Thursday, June 12, 2014

Steerage on the Titanic

June 20, 1980

In modern times, in modern societies, we have a buffer between the truly powerful, and the truly poor, a fictional zone in which wanna be people struggle to get their share of power.
This is played out in small venues like the one we work in, where middle management struggles to polish their images of power, and try to emulate the powerful people above they can never become.
The real powerful occupied the building behind the store, Vernado’s corporate headquarters, and even the junior management staff sometimes gathers on the rear loading doctor to stare across the fence in longing, perhaps even aware of just how great a leap it is to get there from here.
We all know Two Guys is in trouble. Not just this store, but all the stores from Newark to Totowa, made bad by blunder after blunder on both sides of this fence.
And yet, those who do the real work get the most crap.
Ronnie, or residential management trainee, struts around the store like a spoiled child, even though he came out of the ranks of regular employees, somehow transformed in his own mind into someone superior simply because he managed to claw his way into the middle ground. He demands everybody take him seriously, and none do. Few take orders from anyone who rants and raves and demands respect he hasn’t earned, just to feed his perception of imaginary power.
He needs the world to take him seriously, little realizing that people above him, such as Mr. Joseph, the store manager, need him to keep separate the not-so-invisible cast system all such places at this have. The whole power structure rests on the shoulder of men like these, and define the boundaries of power just as the fence between the store and corporate offices do.
If we do not take people like Ronnie seriously, then the disrespect goes all the way to the top to people who actually make the decisions that affect all of our lives – on this side and that side of the fence. Their mistakes, their bad moves, their incompetence, their greedy overstepping affecting our lives as well as theirs, and doom the people who do the work when their decisions go wrong.
Behind everything is a series of hushed orders, secret meetings, and a chain of whispered commands that has upper managers telling lower managers how to regulate those whose sweat drips on the loading dock or whose fingers bleed punching the cash register keys.
Back in my old job, my old boss told me when I got promoted to assistant warehouse manager that I had to keep my distance from the men I supervised (they were all men at the time), meaning that old friendships no longer existed, and were in fact dangerous. A manager should not get his white shirt stained with sweat working side by side with the workers, but should oversee them. I kept thinking at the time of field supervisors overseeing a cotton field somewhere in the distant south at some distant time in the past.
The distance between the most celebrated worker and the most incompetent manage like Ronnie is huge, and deliberate, a barrier that preserves the power not of idiots like Ronnie, but of power hungry people like Mr. Joseph, allowing him and others to be part of some artificial limbo world called middle management.
Me, I’m a stone thrown into this pond, a troublesome character who has very little respect for people like Ronnie, or for any manager that makes a person like Ronnie manager. I have always been troubled with this concept of elite, in the world place or in the rock clubs where certain privileged people were allowed in the front of line, or in high school where I violated every pecking order possible, because I do not believe one person is better than another.
Here it matters more. Here all the blunders managers from bottom to top make determines the future of all those who actually do the work that allows them to feel powerful.
My old boss used to tell me that people in the upper rungs of this society put their wealth at risk, while workers can come and go.
This is only true after a fashion. Many people invest their lives in what is called sweat equity, like Charlie and others here, for whom there is no other place to go after so many decades of loyalty.
They rely on people like Ronnie and above to make the right decisions about all our futures: and as is in this case, those superior beings have made all the wrong decisions on this side and the other side of the fence.

I do have some place else to go, back to college in the fall, but nearly all the other people here are stuck on this Titanic with a lot of petty Ahabs steering them towards doom.

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