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Entries in economics (28)

Sunday
Dec112005

That Floor-Falling-Out Feeling

Well, I feel justified in proclaming loudly that the corporate mindset is shit. Let me tell you a tale of woe.

I started work at this AV Concepts place on August 8. I was hired to be a shop guy, doing check outs and check ins of gear, some troubleshooting and maintenance, and generally being part of the warehouse scene. I also am a driver, usually doing errands around town, or even up to LA, but also for gig delivery and pickup. I've driven on two occasions to the Bay Area, or just shy of there to Monterey and Half Moon Bay, in both instances being two- and three-day affairs. I've done full time work usually with the exceptions of certain days when they pared back my hours by four- or eight- hours, resulting in a few weeks of 32 hours. Some days I've done ten hours in the shop. My drive days to northern California were counted as 14- and 15- hour engagements.

Last week, I did three ten hour days, drove to North Hollywood and Huntington Beach, and back and forth across town. I coached a new guy. I busted ass on loading and unloading trucks during a very heavy week of work. I had a cold for three of the days and was feverish one of the days.

I get paid $11 an hour for this, $16.50 for time and a half, and $22 for the special days when I get past 12 hours. Coincidentally, the days when I have gotten 14 hours in, they have also warranted per diem pay of $47 per day on top of all the wage earnings. Those days, particularly when driving solo up the 101 highway, are days I don't mind turning out for work. But most days are not like that at all.

Truck loading. Unloading. Barcode entry on damn near every piece of gear and each roadcase. Fetching stuff all over the shop. Walking on concrete, standing for hours at a time with no real chance to sit. Solder cables sometimes. Bend. Squat. Lift. Push heavy shit. (I weighed a roadcase once and it was 1019 pounds with its contents of possibly 1000' of heavy gauge power and lighting cable—not typical, but even the 700 pound variety is not the same as sitting at a desk, and even lifting the 300 pound versions above chest height can be a bit much.) Listen to krunkity old geezers bark orders at people, and between themselves. Not a comfortable place with no ventilation. Get orders from all over. Go out for a drive and drop everything for now. Quality check components and diagnose damaged gear.

That's my job. I've passed a threshold of sorts where once I used to be totally worn out and sore at the end of the day. Better shoes helped a lot. But still, it's good for generating some tiredness. I try to preserve my sanity by retaining Sundays to myself so I can do any of my church related things, and spend time with Kelli. Given that Sunday does tend to have a few hours of church related responsibility, it's not really a day of leisure, so I asked that I be scheduled to work on as few Saturdays as possible. I had two further stipulations, and they were that I would not be asked to work OVERTIME on Tuesday and Thursday nights. So, no Sundays, minimal Saturdays, and no OT on two nights a week so I can go to counseling (I didn't specify counseling, but I did say that the times were locked in with wife and one other person, and have been for a long time). There have been times when I was asked to come in early, at 7, or 6, or once even at 5 am for a drive to Los Angeles. I did each of those. I've stayed late on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I've done a Saturday or two. I've even stayed a bit late on Tuesdays or Thursdays to show I'm a good sport. I've even taken my two- and three- day gigs out of town spanning from Wednesday through Thursday and Friday, cancelling counseling on Thursday on two consecutive weeks to do these trips because it all added up into such an irresistable deal financially, and they had the courtesy of asking me days in advance and not just assuming I'd do it.

One day back in October, about two months after I started, there was an instance when the salesman who secured a show account didn't stop to consider if I had any schedule constraints. Why would he? The company manual basically says that the company is going to run your life and that they will take priority over other work and obligations (I read this a little late). On this day, he came up to me and just started talking about gig details with me like I knew I was on the gig and had already been briefed. Well, I had not really done much in the way of gigging with this company as it was, so it was odd to have him talking about this. I wasn't even sure if he knew if I was the right guy. I asked him when this gig was, and he said it was going to be in the afternoon for set up, and would go till about 9 pm—on THURSDAY. So I told him that I couldn't do it, and hadn't he heard? I gave the warehouse manager my schedule, and he seemed okay with it. So salesman boy goes off and gets the head manager and expresses his shock that I can't do the gig, and why can't I? So the manager came over and asked me for some explanation. Within a few minutes, I was made to feel ridiculed when he looked at me and said I would not be as valuable an employee if they couldn't schedule me. The gig got handed down to one guy but he couldn't do it on short notice, then it got handed to the fellow who is audio supervisor, just above me. He got saddled with one boring ass gig and had the misfortune to have accidentally left the shop door unlocked when he returned at 10 pm, and he got written up for it. I didn't mean for that to happen to anyone. I just didn't want to bail out on my prior commitment on less than a day's notice.

This year, my birthday fell on a Wednesday. I worked overtime during one of the few extremely busy weeks they've had since I got there. My birthday was on a day when Kelli was at school, so we decided to have our event on the Saturday to follow. The company was also booked solid that day, and guys had to come in for that morning. I was asked if I could work, and I told them no, I got plans for my birthday, and since I worked overtime on the actual day, I was going to enjoy it with wife and friends on Saturday. The warehouse manager, who ordinarily does not rub me the wrong way because we respect each other gave me a little guilt trip about how I get to pick my hours but the others don't and how Saturday was one of the few killer days for everyone, and so forth. This was a clear crack in the wall.

So, the business of my cherrypicked schedule has been an issue for them. I've been persistent in defending it, and they don't like it. I've told them that my wife goes to school for three days a week, and the weekend is really the only time we get a relationship, because Monday and Tuesday are days when I work and she needs to spend all her time studying and writing. I've said I am the sole income earner, and that my life has been real tumultuous lately and that I need stability more than anything, and that my requests for time off are not frivolous. I wrote a letter to the ops manager who obviously had the biggest problem with this all, and told him this, and begged for his consideration that I wasn't trying to weasle out of anything, but that I need some balance and stability. I reminded him of the early morning call times and other overtime, and so forth.

My 90 day review was supposed to be on 11/8 and a day or two later, I inquired about it. Early on he almost assured me a raise of a dollar if I wasn't some sort of a fuckup, so, not feeling fuckupish, I didn't feel bad about asking for my review. He told me that he has been so busy with other things that no one has gotten a review in a while, and that he will get to them. He encouraged me to hold on because any pay raise would be retroactive to the date of the intended review. Well, if it was a month, I could see it. He told me the last part of December was slow, so I was sincerely hoping that I'd get a raise to help offset any loss of hours or days. On the day before Thanksgiving, we had a company "town hall meeting" with the owners, and during the open forum part, I inquired about the reviews and if they would be forthcoming. The ops manager took the opportunity to chastise me for sneaking that question in in front of his boss and all assembled. The way I see it is this: if I need money in December, a retroactive raise in March isn't going to help.

Sensing that I was getting on their bad side, I offered two things: one was to show some interest in getting a class B license so I could drive bigger trucks (and open up the door to non-shop days, overtime, per diem earning days, etc.), and the other was to take my schedule constraints off for a few weeks in December if doing so would help me retain 40 hours or something close to it for the slow season. No developments there.

