Just got fired from what will have been, with luck, the last job I shall ever have. Though there's a mountain of debt and a lot of money worries, I feel as chipper as an eight-year-old whose school just burned down, with no loss of life -- apart from the assistant principal, a person whom one could live quite well without, anyway.
When I first went into the corporate world, years ago, it actually seemed like a nice change from graduate school. Yes, of course, you had some of the same nit-pickers and petty tyrants, and being a Red then as now, I was well aware that the corporation was not essentially a benign institution. But one had to pay the rent, and there was a certain air of purposefulness and shared endeavor quite lacking in Academia, at least as I had experienced it. And of course, inside pissing out was better than outside and pissed on.
Over the years, however, I found the corporate workplace becoming ever more brutish and bosses ever more depraved. One was increasingly more pissed upon than pissing. Even so, I was not prepared at all for my most recent boss, a ferrety sly-eyed rat-faced runt who rapidly became known to my family as Buffalo Bill, after the memorable character in Silence Of The Lambs.
Many -- okay, most -- of my bosses over the years have objected to various aspects of my character, most frequently a certain want of deference and a definite tendency to goldbricking, charges to which I cheerfully plead guilty. Bill, however, was the first one who tried to tell me that I was also stupid and incompetent.
It was really an extraordinary experience working for the guy: everything you did was wrong. If you asked a question, it was a stupid question. If you didn't ask a question, you should have asked it. Perhaps bosses like this are more abundant than I realized; if so, clearly I've been lucky so far, though I would have said that I had seen some doozies in my time.
I wasn't the only person down there in the well, getting the hose, of course; there were a half-dozen or so others in my particular well. Never worked in a place where there was so little idle chat, badinage, persiflage, razzola, bonhomie. We would sit around at the bottom of the well -- a rather small well, too; individual offices are a thing of the past -- for hours, sometimes, without a word being said. When people did speak, it was in a curious tight-lipped Laconic style, as if any chance word might provoke the hose, and so the fewer said the better. Even when Bill wasn't physically present, the air of repression remained thick, as if each of us carried a little eidolon of Bill around in his own head.
My short run at Bill's shop -- let's call it Punish, Inc. -- was terminated, I think, largely because of my lack of zeal. Bill himself was very 'into' the business of Punish, very invested, cathected, what you will; and he wanted everybody else to care as deeply as he did. This is something I can't do, and wouldn't want to. Oh, I'll put in the hours, and do the assignments; but you would have to be a very obtuse person to confuse me with somebody who gives a shit.
One used to be able to get away with this attitude; in fact, an excess of zeal would earn you the deserved loathing of your colleagues. That culture of quiet passive resistance among the Munchkins seems to have been broken down. I fear that the Stockholm syndrome of Punish, Inc. has become rather general, and most cubicle rats are carrying around a sneering, contemptuous, accusatory little Bill in their heads these days.
It's hard to believe that this state of affairs can last, particularly since the Bills of the world will never be satisfied that the wells over which they preside are brutish enough; they will never stop installing higher-pressure hoses, with colder water in them. I would like to believe that though people don't prize their autonomy, self-respect, and pleasure nearly as much as they should, there will still come a point when the Bills take their project of hosing, starvation and flaying too far.