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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.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap