Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Viva Lost Wages, Or: Love Me Legal Tender

When I first made my way into the digestive system of Endless Bore and Tedium, it seemed absolutely as strong and immovable as the resolute rock that was its famous symbol. Intended to inspire confidence in consumers, that hunk of granite meant that we were solidly behind our customers, a bulwark protecting them from the trials and tribulations of Life and its sudden unexpected calamities.

As employees we were extended the same courtesy, swaddled in an excellent Health Care plan and a generous amount of paid vacation days. It seems practically surreal to recall it now twenty years after the fact, but there was a sense of prosperousness that oozed out of the pores of the place, creating this sense of being lovingly cradled in corporate largesse.

They had more money than they knew what to do with.

Eventually, of course, it would all turn sour as The Rock was assailed by legal investigators and a bad economy, draining the cash from its coffers and, by extension, us. In fact, it happened so gradually that it was like a lobster being boiled in a pot. By the time we figured out what was happening, it was too late. Faces slowly grew longer, dress codes disappeared and the halls emptied out of everyone but the most vital personnel, rattling around a big cement box that used to house a never-ending party.

But in the mid-80’s, they were flush with cash and it showed. It was a world in which the work was so easy that the remaining hours had to be filled up with something, and that something was parties. Non-stop, continuous celebrations of births, pregnancies, raises, comings, goings, anything we could think of was an excuse to decorate the halls and the walls and bring in an endless selection of treats, snacks, and foods of many lands.

And there were games and competitions and quizzes and puzzles and gifts. It was a little like working at a catering service, tray after tray of delectable edibles arrayed across a gray horizon of nondescript file cabinets. Crepe paper festooned the cubicles and vacation photos and personal talismans decorated every conceivable square inch of space.

There was never an assignment or project that required so much time that we couldn’t figure out a way to shoehorn another party in. Dull, fat files of boring paperwork battled for supremacy on our desks with the endless parade of paper plates and plastic knives and forks. Food stains frequently made appearances on contracts and empty two-liter bottles of soda stood like bowling pins at the end of every aisle, waiting to be collected.

You half expected to see Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald walk in.

But at some point, it changed. Somewhere along the line, the amenities we used to take for granted began to disappear, little by little.

If there was a moment, though, that I could pick and point to, an event that seemed to mark a turning point, I know what I would choose.

When we weren’t busy putting together our own parties and playtime activities, the company was busy planning them for us. In fact, sometimes we had to schedule our parties around the corporate ones. Once a year, EB&T threw a summer blow-out for us that was dubbed an “Appreciation Day.” We’d gather in the outdoor courtyard and enjoy free hot dogs and hamburgers and take turns enjoying picnic games and participating in a talent show.

And it’s the talent show that we’re really here to talk about.

Imagine this outdoor carnival, this boardroom bacchanal, with employees milling about feeling happy and secure, having been given time off from the arduous process of party-planning, the rest of the day devoted to food, drink, and satiety.

It was just another way for the company to burn off the excess money and time that we all seemed to be saddled with. This was just a more acceptable way of doing it than physically burning mountains of cash out in the open.

But such gaiety and security cannot hide from the outside world for long. For, as we sang and danced and celebrated, a mysterious stranger was slowly making his way to our masquerade ball, like a thief in the night.

And he would be an augury of things to come.

Next: Return To Shmendrik


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