I spend the rest of the day cursing

Jan CernyUsti nad LabemJune 2000
When I come to Maticni Street on this very nice late May day I just miss the postman delivering welfare to the local needy. Instead, I run into "Fig” Kurej, furious and cursing.
He turned eighteen last month and is now eligible for welfare. He had to fill out loads of paperwork – and guess what: they’ve sent him only seven hundred Czech crowns (about twenty U.S. dollars). Not enough to live on for a month.
I ask him whether he submitted all the paperwork required, and he just nods.
This is strange.
He tells me that he has called the social worker, who has told him to come over.
We both go over right away.
People are lined up in front of a little opening in the door. In front of us, a woman gets angry and asks the clerk behind the counter to explain something.
The clerk doesn’t understand, and shows no interest in understanding. She just refers the complaint to her boss.
The woman packs up her papers, turns around and walks out.
We’re astonished.
But now it’s our turn. We walk up to the counter, and I start. “Good morning, we have a problem…”
The lady, better say a girl about my age, maybe a year younger, quite nice – without giving me a single look, she starts picking at Fig. “Why don’t you come on your own? Do you really have to drag somebody with you?”
Once again we’re shocked.
She apologizes. She has made a mistake. Money will come in some ten days. Bye- bye.
Then I recall Fig telling me about his mom not paying their rent. Since she doesn’t pay the rent, she gets no rent subsidy. “May I ask you something?” I turn back to the clerk. “Now what is it? she replies in quite an unfriendly way.
I try to explain the rent problem. “Fig,” I say, “is a smart guy. He’d pay the rent. Can he apply for the rent subsidy himself? I’d guarantee that he pays.”
“It’s none of your business,” says she. “They don’t pay the rent and that’s it for me.”
This is desperate.
“That’s it! I know they don’t pay and here I have a solution for you!”
I expect the clerk to be happy. There is a solution here, point blank. Problem solved. She can sleep well; she’s solved a complicated social problem.
But she gives me a cold shower. She won’t discuss hypothetical solutions with me.
I protest. “This is not a hypothetical solution: it’s a real one!” I’m getting impatient. Raising my voice a bit, I say: “Look, be reasonable. We both have the same objective. We’re both social workers and we’re talking aboutour joint client…”
I must be mistaken.
She refers me to her boss and hides in the adjacent office.
So I just stand there speechless.
Fig remains stoic.
I make a last attempt.
Again, she refers my complaint to her boss.
Deeply frustrated, I head for the door.
I spend the rest of the day cursing.

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