Of course, my parents weren’t gonna be happy with me sitting around the house all day. And when I thought about it, I didn’t really want to do that either. Each hour there caused my brain to go funny. I could feel the walls of my bedroom closing in on me; my old books on the shelf staring at me judgmentally. Any longer there and whatever was left of my sanity would be gone. I still had over £2000 in savings left, but I figured I’d go out and get a job anyway. Naturally, not many places were hiring as society continued its draconian lockdown. However, with everyone spending every waking hour in their homes, it appeared there were new opportunities in the working world. No longer able to blow their wages on drinking, restaurants and football games, people sought to get their fix in other ways. The main way was ordering random useless shit online. The online retailer Amazon was already the biggest company in the world, but now it was set to get even bigger as bored people browsed the website and looked to order anything that might entertain them during the pandemic lockdown. Because of this, they were hiring more staff to work at their warehouses. One of these was conveniently thirty minutes walk from my house, so I said screw it and applied online – anything will be better than sitting around here watching my savings go back down to zero. Thankfully, there was no interview process; I simply registered my details and was due to start the very next day.
Arriving on my first day, I had to queue for twenty minutes to enter the building. There were markings on the floor to socially distance each worker by two metres as they entered. There were also temperature checks, as well as masks and sanitiser distributed upon entry. I stood there in the queue which was snaking around the car-park while looking at the almighty warehouse before me. It was maybe the widest building I’d ever seen. It stretched onward into the surrounding countryside for what looked like almost a kilometre. There must have been thousands of people at work under that one roof. It was a beautiful sunny day, but I noticed the building bore no windows. I thought of everyone in the artificial lighting, toiling away like robots, doing the same thing every day for years on end for a little more than the minimum wage while the owner increased his millions by the minute. As always, it was hard to shake off the feeling of absolute absurdity before I even entered the building to start my first shift. But hey, maybe I was wrong? Maybe it was actually a fun and engaging environment full of happy and content workers?
Such optimism was quickly put to bed. Upon entry, the first thing I noticed was that the social distancing was all for show for the outside world. Once inside, people crowded together and pushed past each other to get to their work stations on time. There they would stand in one spot and spend the next ten hours doing something that a robot was surely going to do as soon as it was invented. It was the most dystopian workplace I’d ever seen. There were endless rows of people wearing face masks, separated by plastic screens, repeatedly picking up boxes off conveyor-belts and opening them up. There was an awkward atmosphere and absolutely no sense of community among the workers. There they toiled in silence along with hundreds of other workers like some messed-up version of Santa’s workshop where the elves appeared to be more machine than living creatures.
Before getting started on being another mechanical elf, I naturally had to receive some training for my important role. This was done in a few hours with a woman I could barely understand, partly to the fact of her bad English, partly to the fact of how loud the warehouse was, and partly to the fact I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention. I eventually went in blind on the task and figured it out as I went along. Basically, all I had to do was open a box from the conveyor-belt, scan one of the items inside, and then allocate a certain amount of those items into a plastic tote to be distributed to the correct onward destination. And then do the same thing again. And again. And again. Once more, I realised my university degree had served me well; I was back to doing one of those jobs which was best done by leaving your brain at the front door. That I did as I spent the days staring into space, daydreaming about anything and everything. All in all, it wasn’t actually so bad; at least there were no customers and bosses to deal with, aside from some guy who occasionally came around with a laptop to give you feedback on your work-rate. Typically, you had a target to meet for how many items you scanned per hour, as well as explain any mistakes or periods of inactivity. I expected such dehumanising measures in a company which was basically a giant machine, but I truly didn’t care about any of their targets or staying too long on my break. When the worst someone can do is fire you from a job you don’t care about, then you had a sort of untouchable aura about you. Besides I knew there were a set amount of warnings to get through before they actually had the right to dismiss you. By the time it got to that point, I would surely have quit on my own accord anyway.
On my lunch breaks I sat socially distanced from everyone else. The canteen was also a giant room with 100m-long tables stretching down from one end to the other. The sight of everyone there eating on their own under the artificial lighting made me sad; all those people sitting apart, most of them out-of-shape with bad postures, eating their lunch quickly before rushing back to their workstations. I suppose I was just seeing it through fresh eyes and that I’d get used to it after a while like everyone else.
