My family has a new Yorkshire puppy, Rocky, 7 months old. We have President Reagan to thank. If this sounds a bit far out, bear with me.
I was having a brown-bag lunch, alone at my desk in a government office across the street from the John Edgar Hoover FBI Fortress Building. (In these times of job insecurity, there are a lot of us brown baggers around.)
The "innovative" Civil Service Reform Act, begun by Jimmy Carter, has become plenty disconcerting. Like placing a loaded gun in the hands of Ronnie's rough riders. From all signs -- including their words -- they mean to use it! For a flaccid, overweight fed like me this is frightening. It's also frightening the heck out of restaurateurs, real-estate agents and grocery-chain owners in "depression-proof" Washington; they've lived for 50 years with the near-scriptural belief that the federal payroll only can go one way -- UP.
I am an upper-middle-manager-level fed. I know this because I have been told it at innumerable professional development seminars to which I was sent, until all travel funds were "frozen." The title is more often wearying than uplifting. Crush my pen before letting me describe here the "operative" meaning of the term.
But what it has meant is that I never dreamt that the American Executive Branch could RIF (reduce in force) me. Such a blue-sky notion took seven months filtering into my workaday consciousness.
The rumors had been growing more gruesome around the office. The "Gipper's Crew" was for real. Supply-side economics -- whatever else it means -- pre-supposes an oversupply of public employes. I began to take the prospect semi-seriously. Mortgage, costs of the boys' education, a small nest egg for retirement; all these things seemed on the line, not to mention groceries.
I had read in The Wall Street Journal this shattering statement by a personnel person in the beloved "private sector": "We avoid giving job interviews to federal employes; they have no employable skills."
How dare he say such a thing! Never mind if it's true or not. Truth should be no defense. Don't we have constitutional protections against such defamation, such charges of incompetence?
"No employable skills" . . .
I began asking myself over my brown bag what would I do if I lost my federal sinecure. I kept repeating the question: What would I do for a living? Go into business for myself? But I knew nothing about business, except that something like four out of five new small businesses fail within a year. Unhappy odds.
And what would people buy from me? Demonstrating the shrewdness that is part of my millennial cultural history, I asked what it is that people may go on buying, in good times and bad? Who or what do they care for when hard choices have to be made? Suddenly, the light: why pets, of course.
That is what I would be -- a pet-shop owner! From federal social-program manager to entrepreneur of pups . . .
We're now, as you can tell, getting close to President Reagan and the Yorkie. The rest of the plot is simple.
How does one select a pet-shop site? You go where other such owners are not, by letting your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages. (But be sure they're current; a 1979 volume will not do.)
In response to your 16-year-old learner-driver son's question -- "Are you sure you can spare the time from work?"--screw up your face to express concern approaching pain. "Why, yes, with this change of administration, things have slowed down and are confusing. I think it will give me some needed perspective to get away from the office one afternoon." (But in these times, don't chance two without a doctor's note!)
Starting our swing of pet shops and vets' offices, I let the boy in on my quest: the acquisition of useful business information, should that day come when I am RIFfed from Mr. Reagan's government.
I save the most affluent center in the area -- crossroads of a thousand $100,000-per-year family incomes -- for the last. The Yellow Pages had failed to reveal any pet shops. Also, close by is a long-established veterinarian.
Preoccupied in getting across the road without pre-adventure, we finally look up. "P-e-t S-h-o-p" reads the sign on the fifth store down the row. Foiled again! Am I doomed to be a fired fed and nothing more?
"Well," I mutter to my son, "it can't hurt to go in and see what the owner is selling, and perhaps pick up a little useful information about the business."
We learn the owner has been in business at this site since 1979 (or after my Yellow-Pages resource was printed). An employe shows us through the shop. There are many exotic fish. Also many brightly plumed birds. Maybe there's a market for them. But there in the neatly turned wood cages at the rear of the store are puppies.
A girl of about 11 reaches into a cage and lifts out a male Yorkshire puppy: R-O-C-K-Y. I know immediately; I must have him. But, hard, cold reality; the girl says she, too, wants this Yorkie pup. Even at half-price, the sign says Rocky costs $200.
"I have $43," says the girl to her friend. "Do you think your mother," asks the friend, "would give you the rest?"
Will we win Rocky or lose him?
We begin by going home and announcing that a marvelous thing has just happened. We have seen this wonderful puppy, pedigreed Yorkshire, and we must have him. We will care for him, clean up after him, and . . .
The gentle woman begins to bend. "Well, if you" . . . her voice trails off. We have won. Back to the pet shop before the 11-year-old with the $43 has time to get more money out of her mother. Rocky is ours . . .
I still haven't figured out how to market myself should I be RIFfed. Nor do I have a new occupation in the works, and I've just spent $200. But I've learned to love the MX missile and to admire President Reagan. It is because of him, after all, that I have Rocky.
And how much can a Yorkshire terrier eat?