As intransigent Congress members, White House staffers, and political pundits debate the merit, waste, and/or efficacy of federal spending, some 2 and half million federal workers will be pondering their compulsory free time. There is still a chance that our elected officials will work something out, but it seems this time that there are bunches of folks on all sides of the fight just itchin’ to make a point…. So, we are making plans to be shut down for some indefinite period.
Way back in the late 20th century this furlough thing happened. I remember it well. The first shot was for a few days in November 1995, and then again for a longer second stint through the Christmas and New Year holiday season into 1996. It wasn’t a very pleasant time. At first it felt like a breather…. Not a restful vacation, but just some time to ponder what’s going on. I remember being defiantly pissed on the first day. I went and played 9 holes of golf on a sunny pleasant fall afternoon. But by the time the holiday season got going, it was a frustrating, but subdued vigil. Simply waiting for the stalemate to end. Waiting for something to happen that you don’t have the power to resolve is a draining experience.
Essentially we were all unemployed, but still retaining the obligations and responsibilities that go with representing the US government. I remember that Christmas visiting my ex-in-laws. I was a walking representative of the federal government, consistently introduced by my ex-mother-in-law as an “unemployed NASA worker.” There are just so many times you can feign a chuckle at that. People would sympathize and ask thoughtful questions about how it’s going. I would smile and say, “Well, we’re sure it will get worked out soon.” It did… But I had just made the last mortgage payment I could afford.
Working for the government, especially for NASA, you develop a level of dedication where you feel honored to contribute uncompensated effort to fulfill the mission. In contrast, the last extended furlough felt like a prolonged dentist visit. By association with the budget wrangling, we were made to feel wasteful and unnecessary. And yet we were not fired or laid off…. We were in limbo. Made to stand in place. To add insult, we were later compensated for the forced time off. “Gee, Dave,” you may exclaim….”You poor thing!!!” It just didn’t feel right, and it was a detail you just didn’t want to admit to taxpayers.
This time is going to be different. I can’t necessarily do anything to compel a budget agreement…. But I can make some decisions about how to use the time. So, here is my Furlough Bucket List. I can mix and match tasks to fit the length of the stalemate.
1. Practice my sax. Especially that tricky lick with the palm keys on “Le Jazz Hot”.
2. Finish sanding and sealing the deck.
3. The endless Jeep projects: carburetor, exhaust system, electronic ignition???
5. Train the bastard, Mishka!
6. Wash dishes. Wash clothes. Vacuum frequently as instructed.
7. Reorganize home office.
8. Catch up on grading student homeworks and papers.
9. Get back to the Rosetta Stone Russian!!!
10. Take a breather…..
So, don’t be checking to see what I’ve done!!! I will be productively unemployed… Which means I get to decide what I’m not going to do while I wait to find out when I go back to work.