Off the Back Burner, part 1

So…it’s been awhile. Understatement? Understatement. Chalk it up to the Bureaucrat being put on the back burner. To make it up to you, here is part 1 in what could become a series of stories about a completely made up bureaucrat living the DC young professional life.

If there’s interest, parts 2 through 20 will be forthcoming. If not, we can always blame it on some other agency.


Off the Back Burner, part 1

“America,” yells the man with the bullhorn, “you are the greatest nation in the history of the universe. But for how long, America?”

The Secret Service officers posted on Pennsylvania Avenue pay him no heed. In theory this nut stands less than a thousand yards from the President. In reality he is further from the Oval Office than a third party candidate who never goes to church.

“Wake up, America. You are asleep, America,” he proclaims, pacing frenetically in front of Lafayette Square.

The leader of a group of Chinese tourists cuts a wide swath around the man so her flock might better hear the informative shouting she is doing over her own amplified device. Follow her they do, because they have only been allotted ten minutes for their requisite photo opportunity in front of the White House, but not before taking a few snapshots of the crazy American to show their friends back home.

Competing for their attention is another man, this one clad in an American flag track suit. On the ground beside him is a portable amplifier connected to a microphone. “God is watching down on you,” he croons karaoke style. “Jesus is your light. Let him shine, let him shine, into your heart.”

As he sings he rides a wooden stick on which is mounted a cloth horse’s head. He gallops a few feet over – just as far as the tether of the electric cable will allow – to pose for a picture. Mid-chorus he holds the microphone out to the woman giving the peace sign in front of him while her husband frames the shot. She freezes, and for a few measures it’s nothing but background music and a mop horse caught mid-stride.

“Hello?” she finally whispers into the mic, then scurries back to the safety of the group.

“Hallelujah! Praise the lord!” says the man in the track suit. He rides back to his amplifier and launches into the next verse. Continue reading

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Fiction: World Cup Wager

The president, or President as he preferred, with a capital ‘P’ to emphasize the importance of his position, agreed immediately to a bet with the visiting Prime Minister, or prime minister, lower case ‘P’ ‘M’, as was only befitting one not the holding the position of elected leader of the free world.

“Of course we’ll win,” said the President, “though I hate to take your money, as our country already has so much more of it than yours.”

“You do know my country is ranked higher than yours, yes?” said the prime minister. “We’re also ahead of you in the group standings by three points.”

“I don’t think so,” said the President. “I’m pretty sure we’re number one.”

“We are speaking of tonight’s football match, yes?”

“Football? Then you know we’re the best. It’s not football season already though, is it? Markus, is it football season yet?” The President called out to his aide standing in the corner taking notes.

“Not real football, no sir,” said Markus.

“Pardon me, I forgot, what is it you call football here? Handtouch?” the prime minister looked to Markus for an answer.

“Don’t talk to him,” said the President. “You’re in a meeting with me. Let’s deal with this one-on-one, head of state to head of state. The people didn’t elect Markus to represent them now, did they Markus?”

Markus said nothing.

“There, see. That’s good. Good job, Markus. Now where were we?”

“The handtouch match tonight, yes? What shall be our wager?”

“Well, you can bet anything you like, Mr. prime minister. It doesn’t matter, because we’re going to win.”

“In that case I would like the territory of Guam. It will make for such a lovely holiday destination once my country has developed to the point where we can afford such luxuries.”

“Guam, you say? Markus, do we have a Guam tucked away somewhere? Is that the one with all the Spanish speakers who don’t pay any income tax?”

Markus said nothing.

“No, it’s okay Markus. When I address you directly, as your Commander in Chief, you may respond.”

“Half, sir.”

“Half what, Markus?”

“Guam does not pay any income tax.”

“Ah, heck, then good riddance to them. You’ve got yourself a deal, Mr. prime minister.”

“And what of our end of the agreement?”

