Living On The Wage

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There’s about seven billion people on earth, sixty-six million of them in the UK alone and just shy of two million reside in Northern Ireland, where I live. I’ve talked about this before, how the universe is so big and life so rare that we often forget to appreciate one another even existing. Like when you walk down the street and walk by a total randomer, you don’t realise that you’re like a cosmic four leaf clover.

The reason we don’t ever really acknowledge this is because all these intelligent lifeforms are packed together in a small surface area, so just like how you don’t appreciate water in a rainstorm, you don’t appreciate your fellow man. In fact, you resent them. Especially if you have a job in customer service.

In the UK alone, it’s estimated that 32.60 million people in work- an increase of about 167,000 since last year. So unless you’re too old, too young, too lazy or are the child of some cunt from Eton- you will have to work to survive.

It’s kind of a weird thing we do, to keep the peace. You trade your own labour for the bare essentials to survive- food, water, shelter. Plus with the complexities of modern life you need to have a digital fingerprint- which means you need a smart phone, possibly a laptop or desktop and need to be digitally literate. This isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that you need transport- so you at least need a bus pass, at most a car and then there’s the money you put down for the driving test and…fuck.

There was a simple brutality to life back 120,000 years ago. All you worried about was not getting hurt, not getting your family hurt, gathering enough food, surviving the winter. Life was contextualised by death, and death was ever present.

Most of us still have those concerns, but the fear of death is replaced by the fear of living in misery. If you get hurt you have to take time off work, you get in debt. If you’re injured and rendered disabled, you depend on others to provide for you. You depend on the state to look after you. But if the state is run by a bunch of malicious bastards you struggle and now you only eat once a day- if you’re lucky.

There’s similar fears about your family getting hurt. Maybe you’ll have to take time off work to be a carer, maybe you’ll have to work two jobs, take out a loan to just stay afloat- struggle to get by.

On top of that the food’s making you sick. Corporations feed their livestock so much anti-biotics that diseases will become so strong it’ll render penicillin useless. Bad news being millions of people will die of once treatable diseases, good news being most of them will probably be old as fuck so the pension problems will sort themselves out. Averting a financial crisis in quite possibly every country on earth.

The bare essentials are getting more costly, too. The state cuts taxes on the rich, meaning you got to fit the bill. If you’re poor, uneducated you’re likely to work a minimum wage job for decades. You work forty hours a week, 20% tax. End of the month you barely have enough for rent- you pray to god the winter isn’t bad cause you sure as fuck don’t have the money to get the pipes fixed if they snap. You hope the spring doesn’t bring floods cause you don’t want to replace all the wiring in your sockets-again.

This can be a good life, if you want it. You can survive off of the minimum wage. Just so long as you don’t get old, don’t get hurt, don’t fuck, don’t have kids, don’t have a car, don’t have a mortgage, don’t have debts, don’t have any sick relatives, don’t have any family or friends to bury- because by fuck is it expensive to put a cunt in a hole– and don’t have anything you own that gets broke, soaked or catches on fire.

We tell ourselves that this way of life is necessary. Because if you wanted to support a family or grow old in economic security, you should have worked harder to get yourself a better education to qualify yourself for higher paying jobs. But of course you need money to do these things, break your back with debt to learn and survive. You get a placement or an internship- if you’re lucky. Otherwise you’re just working low skilled, minimum wage jobs just to make ends meat.

At the end of it, you’re told if you can get your foot in the door that you have a place. You can climb that corporate ladder. If you work hard enough, bust your ass and hustle- you can finally get to where you want to be in life. As John Mulaney says; “If you eat enough ass, suck enough dick maybe- just maybe- you can one day sell drugs.

He ends that bit by commenting how if they legalise drugs, then all that ass eating and dick sucking is for naught. It’s a very apt way of describing how shifting economies and automation straight up ruin livelihoods.

The rich don’t have to worry about this. No, all they have to worry about- if they’re my age- is getting high enough grades to appease their parents, handling their drug addiction and avoiding getting raped at private school.

They’ll never understand the pain in your hands as hot glass straight out the washer scalds you. How your feet ache after running up and down for twelve hours straight. How your back breaks as you carry a bottle bin down a stair case. All the bruises, the aches and pains- none of it as bad as getting yelled at by a middle aged man who forgot to order a gravy with his mega-box.

I’ve only had about two proper jobs in my life. I had a brief job at KFC and now I currently work at a bar, as a glass collector. Both jobs are part time cause I’m in full time education. I know boys in Uni who’ve never had a job- like, ever. They’re broke as fuck, unsurprisingly.

