How Long Must We Wait for a New America?
While you celebrate the new administration, so many of us are still waiting. It is cruel, but usual punishment.
I spent many childhood days in a Bronx welfare office a few feet away from the bustling shops on Fordham Road. The office was in a cement building painted over with gray paint. If you weren’t looking for the metal door that opened into the waiting area, you wouldn’t find it. Inside, the floor was dirty linoleum and there were rows and rows of mismatched chairs with tired, stressed bodies staring at a ticket counter displaying numbers in red LED lights.
You had to wait in line and then get a number, and then you had to wait for your number to show up on the ticket counter. Then you could go toward the back of the office, navigate the maze of cubicles, and sit in a dirty chair in front of a metal desk with a caseworker. You had to cross your fingers to make sure you weren’t missing some form of documentation, or else you had to leave and come back another day to start the whole process over again. If you weren’t missing anything it didn’t mean you could go home. There were always faxes to send, calls and copies to make. The caseworker would tell you to go back and sit again in the waiting room while they did something on their end before finally letting you go home.
You know how to make someone feel like less than nothing? You make them wait.
When we went to the welfare office I knew that we would be there the whole day. No matter what day of the week we showed up, the waiting area was packed with women and children out of their strollers, and shopping bags, and a chaotic, dull buzz from the cacophony of office noises. The only men I could remember present were the security guards or cops that wandered in for one reason or another. No matter the time, it always smelled like someone was opening lunch from a delivery container that arrived in a warm plastic bag from the hands of a guy on a bike.
My sister and I always prided ourselves on knowing how to act in public. We’d watch the kids running around and losing their minds with the kind of disinterested judgment you’d expect from two latchkey children. We kept our eyes on…