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05/12/2012

19 minutes to go. I took a deep breath and stared at the computer screen. I wondered why I’d taken this job. Why did I go to school to do this? Somewhere, at some point, I said to myself ‘yeah, this is what I want to do with my life!’ Was I high?

My phone started to ring. The number showed as an outside call. No way in hell was I picking up. I couldn’t listen to one more sad sack story coming from someone I knew was full of shit. I let the phone go to my voicemail. I looked up from my monitor and saw my boss standing at the entry to my cube a disapproving scowl on her face.

I looked at her waiting for her to begin whatever diatribe she had concocted this time. “You’re not polite enough to our customers.” Or “Why aren’t you taking calls as they come in? You’re behind so-and-so and off the average.”


I hated the fact that we called them ‘customers’. I wanted to help people, but I didn’t want to help people live off the government. It seemed a mockery to me of all the time and effort I’d spent in school . I wanted to be counselor, not a goddamn human meal ticket vendor.

I had earned a master’s in psychology and hoped to eventually get my doctorate, but the amount of money required to go that far was astronomical. I felt bad sometimes for using the system the way I did. It felt like I wasn’t any better than the people I was trying to help. I paid for my bachelor’s degree on my own, working to get through school and taking loans when I could get them. When I tried to go to graduate school, the cost per hour was staggering, but since I wanted to get my doctorate in psychology the registration counselor told me about a program called the PSLF or Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

When I first heard about the program it sounded like a godsend and it fit in with my plans which were to work in the field, get some experience with a varied clientele, and gain that hard won real world knowledge my instructors were always talking about. All I had to do was make payments on time for 10 years and my debt would be wiped out.

Had the economy maintained the modicum of health it had when I started school, I could have completed the program without a problem. Ever the optimist, I moved to a lower middle class suburb of Washington D.C. on the Virginia side of the Potomac where I bought a small two bedroom house  and was making enough money to keep my bills paid and meet my obligations. I survived the first economic ‘dip’ pretty well.  I made cuts to my personal budget and struggled along as best I could, keeping pace with the rest of the country. By the time the second and third dips happened I was in a blind panic just like everyone else. Even if I could get my loans refinanced I probably wouldn’t be able to pay them off in my lifetime,

With the market being the way it was, there was even less chance I could sell my little house. I kept going to work everyday hoping that things would change. Serving people who were either too poor, too uneducated or just too lazy to make their own way began to grate on me. I saw people come in for food assistance driving new cars with stereo systems that shook the walls. I probably could have paid a couple of mortgage payments with what they spent on the speakers for those cars. I personally was down to buying the cheapest, least nutritious food a grocery store could legally offer for human consumption.

I didn’t blame either side Republican or Democrat. What sense does it make to blame fecal matter for being fecal matter? It was what it was and no longer possessed the ability to change itself.  Until recently I had been of the opinion that we could fix the system. We would vote our way clear of things eventually, we just needed a candidate with the right ideas.

I looked at the monitor again. 16 minutes to go. I didn’t think this day could have dragged on any more than it had, but now time was practically crawling by.  I couldn’t count the number of times I’d gone through this routine. I wasn’t living my life anymore, I was trying to survive it.

My boss had a sheaf of papers in her hand she’d been holding out to me while I daydreamed. “You’re behind. Again. You need to get these corrected and turned in to me by tomorrow.” She gave me another scowl and turned away. I offered the finger to her retreating back.

Life for me consisted of going to work, doing whatever it took to get through the day and then going home to sit in front of the television playing Modern Warfare until I fell asleep. I sighed and looked at the stack of papers in front of me. I looked through the first one and began addressing the errors.

5 minutes to go. Time for me to get my crap together and sit in traffic for an hour or more, then get home to my little crap shack where I could try and tune out the world for the next few hours before I had to come back to this mess.

I made it home in time to hear my neighbors starting another one of their parties. I know I had become a real downer lately but I was sick and tired of these fuckwits loud parties every night. The times when I tried to go to bed early I had to put up with their loud talk that came through the thin walls of my house or their music with its constant bass driven thumping. I gritted my teeth and headed inside.

The house was sweltering. Even though it was early spring we’d had a heat wave that had seen temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s . My house hadn’t come with central air like some of the newer ones in the subdivision and I had only one small air conditioner unit in my bedroom so I could sleep at night. I couldn’t afford to buy a new air conditioner, much less run two of them for any length of time.

I turned on my computer and flopped down into a desk chair trying not to think how much my home life resembled work. I scanned through the news hoping for something good. Several protests were scheduled over the next couple of days to take place in various places around D.C.

