I'm back. Sorry for the long pause. Time to finish my story.
The young lady I was talking to in the Department of Human Services office (a.k.a the Newbie) was still reeling from the knowledge I just dropped on her.
"So let me get this straight" she said, you should hide any trace of intelligence and pride.
"You should purposely dress down."
"And you should show up early but expect to wait well over your allotted appointment time."
"Bingo!" I replied. Now you're getting with the program.
When the Newbie started to ask me why, I cut her off at the pass.
"Dearest." I said in a hushed tone; "Look at most of the people in this room. Despite the fact we all live in the same geographic region, do you see anyone beside you and I in this room that looks like they have somewhere to go?"
She replied, "Well now that you asked, no."
"Well that's because most of the people in here have done this before. And when I say done this before I mean they're not the first generation to be on public assistance. They don't have jobs---or at least full time jobs---so they can sit around all day and wait on this inefficient system."
The Newbie protested, "See I don't believe that. Sounds like you drank the conservative kool-aid and are making stereotypes about people on assistance."
"Oh yeah?" I countered. "So explain to me exactly what's going on over there?"
The Newbie's jaw hit the floor. I just looked at her.
"No dearest, I haven't been sipping the kool-aid, I'm just simply telling the truth. I don't know for sure the personal life story of everyone in this room but when you come here enough, you get a sense about people's character. Trust me on this one."
"Okay, I get your point. But why is this so important?"
"Well it goes to the heart of everything in this facility."
"How so?" She asked.
"If you worked in an impossible bureaucracy with clientele that have an institutionalized mentality you'd be one of these joyless DHS workers too."
"These folks are asked to used antiquated guidelines and apply them to people's lives who in some cases never seek to better themselves. I would also imagine that after a while a sense of superiority would emerge as well."
"Hell, right or wrong you and I have a sense of superiority over most of the people here whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not---and we don't even work here."
"So imagine doing this for 20 years---never being properly thanked, getting yelled at by people who you wouldn't let walk your dog and being underpaid? A person can only take so much."
"I would think that like anyone else in a position of power, you stop enforcing the rules and start to take on the persona of making the rules."
"So instead of judging someone on the basis of need, you'd look at them and judge their worthiness by how they're dressed."
"Or how they speak."
"Or how they carry themselves."
"It would seem that that the desire to help and serve has been slowly rung out of them and all that's left is the worst of human emotions."
"I never really sat down and thought about it that way," replied the Newbie.
"That's just my take on the situation, who knows I could be completely talking out of my ass."
"I wish you luck with your claim and hope you get your Link card. Remember, you need something from these people so go along with the unwritten rules we talked about and you should be fine."
"Where are you going?" She asked.
"I forgot to mention one last rule; always be near the door you think your caseworker might come out of."
"Because your name only gets called once, if you miss it because of the throng of screaming children and noisy Ipods, your caseworker won't care. You'll be noted as a "missed appointment" and have to start from scratch."
And with that last piece of advice my name was called and I scooted through the door.