Comfortably cool and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, it was a perfect September Sunday afternoon to relax on the backyard deck with a book and a glass of wine. And I was headed there when my sister-in-law, Katje, decided to text me with an urgent request for a Zoom meeting. So, reluctantly, I put down the book (but not the wine) and went upstairs to my home office instead. Katje looked quite upset, and I wondered if there was some situation at her home in Falls Church, which would have been a surprise, since she and my brother Rob Roy very rarely have any serious disagreements and my nephew Jason is hardly there these days. I soon found out the reason for her intense consternation, though. Here’s a transcript.
Tom: Hi, what’s up? You look worried.
Katje: Damn right I am! It was bad enough when Trump [expletive] us, now the Democrats are going to do it!
Tom: [Expletive] you how? Could you be more specific? I mean, there’s a virtual plethora of ways the Democrats can [expletive] us, after all, and the Republicans have those and a bunch more.
Katje: They’re talking about another shutdown, Tom!
Tom: Who’s “they?”
Katje: The grapevine, you know, the rumor mill at work.
Tom: Note that you, yourself, just said “rumor mill.”
Katje: The rumor mill at work has been right more times than it’s been wrong, Tom. I know. I’ve counted!
Tom: When you say “at work,” I assume you mean Whizzonator-YoYoDyne Information Systems?
Katje: You left out “Federal!” It’s Whizzonator-YoYoDyne Federal Information Systems!
Tom: Yeah, okay, sorry about that. Are you and Rob Roy both working there again?
Katje: Yes! And so is Jason! And if there’s another shutdown, all three of us are going to be out of work until it ends!
Tom: I don’t suppose your employer has any kind of program to pay its employees during the shutdown and then let them make it up by billing overtime hours to your client agencies later, after the shutdown ends.
Katje: You suppose right! The only program involving overtime those greedy [expletive] [expletive] have is to keep it for themselves because we’re on salary. Unless the government says the work we’re doing is “essential,” our contracts get suspended at 12:01 AM this Friday!
Tom: And you guys aren’t ready for that?
Katje: Who’s ready to go without an income for God knows how many weeks?
Tom: Well, there’s unemployment, right? Where are your work sites?
Tom: Oh. Really?
Katje: Herndon, Crystal City and McLean.
Tom: All three of you? And your employer is headquartered where?
Tom: And you all live in Virginia, too.
Katje: No duh. So we’re totally screwed as far as unemployment goes. The max they hand out in Virginia won’t even keep a Lee County coal miner in a cinder block shack with a [expletive] tin roof! Try paying the mortgage and utilities on a house in Falls Church with that chicken [expletive]!
Tom: You have considerably more in the bank than a Lee County coal miner, of course.
Katje: And a cost of living ten times higher! Remember the federal shutdown that started in December 2018? We lost thirty-five days of income, Tom, and we never got it back! We had to charge out the wazoo to survive and then pay if off with interest!
Tom: But you have managed to keep employed all the way through the covid-19 epidemic. Being IT workers left you considerably better off than, say, actors or people who owned restaurants, right?
Katje: Quit being philosophical! I hate it when you’re philosophical about [expletive] like this!
Tom: Oh, sorry, I didn’t know that.
Katje: And besides, actors are always out of work anyway, and people who own restaurants only have to learn how to cook food, not spend four years studying computer science!
Tom: Okay, point taken. But this federal shutdown kabuki theater happens every September, doesn’t it? Why are you so worried this year?
Katje: What, Tom, are you kidding me? This is the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency! And Trump is still holding rallies yelling his head off, saying he won! And the Democrats have two huge pieces of legislation they’re trying to get through Congress and onto Joe Biden’s desk!
Tom: Point taken – a trillion dollar infrastructure bill and three point five trillion dollar federal budget reconciliation bill.
Katje: Right, and you know how the saying in Washington goes, “a trillion here, a trillion there, after awhile, it adds up to some serious money.” And I understand the Republicans [expletive] and moaning about that. It’s what they do whenever it’s not them getting ready to spend umpteen trillion dollars. But Goddamnit, Tom, look what that [expletive] Manchin is doing! He’s a [expletive] Democrat, and he’s gumming up the [expletive] works!
Tom: He’s a conservative Democrat.
Katje: If he’s a [expletive] conservative, then how come he doesn’t just join the Republican Party?
Tom: Ah, well, first of all, there aren’t really very many genuine conservatives left in the Republican Party anymore. It’s basically just a cult of personality built around a fascist demagogue now. And second, if Manchin was a Republican, even the fact that the budget reconciliation bill is exempt from the filibuster wouldn’t help, because there wouldn’t even be a fifty-one vote majority in the Senate to pass it. So I think you should be thankful that Joe Manchin is a Democrat, actually.
