A Working Stiff’s Manifesto, by Iain Levison (Chapter 2)

Don’t be one!

Levison begins by telling us about an ad that seems to speak to him directly. The person must be a people type of person and (importantly), “English degree required. Ex-military preferred.” As he gets to where the job interview is (the women on the phone just tells him to show up) something seems off. People (who have English degrees) have positive energies and women are talking to him.

As it turns out it’s all a sales pitch.

One of the people who comes in starts trying to work up the crowd and get them pumped for everything. Asking them who wants to make more money, asking a woman in the audience where she works and whether it helps her get by, etc. He’s playing to the audience and he’s playing to them hard.

As Levison points out,

I am in the wrong place. I meant to come to a job interview, not a Baptist revival. (35)

I don’t know why exactly but I had never made the exact connection between work and religion. I mean, yeah, I’ve made the connection between the Puritan work ethic and…work. But come on, that’s obvious.

But the way that sometimes managers will present work or the place you’re going to work at or the job itself is something like a religion isn’t it? This job will save you and if you keep up the hard and consistent work then you shall be put in higher places in this heaven. If you believe in our scriptures and testaments then you will do well and if you don’t then you’re likely to burn (get fired).

Work has its idols (the bosses, the managers) and it has its god (Puritan ideals) and it has its rituals (punching in, etc.).

And so on and so forth.

Then Mike comes out…who is Mike? Levison has no idea either but apparently he’s important in the world of water filters.

Then Mike sermonizes:

Mike walks over to a tap and pours some tap water into a beaker, then screws on a water filter and pours some more into a different beaker. He takes a full syringe full of clear liquid and squeezes two drops of whatever is in the syringe into each beaker. The tap water turns purple. The filter water stays clear.

“THIS IS WHAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE DRINKING!” he thunders. You can’t get much more scientific than that. (36)

And then…there’s a video of people exulting the benefits of going into the water filter sales. More time with the kids, more wealth, women in bikinis and way more (probably)!

But (and here’s the kicker) Mike knows that might not appeal to everyone who isn’t a professional salesman so he’s graciously offering a $500 seminar with a man who is even more qualified to tell Levison and everyone else about it and (get this!) he’s in town right now! What a happy coincidence!

Levison gives us the bad news about this superb deal though:

People after my money always have an interesting way of describing it, as if my money was just a pain in my ass. Nobody who wants you to buy something from them reminds you how many days you had to get up early an drag your ass into work, how much humiliation you had to endure from abusive bosses and the eternally irritated public, just so you could earn that money. (38)

Levison mocks some enthusiasm of another person, overhears one of the women hoping they can scrape some money together and gets the hell out of there.


Of course, to state the obvious Levison let’s us know (just so we’re sure) that there’s no colonel or need for experiences in the military, let alone an English degree.

If it sounds to good to be true then it probably is.

The people call back and tell him they missed him after the seminar. Levison lies and tells them he found a job stuffing raviolis. Upon which they ask if that will grant his financial freedom and he hangs up.


Levison decides to get paid to drive an oil truck for eight bucks an hour. The pay is shitty but the schedule isn’t too bad and he has minimal contact with his supervisors. It’s just the routes that he has got to work with.

He’s mostly serving rich people (thus making the book a bit more Nickel and Dimed than it was before).

Levison gives us three facts about the rich he’s learned:

  1. They believe they deserve it
  2. Their kids are always fuck-ups (and not the lovable kind)
  3. They don’t talk to the help

 

There’s a lot of complications to this job:

Sometimes the little fill maps are wrong altogether … Sometimes the drive way is configured so that I can’t get the truck within a hundred years of the oil fill … Sometimes the hose feels like it’s made of lead bricks. Sometimes the hose knocks over expensive lawn ornaments … Sometimes the fill is wrong because I’m delivering to the house next door… (42)

Levison manages to get confused by “Fill at the donkey’s nose” which he ends up taking literally (I can’t blame him!) and manages to explode the donkey’s head and waste a bit of oil and get a bunch on him.

But hey at least he wasn’t Dave.

Dave filled a million dollar house with the oil (by accident) and before he left backed into the house’s electricity pole leaving them in (as Levison puts it) “an oil soaked cave”.

