Thursday, February 21, 2013

Making it official

I've been operating Hope & Grace Pens for almost a year now. Some misguided sense of integrity led me to make my business official by getting sanctioned to operate it from my home aboard a military base. What was I thinking?
                  We all know that the U.S. Postal Service is the model of efficiency and reason. Now take that model and apply it to the governance of a military installation. Our federal government and its various subordinate agencies are able to create new and innovative ways of delay, buck passing and confounding procedural process. You want to start a privately-owned, home-based business while residing aboard the installation? Well, strap on your helmet, Dorothy. We're going for a ride.
                  The first thing to understand is that you are "encouraged" to pursue your interests off duty as long as your home-base business doesn't detract from the good order and discipline of the base. The second thing to understand is you don't know what "encouraged" means. You think you know. But if your definition doesn't include the words "door slamming" or "firstborn child" then you don't really know.
                  Where does this leisurely jaunt down the gauntlet begin? Base legal, of course. Of course, it's not called "Base Legal." That would be waaaaaay too logical and civilian-like. You must go to the Staff Judge Advocate. Except they don't have one here. Here they have a Station Judge Advocate. Got it? Ok, just fill out this form. It's easy, just one page ... two sided. Piece of cake. A series of simple questions.
                  Oh, and signatures, plenty of signatures -- not yours, of course. You need the approval of every low, and mid-level functionary from the gate guards to guy who washes dishes in the back of the chow hall. Everyone must agree that your activity is safe, clean, morally and spiritually sound, doesn't interfere with the harmony and well-being of any creature, spirit or sentient being living or dead within a 5-kilometer radius, and most importantly doesn't compete with anything already for sale on base. The fun part? A blind man has a better chance of winning a rigged street-vendor shell game than catching any of these people in their appointed place of duty in the time you can spare during your lunch hours.
                  So, eventually you crawl back into legal, nursing bruises and sprains, clutching the bloodied but signed document and place it reverently at their feet. Oh, you spelled something wrong? You'll need to start over. And you got these signatures out of chronological date order. What's wrong with you?
                  After a standard three to four iterations of that, they'll take pity on you and grudgingly accept the poor excuse of a signed form you had the audacity to bring in. At least now you'll have plenty of time for your broken bones to heal before you hear back from them -- until one day you get a phone call. What's that? You marked "Yes," you intend to use the station post office to receive materials and send product? And you didn't know that's strictly prohibited? Sure, they could have stated that on the form and you could have marked "No" and arranged your off base post office box ahead of time, but, again, that would have been waaaaaaay too logical and civilian-like. Start over.
                  Ok, the form's good? Now it goes on to Okinawa for an additional round of approval as you wait, patiently humming School House Rock's "I'm just a bill from Capitol Hill" and abandoning any hope of ultimate approval. After some follow-up queries from the powers in Okinawa and your explicit promise to not use any base facility during the pursuit of your business, you get your final, signed and approved letter allowing you to operate your home based business on base! ... provided you do so under a blanket in your closet with the lights out, sending and receiving via carrier pigeon purchased and trained by you personally.
                  Wow. How proud you must be. Now you're part of the machine. As Oscar Wilde said, "The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy." Please send all replies by carrier pigeon.