Working Hard

These days, people who have a job are mostly happy to have one. A lot of people who don’t have one would like one. Some people are satisfied not to have work, especially if they can take advantage of government help. The number of people filing for disability payments has skyrocketed, for example. Of course, many of those people truly can’t work, but it’s not a coincidence that the number of applicants has grown dramatically during a time when jobs are especially hard to find.

We all have our reasons for what we do, or don’t do. We’re all trying to get by, and for a lot of families things are pretty rough these days.

There are some highly entrepreneurial people who seem to work very hard at not working. Some of them appear to be unemployable – like the people on State Street in Madison who sit in rags with a beggar’s cup. Others, though, are very creative and talented, but not willing or able to work in the conventional sense.

Here are two examples:

The first was reported by a friend of mine who was sitting in the Amtrak terminal waiting room in Chicago. A young man nearby was talking on his phone. Ostensibly, he was speaking with his mother. “No,” he said, “they insist on cash and they won’t accept my credit card. I told them that I have to get home to help you, but there’s nothing I can do without $10 in cash so I can buy a ticket.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. My friend almost gave the kid some money to solve his quandary, but didn’t. Looking around to see nobody coming forward, the stranded teen went to the other side of the terminal and had the same phone conversation – or pretended to – and that performance netted him the $10. My friend saw him outside a while later enjoying a cigarette with a friend. I guess it was break time.

Months later, my friend was in that same terminal, and the same young man was pulling his scam again. It sounds a lot like going to work, but is probably more lucrative, and as a bonus, there are no taxes to worry about.

The second con happened to me twice. Well, I fell for it once. The second time I was wiser. While filling up the tank of a rental car at a gas station near an airport, a woman frantically approached me. She was neatly dressed, in her 50’s, and looked like a nice lady. She emotionally told her story. She had just left her abusive husband, and was starting a new life. She had a new job – today was to be the first day – and she needed gas money to get there. Normally very cynical about these things, I gave her some money. She thanked me profusely, and a moment later she was gone.

Last week the same thing happened, though in a different city. This woman was wearing the kind of outfit that a receptionist would wear in a medical office. Same deal: divorce, new job, needed gas to get there. This time I said no, and she gave me a dirty look before going to the lady on the other side of the gas pump island. She scored. Then she hopped into a car being driven by a man talking on a smart phone, and they drove to the gas station across the street.
In both cases the level of performance was very good – equal to any community theater. I know a lot of sales managers who would kill to get that kind of talent on their sales teams.

I don’t know the backstory of these people, but I assume their lives aren’t very good. It’s possible drugs are involved, or some kind of extortion that makes them do what they do.

The bottom line is that some people will do anything to get a job, and it appears some people will do anything to keep from getting one. As my dad said about a million times, “It takes all kinds to make a world.”

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