It took me a few shifts to realise there was an outside area. The spring weather so far had been one of the best on record – something which only made being stuck in this giant, windowless warehouse for ten hours a day even more horrific. Once I knew I could salvage a small amount of sunlight and fresh air during work, I took myself outside for my two thirty-minute breaks to enjoy it. I’d lie down on a bench sunbathing, thinking of nothing while staring up at the bright blue sky that was soon to blackened out by the great steel roof of the warehouse. The outside canteen area was close to the main exit of the building and quite often I would eye it up before returning to work. Knowing it was spring and the flowers were blooming and the sun was shining and the streams were streaming – yet I would have to return to the bleak darkness of the warehouse – caused that usual feeling of escapsim to fall over me. It had only been a week and I was already looking at the front door and imagining walking out of it once again – just like my last job, and the one before that, and the one before that. Surely I wasn’t the only one who constantly thought this way? Surely the other worker elves around me must have been thinking the same thing? Hell, all across the world, there must have been tens of millions of people who eyed up the exit to their workplace like it was an attractive member of the opposite sex. Why was it seemingly just me that continually gave in and lusted after it? Maybe I was lacking something – I was weak or complacent. Or maybe I was the only one with enough guts or recklessness to actually go through with it? Whatever the case, it seemed that this feeling of running off was inescapable, and as the sun continued to beam down, I came very close to leaving another transient piece of employment yet again. But another thought was also there: what exactly awaited me outside of that fence? The lockdown of the country had confined and boxed me in. I had nowhere to go, no other job I could hope to get, and my only shelter was at my parents – which would be even worse than here. God knows the grief they would get me after quitting this job after a week. I could hear them already. “You’re stupid to quit a job at a time like this! Don’t you know it’s a pandemic? You’re not going to get another job anywhere else. If you’re going to spend all day here then you’re going to have to pay more board….” No, it appeared I was trapped in this strange place for the foreseeable future, so I turned my face away from the sunlight and marched back inside to join the thousands of other obedient workers at their workstations.
I think it was roughly three months after I had sent out my manuscripts for my novel that I accepted my latest life failure. I must have contacted over forty publishers and agents, and only five had contacted me back. Three of these said they weren’t interested and the other two I turned out to be vanity publishers. They wanted me to pay thousands for publication of the book while they basically sat back and did nothing. A quick review search of these publishers shown dozens of people complaining how they put thousands of pounds into the printing and promotion costs, only to receive a handful of sales. Once again, the impossibility of making it as a writer was made stark and clear – not only would you have to invest hundreds of hours of your time to write a book, but then you’d have to invest more time to find a publisher, and then you’d have to invest loads of money only to see your book pick up a few measly sales here and there. Truly, it was the ultimate waste of time – time-wasting on a godlike scale, in fact – and I thought of all the other millions of aspiring writers that ever existed who spent their whole lives writing in vain before dying without anyone reading their body of work. Such thoughts only reminded me how hopelessly out of odds I was with it all. I could still hear the throwaway lines from teachers and parents. “Do what you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life.” “Aline your passion with your purpose and you’ll find your true calling.” Pfft, it was a tedious script people were fed at a young age, but what is a person to do when their passion was something that didn’t make money? What to do when your passion was poetry, or painting, or sitting around staring into space? Better to be passionate about driving a bus, or stacking shelves, or making cheeseburgers, or sitting at a computer and typing digits into a screen. Better to be passionate about standing beside a conveyor-belt and picking up boxes for ten hours a day.
No, I remembered that the whole writing thing was just another delusional daydream of mine. I shook my head free from such fantasy and focused on the cold, hard reality before me – the reality of being a robotic cog in the corporate Amazon machine. My role on this earth was to not to enlighten and entertain the masses through well-written literature, but to pick up these boxes off a conveyor-belt, open them up, and place items into another box. My place amongst humanity was set and I looked down at the many items I was scanning. It was an eye-opening insight into the current state of consumerism, especially into what people were buying to entertain themselves now they were under a government lockdown. People truly bought anything – including a fan-holder for ice creams, so you could carry them for prolonged periods without them melting. Or a shower curtain with waterproof pockets for your phone. Or a selfie stick for dogs. Or a miniature leaf blower. The absurdity of society was made clear before my eyes and I thought of all the people working jobs they didn’t like and then using money to buy this useless shit they didn’t need. A lot of that shit seemed to only cause them more stress and unhappiness, like the rug in the living room which kept them on edge whenever someone had a drink anywhere near it. It was a system of insanity which I was now an integral part of it, helping everyone out there get their useless gizmos and gadgets made from the bones of this slowly dying earth.
I think it was when I was scanning packs of luxury anal lube that it all started to get to me. Apparently the Covid-19 lockdown had caused people to start experimenting in the bedroom, and I imagined all the people out there screwing for hours a day because there was nothing else to do. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing anymore – I couldn’t accept my purpose on this earth was to help people fulfill their sodomy fantasies in the bedroom – so I started working on a new book in my head. Of course, I realised I had just accepted my doomed fate as a writer, but at that point I just needed to occupy myself with absolutely anything that would take me away from the depressing reality of my current predicament. My new literary masterpiece which was destined to be unappreciated in its lifetime was a novel about some kids who discover something which they think is a hallucinogenic drug, but is actually a substance which helps them sober up from the chemical they were secretly poisoned with through their water supply. The drug in the water supply kept everyone blind to the reality of the slave system they lived in, and the substance they found help awakened them from its spell to see the reality before their eyes. The kids would then on a mission to infiltrate the water factory and help sober everyone up from their secret poison and slavery. It was another edgy dystopian novel which had probably been done in ways before, and would cause publishers and agents to roll their eyes, but these ten hour days of degrading work were getting to me – time needed to be killed in any way it could at this point, so I stepped my daydreaming up to a new level, writing whole paragraphs and chapters in my head, plotting the book out as I zoned far out from my bleak surroundings.
