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Jobless in Savannah

Laid-off Morning News editor reports from the frontlines


KIM, the other morning, was crying.

At 19, she has two children. Stephen is a bubbly two year-old; Antoine, nine months old, is quieter, preferring to bury himself in his mother’s lap.

Their father vanished a couple of months ago, not even leaving a note.

“He never was good,’’ Kim said simply. “I was...stupid.”

Round tears rolled down her cheeks as she sat across a table from me at the local office of Georgia’s Department of Labor. Around us hundreds of the unemployed filled out forms, stood in line, and waited for the next bureaucratic hoop they’d have to stumble through.

The jobless these days are black and white, young and old. Some are sullen boys with smoldering eyes; others are businessmen in ties, still clinging to their notions of self-worth, shifting uneasily from foot to foot.

I’m one of them. Several weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I was laid off.

After several decades as a reporter and an editor at the Savannah Morning News, I suddenly found myself without a routine, a desk to gravitate to, and a paycheck at the end of every other week.

That check often seemed inadequate, to be sure, and the work could be exasperating.

Like all of you, though, I needed a job. My wife and I managed to eat solid meals and pay the utility bills.

Now — suddenly, terribly — I’m at loose ends. After losing my job, I felt an emptiness in my stomach and a horrible feeling of hopelessness.

How am I going to provide for my family? I haven’t a clue. Where’s the cash coming from to buy next week’s groceries?

I simply don’t know.

God I hate this.

Once, hearing the latest nightly news, the sorrowful tidings would roll off of me. Unemployed rates are up 2 percent? Too bad, but I really didn’t care.

Now TV’s like a knife. When Brian Williams describes the day’s economic gloom from his warm New York studio, I can’t stand the little bastard. The guy’s hairdresser, I know, will make more next year than I earn over the next decade.

So I retreat from life. The other day at the unemployment office, I sat among the defeated, my fellow statistics.

Around me I could hear pens scratching against paper and folks sighing as still more forms arrived, asking us again for the same information. Somewhere a baby cried.

A few tables over, I spotted a fellow who fixed my car a couple of months ago at a local dealership. Next to him sat a musician I know. A woman at another table looked familiar; I think she used to work at Publix.

“I just want a job,’’ muttered Kim, smiling briefly as Stephen floundered across her lap.

“We’ve never seen this many people,’’ a woman working behind the counter said a few minutes later. “These days, we get all sorts in here.”

I walked out of the dark office with my paperwork finally filled out, told to wait for a notice in the mail. It was a radiant late autumn morning--spectacular, I’m sure, for all those people who actually have something to do. cs

Doug's commentary will also air on FM 91's 'Georgia Gazette' this Thursday night at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.