“There’s nothing you have that we haven’t already given you, through foreign aid and various other channels and whatnot, am I right?”

The prime minister said nothing.

“Ah, I’m just pulling your leg. You folks there must have something, don’t you? Oil? Diamonds? I thought all poor countries were sitting on top a gold mine of some sorts. No pun intended.”

The prime minister said nothing.

“Tell you what, if I win, you have to stand up on the table at tomorrow night’s state dinner and cluck like a chicken. Have you ever clucked like a chicken, Mr. prime minister? I bet that would be pretty funny to watch.”

Without a word, the prime minister shook the President’s hand to affirm the agreement and withdrew for his intern-guided tour of the non-sensitive areas of the White House.

The next evening the prime minister did in fact stand on the table and cluck like a chicken, only it was to gloat over his country’s 4-1 trouncing annexation of a certain island, which the President signed over petulantly between the entree and the dessert. It was humble pie.

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Fiction: And the Band Droned on

Ho ho, hum hum. Another drone dove and dropped its payload. Another home reduced to rubble. Another day, another drone. Life in the village was getting dull.

Manchi swept what was left of his front door off into the gutter. “Such a nuisance!” he cried, “to have to clear a path to take out the trash. Why couldn’t it be the back door this time?”

Across the way old Jarna who owned the tea shop awoke to find herself pinned to her bed beneath a pile of tiles that had once protected her roof from the elements. “Tonight of all nights!” she bemoaned, for the forecast called for heavy rainfall. Annoyed at being roused by first the detonation and then the complaints of his mother, Yamu in the room next door grumbled his way out of bed and readied the stretcher to carry that old drama queen down the steps to the jeep. He would undoubtedly have to spend the rest of the night with her at the hospital and be overtired all day at work afterwards. Continue reading

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Flash Fiction: Ommmeeting

I am a monk. I am a tree. I am the ocean washing up against the shore on an August afternoon. I am a seashell on that shore, snug and cozy in the sand. I am a grain of that sand. I am a molecule in that grain of sand. I am a building block of life, of existence, of matter. I matter.

I open my eyes and we are still on slide seven. I still want to stand up on the conference table and rip the projector right out of the ceiling. Not that it would do me any good. We all have printed copies of the presentation.

What were some of the other ones the teacher told us to try before our next session?

Peace? Peace and nature, something, something. Forest? Redwood? Skip that one.

Be. Yes, be. Be in the meeting. Be in the moment. Be in the room. Be in the chair. Be in my shirt. Be in my shoes. Be with all my being and be calm.

B. S.

After coughing conspicuously a couple times I excuse myself to go to the restroom, and while I’m out I leave for the day. The only mantra I need in my life costs nothing, unlike the $199 I wasted on those introductory meditation classes run by my agency’s fitness center that my supervisor encouraged me at my mid-year performance review to sign up for. My mantra is foolproof, and it’s only two words long: sick leave.

Editor’s note: The author promised us that he was going to finish the rest of this story, but while we were meeting with him last week he excused himself to use the restroom and has not yet returned.

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Fiction: Heavenly Shutdown

The celestial year began anew and heaven had no budget. “We really need to cut back on oceans,” said Senior Angel Michael. “Oceans are the origin of life,” his counterpart in the heavenly body of law shot back. Senior Angel James had gotten into heaven by doing good deeds and looking after the poor, and he would be damned if he was going to let the noninterventionists shrink the source of life just because they could afford Evian.

“No reduction in oceans, no Earth 2015.” That was the hardline stance they were taking, and to prove their point they called in a major drought over equatorial Africa.

“Jesus Christ, you’ll kill hundreds of thousands of humans.”

“And once they get here and learn that you let them die rather than beach a few whales they’ll become our new constituents.”

“You can’t just kill people just so they’ll get into heaven in time for the next election cycle.”

