So I’ve been reading Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’ for the first time and feeling like my life has become a soft gooey metaphor for the drudgery and meaninglessness of existence. And I’m not ashamed, too much, to own that it’s the first time I’ve read this landmark book because at least I’m reading it, and that’s probably more than most of you can say while attached to a polygraph.
Now I’m not equating my life, my job to the wretched horrors that comprised the days and nights of immigrant meatpackers in early 1900’s Chicago but then again yes I am, a little. Because while I, like yourself, don’t run the risk of a slow painful death from a blood infection brought about by an errant flick of a filthy butcher’s blade, the larger concepts are the same, and they remain the same for the vast majority of us.
Those concepts, like the last scraps of pig carcass in a rendering vat, can be reduced to two: Expendability and immobility.
As to the first, if series creator and executive producer Dan Harmon can be unceremoniously ditched as showrunner for the critically acclaimed TV comedy ‘Community’ your position as #1 Ad Sales Performer for KQRV FM Home of the Golden Hits is by no means an iron rice bowl. And if you’re the fastest cutter on the assembly floor of the lace factory your supervisor will make a great show of presenting you with that coveted $40 Applebees coupon at the end of each month. Until the carpal tunnel sets in. Then you’re gradually but inevitably fucked because you, former hot shot, are now a hot shot not, and thus naught but a broken cog in the remorselessly grinding machine that is Big Lace.
On to the second, the immobility: It’s an ancient truism amongst working folk; when you have the money you don’t have the time, when you have the time you don’t have the money.
In Sinclair’s Jungle, the inhabitants of Packingtown know full well that a mere 5 mile walk will bring them out of their rank and pestilent purgatory and into a countryside of green hills, blossoming flowers and streams of cool, un-poisoned water, but that 5 miles might just as well be millions; that bucolic landscape somewhere on Mars.
You’re too worn out to take a walk when you have to work so hard just to work.
You need to sleep if you’re going to work so you need a bed, preferably with a roof over it and as few lice as possible. You need to eat if you’re going to work, maybe even three times a day, and that gets spendy even if you stick with the store brands and nutrient-free but oh so affordable fast food. And what about the kids? What about chairs to sit on and wood for the stove? What if someone gets hurt or sick? What about lights so you can see around the rooms you pay for because just about all of your daylight is burned…at work.
But then of course there’s The Sweet Relief in the Distance, the dangling carrot of “Vacation.”
An increasingly exotic notion, the vacation has taken a hit along with the wider economy. In the first place there has never been an American—no matter how celebrated and deserving—who has taken his full two weeks back-to-back without fearing for his livelihood, and since the poo hit the propeller in 2007 those of us that still have jobs are rather inclined to keep them. Like the residents of Packingtown, we face any work absence in dull terror that the boss may simply shrug and fill our empty slot with another, more compliant ant.
Retire? Oh yes, you’ll get to retire. No doubt to live the good life you’ve struggled for over a lifetime while you’re still hale and hearty enough to leisurely tend your combination vineyard/unicorn ranch. Count upon it!
Bitter? Moi? Perhaps, and yet I’m in pretty fair shape compared to most. By the time I was in my late 30s I had enough socked away to waste it all on useless liberal arts degrees for all three children who will, upon their graduations, be ready to vie for their own positions in Packingtown.
Personally, as their father who loves them, I kind of hope they take that 5 mile, million-mile walk instead.