Tax Day USA
Taxes were the primary reason why I was hectored, or bugged, by many much-older adults to get a better-paying job during the Carter recession: they claimed that I was not paying my fair share in taxes. Why a 20-something female would be depriving 30-40-year-old men and women, all of whom held steady, lucrative jobs with corporations, of a better life, I do not know. Resentment ruled the day. America was engaged in fighting the Cold War, but class warfare was also waged each day between the young and the less young in the Land of the Free.
It is my hope that the opportunity society and the investment class of present-day America have replaced the bitter, bogus beliefs of the 1970s. And so on Tax Day USA I offer this essay to the youths of America who now look forward to the prospect of becoming taxpayers.
Stories are legion among my friends and family about my interviews for jobs when I was in my early twenties. It’s a hazardous phase of life for any person, but it is especially hazardous for young adults fresh out of college during an economic recession or a flat-lined economy.
Having survived the Carter malaise, I am chock full of advice and antics for the young people here in the States who are desperate for jobs (and desperate is the operative word) and who encounter employers who think they hold all the cards.
The following are tales that are indeed true, not made-to-be-true for a real-life essay! Each incident comes from an interview that I personally handled in my own inimitable way.
The Para-legal Position:
Middle-aged Lawyer in three-piece suit, seated in comfortable but over-priced, vinyl-upholstered chair, glancing at my self-typed resume. “It says here that you left college after only three years. How do I know that you will stay at this job?”
Prospective female employee in skirt purchased at Payless Drugstore and polyester blouse from JC Penney, seated in uncomfortable wooden chair: “I guess you don’t know. You’d have to believe that I would want to stay and work in this job. And judging from your attitude, I’d say I don’t want to.”
I am not sure if his mouth was hanging open or not when I left the room. I do recall being told that it was not my place, but his, to end the interview. I laughed.
I must have been on a roll that afternoon on Capitol Mall, seeking para-legal positions because the next job interview replayed itself in pretty much the same manner until it came to my answer to the Question of Distrust from Lawyer Boss. Instead of giving a direct response to his inquisition as to why I would stay and work for peanuts, I pulled the plug on this farce:
“Look, Mr. Whatever. I know you are not going to hire me, and you know you are not going to hire me. So let’s just stop wasting each other’s time. There is another job interview waiting for me to answer the same question and I need to get to it. Have a nice day.”
That next interviewer for a secretarial job drilled me with his obvious suspicion about whether he could trust that I was going to stay in California. It seems that the first Moonbeam Exodus, the one of the 1970s, was not yet over in 1979; but I was unaware of the mass exits on I-80 since I was such a newcomer to the Golden State gone broke in the 1970s and I did not yet own a car. I’d not yet been initiated into the Californian love affair with the automobile.
The Clerk-Typist Job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs:
A female bureaucrat was in charge of hiring People On the List. I was the Token White. She marveled: “You have such nice rosy pink skin.”
“That is what happens when I blush. Usually it’s when I am uncomfortable.”
The Bank Teller Post:
Female hired to screen any future competition to her job: “We have a dress code here. You must wear appropriate attire.”
“Do you mean I’ll have to buy clothes that I won’t be able to afford on this salary?”
Administrative Assistant to the Assistant Editor at a newspaper:
Friendly guy who really wanted to leave his hiring interview to go to his son’s after-school basketball game: “You look like the type who would want to get married and not have to sit at a typewriter all day.”
Single young woman intent on not getting married until she could support herself: “I learned to type so that I would not have to get married. Are you sure you can ask that question?”
Actually, at that time, the prospective employer could, and did, ask such questions. Interviews are now subsequently conducted largely in code. I suppose looking for a wedding ring still occurs, but there are those women (and men) who do not wear rings!
I therefore offer to assist the novice labor-relations learners in deciphering the most obvious ploys in the employer’s verbal hunt for information that is none of his or her cotton-picking business. Any response to questions about the Benefits Package provides a gold mine, a true wealth of personal details, a cache of confidential facts for the creep on the other side of the desk:
— Health care: family or individual?
— Do you have a need for daycare? Would it interest you to find out about the planned additions to our family of childcare providers?
— Retirement options? Beneficiary for that 401-k?
— Is relocation necessary? We can pick up the tab for you and . . . ?
I understand that any prospective employer is making an investment in you (the Human Resource), but a job offer and a job acceptance constitute a basic contract that requires a minimum of honesty. There is a phrase in Yiddish that is somewhat vulgar; I learned it decades ago because I was told that my approach to life is that way. I will refrain from using it and state that it means to lay your cards on the table. If the prospective employer is not willing to offer those cards, or to commit to the amount of truth needed to ethically hire you, then there’s no deal.
The potential meeting of the terms and conditions ought not even get to the point of “all bets are off,” because the future gets mighty certain, at least for me, when I, the unemployed, sit there, in front of Employer and he or she is pulling punches about a job. My marked response is to not pull any punch.
