Some people have jobs that are rewarding on many levels. Their daily tasks fulfill. They help others, solve problems, right wrongs, contribute to the general good of society and, therefore, to mankind.
Some jobs provide stimulating workplaces, environments that are conducive not only to teamwork and camaraderie, but to simple friendship. Co-workers thrive on pitching in to help one another, whether they are atop the proverbial ladder or just starting out.
Other people have jobs that entail a great deal of heavy lifting, low wages and the type of working environment where the high points of the day are devoted to ridiculing, insulting and physically attacking fellow employees. Or, perhaps, destroying merchandise when frustration with "the man" (i.e., "the employer") overwhelms.
While this sort of situation is sad, unfortunate, even pathetic, I'm sure you'll agree it's a lot more interesting to hear about than a workplace where people are happily dedicated, respectful of one another and love talking about how really great the last episode of Friends was.
So that's why you are about to meet Dirk (first name only here), a 26-year-old guy who works in a Valley warehouse with a crew of charmers he characterizes as "totally normal guys, but complete freaks." At the front of this particular warehouse is a store that deals in furniture and appliances.
Heavy furniture and appliances.
The warehouse does not have air conditioning. It is three stories high, and to reach those heights there are hydraulic lifts that teeter like drunken clowns on stilts.
Dirk has been there for about 18 months, working sometimes five, sometimes seven days a week, sometimes on the night shift. All of that will soon come to an end, as Dirk's employer is going out of business in a matter of weeks.
This will leave Dirk plenty of time--when he's not thumbing through the classifieds--to reflect on his experiences. Which he really has no desire to do, but, a veteran of many a shit job myself, I got him to open up on the boredom, violence, drudgery and forced intrigue that humans in nowhere positions create to make the hours pass more quickly. And each of those hours was worth $6 before taxes.
"We were the lowest, the hideous people in the back," says Dirk. "Everybody else thought we were insane, we worked this crappy job, and to make it interesting you acted like an idiot."
It all starts like this . . .
"A friend of mine worked there, and he told me it was a soup line to money," says Dirk. "So easy, so relaxed, you just line up and get money for nothing. So, of course, my first week I almost quit because it was total mass hell. I'm not the most physical guy, and when I started working there, I was one of two people on my shift.
"It was appliances, entertainment units, bookshelves; regular, run-of-the-mill, low- to mid-range furniture. All particle board, which is really heavy, and press board with plastic veneer on it. I was in the warehouse, pulling down furniture from the racks and unloading trucks, and that first day I had to unload a big trailer full of refrigerators and freezers by myself.
"After that I just went straight to a bar and got hammered and thought to myself, 'This is ridiculous.' Soup line to money. Six bucks an hour."
Yet he stayed. Why?
"I have no idea," claims Dirk. "Actually, I just became fascinated with the people, it was just so odd. Also, in one aspect, it was a machismo thing; I'm not going to let this stuff kick my ass. I'd see these weirdoes doing this and think, 'I can do anything they can do.'"
Let's meet the weirdoes.
Walter: "There was one guy who'd been there for many years. East Coast guy, supersensitive meathead. Totally abrasive, but with this bizarre, sensitive side. He was the guy who told me what to do; they don't train you, they just say, 'Go ahead.' Walter would pop up on the racks here and there and make little helpful hints. I'd never see him anywhere, he'd just come crawling across the racks and start telling me stuff, then he'd crawl away.
"He later became a supervisor, and he lost a tooth and that really affected the guy. He had a false tooth to begin with, and it fell out. He just had this huge space in the front of his mouth. From that point on, it was his downfall; his physical appearance really bugged him. He eventually did get another tooth, but he was toothless for about eight months. I never did find out what was up with that."
Missouri: "There was this hick guy from Missouri; he was just skinny, skinny, skinny. As a rail. Looked like he was dying, and he was kind of a hyperactive kid. He was about 24 and bought a house with his mother--you could tell what road this guy's going down.
"And he had a bad brother who got pulled over by the cops all the time and used his identity and wound up getting Missouri involved in major arrests. He had to go to court and testify against his brother.
"They didn't really look alike, they're kind of albino-ish. Albino with lots of moles. And he had way too many teeth for his mouth and it kind of affected his speech. It's not funny. But it is. But he could muscle anything, and I thought, 'No way am I going to let this kid outdo me.'"
Crazy Brian: "Crazy Brian was on the night crew. He was totally insane. They always make him do the most dangerous shit, because he's kinda crazy and he'll do it, just for kicks.
"They had a refrigerator, and Brian ate everybody's food. You'd get the hard-core company men going in there looking for their Stouffers dinner, and it's gone. 'I just saw it two hours ago! Where the hell is it?' And Brian's just sitting there going, 'I don't know, man.'
"Brian would get bored; he'd grab a fire extinguisher and run around spraying it, and this fine dust would settle on stuff. And then Missouri, he didn't know what was going on, he'd grab a manager, and they couldn't figure it out. They go and get everybody who's in charge, you've got all these guys out there debating whether the ceiling's falling in, or is it construction from somewhere else, thinking they better sell the place because it's falling apart. Two weeks later, Brian does the same thing again, and they still don't get it. They couldn't figure out this mystery dust.
"Brian was everybody's hero. The supervisors are supposedly not allowed to help us work, so they get bored and tell us to do busy work. They have to justify their position. So, right in front of them, Brian would drive a cart around and nick furniture. Backing into stuff. They'd scream at him, and he'd say, 'Why didn't you tell me that couch was back there?' That stuff would drive warehouse morale through the roof, sticking it to the man."
The managers: "One guy got fired. . . . he was always yelling and screaming at everybody, chain-smoking, two heart attacks, a total dick. Also, he ordered these really crappy teddy bears from Indonesia, and they'd sell them for like $300. He ordered hundreds of them, so the store was littered with teddy bears.
