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Cowboy R and the Celebration

It's my forty-seventh birthday.

How am I celebrating, you ask?

I'm going to the Sandwich Assembly Line and assembling sandwiches. yay.

Cowboy R and the Looming Specter

I'm still working at the Sandwich Assembly Line. In fact, I have to go in today and work an extra shift, because the person who normally works on this, my standard day off, has declined to do so today, and I'm a sucker who will say yes when my manager asks me to work an extra shift.

I don't like working the assembly line. I'm sure some among my readers will roll their eyes and suggest that I never like anything I am paid to do, but that the reason it's called a "job" is that we don't like it but do it anyway. These things may or may not be true, but are immaterial to what I'm on about, here. I do not like working the assembly line, because it's physically demanding and I'm chubby and out of shape. Plus, it involves dealing with people, and by and large, people are a pain in the butt. Plus, it's mindless. A machine could do it.

And that's actually the point I'm getting to. I work for a megacorporation which makes billions of dollars every year. Despite the fanciful "artist" title they give the people who work the assembly line, they don't regard people like me as an asset... they regard us as a payroll expense. And, particularly with that expense set to rise sharply, they are looking at ways to eliminate that expense. Fewer people will be tasked with more workload, and then the people will be gone altogether.

Before I went to work at the assembly line, there was a tip jar on the counter. The manager says that he made twenty or thirty dollars a day in tips, and one of the other staff members took home about fifty bucks each night. Then the company made them take the tip jar out, and in the several months I've worked there, I've received less than twenty clams total in tips. The company replaced the tip jar with a bell, and a sign next to it that says "ring if your sandwich is perfect." Now customers can think they're giving us praise, without ever spending a penny. This is an evil and cynical move on the part of the corporation, literally taking money out of the pockets of the people working the line. Most of us hate the sound of the damn bell, and wish we could accidentally drop it into a black hole. Don't ring the bell.

There are a few customers that I like... the ones who treat me like a person, and have actual conversations with me while I'm making their sandwiches. The majority of customers I never notice beyond the minute or so I spend making their sandwich; there's another one just like them waiting impatiently behind them. There are a few customers I actively despise. The lady with the bluetooth headset who is always talking to someone else and is too busy to talk to me about her sandwich. The guy who is too consumed by whatever is on his phone screen to pay attention and tell me what he wants. Anyone who orders "American cheese" on their sandwich. Anyone who says, "no, just heat the meat separately."

Ostensibly, we take phone orders. In practice, if I have my gloves on and am in the middle of helping someone who has taken the time to come in in person and deal with me face to face, I am not going to be rude to that person and answer the phone. Now, however, my agency in whether or not to accept a line-jumper has been removed. You can order your sandwich online, and my register will accept the order and print it out, and I'm expected to treat it as the next order I fill, whether there are people in line or not. As you can expect, this doesn't make the customers waiting in line happy, and it doesn't make me happy.

But as I was handing over an internet order to someone I actively despise the other night, I realized: this is how it starts. The internet ordering system gets people used to not coming in and dealing with me face-to-face. It gets people used to using an electronic interface to order their sandwich, and to being their own cashier. The next step will be putting in a machine to make the sandwiches. There may be one person left in the store to oversee the machine in case of errors, and to provide a human face for those who still want a little human interaction.

The next step after that will be eliminating the storefront altogether. Instead of stopping by on your way to work (which you may not be doing, because while people like me will lose our jobs first, we won't be the last), you'll pull up your web browser, or the application on your phone, and punch in your sandwich order. A machine will make the sandwich for you, and a drone will deliver it to wherever you are. Humans need not apply.

On the one hand, I hate my job, and will be happy not to be doing it anymore. On the other hand, there is no plan for what to do with people like me, whose best job option today is to make sandwiches for people we despise. That means literally millions of people with no jobs, and no money to purchase machine-made sandwiches.

I foresee bread riots.

Cowboy R and the Role Play

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was about 12. I'd been sent allowed to spend the summer with my biological father, and he had, frankly, no idea what to do with a kid. So mostly, he pushed me off on his little brother (lysander_cat), who just took me along to whatever he was doing, anyway. I can and have written before about how good role-playing games in general have been for me through my life, but this entry isn't really about that.

