A couple of months ago I posted an article about how writers can take inspiration from how real life really can be stranger than fiction. Well, I'm going to use the shutdown as an excuse to tell another stranger than fiction story. I would call it a "shot" at the government but I don't think it really is since it is an absolutely true story. First, let's set the scene.
Two years ago we were within a few hours of facing a different government shutdown. I was a Customs and Border Protection Supervisor working the closing shift at the airport on September 30th. If there was no Congressional deal in place, we were going to a skeleton crew in just a few hours. We had identified our essential staff vs. the non-essentials and prepped our employees for the fun and exciting idea of working for free in a job where their paycheck was one of the few redeeming qualities. We were now in sit and wait mode, or so I thought. That was when my Chief came up to me and told me I needed to prepare the office for a shutdown. The conversation went like this:
- Chief: Merlino, you need to prepare a schedule to rotate officers through the office if the shutdown goes into effect.
- Me: Why?
- Chief: Because the office workers are non-essential so we will need to have officers in there.
- Me: But if they're non-essential, why do we need to replace them?
- Chief: Because someone needs to answer the phones.
- Me: Then why is their job non-essential?
- Chief: Because they aren't needed to be in the office.
- Me: So I guess we don't need people to answer the phones.
- Chief: Goddamnit! Stop arguing with me.
- Me: I'm not. I'm just wondering why we need to send the non-essential employees home and then replace them with essential employees, who are twice as expensive, in order to do their non-essential job that we can't do without.
That's when my Chief, who I actually respected and got along with quite well, gave me "the look" that said I had pushed my luck far enough so I started to make the schedule. Luckily that shutdown was averted and I didn't need to replace the non-essential employees we couldn't do without. Sure it's funny now, but at the time I wanted to say "FML", throw all my papers in the air and just go home.
How does this help us as writers? It shows that just because we think an idea is too absurd to actually happen, it doesn't mean we're right. Life is a theater of the absurd. Go out, experience, write it down, let it inspire your scripts and then chuckle to yourself when people tell you that it's too unbelievable.