Let’s Mess With the Federal Government!

Monday, June 6th, 2005, 9:50 pm

I can’t think of any circumstance when you’d want to receive a bulky envelope from the Federal Government. Especially these days. But that’s what I got on Saturday. Well, actually, the envelope went to my parents house, where I haven’t lived for about a decade. Those of you who worry about the Feds turning into an omniscient Orwellian state should rest easy. I’ve filed taxes with my new addresses about 10 times since I moved, I’ve had to renew my driver’s license three or four times, I applied for duplicate Social Security cards…twice. And the government STILL couldn’t keep track of my whereabouts.

Nor did they update their master database when I sent my reply to their latest missive about a month ago. At that time I was informed that my name had come up for Federal jury duty, and the letter I got Saturday confirmed that fact. Yes, Uncle Sam wants me…to sit in judgement against those he believes have broken his laws.

Normally, I’d be more than happy to do my civic duty. Jury duty is just that–it’s your duty. When your nation calls, you serve. And I’d be more than happy to do my part.

But. When you get called up by the Feds, you don’t just show up for a day, maybe or maybe not get selected, collect your per diem, and walk around town the rest of the afternoon. Federal jury duty, as the letter told me, is a 2-week gig. If you don’t get picked on day one, you might be asked to come back the next day. And the next. And the next. And if somehow it’s decided you’re actually worth to sit on a jury, you might end up on some complex financial dealy or a multi-count drug trial that goes on till Christmas.

Which presents a problem for me, because I’m a temp. And as I found out when I got my first letter, they don’t pay indentured servants like myself when we’re asked to perform our civic duties. So, the letter I got says that if serving would cause financial hardship, you can request that you not serve. You just need to do it in writing, and your employer needs to send documentation saying that you won’t get paid. Well, not getting paid for an extended period would be a Bad Thing, not to mention that I might just be replaced if I vanish for a few months.

So I call the temp agency, speak to them in my most chipper voice, explain my problem, and say that I need something from them, it can even be a printout of their company’s policy, so I can send it in.

The answer I get? “Well, we don’t provide any written documentation, for anything.”

Sigh. I sort-of expected this. So many companies are paranoid about, like, communicating with, like, other human beings, that they make ridiculous statements like the one above. “I’m sure this has happened before,” I say reasonably. “If you can just fax me the page out of your employee manual, that’d be fine.”

I’m put on hold for about 10 minutes. Sigh, again. I’ve worked enough customer-servicy jobs to know where this is going to end up. When she gets back on the line to say that I need to call their corporate benefits department I already have pen and paper in hand. I take down the number, call the number, I’m given a different number, call that number, get transferred twice, and end up in someone’s voice mail.

This is going to be a challenge. Today was my nice-guy attempt at the info. Tomorrow I will trot out the dickhead tactics. Just as you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar, nothing cuts through bureaucratic inertia faster than acting like a total prick. That’s not my default setting, it takes me some time to rev my engine to the “bastard” setting, but once there I can usually maintain pretty well.

‘Cause I’m not fucking around with the federal government. Not over something like this. When the time comes for me to man the barricades it’s not gonna be due to a piece of paper someone doesn’t have the wherewithal to push through a fax machine. You don’t see statues built for guys like that.

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