Every time it snows in Washington there is a dilemma: Who is important enough to report to work and who is unimportant enough to stay home? This year, during our big storm, the U.S. government announced that only "essential" employees need come in for work.

"That's me," said John Medlin, starting to put on his galoshes.

His wife Bobbie said, "Where are you going? You're not essential."

"How do you know I'm not essential?" John wanted to know.

"Because if you were essential they would have told you so in advance of the storm."

"Izzat so," said John. "Well, the last time they asked only essential people to show up I went in and not one person questioned my essentiality. Everyone was very, very glad to see me."

Bobbie said, "They're not going to throw you out when you show up in a snowstorm. Maybe they thought you were one of the homeless."

John was perspiring. "If I believe I'm essential to running the government -- you, as my wife, should think so, too."

Bobbie was not moved. "If you were essential it would show up in your paycheck. I don't see anything in your grade level that indicates you are needed when it snows in Washington."

"How do you know the work I do does not become secret during a weather crisis? The last time it snowed like this everybody in the office piled restricted papers on my desk. They wouldn't do that if I wasn't necessary to the operation."

"Why wouldn't they dump papers on your desk? You were probably the only nonessential person who reported for work that day."

John said, "This is a ridiculous argument. How can you debate the issue when there are only a handful of top management people who know whether I am essential?"

Bobbie replied, "That's just great. But you have to be careful when it snows in Washington. Suppose you show up today with all the really essential people and they see you at your desk. They may think you're after their jobs and they could make life miserable for you."

"Essential people aren't like that. I've shoveled snow with them and not one has a mean bone in his body. Your problem is you feel that since I'm not essential to you, there is no way I can be essential to Uncle Sam. I'm ready to go to work right now if it means being pulled on a dog sled. We must never let this country go down because of a minus 5 windchill factor."

"You really are sticking to your story that the government can't run without you?"

"I have a good reason. All our neighbors heard the same news bulletins we did. They know I work for the government. How does it look to them if I am not considered essential at this grave dip in Washington's weather map?"

"Why don't you take your briefcase and ride around on the bus for a few hours?" Bobbie suggested.

"Enough already. I'm off to the department and I'm working today whether they pay me or not."

"If you don't take any pay that will certainly make you nonessential."

"I'm going in for one reason. I want to see who the higher-ups think are essential in the office. I'll bet there isn't one of them who didn't get there without apple-polishing the department manager's head."

"Stay home. Why aggravate yourself?" Bobbie said.

"Who is aggravated? If I go in and no one else does, they are going to have to promote me to the head of Policy, Plans and Printouts."

"Is that good?"

"Good? I'd be in charge when an earthquake hits 6 on the Richter scale."