Thanks to a killer virus ravaging its way across the planet, some of the problems that arise from unrestricted capitalism have really shown us how fragile our “buy fucking everything you see” economic system really is. The slightest snag in any of these supply chains can set off a massive ripple effect that can destroy entire industries. It turns out that outsourcing every consumer product to be made by slave children in foreign countries kinda falls apart when those same foreign companies are also being besieged by the same viral attacker. As the virus shuts down entire countries and these aforementioned sweatshops, this economic interruption trickles down to the end consumer, which means you may have to wait a few extra weeks to pick up them Ryan’s World surprise eggs. The sharp downturn in all the cheap overseas labor means that there’s an indefinite holdup on children putting together iPhones, TurboGrafx Minis, and 2020 Air Jordans.
But that’s just the things you’ll notice from taking a broad look through a macro lens at the global effects of this whole covid-19 disaster. It’s not just the cheaply manufactured goods that are getting annihilated, because this virus is also taking a toll on almost every facet of American life as we once knew it. Think of any activity you enjoyed in the pre-covid months, and I can guarantee something about it has changed:
There’s no more roller skating rinks.
No more sporting events.
And no more getting food poisoning inside Applebee’s.
You can’t even go out and get obliterated at your local bar! Hey, motherfuckers, this isn’t the version of America I signed up for! Everything about our old “normal” way of life will have to change and adapt, but it is our duty to try and slow this virulent problem down until we can discover the best ways to treat this. Currently, our last ditch effort to save patients is shoving mechanized breathing tubes down into the lungs of comatose people which is straight outta The Handbook of Medieval Medicine. Covid 19 is playing the long game, and the incubation time of this virus makes it insanely difficult to determine who might possibly even be sick before it’s too late. The asymptomatic problems coupled with the lack of adequate testing across the country kept glued together with general anxiety has hindered any useful attempts to try and separate the sick from the healthy.
And having no actual leader of our country isn’t helping matters, either.
The death toll from Covid 19 is a sobering reality, and the overall response by the general public has been, well, maddening. Americans are not very good at mobilizing for anything, especially not during the Golden Era of Instantaneous Fulfillment. After two months of giving Safer At Home the ‘ol college try, even the most stalwart of us are finally starting to crack from quarantine fatigue. Folks start to cheat a little once they step out a few extra times and don’t get sick. We even had armed idiots storming capitol buildings demanding we reopen the country and let them book an immediate appointment at their hairdressers. I get it, restrictions suck, but gasping to stay alive inside a biohazard tent is pretty fucking terrible too. In the current political climate, we’ve recently been flooded with waves of climate change deniers, anti-vax dipshits, flat earthers, and now we’ve completed the circle of stupid with covid deniers. It’s depressing that the dumber members of our species won’t believe something exists until they physically get it themselves, despite the very real U-Haul trucks full of bodies in New York. Everybody that has spent years preparing for the end of the world is depressed that it’s not the Mad Max World Full of Guns they were promised, and it’s more Let’s Watch Home Shopping Network All Day To Save Grandma instead.
The terrifying amount of deaths and the economy shitting the bed are bad are bad enough on their own, but one of the underlying factors has been the issues arising with employment and employers. Some folks have gotten to switch to an “at home” office despite the pushback from the companies arguing that “software licencing is expensive!”, but isn’t leasing an entire floor of an office building expensive AF too? I don’t see any downside to letting anyone who can work at home do it as it saves on office rent, overhead, fuel expended and commute times. I thought unbridled capitalism was based on the principles of making every step of every process as cheap as possible so the CEO can get 5 extra feet of yacht? I guess the draw of getting groped by Ted in accounting is a pretty fucking important element of the office experience.
Some of us didn’t get that option, and there were massive layoffs in every industry you can think of as the country quickly came to a grinding halt. I was a part of this shutdown myself. Our shop (which specializes in manufacturing aluminum products) had tried to tow the line and stay open at the beginning of March, but eventually had to give in to pressures as possible exposures became more frequent, as everyone in the building began exhibiting anxiety at levels not seen since 9-11.
