THE GLAMOROUS LIFE
OF A NEW YORK CITY ACTRESS
My show closed two weeks ago. That’s two full weeks without any income and unfortunately I still have to pay the rent, con-ed, my phone and generally live. If only my first class NYU education would have taught a course called: How To Survive As An Actor! There has to be another way besides working a full time survival job, doing theater for free, and always worrying where your next paycheck is going to come from. I have really been looking for a job, actively searching. I went on three auditions yesterday and dropped off at least half a dozen restaurant resumes… is it possible that not a soul in this city is hiring? Wow, the economy really does suck. Thankfully on this lovely day, I received a small glimmer of hope from my friendly neighborhood postman. Today I received my unemployment benefits letter. Oh boy do I need this money; I needed this money last week. I rip it open with abandon and furiously read the instructions for filing a new claim. What, I have to go in to the unemployment office on Monday morning at nine? I thought this would be electronic and anonymous; fill out a form on my trusty laptop, hit the send button and boom, start receiving my checks. No such luck. I quickly scan the letter again, desperately searching for the on-line submission option, but my eyes keep focusing on the big bold letters, Your failure to report to your appointed meeting will result in immediate termination of your benefits. Looks like I’ll be checking my ego and going to this meeting. I have no idea what to expect. I’ve never had to collect unemployment before. I always assumed that a college education, talent, ambition and awesome bar-tending skills would save me from this moment. Again, that could have been another useful course NYU could have offered. Monday morning rolls around and I can’t decide what to wear. Should I go in looking professional so they don’t think I’m a deadbeat, or do I go in looking youthful and hip, giving the impression that I could be discovered by the casting director of 30 Rock at any moment? I decide that the professional look is the way to go. I wear my Jackie O’ sun-glasses, my black pinstripe suite pants, a fitted ribbed off white turtle neck and heels, autumn clothing always looks more sophisticated. I might as well look my best while collecting my dole money.
My local unemployment office is in Chinatown, I’m out the door at 8:30, on the subway and in ten minutes… Canal Street. I am even going to be a few minutes early. I get off the train and stop to get a coffee from a street vender. Chinatown is bustling with people doing their daily shopping; there are carts brimming with fruit and vegetables, as fresh fish markets and novelty stores cram together to form this beautiful spray of color and cacophony of life. I start to walk toward the unemployment building and notice a long line of people about three blocks away from my final destination. I wonder what they’re waiting for. Maybe it’s the best live fish market on the block. Maybe they are giving away free stuff! Oh well, no time to find out, I have to get this unemployment crap over and done with. Finally I arrive at the Chinatown unemployment building. I walk right in the front door and to the reception desk.
“Hi, I have an unemployment meeting at nine. I know I’m a little early so I’ll wait if you’re not ready.” The woman just stares at me; I wonder if she speaks English. Then she points to the massive line of people out side; the line that has grown to over 3 blocks long and continues to get longer by the second. So all these people aren’t waiting for the best fish market in town, they are all waiting for unemployment?
“You want me to wait in that line? But I have an appointment?” I say hoping to clear up the confusion. “that line goes all the way down the block.” I say, searching her eyes for some sympathy.
“Miss, that’s the line you need to be in. You should have gotten here earlier.”
Speechless and totally defeated, I walk outside to get a better look at this line. I think I need binoculars! It goes past the main entrance of the unemployment building and wraps around the corner where it stops at a side door. That must be the entrance for all the jobless hacks; of course they don’t want us going in the front door. I turn and look towards the end of the line again, damn it; it’s already longer. I begin to run to the end hoping to get up far enough to have my appointment sometime today. Don’t these people know what the word appointment means? I thought I had an appointment time, one time just for me, but apparently four hundred other people have that same appointment and they were all earlier then me. This isn’t even a line anymore; it’s a herd. Finally I get to the end and just in time too. There is a group of six little old Chinese ladies who almost beat me to it. In my mad haste to claim my spot in line, I notice I’ve spilled half of my coffee down the front of my beautifully fitted and sophisticated ribbed off-white turtleneck. The old lady behind me says something in Chinese to her friends and they all laugh out of control. I’m pretty sure it was about me. Whatever, they are clearly jealous because I am faster then they are! Who am I kidding? Now I am a coffee stained Jackie O’ wannabe, almost at the end of the line from hell and it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. Today is gonna be awesome.
Finally the line starts to move slowly and we all begin to filter in the back door of the unemployment building. The line is so long that we completely fill up six rooms. I am in the fifth room and unfortunately I am still right next to the heckling Chinese ladies. Well, at least we all have chairs and we can sit down. Wait, shhhh, I think there’s a voice coming over the loud speaker. I wish they had a better PA system; this is worse then the subway PA system. Then I realize that the voice coming over the loud speaker isn’t even speaking English, she’s giving us instructions in Chinese. No wonder I can’t understand it. But wait, the ladies next to me can understand. After the voice finishes telling us what ever it was trying to tell us, the old ladies who heckled me stand and begin to leave the room. I rush to my feet in a panic.
