“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

piss factory

LI was buying groceries the other night, when we overheard a conversation between the guy ahead of us and one of the cashiers, a man who had some illness that made his movements angularly spastic and gave that uncertainty of pitch to his voice to make one suspect that his brain is somehow diminished; although, in reality, it isn’t, and he eventually does with his body what we can do with ours, although following a different nervous routine to do it. The two were talking about a common acquaintance, and it soon became obvious that the cashier and the customer had met when the cashier and the customer’s wife worked up in Round Rock, at the Dell factory. The cashier said he had been “delled” – fired for something.

We are interested in mentions of Dell, because more than once we’ve thought about applying for a line job there ourselves. Ten bucks an hour, and all the bad vibe labor atmosphere you could swallow – as many people who have worked at Dell have assured us. In general, we have a certain nostalgia for factory work, although nobody in our family (save a stray uncle) ever really went from (as Springsteen put it) the mansions of pain to the mansions of fear, or something like that. Any lefty is automatically interested in manufacture – wasn’t this, at one time, the key to our world, the commonality among the constituency? The key has been withdrawn, the constituency fucked over. Take the Amtrack from New York City to New Haven and it is like a Disney train touring the gutted factory exhibit. Anyway, we found the new Granta issue about factories interesting. Here’s the first graf of Luc Sante’s essay:

“I was fated to work in a factory. I was born in a Belgian textile-factory town, and my ancestors had worked in the mills for at least two or three centuries before I came along. Almost all of them were employed by Simonis, once the most prominent of many local makers of worsted cloth, now the world's leading manufacturer of billiard-table baize. It is very nearly the last survivor of a once-crowded industrial hub. My father managed to avoid working in the textile plants, but he couldn't help being employed by ancillary businesses; there wasn't anything else. When I was born he had been working for about five years in an iron foundry that made equipment for the plants. When the industry collapsed a few years later the foundry, like so many other local businesses, fell with it. We emigrated to the United States, where the initial promise of new and fulfilling employment soon gave way to uncertainty, then near-despair. Eventually my father was hired by yet another factory, which manufactured pipes and rods from a hard, resilient, slippery synthetic that for household applications is trademarked Teflon. He worked there until his retirement at the age of sixty-five. Immediately thereafter he began displaying symptoms of Parkinson's disease, unprovably but almost certainly the result of twenty-seven years' daily exposure to ambient powdered fluorocarbons. Dementia followed a decade later. His death at eighty came as a consequence of his refusing food and drink for a week, a mode of death known in nursing-home jargon as 'Alzheimer's suicide'.”

Sante’s description of working to pay for college at a plastics factory reminded me of one of my brother’s first gigs. He was around eighteen, and we were roommates – his first place outside my parents’ house. He’d gotten a job at a factory that made something – could it have been containers? I forget, now – that required immense amounts of cutting. Unfortunately, the workers, in order to endure the grinding tedium of the place, were almost always either stoned or drunk. This had a deleterious effect on their reaction time when it came to removing a limb or a hand from the way of a cutter – hence, your general OSHA meltdown. That job put me in a sweat – the more my brother worked there, the surer I was that he was going to become a victim. Luckily, he began to believe the same thing, and so he quit.

The bloody sacrifices of brain and body that have gone into building up an American governing class that has turned out to be as untrustworthy, incorrigibly rapacious, and utterly devoted to endless military aggression as has ours, in the age of Bush, makes for melancholic reflection. Unless you have strict periods in which you guillotine certain members of the ruling class to put the fear of God into them, they are useless -- apparently there is some pre-set program inside them that incites them, lemming like, to historic disasters. Perhaps it is the vast bad karma that floats up from all the cramped muscles, the boredom, the monkey-fying of the brain, the global effect of the system upon numberless bodies.

Two other grafs. This is after Sante’s description of working in the plastic factory:

“I was about to be sprung from my class status. My father worked in a factory, my parents owned a tiny house and a secondhand car, they were socially awkward and didn't speak very good English; I didn't really know what a rise in status would entail. I had no desire to work in finance or to join any clubs. All I knew was that I would be avoiding the sort of life to which my parents had been sentenced. Nevertheless, I referred to myself as working class, and was even more insistent about it in college, when I met kids from fancy backgrounds. This was partly in emulation of my proudly Socialist father, partly because I was an outsider in so many ways that I had no choice but to be defiant about it, and partly because it was 1972. Revolution, the great panacea of a few years earlier, had definitively been scratched, but hopes had not yet crumbled.

Neither had a certain romantic notion of the working class. The United States was famously supposed to be classless, of course, but then almost everybody knew better. In 1972 the working class (along with a few other more or less murky categories, such as 'street people' and 'our brothers and sisters in prison') was still being floated among middle-class would-be revolutionaries as an edifying model for imitation and as a permanent source of guilt. It was a bit complicated, because 'hard-hats', unassailably working class, had beaten up antiwar protesters on the streets of New York City and been hailed as pillars of the Silent Majority by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. But there remained the lingering aura of the Wobblies, of the miners' strikes and auto-workers' strikes of the 1930s, as well as a cascade of images from the Paris Commune and the October Revolution and the Long March. We imagined basking in the radiance of that aura when we wore our blue chambray shirts and listened to the MC5, not suspecting that within a decade or two so much of American industry would be exported or terminated. Then the remnants of the working class would either be handed neckties and told they were middle class, or forced into fast-food uniforms and told they didn't exist.”

Note: the website has accidentally reproduced Sante’s article twice. Read it.

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