Woodrow Wilson’s League of Notions
There was a union steward at the Boston DO who would end almost every conversation by saying, “Let he who is not without sin cast the first stone.” That semi-Biblical prophecy actually came to pass one day when a nondescript black man strolled to the rear of the office – stopped – turned – and casually lobbed a rock out the window. At first we thought it was a sneak attack on some unsuspecting passerby, but it turned out to be a protest over what the rock-thrower called “fifty years of injustice” – to whom, he never specified.
His name was Woodrow Wilson he said as several of the SSA’s heftier employees hustled him out and introduced his nose to the corridor wall. After a decent interval they turned him over to the relevant authorities, and that seemed to be that. Just another wacky day at the Boston DO.
Until three weeks later, when Woodrow Wilson got even whackier. He once again waltzed through the outer office, this time with a ballpeen hammer tucked inside a folded newspaper. Claims Rep Jim Curran, reading as he walked back to his desk, promptly received several blows to the head with that day’s lead story in the Boston Globe.
Inside the manager’s office Woodrow Wilson asked, “Did I get the right guy? Did I get the HEW?” (That was a reference to the Department of Health, Education & Welfare, which ran Social Security.) When a portly SSA employee responded by whacking him in the head, Wilson replied, “I’ve been clobbered all my life. It doesn’t bother me.”
Once again he was turned over to the relevant authorities. He was never charged with assault. As it turned out, he hadn’t gone before the court in the first incident either.
A couple of days later some claimant’s disgruntled brother took a swing at an SSA employee in the waiting room. Everyone began to think that working at a chicken- processing plant might be safer. It was time to call in the Management Experts.
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The next morning the Area Director of SSA Region II arrived at the Boston DO to reassure the troops that it was indeed safe to work for the federal government. He surveyed the roomful of anxious paper pushers and smiled quickly at us. “Let me start off by reminding you that we can’t provide total security from cradle to grave,” the AD said. That, of course, went over like the metric system. By way of explanation he added, “I can also tell you this: you get a more obstreperous claimant here because they live in this area.” In other words, geography is destiny.
Amazingly, the AD then proceeded to make the situation even worse. When pressed about safety concerns he responded, “If you don’t like the job, leave it.” So that meeting didn’t go well.
The following day the Area Director returned, this time accompanied by a lawyer from the Regional Attorney’s Office. We were being walked up the ladder – a sure sign that management had started to panic. Halfway through the presentation by the Regional Attorney’s attorney, in walked two Federal Protection Service officers, who said they would be happy to turn guys like Woodrow Wilson over to a Federal Magistrate, if only we would call them, which we didn’t know to do until then. Regardless, we were left with the impression that the whole thing was our fault.
Several days later government-approved workmen installed a gate in the waiting room, and the General Services Administration installed a security guard there. Over the next year the office hosted a number of different guards, all of whom earned nicknames like “Mad Dog” and “Dirty Harry.” The nicknames, of course, were a joke, much like the protection.
The guards and the gate at the DO were two side effects of l’affaire Wilson. Another was the birth of a weekly newspaper.
(To be continued . . . )