I had to shit. Just like that, that’s how it hit me. I had to shit and there was no time to stall. This was back in the days before I had admitted to myself I probably had IBS. Probably. OK, there’s still a little bit of denial. I just chalked it up to my bowels being “jacked up.” Somehow that sounded more reassuring than the clinical term. This was also back before I had the desk job. The job where I could relish in the restroom trips. Make an extra break out of them. I never smoked, and always envied the “smoke breaks” but in the office I could sneak a book into the restroom, flip it open, and relax and get away with not working for ten minutes. Give or take. OK, fifteen or twenty. Hey, they were jacked up. This was at the warehouse job. The first job out of high school. The one my dad’s fishing buddy hooked me up with, the one that was pure manual labor, but meant I didn’t have to flip burgers and I made more than minimum wage. The one where I was the only guy under 35. It was a grocery warehouse and we would get orders from Safeways and QFCs and little Pack and Saves, and our job was to drive around the warehouse building pallets out of the orders. We would meet at the front, get our orders and punch it in to the computer, which would spit out some number of how many minutes it should take. When we finished, we had to punch out and we got a percentage for how long it took us compared to how long somebody somewhere had programmed a computer to figure out it should take. If we were consistently below 100% we got written up, etc. etc. I felt like part of the real working force. That was the whole job. All day, every day. Get an order, punch it in, and drive around on a pallet-jack building boxes of potatoes beneath boxes of oranges beneath mushrooms and garlic.
The whole trick to the job was glancing at the order and determining how many pallets it would need. Then you found the bases, the heavy stuff – the bananas, the potatoes, the lettuce if a “wet board” – and went from there. It was boring, it was largely solitary, it was very repetitious, and I loved it. It was one big game of Tetris, complete with scores. I had an ability to “see the pallets” and I went racing through the rooms on my pallet jack, making racing car noises in my head trying to get my best score and keeping track on a notebook I kept in my back pocket. 132%. 140%. I’d look over other people’s shoulders as they punched out, comparing scores but not wanting to ask and sound arrogant or, god forbid, look like I was enjoying myself. That was the first rule of the workplace I learned. Work sucks; you don’t enjoy it, ever. At the occasional morning meetings I got praised by the bosses, and heckled by my coworkers and I shrugged my shoulders like “I don’t know. Maybe I just get all the easy orders.” They called me The Journeyman, although I don’t know if they really respected the speed and ease at which I did the job, or if they were mocking my enthusiasm under hardened breaths. They’d been there too long. Picked too many orders. Seen too many years go by, still doing the exact same job as the one before it. “Don’t get stuck here,” they warned. “You are better than this. The pay is good, and we’ve seen it happen to people before you, but it kills you. Look at us. It killed us.”
So, this was the job I had when it happened. It hit me, and I stood there, order in hand, not knowing what to do. If I could finish that pallet, I could clock out, get my score and then run to the bathroom “off the clock.” Then I would be able to take my time and not have it affect my scores. If I’d gone right away I could have made it and maybe even run back, finished the pallet and gotten my 100%. Or at least a 90%, then averaged it up with the rest of the day. But I wasn’t sure if I had the time and I spent too long pondering it; I didn’t make it. I shimmied up the steps to the bathroom, feeling the wet shit start to glide down my legs and thought about how long it would all take to clean up. My scores dwindling away in the process.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/burchshit.html]
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