Honesty is two-way street. The boss does not have to be on truth serum, but to be hired for a job that then morphs into some other type of work; or “supplemental” and “unexpected” (and unpaid for) duties are added; or the duties for which you were hired are subtracted from your job and handed to someone else, only to be replaced by tasks that come as a complete surprise to you: that situation is not only a bait-and-switch; it’s a bucket of stinky bait. “Other duties as assigned” ought to ring alarm bells in your mind.
“Personnel” is now the Orwellian and ghoulish “Human Resources” because the “personal” has been taken out of the workplace. The personal “touch” has been replaced by a cut-throat accounting technique of dealing with the employee as merely “human capital” — a resource, investment or stock option. During a “downturn in an economy,” the “personal” aspects of a job get reduced or cut. Bare bones are bare bones, and it makes no sense to expect frills at a job where the company is quietly or even silently strapped for cash.
“Image” being what it is in America, many businesses do not post a sign that states, “We’re losing money hand over fist and we need to hire you cheap until we make a profit and the cash flow problem is solved.” Neither does an individual walk around with a badge that says, “I am really messed up” — unless he or she is a protestor with a sign, clogging up any public place awash with cameras, such as those huge media settings where pleaders of trumped-up crises swarm.
So be realistic about what is expected from the worker and from the employer when a paycheck is being earned. Employment is not a social service; it’s a way to earn a living. When the job turns out to not be what was advertised or agreed to, that situation is tantamount to fraud. You, the employee, have several options:
1. Complain to your supervisor about the unethical situation. I can tell you from long and unvaried experience that any employer who would engage in sleight-of-hand about any job is not one that has earned your trust and you will be better off leaving that job. You will also be called “uncooperative” if you do not cow-tow to the tinpot dictator’s attempt to pile on work that is not part of the bargain to which you agreed upon accepting the job offer.
2. Say nothing and continue to perform tasks without financial compensation. This approach will qualify you as a lackey, but not a victim since you are willingly taking part in your own subjugation.
3. Quietly find another job. This option is not necessarily mutually exclusive from Options 1 and 2.
There are times when a Boss Man or a Boss Woman can exude attitudes that are criminally unprofessional. Think twice about accepting any job where the supervisor (or a co-worker) has even a whiff of any of the following:
— Insensitive lout;
— Bleeding-heart (trying to prove he or she is not an insensitive lout);
— Disorganized slob;
— Know-nothing (to pump you for information);
— Doormat (can’t say no);
— Giver (always saying yes). Differs from the Doormat in that the Doormat is clueless about being walked on. The ploy of the Giver is giving to get; and you will get more than you have bargained for.
A salary that is too good to be true is probably for a job that is truly not good. In truth, you can’t give away such a job! And it is always amazing how the too-willing and too-kind Boss Bird taking you “under her wing” can clip your wings. My advice comes from the Ancients: ”Do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts."
— Joe/Joanna Cool. A silent (sometimes prickly) facial structure of non-commitment or feigned indifference. Under the aloof veneer is the loosely-packaged or tightly-packaged mess of the lazy brat, aka the Boss’s Nephew or Niece or the lazy, spoiled, punk relative whose skids have been greased.
This oily office creature expects other people to do his job and carry his water while he gets the credit and his veneer shines! Given enough stress and lack of servitude and subservience from the lackeys beneath him or her, the veneer starts to crack. Exit the job prior to this catastrophic event.
— Tube of toothpaste (can be squeezed for anything);
— Whiner/Winer who is always The Victim. You will be the actual victim, albeit without the chance to whine because you’re too busy helping Prince/Princess Pity at the personal/professional Pity Party.
— Empty suit (that you must fill with your admirable qualities and achievements);
— Be-all-and-end-all (who just might finish you off);
— Manipulative narcissist: This cold-blooded “charmer” hoards some or all these other types as a “personality” because the narcissist lacks one. This “type” is often confused with the next “type” (ego-centric) but the main difference is that the egomaniac has a sense of self whereas the narcissist is the ultimate black hole in terms of identity.
Lacking a true self, the narcissist has to constantly backfill the inner void with the identities of other people. All of that identity theft and face fraud takes time and energy! It’s work! At base, the narcissist is a slacker so it bitterly resents all the exertion required to mimic a self that somehow did not form. The egomaniac, however, often thrives on achievement and there is a conscience, sometimes working at full throttle, but it chugs away constantly to feed the ego.
— Moody/power-hungry egomaniac: the Drama Queen/King. The job will always have a crisis! But you can’t fix or solve the crisis because then the Drama would die and, well, perish the thought of what would happen to Queen/King who can not get off the Stage! Work and getting the job done are usually not the highest priorities here.
— The Back-Stabber: Countless books (including novels) have been written about this one. The best resource material, however, is the song, “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” by The Undisputed Truth. In academic America, back-stabbing of advanced-degree applicants by elite university professors (all the better to cement their job security) has become a career sport. At least those grad students have learned something real, albeit rank, by the time they’ve finally grabbed hold of those pieces of paper!