Nowadays it seems if you don’t grow up fast, you don’t grow up at all.

Both jobs are demanding in a weird kind of way. Like in KFC all I had to do was box food, take orders, clean tables, mop and brush floors, restock toilets alongside the fridge and most importantly- remember to wash your hands. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Because for some of the time, it was.

Other times the customers come in- out of nowhere- and suddenly the place is packed and your job becomes harder. You need to take as many orders as possible, but not too many. Need to prepare the food and drinks- preferably in order- and by fuck get the order right. You need to get stock- so you have to leave the front- leave the customers- to get, what, water? Fruit-shoots? Who fucking knows. Ice isn’t a priority, so if they specify they want ice lie and say you’re out. You serve, you take orders, box food, serve, take orders, box food, serve, take orders, box food- twenty minutes passes by and hOLY FUCK THE FRONT LOOKS LIKE A PIG STY. Customers come up and ask for napkins to wipe down the table. Embarrassed, you head down and wipe their table- alongside few more- then you rush back to serve more customers. Those who feel they’ve waited too long or have places to be, leave. The line never ends, people been travelling up and down this strip of road for fifty odd miles with the kids in the back driving them to a murderous rage. They find an oasis of grease and fat to replenish themselves, but there’s a Que at the watering hole– and there’s nothing quite as unpleasant as a hungry animal. Hours go by, you serve, you take orders, you box- rinse and repeat for hours on end. Some cunt comes up and tells you that there’s no soap in the toilets and would later launch a complaint about how the service was “inadequate” and how the cashier “gave him a death stare” before returning his attention to a conga line from the Great Depression. You get complaints from other customers, realising why the reviews of the place are so goddamn low. You tell yourself that it’s not your fault, you’re by yourself up here- whole place is understaffed. Sometimes the shift runner forgets to give you a break, so you work like this for eight or seven hours straight. All the while you’re slowed down by the goddamn hernia you have from all the stress. As you’re making drinks for the twelve different orders, the shift runner comes up to you- specifically the one that no one likes- and says “Not trying to be cheeky, but could you hurry up?” he’s an asshole, but he possesses enough self awareness to realise he’s an asshole and he- what? Expects to be given credit for that? A thought pops up in your head, a thought that you have a lot when you work here; “You know what would be better than this? Death.” …Eventually it gets dark, the beasts leave the watering hole. You’re burned out, you’re physically and emotionally exhausted. Some days you’re manic, others on the verge of tears. You start to clean the front, if someone comes in you serve them and then continue cleaning. Eventually it’s time for closing. Some customers come in last minute to order food, you serve and even when it’s closed- when the insurance on the front has literally run out- you cannot ask customers to leave. When you explain how you’re closing and that you only do takeaways now, but they see others sitting in- they get mad. You’re tired and they seem young- so you act a little rude. They say they’re sitting, even when you explicitly told them they can’t. There’s nothing for you to do, except clean and ignore the complaints by other staff about this one cunt who thought he was special. You do what you gotta do. You clean, restock. By the time you’ve got most the floor brushed, that wee cheeky cunt is about to leave. He stands by the entrance on the opposite side of the front and just…looks at you, like a cunt. “I thought you were quite rude” he says. You stare at him for a moment, exhausted “…Sorry to hear that.” you say. The cunt leaves. All that rage, all that anger you keep pent up inside you like a good little catholic boy- it doesn’t erupt. Instead, all that hate collapses in on itself like a supernova, creating a black hole of grief. What remains of your soul is sucked in, broken down- unrecognisable. What remains of your life- your hopes, your dreams- all of it is gone. You’re gone, and the only thing left is the realisation that it is better to die than to live in misery.

It takes you a day or two to detox. Remove the burdensome load of emotional labour from your shoulders before your back snaps. Initially you were irked that they dropped you down from full-time to part time because, y’know, money. You laugh at your naive self, in the same hysterical manner that you laugh at work when a truly dark and self destructive thought passes through your head. So dark, I can’t…I can’t even begin to write it. Like, how do you explain that?

Unsurprisingly, you don’t last long here- about a month and a half, to say the least. During your tenure, you met nobody- and I mean nobody– who liked working there. It managed to beat out the soul crushing feeling you get when you get to the dole office, but surprisingly not as exhausting as school. You remember that one day you come in and the shift runner, the guy that nobody likes, says “Welcome to Hell” and you laugh. Because you’ve been to Hell- and this was barely Purgatory.

