What I can’t believe about the whole thing, not that you’re asking me, is that none of you saw any of it coming.
Not just in the 50/50 hindsight sense that it’s obvious now, but seriously, that you looked at the world, the way it was, and said, “Yeah, I think this all fine and stable and things are going to keep going the way they have been because I don’t have the fucking imagination to see it any other way.”
I was there, you know, with them. Working there. And from the inside it wasn’t a tsunami, it was a tide coming in slow and steady and unstoppable.
I’d just been hired there, about a week before the hiring freeze. It was a job like any other big box store. Same bullshit. My job was to pull pallets to the floor for the night stockers. If we finished that, we had to restock the water. So much god-damn water went through that store you would think it didn’t flow into every house through pipes. Like, walk into any house, turn the spigot and you have an endless supply of water. Yet every night half of our pallets were water. Four types. Distilled water. Spring water. Baby water. Whatever that is. But I’m getting off track. People buy dumb shit I guess.
And we pulled it to the floor. Water, dirt, food, alarm clocks that play Beatles songs. Each job there was assigned a number that told you the smarts needed. A one meant no literacy or math skills: a cart pusher or greeter. Seven was the top of the scale: cashiers. Pullers? We were a two because each department had a number, printed on each box. 57? Housewares. 82? Electronics. 87? Automotive. We had to be able to read numbers.
What was the number for sporting goods? The place did a bunch a business there too. I know that all of you folks knew about that; complained about the guns and the bullets. But still you didn’t connect the dots, did you?
Anyways, a week in and they stopped hiring. No big deal. The place never bothered to hire enough people just so we’d always be working our asses off. Every department had two less people than it really needed to shave some minimum wage jobs off of the payroll. The weird part was the new training requirements. The usual stuff was still there: be nice to customers, don’t sexually harass your co-workers, unions are evil, and we’re all a family. I’m not saying it was useless, but every puller I knew would hide from or outright ignore customers. They’d probably harass women if any worked with us. No one could afford union dues even if there was one. And I don’t care how many times they called us “associates” instead of “employees:” everyone knew just how much we mattered to upper management.
But the new training was weird. It was propaganda for the store. Like, working there wasn’t enough, we had to love working there too. Not that we complained. An hour watching corny training videos was better than moving heavy shit around that hot back room.
Then came the community events. Our store started hosting everything from town council meetings to church youth groups in a small section carved out of the clothing section. Right behind the giant sign marked “UNMENTIONABLES” pointing the way to racks of bras, panties, and lingerie. No one showed up at first. Not until they started handing out 5% discount coupons to everyone who attended. It was a pain in the ass for us because they blocked the aisle, making us haul our pallets all the way around menswear to get by.
Some of the pullers quit. I don’t think it had anything to do with the new policies. It was just a job that lots of people quit. I would have myself, had been planning to only stay for the summer anyways, but the tanking economy put a hold on my plans for school. It’s a shit job, but when layoffs are going on all around you take what you can get.
Anyways, the store had to find replacements. But instead of the usual application process, new hires would only come through the community meetings. I think they had to attend so many before they could apply or something. They seemed alright enough. Most just happy to be working. What I though was weird is that they kept going to the meetings, even on nights they didn’t have to work. I asked Earl about it once, and he just asked why I wasn’t going. Apparently I was supposed to be attending the “civic duty” meetings. I told him that sounded like communist bullshit. Earl didn’t say much to me after that.
And so things went for a while. After a few months, I was the only puller left that hadn’t been hired through the civic duty meetings. Which meant that was the senior puller, and should have been in charge of the crews. But instead Earl was. So now I had to put up with his stupid pep-talks at the beginning of each shift. “We’re all pulling this together.” The way he would smirk every god-damn time he made that pun. Really clever Earl. He also gave us company news, always something about the moves the company was making to ensure us employment even while the rest of the country fell into anarchy. Or how corporate taxes where destroying the very fabric of American life. And Earl always reminded us to attend the civic duty meetings.
