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I got dumped by the Unemployment office. Would they take me back?

It took what one customer service rep called ‘an act of God’ to get through to a human after the state agency terminated my benefits. Don’t they know who I think I am?


I was recently let go . . . by Unemployment.

In my family of moderate Republicans and hardcore Libertarians, unemployment compensation is seen as one of many economic tools of the devil — a communist gateway drug leading to a life of dependence and poor dental hygiene.

I would try it just this once.

And Unemployment was happy to help. Unemployment was like: I’m here for formerly employed people just like you! Plus, you’ve been proving to me for weeks via our MS-DOS-era web-based activity tracker that you’re trying to get a job.

And I said: Thanks!

And Unemployment said: If you need help after August of this year, you’re DEAD TO ME.


And I said: OK wow.

So first, I looked for journalism jobs and I had promising interviews. I followed up with a newspaper, and the hiring person said, “Just so you know, our process takes about three months.” Three months? I thought. Just so you know, I’m gonna have a job by then! And a quarter of a year passed and I emailed back, Just checking in . . . miss THIS? like I was drunk-texting an ex-stranger.

They did not.

I told Unemployment the news. No problem, they said. Get back out there, buddy!

I expanded my job search from fields in which I have advanced degrees to shoe companies, because I like wearing shoes. In an interview for writing shoe copy, an enthusiastic hiring woman told me that I was the “unicorn” they had been looking for. This went straight to my head. I was on a vacation with my large employed family and told everybody more than once, They called me . . . a unicorn, like I was a legend in a Western about employing mythical livestock.

A week later I said, Hello, Mr. Unicorn here, checking in. No response. That’s odd, I thought, wondering if I had misinterpreted the word “unicorn.” I received an email: The position has been put on hold. Then I read that this shoe company was moving back in with its parents in Michigan.


Unemployment still had my back. The job market is red hot! I believe in you!

I broadened again, this time to include every job, everywhere. I was doom-scrolling LinkedIn and Indeed, rocketing applications into the World Wide Web so fast my clicking finger developed a toned bicep.


What about networking, you ask? I had coffee dates, Zoom dates, drink dates, and playdates. I was at the park with my kids talking myself up to the parents and nannies and grannies. I’m actually somewhat of a unicorn, if you can believe it.

A freelance gig came my way. It was one week of work, and I made $1,800. Flush with cash and confidence, I told Unemployment about the whole thing. Listen, this opportunity came up. It’s a good thing, right?

And the entire State of Massachusetts, like a jealous lover, said, We’re FINISHED. But they must’ve whispered it, because I didn’t hear it. The next week, I’m filling out my online job search report like a good boy, and Unemployment says, in red, There’s a problem here.

And I say: Where?

And they say: Guess.

And I say: I’m trying!

And they say: Guess wrong and we’ll close your file forever.

So I call Unemployment to sort this out. I am greeted by an endless robotic menu. Oh no, I think. Have I been catfished? I’ve never actually met Unemployment. After 4 minutes and 43 seconds of pressing one and eight and two, an automated voice says, “Too many people are trying to call us. Call back tomorrow.”


Surely, I think as I call back, this cannot be how this works. But it surely is how it works.

Weeks turn into months. I call many dozens of times, and I’m always told to call again later. I go back to the website, which might as well require an AOL CD from an old Cheerios box to access, and I try again. My record has been closed.

A few weeks ago, I called for a direct quote from the robot, and somehow I got through to hold music. I listened for 51 minutes and 50 seconds until I heard a faint beep.

A human person, somewhere in the distance, said: Hello from the other side.

And I said, hoarsely: I must have called a thousand times.

This real man helped me file an appeal, and when I accidentally hung up on him — which nearly broke me — he called back. He transferred me to a coworker who said it was “an act of God” I was able to get through. She helped me, and we were wrapping up the call when she said again that I was a very lucky man.

A man? I thought. No. They called me . . . a unicorn.


Bart Tocci is a writer, journalist, husband, and father who lives in Boston.