Katje: I’m not going to be thanking anybody if my entire family gets laid off from their jobs on Friday, I can tell you that! The federal employees don’t care – after the shutdown, Congress will pass a bill to pay them for the shutdown. But contractors like me, your brother and your nephew won’t get squat!
Tom: And you think that’s inevitable this year?
Katje: Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve said? Even before this business about which bill gets passed first, infrastructure or reconciliation, the whole situation was ripe for political grandstanding on both sides! And now, thanks to the Democrats arguing with each other over which bill to pass first, or who’s going to do what if this bill or the other one isn’t passed first and whatever other stupid [expletive] those [expletive] can come up with to argue about; now there are three sides – the progressive Democrats, the Republicans and the rest of the [expletive] Democrats. All it’s going to take is for somebody on Capitol Hill to get the bright idea to make their political point shutting down the federal government by tanking the budget bill! Ask me if I care if it’s the Republicans or the Democrats! Ask me if I care who the public blames for it! Ask me if I even care what the [expletive] political point will be!
Tom: Okay, do you care?
Katje: I absolutely [expletive] do not! Because it’s all total [expletive] that [expletive] politicians pull off to score points in their moronic games of one-upsmanship!
Tom: And get re-elected so they can keep their jobs, playing moronic games of one-upsmanship.
Katje: Yeah! Right! They [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] with a big fat [expletive] shovel, all of them, that’s what I say!
Tom: Well, don’t say it now. At least wait until they actually shut down the federal government.
Katje: All right, I’ll wait. But they will. I know they will. If they can shut down the federal government over Trump’s idiotic border wall, they sure as hell can shut it down over whether or not day care is infrastructure. It’s just as idiotic, only Democratic idiotic, that’s all.
Tom: I admit, you’ve convinced me – it’s probably likely that Democrats working at cross purposes and Republicans seeking to torpedo Biden’s legislative agenda will result in a federal government shutdown.
Katje: So what can you do about it?
Tom: What can I do about it? Nothing. And frankly, I don’t think there’s anybody in Washington who can. It’s like watching some drunken lunatic in a muscle car racing towards an unguarded rural railroad crossing at a hundred miles an hour while a freight train pulling ninety boxcars approaches the intersection. Will the drunk lunatic clear the tracks before the locomotive hits him? The train can’t stop, it has the entire momentum of ninety boxcars. The drunken lunatic can’t stop either, because in his fevered, delusional psyche, he’s got to prove something – to himself or the world, no one can tell; even he probably doesn’t know. All we can do is watch a spectacle of incredible reckless asininity, in awe of how easily something great and good can be perverted into an instrument of destruction, and how incredibly depraved the human mind and heart can become when obsessed by a vain and evil idea.
Katje: That’s mighty damn poetic, Tom, but what the [expletive] are Rob, Jason and me supposed to do for money?
Tom: Hmmm. Let’s see here… um… you all have good credit don’t you?
Katje: Yeah, sure, all over 800. Hell, Rob’s combined FICO score is 885 and I think God Almighty’s is only about 900.
Tom: And you all have credit cards?
Katje: Yeah, sure, three or four a apiece.
Tom: Okay, and don’t those credit card companies companies constantly mail you offers of zero percent balance transfers with zero percent interest until like, a year later?
Katje: Of course. We tear them up and throw them in the trash. Or delete them from our email.
Tom: Do you have any lying around now, though?
Katje: Come to think of it we do. I know I do, anyway.
Tom: In that case, hold on to them, and if there’s a shutdown on Friday, pick two or three credit cards with enough combined limits to cover your expenses for three months and take them up on their offer. It might cost you a percentage up front, but you’ll have plenty of cash to pay off the other credit cards with while you wait for the shutdown to end. And when it does, take whatever is left and pay it back right away. Shouldn’t hurt your credit scores much; in fact, it could make them go up.
Katje: We’ll still have to pay off the difference.
Tom: Yeah, but at zero interest.
Katje: I got a better idea.
Tom: What’s that?
Katje: If there’s a shutdown on Friday, how about you lend us the money at zero interest?
Tom: I was afraid you’d say that. But you’re family. So, okay.
Katje: Thanks Tom, you’re great!
Tom: And don’t I know it.
Katje: Just one more thing – what if those cretins on Capitol Hill screw up raising the debt ceiling?
Tom: While the government’s shut down?
Katje: Uh, either way. During a shutdown or not.
Tom: Then the United States of America defaults on its obligations, goes bankrupt and gets bought out by the Chinese.
Katje: So you’re saying, even our current Congress couldn’t possibly be that moronically stupid.
Tom: No, I didn’t say that.
Katje: Tom, you’re beginning to scare me.
Tom: In which case, maybe it’s time to say ‘bye.
Katje: Okay, I’ll give your love to Rob and Jason.
Tom: Oh yes, please do.