I was officially furloughed on March 27. To be honest, I was looking forward to some down time as I haven’t had more than two days off in a row since 2012. They gave everyone the option to leave that immediately that Friday if they felt unsafe, and 90% of the crew left the building in less than ten minutes. I stuck around for my last day as my anxiety was quelled now that I was working inside an empty shop. I knew it would be a while before I was back to work, so I made a point to stop off at my favorite liquor store to stock up on the proper amount of whiskey to wait this whole thing out. Here in Colorado, they closed the liquor stores (for three hours lol) but were forced to reopen as angry mobs began demanding access to Bud Light and Fireball. Alcoholics might have some underlying issues, but they know they have strength in numbers.
The first weekend of unemployment was great as I tweeted “BYE BYE GULAG!” and other stupid shit like that as I toasted myself several shots to finally getting some time to just stretch out and relax. Any day could now be considered a weekend, and a perfect time for celebratory libations now! I filled out my notepad with all the things I was going to accomplish during this free time, but the first priority on my list was also the most irritating….
….I had to file for unemployment.
If you take anything from this long form essay, please be sure to absorb the fact that applying for unemployment is nothing to be ashamed of, as you’ve been paying into unemployment insurance for years! If you are legitimately unemployed, don’t hesitate to use every (legal) option available to stay afloat. You would think this was a simple ordeal, but the actual process of filing for unemployment leaves much to be desired. It is an annoying process that takes place on a government server that is not designed to handle the influx of a massive amount of people becoming unemployed all at once. The unemployment webpage looks like something that was crafted during the height of Geocities popularity that doubles as a nostalgic vehicle that takes you back to the halcyon days of Myspace. Every step of the filing process is redundant to the point you think you are clicking backwards through the forms as some sort of fucked up lie detector test. When you are filling out the same fields 90 times, it helps to have a recent pay stub handy and a basic idea of what your claimed wages (gross) were from the previous year because you’ll need to divide that number by 4 to file a honest quarterly amount. If you manage to make it all the way to the end of the filing process, pull out your finest whiskey and celebrate because you are about to be knee-deep in government cheese!
Filing Success! You have now started a journey that will leave you feeling unsure and filled with anxiety if you are relying on the government to help you with rent/mortgages, car payments, utilities or food. You can’t go any further in the process past your initial claim until they mail you (in your physical mailbox) with a PIN number and rechargeable debit card. The day after I submitted my unemployment claim, I helped a few fellow employees with their unemployment claims and everyone that filed after I did got their PIN numbers and cards in a couple days.
I did not.
The first week of unemployment wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, as the first week of being laid off in a scary pandemic leaves a lot on your mind while your body has nowhere to go. We didn’t leave the house for that first week as pandemic terror hit all-time highs and we just stayed fed from all the old crap we had stored in the pantries and freezers. Fun apocalyptic fact: You’ll get bored of canned spaghetti a lot faster than you think you would. The first week was a blur as I had a hard time being motivated to attempt the most basic of tasks, like showering. Watching infection rates and death counts rise across the country would send me into a panic that would make me curl up in a Snuggie ball, nervously waiting for the sun to go down so I could drink my fears away. Day drinkers, I don’t know how you do it, but I salute your service.
As far as entertainment goes, now that time was my oyster, an ugly reality started to set in: video games aren’t nearly as fun when they aren’t being used to put off doing things in the real world. You can only play so much Need For Speed: Heat before you realize evading 200 police cars in a single night from a tiny jump ramp is not exactly realistic. As bad as I wanted to spend entire days playing games, I found I really only liked to play a few rounds of Call Of Duty: WARZONE and then go find something else to do. Having my secondhand Xbox One always always teetering on the edge of death kept me on my toes, and I treated my time on XBOXlive as a precious commodity.
