Sunday, 14 April 2013

Minimum Fun at Minimum Wage (Part 2):

"Boredom: (Adjective) an emotional state experienced by those who have been left without anything in particular to do, or have no interest in their surroundings."

Hmmm. Well well well welly welly well.

"Boredom"- maybe you feel that you can share an experience with me on this one; hold a candle next to mine in fellowship and say 'it's alright mate, I understand. I've been there. I know.' Maybe you believe you've held down an especially dull job at some point; perhaps one equal in terms of dullness to mine.  Maybe ... maybe.

Well, let me just alleviate you of that paradigm right fucking now: NO YOU HAVEN'T. Until you've worked in a factory environment, trust me on this one, you don't know what boring is. You might have tricked yourself into a passable impression of boredom at one time or another, but that holds about as much weight as a helium fart as far as I'm concerned. Your job was a birthday, Christmas, and VE Day rolled into one in comparison to my summer serfdom. Ten minutes in the biscuit factory and you'd pray to Christ almighty for an hour in San Quentin. You've scaled only the meanest foothills of the doldrums, thinking yourselves heroes of alpinism, while vast, Olympian heights of tedium tower further afield. For I alone among the ranks of mortal men have stared unblinking into the uttermost depths of abyss and survived, shaken and disturbed, to share my grim account with humanity ...  

(Waaaaaaaaah! WHAAAAAAAH!)
My point is that packing biscuit boxes wasn't very fun, alright? I might've exaggerated at teensy bit there. Anyway, moving on - let's not make a song and dance about it. Blimey.

So in the last post I mentioned the awful working hours, the dire pay, the long drive and the unpleasant smell; all legitimately unpleasant aspects of an unpleasant job. But each and every one of these minor issues pales before the unapologetic dreariness of the daily grind. Now some people cope well with monotony: they are skilled in and comforted by repetitive tasks, those labors which keep idle hands busy and the mind blissfully unburdened. I get it.

I know I must sound like the most disgusting snob to have ever drawn breath, but I'm honestly not trying to sound elitist when I tell you that, from the well of my soul, I AM NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. I'm easily distracted, I find focusing on uninteresting things insurmountably difficult, and I deal with stressful situations by running away from them and hiding until they magically diffuse themselves. None of those attributes are particularly savory to the prospective employer I'll grant you, but on the frantic factory floor it makes you as valuable as a paraplegic ballerina.

(You can forget about Mariinsky theatre Natalie!) 

Of course, in the grand tradition of the sadistic farce I like to call 'My Life' I didn't realize this until it was too late. Apparently my brain is like a petulant spoiled child; if it isn't being amused or diverted it throws a tantrum. Repetitive tasks do not a happy Hendo make. As a result, my new job soon felt like one of the more ironic hells that Dante kept in reserve for particularly loathsome sinners.

I worked chiefly in packaging: which is exactly the sum total of what the word entails. I constructed boxes by folding flat-packed cardboard, standing up, eight hours a day, five days a week. Let me break the process down for you:

1: Quickly pick up cardboard from the seven-foot-tall mountain on your right, making doubly sure to have it facing the right way up.

2: Fold cardboard into cuboid shape, using instructions provided, with the bottom of the newly-engineered box resting against the small desk in front of you.

(Note: failure to rest the bottom of a newly-engineered box against a small desk will leave the incoming biscuits unsupported, with the entirety of your product spilling onto the floor, leaving you looking like a dopey preschool twat. The more you know!) 

3: Nab eight biscuit packets from the conveyor belt to your left. 

4: Neatly stack biscuit packets in the newly-engineered box, in a pair of four. Again, all facing exactly the correct way.

(Note: for the love of Cthulhu and all his spawn you'd better have your biscuits stacked the correct way, because if you don't it will be literally impossible for humanity to ever contemplate enjoying a biscuit again. Shoddy stacking will irrevocably sully the experience for everyone forever. Society itself will collapse into anarchy if those biscuits aren't stacked like the bricks of the fucking Parthenon, you'd better believe it.)

5: Place box back on assembly line to be sellotaped shut.

6: Do all of this, like a robot, in less than ten seconds. 

7: Lose the will to live.

8: Contemplate the pros and cons of a shooting spree

9: Repeat ad nauseam, until the sweet release of death.

Not exactly spellbinding is it? Not unless we're referring to the Cruciatus Curse of course; then you're hitting the nail right on the head. Into the victim's eye socket. It was the apotheosis of monotony. The only way this would be an engaging vocation would be if I'd been born in a basement, and had spent the last 20 years in total darkness, eating flies.   

