Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

65 Court St

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As I mentioned, I was laid off two years ago. I spent eleven months collecting unemployment before being hired back into the school system at the start of a new school year. However, they could not pay me until they re-entered me into the system, which meant a trip to 65 Court St in downtown Brooklyn.

I’ve been there before: That’s where I got fingerprinted (twice – they lost the first one), and subjected myself to a background check after disclosing my high school diploma, college transcripts and the contact information of every employer since I turned eighteen. I assumed that, this time around, the apparatchiks would be asking for my history of the last eleven months because, clearly, getting a check from the state every week wasn’t obvious enough.

No, the clerk told me. They want my entire history. Again.


“You left the system for a period longer than a month. Therefore, we have to enter you as new.”

“You laid me off. I didn’t leave.”

“The rules are as they are.”

“Can I at least get the old records, to save time?”

“No, those are our records. But that reminds me…”

She got up and left for twenty minutes, returning with my record, which she shredded. Obsolete, natch.

They didn’t destroy all my records, though, as it turned out. In the six weeks after I was rehired that I wasn’t getting paid, I was eligible for an “emergency” paycheck to tide me over until they decided I was still myself. I requested, and apparently received via direct deposit, such funds. How did they know which bank account to send it to? Well, they had one on record from before I was laid off: The very same bank account I closed because I had ceased receiving paychecks.

I asked my payroll secretary, “so what happens now?”

“We have to wait for the bank to reject the money.”

“How long will that take?”

“About a week. Then it’s back in city funds.”

“So I get the money then?”

“No, the city has to give the money back to the Department of Education.”

“How long does that take?”

“A week or two.”

“Then they mail me the check, right?”

“No. Then you have to pick it up at 65 Court St.”

It arrived at 65 Court St a week after my first paycheck came through – a very paltry paycheck, since most of the funds were allocated to the emergency check, natch – and I went to retrieve it.

“I’m here for my emergency check.”


Twenty minutes. Sitting in a booth with six seats flanking a bullet-proof glass barrier.

“I don’t see any emergency check with your name on it.”

“My payroll secretary sent me here today after calling ahead to confirm it was here.”


Ten minutes. Nothing to look at except a narrow view of a long row of empty desks at 2pm. Long lunch hours, clearly. A line’s forming behind me.

“Nothing. Are you sure you have a check waiting for you?”

“Yeah. I’ve tracked it get bounced by the bank, go through the city, and make its way here.”

Oh, you mean a disbursement check! Why didn’t you just say that?

“How am I supposed to know what you call it?”

“How am I supposed to know what you were looking for? One sec.”

Ten minutes. The man behind me smiles shyly and shrugs.

“Here. Next time get it right. I can’t read minds.”

What Kafkaesque hellhole did I burrow into?

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