I tried. I really did.
I remember graduating with an Associates degree in Business Data Processing in 1979. I’d been told this would make me employable. And, for a time, it seemed it did.
My first job was for Bally Systems Division, a part of Bally Manufacturing. Bally Manufacturing was best known to me for pinball machines, but as it turned out they were also a major slot machine manufacturer. My immediate supervisor was okay, but his boss was ferociously intimidating, and so naturally it was the ferociously intimidating one who dominated our existence. I was on site at Bally’s Park Place on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City (just in case you’re trying to place those names, the Monopoly board game took its place names from Atlantic City) when I heard a conversation about the customers.
Unlike in Nevada, casinos closed at night. This was on a three-day weekend and apparently the streets were filled with people waiting to get in on a Saturday morning. I don’t remember the precise words, but I do remember my impression. The managers I was listening to clearly viewed those people like cattle being led to the slaughter, not merely as means to richly profitable ends, but as pathetic in a sense that they deserved to be exploited.
I wasn’t very productive in that job. My supervisor’s boss was part of the story. The fact I was flying back and forth between Reno and Atlantic City was another. And finally, I was a novice programmer who had some learning to do. I was eventually fired—the term was “mutual agreement,” but in truth, I wasn’t leaving because I had a better job lined up.
My father had a connection with somebody who worked for Electronic Data Systems and I was, after about three months working in the electronic assembly plant at Bally Systems Division, hired to be the sole contractor-representative for EDS at the Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada State Office. Ross Perot ran the company then; he had been a salesman at IBM, had delusions of military grandeur, and enforced a suit and tie dress code. I don’t remember if mustaches were allowed; I’m sure that men’s hair had to be kept short and that beards were forbidden.
People who know me know that it’s hard to imagine me in a suit and tie. I dress casually. These days I have a beard in large part because my skin will not tolerate shaving and I have long hair because it doesn’t seem to make any difference to my job prospects whether my hair is long or short. In those days I had short hair and no beard; my skin bore the ravages of razor burn—I also have a tough beard, too tough for at least the electric shavers of those days. And for the most part, while at the Nevada State Office, I dressed casually, as I perceived the people around me to dress.
Reno, in those days, was not a friendly place for a kid who had grown up in San Francisco. I had co-workers who used the N-word and declared that they liked animals better than people, but the way that they expressed their “love” for animals was with a hunting rifle and a fishing pole. I worked in the site of a bureaucratic confrontation that echoed a conflict in the outside world between environmentalists seeking to preserve range land and cattle ranchers who wanted to exploit it further. Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency while I worked there, in part due to the Sagebrush Rebellion, a grassroots reaction to the fact that the federal government owned (stole, rather, from indigenous people) a large portion of the land in Nevada. I reached the conclusion that Nevada was a place where people came because they didn’t like people, but because the jobs are in cities, that they found themselves stuck in places like Reno, which exacerbated their sociopathic tendencies.
My boss at EDS explained to me that they really weren’t making any money on this contract (with my salary, it’s hard to see how they could have lost any), and given the incoming anti-environmentalist Reagan regime, I argued that it was time to end this arrangement. The Bureau of Land Management agreed, and EDS transferred me down to Sacramento, on another contract, where morale was, I would say, the lowest (though I would see greater cynicism elsewhere) I have ever seen. It was easier to measure computer uptime than downtime and this was the unhappiest group of programmers I have ever seen.
Fortunately, a recruiter had somehow gotten my name, and even as I was transferring to Sacramento, I was interviewing for a job in Selma, fifteen miles south of Fresno. I remember the woman who became my boss tried to warn me about what I was getting in to. And even while I was there, I had so little social contact that I was largely oblivious to the fact that Selma was in the heart of evangelical Protestantism in a very conservative part of California. (When, last year, a proposal floated for some southern California counties to secede from the state, I was not surprised to see that Fresno County was among them.) Overall, my impression of Selma was that it was a place where life ended in high school. There were two major kinds of events in Selma, neither of which appealed to me. One was an annual barbecue contest. The other were high school football games.
Eventually I burned out. Again, I departed under the cloud of “mutual agreement.” I returned to the Bay Area, where I’d wanted to be all along, expecting I would find another programming job. Instead, I worked as a security guard at Chevron in San Ramon. The idea was I would return to school and get my Bachelor’s in Computer Science. But the combination of work, on a swing and graveyard shift schedule, and school was too much; my performance at California State University in Hayward was mediocre and I dropped out after two quarters of not being able to get into any computer science classes and also banging my head against the wall of trigonometry for the third time (computer science was considered a mathematics degree; I would have had to complete mathematics classes beyond calculus).
My story doesn’t really improve from there. I’ve already told pieces of it elsewhere in this blog (search for Luxor to find a particularly low example). I bounced from one abusive job to another, with an all-too-brief break toward the tail-end of the dot-com boom when Linuxcare hired me late in 1999 as a technical writer. I hoped then that my days of misery were coming to an end, but in 2001, it seemed all the venture capitalists folded up their checkbooks up at once. I had seen the writing on the wall and jumped to Axis Personal Trainers and Spa as a junior-level systems administrator. (Friends secured both of these jobs, at Linuxcare and at Axis, for me.) It turned out that Axis was also funded by venture capital and I’ll never forget being called back to the office for a department meeting with the CEO: The entire department was being outsourced.
It turns out that my father committed suicide in July, 2000, after a “discussion” with his wife, who suffered severe depression (and had a history of drug abuse), which ended with her going upstairs for a nap, him going downstairs to the garage, closing all the doors and starting the car engine, and with her waking up, smelling smoke. Having been reduced to a state of utter dependency upon him, she followed suit with an opiate overdose (presumably heroin) in November. It took his employer several months to find me to inform me that I was the remaining beneficiary on his employee stock ownership plan. That helped keep me afloat, but I still wasn’t earning a living. I have been in school since 2003, first finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication, then a Master’s in Speech Communication, and now in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Human Science at Saybrook.
Though I did get hired to teach public speaking while I was finishing the Master’s, I have not been able to find gainful employment this entire time. But I’ve seen a few more abusive jobs.
I’ve been putting out and putting out. There have been plenty of people making a profit on me while I’ve had to rely on friends and family to tide me over. And now I don’t see any prospects at all.
So I have nothing left to lose. These capitalists have had their fun. They’ve had it at my expense while they’ve increased “efficiency” (code for cutting wages and benefits and laying workers off) to “compete with the world.” They’re living comfortable lives while I’m stuck living with my mother.
I want my share. And I’m not seeing a way to get it peacefully.
People who know me know that while I have a temper, I am repelled by physical violence. I suffered it from my father and from my schoolmates while I was in the compulsory school system.
But I also know that I am the victim of structural violence, that I have been deprived of my human rights, that I have been deprived of a decent living, that my education will end with a very high burden of unpayable debt, and that even with a Ph.D., I will still be unable to find work.
So the question is, and the very wealthy should wonder about this, how will I respond to the ongoing violence against me? After all, they’ve left me with nothing to lose. My life can’t get any worse.
- “Official Calls For Riverside, 12 Other Counties To Secede From California,” CBS, July 1, 2011, http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/07/01/official-calls-for-riverside-12-other-counties-to-secede-from-california/↩
- David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).↩
- “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/↩
- Peter Conn, “We Need to Acknowledge the Realities of Employment in the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2010,http://chronicle.com/article/We-Need-to-Acknowledge-the/64885/; Billie Hara, “How Do You, NTT Faculty, Pay Your Rent?” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2012, http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/how-do-you-ntt-faculty-pay-your-rent/39146↩