by Stacey Warde
A couple of guys in shirts and ties board the northbound train in LA. They reek of the corporate office with their shined winged-tip shoes, dark slacks, crisp powder-blue dress shirts, and navy blue coats slung over their shoulders in a sort of “casual” way.
“Yeah, sure, we could probably add another million dollars in sales if she didn’t have such a volatile personality,” says one as he, and then the other find their seats across the aisle. “She’s a diamond in the rough. She’ll be all right.”
“You’re too soft on your people,” says his companion, as he neatly folds his jacket and sets it aside.
“Yeah, well…” the other starts to hem and haw, and concocts a story about giving people a chance, room to grow, management by positive incentives….
He is too soft, I think, just as his companion says.
He’s probably a lousy manager, even though he tries hard, no worse than I’ve ever been, I’ll bet. He means well, but he’s lousy. I hate managing people. What can you do with someone who’s volatile? Get rid of the bitch, I think, fire her, and find someone who can sweet talk customers and bring in the million dollars. That’s what I would do but I’m not cut out for the sort of heartlessness that’s required to succeed in the business world.
I’m too soft, just like this guy who’s trying to convince himself that giving people a chance in the cold corporate world of maximizing profits, increasing production and making quicker turnarounds really makes a difference, that the guys sitting on the top floor really give a rat’s ass about giving someone, even a diamond in the rough, “a chance.”
His companion stops him mid-story and counters: “If you create goals, with clear-cut objectives, and set a timeline….”
“I know, I know,” the other interjects, annoyed but conceding the point, unwilling to hear more of what his companion is going to say, looking through the window as if planning an escape, and then attempting without success to convince his companion that a softer, more humane approach will bring out the best in this volatile sales woman.
I try to listen over the rattling of the passenger car, the frequent whistle of the train, and announcements from the conductor over the exceedingly loud intercom, but it’s impossible to hear what he’s saying, how he’s trying to rationalize his softness in the face of the hard and fast facts of production, the cut and dry narrative of numbers, results and annual reports, the reminder that his only purpose is to produce, to whip people into shape or send them packing.
My instincts tell me he’s not mounting much of an argument; he’s bullshitting, a storyteller, like me, buying time, trying to find a shred of the humane in the inhumane and prefab world of corporate values. What a waste of time, I think, put on a shirt and tie so you can spend your days making up stories and kissing people’s asses. I feel my throat constrict.
It can’t be good for you, this life of stifling your humanity, of living a lie. Sooner or later, if you’re not cut out for it, as I’m not, corporate life, where you have to suck up all the time to people you fear and despise, whether you want to or not, will turn you into a shell of a human being, or worse, a raging sociopath.
I’ve never been a friend of the corporation. It represents just about everything I abhor: the attempt to be original despite sameness and lack of invention or originality, save for its branding; its flowery and false rhetoric; its brutal agenda to profit no matter what; and its disregard for everything humane.
More often it’s an enemy of health and well being, killing the soul, if not the body and its environs. It’s all about the money, getting rich, or more likely making others rich. There’s nothing wrong with earning a living, even making it big, but not at the expense of turning into another heartless cog in the system and destroying everything and anyone who gets in your way.
As the next station stop approaches, the organization men grab their coats to jump off the train, continuing to discuss their million-dollar problem.
“Maybe the thing to do,” the soft one says as he heads downstairs, “is to set a timeline, like you say….”
I resign myself to the ride north, relieved, five more hours of nothing to do but watch and listen, as the commuter train makes its way closer to home, where so many people like myself have removed themselves to escape this very same screwed up system that runs LA and most of the country, the one that makes us look out the window and see nothing but dollar signs.
In San Luis Obispo, the train’s final stop, and in Cayucos, in particular, you can rest assured you’ll find outcasts, escapists and “misfits,” as mom says, people like me who don’t want to live in LA, and some who don’t belong in LA, who have had enough of the corporate life and the hyper-reality of amusement parks and shopping malls that it creates.
They move up there to escape, mom adds disapprovingly of the people in my community. They couldn’t get along in the “real” world, she says, so they found a place where they could be slackers, hermits or just plain weird. There are plenty of slackers here, I agree, misfits, hermits and weird people too, many of whom, as I, would die in the “real” world, I tell her.
Still, I argue: “There are a lot of smart, independent people here too, mom, good people who just don’t want to live in LA.”
The train picks up speed as it winds its way north and the hum of the engine and wheels overtake me and time seems to stop and there’s nothing to do but let go, relax and let Amtrak Train 777 carry me home.
Then, a flash of my own life, a jolt of panic runs through me. Another diamond in the rough, my girlfriend, who is supposed to meet me at the end of the line, who also has a volatile personality, says she will pick me up at the train station in San Luis Obispo if I buy dinner. Deal, I say, knowing that our days are numbered. I can feel it. I’ve been living my own lie, pretending that my life is just the way I want it, staying in a relationship that went bad years ago.
“I’ve found someone new,” she says. “I think he’s the one. Can you move out ASAP?”
I assure her that I can, and make the painful realization that living a lie, stifling one’s humanity isn’t limited only to the corporation. It’s a household thing too, and I’m more than eager to move out. §
Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice and lives like a hermit deep in the hills where no one can find him.