In which I am nothing like Jackie O.

One thing about working for the government is that you don’t get free things the way you do in the private sector.

Microsoft represents the extreme, with free soda and ibuprofen, but even the cheapest offices usually provide a few things, like drinking water and bad coffee with powdered creamer. I worked somewhere once where the boss, and I’m not making this up, had a secretary retrieve paper from the recycling bin, cut it into squares, and, using glue stick, create sticky pads. Even that place had free coffee and water, is all I’m saying.

There are tons of other benefits to working for the government, so I’m not whining. A couple of years ago, though, they started providing filtered water in our office-- those Cully Springs 5 gallon carboys with the slick hot/cold spigots. I think that was part of an initiative to help County employees get healthier -- they thought that if we’re supposed to drink ten glasses of water a day, they should make it available. The water from the tap carries a vague aroma from the adjacent sewage treatment plant, and no one was drinking much.

Yesterday, the water disappeared. I guess there was an e-mail about that, how we’re all going to have to tighten our belts and so on, so we won’t be getting water any more. One of the groups in our building tried to disguise their water dispenser as a robot so that it wouldn’t get taken away -- they put a costume on it, and attached signs that said, “This is not a water dispenser.” Think Anne Frank. But it didn’t work -- yesterday I tried to find it to take a picture, but it had gone to wherever those things go.

At any rate, that reminded me of another thing about working for the government, which is that most of the people in my office have a photograph of themselves with the old Executive, the highest dude in the land, whom I admired greatly. The photo op occurs on the fifth anniversary of service. For five years, I looked forward to it.

I started working there in 1998, so I figured I’d get the picture in, say it along with me, 2003. The pictures are taken at the end of the year, so I patiently waited til December.

But when 12/03 rolled around, they said that my first three years of service didn’t count towards the photo anniversary, so I had to wait three more years before I’d get my picture taken. I did. I waited, semi-patiently til, say it along with me, 12/06. But then I was told that actually, the pictures are taken AFTER the year of your 5-year anniversary, and I’d need to wait until 12/07. The point of all of this is to explain a tiny bit, in undoubtedly too great detail, about what it’s like to work in a bureaucracy, and how even the simplest little thing can be made into a big treat, and dangled just out of reach. And also to emphasize just how much I’d been waiting and looking forward to this picture.

The 2006 election happened, and my favorite exec was re-elected, and I still had a job, so it looked like clear sailing towards my photo. The picture was something I thought about. A lot. One day in January, I was sitting in my cubicle, eating a sandwich with T., and thinking about the picture.

“I’m thinking of trying to look a little more Jackie O for the picture.”

T. did that snort laugh where food comes out in a disgusting way. “You? Jackie O?”

“Well, I could get a hat. Or pearls.”

“What does Jackie look like again? Look her up.”

So I did, because I’m obedient. Dammit. I turned to my county computer and Googled images for Jackie Onassis. The pictures that you're all familiar with came up: her at the funeral, her in the pillbox hat, etc. And we’re scrolling through them, looking at the tiny thumbnails, and there’s one of Jackie O in a bathing suit.

“What kind of bathing suit did she wear?”

“I dunno.” So I click on it, but when the page opens up, there’s no bathing suit, and there’s no Jackie O. And a loud inappropriate audio-clip fires up. I quickly shut the screen, and T. looks really awkward and we rapidly finish our sandwiches and go back to work.

A few hours later, E. from I.T., of the Three Favors fame, shows up in my cubicle. Someone was already in there, and he gives them that look, and says, “I need to talk to Betsy. Alone.”

Which seems bad.

“Um, have you been looking at any websites that you shouldn’t?”

I undoubtedly turn bright red, and tell the whole story, beginning with 2003, and how I hoped I’d get the picture then, and I was trying to get ready for the photo, blah blah blah. But in my head I was thinking just how awkward it would be to be fired for viewing pornography on a County computer. ‘Yes, children, we’re moving into the truck. Your mother lost her job because…, well, anyway, get your things…’

“So yes, I’m trying to figure out what to wear for the picture, and I’m hoping to look like Jackie O…”

Then that laugh again, like, “seriously? You? Jackie O?”

But I keep going with my story, and explain how T. didn’t really know what she looked like.

“Okay, so you’re planning your outfit for an event that’s 11.5 months away?”

“Yes. Because it’s closer away than it’s ever been.”

“Everyone knows what Jackie O. looks like. Even T.”

“So anyway, there was a picture of her in a bathing suit.”

“Are you planning to wear a bathing suit? To get your picture taken with the Executive? In December? Yes, classy. Just like Jackie.”

And on it went, for what seemed like hours. But eventually, I noticed that T. and the Other Boys were lurking outside of the cubicle, laughing hysterically.

I believe money changed hands; possibly each of the guys laughing outside of my cubicle gave E. $5. I believe the three favors and the chocolate Easter eggs that appear on my desk have begun to even the score.

Oh, and about the picture? The executive was sick that day. Didn't happen.


  1. Brilliant! I'd feel bad for you about some of your stories, but if didn't experience them, I'd be much less entertained, so thank you...!


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