It is late on the morning before Christmas, and there's an impromptu meeting going on down at the coffee shop. Gathered together are a slew of testosterone laiden laid-off workers from The Shop. The lay-off has been deep and it has been wide. These unfortunate souls don't know what to do with themselves, so they drink coffee and grumble a lot and commiserate with one another.

"So what do we do? All I know is widjamacallits. I can build them, maintain them, repair them, install and operate them. I can teach others about them. But in any other business, I'd have to start from the ground floor up."

"Yeah, well, I'm one step ahead of you guys. I've already been looking for work. Got an interview on Monday."


"Pasty Burger."

There a collective snort of derision. "Pasty Burger!"

"Hey, look on the bright side. Where else do you get 20% off all the hasty burgers you can eat? We didn't get that at the shop."

People--even plastic people--who can see the bright side of a dark and dreary life are in short supply, but rarely appreciated in their own land.

"Get outa here!"

"Don't you just love happy people?"

"Yeah, I'd love to wring their necks."

While the boys are grumbling over coffee, Betty Ratchet and her girls are entertaining.

Alice's older sister, Anna, is pouring tea, much to the delight of Aunt Hetty. "My goodness you've grown. A regular young lady." Anna is a good girl, so she is happy to be a regular young lady, although Alice is not so sure she wouldn't prefer to be an irregular one. She is rebellious that way. Alice idolizes Aunt Hetty's daughter, Holly, and insists upon sitting right next to her.

Henry likes Holly, too, so it is a good thing this is a ladies tea, only, or Alice would have to fight for Holly's attention. Hetty (Holly's mom) is Betty's aunt, so Holly is Betty's first cousin. She is a second cousin to Alice and Anna, but not a blood relation of Henry, who is a nephew on Bob Ratchet's side of the family. All of this is very complicated, so a chart is provided for convenience.

Aunt Hetty has brought along a distant relation, Connie, whom the Ratchets have never met before. She is a second cousin once or twice-removed by Aunt Hetty's grandmother's sister's nephew's first wife (not the nephew who was double-jointed, but the one who could pick up three radio stations with the fillings in his lower molars.)

Connie, it turns out, has traveled widely and is very knowledgeable about the world and the various kinds of people that occupy it. The best part is that it came with her government job, so she didn't have to pay for any of it. Unfortunately, she is being terminated and will soon be looking for new employment. Her replacement has already been selected.

"It's just as well," Aunt Hetty says. "They made her work such long hours. I've been telling her, she should just find a good man and settle down. But she's so independent...remember how you went to school forever. I thought you'd never get done."

"Well, I wanted a good job, and that meant a good education."

"I told her...didn't I tell you...that an education like that was wasted on a woman. It's a man's world and they'd never let you be anything but a secretary, a nurse or a teacher."

"You did say that."

"And look what happened...all that education, all that expense and hard work, and you still just ended up a secretary."

"I'm so sorry about your job," Betty says. "But I'm sure you'll find another one." She doesn't mention that her husband, Bob, is in the same boat. It does sound like it will be hard for Connie to find a comparable secretarial position, one with so many benefits. Betty thinks Conne may even be a little over-qualified for secretarial work, but she doesn't say it aloud, because she doesn't want to dash Connie's hopes.

to be continued...

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