25 Jun 2009

Slide Rule

Any other suggestions for a topic, this afternoon?

"How about gratitude?"

How about it, eh? There's no how, or why. It's simply a topic. Someone always suggests it.

He has yet to be grateful. He has yet to work a step even, really, although the first three are kind of a given. Your starter steps, you get those free. Yeah, admitting powerlessness, that's easy. That don't take no courage. He doesn't want to have power over anything, that implies responsibility, and he doesn't want that, Void no. He's incompetent, he'll admit that. He can be called to account for some things, yeah. He knows he's not a pants-pissing invalid. Just incompetent enough not to be trusted with any profession that pays more than ten dollars an hour. Of course, capital flies around like an insect in dizzying loops, settling on the juiciest piece of rotting meat, which is not always the most competent decayer or purveyor of putrid protein. But in some over-arching, always-balanced equation, capital loves competence and snubs incompetence, thus justifying whatever salary Chris might be making, for doing whatever baffling task one half of the global economy has deemed fit to hire him for. His incompetence is crafty like that - it's cunning, baffling, and powerful. Not that it takes much power to baffle him.

Competence. It implies he was weak when he answered the call that led to the friend that led to the bar that led to the beer that led to the shot that led to the thought that led to the call that led to the answering machine that led to the query of "can i come around tonight? gimme a call back, bye" that led to the second beer, that led to the call that led to the dealer that led to the apartment that led to the K that led to the groove-hole-merzbuzz-baseball-wakeup-phonecall. Competence. It implies he should have told his friend to fuck off, or perhaps politely: "I'm sorry, I can't make it to your bar-scene, but if you would like to drink some tea and talk about things that don't remind me of drugs, I would be most happy to oblige." Or, at the very least, it implies he could have gone to the bar, but once there, should have refused the first drink. Or at least the second. Or maybe it implies that he could have been a weekend warrior, like most normal well-adjusted working people his age, and gotten tanked, and hungover in the morning like a rascal, up to legal shenanigans, the car in the driveway, thinking: "Fuck man, I gotta stop driving drunk - well, it was only three blocks, I've got my limits." But he SHOULD have been content with an alcohol buzz, and not upped the ante by buying ketamine in bulk, even though his rigs were in a hospital incinerator and he would have to snuff the stuff.

Incompetence. It allows him a job. Finally. It was a long time coming. He used to write angry rants about how society sucks. That didn’t pay any bills, but luckily, he didn’t have any. Then he hosted a pity party which raged on for years. It was something to do during the winter - and if you remember it, you weren't there. And if you don't remember it, you're doomed to repeat it, haha. That party wasn't too profitable. In fact, he had to get a job to pay for all the drugs that fueled the pity party. Always on his tab. His friends would let him pay, after all, he was the real druggie, they were just normal, well-adjusted working people his age, who liked to get tanked on the weekends. He was the one who needed ten times the dose of everyone else. He was the one wanted rigs, why would anyone want that? He knew why, even though he couldn't fathom the necessity of a crack pipe when a line would do fine.

So he stopped writing of psychotic breaks in a grocery store and got a job - in a grocery store. He still partied, pitiably, heartily, nearly always with pabst, and champagne when thirsty. At this time, the pity parties were less self-obsessed. The pity was more for the world itself. Ketamine wore the ego down to a paste which would sometimes evaporate in the heat of burning brain lobes. The partier, full of pity, identified with consciousness in aggregate. So much suffering. How does a normal, poorly-adjusted working person his age have any chance of happiness when so many people, even ones he knows personally, have been through so much worse? His pain is bad enough. This was fodder for discussion at the party, stimulating conversation and more drug use, at higher doses, ones that could sometimes render the point moot. Moot points were like needle points. Too bad his friends didn't know. Or good maybe, then he wouldn't have to bear the burden of being friends with junkies.