On 12/8, I marked my 4th month there, and coincidentally, there was a meeting upstairs at 10:00 am to introduce the new health care plan the company was adopting. At 9:30 I was called into the office and our receptionist put a paper in front of me. It was the sort of page that would accompany my review. So my review was *only* a month late, and I started to fill it out. Then, the ops manager came by and just about snatched it out of my hand, and said he'd fill it in, and to come on into his office. Swift moving, he shut the door and had me sit down. He was barely seated before he let me know I didn't pass my 90 day review. Then he told me how my cherry picked schedule has cost him "thousands of dollars to work around" as he's needed to hire freelancers or other shop guys into overtime, or whatever. He told me that he was going to give me another 90 day probation but that I would be reduced to a "part time/temporary" position of less than 30 hours a week, which in this coming month or so, given next to no work to do, might mean that I get nothing for weeks at a time—effectively an invitation for me to leave. I reiterated my situation like I wrote in my letter. No flex. He didn't want to hear it. I felt the floor fall out from under me. He didn't even want to entertain talk of my rescinding my custom schedule and just being one of the boys who take it up the ass any time a gig comes up and needs to be worked (except for Sunday, which he agreed was discussed in our first meeting in July).

I just lost it in there. I teared up uncontrollably. This is exactly the shit I knew would come down since almost two months ago when all this shit started happening. There has been talk about my custom schedule being an issue, and sometimes it comes back to me from other employees, even if in jest. But here it was, early December before Christmas and a slow month that was already making me nervous. Only the first half was going to be bearable. Kelli and I have been thinking of moving from this apartment in February (requiring that I give notice here on the first of January—not likely now), and suddenly that idea was all but wiped out. I was heartbroken. I didn't even get wiggle room but to get him to give me the reduced hours. Apparently the money they paid to train me was better honored by keeping me.

So all this was done by 9:45 or so, and I was officially not invited to the health care meeting since I was not going to be eligible, having lost my full time status and all. Just before all this went down, one of the owners came by and offered us a bag of tangerines from his yard. When I spotted the handful of tangerines I took, I got this heartbroken fear that some citrus fruit (especially on this day when I had a wicked cold starting) was going to be about the best health care program I was going to get from this company. For lunch, everyone was enjoying pizza and salad that the company bought for the shop guys. I couldn't eat. All I could do is hide my head in shame for the utter despair I felt. Sick, tired, insulted. Fuck pizza. I went to my truck and slept for my lunch break. I couldn't even eat if I wanted to. I found a decent audience in the chance to at least vent to my audio department supervisor, who only learned of all this from another guy I ranted to who was on the shop floor when the others were in the health insurance meeting. Each at least gave me the chance to vent and flood out even with the tears.

The next day, on Friday, I kept my distance and tried to do better, but was still over the top angry with this shitty return on my investment of time and labor. I tried once again to talk to the boss when he handed me my check, but he didn't go for it. I talked to my warehouse manager about it and he did indeed vouch for the fact that I was reliable when I was there, and that I was always there when I said I could be, and took on some extra jobs for the asking. He at least understood my situation. He told me he'd put in his two cents to try to salvage things.

So that is where I am at the moment. I don't know if they are just going to hang me out to dry or not. I will have to find some other work if I can't do my usual FT gig there. I don't make excuses why I can't do the full time stuff, and I take on overtime, both early and late, and I do other stuff. I just don't fellate the corporate cock at all hours of the day and night. My life is too important to hand it all over willingly. If other guys want to do things this way, fine. Some are starving and 24 and don't care. I played that game for years, and didn't like it, and would like to avoid it if I can. As far as I care, my time at counseling, church, and with my wife is what makes life worth living, not doing a fucking corporate gig that will throw me out as soon as they can't get their way. They pay a freelancer $300 or so a day to do a gig, but would pay me the same hourly wage if I am in the shop or on the gig. The gig just might take longer since it has to start and end at some point. Really, what I asked for was "no OVERTIME on Tuesday and Thursday unless it's critical or planned, and minimal Saturdays." There are guys in the shop who get to call some shots like 'never put me on show sites' or 'never call me in once I am gone for the day' or some things like that.

So tell me. Is this warranted? I don't think I am being unreasonable.

Saturday
Oct082005

Priorities, Redux

I just heard on the news that the US will send lots of money to the earthquake-stricken south Asian region.

Hmmm.

We have money for Asian tragedies but not for American ones? Asian earthquakes are worthy recipients, but deluged American cities aren't.

Or, we can "liberate" Iraq but can't keep freedom here.

Ain't America great?

Friday
Jul222005

Deep In The Bowels Of Hell

What fucking hell. Utter fucking hell. It's the middle of summer, so we got our Florida-like humidity and heat that helps sour the whole experience even before the sleep is wiped from my eyes, and even waking up at 8 am is no help. (Hell, in less than two weeks, if I wake up at 8 am, I will be an hour late to work!) What a time to have to do this mad amount of work. Later on, I am looking at working primarily in a warehouse in the Mission Gorge area of town, where it's notoriously hot. Good times. But therein lies the ticket to my new life. Maybe.

The last two days have been just totally draining in every way. Arguments with Kelli like never before. We’re both in massive change mode, and it's worthless to figure out who is getting the shorter end of this moving deal. What I do know is that she signed up for a school with a commuter program so that she could live in San Diego and attend school three days a week in Claremont, with the option of staying in their on-campus commuter housing for the two nights that are obviously necessary, but possibly for a third, to make things safer. Her class starts rather early on Wednesdays and it's early enough that she can’t just take a train up there (timing doesn’t work out), and it's also early enough that it would make for one hell of an early morning commute to class (leave SD at 6 am and negotiate the two hour drive and whatever traffic too, and rush into class, not to mention getting up early enough to do all that in comfort). So she really should make the commute on the night before when early morning stress is not a problem, but it adds another night to the housing costs, an additional $35, bringing the weekly cost to $105 and the monthly to $420. And all that is ON TOP of whatever we pay to stay here in San Diego.

So for most of the last three or four months, the talk has been about commuting while she lived here, in this current house. So of course we were shocked to be issued a notice to leave. The next most possible option was to actually get one of the apartments the school has for students and totally leave San Diego. At least we were assured a place, and it was but a short walk to class. But it would still cost about $900 for a one bedroom on campus! About double what the commuter housing would cost, but a single price for a single place that is all ours to live in, instead of the dorm-like commuter rooms. Still, neither of us sounded ready to leave SD and neither of us were working at the time, so it would be a challenge, even if the housing was secured for us to move into. But we still had no assurance of any way to sustain that since we had no jobs. Even if we had jobs here, it would be meaningless; we’d have to start over up there, and it's harder to find stuff up there while perched at a computer down here. So for a couple weeks right after we got our notice to leave here, we perused Craig’s List and looked for work up in the greater LA hellhole, and down here too. I got not one single response to the LA area calls and emails/resumes, and when I looked at the map I found that some of the places were going to be a godawful distance to commute not once a week, but once a day! I think a 35 mile commute, or a 50 mile commute can actually take years off a person’s life!

