It was a typical Monday morning in the life of the legendary Joe Schlump, Super Patronage Worker. It started as it always did, with coffee and doughnuts at Marshall Field. Then he'd head over to Weenie's for a chili dog before stopping in at the deli for some matzo ball soup. Then it would be time for lunch.
Joe Schlump's nightmare began when the elevator door opened at Field's. Out walked a confused octogenarian in scuba gear.
"Jacques Cousteau?" said Schlump. "What are you doing here?"
"Good question," said the beloved oceanographer. "I was in the South Pacific with the crew of the Calypso when suddenly we were caught in a ferocious vortex. It was like someone had pulled the plug out of the bottom of the ocean. The Calypso was caught in a terrible spiral, spinning and spinning, until it came to rest in these strange, murky waters.
"I looked out and saw this amorphous creature floating toward us. It was translucent with two long tentacles. I thought it must be the rare Tasmanian jellyfish, but it was just a pair of pantyhose. To my right, a large squid approached. But it was just a fringed lamp shade. Then I was struck from behind by what I thought was a whale but was in fact a floating home entertainment center.
"I finally escaped in the nearest elevator. Where am I?"
A surge of terror rushed over Joe Schlump. Oh dear God, he thought. It couldn't be! Joe Schlump's 29th anniversary as a city worker was fast approaching, 29 years since the day he entered the office of Richard J. Daley himself, on the strength of a recommendation from his cousin, Daley's former floor leader, the late Vito Schlump.
"Vito says you need a job," the sheepish mayor had said. "I got just the thing. There's this barge full of mattresses out on the Chicago River. If the river ever ruptures, you rush down there and throw those mattresses in to plug the hole.
"It's an old Navy trick," the bloblike mayor said with a sly wink. He tossed Joe Schlump the keys to the barge. "It's a tough job. You're on 24-hour call." Daley laughed a large wheezing laugh.
That's how Joe Schlump got to be the envy of every city worker and how he earned his alias, Mr. Job Security. But now, sure enough, his beeper was going off for the first time ever. "The keys!" he cried out. "Where are the keys! Drat!" He hadn't seen the keys to that barge for ten years. But Schlump thought fast. He contacted a member of a neighborhood youth organization, who came out and hot-wired the barge for 20 bucks.
As Schlump steered his barge full of mattresses up to the point of the rupture, the beleaguered city workers already on the scene cheered. "Just in a nick of time," said one. "You're a life saver!" said another. They unloaded the mattresses onto the shore, and then all lay down to take a nap.
"You're not supposed to sleep on those!" Joe Schlump said. "You're supposed to throw them in the water!"
"Why?" said one inquisitive city worker.
"I don't know!" Schlump said. "It's an old Navy trick!"
"How do we toss them?" asked another.
"I don't know!" said Schlump, becoming exasperated. "Just throw them in the water! Don't you remember the emergency drills during your city worker training? Just pretend the mattresses are boxes of city records being subpoenaed by a grand jury!"
With that, the city workers began frantically tossing the mattresses overboard, like radical colonials at a Boston Mattress Party. Schlump watched as mattress after mattress was swallowed by the swirling vortex.
That night in his bungalow, Joe Schlump lay dejectedly on his couch surrounded by empty beer cans, watching the mayor's press conference. The old Navy trick had failed. "Someone dropped the ball," the mayor said. "Heads are gonna roll!"
Mr. Job Security looked up to the heavens and cried "Why me?"
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Steven D. Arazmus, Bill Stamets.