“We’re not killing them. The drought is. And you’re responsible for that by being irresponsible over the amount of ocean in the planet.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“That’s Heaven Majority Leader Jesus Christ to you if you please.” Continue reading

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Essay: New Forms of Government

Winston Churchill is credited with saying Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other ones. That was seventy years ago. You would think, or hope, or at least wish longingly while watching MSNBC, that in the intervening decades we might have come up with something better.

And we have. Such groundbreaking forms of government as I am about to introduce to you may never see the light of a nation-state, but the world will be all the darker for it. Thus it is with innovation.

All I ask is that you study the following conceptual systems of organization and consider whether they are really truly worse than the worst form of government. Then we can vote on it.


In a Dogocracy, officials are elected by people but must be dogs. Candidacy is open to all canines, and diversity of breed and temperament is welcome. Decisions are reached by throwing two tennis balls in opposite directions and counting up how many representatives chase after each. Districting is determined by marking one’s territory. It is anticipated that officials may bark loudly at nothing in particular and pursue policy objectives that turn out to be their own tails. Term length is measured in either people years or dog years, depending on whether the representative has been a good boy.  Continue reading

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Fiction: Parables of Public Service


King Philip II found himself short of soldiers in his war against the Ottomans. Unable at home to recruit enough men schooled in the art of battle, upon the advice of the grand vizier the king sent forth for a band of seasoned mercenaries.

“But can they defeat the Turks?” the king asked of his advisor.

“Verily,” came the reply.

“As ruthlessly as my own men?” the king asked.

“Better, sire, and at lower cost.”

“But how can I trust them to act in the interest of my realm?”

“Why, we shall conduct thor­ough investigations of their back­grounds and moral character and the company they keep.”

His concerns mollified, the king ordered it so. Continue reading

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Fiction: Orientation Day at O-GAPI

dinoOrientation ended and Steve took the elevator up to the fourth floor to find his desk. The doors opened to reveal a large woman with green scales, a spiky tail, and armored plates on her back.

“Going down?” she asked.

He nodded, wondering whether he had severely misread the dress code, and exited to make room for her to shuffle on.

Now where was 4326? The sign on the wall pointing left read “4218­4350”, while the arrow pointing right was for rooms 4271-4360.

Picking the direction with the less dense undergrowth, he went right. Before he could identify any office numbers at all in the dim light filtering through the canopy he found his path blocked by a man with a long neck, flat teeth, and a massive scaly hump that curved into a sizeable tail. Continue reading

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Fiction: Shelter in Place

(A firsthand account from a whistleblower who really opened the floodgates.)

I work at the Ministry of Culture, albeit in the Financial Reporting division. Ask me what it is I do there and I’ll point you to a spreadsheet. Weekly grant dispersal figures for government cultural promotion programs need tabulating, proposals need documenting. I got a master’s for this. Spreadsheets are so important that I give up one full day a month to training, that is, learning how to make spreadsheets prettier, or sometimes just to do basic math functions. I work past six most days, passing the extra hour by doing the sudoku. Tina says face time is everything. Continue reading

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Nonfiction: A Productive Staff Meeting

pukeorspillThe invite for the ten o’clock staff meeting originally went out to the whole section. Moments later there was a follow-up email from Carlos, the director. “Whoa, hold on just a gosh darn sec,” he wrote. “I’m looking at the agenda, and Jill, Peter, and Salvatore, you guys really don’t need to be there. If anything you need to know about pops up I’ll come find you afterwards.”

Carlos then spent the ten minutes before the meeting began going over in his head the essential issues that had to be discussed, thoughtfully considering the most clear and succinct way to present them to his staff. Two minutes before the scheduled start time he smiled efficiently to himself, collected his notes and proceeded to the correct meeting room as specified in the invitation.

The few members of his staff who actually needed to be there because the items on the agenda were pertinent to their work were already assembled in the conference room.

“Hello everyone, let’s begin,” said Carlos. To save time he did this while en route from the door to his chair. Continue reading

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