After some fumbling with the LA work scene, and the other “opportunities” in the Claremont area (really closer to San Bernardino and Riverside), we resorted to looking down here again. We drove to Claremont to go to the school and do some administrative things, see the apartments, and taste the area. The lady who showed us the apartment asked us to be there at 9:30 am, which meant we had to leave here at 7. We got there with 10 minutes to spare. Then she told us she didn’t actually have an empty unit to show, so she arranged some Asian student to show his place, but he had three kids and another family member or two there visiting, so it was mad clutter and noise. Less than two minutes later, we were out of the apartment and I had not done anything more than stand in the living room and peer into the bedroom. Well, so much for that place. And they have no cable service whatsoever. DSL, if anything. The apartment complex was made out of block. Pretty soulless, but not about to be torn asunder by the southern California hurricanes and tornadoes. It was institutional. But it was a few steps from there to class. The school is utterly tiny, so distance is measured in yards, not blocks or such. The rest of Claremont, the city, is not far, certainly in biking distance, and it's a cute cute little downtown, totally cool for the peak oil/new urbanist guy in your family. But after traipsing about doing school related work and stopping in at a couple of the other colleges and their admissions offices possibly for my benefit, we got some lunch and it was already after 3. Hardly time to look for any real work. Nothing jumped out at me. Nothing seemed to be the sort of thing that would have gotten me the ideal $2700/mo to live in that $900 one bedroom apartment. I did go to the local Costco to once again try my hand at applying, but they said Costco only does online apps now. Fuck. We stayed and looked at the rest of the cute downtown of Claremont, and talked to people. Upon finding out that the commute to LA central is a 35 mile drive, we mostly were talked out of looking for work in the LA area. Most everyone suggested a far more local search. Then we drove home, and I filled out the Costco online app, complete with that absurd psychological profiling shit all the online apps have now. And it was an app for ONE store, not chainwide, or even a selection of stores!

So, since I had already been waiting a week and a half for AV Concepts to call, I called them that same day and told them I needed to start making some plans. They told me it would be until Monday (this was a Thursday). Then I called on Monday and was told that I could come in for a second interview the following Monday. This is now three weeks after the first one. So I am crossing my fingers like mad because I got the idea that this job could actually anchor me in town here and get us a new apartment, pay for storage at least until we can sell things down, etc. We’ve been talking about how important it is that we stay in SD because we have all our friends and church folks down here, and that is our life. We don’t know anyone in Claremont, and most of all, we have no plan for how to pay for that apartment either, so the talk was that it was far more risky to ditch our San Diego life entirely than to move within SD and keep with the commuting plan. I reasoned we could always complete the move later when commuting and separation became unbearable or gas got too expensive. We’ve both been unemployed for months now, so it seemed silly to totally bet the farm on a new life in Claremont when we could barely afford the move itself. Maybe we could get a running head start in SD for at least a semester or two, and when one of us gets some experience with the new place, we could have some idea of opportunities there.

So back to hell week.

We did our garage sale thing and it took three of us three days to get the thing done from early clean up and inventory to late clean up. We put a lot of stuff into two drive off containers. We still have a messy ass house. I still have all my music gear here in a corner and it still takes up about a third of a bedroom. Girl stuff is still scattered about—knickknacks, picture frames, plants, and other stuff still surrounding us. We still have a number of pieces of furniture that probably won’t make the cut and will have to be sold or stored. We still have mad amounts of half filled boxes and stuff. Closets left unmolested. All Kelli’s office space is intact. Bathroom and kitchen stuff is still unpacked. We got our work cut out for us still! I supposedly start work on the first of August. Shit. I have no fucking idea what to do about my music gear. It takes up space and is of high value. I can’t just shove it in a closet nor can I leave it unsecured, nor do I like the idea of leaving it with others. Not all of it anyway. It's pared down rather thin from my erstwhile glory days of studio extravagance. Still not ready to sell it. Right now it's a burden. I guess I could get another drive off container or storage facility, but that's added expense.

Well, I did finally get the AV Concepts job and started to look up and could finally release my crossed fingers that were getting sore after three weeks. After weeks and weeks of stress, one key piece came into place. We got a job that could keep us in SD. Starts at $1760 a month (to start, with more on the way in a few months, or so they say), which for me is pretty darn good. Add whatever Kelli can make and her financial aid, and it seemed that things were falling in line. We had exactly three weeks to get out of here. Miracles do happen, I guess.

So in the midst of all the other stuff, which everyone agreed was hell enough, Kelli’s car started giving her hell, and it became clear that the cost of fixing it would be silly and it's time to start looking for a new car, especially if she is going to commute regularly. So we have this fucking ordeal added into the mix. That just means more time is getting sucked up into criscrossing town looking at stuff. Time not spent packing or moving, or looking for another job. When I came home and told Kelli that I got the job, she did get excited but then found out that it paid less than I had been proposing, so she started getting all bent out of shape that there was no way we could live in SD and have her do the commuter thing too on that sort of money. Uh? What happened to her commuter housing being covered? What happened to her two weekdays remaining to work, or up to four if she wanted to bury herself with some weekend work too? Uh? I could not believe it. She started on gasping about how all her plans were falling apart, and how she might as well just quit school, and all sorts of other stuff.

So I suggested we just ask for money now, and so I reminded her that my old man had made some offer to help us with the transition. She protested, then she suggested we go, then protested, and back and forth. Finally, after going around and around on the issue, I just went over to his house on my own and started on the pitch to help us with some moving costs, and oh!, the car needs to be replaced too. Kelli really doesn’t like my old man much given the current state of things, but we are in a pinch here, and frankly, he could help. So I got to his house a couple days ago and she followed over afterwards, choosing to drive her little death trap on wheels to a place she would rather not be. After some negotiating, the old man went and collected a thousand dollars and gave it over. It was, in a strange reversal of the usual patterns of the universe, the best thing that happened all day! We so often think of a trip to his place as a disaster waiting to happen, but the last few weeks have been different, and he has expressed some desire to be charitable toward us since he can see an end to this housing dilemma here.

Kelli and I didn’t say much before we went to counseling that night, and I was thinking she would have been totally dumbfounded and surprised to have received a cash gift from my dad, so I thought things would be better. What I do remember happening is one of the most tense and overtly confrontational sessions ever. Just fucking hell. It was like the planets reversed their orbits that day—the best thing to happen was the exchange with my dad, of all things! Kelli elaborated how she thought we were going to Claremont after all this time, to which I had to say, well, then why the hell have the last two weeks been filled with looking at San Diego properties and jobs??? Shit, if all we needed to do was to move into the Claremont apartment, we could have done that a while back! But now I got my decent job in SD that can hold things together, it's not good enough??? I found myself in the odd position of defending two things I ordinarily am not known for: the actions of my father, and the prospect of my job (which of course is one that helps lift up the vanity of corporations, uses massive amounts of energy for nothing of any real use, and operates across huge geographical areas, but it's giving me what I need, when nothing else is).