When I was seventeen, I was an exchange student in Germany. On my way back to the States, I passed through England, and experienced a live-action role playing (LARP) game held in Chislehurst Caves. That was seriously fun... it's one thing to have a GM say "You're in a dark cave, and you hear the noise of armor clinking from up ahead," and another thing entirely to be in a dark cave and hear the noise of armor clinking from up ahead! (High point of the experience: a group of orcs runs into the party, and instead of just diving right into combat, we parlay. Orc leader: "You're all human? No other races?" Party leader: "Well, we've got a Yank....").

A few years later, while I was in the Navy, I went to a Science Fiction Convention in Norfolk. It was, I believe, the first one I'd attended, and I didn't really know what to do. But I noticed that there was a LARP going on, so I signed up, and played an anthropomorphic shark who became muscle for a would-be messiah, and again, I had a lot of fun.

I also played SCA for a number of years... in my teens, and then, after being alienated by the behavior of SCAtians in the Eastern US, I dropped out. I went back when I returned to Arizona, and people like raventhourne convinced me Arizona SCAtians were friendly people. Then I fled Arizona and the group here in K'ville reminded me that, for the most part, Eastern SCAtians aren't people I want to hang around with. Plus, SCA isn't really role-play; it's... well, it's hard to explain the difference, and this isn't really an entry about that, either.

So the point of this is that I almost-accidentally discovered that NERO, the New England Role-play Organization (the name has become increasingly inaccurate over the years) has a chapter here in K'ville that just started this year. And... I'm considering going out to their meetings, if they're held at a time I'm not working. I think that I'd likely have a good time. I hope that the cliquish ass-hat factor is lower than the local SCA chapter.

The problem is, I've become socially isolated as I've gotten older. It's become harder and harder for me to walk into a group of people... oh, I'm still a charming bastard, but I have a harder and harder time believing that anyone actually wants me around for longer than about fifteen minutes; that I'm actually going to meet anyone I can be something approaching friends with. So there's a large helping of "Eh, I'll just stay in my room and play Final Fantasy XIV."

But I have at least downloaded the NERO rulebook. And... I'm thinking about it.

Cowboy R and the Audiologist

I've finished my second part-time week training at Subway, but other than the fact that I'm still feeling sore and grumpy at the end of only four hours of standing up, there's not a lot of interesting stuff to say about that at the moment.

But, on Tuesday, I went to the VA and had a hearing test. Now, those of you who've met me in person know that I am partially deaf. It dates back decades, and in the past I've always been told that it's nerve deafness, and there's not a lot that can be done about it. But the Phone Mines wouldn't give me a noise-isolating headset without a physician's note, and it took over a month to get the appointment, so even though I no longer work at the phone mines and thus, no longer need a noise-isolating headset, I figured, what the heck, I'd keep the appointment.

So I went in, and the examination was completely different from any I've ever had in the past. They taped some electrodes on my skull, played noises at me, and didn't even ask me to raise my hand when I heard the tone... they were studying nerve conduction or something; I dunno how it worked.

When they were done, they said the things doctors always say after doing a hearing test on me... I have asymmetrical hearing loss, which is a warning sign for a brain tumor; the frequencies I can't hear are atypical; my left ear is reasonably fine. But they also said something I hadn't heard before... that modern hearing aids can be tuned to only amplify specific frequencies, and so they're going to make one for me.

Of course, I won't go back to get it until June, because this is the VA, and I'm not dying. Still, it'll be interesting to see how that whole thing works out.

Cowboy R and the Owie

In order that it might be fulfilled which was written, yesterday was my first day making sandwiches at the Subway in Karns. I expected to work about four hours, but the manager fellow who hired me ended up having to attend some kind of work-related thing away from the store, and the only person he had available to mind the store while he was gone was a kid just out of high school. So he asked if I'd mind staying.

What do you say to something like that, on your first day, when the person asking you has done you a huge favor by hiring you in the first place? You smile and say "Sure, I can do that." Even when, by the time you've been working four hours, you're starting to feel stiffness in your back, and warning twinges in your thighs.

So I worked a total six hour day, and right at the end of it, I had a muscle spasm in my back which ended with me on the floor in the storeroom. Fortunately, it didn't happen in front of customers, and sitting on the floor for a few minutes cleared the spasm, and I was able to finish taking out the garbage and clock out.

