WHY NOT HERE?
I am only in the middle of my second issue of Processed World. Oh how I wish I had found your magazine earlier! Maybe I could have escaped my materialistic consumerism-driven middle class (maxed out on my credit cards) existence a little earlier. But to do what? I hungrily devour everything in your magazine, but all it does is come back up in a kind of wet burp. I've read the letters from people of my generation--yes we're all aimless, seemingly apathetic, brain dead from years of watching the Brady Bunch and thinking life's problems would always be solved by mom and dad's neat little catch-all phrases (Mom always said, "don't play ball in the house!"). We should have known better--I mean, did you ever see Mike or Carol Brady actually working at anything? Of course they were good parents, not like our own that slaved away to provide us with our Barbie Dolls and our G.I. Joe's, then took their work frustrations out on us without realizing that Barbie Dolls didn't spiritually satisfy us, anyway (they were too busy thinking the swimming pool in the backyard and the station wagon in the driveway would make them happy). All of this throbbing pulsating energy, all of this dissatisfaction just eating away at our insides--can't we channel it somehow? Are we that impotent or have we just been brainwashed by the powers that be to believe we are? The government wants to get rid of radical art, eradicate mind-expanding drugs, abolish anything that will actually make us more aware and wake us up to how we're being screwed, but the question is: Will anything wake us up?
Let's look at L.A. and the recent riots. All of the pent-up frustrations, the anger, the fear that these people have been living with, the disempowerment they've had to deal with erupted with one foul swoop of an unjust verdict. But instead of channeling that anger towards the people and institutions that deserve it, the rioters and looters destroyed their own community! I bet Buchanan, Bush and the fascists that run our country got a big chuckle over that one. For years they've been allowing guns and crack to circulate freely through big city minority communities, just waiting for them to wipe themselves out. now they make a token effort by pouring money, ever the capitalists' solution, on the problem. You can't buy self-esteem. The children of the middle class learned that lesson the hard way. A very wise friend of mine believes L.A. was just the foreshadowing of a future civil/race war. To me, that would be a misdirected revolution! How would those of us who are white and therefore represent the power structure let the other side know, "Hey! We're with you!" Any full-scale revolt needs to be organized and with full cooperation of blacks and whites, rich and poor, anyone who's sick and tired of what our system has become (and don't fool yourself into thinking a vote for Ross Perot is truly an attempt to overhaul the system!).
This country is a powder keg ready to erupt, and I am ready for it. It can't happen soon enough for me. I've been watching the events in Eastern Europe, wondering why it can't happen here. Citizens sat back for too long while their leaders ran amuck, oppressing them by instituting controls over everything they saw, said, did, heard, while at the same time bestowing special favors on themselves (look at the Congressional check kiting scandal) and breeding corruption (see Contragate, the S&Ls, BCCI, Clarence Thomas hearings) JUST AS OUR OWN GOVERNMENT IS DOING NOW. Finally the corrupt Communist governments got their comeuppance. Just because we live in a so-called "Democracy" don't think "It can't happen here." I'm hoping that Processed World can go further than you do now (and I know this is an awesome responsibility for one publication to bear--[no kidding!--eds.]) and help organize the revolt when/if it comes. Grumbling about your crappy jobs and the state of our society is fine, but when push comes to shove you'd better be ready to make a change.
I just quit my job last Friday. I spent a year (any more and I would have been brain dead) working for a big business trade association, doing things like xeroxing memos to business owners telling them why they needed to support the styrofoam industry (never mind that if the environment goes, we all go with it, and then where will you relocate your business? To the moon, maybe?) and lobby against national health care, etc. At first I thought it didn't matter that I didn't believe in anything my employer represented, but the constant stomach aches, headaches, depression I felt told me otherwise. Your job can be detrimental to your health--I'm living proof. I'm not sure what I'll do now but I do know I've never felt better in my life.
I almost didn't write this letter. I had to overcome the fear that now the FBI will put my name in some kind of "radical" file and when they implement the internment of radical thinkers (like some kind of Soviet gulag), I'll be the first to go. But I've realized that that kind of fear will accomplish nothing. I say, more power to Processed World and its readers--go forth without fear, my children.