Another week went by, and I found more enjoyment in binge watching shows and movies than playing video games. With unfettered access to five different streaming services, I could find always find something that would sate my need to be constantly entertained. The fear of a power/internet outage would always be in the back of my mind, because if that ever happened, we’d be boned. Losing Baby Shark would be a tragedy the world has never witnessed.
At some point in week two I still had not heard anything from the unemployment office, and I began to worry that I was a victim of mail fraud fuckery. Calling the unemployment office was a joke, and the online FAQ section was stuck in the late 1990’s. In desperation, I finally found a hidden link to request a re-mailed PIN number. Seven hours later, I was finally emailed my unemployment PIN to access so I could choose how my benefits would pay out. That Sunday morning, I was finally able to input my direct deposit information and in less than twenty minutes, they had started the process of putting two payments in my bank account. Twenty fucking minutes. If I had not gotten a hair up my ass to check my email at 4am that Sunday morning (clearly my drinking schedule was definitely off) they would have put those funds on some shitty debit card I didn’t even have yet.
And speaking of that shitty debit card….
If you are put in the unfortunate position of being unemployed, do anything within your power to have your benefits get direct deposited instead of having them refill funds on that government-issued debit card. You are charged anywhere from 4 to 10 dollars each and every fucking time you use it. Get $10 bucks worth of gas? Fuck you, pay me $17. The banks are getting a pretty sweet cut for giving you the privilege of issuing you a plastic card with your name on it, not that scams haven’t been an important part of banking since the invention of banking.
I got two payments deposited that morning, and my world-saving stimulus check showed up directly in my account a few days later. That Friday, two more unemployment stimulus payments went in as well. My three weeks of playing games, watching every episode of Yo Gabba Gabba and drinking to the point of hallucination resulted in a pretty impressive payday, with my only real expenses being alcohol and food. I can understand how this lifestyle could be enticing to anybody, despite not being able to go anywhere.
The last week of my unemployment was bittersweet, as I had grown accustomed to being a smelly scruffy alcoholic whose muscles had atrophied into strings of day-old paste. I got another two payments plus two more supplemental payments deposited in my account. Being on a chill version of house arrest while getting paid a king’s ransom to play Bubsy 3D was the just the mental break I needed, even though living under the constant threat of death could occasionally put a damper on things.
The next Monday morning, everyone reported back to work wearing masks. My shop had shut down all the common areas, break rooms, vending machines and anything else you could think of. Any employee furnished microwave or refrigerator had been confiscated and impounded. Our company VP welcomed everyone back and opened with “if you still feel uncomfortable, we will allow you to collect one more week of unemployment”. Seven seconds into his rally cry “Let’s Save America!” speech, 90% of the workforce turned around and walked out the door. I considered walking myself, but instead decided to stay to set an example for the remaining 12 employees. It was a fucking disaster trying to clean up inventory that had been dumped over the last month or even try to figure out what the actual fuck was going on. It was nice easing back into things by getting to manage a team of one for a whole week. It’s been an adjustment, but proactive safety measures around here feel like they are adequate, despite the workday feeling really hollow from the lack of person to person interaction. Anxiety at work is still a thing, but it’s nothing compared to what we were dealing with back in March. With enough measures put in place, I’m sure that we can adapt…
…because we’ve done it all of this before. I’m old enough to have lived through the AIDS crisis of the 80’s. For a while, science couldn’t agree on how it was spread, resulting in mass paranoia. I can remember at the height of the panic, we had to stay inside the entire summer because everyone was convinced that HIV could be spread between people via mosquito bites the same way those little bastards transmit malaria. It was both scary and a bummer, but we still did it for the greater good since we were dealing with an unknown enemy. We have to err on the side of caution until we learn more about this virus and come up with effective ways to build up immunity before we can go back to giving each other high fives and playing grab ass.
Well, I mean, I don’t think I’ll miss all that grab ass stuff at all. Some of the dudes around here have a really firm grip.
Teh Ben is a award winning seltzer blogger and nudist Moogle cosplayer. You can find him being a dick on Twitter, posting pictures of Volkswagens on Instagram, or laughing at the production values of his own terrible YouTube channel.