This whole situation reminds me of how even the so-called “simplest” jobs can be extraordinarily difficult at times. There are always gonna be margins for error but besides that there are gonna be differing interpretations of directions and how to implement them and so on and so forth. So even something like folding clothes, digging a ditch or something along those “lowly” lines can be difficult if the directions aren’t clear (which clothes? which pile of dirt?) or if the tools aren’t available (what do you mean I get a toothpick for digging?).

But still, people assume it’s all easy just because the job description may tell you that it is or give you that impression.

Hate to break it to you, folks.

But we don’t write the contracts, the bosses do.


 

Through getting soaked by oil, shot by mice that get caught in the tank’s tube and finally mastering the oil delivery, Levison is let go.

It’s seasonal work and man do I know that feeling.

I actually worked at a Kohl’s in New Hampshire doing seasonal work that honestly I didn’t mind. It was absurd hours (but I was already up at those hours) and minimal interaction with customers and even my manager was okay. The co-workers were fairly mixed but overall it was just “boilerplate misery” as Louis CK would say.

I may have even taken it for less of a pay (I was getting $10.25 if I remember right).

But of course, I didn’t get the job back after the season was over.


 

Levison has a bit of an aside on the rich and poor divide wondering where all the money has gone and why the poor have so little of it while the rich has so much of it. His friend who he’s helping paint their dad’s garage claims that it’s Reaganite defense contractors. Levison thinks it could be the “trickle-up theory” wherein people just carelessly decided one after another for millionaires to somehow carve out bigger pieces for themselves.

There’s not too much of a systematic analysis here. Levison isn’t sure whose to blame. Is it Congress? The way the constitution was written (or not written) about wealth disparities? Is it the culture of poor shaming? The shift of wealthy philanthropists to millionaires who don’t even think poor people exist?

Whoever is, Levison wants someone who would say, “No that wouldn’t be fair.” and isn’t quite sure if anyone has ever existed like that.

I’m not sure exactly who would be good to determine this. The government? The corporations? It seems like both of them aren’t exactly the best at deciding what’s fair for everyone. Hell, people have enough trouble doing that for themselves and the ones close to them. Why on earth would we trust a government to do that for us?

But as usual we get no real answer from Levison. Just some slightly standard-faire conjecture about wealth disparities.


The last part of the chapter is the best, it revolves around cable theft and Levison’s ability to informally, illegally and very casually set up the whole neighborhood he lives in with illegal cable. Saving them a whole bunch of money and giving himself a lot in the process.

Levison’s rationale goes like this:

Contrary to what the ads would have you believe, stealing cable is an act of civil disobedience which would make Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi proud. The word “pirates” is often ascribed to cable thieves, a word used by the media, most of which are owned by the same people who own the able networks. They try to convince us that the cable thieves are eroding American morality. Closing profitable factories, laying off hundreds of workers and reopening the factories in Mexico with cheaper labor is not indicative of an erosion of morality. Paying mushroom pickers four dollars an hour is not illegal. Watching Pop-up Video for free, now that’s a crime. (47)

I’m not a huge fan of this rationale given that what’s illegal and what’s moral isn’t a 1:1 relation and citing people like MLK and Gandhi you’d think Levison would get that.

But regardless it’s totally an awesome and agorist thing to do even if that wasn’t really what Levison was intending.

Cable is a lot less important now and a lot of cable has gone digital from what I understand so this sort of work is less favored.

Either way, nice work, Levison.

The one problem is that Levison is low on transportation and once is neighborhood is done he’s off to work in a restaurant


And thus ends another chapter!

This one was a bit shorter so I was able to just do this in one sitting but flipping ahead I noticed that there are chapters that are far longer and will probably be split up into multiple parts.

As for this chapter I found it to be more of the same as the last. Still fairly biting and humorous. I didn’t laugh too many times but I could see why someone would find it funny. Whether it’s just for the absurdity of it all or just Levison’s biting side-commentary on everything.

Nothing in particular really spoke to me in terms of stories except for the cable work, I wish Levison had gone more into that but I can imagine why he didn’t.

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