So yesterday I got up at 8 and was ready to go apartment hunting by 9. Kelli woke up then, so we left at 10, and hit up a number of places in the North and South Park areas, University Heights, and the like. We finally found one place that for the price and the financial incentives was great, but it was actually a nice little place–a reconditioned place from the early 60s or so. Tasty and a nice step above the ghetto shack I anticipated we could get for the newly revised price we were looking at, if indeed we were going to pay the whole price together: $800. So we drove to the offsite manager’s place, which was another complex a few blocks away, got the apps and went to a restaurant to fill them out over lunch. Then on the way back to the manager’s place, I asked her if this was okay, and well, fuck me, the whole thing opened up again! All sorts of cries that we talked about Claremont this and Claremont that, and that this is only good for me, and what about her? Fuck, I lost it then. We got to the truck and were shouting like mad, finally I tore up the apps and threw them out and said we really need to fucking decide what town we’re gonna be in because this half in-half out shit is messing things up big time. She doesn’t have an answer for how to actually pay for any place in Claremont, and yet, for weeks we’ve been looking HERE, not THERE for work and housing, which finally turned up something and was about to turn up some housing too.

She might feel her world is crashing down, and maybe it is. We both feel that way. But being totally ripped out of home, studio, familiar settings, and from friends, all while being pressed into doing a new job that I am really pretty ho hum about is a bit much, you know? Add to that I have to store or sell stuff that I have used and lived with for years, and some of it is the last of the stuff I have to inherit from my grandparents. She faces the commute plan, and she could commute with other SD residents, or take the train, or whatever. She has to buy a new car. She has to go to grad school and work part time. Who is getting off cheap here? Me? Her? Each is being thrust into something beyond challenging, but what the fuck? If we were supposed to live in Claremont, why spend the last few weeks looking here and nonchalantly packing and filling storage containers here? We should have been in Claremont! Of course, then my new job here would be utterly useless. And any talk of living in two apartments full time is financially out of the question, and she associates that with a divorce. Well, what the fuck? One of us has a job, we both have lots of reasons for being in San Diego, her original idea was to commute. Hell, maybe we should just go up to Berkeley where she could go to Pacific School of Religion (first choice, and one that she could get, since our minister is an alum there and could help her in) and we would be VERY clearly out of San Diego and would give up the idea of living in two places at all! And, at least we’d be around some other smart liberal minds and nicer land when the shit starts hitting the fan in the post-peak days.

Bloody hell. That’s all I have to say.

Monday
May162005

Loss Of Self Empowerment

Peak Oil is daunting. We face the loss of the goods and services we use every day. We face having to do work that someone else has done for us. That might sound unnerving, and for a while, it will be. But indulge me for a while as I suggest that maybe it has done more harm than good to turn all our work and play over to them.

poster: made in china, because we needed cheap shit more than good jobsMade in China: Because we needed cheap shit instead of good jobsCorporations are unrelenting in convincing us that we need their goods or services, else our lives will fall apart. Actually, that may not be so because people had lives before corporations (B.C., I guess) and will continue to have lives after they fade away and lose their grip on most every aspect of our lives. Corporate practices have unsustainability written into their very nature. What you and I must do is imagine a life where we don't buy something because we are told to, or because our neighbor bought the same thing first. If we can be conditioned to buy, we can be conditioned to not buy. We were conditioned to buy on flimsy grounds, and we can recondition ourselves away from that for reasons that resonate in us for pure reasons of trying to preserve our humanity above all else. As the saying goes, a journey starts with the first step.

First off, let us remember American culture and corporate practices thrive on an assumption that people are stupid and can be herded like cattle. They thrive on people's desire to be part of the new and exciting. They thrive on people forgetting their integrity. They thrive on a culture they helped create: disposable culture. Seventy years ago, products were made to last because that is how things were done because it made the best sense. It still makes sense, but for a long time now, things have been made to be disposable. The euphemism we now hear and accept is "planned obsolescence." Things are made now that have little potential of being preserved for more than their planned lifespans. None of us would think of sharpening the blades on our disposable razors. We wouldn't think of reusing paper towels (or the more realistic option: use cloth towels once again). Most things are made cheaply now in part because the economy demands it. There has to be a reason for us to buy more of whatever we are using, or to get next year's model, etc. If goods were made durably in the first place, there would be less need to perpetually replace these widgets.

Even houses are made this way. One of the earlier steps away from the community based living patterns of old was to make the house itself a commodity that could be made cheaply by experts and sold to the everyman. But even in the early days, these houses were made in stylish and appealing ways, and now are regarded to be some of the most valued designs around at any price. But the house I live in is the perfectly boring standard issue suburban box. And it is not even made well! The useful lifespan of a property like mine is about 50 years. How do I know? Drive around my neighborhood and look at all the houses with significant remodel projects going on. Then compare them to the ones with no remodel work being done. My house and neighborhood were built in 1957. Coincidence? No. Not at all. These houses are not made with the same care as ones from 50 years before them. These houses were made quick and dirty all across San Diego during a boom time when we had more wealth than sense, and a desire to throw out the old simply because it was "old."

Another aspect of corporate control over our lives is the way corporations convince us that we are unable to do our own work, and that they have a solution that can do better for us. They breed the insecurity in us that leads us to trust them enough to turn over our dollars for whatever good or service they offer. One one hand, it is good for the economy because more widgets are made, and more people are employed, but what is lost is people's ability to trust themselves in their own homes. I am as victimized as anyone; I call a plumber too. I call an electrician for anything more than the most basic stuff. I hire a mechanic because I don't trust myself to do the work competently. I don't mind hiring guys because peace of mind is a good thing, but I do reflect on how somehow I have been scared by someone or something into thinking I can not do this work myself. Think for a minute about all the things you hire someone else to do that you could do yourself. And then ponder whether maybe you are losing a bit of personal pride and satisfaction by not learning to do this work yourself. Not everything out there for sale or for hire is necessarily something we need to pay for. But we are told that we should if we want it done well.

Entertainment is another centerpiece of real human living that has been distorted. I think each of us have heard grandma say "when I was your age, we didn't have television. We had to make our own fun!" Well, in a post carbon world, we might not be looking at so many films and listening to so many CDs. It will take oil to make the films and disks, and with entertainment being so slick now, it will take a lot of expense to move entertainers to far flung places to film or do tours. It will be harder to move mass produced " product." We can't rely on Jennifer Lopez or whatever popstarflavoroftheweek is to entertain us forever. We can't allow our culture to utterly fold up and disappear when all the lowest-common-denominator entertainment goes away. We might want to learn how to sing from our hearts again. We might want to learn how to express ourselves through our own efforts in the arts and drama and music. We need to know that what is in our hearts and minds is just as valid (and more so) than what we can buy at Tower, or what we can download from the iTunes Music Store. We need to relearn how to preserve our works of art on tangible media or in our community's collective memory because we can't trust that there will always be computers and the Internet to create and distribute such material around the world in a blink of an eye.