“Um, excuse me, would you mind translating what the woman said over the PA? Where are we supposed to go?” The leader glares at me and says.
“We no speak English!” Then the old woman looks at the rest of her gang and laughs yet again, this time with a little too much enjoyment at my confusion. They all snicker as they leave, the last one turning to give me a little glare for good measure as she leaves me in the hell that is room number five. They don’t scare me, I’m pretty sure I can take the leader just as long as she doesn’t use her cane. Well, I’m not going to sit here while they move to another room… a possible better, faster room; so I follow them out the door of room number five and up the hallway to room number three. Good move, I think to myself, three is closer then five. The leader exchanges a few words with an official looking woman standing at the entrance of room number three. The official woman obviously works for the unemployment department and I am glad to finally see someone who can organize this mess. She answers the old lady in Chinese and lets the gang into the room. Maybe if I follow the old ladies real close, she won’t notice me sneak in. I get right next to the last old lady. I’m smiling and nodding my head as if I am in on their conversation.
“Where did you come from?” Asks the official woman. She’s caught me.
“Me? Um, room five.” I say with certainty.
“Then go back to room number five and wait there for further instruction.” She orders with authority.
“But I was standing next to those ladies who you just let into this room and I thought they heard some instruction that I didn’t so I thought I would just follow them.” I’m desperate, actually dripping with pure desperation. “Ummm, Please!” I plead as my one last attempt to get from room five to room three.
“Go back to room number five and wait for further instruction,” She says looking at me from over the rims of her glasses. “That’s where you are supposed to be.”
“But I was next to them.” I implore.
“Miss, please go back to your room.”
Fine then. I turn around to go back to my room, but before I walk away I hear that all too familiar chuckling of the gang leader and her posse. I whip around and throw her a glare; this isn’t over yet lady.
Thankfully I left a newspaper on my seat because the never-ending line of unemployed New Yorkers has filled every other seat in room number five. The guy next to me keeps staring at me whispering, “Damn baby, you are fine.” and, “Let me be your man.” I continue to read my paper and try to ignore him; I begin to wish that the mean Chinese ladies were still sitting next to me. What does this guy think? Does he really think he has a good chance of picking someone up by whispering machismo slurs into her ear, in the unemployment line no less? In room five! I mean, maybe if he were in room one or two he might have something more to offer! I want to scream, ‘get real! Get a job!’ Then suddenly, an English speaking voice comes over the loud speaker with some instruction. They are moving us into another room where we begin to watch a video about how to create a resume and get a job. I think I am going to cry. This is where my BFA from NYU has landed me. Four years of training to be a classical actress, singer and dancer and here I am, at the unemployment resume writing class, hosted by the city of New York. I feel my spirit begin evaporate, no die, my spirit is dieing a slow and sad death. That’s when I suddenly realize that the guy next to me knows exactly what he is doing. He prays on the weak and weary, he targets women who have hit rock bottom and I’m sure it works sometimes. I look at my watch and it’s already noon. As we filter out of the resume room, I spot the gang of little old Chinese ladies preparing to leave the unemployment building. They are already done and I haven’t even started. The leader gives me a little wave bye-bye; they all turn to wave bye–bye to me, still laughing as the rest of us suckers are herded into room number four.
As the hours tick away what’s left of my self-confidence does too. I’m not out of there until five PM. I’m starving and tired and mean by the time I get home. I am so glad this day is over. I spent all day in that place and every moment of it I wanted to curl up in a ball and be left for dead. Humiliations galore, but at least it’s over.
As I get ready for bed, I just keep thinking how badly I need to get a job! And not just any job, one where I make money. I sleep like a baby and dream about the gang of little old Chinese ladies. I am on stage in my dream, on Broadway and they are in the audience. I notice them and have security remove them immediately. “Those ladies are threatening the integrity of my play!” I scream. They all cry and the leader tries to apologize, but I throw them out anyway. All the audience leaps to their feet to cheer, as I continue my song. I wake up refreshed, my shattered spirit slightly renewed and I’m ready to tackle the dreaded hospitality world, only now I’m comforted in knowing that my first unemployment check should be here soon. I briefly wonder why I didn’t go to medical school, yet another course NYU should consider teaching young actors: Forget About Acting And Become A Doctor! However I quickly remember that I am an artist and am proudly in it for the long hall. And yesterday was just another day in the glamorous life of a New York City actress.