I’d been telling myself I needed to get out to one of these events. Of course I’d been saying it to appease the liberal part of me that thought protest was cool and had better than a zero percent chance of solving something compared to the typical ass-sitting I usually employed. The other part of me thought it might be a the only chance I had this year at getting laid.

The house was too hot even for sitting around playing video games. I went into my bedroom and turned the air on, collapsing in a sweaty heap on the bed and opening up a book. I fell asleep almost instantly.

—-

I was awoken by a loud, insistent knocking on my door. I thought it could be my on again off again bed-buddy Syl. I hadn’t seen Syl in several months but that was the way our relationship had worked over the last several years. She would show up out of the blue, usually out of her skull on whatever drug she’d gotten hooked on lately and screw my brains out for a couple of weeks before disappearing. It worked for me since it involved no real effort on my part. Well, no mental effort anyway.

I opened the door to a man probably in his late 50’s in a uniform similar to that of the local police. I was still sleep addled and couldn’t remember having called the police last night. I looked at the man blinking my bleary eyes trying to resolve the soft focus that accompanied waking.

“Yes?” I croaked out.

“Good morning, sir. Are you the homeowner here?” He said in a loud flat-toned voice that said told me he’d been doing this for a long time.

“Uh” I coughed and tried to shake off the cobwebs “Yeah. Yes, I am. How can I help you?”

“Sir, I’m with the code enforcement department. Could I ask you to step outside with me for a moment? There’s something I’d like to show you.”

“Yeah, sure. Just give me a second, let me grab a robe.” I closed the door and on him and went in search of something to cover up with.  I didn’t actually own a robe so I grabbed a pair of sweat pants and a t shirt and stepped outside into the muggy morning air. It wasn’t even 6:30 yet and the day already felt uncomfortable.

I met the officer at the doorstep where he stood patiently sweating through his thin cotton t-shirt with its painted on badge.

“Sir, I’ve had several calls from your neighbors about trash on your property.”  He wasn’t actually talking to me I noted. He was a middle aged robot that was just regurgitating the same pre-programmed lines he’d spoken a thousand times.

“Trash?”  I looked around. My lawn hadn’t been mowed in a week or so, but there was no trash I could see.

We walked to the curb where my trash cans were tipped over, mostly empty. One can still had a bag of trash jammed down inside. The garbage men I paid a ridiculous amount of money to handle my trash hadn’t bothered to empty the can fully. Even so, the trash was fully contained in the can. The officer pointed at  some scraps of paper that had probably been receipts and a paper plate that with a crusty red smear on it that had probably been spaghetti sauce at one time.

“You’ve got to keep your property clean, sir. Do you have your ID with you?”

“My ID? Why?”

“Well sir, I’m going to issue you this citation. The cost of the ticket is $150. As you’ll see here, there’s the date you’re expected to . . . ”

“Citation? $150?! Are you kidding me?” I was awake now for sure.

“. . . show up for court. It’ll be the end of the month as noted here. You can pay the fine or take it to trial if that’s what you want. I’m also issuing you a second citation for failure to mow your lawn. That fine is also $150 and can be payed  at the same time.”  He tore the citation off and handed it to me. If he’d heard my protest he’d shown no sign of it.

“Seriously?  $300?!? Look, I’ll pick up the trash right now, we don’t need to do all this. . . I mean, court? Really?”

“I advised you to show up on the specified date, sir or a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Have a good day.” At that the middle-aged robot man turned away and left me standing in my yard with a piece of paper that was going to cost me $300.

I kicked the trash can, livid at the thought that a small bit of trash, so small it would fit inside a teacup could possibly cost that much. I sighed and went back into the house to get ready for work.

—-

I tried to think but my head was filled with white noise and not the good kind that made it easier to get to sleep, but rather the kind that drowned out all rational thought.

I stared at a pair of black pinstriped slacks and two long sleeve button down shirts in slightly different colors of light blue. I stared at them as though if I looked long enough at the fabric I might uncover some hidden truth about the universe.

So far all I could glean was that trash was ridiculously expensive and another long day in the series was off to a crap start. I tried to force myself into action, putting on my pants and plopping down onto the bed.

I was used to our so called representatives across the river making laws for us to follow that they would laugh at if someone tried to hold them to the same standard. The entire nation was used to it. No one liked it, but we all accepted it.

But now, here, in my own yard no less I was confronted with this same kind of tyranny. Petty stupid tyranny that people like me– homeowners–tax paying citizens were actually being forced to pay for. My taxes paid for that asshole to come out and punish me. For my own good. For the common good.

How did this make sense?

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