David stood up and addressed the group.
There were murmurs.
"I'm David. This is my first time here."
"When I got out of school, I found this job
. It wasn't a great job, but it was a job. The hours were good. The pay was decent. Nobody bothered me, much, either to tell me that I was a star or to tell me that I was close to getting fired. I made some friends, and it bothered me how little they noticed the things I noticed. I would complain that our work seemed to disappear into a black hole
, that there was no sense of accomplishment, that the things we made seemed to go down a conveyor belt
into a diabolical machine that turned them into something nice and sellable and completely divested from the things we fed into it, and that no one felt fit to explain why my output
mattered, and they would tell me how easy my job was and how lucky I should feel to not have to wear a tie or to answer to anybody. I was My Own Man
, they would tell me, and work was for money and money bought you a life
"I hear that!" from the back of the room.
"But I had questions, serious questions. And I swallowed them because everybody else was so quiet, so apparently hardworking, that I didn't want to look like the troublemaker, the first against the wall come a budget crisis.
"I did my job. Some days I did it well and felt great, and some days I worked with my eyes glazed over from the insomnia of the night before - I did so little during the day that I would leave work exhausted from the non-effort of it, stew in sour adrenaline on the way home and end up shaking in my chair in front of the TV until the late-night programming started to repeat at 3am. I'd pass out for the few hours between then and work, struggle in bleary and it fundamentally didn't matter.
"I can't tell you how much of my money the Home Shopping Network has, and I don't want to think about it."
"But it was fine. It sucked, but it was fine. My rent got paid, my savings account was never quite empty, I ate what I wanted and bought what I wanted and traveled where and when I wanted.
David took a deep breath.
"And then performance reviews came around."
Big moans all around.
"Apparently I was some kind of star in the department. Apparently my work set the standard for the rest of the department and I did things my coworkers failed to. Apparently I was the best of the best. An elite. A model employee."
Some people clapped; most knew better.
"Apparently my diligence and hard work was worth 500 dollars a year. And because the review went down in April, I was entitled to back pay to January. My boss' boss, a man I'd never met, handed me a statement for a hundred sixty-six dollars and sixty-six cents."
"Which didn't cover my tax bill."
"I didn't know what to say. On the one side, this man obviously wanted me to thank him. And on the other side, or rather on the same side but much farther down the line into poverty town, they had rounded down by a penny.
"I walked out. I grabbed my coat and walked out. One of my friends in the office called me, told me about this place. I came straight here."
"I think...I think I just quit my job. I think I'm unemployed with no recourse to collect unemployment insurance.
"I'm still shaking."
"My name is David and I have potential."