(Boxes: fascinating shit, yeah?)
 But I wasn't simply given a forklift's worth of raw materials to casually assemble at my leisure. Hell no! We're not playing with K'nex here kids; this is mass-production. If you miss even one box, you're buggered. See you don't have time to pick up the slack and fix that last one, because another is already on the way and you're out of rhythm as it is. So you decide to leave that half-finished bastard for now. But later: oops! Butterfingers! You've missed another. Now you've got a steadily-collecting pile on your hands. Miss a third and you might as well go the whole hog and just start sabotaging equipment and pissing into the mixture, because shit has just gone critical. Now everyone will fucking despise you and some other more competent individual will have to be dragged away from whatever he/she was doing to deal with your metashambles. Now you have no choice but to slink away, humiliated and ashamed, to find a job even less menial than biscuit packing. Maybe licking toilet seats clean, or waxing your manager's car with your bare arse. Odds are that's the only way you'll stay on the payroll.

(Come on, get licking)
You see, the assembly line is as relentless as age: a sprawling, gargantuan monster, messily devouring ton after ton of fresh oats, digesting them in the roasting, churning furnace of its belly, only to shit it all over you later on. Working with it is like nursing a beached whale. A beast with a hunger that never ends, with needs that will never be sated, moaning and wheezing for your undivided attention. Sore back? Stiff arms? No sleep? Tough. Fucking. Tomalley. The beast doesn't rest. The beast doesn't care. It needs attending to. It need attending to. It needs attending to. It needs attending to. It needs attending to. It need attending to. IT NEED ATTENDING TO!!!! AHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!! ABIDING SYNTAX CAN'T ANSWER THE PHONE RIGHT NOW PLEASE LEAVE A MESSAGE WITH THIS DUCK, AND I'LL PURLOIN YOUR CORNSTARCH KIDNEYS POSTHASTE-

... Ahem.

As you can see, after a fortnight of all this, I genuinely started to go a bit mental. I conducted my various duties in a slack-jawed, zombie-like stupor, perceiving the farcical tableau as though through smeared lens, or dense fog. Instructions barked at me were muted to inaudibility. At times it felt like my feet had lifted off the ground and the world had dropped away from me. Gradually, inevitably, I retreated inside myself to escape it all. At one point in the midst of my industry, my routine became so repetitive, that I experienced the epiphany that each individual moment of my life was now utterly indistinguishable from those proceeding and following it. It was an almost perfect display of recursion. Locked in the ever-shrinking cage of my own brain, I realised that, since physicists tend to define the passage of time as being dependent on the movement or transfer of energy, or a change in the state of matter, I conjectured that since each of the various reactions and operations surrounding me, observable or not, were identical; I had essentially entered a state of mind in which the clocks had stopped, the hands frozen, the gears ground to a halt. Inside my own skull I held time suspended.

It was times like those when I sincerely considered whether amateur lobotomy would make my new-found career more bearable. In any case, it might've been comparatively less painful.
(Pictured: the only escape)
My initial accidents and screw-ups were met with a sort of cheerful tolerance, later: weary resignation, and in due course: barely disguised irritation. I could sense the foreman's glare through the walls from several rooms away as I ineffectually dithered about. By the end of my brief tenure: I absolutely fucking despised that guy. There are very few people whom I can say I hate without compunction; but after two weeks of that bastard breathing down my neck, by golly he made the list. That put him, in terms of my estimation of his character, alongside my ex-girlfriend and Alan Carr. Make of that what you will.

(Irritation personified if you ask me)
My co-workers were a strange and unsettling bunch of misfits it must be said; hardly conducive to an atmosphere of solidarity. Most of them were Polish or Latvian for a start, and their English was less than conversational. The remainder could be neatly filed into the broken, missing or useless section of society; of which I now consider myself an honorary member. There was a sixteen year old with more boils than skin, a middle-aged mother of five who talked to herself under her breath as she worked, and stocky, scowling Greek who seemed to have made it his mission in life to pull me aside every fifteen minutes to explain the dumbfoundingly obvious, among others.