It took me a while to find another job, and to stop speaking in the second person. The second job is less difficult because you don’t have to deal with customers that often. Sure the hours are longer and there’s drunk people and the music repeats itself and you’ll occasionally get sexually harassed- but it beats working at KFC.

You struggle to explain this to your colleagues because…where do you even start? The new job is better for a number of reasons. For a start, you get tips- I swear to fuck back in Christmas I could live off my tips. Well, what I call “living” others might call “squalor” but who’s to judge?

The job has a few downsides though. For starters, your body begins to hurt. You wake up the morning after working two days straight, you can barely walk down to the toilet to take a piss. There’s occasional spasms of pain on your hand from having to hold and carry shit all the time. It’s not as bad as your friend who worked as a brick layer, who found is fingers locked as he woke, but it ain’t nice.

Just like in KFC, your roles are pretty damn simple. Cleans floor, clean tables, collect glasses, wash glasses, get ice, restock, take out bottle bins, change bins, restock toilets- all these really basic, elementary tasks. But just like in KFC, because of a surplus of customers, you need to make sacrifices. Glasses are a priority, so you forego cleaning tables. Ice is a priority, so you forego cleaning glasses. You gotta make sure you do the rounds- main floor, toilets and beer garden. Everyone always forgets the beer garden. Sometimes the washer in the front breaks, so you got to use the one out in the restaurant. You put a tray of glasses in, set the timer for a minute- two if you know you’ll be a while- and then you do the rounds again real quick. You get back, unload the washer. Clean the glasses best you can- you reload the washer, set the timer, carry that tray of clean glasses to the main bar and the beer garden (swear to god, everyone forgets about the beer garden) sometimes there’s too many customers out front to move through so you have to go out the back way. You’ve been running up and down with trays like this hundreds of times tonight. You get to the back door to the staff area so you can get to the main bar. You set down the tray so you can open the door (this was before you learned that you can hold the tray with both hands and open the door like…I don’t know how I can do that, but it’s handy) I stand by the door for a moment and just…catch my breath. “Ok, Des” I say to myself “keep calm. It’s just you on the floor” then it hits me “…Oh fuck, It’s just Me on the floor.” I know people with anxiety and other shit that just would have broke down doing the shit I have to do. I’m not like them. I open the door, get the tray off the ground and head down to the main bar. Rinse and repeat.

I feel like that little moment of mine is an example of mundane heroism. Like there’s people out there, working or doing whatever, who have to take a breath now and again. Tell themselves to take it easy cause it’s only you out there doing this thing and it hit’s them “…Oh fuck, it’s just me out there“. Some people freeze, break down, quit. But we need money, so we open that damn door and we carry on. There’s hundreds of workers in Belfast who’ve had a moment like that. Millions across the world.

Not enough know that feeling. Not enough people know the pain labour has on you. Not enough know the misery required to truly appreciate living. Or the quality of life you need to diminish the allure of death. Not enough.

It’s funny, on busy days you just wish it were less busy and on slow days you wish it was busier. The reality is you want neither. All you really want is to have a pint after work and make people laugh- particularly the smokers because if they laugh too hard they go into a coughing fit and that’s hilarious.

At the end of the day you take down the bottle-bins to the back alley, sometimes by yourself because some of the bar staff are feared of rats. Understandable. Rats did cause the plague. You see all the bottles tossed away- thousands of them. You think back to KFC and remember those bins filled with fried chicken. Enough to feed a village. There’s a part of you that’s afraid for yourself, for the poor women that’ll birth your children. You’re afraid because this way of life is inherently unsustainable. We keep cutting down trees, throwing out too much stuff, pumping too much shit into the air. One day we’ll find ourselves realising that this hole we’ve been digging is our grave. It’s not worth it.

This is what it’s like, living on the wage. We’ve the same worries we had back 150,000 years ago but now they’be just been categorised in this exhaustive bureaucracy of bullshit.

People resent this way of life but they don’t have the sense to realise why things are the way they are. The powerful appeal to their biases and insecurities and push blame upon the powerless, the vulnerable. Some boy’s don’t know the craic. Because when you realise that those without power, who have practically no influence upon your life- such as immigrants, ethnic minorities, the LGBT community- all of them are powerless in comparison to the billionaires and the multi-national corporations that tear this earth to shreds, wage wars for profit and cheat their way out of taxes. These are the people who have control over your life.

We cannot live like this, not for long. We need to find a better way but I don’t know what we ought to do. I’m not naive enough to believe in Utopia, not pessimistic enough to believe in Armageddon. All I know is that the Spring floods are coming, and I really don’t want to change my sockets.

 

 

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