The joke of it all is that he has more self-pity now than ever. Ninety days clean, and working at a grocery store. A martyr. For what? For those people he’s supposed to think about, during the moment of silence – for the addict who still suffers. He's living for their sins. He's stocking grocery shelves so they can stumble in at weird hours, usually veering toward the pharmacy, hunting for things to get that spark sparkling again, maybe, there's gotta be a way, cause the mission is on, on, even if the head is down, down, but crashing, crashing's for people who can't stay up, up. Chris still feels a kinship with these folks. He's hooked strangers up with suitable analogs for glass pipes. Well, suitable? He's not sure. The surgeon general doesn't warn people about burning their lips. He's imparted enough uncommon knowledge regarding over-the-counter medication to get his ass fired, he thinks, if anyone here knew. There's rats everywhere, his rehab friend was right. But it's all about who you tell. If it's going to a worthy cause, he'll put himself on the line, and share his methods for filtering out the unwanted active ingredients, so the good stuff might be concentrated. Concentrated in the hands of people you wouldn't think capable of even pedestrian chemistry. But you'd be surprised. Yeah, he'd martyr himself for their cause.

He doesn't smile much, and the pretty girls in the summer clothes think he's painting red doors black, when really, he's alright with red doors. But he does smile sometimes, when he thinks himself a daoist. A practicing daoist? Yeah, he guesses, sometimes he accidentally practices the thing, training for a Carnegie recital that will never happen, because it doesn't fit into the groove of the dao. But sometimes he recognizes his natural daoist impulse when he sees that he sees that practicing addicts are necessary for sedentary addicts like him to feel clean. Clean, yeah. Clean. So clean. Mr. Clean. He smells like pine-sol. He disinfected his closet this morning. There were cobwebs and bugs in there. And he's got rashes on his skin, from something, what is that thing? He'd rather not know. He'd rather apply the pine-sol.

What great accomplishment is being daoist, if it's natural? None, he supposes, but to recognize it - that's the artifice, what he built himself, haha! So that's the accomplishment - great? Yeah, sure, whatever. But it makes him smile a crooked smile at least, the best kind of smile, the one that makes him shiver with perverse pleasure, the best kind of pleasure.

So he'll be a martyr, the kind that doesn't die. The kind that resumes consciousness, to feel the sting of post-adolescent acne and be aware of the toll that drugs took on him during his using-years, or is that just genetics? Are these aches and incompetencies just him? His core persona? He's come to believe there could be such a thing. And disturbingly, you can't separate nature from nurture cause they're siamese twins.

He doesn't like being a martyr. He doesn't feel righteous. He doesn't even feel like much of a daoist, which must be very dao of him. He's waking up in the supply closet of the grocery store backrooms. He's been taking sleep breaks lately, little siestas. He's not taking a lot of pride in his work anymore. He's lost the stamina to run out the clock. His wage has stagnated. His time seems more and more valuable, and his pay stays the same. Seems like a change is in order. It wouldn’t throw the universe off balance, would it? There is a slightly better possible world, isn’t there? One that doesn’t disappear when the baggies are empty? The idea, the very idea – it’s a bold one. That wage should increase over time – not on the cosmic scale of a career that never will exist in this economy, but over the workday – the dreadshift.

He can still do the first four hours of his shift, no biggee. He wouldn't expect to be remunerated for that at an exorbitant rate. Just the regular ten, that would be fine, even though it's less than his roommate makes - but he's good at brushing that thought aside, he’s a pro. He has competence in this arena. But if he was to work five hours, then the fifth would cost his employers a little more, maybe fourteen for that hour, cause by hour five he's running out of strategies to make the time pass. And at hour six, the rate would have to climb to eighteen, cause by hour six, it's nearly twice as hard to stay awake as it is in hour four, despite how faithful he's been to his sanctioned caffeine addiction. And that cruel hour seven, well, he'd need thirty-four bucks to get him through that. At hour seven of another shift at Valley Groceries, after ten years on the job, after the sixth cup of double americano, the thought of twenty-four extra dollars in his pocket might just be enough to motivate him to keep working for a bit. That's a case of beer he wouldn't have the money for otherwise - or well, not that anymore, but, uh, what's a healthy thing? Um, renting ten movies? That he could watch online for free. Or half the cable bill for this month... or, half a gram of coke. No! Not that stuff, not anymore. Half a gram if he didn't share, that is.

