I am a nonessential federal employee. This is my shutdown.
When I’m not furloughed, Tuesday is the day when I work from home. It’s ironic: the Office of Personnel Management pushes hard so that many federal employees have the option to work remotely, yet the technology for my agency is woefully out of date. I cannot log into my agency’s servers from outside the office network, so I need to lug my work laptop home and connect via VPN. The trouble is that the VPN does not allow simple web browsing—which is an integral part of my job—so I end up using my personal computer and emailing articles to my work account. It’s redundant and silly, yet I appreciate the opportunity to stay home. I can do laundry, go grocery shopping, and skip the annoying details of my commute.
Telework is not usually meant for federal employees like myself: I live in D.C., so my commute is relatively easy compared to my boss, who has to drive 45 minutes to a VRE station, then ride the train for an hour (he works from home two days a week). But the government cannot offer different options to employees based on the convenience of their travel to work, so I happily take advantage of a policy that’s meant for feds who work in the suburbs.
Because I normally work from home Tuesdays, this morning feels a little more typical compared to the last few days. There’s no work email, obviously, but Spotify and my electric kettle add some degree of normalcy. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Mazzy Star and Chelsea Wolfe; their moody songwriting is a good fit for my mood and the weather. Since I spent so time riding my bike during a heat, it’s a bit of a relief that today I can transition into Mr. Autumn Man.
A confession: In order to pass the time, I bought a copy of Grand Theft Auto 5. I’ve been a fan of the franchise ever since I was in high school, so the shutdown is a perfect opportunity to rekindle my love of simulated crime, murder, and mayhem. It’s funny that compared to Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City, I’ve become a relatively more moral, conservative player. Sure, the game regularly requires me to murder drug dealers and rob jewelry stores, but I don’t gleefully destroy the city during my free time. Also, the developers of the game have made the story much more satirical.
All the characters, including an ambitious gang-banger and a former bank robber with a violent streak, are chasing their version of the American Dream. These men and women are desperate and cynical, and they see crime as the lone solution for a system that’s failed them. Given the furlough, the game is a perfect escapist fantasy, one that indulges my inner misanthrope. I’m a polite, law-abiding citizen with a mortgage and friends/family who care about me, but I still sometimes wish I could act on my frustrations the way these video game avatars do.
The shutdown has officially lasted more than a week. The novelty of deals at bars and restaurants has worn thin, and I don’t even bother checking my agency’s website when I wake up in the morning. This is professional purgatory, and the only way to make it through is to laugh at its inherent absurdity.