The afternoon rush let me know that I'm going to Shepherd Book's special hell. The girls high school track and field team came in after practice to eat. As I was standing at the cash register, one of the very fit young ladies lifted up her sweatshirt, exposing her very fit tummy, and tucked her wallet into the waistband of her very low-rise shorts. She was young enough to be my daughter, and I couldn't help looking. Special hell.

Anyway, after I got off work, I stopped at Walgreens, got some shoe insert things, and some Strongbow cider. Came home, watched an episode of Dr. Jin with my mother, drank a Strongbow as muscle relaxer, and then passed out.

Woke up this morning, and hobbled to the bathroom. Am not looking forward to going to work already hurting, but am hoping manager will have mercy on me and let me actually work a short day today. Might go and see Paddington with mom after work. Might simply come home, crash into bed, and be sore. We'll see.

Cowboy R and the Fuckwittery

Thursday, I had a meeting with my supervisor. Now, let me preface this discussion by saying that my current supervisor is in fact a decent guy, and the best of the supervisors I've had at the Phone Mines. But the fact is, the Phone Mines is an inherently fucked-up place. You would like an example? Something concrete by which I can show the fuckwittery in question? I should like nothing more than to provide one.

As mentioned, I had a meeting with my supervisor. It was my monthly "here's how you're screwing up your job" meeting. I've mentioned before, I am certain, that everyone at the Phone Mines is on a remedial education plan. There's just the baseline presumption that you're fucking up your job, and need to fix it. For quite a while now, my remedial education plan has included my referral percentage... anyone who's ever called a call center knows what I mean by that, even if you don't realize that you know it. It's when a call taker finishes with the business about which you've called in, and proceeds to try to sell you some other product that the company offers.

Now, I have two problems with this. One is that I am a poor salesperson. I could not sell fresh water to caravans crossing the Sahara; if my living depended on sales, I would starve to death. I have never held or sought a job which involved sales, or paid by commission, since I was a teenager... an experience with a get-rich quick scheme involving privately owned payphones my father was involved in taught me that it's a get-skinny quick career path for me.

The second is that my mind doesn't work that way. If you've called me to add a car to your insurance policy, I'll do that for you, and do a good job of it. What I won't do is think of three other ways you could spend money with my company and try to get you to actually open your wallet for those products. Now, if you happen to say, "Yes, we're looking to sell that car" while discussing another vehicle while I'm adding your new one, or if you're adding your new-driver offspring, I will think about the fact that my employer's website has an area where members can buy and sell vehicles to one another, and I'll mention that, and track it as a referral. But that's directly related to the conversation we're having.

So for a while, I've been hovering at about 2% - 3% referrals extended, and almost all of those are the aforementioned Auto Circle. And for a while, my supervisors have been putting that on my remedial action plan, and acting like it's no big deal... they don't even want to talk to me outside that once-a-month or once every month-and-a-half meeting, they don't really care about my stats, or how I'm doing, or anything other than checking off the box that says they met with me this month and told me what I'm fucking up.

So I sat down with my supervisor to get my monthly dose of "hey, you're fucking this up," and got a set-up and a knock-out punch. The set up was that I'm one of the highest providers of member satisfaction in the call center... more than double the number of 9s and 10s (on a scale of 10) on member satisfaction surveys during the month of march than any other member service representative on my supervisor's team. It's worth noting here that the only recognition of this fact is my supervisor telling me the fact, and praising me for it.

Then he told me that, because my referral percentage is so low, and has been so low for so long, I have six weeks to bring it up to fifteen percent, or they're going to fire me.

I'm just going to leave that there.

Cowboy R and the Medical Issues

Tuesday, in order that it might be fulfilled which was written, I went to the VA clinic here in K'ville. I don't know if I've said it before, but my doctor is not an American native. I don't know where she's from... she's sort of medium-brown, and has an accent I can't quite place. But wherever it is, they train for the Patriarchal model of health care, so discussions with her really aren't. I talked about my symptoms, and she sent me for a bunch of tests, while leaving me to try and figure out what she's thinking based on what tests she's ordered.

