“A Working Stiff’s Manifesto” by Iain Levison (Chapter 5)

Dangerous situations, a sign of things to come?

When Levison returns to Seattle the world has changed in the time has been gone. The internet (remember that still being a tiny thing, kids?) has now led to people being able to do their own businesses and get a lot of money without doing as much work to make that money.

Sounds like a winning deal, but Levison isn’t buying.

He gives the example of a woman who gives some basic and common sense dating advice to people who lack said knowledge and is making a bit of money off of it. Because she doesn’t actually go out a lot Levison is pretty cynical that she actually knows what she’s talking about.

Not to be cliche but if it were the case that she didn’t know what she was talking about why would people keep paying for her service over and over? Clearly it’s helping some people out and doing some good. Besides that Levison believes she must “going out on a nightly basis” to have that sort of information but why must that be the case? There’s no reason she didn’t do her research for years before or is giving this advice because her experience often lacked these sort of common courtesies.

On the other hand, I’m not trying to take anything away from Levison’s critique of these businesses “lacking function, skill and wisdom” could certainly be a thing. I’m not sure his observations and experience in this one situation is enough to dismiss all businesses based on the internet though. I guess that’s more of my problem than his particular critique of this woman and her site. It could very well be bad for all I know and people are only buying because there isn’t much competition for dating advice (I doubt it but it’s possible in the early days of the internet being used for services like this).

But okay, Levison is back in the dating scene now, what else happens?


Someone who wants some cameras equipment first needs to get a computer so they can go on the web and sell their photos…from camera equipment they don’t have yet.

This seems completely illogical to Levison and I guess I’m inclined to say it sounds weird.

Not sure if it warrants “Brainwashing Death Ray” and I think Levison is being hyperbolic and overly sweeping about his indictments of logic but I’m interested to see where he goes from here.


Evidently it doesn’t go very far.

Levison pretty much thinks the internet won’t change anything. That it’s mostly hype, a “telephone wire for images”, a place for porn stars (okay, that’s fair), that the money from internet travels in tight circles (possibly) and so on and so forth.

It seems pointless to engage in Levison’s argument since history pretty much didn’t bear out any of his arguments.

Lots of people who are up and coming still make some money and lots of people are able to make their living from just doing things online. I’m not saying the internet is some radical equalizer for people making wealth but it’s definitely helped social mobility to some extent and reduced the costs associated with making money, connecting with others and sharing bits of your life.

We’ve seen what this has done for people and we know it’s a big deal, Levison is just (literally and figuratively) living in the past.


So Levison goes back to the classifieds and is as disappointed as ever.

Before he goes there he notes that work is practical in so far as it serves the interests of the ruling class.

Without work, where would all the new breed of millionaires that I read about in Time Magazine get their dry cleaning done? Who would fix their cars? Who would strip for them when the unload their trophy wives for the evening and go out for a night on the town? Us, the un-united workers of the world. (p. 143)

It’s good to have the old Levison back.

The rest of this section is him coming at the classifieds and denigrating them for being dishonest about what’s actually going on. Where people are duped into thinking they are doing one thing but actually are doing another and because it seems so easy to get in the labor force is easily replenished once people quit because they realize they’ve been duped. And by the time most people realize they’ve been duped by the company in question they don’t even feel like it’s worth it to get their under twenty dollar paycheck. So the company gets a replenishable workforce at no real cost every day.

Eventually Levison finds an ad about trying something different through a temporary service and figures that’s what he is looking for.


The temporary service ends up being Manpower Inc. which is a temporary service which, according to Levison, has outpaced General Motors in the number of people it’s employed and ends up taking a percentage (Levison says it’s a sizable chunk) of all of the people it employs. Which means millions of people get the pleasure of having two bosses and twice the amount of wages taken from them. Or at least twice the hierarchical situation.

Either way, it sounds lovely and promising, doesn’t it?

Especially for Levison and his luck but as a matter of a fact he gets some options in what he wants to do. It’s either stuffing envelopes or unloading trucks. Levison says it sounds like an “intriguing line of work” and especially because he’s done the unloading of trucks before. He asks if it will be in the office, with a coffee-maker and the girl sighs.

He’ll be unloading trucks again.

Levison ends up working on a truck for an art show with a guy named (get ready) Art who seems very happy to see someone else is there to give him a hand unloading the piece of artwork in a huge showroom. It turns out to be fairly easy work and makes Levison around $100 for just one day. The guy Art is in the print business traveling in the rental truck putting these out on showrooms in the hopes of making some money and does so with his wife.

Art says that his wife had to stay back and usually doesn’t let him be alone as she doesn’t trust him alone with the ladies. Levison thinks Art is joking, but it turns out Art, by the end of the day, ends up flirting with a bunch of women and ends up spending the night who originally showed up with a bay stroller.