I was pissed about Earl’s promotion. I didn’t want the job, especially since it didn’t even pay any more, but I hated that he got it instead. I think I found out why though: one day I was snooping through the manager’s paperwork trying to find the trucking manifest for the day. Sometimes sections would be light, like maybe there wouldn’t be much dog food that day so the pet department would be easy. Everyone was always jockeying for housewares since it was mostly paper-towels, but I could get pets without a fight and it wouldn’t be bad so long as we didn’t have a truck full of kibble. Anyways, I saw a sheet with the crew for the night, and there was my name circled in red with a big zero next to it. It was our civic meeting attendance record. There was Earl at the top of the list, a real over-achiever.
As much as I hated it, I started going to the meetings. At least for long enough to sign the attendance sheet. I didn’t really get what was going on, but I knew enough to know that being circled in red was a bad thing. And sure enough, a few weeks later I got another peak at the manager’s nightly print-out, and may name was no longer highlighted. Still at the bottom of the list, but at least not singled out.
Turns out I made the right move. Shortly after that a bunch of old-timers got fired. Not all of them, mind you, only the ones that had never gotten on the civic meeting bus. The job was getting shittier by the day, constantly worried about getting canned because you landed on some list, and all the normal people were gone. Everyone was turning into a real company men like Earl. They had given that bastard a special patch on his vest for loyalty, and he started making everyone call him “Sir.”
But what was I supposed to do? Unemployment was peaking. Job prospects outside where getting slimmer. So I called Earl “sir” and I started coming to more meetings just in case. I even signed up for the “optional” training sessions. Some of those were actually fun: firing rifles out back at the new range they had made by the waste water collection pond.
And then it happened. The big takeover.
I came into work that evening, ready for a long night of avoiding Earl and trying not to run over any customers with a pallet, when they told me that I wouldn’t be going home. Mandatory overtime or something. I hadn’t caught on at this point, I was just happy to be getting time and a half.
There were more trucks than usual. Food, water, and ammunition from all over the company’s vast distribution network. The store closed early that night for renovations, making my job easier. But the place was packed: every employee was in. Around 1 A.M they made the big announcement.
You know how it went. The company was on the verge of collapse from the onerous restrictions, taxes, regulations, executive orders, and whatever else bullshit. Some line about government over-reach and how unconstitutional it all is. How the president isn’t even legitimate.
That was the justification. Then the demands: 0% corporate tax rate. No OSHA. No EPA. No nothing. The company was declaring itself a nation, something like the deal that Native Americans got. Self-governing.
While you were hearing about it on the 24 hour news networks and twitter, we were getting a slightly different pep-talk in the store. Over the loud speakers, we heard the speech, and then what was expected of us. Continuing loyalty. Defense of the nation. They never used the word “new,” because as the logic goes we were actually returning to tradition, revitalizing in the self-governing state what America “used to be.”
What did all that mean for us? Locked in until demands were met. Or rather, we were the militia protecting the constitution from the aggressors in that illegitimate government at our gates. The bullshit just kept getting deeper and the whole time Earl just had a big grin on his face. He was now our platoon leader.
And what could you all do? We could of holed up for years with the amount of food on the shelves. We had guns and warm bodies to use them. We had a distribution network spanning the globe, a fleet of vehicles and the gas stations and auto shops to maintain it. We had a banking system, doctors, and pharmacists. There were even plans and materials in place to build more permanent housing in the stores. And there was a store just like mine within driving distance to just about every single town in America.
But the standoff didn’t really last long. Sure, you could have bombed us, or tried to get the police to take back the stores. And even if there hadn’t been those counties and Texas that dissented with us, do you really think the government would bomb it’s own people on mass like that? We’re still your neighbors and relatives.
Or if you’re really cynical: someone at the Pentagon did the math and realized that knocking out all those stores would have meant food riots since most of the stores were also the primary grocery stores in their regions. Not to mention the damage done to the economy if everyone had to stop buying cheap plastic shit for any span of time.
So was it really a surprise that you all folded so quick? I’m not saying I’m with them, and best of luck on whatever counter revolution is supposed to get them to start paying taxes again. I don’t really care. But I’m going to be holding onto my store loyalty card for the time being.