Today, I had to get up stupid early to go back over to the clinic and do an imaging study, and they gave me nasty stuff to drink, which left me feeling more nauseous than usual, and the whole "getting up stupid early" thing left me exhausted. So I drove out to work, realized that my "talking to people about auto insurance" gumption was at an all-time low, talked to my supervisor, and headed home.

While I'm talking about the Phone Mine, let me also mention that Direct-Hire Coach has apparently quit. The rumor says that she made the decision because the third kid just made it so expensive to hire someone else to take care of her kids that it didn't seem to make much sense... she'd mostly be working to pay for that.

In other news, Terry Pratchett has died. You'd think I'd have more to say about that, but I really don't, other than noting it as a thing. Also, the guy who did all those Sesame Street pinball counting videos died. Jeff Hale.

Other than that, it's just... life. I go and talk to people every day about their car insurance, and have the same two or three seven-minute conversations about forty times per day each. There's zero creativity in what I do, and it's grinding me down.

I feel like I go to work so I can pay my bills, and I pay my bills mostly so I can continue going to work.

Cowboy R and the Musing

Standing around North Shroud waiting for a FATE to spawn, the thought occurs to me: One doesn't get to be 46 and single by being good at relationships.

Cowboy R and the Alien

When I was a kid, I was completely out of step with the world. The things I was interested by were not the things that my nominal peers were interested in; the things that they obsessed over made no sense to me whatsoever. I was out of step with the very body I was imprisoned within; how could the world make any sense to me?

So aliens stranded in a Human world caught my attention. Mr. Spock. Howard the Duck... and Mork. Robin Williams invented Mork, and played the character with humor. Out of touch with the world around him, Mork could make us see it through his eyes, and it became funny. I wore rainbow suspenders like Mork's for a couple of years, because I wanted that power to show people the sublime ridiculousness of the world. I never found it.

I'm still out of step with the world. And it hurts. What I've come to realize over the last couple of days is that Mork... or at least, Robin Williams... was out of step with it, too. And it hurt him.

A lot of the stuff I'm seeing people write about it assumes that life is better than death; that life is always better than death. I don't know if that's true. I know that I'm a suicide... not in the sense of taking my own life, because I'm writing this, so obviously, I'm still alive. But in the sense that Hesse wrote about in Steppenwolf, the sense in which I know that the most likely cause of my demise is me.

Only the person living the life knows the value of it. Only the person dying can set a value to the surcease of pain. There are beautiful things in life; there are. I've felt some of them, experienced some of them. But there are also dark things that live in the corners of our skulls, and they do not go away, even when we are happy; even when we are having the best day of our life.

I know that my mother is concerned about me, because I know that I have told her before that the day will come when nothing will be enough to hold me to life. And I know that she tries to make sure I see ways to keep on living.

But the thing that she has to understand; that you have to understand about Robin Williams and about me, is that life hurts. And one day, you have enough. And just stopping the pain is enough reason not to go on living.

I'm not there. I'm not saying that I have a plan, or asking for help. I'm saying that I understand why someone would do that. And I understand that sooner or later, that someone will be me. And when it is, don't be solipsistic. It's not about you. It's not about anything you did, or didn't do. It's about me. It's about my life, and my pain, and my need not to hurt anymore. It's not your fault. It's not my fault. It just is.

Cowboy R and the Allergic Reaction

Friday, they came while I was away and sprayed for bugs. Saturday, I was home, and developed a splitting headache and nausea, and my lower lip was slightly numb on the left side. I realized that the last time I felt like this was right around the first of last month, when they sprayed for bugs. I've come to realize that:

  1. I'm allergic to whatever bugspray they're using, and

  2. It's doing absolutely nothing to knock down the roach population.

So I bought some Combat brand roach baits and put them down around the kitchen, and won't eat anything out of the kitchen for a while, so that there's no food in there to feed said roach population... other than the corpses of those who have eaten the bait, which is part of how the bait works to kill populations, and not just individual roaches.

Anyway, I feel like crap. And my Amazon Prime subscription renewed right after my paycheck hit the bank, so between that and the rent, I'm seriously broke for the next two weeks. Looks like another rice, hot dogs, and burritos fortnight for me. I'm glad to have my Amazon Prime subscription; I truly am, and I will use it for the value they charge me for it, particularly after I'm living in mom's basement again, and am buying books. But... did it have to renew now?