The Paper Sea

Return to Leslie Fish's Filksongs

I went to work for welfare, in hopes to help the poor,
The staff showed me a desk and introduced me to the war.
They warned me that the battle started right outside the door,
And they fought it on the paper sea.

There were thirty social workers, forty-seven clerks,
Twenty-seven managers all gumming up the works.
Three inspectors from the legislature exercising perks
Barracudas in the paper sea.

There were countless regulations, rulebooks by the score,
Explaining every policy and system tried before.
The money spent on paperwork left nothing for the poor
Abandoned on the paper sea.

There were seven hundred forms could be applied to every case,
To account for every penny, number, name, or date, or place.
The clerks were working overtime, but never keeping pace
with the waves upon the paper sea.

Why these endless papers, administers, and more,
All to guarantee there was no cheating by the poor.
While for every dollar saved we spent a hundred on the chore
Of adding to the paper sea.

Outside in the hallway the poor folk had to wait.
The line stretched down the block, coming early, leaving late.
Maybe one poor soul per hour ever made it through the gate
Past the boundaries of the paper sea.

First came in a man who didn't have a cent,
I filled out twenty forms to guarantee his check was sent.
By the time it reached his address he was gone for lack of rent,
Well serviced by the paper sea.

Next came in a mother abandoned by her man,
She said, "Get me some daycare, and I'll find what work I can."
But daycare was too *controversial* for our family plan,
We marooned her in the paper sea.

As I walked in one morning I stumbled on an arm,
Attached to some poor body who had clearly come to harm.
While waiting for his Medicare, his heart had bought the farm.
We had drowned him in the paper sea.

I told my supervisor, he said, "Let's be discreet.
Just sneak the body out the door and leave it on the street.
And then its not our problem, but the cops out on the beat.
Let's dump him in their paper sea."

I tried to make the system work, I tried to help the poor,
I struggled through the paperwork and might have taken more.
But that's the final straw that sent me screaming out the door.
Sent me running from the paper sea--
I'd had it with the paper sea!

(c) 1988 Leslie Fish and Random Factors