Dead Ends

Now, as many of you regular readers know, I have a nerve injury in my
face that’s inoperable, permanent and, more often than not, a crippling
source of total freak-out pain that knocks me out of regular society
for undetermined periods of time.  The official diagnosis is
Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia, which means they know what’s happening
but they don’t know why.  This problem is the result of an
accident in 1995 which shattered my palate and, to use the professional
medical term, really fucked up my face and jaw.

Thanks to an exciting cocktail of anti-convulsant drugs, the long
periods of constant pain that made me put shotgun barrels in my mouth
have passed into infrequent and, typically, brief episodes of intense
agony with long periods of semi-functional, pain free living in between.

I’ve spent the last five weeks in the middle of a particularly nasty
flare up.  The worst pain episode I’ve experienced for, at least,
two years.  Maybe longer.  As for the length of this episode,
this is a first for about five years.  Usually I’m out of
circulation for a week or two and then I’m okay.

This episode has changed shape somewhat, as well.  Instead of the
steady 24/7 pain, it’s reacting solely to triggers — eating, drinking,
talking, pressure. Avoid any of those hot points and I’m out of
pain.  So, right now, I’m really quiet and really hungry and my
teeth are coated in furry slime.  I have managed to start shaving,

In real life, I work a job that asks me to be on the phones for four
hours a day, talking to fuckheads and retards.  Talking is bad
enough, but having to project my voice and enunciate clearly for phone
conversations is something of a pain adventure.  After taking
oodles of sick days, I finally decided to return to work and just do
admin stuff — push papers around and write endless, unpublished
articles for GS.

I did this because (a) I was out of sick days and (b) I hated sitting
around doing that endless sick day thing because, otherwise, I’m
healthy.  (Plus the internal politics of taking a sick day each
day is just as stressful as sitting here and talking to the bosses
about why I can’t talk.)

Now — My department has recently suffered a shake-up.  One of the
supervisors left on a whim and, since she was the only one who was
humane and popular, a third of the staff immediately filed for
transfers and the remainder of the staff started shopping resumes
around.  This brought the department under scrutiny.  As a
response to that, the big, bad Director — formally an easygoing,
though distant, authority figure — waded in with a stronger
hand.  In the midst of our busiest season, he introduced a
complicated “Work Code” routine for each call.  These are designed
to track the nature of the calls, etc.  Every phone center has
something like it… Except we aren’t computerized, so you have to
fiddle around with button pushing on the phone.  R Button, 301,
pound is what you type in if something calls and asks how they order a
book.  R button, 101, pound, R button, 201, pound, R button, 501,
pound is what you have to type in if someone renews their membership,
journals and then wants to talk to the Division department — a very
common call during the busy season.  All this must be done while
the individual is on the phone.  Once the call is terminated,
that’s it.

Well, the quick and the aware folks can keep that moving, sure, but
we’re at a wage-slave, low-grade job.  Our department is two heads
short and we’re each juggling hundreds of calls a day.  Throw in
an endless avalanche of other, similarly annoying, paper-trail shit and
daily routines and you have about 12 hours of work a day that needs to
be completed in 7.5 hours, with half that time on the phones and unable
to work because we’re not allowed more than 4 minutes logged out or 60
seconds on any outside calls, including in-house calls related to
problems on our plates.

But, tra-la-la, we all figured.  This is a wage slave job and, in
the end, fuck it.  Who cares?  We’re being paid in peanuts
and it’s all a sad joke.  “Just send checks!” as my grandfather
says whenever I complain about work.

Then the meetings started.  While I lay in my sickbed, each
staffer was called in and told what they were doing wrong.  Three
weeks after the codes were introduced and using the results, the one on
one meetings with Big Bad Boss were along the lines of:  You’re
not falling into our standards.  You’re not conforming to what we
need.  The meek and the tiny were chewed apart.  It’s almost
as if the intention was to force out employees who had already put out
resumes.  The unspoken comments:  We know you’re flying, so
fly.  At least, that was the attitude on the floor as everyone
started to mutter.  These meetings took such an aggressive turn
that one of the meek employees spent 90 minutes crying in the “quiet
room.”  Har-har-har, everyone though, you gotta be tougher than
that…but it didn’t help sooth the growing tension.  Criticize us
when the department is understaffed, underpaid and
underappreciated?  That’s the stuff revolutions are made of.

