Saturday, June 19, 2010

Job Gap Killed. Employer Held as Suspect.

At last the light of employment has shone down upon my wretched soul.

It's not the sunlight of full-time-with-benefits employment, but rather the flickering light of a candle on the other side of the room. Which is to say the employment is both part-time and temporary. But it puts an end to the yawning job gap on my resume.

If you’ve searched for work lately, you know that possessing a job gap is akin to answering ‘yes’ to the 'Have you ever been convicted of a felony?’ question. It is being a serial rapist, a child molester and a meth addict, only without the appeals.

My newfound employment says to America’s human resource professionals: Look—company X hired him and didn’t contract a fatal disease, go into receivership or land amidst a congressional investigation.

It relieves them of being Mikey from those old Life cereal commercials. More importantly, it is an experiment conducted on someone else's dime, and not theirs.

Lastly, it also inebriates the sober reality that breathing has become a form of debt creation. I’m not out of the woods by any means. But at least a clearing shows up on my dash-mounted nav now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Parking Lot

When destitute, one must be creative in seeking entertainment. One must be alert to the entertainment potential of your immediate surroundings, as the usual avenues of museums, movies and sporting events are now off-limits.

In yet-another heinous and spiteful contradiction, unemployment dictates that just as you are most in need of diversion, you will be least-able to afford it. Which is likely why I was so thrilled when my apartment complex announced it was going to repave its parking lot.

The announcement was sprinkled with the sort of zero-tolerance warnings currently in fashion. Many exclamation points were used.

"All cars must be removed from the parking by 6:00 AM! Those not in compliance will be towed at owner’s expense—no questions asked!" This was followed by one final declaration of authority: "No Exceptions!"

Being possessed of a cynical and skeptical nature, I snickered. The phrase ‘no exceptions’ practically guarantees there will be. It promises exceptions as surely as heathens slather their French fries with ketchup.

The very phrase flies in the face of our modern temperament. In America we are all exceptions. It goes hand in hand with our sixth sense—entitlement.

Yet childrearing experts (and even some parents) caution against this. They advise consistency in the enforcement of rules, and stress that when consequences and punishments are called for that they be carried out.

This because children (like their older and bigger counterparts) quickly learn to discern and tune out empty threats.

I positioned myself on the appointed morning at the window which overlooks the parking lot. Six AM found three cars still in the parking lot. Their mute defiance sent a chill down my spine. This was going to be, if not quite Shakespearian drama, better than a morning on milwaukeejobs.com.

The leader of the construction crew was on a cell phone, gesturing wildly at the offending vehicles. Soon, the complex’s lead maintenance man was on the scene, also speaking into a cell phone. Next was the property manager. She, too, was on a cell phone.

For all I knew, they were calling in their grocery orders to peapod.com. But this tempest of cellular activity seemed to indicate that decisive action was being taken, and being taken quickly. I was impressed.

This gave way to astonishment when a municipal police car arrived. A tall, balding cop with the requisite mustache and aviator shades exited the squad car, ticket book in hand. He was going to write tickets! Cars were going to be towed! Exceptions were going to be snuffed out like cigarettes!

My pulse raced. My head throbbed. Why hadn’t I brewed decaf instead?

A flatbed tow truck then entered the lot, picking its way through the maze of idled construction equipment. There was now a faint layer of perspiration on my palms. I was a-quiver with anticipation.

I was also premature.

At six forty-five, two of the exceptions were located. He stumbled out of the building in flip-flops, gym shorts and a ratty t-shirt. She followed a few minutes later in way-too-tight sweat pants, a way-too-tight top and a cell phone seemingly grafted to the side of her head.

The cop and the property manager spoke to each. Drama King impatiently jingled his key ring as he listened to their lecture. Drama Queen couldn’t even be bothered to turn off her phone. She would periodically pause the lecture with an upraised index finger as she monitored her call.

Afterwards, the royal couple sped-off petulantly in their respective vehicles. The cop spread his arms out in their wake, a non-verbal “What are you gonna do?”

There was one exception left.

Cell phones were again employed in a desperate search for the owner of the third car. Perhaps it had been stolen and left overnight. Perhaps it belonged to someone’s overnight hook-up. Perhaps the owner didn’t give a damn.

Whatever the reason, the car was finally loaded onto the flatbed and taken away. Work on the repaving began at seven-thirty sharp.

No exceptions.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Of Gym Teachers and Bishops

I have a problem with authority. The crappy kind, anyway.

Have since I was in the seventh-grade and a gym teacher reacted poorly to frustration I expressed at failing to bat in three successive softball games.

The fact that I had used the medium of the four-letter word to convey my regret did little to help matters, especially since this was 1970.

In a class full of chronic malcontents and discipline problems, this gym teacher choose to get tough with otherwise quiet, obedient me.

He grabbed the front of my gym shirt and put his face very near mine. I can still see the spittle flying as he laid into me with a fury he never shared with the kids who chronically talked back.

