Before the day was out, I was tempted to begin answering the phone with "Complaint Department" instead of "Hello." Most of the people who called me were unhappy about something.
Many of the calls were about the two Food and Drug Administration officials who were entertained repeatedly by a local firm while FDA was granting the firm a near-monopoly worth many millions of dollars.
The only response I could make was that Washington Post staff writer John F. Berry had reported on Wednesday that both officials had been suspended by FDA, and that one of them had acknowledged that it was "inappropriate and unseemly" to accept such favors, even though they had not influenced official decisions.
But that wasn't acceptable to one woman. She asked, rather sharply, "Why were they suspended with full pay?" I tried to explain that a mere accusation of misconduct is not proof that misconduct actually occurred, and that every accused person is entitled to a fair hearing. My caller said, "You're as bad as the rest of them," and hung up.
I wonder how she reacted to yesterday's story about a D.C. official who grants building permits. Washington Post staff writers Al Kamen and Joe Pichirallo reported that on several occasions the official had lowered the amounts of required permit fees after he received personal payments from applicants.
Our reporters added, "The D.C. government is not collecting as much as several million dollars a year in fees that should be paid because of a lax system in which homeowners and contractors routinely underestimate costs that determine permit fees." They said fees are based on the value of the construction, but the underestimates go unchallenged.
One of my callers was a friend who lives in Montgomery County. His complaint was that the county has notified him that it is going to raise the assessed value of his house every year for the next three years for a total increase of 52 percent.
"How the hell can they know three years in advance what real estate values will be in my neighborhood?" he asked.
"Well," I replied, "a lot of economists are asking a similar question about Mr. Reagan's demand that Congress commit itself to a three-year schedule of tax cuts. How do we know what the economy will be like three years down the road?"
He made it clear that my answer did not make him feel any happier than he had felt when he placed his call to me.
Finally, my wife phoned to tell me that our mail at home had included a notice from the D.C. Department of Transportation. The notice said that on Dec. 12, 1978, I had been issued a parking ticket but had failed to pay it. It warned that I must pay $50 at once or face dire consequences.
I seldom park on the street, rarely get tickets and never ignore tickets. I know nothing about this ticket, cannot recall where I was on Dec. 12, 1978, and don't know how to defend myself in June of 1981 against a parking violation that is alleged to have occurred in December of 1978.
To whom does the Complaint Department complain when he has a complaint of his own? Will I face the same fate as the fellow in Willie and Eugene Howard's old vaudeville skit? For failing to pay a $2 parking ticket, he ended up in the electric chair.
If that's what happens to me, please send a contribution to Children's Hospital in my memory.
The record should show, however, that I died laughing. Right after I heard about my phantom parking ticket, I learned that a canvas bag containing $5,000 in parking fines had been stolen from the D.C. treasurer's office.