Poll Tax Saboteur
Dear Process World(ers),
I've been impressed by several back issues which a friend lent to me. One of the most interesting and heartening features of PW is the letters page: it's so good to see that there are people out there trying to fuck over "the system." I thought I might add a new voice to the saboteurs' chorus.
I moved to the U.S. from Liverpool, England in 1987, after spending most of my time since leaving school in dead-end jobs: factories, clerical etc. In 1990 I returned to Britain for a few months, reluctantly in search of a job. All I could find was a temp job sending out the first Poll Tax bills. Along with about ten other people I was expected to take addresses and ID numbers off a computer printout, and copy it onto the forms which would then be sent to the victims. The recipients of the forms were advised to quote the ID number in future correspondence. I happily spent seven hours a day writing the wrong numbers on all of the forms whilst getting paid. Toward the end of the contract went for a few drinks with some of my co-workers, and discovered that they had been doing the same thing. Our combined efforts must have created about 50,000 future problems for the poll tax system. This one could run and run. . .!
I'm now back in the U.S. and trying to destabilize everything.
Master Electrician: High Prole
What a delightful magazine! From it I discovered how un-unique I am. It seems I've stumbled into a beehive of malcontents, that is, frustrated artists and intellectuals. What a treat! Bohemia is alive and well, though processed through the postal system.
I'm a blue-collar worker by accident. After attending a college prep school, with four years of Latin, French, and English, I wanted to be an interpreter. After a couple years in college, I joined the navy with the hopes of more schooling and eventual duty hobnobbing in global circles as a translator. Instead they decided I'd make a better electrician, and, 26 years later, I'm still an electrician. However, I'm a high prole, or as Paul Fussel described us in Class: ". . .they'are not consumed with worry about choosing the correct status emblems, these people can be remarkably relaxed and unself-conscious. They can do, say, wear, and look like pretty much anthing they want without undue feelings of shame, which belongs to their betters, the middle class, shame being largely a bourgeois feeling."
As a master construction electrician, I have certain liberties not found with lower proles and middle class, namely, I don't have a supervisor. I supervise myself. Nor do I go to the same building every day and punch a clock. I wire buildings and leave when I'm done. Two years ago, for instance, after wiring a district educational building for nearly a year, I left for Eastern Europe for a month.
I get no benefits, such as medical insurance, sick days, paid vacation and the like. Instead they begrudgingly pay me $27.09 an hour. On the other hand, I tell the boss for how long and when I'm going on vacation. Sometimes I don't show up for work; maybe it's simply too cold outside, or perhaps I have a bad hangover. I never use an alarm clock. For eight years, from 9- to 17-years-old, I delivered the Chicago Tribune at the beck and call of an alarm clock. In snow, sleet, and darkness, I delivered like clockwork. I promised myself that when I became an adult I'd never use an alarm clock, and I don't. If I'm late for work, I readily explain that my body refused to wake up at the anointed hour, sorry. They get used to it in a short time. They learn that I'll show up, eventually.
More importantly, however, is not what I do, but rather where I've been and what I've seen. My work has not only taken me into the homes and offices of every strata of American society, I have also witnessed first-hand the daily bowel movement of America, the sewage treatment plant. And then there's work that I simply refuse to do, wire a house for a wealthy person, for example. I find wealthy people obnoxious and consumed with conspicuous gluttony. To install a $5,000 fixture from the 20 foot ceiling in the entry of some lawyer's palatial mansion, while poor people fill the jails, goes against my grain. The incarcerated paid for that dangling brass and crystal with 60 some flickering candle-like bulbs (the bulbs alone are over $300). Of course there's also the hot tub, pool, sauna, and the dumb waiter to carry firewood to the second and third floor fireplaces, to name but a few of the luxuries.
Interestingly, in the past year, I've seen the inside of the jail as both an inmate (ten days for drunk driving), and as an electrician wiring a new guard station within the laundry facilities. The contrasting viewponts exhibit a vivid portrait of class distinction. There were no lawyers, doctors, accountants, or advertising executives in jail. I was processed through the system with other drunk drivers--overwhelmingly blue collar workers--and drug dealers. We're considered the scum of society and treated as such. The guards, or correction officers as they like to call themselves, display tyrannical attitudes and enforce petty rules, such as proper bed-making, with the utmost seriousness.