Or hid behind bushes and smoked as opposed to running marathons.

Or mooned passing cars.

But I learned a lot about authority that day. It is likely all I learned at that execrable school.

Authority is fallible. Authority can and does seek the path of least-resistance. Authority is opportunistic.

And that the stated reason for your punishment may or may not be related to the reason you are being punished.

Which brings me to Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.

Olmsted heads the Phoenix diocese of the Catholic Church, and recently excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride for her participation in an abortion performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

McBride was a hospital administrator, and a member of the ethics committee that signed-off on the procedure.

A twenty-seven year-old mother of four suffered from pulmonary hypertension, and eleven-weeks into her pregnancy, it was determined her life was in danger if the pregnancy was not terminated.

Entirely justifiable abortion, right? End of story, right?

Wrong.

Bishop Olmsted’s official statement maintained “An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a mother’s life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means.”

Of course, this is only pandering to a political viewpoint. It’s too unthinking, too color-by-numbers rote to be taken seriously. It begs the question what is the real reason Sister McBride was fired?

It wasn’t because she acted in accordance to the most-humane dictates of her faith and served the greater good (one unborn infant being less a tragedy than five motherless children).

We’re ready when you’re ready, Tommy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Small Government? Or Bigger Business?

Item number-one on the conservative agenda is to make small government a campaign issue. Republican candidates dutifully include it in their recitations of party talking points, and deluded tea-baggers shout themselves hoarse in their frothing, wild-eyed mania for it.

But who does small government really benefit?

Not surprisingly, small government’s most-ardent admirers are wealthy businessmen. The reasons are simple. Observing government guidelines and conforming to government regulations costs money. And the more a business spends on fulfilling government requirements, the less there is for the guy in the corner office.

There’s also the issue of ego. Business is forever a toddler attempting to convince mom and dad it doesn’t need a babysitter. That it’s old-enough to stay home alone. Government regulation is the wagging finger that says it isn’t.

The small government ideal proposed by conservatives removes the speed bumps from the marketplace, while it diminishes the quality of life for just about everyone else. It lets business do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, wherever it wants. And make no mistake—conservatives are all about the business. First, last and always. The rest is just marketing.

But there’s a problem. Most of us don’t give a damn how much CEOs make. We’re not terribly concerned about the welfare of the wealthy. How can their problem be made our problem? How can government regulation be marketed as an issue constraining our personal liberty, and not one set to clear the runway for business unbound?

Pull out the time-honored tricks. Exaggeration. Lies. Misinformation. Find the lowest common denominator of your constituent’s anger and exploit, exploit, exploit. Push that hot button until your fingers hurt. You remember last summer’s death panels, don’t you?

While challenged by leading anything more than a parade, conservatives are master manipulators and brilliant marketers. They are experts at misdirection: You’re not pissed-off at British Petroleum’s incompetence and lack of accountability! You’re pissed-off at the Obama administration’s response!

In tea-bag land, Wall Street, Massey Energy and BP aren’t proof of what happens when mom and dad decide to forego the babysitter for an evening. They’re proof of how government meddling muddies the waters of commerce.

Do you see the delusion here? The naked self-interest in corporate America’s backing of this idea? Tell me how this differs from ghetto thugs advising their neighbors-slash-victims “No snitching”.

You can’t because it doesn’t.

Business is a one-celled organism. It has one instinct, and one instinct only. And that is to make as much money as possible. Left unregulated, it is a virus which invariably destroys its host. Left unregulated, business runs amuck with the numbing regularity that children choose Happy Meals over six-course, sit-down dinners.

I have a request to make of the hypnotized. Those of you who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this agenda. Those for whom Lord of the Flies represents a societal ideal:

Keep your six-thousand pound SUV off publicly-funded roads. Bank and invest where there is no FDIC and SEC. Treat your own sewage. Find your own water. Process your own garbage. Buy your kids’ toys from China. Kindly purchase your meat, produce and pharmaceuticals at flea markets. Or better yet, an open air stall in Tijuana. And care for your developmentally-disabled offspring by yourself.

Fish near BP oil rigs. Work in Massey Energy coal mines. Develop your retirement plan with Bernie Madoff. Fly on planes, drive on bridges and ride in elevators with only a businessman’s promises for protection.

Ride your snowmobile to the furthest reaches of Yellowstone National Park, and dial anyone except 911 when you crash through the ice some winter afternoon. And as the hypothermia sets in, remember you got to keep everything you made.

And should your home catch fire, or a family member be fatally assaulted, we the sighted promise to do our damndest to ensure that municipal, county, state and federal governments don’t intrude and compromise your principles. And may I assume you’ve already bid adieu to Medicare and Social Security?

Thank you.

For the rest of us, small government is wealthcare dressed as populist outrage.

To be sure, government has abused taxpayers. Too often acted in the interests of a monied minority at the expense of the greater good. But to fall for the sucker punch offered by conservatives who demand its dismantling is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

This is a problem with a solution. And that solution is better government, not less.