Friday, May 22, 2009

Government job available: No people skills required

Sometimes, when I'm cranky, I wish I could work for the government and take out my abusive venom on the unsuspecting public. The beauty of working for the government is that you can be as horrible to the "clients" as you ever want to be, and with no ramifications whatsoever--seriously, what are they going to do, hit another DMV and spend their legally mandated registration fees elsewhere? However, for all of us on the other side of the glass window, dealing with government agencies just plain suck.
Case in point:
I was supposed to have jury duty on Monday. Yuck, right? Not really. I was actually kind of excited. I've never had jury duty before, and I got called to the county courthouse only a few miles from my mother-in-law's house, which is so much better than dropping Sam off and heading into downtown Phoenix in rush hour to get there before 8am. In fact, this was the perfect setup if you have to go in for jury duty. No chance of getting sequestered in some huge trial, it's county court for crying out loud, and it's close by. So, weeks ago, I made arrangements for Sam to go to Grandma's if needed so I could preform my civic duty and all of that. I sent in the slip after checking the box that said "I'll be there!" and wished there was some sort of sticker, like the one you get for voting, to prove you are a true American.

Because my jury duty came on a Monday, I was supposed to call on Friday afternoon to see if I was going or not. The Friday afternoon recording told me to call back at 11am on Monday to see if I had to come in on Monday. Okay, well, isn't that nice. So I have to have this hanging over my head all weekend long only to find out if I have to drop everything and run to jury duty that same day. Nothing more fun than keeping a babysitter on retainer and keeping not only my, but her schedule, clear for potentially nothing. It's okay though, just bureaucratic red tape, and I should have expected it. At this point, I'm still ready to preform my civic duty.

I could have come out of this thing virtually irritant-free, but on Monday morning, my mother-in-law called me to say that her mother wasn't feeling very well and there was a chance they would need to take her into the hospital that day. She was still willing to help out, but wanted to know if I could find out for sure if she was needed or not. I decided that the last thing my mother-in-law needed to worry about was deciding between watching her granddaughter or taking her mom to the hospital. Insane, really, to ask her to do that. However, I don't have a ton of friends, and therefore try very hard not to alienate the ones I do have by asking last minute crazy favors like "Can you watch my kid right this second for a completely undetermined amount of time? Thanks." I'm not the boss from Office Space, and I don't take joy in screwing over my friend's entire day.
By this time it was 10:30am, so I decided to try to call the "Juror helpline" to try to find out if I was going to be needed that day. It was only half an hour early, and I didn't want to send out desperate emails to everyone I know trying to unload my kid only to send one out 30 minutes later saying "Nevermind. I'm spending the day with "Top Model" reruns on Bravo. Thanks though." I was not going to try to get out of jury duty, I just needed a little more than 30 minutes notice for a babysitter. This is how the conversation went down. Keep in mind, they named it the "helpline," not me, which indicates just how badly they need a dictionary.

Ring ring.
Deep huge sigh and angry voice "Juror helpline."
Me: "Oh. Hello."
Angry woman: "Yes?"
Me: "Okay, I'm sorry to bother you, but I am supposed to call the recording back in half an hour, to find out if I need to come in today, and my only babysitter has come up with a family medical emergency, so I was just wondering if you could tell me now if I am going to be needed so I know if I need to hurry to try to get another one right away."
Angry woman: "There is no possible way I could ever know that."
Me: "Is there anyone there who might be able to look anything like that up? I don't want to get out of jury duty, I just want an extra half-hour to try desperately to get a babysitter if I need to, and I don't want to bother everyone I know if I don't."
Angry and now even snippier woman: "Hold on. ["forgetting" to put me on hold and speaking to another joyful government employee] There is no possible way we could know this. Jeez. [back to me] There's nothing I can do. I can offer you a postponement."
Me: "Does that mean that even though I did make arrangements to be able to be there today, and called when I was supposed to on Friday but was put in a longer waiting game by you guys, and I can still make arrangements for today if necessary, I'll have to do this all again in 60 days because no one knows who is coming in a half hour before it happens?"
Angry woman: "Yep."
Me: "That's okay. I'll figure something out last minute I guess."
Angry woman: "Wait. You a stay-at-home mom?"
Me: "Yes, which is why I'm so stuck."
Angry woman: "Send a fax to us stating you are a stay at home mom and the age of your child and you can't get childcare and you don't have to serve on a jury."
Me: "Really? And I can fax this in today, even though I'm supposed to call and report in 25 minutes and this will be okay?"
Angry woman: "Yes. That will work." [gives the fax number and click. She is gone before I can ask how I will know they got it and accepted it.]

20 minutes later, after writing a letter, signing it, scanning it and emailing to my husband to fax at zero hour if needed, I called the recorded hotline again (five minutes early I might add).
"Group 1502 is released from duty today."

Seriously. Was that so unknowable 20 minutes before? Really? Was there some sort of confusion that instead of asking "Does my group need to report to jury duty today?" the government agent misheard me as "When is the second coming?" This is why people hate dealing with the government, because even if you don't go into the interaction with an angle or hating the system, they will find a way to make it a miserable, awful, painful experience. Frankly, as to the why of making a system so unbearably frustrating, and why we allow it to continue every single day...
"There is no way I could ever know that!"

My new attitude is most certainly going to be "Jury duty! Yuck!"


Sheena said...

Okay, so I want to state for the record that not all government employees are like this. (As a county government employee, I felt obligated to say something here!) I definitely don't work with the public that extensively anymore, but I was held to a customer service standard at the Sheriff's Office and still am in my admin job now. There are a few people that do go above and beyond to help the public! (I spent over 2 hours tracking info on an inmate's commissary money at the request of his mom, and she actually mailed me a thank you note for resolving the situation.)

So not all of us are bad... :)

Carly said...

Okay, I conceed that there are nice government employees out there. I just did not get the pleasure of dealing with one when I really needed it. There are lots of things I have faith in that I've never seen, we'll add this to the list.