"There was also this young kid. He had one of those just-got-out-of-the-Army mustaches, and wore incredibly tight Wranglers and chewed tobacco. He was a pretty decent manager. Then the second-in-command manager was this huge bodybuilder guy, older, divorced, with a big giant mustache. Carried a .45 with him at all times."
XYY: "We only had two religious zealots there, but they were pretty drastic. The first one was XYY. People would tell me their whole life story, and this guy starts telling me he's got this violent temper and anything can make him mad. Once he goes crazy, there's no stopping him . . .
"So it turns out he's got an extra male chromosome, so he's extra aggressive. He was also an extreme Catholic; he took his religion very seriously, and he'd talk about Catholicism on and on and on.
"I mean, nobody there believed in God. It was like, 'If there was a God, I wouldn't be here.' One time, I got a little nervous, we were riding on the same lift and he starts talking about sex. I hate getting into sex conversations with anybody, but they all want to tell you, anyway.
"He starts talking about oral sex, and how that's okay, intercourse is the only sin. You can do anything else. I'm like, 'Who in the hell told you that?'
"'You must really have some screwed-up priest.' He started shaking, he was getting really pissed. I said, 'As far as I know, it's all bad. Especially if you're Catholic.' Eventually, he got into a fight and got fired."
The Karate Kid: "After XYY, this Mormon kid came on, he was a karate buff; you'd always see him on his break, doing his moves, but he was completely uncoordinated, and it was completely sad.
"He almost got himself killed in the trash compactor one time. He kept jumping in and doing this karate kick to smash the trash in, and he jumps in and gets his foot stuck. He tried to get out, and he grabbed the bay door and ended up just pulling it shut on himself. But he did manage to get himself free before he died. He ended up quitting because the language was too offensive for him."
So, those are the men of the warehouse.
In between humping all those luxury items around, these foot soldiers in the furniture-and-appliance-sales army found time to, well, do things to each other. I ask Dirk if he would qualify it as violence.
"I guess so," he says thoughtfully. "Basically, it was a lot of male-driven crap. Not really violence, but stuff you'd think 10-year-olds would do. You know, 'I can kick your ass; I can pick you up; I can throw a rock; whatever.'"
Male-driven crap: "I was unloading a truck with two guys, and they were talking. Someone had called and said a semi was going to get there in one or two days from North Carolina. I said, 'That's impossible. No way.' One guy said, 'That's totally possible.' I egged it on for a bit and backed off, shut up and let them go at each other.
"They were getting very serious. One guy said a semi can go 200 miles an hour, then the other guy said, 'No, they don't do over 60.' Then it becomes a major issue; they were getting furious. One guy says, 'Shut up.' The other guy says, 'Make me.' And it was all over at that point; they jump off the dock and go at it.
"There was this guy who does inventory there, they call him Blinky because he wears glasses and blinks constantly. He comes up and says, 'Hey, I heard there were some problems out here.' I was laughing, and I said, 'You won't believe it, man. You're really going to laugh when you hear this--they were fighting over how fast can a semi go!'
"He looks at me quietly and blinks a couple times, and says, 'You know, those things can get going pretty good.'"
Of all the boys at the warehouse, it seems that Missouri, the thin man from the Midwest, received more than his share of action.
"He was like a gnat," says Dirk. "He'd bug people until they would attack him. One day he was just doing it a little too much, and three guys were standing around and they tackled him. Then it became like five guys, five guys with packing tape, and they taped him up. They put him in a recliner box and taped it up and put it on a lift and put it into the racks. Actually, a couple guys got taped up. But that stopped after a while."
Then there were the shirt-tearing incidents.
"That was Missouri again. He was mouthing off to this tough, big bulky kid. He was getting in his face, he grabbed his shirt, the guy pushed him and he ripped his shirt a little bit.
"He goes, 'You ripped my fucking shirt!' and he grabs Missouri's shirt by the collar and tears it in two and rips it right off him. And, of course, he's this skinny, hideous creature like Mr. Burns on The Simpsons, and he's half-naked all of a sudden. Everybody was horrified and embarrassed at the same time. The pathos; like when the Phantom gets his mask ripped off. That happened twice to him.
"In fits of frustration, it wasn't uncommon to see things fly off the top racks, just for kicks," explains Dirk. Bear in mind that those racks are three stories high. "Big stuff. Entertainment centers. Just to watch it explode and shatter in a million pieces. It was always an accident, of course. You got to get your sea legs up there, trying to move this giant piece of furniture three stories in the air.
"One guy put it like this: The managers at the front don't give a fuck about the salesmen. The salesmen don't give a fuck about the people at the front desk. The people at the front desk don't give a fuck about the warehouse guys, and the warehouse guys don't give a fuck about the furniture.
"About three times, the electricity went out at night during a storm, and the crazy guy who was in charge of the place would get really uptight and say, 'Lock those doors, goddamnit! Lock 'em, now! And give me your .45!' And the guy hands him his gun, he's running around the store with a gun. And I'm like, 'Who's going to come in here and rip off furniture? Someone's gonna say, "The electricity's off--let's go get a sleeper!"'
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"We would just go hide in the darkest parts of the warehouse, and he'd be yelling, 'Get your asses out here and help us block these exits!'"
As you read this, Dirk is probably out of work, out of a job that you don't want, or one like you may have had, or one like you might be hoping to get. Bread must somehow arrive on the table; bar tabs don't pay themselves.
As Dirk relates this stuff, he laughs a lot, seems to be almost affectionate about Missouri, Blinky, Crazy Brian, XYY and all that male-driven crap. I ask him if he's going to miss it.
"No," he says, grin dropping like toxic waste. "Hell, no.