Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Ghost of Corporate Future

(This is considered cheating, because I wrote it more than one year ago when I had recently moved to Charlotte and had been hired to work for Allstate, in the Bilingual department. Talk about hating your job! I was shocked then, and despite the adaptation, I still am.)
(So it goes.)

Dec 08, 2005

“Does not man, perhaps, love something besides well being? Perhaps he is just as fond of suffering? Perhaps suffering is just as great a benefit to him as well being?”
(Notes from the Underground, F. Dostoevsky)

I know this sounds very fatalistic given I have only endured in my secretary/ file clerk job for less than one month, but from working full time inside a bookstore to working inside a huge corporation there is a long and winding road of things to digest. This extended office routine is slapping me in many silly ways, and I need to write about what I see, because, who knows?, maybe in a few months I will have lost the capacity to distinguish between what is normal and what is strange.

Revelation number 1:

These empires called “Companies” are, surprisingly, decent places; why else would people stay in there for the rest of their lives until retirement if not? One arrives there with a young mind and a normal body weight, with new leather boots that tap on the ceramic floors of the hallway and with a bundle of indecisions. Obviously, nobody in their wildest moments of self induced hallucination would ever dare to imagine themselves lasting as much as thirty years in that same company they are entering, but life has surprised a'many. And, oh yes, it has.
On that fist orientation day, there are always dozens of managers and human resource people that prove to us, new employees, how this happens all the time. No, this perpetual contract isn’t bad at all! companies offer benefits, you see, and benefits provide peace of mind and a sense of relief, which is the ultimate end. One walks in and, involuntarily, goes through an interesting transformation process.
I took this job inside the company, for example, because I desperately needed to go to a dentist for a root canal and did not have medical insurance. I also had problems paying my rent with my former job shelving books. I accepted this position because I had lost five pounds that summer and was sick of living hand to mouth (there is nothing romantic in eating macaroni's and cheese with frozen vegetables for 7 nights in a row.) I accepted the job because that is what people do in this country: they work a lot to be able to consume a lot in exchange. They work for the promise of a salary that will give them some economic stability. Also, I confess there was this innocent belief I had, about how the corporation would protect me under its wings and never let me be poor again as long as I stayed there ( please do not dare laugh at me).

Revelation number 2:

In this company everybody respects each other and nobody raises their voice, we are all friendly people who love to engage in pointless and empty small talk conversations with anybody who comes near us, after all, that’s one of the reasons why we were hired: because we are friendly. In this place we form teams to work together, and we help each other out so that nobody can be an individual anymore, and any smart comment will be easily blurred and erased by the mediocrity of other workers. In this place mediocre people are the winners, because they are the most efficient. Nobody really knows anybody, and so, in this place there is silence when there is no more small talk available between us. I do not mean to say that workers here are not lively, in fact, a few girls like to go hip hop dancing and others hit the gym, or go to college. But something that I notice is that most of them have already have lost their temperament. We cannot be mean inside this company because being mean to each other would ruin people’s egos and cause them to recover their stolen temper back.
Obviously, given the fact that we cannot be mean at work, we will get out of work after an 8 hour shift and honk our horns in rush hour traffic, bitch like maniacs at other ass holes just like us who tailgate or forget to signal or are simply rude drivers. But what is saddest is that, secretly we will feel a great pleasure in these actions, because there has to be some time in the day when we are permited to become animals again-there just has to.

Revelation number 3:

“Just remember, it’s not forever” This is what my closest secretary acquaintance called Deanne tells me every time I freak out. I like her; she sits in the cubicle next to mine, and is the only girl that doesn’t open a Cosmopolitan magazine to read on her lunch break. But, at the same time, I do understand why somebody would get sucked in with a company: Benefits include a pension fund, a fantastically inexpensive medical coverage program, a low premium life insurance policy and a salary that will let me save for the last years of my college degree.
Also, there is really no way one can get fired after entering a company, unless the person is on some drug like Ketamine maybe, or if they have committed some kind of scandalous action ( end even then , they would usually get transferred somewhere else, not fired.)The only unsatisfactory condition, I believe, is that one must be content with a two-week vacation every year, and that’s it.Only after lasting 10 years with the company can somebody ask for more than this, only then.

Revelation number 4
( Or else: "Where has all the punk-rock gone to?")

And, at the same time, there are other extremes and other lifestyles that I cannot afford anymore. I will talk to many of my guy-musician friends, for example, and they will tend to give me this usual response: “I try to stay away from corporate jobs.” Well, yes dude, I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE A HIPPIE, but given my circumstances this recommendation leaves me with the option of either working in retail (just as shitty, may I say) or having three different average wage jobs to support myself.

An Unlamented Solution:

This is why in a way, I believe that teaching and writing on the side, are the answer for me to escape this nightmare of the corporate future ( We will deal with the "writing on the side" issue later... ) You are not terribly underpaid as a teacher, but you certainly aren’t living "high of the hog" either, as my Dad would say. There is some gratification that comes within one’s self when one can give a lecture and reach others, and this is something an office job lacks and a teaching job provides.
Ok, sorry about this entry, I need to go to sleep now, but if anybody has ideas about how to beat the system it would be very helpful to me ( PS: solutions like "becoming a stripper", or "winning the lottery" don't count.)

Oh, wait; Last words:

I guess there is such a contradiction about the word “ free” in this country, it always makes me a little melancholic for the sunny place I grew up in, where everybody is unemployed and an anarchist at heart, where the red fertile earth is soft and people are aggressively happy and aggressively violent and unbelievably poor at the same time.
Anyway cheers to that.

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