As for general work dysfunction, any underling is bound for mistreatment from any “manager” who has been promoted to his or her highest level of incompetence. That cowardly company curveball quickly veers into “parking the problem” or performing the “lateral arabesque.” If things don’t make sense in such a situation, it’s because they don’t make sense. They make for frustration. Sharpen the pencil and the resume-writing skills.
The worst insult and indignity to any employee come from the narcissist and the egomaniac: the employee is but an insignificant bug to be squashed under her foot to feed her insatiable power-hunger. The most infuriating annoyances and irritations are created by the passive-aggressive supervisor who will bring out the aggressive in any passive person and prompt the astute aggressive person to become passive. The rope-a-dope strategy always worked for me but the method requires inordinate patience, practice, timing, keen instinct and a lot of rope!
Remember this simple rule: If you have been wronged on the job, then that job is wrong for you!
Making America work again starts with employers treating the workers like people, real people, not numbers on a roster or statistics to be moved or re-calculated or — re-purposed — because of a bottom line. In short, the young employees would like to be treated differently than when they were students in college!
There are many qualified, talented supervisors, administrators and bosses eagerly waiting for young, incipient talents to come their way. The job of any unemployed person (“Job-Seeker”) is not necessarily to find the job that pays the most money or offers the best benefits or — does not take up too much commuting time. This last requirement ranked very high on my priority list. I once commented to one boss that the employee ought to be compensated for the drive into work!
The job of any unemployed person is to find the employer (Job-Giver?) who can provide an arena of professional people — fellow employees and/or supervisors — who are able and willing to promote and train the nascent skills of a neophyte worker in exchange for a fair wage. That situation is known as a win-win.
If you, the employee, develop your skills and expertise to the point where you can progress to a better job elsewhere, then I say to you, “Bravo!” To the employer, I say, “C’est la vie.”
Employment is not servitude or a partial life sentence. I’ve known U.S. Federal employees who, upon retirement, feel they have been released from “the pen”!
There are plenty of fish in the seas and streams for any employer to lure another fish into the Job. It is true that sometimes a Boss will catch a remarkable lowly small fry and develop it into rainbow trout that then gets released, and the happy fish magnificently swims upstream. Oftentimes I was not chosen for a job because odds were that I was going to do just that horrid thing: Develop my skills and move on to another job. All that training in the Human Resource gone — not to waste — but to Another Job and Someone Else!
It was a hideously sorry, selfish scenario back in the 1970s, with the Mediocre Malcontent being hired so she would not “move on.” Those Mediocre Malcontents no longer rot in one spot. They have since discovered the Grievance Lawsuit!
It is also true that Boss Man or Boss Lady might catch-and-release the remarkable rainbow trout and end up replacing it with a minnow, a guppy, or bottom-feeding catfish. The primary requirement, however, of any Boss, especially one in charge of hiring people, is to be able to KNOW people.
Being a good judge of character, or lack thereof, is an ability that too many businesses in America do not value or even recognize in their supervisors. “Having a feel for money” has replaced “having a feel for people” but the two aptitudes are not mutually exclusive. It was my office world experience, however, that taught me that the person who understood people the most was usually placed at the bottom of the heap of the hierarchical office structure. And we worked with heart to keep the office place from falling apart. Then we left that office world to live our lives. I have been stunned and most surprised to discover that the morass of the office world back then has become quite a mess, replete with lawsuits of all kinds and excuses from every kind of crazy mind!
And it all started back in the heartless 70s.
Instead of being criticized and rejected (although, in all honesty, I was the one doing the criticizing and rejecting) and called “uncooperative” during my younger years, I ought to have been applauded for my honesty, admired for my grit and chutzpah, and recognized for recognizing my innate self-worth. I probably ought to have been given the job of the person who was staring at me across the hiring desk!
In the glum and gloomy 1970s, America was not the model of business success that it has grown to be in the 21st century. Small business is big game now. Back then, during the Carter malaise, small business was a docile domestic animal used for target practice by lawyers and their legal henchmen and henchwomen: politicians and bureaucrats. Small business during the Carter recession was largely liquidated by taxes, regulation and the small-minded resentment that continually sent me in search of “the better job” so that I could earn more and pay more taxes to Uncle Sam.
The computer and the Internet changed all of that antagonistic adversity toward small business. Digital technology freed small businesses to breathe, to live, to grow, to create! And Uncle Sam is still working overtime, trying to figure out a way to tax those activities — especially the creative part! — without killing the golden goose that keeps laying golden eggs that get more golden with each new start-up.
I realize now that my quest for achievement and my zeal for autonomy, self-sufficiency and self-determination were the forces that drove me in and out of so many deplorable doors in the name of earning a living. I, the Office Workhorse, was once informed by my oppressed Supervisor in our building full of bureaucrats that the revolving doors were installed just for me! Several years after I made my final circular exit, she followed me out of those revolving doors!
We Americans are blessed with liberties that other nations have yet to wrestle from dictators and from bureaucrats and Eurocrats in their Taj Mahals. Let us all count our blessings on Tax Day USA. We, in America, are free to work and grumble and groan and vote and joke about the Tax Man. He really works for us!