What does it say about our national mood that two of our biggest preoccupations last week were with people who whimsically quit their jobs?

What does it say about our national mood that two of our biggest preoccupations last week were with people who whimsically quit their jobs?

Exhibit A: Steven Slater. The JetBlue flight attendant became a national symbol after walking off the job last week. Well, sliding off the job.

His story: After landing at New York’s Kennedy Airport, a passenger tried to retrieve luggage from the overhead bin before the plane came to a stop. Slater tried to stop her. She opened the overhead compartment and it struck him, cutting his head. He asked for an apology. She responded with language that more apoplectic than apologetic. He then did what all working Joes and Joans have fantasized about at one time or another: He decided the customer wasn’t always right. Slater cursed out the passenger over the PA system, deployed the plane’s emergency evacuation chute, grabbed a beer from the beverage cart and slid off to a quick and memorable exit.

Cue Johnny Paycheck.

Slater — is that not a made-for-marque name? Steven Slater? — was later arrested and spent a night in jail, only to be released to something of a working-class hero’s welcome. Almost 200,000 votes of support on Facebook, widespread media attention and icon status among clock-punchers everywhere.

It’s hard not to believe the story resonated with the public in large part due to the state of the nation’s economy and job market. Hours are longer, staffs are thinner and raises seem to be going the way of pensions. In other words, the employed — the lucky ones who can find or have kept jobs — are feeling overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. So they were quick to cheer one of their own for symbolically saying, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” — and, let’s face it, grabbing a brew and riding down the inflatable emergency chute is a pretty good symbol.

It was a good story — perhaps too good to be true. By week’s end passengers were saying it was Slater who had been unruly, and that the beer he grabbed didn’t appear to be his first of the day. Some were calling him not a hero but a hoax.

Just like Exhibit B: Jenny. The financial assistant quit by sending her boss and co-workers 33 e-mails containing photos of herself holding messages written on a whiteboard. (1. “Happy Monday everybody!” 2. “I QUIT.”) Jenny used the pics to illustrate her boss’s managing acumen (poor), online goofing-off habits ("Farmville"!) and attitude toward Jenny (antediluvian).

The photos made the Internet rounds — again, to cyber-cheers from all those who know only too well what it’s like to work under difficult conditions but can only imagine the sweet relief of a revenge resignation.

Again, it seemed too good to be true. And it was, from the start: a hoax conceived by a website called thechive.com. It was harmless, in that no boss’s feelings were hurt in the making of the charade. But it may also have been instructive, in that it highlighted what a large, ready-made audience there seems to be for a good yarn about walking off the job.

Of course, Jenny (actually an actress named Elyse Porterfield) was never really on the job. And Steven Slater is still employed (albeit suspended) by JetBlue.

So while these may be colorful variations on the take-this-job-and-shove-it theme, they are not literal examples. Those stories, in our current economic climate, are seemingly a little harder to find.

Contact Kevin Frisch at kfrisch@messengerpostmedia.com.