The not-so-sweet smell of a shutdown

Friday - 10/4/2013, 2:00am EDT

What do federal furloughs have to do with one of the world's stinkiest fruits, the low-hanging durian from southeast Asia?

I thought you'd never ask!

So, here's the deal. The kids want to open a lemonade stand. So you order a bushel of lemons. Instead, your horrified letter carrier delivers a load of durians. Then heads off for the nearest USPS fumigation station.

Durians for lemons?

What do you do? You wanted lemons for the party. You paid for and expected lemons. Instead you get durians.

First, what the heck is a durian? You can look it up here, or trust others who say it smells like a combination of "rotten onions, turpentine and raw sewage." Others say it makes a nice custard. Clearly, it is an acquired taste.

The old saying is that if somebody delivers you lemons by mistake, the optimist — the flexible person — will make lemonade. But whoever said that never had to deal with people who, for a living, are either professional Democrats or professional Republicans.

So in October 2013, not for the first time, Congress and the White House again delivered stinky-fruit durians, in the form of a governmentwide shutdown to 800,000 feds. The list of people who are not getting paid don't include leaders in the White House. Or members of Congress.

Many career civil servant/pawns, who have been deemed nonessential by their agencies are subject to the no-pay rules of the shutdown. While many of them are in low in pay grade jobs, they have the misfortune to be in high-visibility jobs. In places like the National Park service where 21,000 workers have been told to stay away from the 400 parks and sites where they work. Except for a skeleton crew of law enforcement types and others who show up to tell the public they can't come in.

Politicians and the media — especially in the D.C. area — are busy telling us how feds feel about the shutdown. Those are the feds that they know, if they know any working-level civil servants.

From what we are hearing, from real people who have been furloughed, the reaction ranges from genuine despair (how do I pay my bills?), to rage, to a "whatever" attitude. As in: I got lemons, so I'm gonna make lemonade.

Here's what some people were saying yesterday:

  • "Like many feds, I'm trying to make the best of the situation. Yesterday, I used my family membership to treat a fellow fed and his family — including an almost-3-year-old-to a free day at the B&O Railroad Museum. We had a blast, and the tot could explore at his own pace without the crowds! Although my first destination for a day trip is often visiting national parks, I'm going to take this time to visit other historic sites.

    'Now for my column suggestion: I've discovered that a number of museums, not to mention restaurants (food and happy hour specials), are offering free admission to federal employees during the shutdown as long as they present a federal ID.

    Some examples include the National Building Museum, The National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (part of the NPS Star Spangled Banner Trail)." — a furloughed fed

Many employees who have alternate work schedules have found a way to survive the furlough. As one told us:

  • "I am just moving my AWS day from Nov. 1 to the Oct 25 Friday. It makes it most simple." — Still Getting Paid
  • During the sequestration-triggered furloughs, the Social Security Administration managed to avoid them. But not this time. Here's what's going on in a large processing center according to an exempt (working) employee there:
    • "...here's what it is like from an exempt employee at an SSA processing center. Within our building, we have both exempt and nonexempt employees. We have a list of services we can do for the public and services we cannot do. As far as the cannot do list, even if you come in and ask for one of these services, no one can provide it for you. They closed out our time cards early, so our next check will cover the last week of September and Sept. 30 — 48 hours. We are not being allowed to take leave unless you get it approved at the highest levels, and you better have a good reason. We have no overtime and if you work over and earn credit hours, you cannot take them. Management tells us one thing one day and something different the next. There is no real direct information. We just all sit here doing our work and wondering." — In The Dark


      NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

      Compiled by Jack Moore

      Here's an interesting tidbit about about how 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote his sermons in the days before Post-It Notes, courtesy Mental Floss:

      When he had ideas while horseback riding, he'd associate a single thought with a section of his clothing and then pin a piece of paper to that area. When Edwards returned to his desk, he'd unpin the papers and write down the thoughts.


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