Once the day is done Art pays for a room at the hotel and Levison gets to save a bit of money.

For the first time in a while, things are looking good for Levison.


On the second day of Christm…no wait.

On the second day of Levison’s temporary job though everything goes wrong.

Art asks Levison if he wants to invest and help Art expand his business so for a $2,000 expense Levison could get his own truck and make his money back in no time.

It’s just a little suspicious that Levison is being offered this when he’s only been with Art for a day and Art hardly knows Levison at all. Levison wisely says he will think about it and gets a few clarifying questions before deciding any further.

Another red flag being that Art also offered one of the girls who had shown up and as far as I’m aware it doesn’t seem like she had even done any work with Art. It doesn’t seem like Art’s deal might be totally legitimate.

The woman’s name is Janine and she and Art go out for “lunch”…for five hours. Art leaves Levison in charge of the money and only a half-hour later another women shows up asking for Art and Levison realizes, a little too late, that this is Art’s wife. Art’s wife takes the money and goes looking for him.

So now Levison is in the middle of a very non-ideal situation and isn’t having as much fun anymore, surprise.

Art comes back, hours later and storms off after Levison tells him that his wife came by and took the cash. After another few hours Levison leaves and goes to the bar and tells Janine that if “Mr. Wonderful” comes back to tell him that he’s (Levison) is going home around 9:30.

Janine joins him saying that although most people are shit at least Art isn’t dull.

Levison concludes this section of the chapter in a pretty badass way, honestly:

He’s not dull. That’s great. This is a guy who would have taken $2,000 from either one of us and jetted off without a word. This is the type of person I’ve become of over the past few years, the smooth talker who wants something from you and takes it the minute you let your guard down. These are the people we need to guard ourselves against, the encroaching evil that feeds on what’s left of us after a career of failure and disappointment, and this girl sees him as entertainment.

She touches my leg. Maybe I’m entertainment too. “Listen.” she says. “He came back. He knows you’re pissed . But he wants to know if you can come back and help us load the truck.”

I laugh and order another beer. (p. 150)


 

Levison moves on to another job installing computer wires with a guy named Ken.

Before he knows it he’s in another job that doesn’t take a lot of effort and seems to be with a guy who’s pretty laid back and is offering him a job that entails a pay raise and some travel.

Levison is skeptical (more than last time I’d imagine) but thinks he can’t really lose too much this time around. He’ll probably be able to learn more about wiring that may come in handy later

So he accepts the offer and also, apparently, accepts a thousand page book that seems to be the “bible of computer wiring” as Levison says.

He figures he needs something more Sesame Street (which is a nice simile).

Ken says that he keeps losing employees in the past few months and isn’t sure how to explain it except that the business is tough and that you have to “kill yourself to survive”.

Sounds promising already!


 

As it turns out Ken’s definition of a “pussy” (which he called the guys who quit before) are people who don’t like precarious situations near roofs, not having days to take off, don’t like being constantly yelled at and pressured and so on and so forth.

In other words, Ken is a workaholic.

Levison actually respects this. He can see Ken eventually being a millionaire someday and owning his own business but Levison figures that’s not for him. He doesn’t want to be a millionaire and wants to have some days off and preferably wouldn’t want to keep working in factories in the summer and especially when he’s near the roof and it’s seriously hot out.

No matter what Levison does, or how fast he does it, Ken keeps saying that they are behind. They are always behind. And after an astonishing 60 hours of “being behind” Levison decides to take the day off and come back on Sunday.

And when Levison comes back things don’t exactly improve.

Ken asks Levison to pull a wire and gets so bent out of shape that, while being on the ladder, makes the ladder collapse and ends up going to the hospital.

It’s the end of that career but hey, “kill yourself to survive”, right?


 

So it seems like a recurring theme that Levison just ends up walking away, laughing at or just getting plain old unlucky(?) with how these jobs end.

The message to me seems to be that eventually you have to assert your own self-interest and just say, “fuck it” but hey, I could just be interpreting it wrong here.

This was a solid chapter overall. I like how Levison tackled the scams and made them a bit more obvious. Especially for someone like me who doesn’t understand social cues or signals as well as some other people do sometimes.

I didn’t really understand most of his supposed pointed against the internet and while usually I don’t like offhand dismissing people, I feel like engaging in a debate around the potentialities of the internet at this point with someone who lived in 2004 is like trying to talk to someone in the 80s about the internet.

There’s isn’t too terribly much going on in this chapter except a different flavor of corporate douchiness and some sprinklings of Levison’s slacker sympathies and anti-work sentiments. And they’re certainly a nice change of pace from some of the stuff from the previous few chapters.

The next chapter is the last one and I am very curious to see how Levison ties this all together.

Here’s hoping he came out of this more disgruntled with work and the corporate environment.

Honestly, I can’t see it playing out any other way.

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