Another part of the corporate domination that flies right over most of our heads is the matter of what we throw out every day, after we have bought and paid for it. My own "a-ha!" moment came when I realized the sheer number of small plastic containers that got chucked into the trash maybe minutes after I opened them and consumed their yummy contents. I watched as small cups for yogurt, lided containers, or partitioned dishes for dips or other foods were just heaved into the bin. I shop at Costco and rarely cart my groceries home in 15 bags, but many of them come in what actually are good containers that can be reused. Well, each time I buy this stuff, I have more, so I needed to find a use for the stuff. My wife and I started to buy bulk foods more. She took a liking to baking bread from scratch. All these little containers helped store flour, seasonings, sugar, seeds, nuts, and whatever else came to mind. With her interest in baking, we cut out the need for store bought bread, and also cut out the "need" to buy the brand name Ziplock or Glad or Rubbermaid containers that do the same thing as our cast off yogurt and sour cream containers now do. And frankly, these product containers are actually better products than the stuff that can be bought from a brand name. Pardon the misleading labels, but it's working fine for me.

Corporations and their practices rely on us to forget our own inventiveness, resourcefulness, community potential, and the worth of our own labor or thought. I don't stall for a minute in thinking that maybe that business ethic of making people feel helpless has contributed to a range of social problems. We could watch how people are made to feel they must pay for all of their daily needs and wants, and must run to keep up with that system by struggling to get a "good" job that gives them the money to do all this stuff. Well, slowly, people are going to have to rediscover their own potential, and the shared potential of their community. What do we work for if not to meet our needs? And why did we let big business tell us we could not meet our own needs without their "help"? If our economy is founded on pressing more and more people into debilitating insecurity and self doubt, then what are we really asking for when we say we want economic growth? I don't think we can keep this up for much longer. Our system is already taxed beyond belief, and is already in decay in many places. America was not built on insecurity and self loathing, but it could fall apart if we have too much of the stuff.

Monday
Jan172005

A Little Honesty Ne'er Hurt Anyone

I was just watching the ABC television network run its hour (or two?) long commercial for Sears, Extreme Home Makeover. Kelli sometimes turns it on and gets drawn into it. Anyhow, there was a commercial for The Lending Tree dot com that made me laugh out loud. It had a man speaking of his four bedroom house in the suburbs, his membership at the country club, his shiny new car, and a few other trappings of modern suburban life. He had a matter-of-fact voice, and he appeared content beyond all normality. Then the rhetorical question he asked was, 'how do I do it? I'm up to my EYEBALLS in DEBT!"

I just had to laugh out loud for a minute. That was as honest and unpretentious as it was going to get tonight. So I got up and left the room. Too bad the commercial was for a company that wants to get its cut out of America's already overwhelming debt load. Ah, capitalism at its finest. What happens when the economy reverses itself because it can't grow anymore on account of no more energy to fuel it? We'll be more fucked than a Thai whore.

Now, THAT would be honesty in advertising.

Sunday
Jan162005

Bummer

Well, it's not often I get called to the boss' office at work, but it happened this Tuesday. I was told there was a problem with the entire company's numbers of people being served, and that as a result, there would be one lunch site cut out, and one home delivered meal route merged with the others, and the drivers reduced to three. I was the fourth, hired a year and a couple months ago. The boss did have a little bit of wrangling to do with the county agency that ordered the cost cutting, but she wasn't holding out a lot of hope. Sure enough, two days later there was an envelope with my name on it awaiting me at the office, confirming it all. I still have two weeks there.

As a job, and as a source of income, it didn't amount to much in quantifiable terms. The money was a little under $10 an hour, but there were some basic benefits that I could get, and for the first time, a share of PTO, holiday pay, and even vacation time. So it was a better job than other ones I've had, and way more solid in terms of hours—30 every week, regardless. Sometimes, there was a lot less work than that, but they still paid for 30 a week, for which I am grateful, because it meant that as there was less work, I didn't need to do this part time. They have a desire to keep people who want to be there, and until now, they did just that. I didn't have to do other stuff to make ends meet, so I was pretty relaxed and enjoyed doing the work.

It doesn't take a uniquely qualified person to do my job. I drive a truck and deliver meals to people, and talk to them. Minimal paperwork, lots of time out and about, dealing directly with my clients, some of whom have become friends, and in some cases, almost like surrogate grandparents. I've said it before, but it bears repeating—this job took on a meaning to me greater than just the money I got, and that's the real loss I feel. I never really chose this line of work, per se. Actually, I got a short lived driving gig at Poway Senior Center in September 2002 that I spent a year at, initially doing a two week fill in for one of the drivers there. Kelli got me that job, and I had no reason to believe it would last longer than the two weeks. At the time, I was doing a lot less music tech work than a year before, when 9/11 happened. I was barely holding stuff together at that point in 2002, so a $600 gig was nice. But then they asked me to stay on as a driver for the meals (instead of the shuttle driver), but the pay would be a quarter less, and there would be fewer hours. Well, that sucked less than nothing at all, and it kept Kelli and I working in the same office, which was nice. I did that for a year and a month, with a few weeks off in March 2003 and later in September. When that office totally cut out the single paid meal delivery driver spot, I got a transfer to Clairemont where the program was much bigger, and about 20 miles closer to home. That alone was a raise for me. So was a fixed schedule, and the benefits offered once I got past my probationary period. I easily got more than twice the compensation, let me say. Poway was pathetic, but I lived with it, and augmented it with some other stuff—usually music work of one sort of another.

I got the Clairemont gig the day after I left Poway, which gave me a couple weeks notice that that gig was over. And even that notice came within about two weeks of my desperate September episode of 2003. I was pretty scared about not working after getting past that stuff, but I got lucky and Clairemont had me down to meet and I got the job. Disaster averted. Maybe it was disaster delayed. I don't know what I'll do now. I never really applied to Clairemont. My resume and application were mainly just formalities, but I've never really done the honest job hunt thing with resumes and three interviews and stuff. It scares me. I hate selling myself that way. As a result, I'm pretty sure I'm not getting the best jobs I could be getting.

But that depends on what "best" is.

I worked for piss at Poway. Did better at Clairemont, and probably topped out anyway. But to me, the real charm of the job was that I didn't get up every morning and curse it, or curse my fate that I would be at such a place working for such wages. To me, they were fine for the way I live. The feeling that I operated under was that I was doing something useful and intrinsically satisfying. Sure, I made more money doing gigs and being crude like a sailor, but I was typically pretty depressed and angry in that scene. The value to me in this job was in how I could go in and talk to someone and maybe make them smile, or listen to them and just be witness to their lives. Maybe I got a deeper understanding of history from hearing how these people lived. Talking to people was in itself a liberal education. Witnessing how people lived helped give a face to some of the things I have read and learned in the time since starting this work. Feeling like a useful person (I don't say "productive" because there is nothing to produce, but I can be useful despite that) was good for recovering from depression. I don't remember many times when I woke up and hated my way through the day since taking this job. If I did, it was hardly ever to do with work or the people I encountered. I could enjoy the job because it didn't suck my energy or my soul from me. It was a good platform for developing my relationship, going to school, doing my church related stuff, and doing all the studying and activism that has defined the last year and a quarter for me.

