Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Parallels

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I was sent to shadow the field boss as a form of limbo until the corporation could more properly matriculate me into their system. We ended up on an analysts’ floor to install a machine for a new hire; something that happens quite often, consequently – if it’s not a revolving door of comings and goings, it’s reconfiguring the existing human stock in different patterns on the floors; a grand 6,000-large game of Musical Chairs. Well, Russian Roulette, according to the security guards: Sometimes you don’t learn of your imminent departure until you’re not part of the new restructuring. Indeed, half the floor was empty, despite the corporation owning this plot of real estate for years.

Our immediate charge was opposite a Hong Konger woman; or, rather, a British-educated Chinese lady, which would immediately invoke assumptions of Hong Kong, but while she demurred at the insinuation, she was coy about whence she originally came. So, a non-Hong Konger woman. This non-Hong Konger was introduced to me by the field boss, lacking as he is any governor, as somebody for whom I do not hesitate to help if she has any issue at all: Drop everything, he said, and if there happen to be old ladies in the way, knock their asses flat to the ground – nothing should get between you and helping this analyst out.

This evoked titters from her coworkers and not an insignificant amount of curiosity. The story goes, the field boss volunteers, that this individual is the reason a certain Jim is no longer working at the corporation. The non-Hong Konger encountered a technical problem that rendered her unable to work at 11am, and Jim, working his ticket queue in the order given (and like all such support queues, all tickets are marked high priority, which means no tickets are high priority), managed to address her problem at 3pm, which was enough time for her to get frustrated and contact her superior, who contacted a VP, who did what VPs are wont to do in such a situation. Shit flows downhill, as it were.

The non-Hong Konger, along with most of her section, was regaled by this story two or three more times, each re-telling with little embellishments and flourishes added, though the story was ostensibly for my benefit. In truth it was for both our benefits: For me, it was a parable about how tenuous my employment situation was – somebody says a word and I can be axed without further thought, as if the position wasn’t already marked by daily reminders of such. But for her, it was two-pronged: One, her words had consequences, as they adversely affected a man’s livelihood for her temporary inconvenience, and two, despite this analyst being four levels above us besotted IT support technicians, the real power was in the VP – a living god astride the earth – and her position was just as tenuous as ours.

Indeed, on the same floor, the field boss spent a few moments gabbing with another Chinese woman, this time Americanized, about how tired she was. She had gotten off work late, she said. When? Five o’clock. That’s not so bad. Five o’clock in the morning. Oh. What time did she get in today? Eleven o’clock. Us wage earners could commiserate, but as a salaried person, this wasn’t extra to her: It was simply a requirement for continued employment. Sure, she makes as much as two of us, but what does that matter if you might as well forego paying rent and sleep under your desk?

There is hardly a person in the joint with any weight on. I’m surrounded by Abercrombie models, the lot of them. Perhaps I’m simply on the wrong floors, and the literal fat cats are further up, but I can hardly blame the living Ken and Barbie dolls their due – where is there in Midtown to eat? It’s hard to imagine the heart of New York City of being a food desert, but the grey modernist monoliths rather much dictate available retail rents, rendering the whole practice one of picking between $18 wraps seemingly portioned for the average Japanese monk or forty minute queues as the last surviving greasy hole-in-the-walls attempt to cater to over a million hungry workers plus the occasional intrepid (read: suicidal) tourist at the same time.

I joked with a coworker that, with the logistical problems of the neighborhood, it would make sense to run the trading floors like dim sum parlors – hire loud Cantonese ladies to roll carts down the rows and aisles with nosh-able tidbits, tapas, fuel to keep going. He replied that’s exactly what they did (except perhaps the ladies were Colombian) especially on days the market was down – as incentive for them to work harder, which means never leave their desks.

It’s Marxism 101 that the tipping point of revolutionary change is when the middle class starts comparing its plight with the working classes rather than assuming concordance with those above them. Or, perhaps George Carlin, who observed that the working classes are really just there to scare the shit outta the middle class. Most of the mid-level flunkies which us technicians support maintain a conceit of middle-classness that they assume everybody keeps: That we may make the same assumptions, that there are parallels within each of our lives. Parallels there are, they are right – though not necessarily how they think – and they appear to be becoming more obvious with each passing day.

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