To enforce their rules, there are a half dozen jails in town, each one worse than the next. The already bad food gets worse as does the confinement and rules. People who consistently violate the rules are sent down the ladder till eventually they're in solitary confinement with little more than bread and water.
A few months later, as an electrician going to jail everyday to do construction, the view was much different. Instead of inside looking up, now I was outside looking down. The guards, no longer masters of my destiny, became bottom of the barrel unskilled proletarians. As one guard told me after I asked him if he experienced much inmate trouble, "Naw, we're just babysitters. Most of these guys are harmless drunks and drug users."
To Whom It May Concern:
Please cancel my subscription to Processed World. Your magazine has a good premise--alienation--but the execution falls short. It's the Revenge idea that bothers me. I'm experienced enough to know that in revenge, make sure the screwing that you give is worth the screwing that you will inevitably get.
It's hard to be optimistic in modern society--managers that don't, friends that aren't, take-home pay that can't, but JESUS why make it worse? If you hate that job so badly, quit. If your boss is a jerk, welcome to the club.
Your 'zine shows a lot of talent. Too bad it's hard to see it through all the weird, existentialist whining about wage-slavery.
Surviving the Dull Hours
You guys & gals are so great--you've been such an inspiration to me. I'd never have survived my dead-end job at the University of California without your moral support.
During the dull hours--the especially dull hours--I cranked out propaganda, such as the sticker [reprinted below]. I then used UC's campus mail system to send them to Regents, university presidents, cafeteria dishwashers, and executive secretaries. For a while they sprouted like beautiful weeds on campuses from San Diego to L.A. & beyond.
Keep it up!
Up Against It!
I just picked up PW and I really want you to know how much I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, my partner and I are truly "UP AGAINST IT." I spent most of yesterday agonizing about whether to engage our family in the teeth of federal and state bureaucracy and apply for aid at Social Services. We don't want "aid," we want jobs, but. . .oh hell.
After reading several of the articles in PW, I noticed that I was feeling things I hadn't felt since High School! There was an idealism about changing our society that existed within me when I was much younger, and I guess I've lost it along the way without even realizing it. (Scary!) So I stand in your debt for turning my consciousness upside down and backwards (towards my own past) although I can't say yet where this might lead. Survival presses and leaves little room for any thought or feeling about the Bigger Picture, at least for now.
My favorite PW item remains Tom Tomorrow cartoons, especially the one on page 38 (#29), with the guy's watch beeping. I laugh, but it hurts.
Anyway, here's to the future, however dark, and thanks again for allowing me to plug into PW. I applaud your efforts.
Faye Manning--Springfield, OR
P.S. If 75%+ of PW's budget comes from subscriptions, where does the 25%- come from?? [distributor/bookstore sales, the occasional donation and loan--Many thanks to the 5 people who recently bought $150 lifetime subscriptions. It made a big difference in financing this issue--eds.]
Responsibility. . .The Winning Solution
Yo, Fellow PoMo Proles!
I came across Bad Attitude: The Processed World Anthology while browsing in a local alternative bookstore. I knew instantly that it was some kind of chop-busting satirical masterpiece, cast in the blithe spirit of the Church of Bob. But it took me a couple of leavings and returnings before I finally got a fix on your politics, and it all made sense.
A week later, I heard an editor interviewed on the radio. That interview nailed it. I took a deep breath, coughed up the $20, and reeled in this queer fish, still heaving and panting on the deck. I've discovered that as long as I store it in the freezer, I don't have to continue holding my breath!
But seriously. . .thanks for one of the most uproarious and xeroxable fonts of wit, wisdom, mayhem, mischief and subversion that I've ever blundered upon by happy happenstance. You might be curious to know something about my situation (Tough tuna. . .I'll tell you anyway!):
I have two college degrees, including a graduate degree in literature from Yale, and I spent the last twelve years working as a professional typesetter and freelance writer. 15 months ago, my full-time paying gig with a once-politically-alternative newspaper, where ten years ago we used to smoke pot on lunch break, but which now supports itself by running pages of phone sex ads, finally fell apart. I spent the following year trying to get a simple clerical position, preferably at one of the five colleges here in depression-wracked western Massachusetts.
