Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to read the following story at the StorySlamMN! last night at Kieran's Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis. Ergo, I offer it here for your approval. The theme of this month's show was "Money, Money, Money."

After college, I lived in Chicago for two years. Half the time I was working clerical temp jobs. The other half of the time my parents were putting money in my bank account. I was never a starving artist, despite my half-hearted wish to be. The only obstacles to making ends meet were my laziness, depression and reluctance to ask my parents for more money. 

A recession supposedly began in 2000, the year I graduated from college, but I never got the sense that work was hard to come by. If I could muster the motivation to call whatever temp agency I was with at the time, there was a good chance they’d have a job for me within a week or so. But then I’d have to actually go to work, draggin’ my ass outta bed on those frozen mornings for the privilege of sitting at a desk, making copies and directing calls for people who appeared to just be going through the motions of Life. It was all drab, dispirited offices and waiting to die. 

But I needed something to pay the bills while I became a famous comedy writer, so I continued temping in the hope that each job would require as little work as possible. The closest I ever came to the perfect job was a three-week assignment in the environmental bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s office. I was a living, breathing Exhibit A for every right-wing blowhard who wants to rant about the waste of government bureaucracy. 

It was the only time I’ve ever had my own office, although it was nothing to brag about. There may have been grift in the environmental bureau, but it wasn’t being funneled to an interior decorator. It looked like they hadn’t updated the d├ęcor in fifty years. The best word I can think of to describe the bureau’s appearance would be “Shawshank-ian.” 

I was brought on board to send out letters alerting citizens to the apparent negligence of a utility company, or something like that, but the task was barely enough to fill a few days. After that was done, I had to harass my supervisor to give me things to do, which was not easy for me, since I had to overcome my natural aversion to labor. My boss was a friendly, easy-going guy named Terry who looked to be in his 30’s.  He gave me some stuff to copy and collate, but not enough to keep me busy. 

At Terry’s suggestion, I brought a book to work and read at my desk. There were days when that was all I did. It was rather awkward sitting in my office, day after day, just reading, as people walked by, people with things to do, deadlines to meet, environments to protect. When the silent judgment of the passersby got to be too much, I would take out my notebook and do some writing to create the illusion of work, but the shame wasn’t enough to completely overcome my laziness, and, eventually, I’d go back to reading. On the plus side, I managed to finish The Lord of the Rings. It was an especially amazing feat given the fact that I am not a fast reader. 

When Terry learned that my assignment was coming to an end, he suddenly sprang into action, taking me to the bureau head’s office. She got on the horn and tried to get my assignment extended, but to no avail. She then apologized for her inability to keep me around longer. I thanked her for the attempt, although I was somewhat relieved to be unemployed again. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could handle the guilt of reading The Lord of the Rings on the taxpayers’ dime. 

On my last day, Terry bought a cake and herded a bunch of reluctant people into the break room to celebrate the end of my three-week tenure. I appreciated his gesture, even though the joy of the occasion was dimmed somewhat by the awkwardness of the fact that I had only said about a dozen words to most of the people there, and I was pretty sure they knew how little work I had actually done.

It was a rather pathetic example of your tax dollars at work, but, on the bright side, it did keep a kid like me off the streets.

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