Most insane of all was Gordon; a 6 ft 2 man of perhaps fifty, who also happened to be a sufferer of Tourettes Syndrome. And I'm not talking the oh-so-comical TV Tourettes either; I'm talking about the Tourettes with the tics, jitters, stutters and spasms to boot. He was like a half-rusted clockwork toy, sprung jerkily into a shambling parody of animation. His motion wasn't so much a stride as a series of sudden falls indefinitely postponed. He marched from A to B and back again like something out of the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch, always on edge and unsettled. He had this strange compulsion to keep himself moving at all times, like a shark or something.
(He was nothing like this, really)
Despite my pity, he was a headache to be around. Simple tasks became Herculean. His palsy made making tea excruciating. The rest of us would be reading the paper, texting, perhaps staring thoughtfully out of the window as if engaged in some unfathomable act of cognition. A complete pantomime of course; we were all painfully aware of Gordon's presence and knew that catastrophe was sure to befall him at any moment. After the long process of dribbling milk into his cup, and shaking out half a packet of granulated sugar, Gordon would then attempt to proceed to his seat at the table without incident. At this point all pretense at nonchalance had been dropped like a hot potato: we were now all on tenderhooks, watching the poor sod shuffle along at a snails pace. Gordon would tense up every muscle in his body to keep the tremors under control. The whole room would be livid with anticipation, and once he was over the halfway mark, there would come a mad, desperate moment wherein we all deluded ourselves into believing that he might actually make it. But, or course, at that very moment a shaking fit would overtake him and he would shower us with a torrential downpour of scalding tea. You had to be quick to use a magazine or a tea-towel as a shield, otherwise there were some third-degree-burns in your future. Of course, being drenched in hot tea would mean that we all had to (Say it with me now) strip of our lab-coats, bin them, and put on new ones. There would be apologies from Gordon, but he'd be so flustered that all we got was stuttering. It was quite sad really.  

(Picture this, on a Hurricane Katrina scale)
From up here on my high-horse (a perch I seem to find myself on rather often admittedly), it's easy to make fun of Gordon, with these snide anecdotes. But even he, for all his shortcomings and handicaps, was capable of doing his fucking job. Lest we forget, I was not so competent. There was a chap I worked with called Iain, and I'm not trying to sound like a bigot here, but he was retarded. Slow. Mentally deficient. I felt sorry for the guy, because some of the other workers would take the piss and wind him up. Not to the point of open cruelty, just needling, annoying him by asking questions he couldn't know the answers to. A twelve-year-old could've outwitted him, so a bored adult could run rings around the guy. Every day he would bring in the same lunch into work in the same old lunchbox, (cold ham roll, orange, Babybell cheese, Capri-Sun) the sleeves of his shirt stained with snot from where he'd wiped his runny nose. He was an overweight, dribbling mouth-breather. When he was confused, which was often when he elected to talk back to his tormentors, he glitched, and fell back on repeating the last thing said to him over and over again, this endless broken-record loop that lost all meaning until he hesitated, blinked, and recovered.
("Yup, it's a box alright.")
Iain was not handsome, or charming, or clever. But he was a wizard when it came to packaging. He would fold, stack dump with effortless grace. It was like a dance; there was a practiced rhythm to his movements. No-one else could do that job so well and for so long without a single complaint. I'm not trying to patronize the man with that comment, really I'm not. I wish I could tell you that Iain was secretly an idiot savant with a master talent for watercolors or the trombone: but he wasn't. He was dull-witted bloke doing a boring job for bad pay. But in a way I admire him. I remember watching him while he worked, gobsmacked, envious of his skill. I could'nae hack it and Iain could. It's simple as that. So disabled or not, on the factory floor that made him more valuable than me.

(Shit man, in the factory the bucket and mop were more valuable than me)
So there came the day when my manager called me into his office, and asked me how I felt I was getting on. I replied with the supreme understatement that I didn't think I was getting on so well. he agreed. To his credit the man didn't mince words. He told me that my abilities, whatever they were, clearly weren't suited to this environment, and concurrently I was to be taken off the payroll. I shook his hand, stripped and binned for the last time, and walked out the door. Humiliated and upset, I went for lunch and phoned my then-girlfriend, who was in Estonia at the time, expecting reassurance and understanding. I received only laughter and mild disinterest. I came home, broke the news to my folks, and walked the dogs. I think we can all agree life was all uphill from there.

(Always sympathetic ... unless there's bacon on the go)
As much as I joke about my experience, I know that I was only ever a tourist in hell; sampling the food, the big sights, the cosy cafes, but never really taking up permanent lodgings. Maybe I'm destined for bigger and better things, maybe not, but for some people that factory, that job, is their lives. It's what they get up in the morning for, it's where they work and struggle and labor for peanuts. Eight hours a day. Five days a week. Just to earn a bed and satellite telly. All for the few hours of real life they're left to squeeze in-between shifts. It's sad. Not all of us can live that dream of carefree affluence, of security, satisfaction and leisure. I think about the people I met who are still working that thankless job for minimum wage, and I'm damned grateful. I am. I think we all have to make the choice to do a really shitty job at least once in life, if only for the motivation to never end up having no choice at all ...

(This week I've been reading Jane Austen's 'Sense and Sensibility.' It was alright. Didn't like it as much as 'Pride and Prejudice'. Not as witty. Protagonist's were less interesting ... What? Christ I've been revising this thing for days people! I've said everything I want to say in past-papers! Give me a break already! Jeez.) 

(On an unrelated note, check the cleavage on Marianne there. Crickey!)