It is estimated that prehistoric man worked only two or two and a half days per week, with an average work week consisting of fifteen hours hunting or gathering produce. In fact, they (you know, the nebulous them) say that this was the case for much of human history. It was only the shift to industrialization that caused the eventual soaring of standard work hours. Remember Roosevelt’s New Deal? Of course you do, but you may not have known that it was then that a forty hour work week was established as your God-given right as a citizen. No longer was leisure time a valued commodity, it was work that made you, work that defined you. Remember when people used to retire at 55? Of course you don’t! And remember when Social Security benefits meant something? OK, neither do I, I just got caught up in the feeling.
Today I worked. I woke up while the sky was still an extraordinarily uninteresting shade of colorless. I guzzled coffee, yanked on clothing that I had thoughtfully laid out for myself the night before and then watched in horror as my coffee pot exploded its contents onto the countertop (just the newest in a series of bad tidings that I relate cosmically to beginning another unimportant job). Later when stepping outside, I realized that somewhere in the up-till-now ceaseless string of days spent languidly relishing the warmth under the covers I’d forgotten just how cold a January morning can be. I nearly fell on my ass on sidewalk ice and, because every other drone in New York was also out pollen picking, there were no seats on my train. In summation, it was chilly, extremely bright and very lonely.
Debt. Expensive toys means credit cards and that means living in a world where a bank statement might list thousand of dollars to your name even while your total worth is a negative number. How many people can really boast a forty hour week? I can’t. Technically, I work two jobs (one of which remains unpaid, despite the valuable contributions I make toot-toot), for a grand total of six days a week, forty-nine hours. The average American now spends 47.1 hours a week at their full time job, four more hours than in 1977 and 32.1 more hours than in you-name-it BC. That means 2449.2 hours of work a year versus some frighteningly smaller amount of time engaged in leisure, when possible. Because after working all day plus the commute, exactly how much fun are we prepared to have, what with laundry that needs doing and bills that need paying?
At the door of my new place of employment, Pearl Paint (convenient Canal Street location), I was confronted by a humungous woman whose expression indicated that she would most likely not be into independent film, long romantic walks on the beach or more subtle forms of humor. She looked like she might really enjoy pulling a sixty hour work week.
"Excuse me! We’re not open yet," she said.
"No, excuse me, bitch breath, but why don’t you just hop on the cock you so obviously badly need and ride back into whichever of the seven hells you came from. I work here," I replied, spitting out the words like a bad piece of fish...
...in my head, and even then I said it very, very quietly. In what most people call reality I just stood there, looking in every direction but the woman-wall’s until my supervisor came and dragged me off. So much for making any big first day impressions on the other staff members. This didn’t matter much, however, as my day consisted mainly of being told "You’ll learn that later" or "That’s something you might do after a month." Heh, suits me just fine. I’m not learning anything so I’d be much obliged if they’d just tell me what to do and then leave me be.
Quick, stop what you’re doing and take a twenty minute power nap! Visit your company’s on staff masseur after spending your lunch hour at the on-site gym! Clean the boat! Wash the motorcycle! Take a ride? Who’s got time?? Aw, need a half hour break? The absurdity of the half hour break or even the hour break when one must proceed back to the same activity is beyond me. Fifteen minutes to loosen up and then fifteen minutes to wind everything back up nice and tight in unconscious anticipation. But there is always sleep, right? Wrong. Many gyms today open as early as four in the morning, or stay open all night to accommodate those people chipping away at their bodies’ only chance at repair: sleep. Much of today’s 'us time' comes in smaller servings, and thus the tendency is to whip out the Palm PC or the cell phone. Lines between the week and the weekend and increasingly blurry, as are those between work and play – Does "I have to take this, it’s a business call." sound familiar? Vacation days have steadily decreased since 1970, as have sick and personal days. We are helping that happen.
My new job is awful, but not nearly as awful as I’d predicted it might be. The other employees are friendly and stoned, and my boss is as chipper and energetic as a honeybee on liquid crack. I did not, contrary to my predictions, come right home and drink beer until I was too wasted to remember my manager’s name. No, I wrote this first. But before even doing that, I boarded my train and while riding over the Manhattan Bridge, stared down at the water that was shining with reflections of what would be a fiery sunset and thought. I will miss waking up just to wake up, dancing because there was nothing else to do and then sitting out on my fire-escape for hours drinking amaretto coffees and writing reflections on being poor. I will mourn the loss of the freedom to make a purchase without quickly noting to myself that "this pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights cost me one hour of work." I’ll miss doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.
Some speculate that our free time being in smaller chunks causes us to underestimate its true value. It has been proposed that we actually have much more time to ourselves than our parents did, but I don’t feel it. Nonetheless, welcome me back, working-world, I still hate you.
- for your reading delight, if you can’t figure out what there is to complain about, remember the hold they have over your life by checking this out: