Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dear Lord, Can I Have A Raise?

It’s been two years since the Archangel Gabriel came down from Heaven and announced on NPR that God was putting Humankind “on His payroll.” At the time, few of us understood that cryptic remark but fast-rushing events quickly overran our ignorance.

As you remember, it was called the ‘Universal Salary Adjustment’ or U.S.A. and it somehow managed to supercede all payroll functions on the planet, doling out weekly paychecks according to some new and remarkable productivity standards.

At the time I didn’t think much about it though it struck me strange that The Creator would bother Him- or Herself with such mundane busy-ness.

Why not take over the management of Coca Cola, or some industrialized nation, I wondered? Why not end hunger, outlaw war…or maybe cut back the work week to three or four days?

Why not do something that seemed a bit more, well…divine!

And then, of course, nothing was more surprising than the paychecks themselves.

The first sign that something was ‘different’ came when my Augusta, my Salvadoran housekeeper, ran up to me and lifted me in her arms.

“Thank you, thank you, Senor Paul Steven!” she cried, spinning me around in a way that clearly indicated the size of the raise The Divine Paymaster had given her.

When I received my own paycheck I realized I’d be getting scant Heavenly encouragement to continue my work in advertising. There was no point complaining to my colleagues since they were all out looking for jobs in social service or menial labor, two of the “growth industries” created by the U.S.A.

For the first few months I heard nothing but disaster stories. Friends who worked as stockbrokers, lawyers, car salesmen and real estate developers were devastated by the new salary scale. Many of them began frequenting bars and were only saved from a life of alcoholism by the sad fact they didn’t have enough money to pay for the liquor.

Yes, under the impetus of the fat weekly paychecks now being cashed by nurses, dairy farmers, teachers, social workers, secretaries and street cleaners, there was intense competition for these new “high roller” jobs.

I’m sure you remember the riots that took place when the New York City Board of Education announced teacher openings in the South Bronx? Or the shock of seeing professional athletes out on the street in tattered uniforms holding paper cups and begging for spare change? Or when Money Magazine reported that all Peace Corps volunteers were now officially listed as millionaires?

Yes, it was a brand new deal with a brand new twist. Diplomats, McDonald’s restaurant owners and heads of state all contemplated new careers as the U.S.A. brought them down to a social status previously reserved for migrant farm workers and newsstand operators.

And now finally, two years later, most people have grown accustomed to the change. Many of us have sold off our SUV’s, quit our country club memberships and stopped buying expensive Christmas presents, if we still actually give Christmas presents.

And speaking of Christmas, a few weeks ago I noticed with mild interest a Salvation Army Santa being picked up by his chauffered limousine at the completion of his shift.

Pausing in my work as a meter reader, I looked over at the sign above his kettle and saw that, in the spirit of the U.S.A., this good man had been collecting money for the children of stockbrokers, bankers and CEO’s.

I would have taken a few coins from the unguarded pot but I knew that YOU KNOW WHO would only deduct it from my next paycheck.

"Dear Lord…" is from my soon-to-be-published "How To Train A Rock", a collection of short insights and fiction flights. Written over a decade ago, the story is ironically prophetic, highlighting the unprecedented greed and screwed-up values that have brought us to our current economic crisis.

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