Monday, October 27, 2008

Aunty Christ is neither pretty nor is she a girl

You wake up in the morning, and the knot in your stomach is still there. The clock reads 4:14 A.M., and the first cogent thought of the day is just this: Fear. Your company will fire you. You will run out of money. You will get thrown out of your home. You will not be able to find another job. You will not be able to find another house to rent. You will not be able to pay your bills.

It is impossible to get back to sleep. But it’s dark, and if you get up now you’ll be tired as well as worried. You flip onto your stomach and push your hand through your hair twice, to move it away from your face. Everything is all right for now. There are a few people in your department who are sure to be fired before you. Maybe you can find another job.

At 5:08 you wake again, and this time the fear in your stomach is insistent. This has been the start of every day for the past six months. Or more. Maybe forever.

When you started working from home, you told yourself that things would improve. You would have more time to yourself. No more packing a lunch. No more driving. More time to walk the dogs. Maybe you could take a class in conversational Italian—who knows? And no more afternoons spent listening to your deskmate’s dire warnings about the company’s future. The company wants to send its employees home as a money-saving measure. First you got the email asking employees to please turn off any lights they weren’t using in the office, and then managers actually started turning off overhead lights as people were still working. Now that the office is down to a manageable size, it will move to a cheaper site, packing its files for storage in a cheaper state and its remaining staff into even smaller, even draftier cubicles. But working for a dying industry from home has its own pitfalls.

While it’s true that the first week you were still showering in the morning and managing to put yourself every day into some semblance of an outfit that could be worn on the street, the second and third weeks of working from home were marked by lunchtime showers, every other day sometimes. By now, you shower in the evenings, and change from pajamas into clean pajamas, from slippers to socks. You can’t even think why conversational Italian sounded interesting. Now you think, maybe you can start taking walks in the evening. Maybe cleaning the house would be interesting. The time saved by not packing lunch, not driving, never materializes. Where does it go? It slips unnoticed through the crack of your office door, into the pockets of your fleece pants, into the deepening crease between your eyes.

Two weeks ago, your work load was unmanageable, and your boss told your department that if everyone continued to fall behind the company would take the work away and give it to another office that could manage getting files out in time. Today, there are eight available files, then ten, then six, then none. You email your former deskmate: “What are you doing?” He’s alone. The boys left about an hour an a half ago, just after your boss did. Your boss went to his friend’s house to help him fix his water heater. “At least the economy is strong,” your friend writes. “All the companies are begging for examiners. We can probably just walk in anywhere and they’d let us work there.” Your boss’ friend’s pilot light was out. He was out of the office for two hours fixing it.

The elder statesman of the office, a man from California, who moved to your city for his job, is hung over again, your friend emails. He’s in his 60s, probably close to retirement age. You imagine he’s sick of watching his 401(k) shrink day after day. He’s sick of taking jobs with no security. He’s sick of four decades of expertise being unappreciated and overlooked in favor of cheaper, dumber labor. You are too. He cushions his fear with alcohol, apparently. You do too.

A few nights ago, over a couple of beers, you watched a show called “Office Tigers,” a documentary about a company in India that provides office support for American businesses. In a scene where some of the workers are being groomed for management positions, they are asked what makes them better than the American workers they replace. In America, one says, everyone has insurance from the government so they don’t need to work. Another says that American workers listen to headphones and eat popcorn at their desks, and this apparently makes them bad workers. You enjoy popcorn, occasionally.

You’re a hard worker. But you find it difficult to work these days. If you work overtime, when you get fired you’ll regret losing your nights and weekends, your health and your sanity, to your job. If you don’t work overtime, when you get fired you’ll wonder if you could have saved your job by working more overtime.

You have thought of your savings at least 20 times today. You have made a list of things you can sell. You check Craigslist, but the only jobs you’re qualified for were listed by the staffing agency that’s already rejected your resume twice. You need a beer.

When you take a break from the computer and stand on the deck, enjoying a smoke, the streets in your neighborhood are quiet. Two months ago, you would have assumed that everyone was busy working. Now, the quiet seems ominous, as though all of society has come to a halt. The buzz of industry is replaced by actual insects, as far as you can tell. Flies have made a landing strip of your deck. People stay home.

You will think of all this later, tomorrow morning as you lie awake in the dark. Your stomach will hurt. Everything is hurting.


David Rochester said...

You're posting again! My excitement at that fact almost obviates my sympathetic angst at the topic of this post.

Man, it sucks to be in the world right now. It really, really bites extremely major ass.


Aunty Christ said...

You noticed! Yay. I was going to post a comment on your blog, but I didn't want to spam you...

Re. major ass: Yes, yes it does.

Salty Miss Jill said...

What a somber (and all too true) post.
I can relate to the black hole of funemployment. The beginning of the end for me was watching and lookign forward to daytime television. My intellect went right out the window with what little self-discipline I have. I'm just no good without a schedule.