How The Corporate World Killed Me...

Riley Wessels

© Copyright 2008 by Riley Wessels


 And at the same time taught me the true meaning of desperation, treachery, and heartlessness

 It was, in the end, simply a job. A job to pay the bills, barely, just a job to provide me with a small fund for personal recreation. Nothing more. After graduation, I wanted to be as far away from corporate America as I could. That’s why I stuck with The Corporation as long as I did. Not because it was a secure, well-paying, room-to-move-up kind of job, but because it got me by and it provided me with inside dirt and experience with one of the world’s most powerful retailers.

 Laura. Former store upper management. Twelve years in the business. Laura was miserable, and she showed it. She hated her job, and quite possibly, her life. She was not low on the corporate ladder. She was not incredibly wealthy, but she did lead a rather lucrative lifestyle. She was in her mid thirties, gorgeous, and a complete bitch. Everyone dreaded working with her, myself included.

 However, there was more to Laura. There was a troubled, miserable, almost infantile helpless side of Laura that told a completely different story than what was commonly believed or assumed about her. As a mere corporate drone, I knew admittedly nothing about her life or past outside of The Corporation, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to. But this sort of suffering spoke volumes to me, in a way I don’t even fully understand.

 All I knew was that she had been with The Corporation for twelve years, and she was fed up. She hated every moment she was at work. She put up with her corporate equals, despised her corporate superiors, and displayed a kind of guilt-stricken malevolence towards those below her. She was confused, and obviously unhappy. On several occasions, I walked into her office to ask a question and caught her crying secretly. It was now perfectly obvious to me that this world that had consumed her for over a decade was killing her, and that her only option for survival was to get out. Not unlike a violent spouse, The Corporation gave Laura bruises and cuts that would take much time to heal. She was constantly pushed around and belittled, and berated because of her good looks and relative corporate inferiority. I could not help feeling pity for her.

 Once, Laura told me bluntly that she was burnt out. She wanted something else, something she was passionate about. At this point, I had decided long ago that corporations had no room for compassion. The only thing I could think of that Laura could do, was to quit and follow another path. Of course it would be hard, and probably unwise to give up an income so readily, but she had to escape before she was sucked in permanently and then spit out years later when her hair turned grey, and her beauty drained. So I told her. A few weeks later, it appeared as if she had followed my advice. During that brief encounter, Laura and I saw things the same way, we loved, hated, cried, and mourned together, just that once. Only for a brief moment. But we had connected and achieved some mutual understanding if not respect for one another. I then understood that while corporations may be heartless, corporate employees are often bitter, disgruntled, and miserable, when they were once optimistic, passionate, and full of hope for a more forgiving and compassionate world.

 Laura was gone. She called one day into the store from hundreds of miles away, said she was leaving the state, and was not coming back. The higher ups informed everyone that Laura had had a nervous breakdown, and would be taking an indefinite amount of time to recuperate. That was it. Nothing more. Laura was gone, and everyone soon forgot, she was nothing more than a vague, unpleasant memory. Except to me, I could not forget. I remember, because that conversation with Laura made me understand the corporate world and it’s effects in a bitterly realistic way. I had long believed that corporations were evil and destructive to humanity, but now this elusive, all-encompassing victim I had read about finally had a human face. I now had an intimate knowledge of The Corporation, and hated it even more. However, that was only the beginning.

 Two years is a long time for a leftist, practical, cynical, and depressed college student to spend with a major corporation at below-livable wages. I knew I could get out if I kept focused and driven while in school; that was all that kept me going, in addition to some amazing people one can meet while performing menial, rewardless, and at times degrading work. What made it all worse was that I knew that many of my low-level corporate contemporaries were stuck there permanently, with no hope of ever breaking free.

 I’d like to believe that none of them ever knew they were trapped or being taken advantage of. I would like to think that, because it would make this story tolerable. But unfortunately, I knew that many of these people did understand their, and most of the world’s, predicament. They know what’s going on, but they feel powerless and hopeless. This is a very discomforting knowledge to posses. Hopelessness and the feeling of insignificance are two feelings I wish I did not understand. But since I do, it makes corporate America even less swallowable.