I’m exempted from my meeting because I can’t talk.  I’ve been on
and off the phones, usually off, for three weeks.  But I haven’t
escaped the wrath of the Big Boss.  5pm, last Tuesday, minutes
before he raced out the door, he sent an email asking me when I could
get back on the phones.  The nature of my injury (which they all
knew about when they hired me, by the way) is that I don’t know.
You can’t predict the waxing and waning of nerve damage as if it were a
leg cast set to be cut off at 8:35am next Monday.

The exchange escalated the following day until, finally, there were
threats to “discuss my future.”  Word came down from my sources
that the possibility of forced disability was on the map, and
certainly, it’s “a major performance issue that needs addressing.”

So I asked my doctor to write up all the jazz.  Now I’m waiting
for that note to come through and, hopefully, dispel the
situation.  Thinking like a rational human being, I originally
asked my doctor to send the note to the attention of Big Bad.  No
go.  It has to come to me and then I have to take it to him.
Otherwise:  Rejected!

Okay, okay, fine.  It’s the rules.  But, if you want to be a
clown about this, then you have to tell me what you want.  Say “I
want a note from your doctor,” and that’s what you’re going to get,
chucklehead.  You have to say:  I want your doctor to send
you a note so that you can walk it five feet over to me so that we can,
later, use that against you in the context of some arcane ruling set up
by the always-absent HR department.

Now, I see my presence here as a favor to the higher ups.  Sure,
they lose a phone man, but I’m here during the busy season plowing
through admin work, providing support for the staff, running all of
those coordination jobs.  In my eyes, I don’t have to be this
dedicated.  Especially considering that they’re fuckheads and this
is a shit-swilling job.  I can afford, and would greatly enjoy,
claiming disability — which is an easy thing for me to win.  I
could make it long term if I wanted to, milk them for half a year or
more.  I could simply vanish for the remainder of the busy season.
It would be easier, healthier and loads of fun.  In fact, during
this episode, my doctor has started to advise it in a sort of
sideways-speaking way.

But, like a fool, I come in.  The wind from the Metro hurts me,
the motion of the train.  Brushing my teeth and showering.
Eating, talking.  Everything through the day is about sharp bursts
of pain, or preparing for them.  Yet here I am.  Instead of
gratitude, my job is threatened, my performance is re-appraised and I’m
given a runaround that makes me wonder if, hey, does my Big Boss not
have enough shit to do?  Is he so fucking bored that he can spend
all day obsessing about one of his employees who has an acknowledged
disability yet is still showing up and loyal to the job?  I’m one
of two, out of thirteen, who has not put out resumes or transfer
requests.  They know this, too.  Is the new plan, when
solving internal political problems, to execute your allies?  Is
that in chapter two of “How to be a Manager”?

So someone asked me a question last night that really got me
thinking:  Is the wage slave world totally immoral?
Operating outside of, and opposed to, the basic moral code of society?
Am I in the framework of the basic human moral code right now?
Sure, I’m not asked to kill people or poison dictators, but there’s
more to our morality than that.  Think:  Respect.
Acknowledgment of needs.  Inter-social support.  Recognition
of special abilities or problems.  The ability to take a holiday
without feeling guilty or fearing for your job… Hell, the ability to
take a holiday.  Period.

I’m not talking about any institution in particular.  Some places
have a great boss, some have wonderful benefits, some jobs are fine,
some people like where they’re at.  I don’t mean to say that
your job, in particular, is fucked.  I’m
talking about the overall wage slave world and the people who manage it
and construct it.  The mid and sub level managers, the CEO’s, the
HR departments… These people who run the show, small and large, and
continue the same patterns.  Whether they’re guilty of passive
inaction, embittered judgments, or outright Enron-style insane cruelty.

If, then, the wage slave jobs, this bottom level of employment that,
more and more, marks our American way of life, are immoral, what should
we do about it?  We’re all seeing and feeling the strain, aren’t
we?  The frayed edges of Service Society.  Employees who go
insane, bosses who have knee-jerk reactions to criticism, our own
deadened, overworked minds.

It didn’t used to be like this, you know.  I’m not saying there
was ever some golden age of employment where you could be a
shit-swiller and feel good about it, but it was different.  Now it
feels like the wage-slaver is smack in the middle of some weird Zoloft
Society.  The faux-liberal racism and depression of urban middle
managers and the judgmental, ignorant attitudes of rural middle
managers now rule our lives, all of them protected by the shell of the
greatest absentee landlords of all time – the multi-headed snakes of HR
departments around the country.

Here comes a bump in the road – an employee with a disability – and
it’s time to play head games and 5pm email games.  The cowardice
of petty men who treat life like a sick boardgame invented by the
offspring of Hitler or Stalin.

Where do we stand, kids?

Bonus features:  And, no, I’m not a
candidate for the operation.