With two college degrees, 100 wpm typing, high computer literacy, and 12 years full-time office experience, I was nevertheless LITERALLY UNABLE TO LAND A JOB--ANY JOB WHATSOEVER--for 15 months. We're talking about hundreds of custom tailored resumes filed, with about six interviews actually obtained for all that wasted effort.
My most memorable interview was with the lady who runs the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds. She had advertised for what amounted to a "gofer/photocopier" position. Embarrassed, she held up a huge stack of more than a hundred resumes.
"I really felt I owed you an interview," she said. "But I'm embarrassed to be talking to you." Almost all of the applications in her stack were from college graduates. A minority were from starving Ph.D.s, clamoring to become gofers in the photocopy room.
Needless to say, this profoundly harrowing and sobering experience has re-colored my political complexion from PC pink to deep burning red. I am furious as hell about the way we're all being pushed and shoved and drawn and quartered by the leverage-driven corporate restructuring of our planet. If I believed in the death penalty, I would have no trouble arguing that Ronald Reagan ought to be shot for high treason.
Just to provide some closure on my personal odyssey, I was rescued from the brink of ruin at the last possible minute. I managed to land a job as an administrative paralegal, for an attorney who specializes in transportation law, with a large national client base. It's all civil and contract law, it's a completely clean practice, and the dude himself is a distinguished old school gentleman with a GREAT attitude toward his three paralegals. It's more like a family office than an adversarial battlefield. There is absolutely no backstabbing politics going on among the staff, and we even have paid medical insurance and profit sharing!
So I lucked out. My humanist background, Yale degree and exceptional computer skills put me on top of this particular stack. But it still took 15 months for me to get there. And the year I spent pounding the streets among the jobless has permanently changed my life. It's not only deepened my compassion for the folks who are getting screwed to death out there, but it's given me a new resolve to try to DO something about it, to the best of my ability.
There is the further telling irony that at a point in my life cycle when a typical Yale grad should be making a salary in at least the 50 to 60K range, I'm celebrating my ability to land what amounts to an entry level position in a new field, at a salary level (20K) which would be considered low end for a BRAND NEW college graduate with no work history.
Still, a lot of people would kill for the relatively modest job I finally managed to land. I mean, shit, in the crumbling cities, people kill for SNEAKERS and JACKETS--never mind what they'd do for a job.
Into this challenging frame of reference in my life, your book suddenly drops, like a sinister angel appearing on my left shoulder. And it sets me to thinking about the degree to which your political message pertains, or does not, in these horribly depressed times.
Although I enjoyed your book immensely, it also bemuses me. In the office where I work now, Bad Attitude makes no sense. When you're treated with genuine decency and respect, and as a valued member of a team effort, what possible incentive can there be to sabotage this feeling of trust?
Am I going to blame this attorney for the fact that I'm only making 20K, when I should be making 60? Hell no. I made a choice to bypass the high-pressure career track, and opt for a human-sized lifestyle, many years ago. I stand by my decision, even though the upturned corporate economy of the New World Order (didn't Hitler call it "Mein Kampf?") now makes it likely that I will end up penniless and bereft of support in my old age.
I'm certainly not the only one though. Just wait until all the hell-on-wheels political activists of the '60s reach retirement age, and discover how badly they're being screwed and shoved around by their government. I predict here and now that we will see a sudden wrathful last-burst-of-glory rekindling of their youthful social agitation, activism, and organizational savvy, turned against an entirely new set of social grievances in the year 2010. Count on it! The baby boomers are not about to trudge meekly down the path of impecunious oblivion plotted for them by the junk bond bandits who looted our treasury. There will be blood in the streets when they find themselves 65 and starving.
Finally, from my own office experience, past and present, I think I can say that the impulse to assume Bad Attitude lies not in the inherent nature of process work itself, but in the particular quality of one's human relationships with both employers and peers.
