Bad Habits » Moodswing

Inventing the Rules

Charm your way through


Daniel, who is normally noble, can't stop laughing when I tell him I actually attend all the requisite seminars at the Department of Labor to receive my weekly unemployment check. "Isn't that the rule?" I asked.

"You loser," Daniel laughs. "You're supposed to charm your way past that."

Me? Charm? My first day there, I got in a fight with the security guard, but who can blame me? He makes you stand in line when there is no line. In fact, there is no reason for him to be there at all, as everyone there is as docile as diseased cattle. It's not like there's actual money we can steal back there in those cubicles, though there are staplers and stuff. I could actually use another stapler. But as it was, I was just using one of the computers in the big bank of computers they have there for us to use, or so one would think.

"Young lady, you can't use that computer," the security guard told me, and whenever people tell me I can't do something, I usually take it as a polite suggestion, because in my book, polite suggestions can be politely declined. "Thank you, officer," I said, "but I don't need your help, because as you can see I am perfectly capable of using this computer."

"No, you need to stand in line. All those people are before you," he said, pointing to an area that was, as far as I could tell, completely empty, as were all the other computers.

"What people?" I asked, looking around. The place is bigger than an airplane hangar.

"Those people," he said, and he waved his arm to indicate that, in the distance, there were some tiny ant-like people barely perceptible on the earth's curve, people who not only were nowhere near us, they were not even in line. They were milling around in a whole other part of the horizon in a different time zone.

"You're kidding," I said, and he gave me the look that security guards have to remind people they've got a gun and they're not afraid to invent reasons to use it, which made me pause.

Because right then I was reminded of a guy I met on the island in Greece way back when being jobless was a joke and no big deal. I'd been hanging there for weeks, funding my beer intake by beating people at pool at a place called Zanzibar, where the owner, a mean-hearted round man named Marco, charged backpackers $1 to take a cold shower from an open hose located a few feet from the cafe tables.

It was a big perk, I tell you, but I couldn't stay there forever. Soon I had to begin the journey home to try for that job as a Xerox salesperson (or whatever) that my comparative literature professor told me my degree in writing would get me. Actual writing itself only got me to Greece, where I frolicked with naked Danish backpackers in that shower every day, and I was practically certain there were rules that said you couldn't earn a living doing that. Or I had at least been told there were rules that said that.

The man who owned Zanzibar also had the taxi syndicate under his thumb, so it was necessary to go through him to preorder a taxi to get you to the port early enough to catch the ferry that morning, as the bus wouldn't arrive in time, he said. That was the rule. Everybody did it. "Otherwise, you'll have to spend the night at the port," Marco said, and everybody eschewed that on account of how easy it was to let sailors force ouzo on you until you woke up wearing a strap-on and married to a monkey.

But the morning I was to leave, my predawn, preordered, prepaid, presave-my-ass taxi didn't arrive, so I pounded on Marco's door until he called me a "fat brown-cow bitch" and chased me off his property waving a rotten melon. There was nothing for me to do but catch the bus to the port, anyway, since I couldn't stay in the village another night, not with Marco and his melon after me.

I was worried about how I was going to fend for myself alone overnight at a Greek dock until the bus pulled into the port and there was the ferry sitting there as patiently as a big basset hound, not scheduled to leave for a few hours yet. I couldn't believe my luck until the immigration officer told me the ferry is always scheduled to leave after the bus arrives.

"But Marco told me the rule was to get a taxi," I said.

"Marco," the official laughed, "he invented that rule to make a living."

Now here I was, years later, looking at this security officer at the unemployment office doing the same thing: inventing rules to make a living. He can't have people using computers willy-nilly, looking up vocations, getting jobs and stuff, now can he? If everyone got jobs, what would happen to his? "Those are the rules," he repeated. So I left.

I'm gonna be fine, I thought. I can invent rules. I can. For one, that rule about it not being possible to earn a living while frolicking with naked Danish backpackers? My first rule is that that rule is crap.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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