Seeing it go, I can just hope that I can get into something that gives me some comparable feeling of accomplishment, while not robbing my life so much I can't do what I want to do to develop. I don't envy the people who work 40 hours, or even 80 hours. I just don't think that that is the road to happiness. It's more of a desperation, I think.

Thursday
Jan062005

Never Trust A Poor Economist

The other morning, I was listening to These Days on KPBS. It was a show dedicated to the state of the economy in 2005, an idea which itself is optimistic. Anyhow, there were two economists on. One had a deeper historical perspective and was a professor at SDSU or something. The thing about economists, I have come to learn, is that they hardly ever entertain ideas of economies moving backwards for more than a few years, and even then, they still paint rosy pictures. The failures of the world of economists seems to be the very thing that gives them a job at all; they see everything in monetary terms. Abstract things like time and space are turned into money. Economists like to break everything down into units that are used like little blocks that a child would toy with. The biggest fallacy that I have come to find plagues the discipline of economics and the profession of economists is that energy is boundless. In fact, I've read enough times that among economists, there is a belief that not only is it not boundless, but that more consumption by a bigger population will lead to more energy! Apparently, these clowns must think that more people can leverage more brain power to find more sources of energy to facilitate more economic activity which in turn would make more people better off. Or something.

Ahem. Economists don't really make a point of studying the laws of thermodynamics. The first of two laws of thermodynamics says that all energy exists courtesy of the sun and cannot be created or destroyed. It can only ever change form. It's a pretty firm rule that humans can't live outside of. We can't mine the sun for energy, so we have to use what falls on our planet and is preserved in the form of decayed organic material, sugars, etc. We can't make the stuff. But economists tell us most often that the sky is the limit, and all the time, paint nice rosy pictures of prosperity. Well, all economic activity uses energy, and increased economic activity of the sort we pursue uses even more energy. And jokers like Bush Sr. tell Americans and the world that the American Way of Life is not negotiable—that we should to use all the energy we need to use in order to live at some ridiculously indulgent standard of living.

I called the radio station to see about getting a question off to the "experts." I wanted to know what economists say to the notion of reversals in economic activity—reversals of a permanent kind due to the peak and decline of oil production. The call screener sort of stammered when she tried to understand the nature of my question. She asked me again what this was about. 'Well, economists tend to always offer optimism, but we seem to be looking at an irreversible decline in energy resources that will undermine our way of life..." She got close enough to understand then put me on hold to be put on the air.

Ten minutes later, she came on, still with ten minutes of the show to do on this topic, and announced that they really weren't going to have time to get to my sort of topic. Either someone totally didn't understand the concept, or maybe economists don't want to be faced with a looming crisis that makes all their predictions meaningless? Earlier in the show, one of the guests admitted a common question of economists was "if you know so much, why aren't you rich?"

Um, could it be because their business is basically a pseudoscience like reading bumps on people's heads?

Saturday
Dec112004

Pause, Reflect

Today I spent a perfectly beautiful evening with my wife at home. We listened to Christmas music: Bing Crosby and the Vince Guraldi score from the Peanuts TV show usually make my season. We put up some decorations, a wreath, and a tree (actually two—fake main tree, living smaller tree for the end table). We petted the dog and walked her. We shut off the lights and left on only the holiday lights. We talked lovingly and of great topics of concern.

It is a poignant time for me, who has been worried well beyond my quota about the peak oil/economic collapse issues. Lots of people laugh it off, and I would love to be among them, but I have been cursed with curiosity, and for my troubles in investigating both mainstream and alternative outlets, I am worried sick sometimes. The rest of the time, I am totally perplexed at the possibility for life like I never imagined it. You may ask how this has anything to do with the perfectly lovely domestic bliss I just described. Some will say that I am just ruining my present with fanciful thoughts of a future that I have no control over, and get on with things. Therapy would probably tell me that maybe this is too big an external issue that I stand no chance of settling, and maybe it's time to be sure my wife and I are working toward the best relationship we can have.

I don't see the demarcation line, if there is one.

My wife and I are all about the future. We don't have much choice; our future is going to happen one way or another, and of course we got married because we wanted a future together. And I really do believe in us. It's the matter of what we will confront that bends my mind in odd ways. The matter of peak oil and economic collapse cause so much mental dissonance with people mainly because they think it couldn't happen. They think it couldn't happen because they have been told it can't happen. Supposedly it can't happen because experts say it can't happen. Well, the weatherman is an expert, and sometimes we find he doesn't know shit either. So it is with the matter of massive scale resource depletion, and economic disaster. Economic disaster can happen separately from resource depletion, but is certain to happen in a world where resources are consumed at such a radical clip. Our fine nation is one that is kept afloat by an economy of debt. Our economy is a vicious cycle of IOUs. Christmas time amounts to the High Holy Days of this modus opperandi. A nation already operating under the weight of immense debt is herded into an even wilder spending spree in the name of fun and family togetherness, and keeping the economy going. It's a house of cards, people. We can make money from paper to make it seem like there is more money, but it is meaningless unless either there is actual material wealth that it represents, or if everyone agrees that the stuff is valid and will carry the same agreed-upon worth in a week, month, year, or decade. The paper is worthless for the most part, and the credit card is nothing but a promise to pay. But even the world's biggest credit consumer can arbitrarily decide to pay or not pay, or to spend more and more, even when it shouldn't. But it's okay. We trust the government to handle things. Well, some of us do...

I am losing my faith in this system. Every day, I see more and more homeless people on the corners of my once-middle class suburb. I just know that all these people aren't drug addicts or mentally ill (at least not leading to their homelessness). I just know that some of them were working even modest jobs at Target or for a private firm selling plumbing supplies or something. And not all that long ago. No, some of these people were living in 2 bedroom apartments a year ago. Some of them lost a job not for any crippling economic slowdown, but for greed. Their companies decided they needed to make more money, or at least appear to make more money by pinching the bottom line and cutting some staff and offshoring or just hiring cheaper workers. Companies are interested in making profit, and profit comes at a cost. Eventually, a widespread elimination of jobs will eliminate the buying power of the people who once bought your product. It's cannibalism, really. Henry Ford's winning innovation was his desire to make something that every man could use, but also to employ people so that they could be those "every men" who would buy the stuff he made. America's greatness for the middle of the 20th century was expressed this way: the workers on the line could afford to pay for the stuff they made, which of course made good business. Now we have a growing number of people who can't pay but for the cheapest stuff, and Wal Mart is all too happy to oblige. Of course, Wal Mart is paying people so little to make and sell their wares. Wal Mart has then created its own mini-economy of poor people buying cheap shit from other poor people made poor by the corporation that facilitates it all. Hey, Wal Mart sells cheap shit. Even if you work for Wal Mart, it's on the verge of being too expensive if you have other plans, like feeding your family and living in a habitable place. I'm sure Ms. W. could attest to that. Welcome to the land of the working poor.