What I hear again and again, as I read through Bad Attitude, is the degree to which the contributing workers are treated abominally by fellow humans, who insist on acting as though they were robotic agents of some extraterrestrial force. The problem of alienation is not inherent with the new technology. The problem is inherent with human beings who have simply forgotten how to ACT like human beings--if they even learned that human role as children in the first place.
Human beings at their best are irreverent, humorous and caring, as well as justly proud of their natural competence, and hungry for a community of mutual support. When any or all of these tendencies are crushed by the debased nature of an employment situation, that situation becomes diabolical. And if Bad Attitude is the most natural, gut-gratifying response, I hardly think it's the most fulfilling or productive approach to making this planet human and whole again.
I do find it at once supremely ironic, and supremely hopeful, that so many of your contributors who find themselves stuck in "dead-end" or "meaningless" jobs turn out to be such gifted and eloquent writers, in so many different genres--from acute political analysis to side-splitting, pants-wetting comedy! It's clear that your contributors are not bubble-gum-snapping functional illiterates, condemned by paucity of wit or genetic endowment to a life of minimum wage slavery. There is just an ENORMOUS pool of creative talent in this nation, begging to be put to work on a worthy human enterprise.
It seems as though we're waiting for the charismatic leadership we badly need to turn this American community around. We are all leaders, of course. As a devout Buddhist myself, as well as a humanist-oriented bisexual man, I might find it somewhat easier than a Marxist ideologue to see the lurking potential for human personhood in even the most mind-numbed bureaucratic buttfuck, if one can just locate the resonant frequency where his or her humanity can be accessed.
I'd say your book is a clarion call to our troubled humanity, sounding an alarm on all known hailing frequencies! I'm glad I found you. And I'm glad I finally found a job that put the 20 bucks in my pocket, which I could spend on such a guilty and unjustifiable piece of discretionary pleasure, in these depressed and starving times.
Bad Attitude, of course, would prompt a bitter prole to "Steal This Book." And how, pray tell, would you folks feel about being ripped off like that, considering what you invested to write and publish it? [Well, we're more interested in people reading it than paying for it, if we have to choose--eds.]
You see, that's my point. Bad Attitude solves nothing in the long run. Responsibility for each other, and for the consequences of our actions, and for the quality of our commitments, has got to be the winning solution that brings us home to our humanity.
In the meantime, and on your own terms, you're one of the best reads I've encountered in years. Your book is a wonderful meal to nourish the spirit of compassionate mischief that keeps our humanity alive. Write on!
In love and solidarity,
A TIME THIEF VS. THE PAPER SLUT
Dear PW Crew:
I'm (still) a secretary in a sales office located in a beautiful brownstone building in Loisaida (Lower East Side, or "the East Village"as the trendies term it), Manhattan. I'm not compartmentalized in a cubicle, I mostly work on my own (though not always at a leisurely pace) and, although I work long hours, I manage to "steal back" enough time and resources (use of my computer, the fax and photocopier, etc.) to make up for a somewhat fair but (subjectively) low salary. I manage to put out various 'zines for four amateur press alliances (APAs) to which my husband and I currently belong, and I put out two newsletters--one for ten years, one for six--largely on "office time."
I was raised with a good work ethic, which means I take care and pride in everything I do, whether it's editorial letters and "APAzines" or drone-work for The Corporation. I'm known for the speed at which I get my job done, and through my nine years here I've been given steady raises and more diversified responsibilities (i.e., not just mindless typing) as well as perks (free books, free invites to various yuppie-affairs, etc.) and a credible reputation. I'm usually relatively discreet about my hobbies, which has let me get away with a lot without pissing anybody off. I come from a frugal family, and I'm anal-retentively organized, which means I've saved the company lots of money on things like office and household supplies (all of which I'm now in charge) and can therefore splurge on supplies for myself now and again (I'm not a conspicuous consumer, so there aren't a lot of material things I crave).
I'm also in charge of hiring temps, sometimes to replace me if I take a mental health or actual sick day, which brings me to the main reason I'm writing: the story in your DOWNTIME! section called "Paperslutting" by Stella. This really pissed me off, and started me to wondering, if her Bad Attitude is what PW readers are supposed to admire and emulate, maybe PW and I have grown apart in recent years; the thought saddens me.
