Saturday, December 17, 2011

Since The Layoffs by Iain Levison (Soho Press 2003)

Throughout the night I get customers and I learn things. An overweight woman in her fifties with unwashed, stringy black hair comes in at two in the morning and buys three gallons of whole milk. She hands me what looks like a credit card, but instead of a bank logo, this is plain white and has a faded government seal on it. I look at her suspiciously.

"Run it," she says.

I shrug and swipe it through the credit card machine. Nothing happens. She looks at me, I look at her.

"Are you new?" she asks me. She is wheezing with the effort of carrying the milk to the counter.


"That's an EFS card. You have to push the EFS button on the machine." She smiles at me patiently.

I figure she's a mental patient, and this card is probably an access card to a parking garage in Iowa. I decide to let her have the milk. She obviously likes milk a lot and we've got plenty.

"It's okay," I tell her. "Just take the milk."

"There's a switch, an EFS switch," she says, getting impatient, or annoyed at being treated like a charity case. Then I see a tiny switch at the bottom of the credit card machine marked "EFS." I click the switch, and I'm amazed when a receipt prints up. She signs a copy and walks off, limping under the weight of three gallons of milk which she appears to be carrying home through the cold. It must be for a family's breakfast. I look at the receipt, and it says, "Electronic Food Stamps, Inc."

Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. Not Electronic Food Stamps, but Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. This is a business. Somebody's making money designing ways to get government aid to people who have been tossed aside. Some money grubbing software designer has a government contract because we all lost our jobs.

That's the biggest insult of all, that we are being fed off. The destruction of my life, my town, represents a business opportunity to someone else. NIne months ago, this woman walking through the cold was probably a factory employee, or perhaps the wife of one, and her children had health insurance and she had a car and she bought milk in the daytime, with money. I am suddenly filled with the urge to find the fucker who owns the EFS company and shoot him right in the fucking face. I feel that someone owes me an explanation, not a corporate public relations-type explanation, but a down-on-your-knees-begging-for-your-life explanation, which is the only kind worth listening to.

But he's not the only one. From now on, I have to make a list of people who need to be shot in the face. There needs to be a real bloodbath, to equal the financial and emotional one which has just been drawn for all of us.