So on this lovely evening, I have not visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but instead of the bursting of the credit bubble. This very well could be the last of the great American Christmases of shameless self indulgence and irreverent consumption and waste. With Bush about to steal the office of the Most Important Man in the World once again, we could be hosed. I read that there is a lot of discontent in Japan and China, and that the dollar, once the mighty arbiter of economic power in the world, is now cowering with its tail between its legs. It hasn't been a secret that we are the leading debtor nation. That's old news now. But we've been trying the patience of the nations who make that possible. Our money just isn't what we said it was. And that's all it ever was after 1970. We said it was worth this or that, and that it would be that way. And people responded in like. But that only lasts while both parties are in agreement. So, sort of like you not wanting to give your drunken, wifebeating uncle any money when he is begging for it, the world is wising up and we are gonna be in deep shit, because not only will we not be offered new money, some may cash in and take out what is here when there is just no point in bothering. Should Saudi Arabia and Japan decide to close up shop here, we could be in for a "shitstorm" as Jim Kunstler says.

I'd almost rather be the passing observer of 30 lethal car accidents a day than contemplate the shitstorm factor of the pending economic crunch, coupled with peak oil's permanent scenario of nothing but dwindling resources. But I don't have the luxury of self-censoring, so instead of laughing off the car accidents, I ponder these other things, nearly endlessly. It messed with the week before my wedding, the time around my birthday, tainted my vacation (even more so because of the fact that we drove and participated in the same behavior that got us here), and now it's spoiling my Christmas, sort of.

I am a small fraction of one step ahead. I have never been overwhelmingly a slave to the commercial Christmas season, favoring a quality of interaction and reflection over gifts and other fiscally related exercises. This is the first Xmas with my wife in that capacity, but the fourth with her in the picture, and it sure is a hell of a lot better than not having her! I do let a few things get me off the dire predictions. Tonight, I listened to Bing Crosby's Silent Night. The song is possibly one of my favorites as it is—quite possibly one of the most perfect songs ever. Bing's vibrato was sweet and mellow, his baritone was rich and full. His Christmas songs remind me of the rosy holidays spent here in the same house that was once my grandparents, about 20 years ago and some since. I don't remember liking them then, but with both grandparents gone now, the Bing Xmas songs take me back, not just to grandmother's house, but to my own youth when my Christmas wasn't tempered with these troubling adult thoughts of money, heartache, and strife. The music may take me back even further to when my granparents were about my age, making do with the accoutrements afforded them in the years of the Depression or WW2. I wonder what their Christmases were like in the opening years of the almighty American era of consumerism when it was more innocent and fun, and really a sign that better things were ahead. Then I get a little teary eyed as I realize that only two generations later, I am at the other end of that show, when rampant holiday consumerism is not a sign of a bright future, but a sign of true desperation as a whole nation struggles to maintain an illusion of wealth and prosperity against all odds. It's a heavy thought, but it's nice to have Bing sing for me the same as he did for my grandparents. Bing is sort of a musical Ouija board between them and me.

Or maybe another glimpse of joy came for me in the form of the Charlie Brown Christmas show that now defines my season. I think that that show adds a little more poignancy to my dilemma now. That show was done in the year 1965. What Charlie Brown was up against is the same that I am up against now—the shallowness and ephemerality of the commercial Christmas. Even in 1965 there was something wrong. 1965 was about 20 years after the beginning of the suburban era which went hand in hand with rampant consumerism all year round, but in particular during the holidays. Even 40 years ago there was something wrong. Well, here we are. At least 40 years ago, people were working and able to pay for this stuff, and the system seems to have been working somewhat. But people apparently were unhappy in some way. Was it that they found that shopping wasn't really a source of joy? Or that suburbia was a place where people really cease to live as community? For Charles Shultz to satirize this, it must have been a problem at the time, and one that was already manifest to those who would see it. The irony of the TV show is not ironic now. America has made a Faustian deal to sell her soul all so that we can look good in the eyes of economists and bankers.

Another thing that gave me some joy tonight was listening to recordings I have made of sermons at church, and reveling in what a great teacher we have in our minister Jerry Lawritson. If not for the messages that come to me through him, this heavy shit I think about would surely cause me to spin out of control. On Thanksgiving, he gave a sermon about the matter of giving thanks. Giving thanks is more than just being glad that you aren't the homeless person on the corner of Balboa and Genesee (self preservation at the expense of others). Giving thanks is a matter of maintaining grace under pressure, in the most dire circumstances. How else do you think Jews made it through the Holocaust? Giving thanks is akin to a counterattack against fear and despair and everything dark and sick in the world. Giving thanks is an act of rebellion, a preemptive strike (Bush should be proud) against everything bad, a way of nipping it at the source by getting the upper hand first.

Also today, earlier in the morning, there was an NPR show about Hannukah that was hosted by Spock himself. The music was this extremely beautiful choral material, and the stories of Hannukah were short bits dropped between the songs. Some of the hope and faith and thanksgiving apparent in these stories is just so amazing. If we have rough times ahead, maybe there is something to be learned from the Jews about how to cope and even thrive. They remain defiantly proud and connected to each other, their traditions, to education, to getting into the nitty gritty of it all. Indeed, the name Israel means "he who grapples with God." The Jews have marked Hannukah each year for over 2000 years now, and their celebration is still one of being thankful for miracles, for each other, and for the opportunity to have a part in the Play, no matter what role they may have, no matter how difficult.

Sometimes I hear these things about the Jewish faith and sort of wonder about how after so damned long, they have seemed to retained a certain purity to their faith that unfortunately people in my tradition have splintered a million times over. In this year of the moral values winning out over the other 250 million sinners and heathens in this nation, it is a shame that I sort of need to tip my head down and mutter that I am a Christian, immediately adding a disclaimer of something like "but not one of those right wing nutjobs who voted for Bush." I should never have to do that. Jeeze. And furthermore, I am a member of the United Church of Christ, which now, very ballisily put out that amazing ad last week. The UCC is still on the fringes of Christianity, but I perceive it as being among the rare denomination that even tries to live out the mission Christ intended. People never hear about us because well, there aren't any sex scandals, and we aren't buying politicians. Now it seems we can't even buy time on the mainstream outlets on public airwaves. Our scandal, as much as there is one, is honoring something taught to us about 2000 years ago—that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, and yes, that means those fags, niggers, broads, and America Haters too. (Sorry, I had to get into character to get my point across.) The Jews spend their holidays celebrating miracles. My people go shopping, and end up giving each other guns for Christmas. Sometimes I feel miscast. I'm almost suspecting us liberal Christians (yes, such a thing exists) will know a certain persecution in this nation while those with more noble moral values hold office.

My Christmas is one of paradox; wondering if the world in which I live will collapse is a big thing. But so is putting my head in my wife's lap, putting on some Bing and listening to Silent Night in complete silence, eating leftover tri-tip, and taking at least a good shot at enjoying holidays, loved ones, and even life, despite its overwhelming complexity and troubles. The secret to surviving the future, should it play out like a worst nightmare, is altering one's expectations, and finding meaning and joy in what is instead of what you think it should be. I may doom myself with this peak oil stuff, but like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, they can't take what I have inside me. He had Mozart. I have Bing and Jethro Tull.

