Somewhere in the middle of the dime novels of the great Jim Thompson, the protagonist--always a basically good, although ethically flexible fellow--usually gets a funny feeling. Everything's going swell--some silky babe is draping herself all over him, important men are doing him favors, and he's being ridiculously well-paid for doing nothing. So why does he feel like his neck is on the chopping block? This is the funny feeling I have as I sit, once again, in the waiting room of the ninth district offices of the Arbeits Markt Service, otherwise known as my local unemployment agency.
This fall, the AMS paid for two € 300 German classes for me, plus sent me € 800 for my living expenses. When they agreed to pay for my Deutsch lernen, I thought, 'Wow...that's...nice.' When they started sending me the slouch payments (which I hadn't asked for) I thought, 'Whoa, hang on, I don't want a hand-out. And what are they expecting from me in return?'
Did I take the money? Of course.
Because of my half-baked German skills, Anette had gone with me to the AMS once or twice, and so helped me get my deal. When the state-sponsored largesse started rolling in, she explained, once again, that things are different here. Their immigration and assimilation policies are the reverse of those in the US. That is, in America, it's easy to get into the country, but once you're there, nobody wants to know you. But in Austria, it's difficult to become a citizen, get a work permit or otherwise be welcomed into Austrian society. But once you're in, as I am since I'm married to an Austrian, the social system walks right up to you, gives you a bear hug, and says, 'Can I make you a cappucino and pay you some money for having a kid and going to school and just getting by while you're looking for work?'
As I said, I took the money. Then what did I do? Did I look for a job? Sorta. Did I miss my next appointment with the AMS? Yes. And the appointment after that? Naturally.
I figured, 'Hey, I got their money--what're they gonna do now? Take back the cappucino?'
Then a couple of friends told me, 'Hey, don't miss your termines with the AMS. They get really pissed off about that.'
So here I am, sitting in a waiting room packed with Turkish families, fifty-something day laborers, thirty-ish Serbian carpenters and other folks who probably need the AMS' help way more than I do.
I just know I'm gonna get spanked.
How old does a man have to be before he forgets what it was like to sit in the principal's office, waiting for a smack?