I did this for some while and at one point it was clear how much my daydreaming was affecting my work. One of those people with the laptops came around and commented how my scanning rate wasn’t up to the standard required to be a good mechanical elf. Consequently I was moved to be trained up on the outbound section of the warehouse. I was given a pair of work boots and then led on a long walk to the opposite end of the building. My new role was quickly explained to me and I realised the job was going to be a lot more physical and – even worse – I would have to actually speak to people. The other elves of santa’s workshop were walking around, interacting, cracking jokes in between stacking plastic boxes onto pallets.
I tried to get on with my new role in solitude, but as usual my quiet and receptive nature attracted the nearest barking dog towards me. This particular dog was an Indian guy, about 50 years old with a manic look in his eyes. He asked me how long I had worked here and how I was finding the job. Once he had done the required level of interaction to seem like he actually cared about anyone’s voice other than his own, he then barked on relentlessly about himself. Within a few of minutes of listening to him, I knew this was yet another man made violently sick by society. His insecurity about working a dead-end job was instantly clear to see, and he kept continually talking about how much money his family had, and that his daughters were going to university, and that he paid £10,000 for his son’s car for his birthday, and that he worked this job through choice, not necessity. Truly, I was awe-struck by his desperation to impress a stranger – especially one who cared as little as I did. I couldn’t believe this was a real human-being and I kept looking around for some cameras; this insane man surely had to be from some types of comedy sitcom. I knew I had my insanities to a certain degree, but here was a man that was completely maddened and messed-up by the high-achieving expectations of his culture. I looked at his face and realised that this is what society can do to a person – turn them into twitching, insecure, distorted messes who can’t help but pour nonsense out of their mouths constantly. I eventually zoned out as he continued to repeat himself. “Yeah yeah… my daughter will be earning £70,000 a year when she graduates…. Yeah, yeah… my family owns five properties in total…. Yeah, yeah.. I got my son a new car, we like to look after our own, you know, help them out a little bit.…”
When the line got busy again, I took the opportunity to flee to somewhere else to work. Once there, I was free for some time until the line stopped due to a jam. I thought I was in the clear until I was unfortunately spotted by a bald and overweight Polish guy. He got asking me about myself and I told him I was an aspiring writer with a journalism degree and was just working here through the lockdown of the pandemic. “What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” he then asked me. It was a question I had heard a few times in my life during my short stints in these low-skilled jobs. For some reason, I must have given off an aura of being too intelligent for such work (maybe it was the fact I had a degree, even though they were worthless these days as nearly half of all young people had them.) I gave some generic answer about making extra money through the pandemic and this prompted him to start telling me how much overtime he does and that he sometimes even works seven days a week. I didn’t really know what to say for the poor bastard. I felt terrible for the guy spending his life in this warehouse, but the worst thing is that he seemed to be happy to work here all day every day. Listening to his story, I could see it was all he knew at this point in his life. Divorced, no hobbies, no social life – what else exactly awaited him outside that fence? I knew his story was a common one – that there were so many people out there were, working through the whole of their lives, all of them inevitably institionalised by their workplaces as their jobs killed off everything else in their life. Soon the hunch-back posture came, the beer bellies, the rings around the eyes. Their best stories were from when there had been some drama or scandal at work.
As the line restarted and I got back to work, I told myself I didn’t want to end like these strange people. I didn’t expect much from this life but truly there must have been something slightly better than this repetitive, robotic and degrading existence. Surely there was a better way to pass the days then surrendering yourself to something that was not too far off slavery. On the other hand those who chose not to allow themselves to be moulded and melded down into a job role were usually destitute and homeless. They were the insane alcoholics, the mental asylum patients, the lost and lonely lingering in the loveless shadows. Where exactly was one supposed to slot themselves into this system while maintaining some sort of spirit of life? It was absurb and anyone who still had a working heart could feel it. With a heavy feeling in my gut, I looked at the clock which shown there was another six hours to go. I then looked at everyone scurrying around and stacking boxes. Out of nowhere I had a feeling of and I wished to be infected with this stupid virus now. Wasn’t this suppose to be a pandemic after all? Yes, come on, Covid-19 – do your worst. Let me have a bad reaction and let’s get this whole thing over with once and for all.