And by then, he'd be into hour eight. And he'd be knackered, ready to go home and not do coke, and maybe download a movie. He'd be thinking about what movie to download when he got off work, and also about coke, and about how even with thirty-six extra dollars in his pocket every workday, he still wasn't rich enough to do a middle-class man's drug, and how a month or two into the bender - even a poor man's bender of fits and starts and unintentional detox - he'd be using rent money to pick up the welfare ball on wednesday, to make reasons to live magically appear, again. If he went and did coke. Which he's not going to think about anymore.

Then he'd be into hour nine, because thinking about coke makes the time pass faster than thinking about movies. Unfortunately, there's not much to do by hour nine, so all he'd have are thoughts, while running out the clock. Working through hour nine would cost Valley Groceries sixty-six dollars, like his high-school friend made at the coca-coala bottling plant a few years ago. Under current labour laws, hour nine is the start of "overtime", and would net him time and a half, fifteen an hour, until the end of time. No subsequent hour would be worth more than fifteen. Overtime is overtime. There's overtime, and regular time, and that's it. Such a digital clock.

The manager of this market goes on about his vinyl collection. Not to Chris, he's not in the elite group that gets to hear about the records. But he overhears. His manager loves the rich warmth of the analog sound. Yeah, Chris could relate, if he owned records. But he knows about analog recording. How about analog overtime? How about an appreciation for the nuance of human vitality over the exponentially-dilating time scale of after-hours grocery clerk work? Maybe the manager could appreciate this idea like he appreciates Spacemen 3's "Playing With Fire", with limited-edition gate-fold. But the idea is new, as far as Chris knows, not vintage, like Marx. Even if the manager is hip to the rhythms of the young people these days, it would die in committee.

"How about bulk work?" the committee would ask, always wanting to cut a deal, because that's what they do for a living. That's why they're where they are. Chris could cut a deal with a Turing machine, but not a human being, because he can't talk to people he doesn't know, lacking people skills. When the nanobots become sentient, Chris might have a place in upper management, but not today.

Bulk work? Could he sell them his labor at a reduced rate if they paid for, say, a guaranteed six months of employment? Hmmm, that's tempting, he'd say, sarcastically. Six months, hey? Yeah, I AM prone to grasping at straws of stability, seeing as how I've been here only... ten years. (Actually three, but ten in his mind.) They'd say, well then, how about if we purchase a full year of your labor? Then could you come down on the price? Chris would laugh and say, one year? I'd be here in a year anyway. How about ten years? They would look at him blankly, not taking him seriously. He would sit with his “painting red doors” look and they'd say: Ten years? Not adding that the grocery chain would as likely be sold by then. For reichmarcks, probably. Chris would say: If you buy ten years, I'll reduce my rate of exponentially increasing labor cost for succeeding consecutive hours. Then he would try to remember some high school math about cubed roots, and sputter. The management would not realize he was bungling his terminology, but assume he was trying to impress them with calculations irrelevant to the negotiation, the little pretentious twat. Chris would get across the numerical relationship by saying: Look, the costs will still increase after hour four, but they won't double every time. It'll be like - hour five, twelve, hour six, fifteen, hour seven, nineteen-fifty, hour eight, uh, twenty-six-twenty-five, and hour nine, um, let's say thirty-six.

Let's say?

Yeah - see, it's a compromise, Chris would say. I'm using, like, half exponents or something. I dunno, whatever it's called. The management would think Chris was playing dumb to put them at ease and mask his garden-variety con. Lots of crazy-like-a-fox people in Johnson, brain-damaged glue sniffing shysters, pants-pissing idiots with payday cunning, the street-level smarts of scamming just enough for sustenance. They're not ballsy scammers - they're not like the managers who get off with gratuitous grace. Not that the managers are scammers, not really. They play by a few rules, enough to make their own for others. But it's so tiring dealing with the low scammers, such a waste of energy that could be better spent working on the truck, the golf-swing, the little pleasures in life.

The managers would feel as if the illusion of a deal was struck - good enough to give Chris the impression of having made one. They could always back out later. Chris' limp hand would be shaken. Chris would contemplate ten more years at Grocer Valley, and plan an early retirement.

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