The Redemption Unit
Adventures in the Social (In)Security Meltdown of 1975
I got my job at the Social Security Administration the same day I got caught shoplifting. It was 1975 and I was working at the Deaconess Hospital in Boston as an X-ray messenger, one in my series of “smartest” jobs — as in “you’re the smartest guy who’s ever packed orders at this warehouse” or “you’re the smartest guy who’s ever parked cars in this outdoor lot” or “you’re the smartest guy who’s ever ferried patients down to the X-ray department.”
That’s what a Jesuit education will do for you.
Smartest or not, I still had to wear the sky-blue polyester V-neck shirt with patch pockets issued to all the hospital’s X-ray messengers. The patch pockets were what got me in trouble. You could easily palm something (say, a cinnamon donut in the Deaconess cafeteria), stick your hands in the sky-blue polyester pockets, and go your merry way. Ditto for a pack of razor blades in the nearby Harvard Medical Coop.
Except my merry way was blocked that day by a Coop security guard. Busted, I sat in a bare room at the back of the store and calculated the odds. If I just kept quiet and let retail justice take its course, I figured, I could probably minimize the consequences.
Sure enough, the Chief of Security (see our ad in Sunday’s classified section) told me that the incident would go on my Harvard Coop permanent record, and that my trade was no longer welcome there or at any other Coop, of which there was one.
I meandered, bladeless, back to the hospital. There was a phone message waiting: The Social Security Administration wanted me to be a claims representative in its Boston District Office. I called back and said yes.
It just gets weirder from there.