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Job market full -- of ineptitude and laziness
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2000
It all makes sense now -- the unwanted sofa bed, the surly waiters, the hapless telephone company, the anecdotes of ineptitude from fast-food restaurants and drugstores and directory assistance. All of it can be explained in a unified theory, in the way that the physicists search for a "theory of everything" to unlock the universe.
What is at work here is the Full Employment Economy.
I once lived in a state capital, never mind which, except you get one guess. It was peopled with tens of thousands of public employees who could never be fired, because of the complicated civil service rules involved. This freedom from consequence permeated the social fabric. It affected the way people drove, namely, in slow, dull, uncomprehending torpor; the way they passed their days in bovine oblivion; and queued up uncomplainingly in slow-motion, undistinguished restaurants.
Now such a stupor has encompassed our greater society. As a former New Deal sympathizer, I had always assumed full employment was a good thing, never having witnessed it. Now unemployment is at its lowest point in three decades. Fast-food restaurants are paying cash bonuses to recruit new employees. Retailers are being forced to offer Saturdays off and benefits to part-timers.
In short, times are good. Recently I learned just how good in attempting to donate to charity a sofa bed, structurally sound, but somewhat the worse for wear from a pride of house cats.
Goodwill? No. Salvation Army? No. Kidney Foundation, League of Mercy, St. Vincent de Paul -- none was interested. Several asked the same sniffy question: "Is it in good condition?" I could not lie. The thing needed to be re-upholstered. "We don't do repairs," they told me with pity and contempt. I felt inadequate and insecure.
So my friend Kurt came with his pickup and we drove to the dump and hurled the sofa into the maw. A man with a backhoe swept it up immediately and shoved it into the fetid refuse. Testosterone flowed. Sea gulls cawed and swarmed overhead. For a brief second I experienced deja vu before realizing I was reliving a scene from a Dirty Harry movie. Instinctively, I looked for arms or legs protruding from the garbage heap.
"It's the full-employment economy," Kurt said.
"It's the full-employment economy," my friend David agreed. We sat in a restaurant being ignored, even when he called out to the indifferent server, "Miss, Miss," which I never have been able to do, preferring the meeker, "Excuse me." Finally she deigned to nod and then walked directly away from us.
In my efforts to move into St. Petersburg, which is harder to do than you might think, I had to visit the city offices in person to supply Mayor David J. Fischer's employees with $104 as a deposit to receive water, sewer and garbage services. I called back to ask what are the collection days? And the man laughed and said, "I can't tell you that." He gave me another number.
The General Telephone Co. of Florida declined to connect me on the grounds that some previous person at that address had not paid a bill. After we cleared this up, the phone guy says, we can't turn on your telephone anyway, because there is no line to the house.
I say, excuse me? There is no line? Apparently not, the guy says, after tap-tapping the keyboard. So we must schedule an On-Site Visit. I ask, if there's no line, which there is because I saw it, then how come somebody living there before even had a phone bill, aha, riddle me this?
But the phone company is not mocked. I waited on hold with GTE Customer Service, then the Repair Service, and finally Pending Orders, where a snippy woman demanded, "Why did somebody transfer you to us?" I said, it beats the heck out of me, except maybe the name "Pending Orders" fooled the Repair Service guy, who perhaps was new on the job, as yet another beneficiary of the full-employment economy.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.