At the County Permits and Inspections Department

by Christy Ann Welty

This story was inspired by the comments of a World War II veteran. He came back from World War II to find his own government strangling the freedom for which he had been fighting. He found bureaucracy spreading like a fungus, controlling his fellow Americans with mind-numbing demands to conform to arbitrary regulations. With anguish and despair, and with the inevitable humor and clarity of one who has loved and lost much, he saw our future.

A man stood at the Permits and Inspections counter. He’d just received a permit to build a garage onto his house. The clerk had been efficient, taking his money and giving him a little slip of paper printed with a serial number, the day’s date, his address, and a short description of the project. It had taken only a minute.

“Make sure you keep that permit in a safe place. The inspector has to see it when he comes out to look at your work,” the clerk said. The man knew she was trying to be helpful, but it still irked him. He couldn’t put his finger on why.

He stood holding the little slip of paper in his big hands. His hands had pounded hammers, lifted timbers, and matched miters. They were strong and hard. He knew his work was good. The little garage he was planning to build was child’s play compared to other work he’d done. He’d been getting these permits for years, but it bothered him more than usual today. Must be getting old and cranky, he thought. He slipped the paper into his wallet, and pushed his wallet into his hip pocket.

“Where’s your restroom?” he asked the clerk.

The clerk had turned away to ruffle through some other stacks of papers, but now wheeled her chair back to the counter. “I just need a little information from you. Oh, this is handy, your address is still on the screen,” she said as she looked at her monitor.

The man cleared his throat. “I said, ‘Where’s your restroom?'”

“Why, yes, I heard you,” the clerk said. “This won’t take a minute.”

The man was starting to feel like he was speaking a different language. “All I want to know is where is your restroom….” Little spots were reddening his cheeks.

“There, I have the right program. What is your birth date?” She sat with her hands poised over her keyboard.

“What are you talking about, ma’am?”

The clerk glanced at him, and looked back at her screen. “I need some information for a permit. Your birth date, the date of your last complete physical, and your doctor’s name. I already have your address.”

“What permit are you talking about? I didn’t ask for another permit,” he deliberately stared at her, hoping to intimidate her into turning toward him.

“It’s ten dollars to cover the cost of lab testing and sending the results to you and your doctor,” she spoke to her screen, avoiding his eyes.

He was starting to get a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He looked around for the familiar restroom sign, and finally saw it at the far side of the Permit and Inspection office, on her side of the counter. His gut roiled in rebellion.

He edged over enough to see her monitor’s screen, and read the title, “Permit for Fecal Inspection.”

He blushed a dull red, and choked, “You’ll see me in hell before I get a permit to take a shit!”

“It’s for your health! They’ll check for colon cancer and parasites, and many life-threatening disorders,” she blustered, but she was arguing at his back as he strode out of the building. She turned back to her screen, and muttered, “And it’s for your children, so they can plan for your care. And for County taxpayers, so they don’t have to pay for your outrageous medical bills. And for your own protection, so you aren’t taken in by quack medicine cure-alls.”

She tapped a key, and the screen showed, “Permit Evaded.” She clamped her lips together, and tapped another key, flagging the file with the tag, “Withhold Approval of Structure, Fecal Inspection Required.” She sighed and shook her head. “Anybody who won’t consent to inspection must have something to hide.”

Note: I have to go through this all the time and while I haven’t had to submit to a “fecal inspection”, they sometimes want BLOOD. – David

Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. -C.S. Lewis

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