the site's FAQs.

But today wasn't all bad. That patient girlfriend is patently pulchritudinous and enthusiastically inspiring. And after I showered, before I left for the Internet cafe, there was a knock on my door.

"I live in 110, I think this is yours," the woman, my downstairs neighbor, said.

I live in 410 and the letter was the one that had plagued me for weeks. It wasn't the fault of California's EDD, it was that of the United States Postal Service. In a building with 78 units on a dizzying turn-around of month-to-month rent, it's hard to get mad at basic human error. Sometimes a 1 looks like a 4. I thanked my neighbor, promising to do the same if the mistake was reversed, and closed the door. Only after opening the letter did I realize that it was post-marked January 9, 2009, with a "time sensitive" return requirement of January 25, 2009. My disgruntling letter was probably sitting on a cluttered coffee table for over a month...and now I'd need to call that 1-800 number again.

On my way out the door, I checked the mail, gloriously finding a $105 payment from the Orlando Weekly. I walked to the coffee shop with the decent coffee and free wi-fi. I handled the emails, pitches, interview requests and networking required. I walked to the nearest ATM, only to discover that its touch screen was broken. In the spirit of perseverance and destitute fear of overdraft land, I trekked the mile-plus to the next-nearest Wells Fargo automated teller system.

After the journey that brainstormed most of this post, there was a one-legged man who fell in the cross walk, crossing the street on crutches. My flannel might smell like urine after helping him up, but I don't know his hard times. My good friend's father got laid off after 30 years of service, only to be re-hired on the condition of a $20,000 pay cut. Someone out there is being foreclosed on as you read this sentence.

Even if it's giving me a headache already, the $2.99 bottle of Cabernet-Sauvignon that I splurged on, while buying five packs of Ramen for $1, doesn't taste like swill. I have no idea how I'll pay my rent, but maybe I'll be able to find a person at the end of the 1-800 rainbow tomorrow.