Collateral Damage (Alias)

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  1. Manual Collateral Damage (Alias)
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  3. Collateral Damage

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I thought.

So what if she thinks I'm just another socially maladjusted moron? What was the point? What did I really care what she thought?

I knew I would probably never see her again. I decided to appear as docile as possible. She handed over the sheet of paper she had been scribbling on. It states that you fully understand your obligation to actively seek employment, your responsibility to do so and that you comprehend the consequences of breaching the terms of the contract.

It's procedure. Sign your name at the bottom, please. They give and they take away.

Manual Collateral Damage (Alias)

No signature, no benefits. I wasn't even sure what it was I was signing. Her writing was almost illegible. I handed the sheet back to her. She turned in her swivel chair, stood up, then pulled open one of the file drawers into which my file squeezed inside with the rest.

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My bladder felt as if it was about to burst and I had cramps in my abdomen from holding my bowels for too long. When I arrived back into the reception area, there were five people still waiting. They all looked miserable. I looked at my watch. It was The receptionist announced that none of the workers were taking any more clients for the day. Those remaining were told to report again the next morning.

I rushed to the restroom and relieved myself. Outside, the rush hour traffic had already begun. Another day wasted. I lit up a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and then blew out the smoke. It dissipated quickly into the exhaust filled afternoon air. The lines at Manpower were moving slower than usual. It took at least an hour to see someone. The tension in the place was thick enough to choke on.

There were three lines stretching back to the wall, where it formed one large line running the length of the small room and disappearing into the atrium around a corner.

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Most of the faces of the people in line looked aggravated. They all seemed to be entranced by their own private sort of misery. When I arrived I was at the end of the line. Soon after it seemed as if I was in the middle of the line except that I hadn't moved one step ahead.

Collateral Damage

I glanced over my shoulder. The man behind me had a look of stony resignation. It was obvious he had been here before. Even the civil service workers looked haggard. Each time one of them said "next" the line inched a little bit forward. When it came to my turn at the wicket, it was not a woman looking up at me, but the spat on face of government. I handed her my separation slip and the letter of termination I received from my former employer. She looked them over briefly. I glanced up at the large clock on the wall. It was almost noon.

I before. This one has to be filled out by Revenue Canada. And this one you must fill out. Someone's elbow dug painfully into my back. There were job boards everywhere with little yellowing index cards scattered across them. Most of the positions available were for service industry positions, commission sales, telemarketing, or general labour. No one looked at them for very long. Work was scarce and growing scarcer. I had long since given up on waiting at home for phone calls I knew would never come.

No one was hiring, and if they did it was for a pittance. Even the labour union had a freeze on new members. Near the entrance, seated behind a circular counter, was a slightly overweight balding man wearing a blue uniform with white patches sewn onto his sleeves reading "security. In front of the counter was a large plastic paper-recycling bin. At least somebody had a job I thought; as I dumped the papers I was carrying into the bin.

No buses ran out of the industrial section except during peak hours, so I had to walk several miles in the heavy work boots I was wearing. It was two o'clock in the afternoon when I entered the Ventura tavern.


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My feet were sore and swollen. I was happy just to get in out of the midday heat. My neck was stiff, and my hair was drenched in sweat. The cool tavern air was a welcome relief. The tavern had only been open for two and a half hours, but most of the usual regulars were already there, drinking draught beer and smoking cigarettes.

The rest would trickle in as the day wore on: the unemployed, the unemployable, those on U. I wasn't certain to which caste I belonged, probably the latter. Almost everyone I knew were single and out of work, looking for work, or making quick cash under the table. The government was cracking down on just about everybody living under the poverty line, so it wasn't so unusual that the tavern was doing such a brisk business. Everyone was either desperate or destitute. During the week, a bunch of us guys got together at the Ventura to hang out after a morning spent looking for work.

There in the corner, seated around one of the small tables was Harold, Frank, Dino and Vince. Above them on the wall was a flashing neon sign that read: "Excitement On Tap.