By Michael Beck – YAN

For me it happened on May 1st of this year. I was leaving work when one of the owners stopped me. She had been waiting for me. “I need to talk to you.”I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I was still caught off guard. “ We’re closing today…for good. I’m sorry. I know  I’m turning your world upside down.” I was in shock. “ I’m going to need your keys.” And after almost 25 years, that was that.

My mind was racing. I wasn’t getting up to go to work tomorrow. I missed one day of work in the last eight years. I had the stomach flu. And now, no reason to wake up. I did anyway. I couldn’t sleep, so I drove my kids to school.

Right away I went to the Michigan Works office and filed for unemployment. You look around the room thinking you shouldn’t be here. You’re not like the rest of the people there. What you fail to realize is that is exactly what all the rest of the people in the room are thinking.

It becomes a routine of applying for jobs, interviewing and certifying so you can receive your unemployment check deposit. There’s rules to follow. Repetitive questions to answer.

Magically, you are in an “alternate universe”. You are no longer in the world of the employed. Their lives go on. “Good luck buddy!”

When it first happens, you get the phone calls…the texts…the emails. “Send me your resume. I want to help you out.” A couple weeks later – crickets. People check – in less and less.

You can’t spend all day applying for work. It’s mentally draining. You find other places to pass the time.

In the “alternate universe”, I spend my time at the library and at McDonald’s. That’s where the other people who are unemployed also spend their time. We all notice each other. We all know we are members of the “alternate universe”.

The library is great because you get free computer usage. You see the same people almost daily. And most people stick to using the same computer day after day.

I’m a bigger fan of McDonald’s. I get a large drink that I can keep refilling and maybe something to eat off the dollar menu. I try and get the same booth. I like to do paperwork and get some reading done.

I see the same people when I go there. There’s Robert. He’s the guy who is always reading the Bible. Then there’s the guy with the tablet who is always sneezing. Then there’s the guy who asks for a water cup but fills it with Coke when no one is looking. And there’s this older couple who have been married over fifty years, and want to know all about me. We see each other in this “alternate universe”.

My phone goes off. Another job alert for a job I’m either not qualified for, or a job that doesn’t pay well.

Time to put in another application. I need to tweak my resume. Maybe this one will be the one. Fingers crossed.

I want to go home. I want to get out of this “alternate universe”. I don’t belong here.