Oh, and I love Kelli a lot. And puppy too!

Monday
Aug092004

Cheap Shit

Oh man. Kelli just dragged me in to Party City for some small nicknacks for the wedding. The whole time I was in there, I was thinking "goddamn, not one thing in this place is made in America." Party City owes its existence to the good (overworked & underpaid) people of China. And Vietnam. Apparently the consolation prize for destroying their country is to give them our cast-off jobs, and apparently the added insult to Americans, after having lost the war (and leaving with their tails between their legs), is that they have a country that sells out her own citizens by participating in this "free trade." Globalization. You gotta love it. It must be the single most celebrated way to fuck up everything that the world has ever known. It is the finest way to put Americans out of work while providing them with the cheap good and services they really want. And need, now that there are fewer and fewer decent paying jobs. Of course, we all need the cheapest of the cheap party favors. My god, what a horrible place that was!

I hope Americans realize the slap in the face that is just about everything around us. Our demand for cheap shit has really done a number on us. The way I see it is that there was once a time when people didn't buy what they didn't need, and the things they did need they bought, and there was a good chance whatever they did buy was built with some longevity in mind. But get to the 20th century, and some people get the idea that it would just be easier to manufacture cheap stuff that you can use and throw away. Well, there is the genesis of a whole host of problems we now face. Plastic became a key factor in disposable culture. And, you know, plastic is made from petroleum. What sort of stuff do we take for granted that is plastic, but maybe, in its earlier incarnation was made of wood, metal, or stone? Of course, if things are built with longevity in mind, people don't need to buy more of it. And if people don't need to buy more of it, the chances for a growth economy are weaker than if people are constantly buying new stuff to replace yesterday's purchases.

It's hard to do much of anything without spending money on this cheap shit. As for myself, I just try to make myself aware of where things are coming from, and if possible, seek out something that perhaps has a less controversial background. This is somewhat new to me. Alternatives are harder to find, and more expensive, but that is sort of the task ahead. I don't buy as much stuff as some do, so in some regards, I can afford to pay a little more for the stuff that I do need. I am keeping my eyes open for a supplier for shoes and general daily clothing. I hope I can get into some stuff that isn't from Old Navy or any other company that sells cheap clothing. Kelli and I are already trying to shop at Costco, which at least treats their employees like humans, and we also shop at Henry's for general food needs. I have all but stopped shopping at Vons, rarely shopped at Albertson's, never shopped at Ralph's. Food 4 Less is a tossup; they don't play the obvious chain role, but they are indeed owned by Kroger, a major name in supermarkets.

I'm as guilty as anyone for getting cheap goods, but the task ahead is to know about this stuff and allow it to influence decision making. For now, voting with the dollars is about all anyone can do.

Sunday
Aug082004

Wash Day/AUTO-Eroticism

a black bmw parked outside a suburban shack house from the 40s.Shoddy house, stellar carToday I did my annual truck wash & wax, vacuum and tire shine. I do all that by hand. I keep telling myself a buffing wheel would be nice. But there is something satisfying about getting into every nook and crevice by hand with an old rag. It builds character. When I got my truck about eight years ago, I used to wash it about every two weeks. (Times change!)

When I got my truck I decided I wasn't going to fall in love with it. There are no modifications or aftermarket goodies to make it go faster, look cooler, or sound louder. No bumper stickers, no Darwin or ichthys emblems. No custom wheels. Just a stock truck. I still don't have anything but the stock stereo. I had a chance to get a CD player but decided against it. It's okay, I only ever listen to NPR now, and all my presets are at 89.5 FM.

I think the problem with Americans is that too many fall in love with their cars. They have left the realm of being utilitarian devices to transport people and goods. We all know some people who are just madly into cars—old ones, muscle cars, exotic imports, low riders, rice racers, desert racer trucks, lifted trucks, pimped out SUVs, etc. I mean, this is more than just a thing we use to move around. People invest in their cars more than their lives sometimes! Think of all the money people put into cars—the purchase, the insurance, the gas, the oil changes, the sound systems (or DVD players now) the aftermarket stuff inside and out and it's easy to spend as much on an inanimate and soulless object as it would be to get a few good years tuition at a reputable university. I'm sure there are people who put their cars before their health insurance, or before their groceries. It can be done, though sometimes it can be that way just by default. Cars take a lot to operate, and I don't think it is a common thing to assess how expensive these things really are.

But you are a second class citizen without one, at least in America. People who don't have cars and live in places that aren't in New York or San Francisco get some odd looks from others. It is a sign of weakness to not have a car. It might be taken that you don't make enough to own one, but even that is a flawed assessment; there are people who work at Taco Bell or some other sort of place who will drive their car 15 miles to go to work where they make minimum wage. I think that is a way that corporations sort of help add to the poverty. People are so trained on using a car, they think nothing of the fact that, at that sort of wage, a disproportionate amount of money is going to the car. But they use it so carelessly. But then again, all our cities are constructed in such a way that you NEED a car to get around, even to get your basic needs met. So therefore, there is a certain tyrrany there if you want to live in a suburb, which now is just about every place.

People who work at the low paying jobs are in a bind. The companies don't need to care for them, and generally don't. It matters not that their employees are stretched thinly between checks. Get a car that doesn't start on time to get you to work, and you may be looking at a reprimand from the lackey-in-charge, the shift manager, or worse, the store manager, who will give you some "time away" to contemplate your willingness to be a productive and punctual member of "the team." (This tactic is also there to allow you time to find other work.) So people have to use a car to go to work in order to take this shit and be always on the edge of uncertainty about the job. If a person loses the job, what do you think he will do with the car? Park it to save money? Hardly. Drive less? Hardly. Its more likely that he will have to drive all over more and more to find a new job at another clone of the same place he got fired from. Or, maybe he will hang out with friends more, and drive to get to where they are.

And that is just the utilitarian aspect. Maybe money isn't an issue. Maybe we have a guy who has a pretty hot car and he just has to show it off all the time. His identity is wrapped up in his car, so he sinks more and more into it whether or not he has the money. What will become of people like this when cars become anachronistic and people finally admit life is better without them? Some people will have to find something else to define them.

So I decided I didn't want to fall in love with my car. Money is better spent other places and on other things. My truck has never failed me, and true to the ads that Toyota used to run, this truck has just been rock solid for the ten years since it was made. It came to me with nearly 79,000 miles in its first two years, and I have upped that by about 105,000 miles myself—now at 185,000 or so. I take it in for some oil changes, and a couple other timely jobs every year, and it just works. I don't doll it up with anything but a yearly shine and wax, and if the time came to part with it, I wouldn't feel like I lost a part of my family. It's just a truck. A reliable truck. It's not a pet, or a friend, or a family member (though it doesn't shit and it has been more reliable than many friends, and gives me less grief than most of my family members). If it had to be another truck, I would only ask that it be a Toyota because their durability has proven itself to me. But anything else is silly, and in light of the fact that cars are going to become bigger and bigger liabilities to own, I won't make more of it than I need to.