 My job was nothing strenuous, horrible, or illegal, but It was disheartening and unethical just as much. I skated by, under the corporate radar, doing as little as possible to aid profit, I broke the rules as often as I could, I was as rude and uncooperative with ignorant, self-serving consumers as I could be without jeopardizing my job, which unfortunately, I needed. I let it be known that I despised my job and everything it dealt with and stood for. I refused to pressure people into applying for high interest rate Corporation credit cards I knew they could not afford. I gave unauthorized discounts, encouraged people to buy music from a local business, and turned the other cheek at shoplifters. I was one of The Corporation’s worst and most undedicated, disloyal, unethical, and outspoken workers. They loved me.

 It seemed I could do nothing wrong to these people. They applauded my “efforts,” and “integrity,” at the workplace. While I suppose I should have been happy for the recognition, it only made me sick. Did less than the bare minimum expected of me, and I was rewarded for it. On the other hand, those that did make a genuine effort to perform their jobs were brushed of, abused, fired, or forced to resign. Anyone who had been their too long, or was too old, or too unattractive was pushed out, making room for less qualified, rather incompetent, “attractive, younger people.”

 While I gave so little of my life to The Corporation, many of my contemporaries gave everything. In times now long gone, a retail worker could earn a decent living and provide comfortably for his family with little worry. Today, the same level worker can hardly hope to provide for him or herself, let a lone a family. I felt lucky that I was young, alone, and without a sole dependant on me. Despite the destruction corporate America did to the working class, many workers kept their corporate jobs and worked hard. I often wondered why, but it became clear to me that no one really had a choice. In the 21st century Bush economy, minimum wage jobs are sometimes the only job available to older, working class people, without a college degree. Even a college degree doesn’t promise much today. I worked with dozens of people, even young people, who held college degrees but were unable to get what they called “a real job.”

 With the economy in shambles, many people, with or without college degrees, find themselves more frequently then ever, getting stuck at a dead end job, or cheated out of their pensions and retirement in a once steady blue collar job. The capitalist solution to this crisis, I suppose, are conglomerates like The Corporation. Here, one can give everything they have, including multiple decades, and still not receive any sort of livable wage, or anything for the future. The Corporation offers a retirement package of course, but this elusive benefit is rarely given to anyone except for the upper management executives.

 Maria. A Seventy-five year old German immigrant with a life threatening case of Leukemia. Maria worked for The Corporation for seventeen years, and when her husband died, she needed her job desperately just to pay for her mounting medical bills. Her husband was a career military officer, who, shortly before his death, found that his pension had also slowed to a well-below-the-poverty-line, trickle. Maria had one year left until retirement, when she could finally rest, and live out her last days in peace and relative comfort. The Corporation had a different plan for Maria. She was too old, and unattractive. It was true, because of her condition she was not able to perform many of the required physical tasks, but she showed up every day with a smile, and worked as hard as she could. The management felt it was time to spit her out because of her age and the fact that she was making too much money ($11.50 per hour.) I watched the frail, hunched over lady walk from the office with her purple hat and coat, tears streaming down her face. I watched helplessly as this heartbreaking scene unfolded, and I stewed in anger. In tears, the seventy-five year old cancer stricken Maria was forcible escorted out of the building by a contingent of security officers. She never came back. No one is quite sure what happened to her, or even how long she lived.

 I left work that day in a fit of rage, even more depressed than usual. I bought a bottle of wine and went home to think about what I had seen and try desperately to forget it in a wave of alcohol. It was useless. I cried for Maria and everyone else that had been dealt such a cold hand. Then and there, I knew I was a hypocrite. I hated corporate America, and considered myself an anti-corporatist, as I always had. But I knew that was a slave to it, along with everyone else. I had to get out fast before The Corporation killed me like it did Laura and Maria.

 What would happen to me after graduation? Would I become a career drone like so many others? A journalism degree is about as promising as a psychology or philosophy degree. Without graduate school, The Corporation may become my resting place as well. Corporate America is where the hopeless and the tired come to die, and then be immediately forgotten. Laura and Maria gave everything to The Corporation, and they were discarded just like the pan-handlers outside were arrested for trespassing, and sucking away the money of consumers who would subsequently buy less from The Corporation.

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