Stella is correct in thinking of herself as a paper slut. Despite the good folks at COYOTE [Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, a prostitute's rights group], and people like Jane in your Sabotage section, I would think many prostitutes have rather low images of themselves, and this, obviously, contributes to the already-low image others have of them. Perhaps Stella was attempting to "reclaim" a word that commonly has a negative connotation, but it didn't seem like it to me. It seemed like she just didn't give a shit about anything other than pride in what she could get away with by being nasty and "subversive" to some faceless corporation.
Let me tell you something, Stella--I'm not a faceless corporation. I'm a cog in the machine just like you. My machine happens to be shinier than a lot of others I know, and believe me, I'm happy about that. It's nice not to have a totally shitty job, to get four weeks plus sick time plus medical bennies plus "stolen back" time. It's not cushy, it's not earth-shaking, but it's a decent living. When I hire a temp to help me or sub for me, I'm the one who has to "clean up" after her/him. If he/she fucks up the system, they're not fucking the corporation, they're fucking me. My corporation may be paying for a good time (i.e., an 8-hour day) from Stella Slut, but I'm the one getting abused in the end.
It's hard for me to attempt common courtesy with someone apparently out to treat her peers as shittily as she expects (and wants?) to be treated herself, but come on, Stella. I'm not your enemy. I'm not a bureaucrat, I'm a flesh and blood person just like you. I don't treat temps like dirt; when I call a temp agency, I expect intelligent people with common sense to help me out with my overflow. If I'm in, I'll give temps a tour of the house, sometimes I go to lunch with them, and I don't assign people monumental tasks (I leave those for myself). A temp isn't working for me, she/he is working with me. You, however, are working against me, and it's just not fair for me to, say, come back from vacation and have to clean up your shit. I don't deserve it. And you, Stella, deserve a better self-image. But do all us workers with civility a favor--get out of temping first.
Thanks for letting me say my piece.
E.W-C.--Brooklyn, New York
JUST GO OUT OF BUSINESS!
Dear Processed World,
Thanks for PW, which made good holiday reading. I regret, however, that I must turn down your appeal for a subscription, since I note that PW makes no provision for paying writers.
If you and your collective wish to go unpaid, I have no objections. But, as one who must struggle constantly to make a marginal living with his pen, I will not, on principle, send any of that hard earned cash to a publication that has no money for its writers. I have been doing this work long enough to know that writers seldom receive large sums, but the notion that they are to give their services for nothing, while printers, postmen, landlords, etc. are paid, is simply unacceptable to me.
On the other hand, I certainly wish you and PW well. I found the magazine worthwhile, but, as a member of the National Writers Union as well as the IWW, I feel unable to go against my principles in this matter.
J.G.--N. Miami, Florida
OBSCURE, CONFUSING, DISTURBING
Hello Processed World,
Your publication is obscure, confusing and disturbing. In short, I love it. My experiences with a sporadical APM demonstrated the difficulty of producing worthwhile material of a periodic nature. At any rate, you guys do it well. I'm glad to see you don't pay for your material. I agree. It's the only way to get anything that's worth something. I know it may seem untrue sometimes, but there really are still people who read. What you have reassured me about is that there are still people who can write.
Smiling Holocaust--P.O. Box 3297, Berkeley, California 94703
AUCTION BLOCKS IS THE FUTURE!
Dear Processed World:
Loved issue 29! An especially fine and trenchant selection of toons. My favorite was on p. 4 by J.F. Batellier--the workers on the auction blocks--this is the future, baby! Also enjoyed the Wobbly-PW dialogue--won't get that in any damn Time-Life pubs! But the best, the very BEST thing of all was the piece on Sabotage in the American Workplace. I'll have you know I proudly word-processed and faxed this while at "werk" ((sic)k) at a government think-tank. Keep putting out the best damn magazine around about modern work and me and my friends will keep buying it.
Good luck to you, senores!
B.E., Process Resistor, Ellicot City, Maryland