The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

CIVIL SAVANTS: As I sit here writing this, it is raining cats and dogs here in our happy little burg, my campaign to replace these somewhat innocuous metaphorical beasts with toads and wombats having proved spectacularly unsuccessful. I haven’t given up hope entirely, but I will admit that even a cursory look at the current state of biometeorological metaphors in the English language would seem to indicate that there is no great demand for change in this area and that as a result any campaign for change in the face of such apathetic linguistic inertia is likely to go nowhere and to get there quickly. But the presence of the rain, however you choose to describe it metaphorically, is not stopping the highway department from ripping up Main Street.

Specifically, the highway department is repaving Main Street, although why they are choosing to do this now is something of a mystery to the citizenry, considering that the highway department repaved Main Street last year as well and there was no real need to redo the thoroughfare this year. But they’re doing it, and they’re being loud about it, too. I am sure that some of you are no doubt thinking that I and the other citizens of our happy little burg should commend the highway department for its great foresight in maintaining the roads and saving the taxpayers a fortune in future repair bills. Well, you can believe such rot if you like; it’s a free country, after all, and people can believe any silly thing they like—how else to explain the political career of Ned Lamont—but I, for one, am not buying it for a minute. The highway department is resurfacing Main Street to give themselves something to do and to hoodwink us into believing that they are doing something.

I think that I’ve mentioned here that one of the attributes needed to be a truly great civil servant is the ability; some would call it God-given, while others maintain that it is the end result of countless hours of devotion and single-minded preparation and practice—to seem as if you are doing something when you are, in fact, doing nothing. All civil servants aspire to this almost Zen—like state of perfect active inactivity, but only a few can say they have achieved it. The rest of us just totter along to the best of our limited ability, which explains why, on rare occasions, civil servants actually achieve something. This is not at all a good thing, as you might imagine, and will often lead to an official inquiry to determine whether the successful completion of a bureaucratic task was an accident, something that’s been known to happen, even in the civil service, or whether this was a deliberate attempt on somebody’s part to make the rest of us look bad. Should the latter scenario prove the case, the miscreant will fall victim to a departmental reorganization that will render them redundant, and so cause their immediate reassignment to the department of motor vehicles, where everything they do or don’t do will be incorrect, no matter how well they do whatever it is they are doing or not doing. That’s just the way it is down at the DMV.

Now, the best sorts of civil service jobs are the ones that keep the public far away from the civil servant. These are a little harder to find than your average civil service job—for reasons I am not sure I fathom, you can’t find job listings for these spots down at the Department of Labor—but they are worth looking for; if you can land a job that involves having the United States Marine Corps or the 82nd Airborne Division protect you from the public then so much the better; there are few things in life that will convince an irate taxpayer to leave you alone with your inactivity faster than a sucking chest wound. Also desirable are jobs where you have your very own top-secret stamp. Being able to do nothing and then declare that public knowledge of what you’re not doing is a crime helps foster amity towards one’s fellow man, calms the digestion, and makes for a long and fruitful career. That’s why there are so few of these jobs and why the competition for them is so great. Once someone’s got one of those jobs, they tend to hang onto it for dear life, so the only thing the rest of us can do is find some other line of public employment, preferably something that does not require dealing with the public for prolonged periods of time.

As I’ve mentioned, those jobs are the least desirable, which is why they are so hard to fill. There are the occasional exceptions, of course; for some reason or other, people still insist on becoming social workers or teachers in fairly large numbers. Watching reality corrupt idealism is always a painful thing, and you would think that after a while someone would catch on, but that rarely happens; every year there’s a brand new crop of high minded, enthusiastic, idealist young people who want to go out and reform the irredeemable and educate the uneducable. It is always a wonder to me that some people stay with teaching and social work for as long as they do, but some people enjoy trying to catch Sisyphus; there is no accounting for tastes, I guess.

The worst of all possible jobs are at the department of motor vehicles, and so, from one end of this our Great Republic to the other, civil service personnel departments routinely staff the DMV with those people too intelligent, too dumb, too lazy, or too recalcitrant to fit into the square peg approach to life and work the civil service favors in its employees. This dumping of the bureaucratically misbegotten into a single department means that customer service at the department of motor vehicles is almost always lousy, the staff is almost always snotty, and the line of irate taxpayers waiting to find out that they don’t have the right forms is almost always excessively long. If the line doesn’t go out the door, around the corner, and down the hall to the candy machine then someone behind the counter is not doing their job properly.

The people at the highway department, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about the irate taxpayers too much. Irate motorists, who may or may not be taxpayers, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. There’s nothing like the sight of guys in Day-Glo hardhats and orange vests along a highway to set some people off. We’ve all seen this guy, I think; the guy who thinks it’ll only take him an hour to drive to work, but forgets to factor in the traffic, the lights, and all those signs apprising the motoring public that the highway department will be ripping up the road at a point in the near future designed to maximize our guy’s motoring inconvenience. Steam will not actually issue from this guy’s ears, and he will not, in fact, spit molar dust all over himself, but he will honk his horn more than a guy who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon ought to, and he will spew bile and billingsgate obscene, scatological, and profane all over the next coffee-drinking, Mets-loving Day-Glo hardhat he sees. If you feel the need to do this, you should wait until your car is moving away from the scene of the slowdown, as the guys in the highway department are usually stronger than you are and can kick your ass just for laughs if they feel like it.

This brings us back to Main Street, where the highway department is dropping fresh, piping hot asphalt on the street to replace the old and stale asphalt that didn’t really need replacing in the first place. Just before this, the street sweepers came through, although why anyone would clean a street before dumping hot asphalt on it is something of a Rosicrucian mystery to me. Given that I haven’t seen the street sweepers since the last time the highway department unnecessarily repaved Main Street, my guess is that the highway commissioner wants the public to see all of his machines working on this project. This makes the highway department look busy and productive, and has the added benefit of making the highway commissioner look good, which he really wants these days, since there’s a lot of talk about him running for mayor next year, and a freshly paved Main Street is a much better campaign ad then some pathetic Vote for Me sign along the roads coming into town. It’s also a lot cheaper for him as well; it’s not like he’s paying for this campaign ad himself, is it?


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