The Talking Monkeys: Charles

Charles

Charles raced back to his cubicle to avoid any additional occurrences being recorded on his schedule adherence record. On a fifteen-minute break, he was allowed a one minute “grace period” before he accrued half a point. Anything up to three hours was also half a point. Beyond three hours was one point. Sixty-One Seconds late for work was half a point, up to three hours; no doctor’s note, traffic citation, accident report or note from your mother made any difference; if it was an “Unscheduled Event”, you took your half a point, no exceptions. If you clocked off your computer more than three minutes before the end of your shift, you got half a point, but if you were smart, you waited for your supervisor to clear you after it was established that there were no more calls in cue. A supervisor could make your life a living hell if they did not actually like you, because by PharmaCorp’s rules, you were already fucked by definition, since you were only tolerated by The Management for as long as you didn’t bring too much attention to yourself, made them money, and didn’t cost them any more than anybody else.

It was not at all unusual for an employee to receive an “Atta Boy” (complimentary report from a member/customer/patient), only to have the call reviewed by a member of the Quality Management Team, and receive negative, derogatory, or disciplinary actions to be put in their file, to be used at corrective action hearings, or during yearly evaluations, when your pay raise, if any, was determined. Keep Your Head Low…Stay Below the Radar at All Times.

For every Memo or SOP, there is its antithesis, waiting, to be sited by Management, at their discretion to fit whatever agenda suits their purposes at that time. No Exceptions (…except at the sole discretion and express stipulation of Management, as determined by them, at any time, and without any further warning or written change of policy).

Charles had acquired IFMLA (Intermittent Family Medical Leave Act) certification for a short laundry-list of medical conditions that had been documented since he began to work for PharmaCorp.  If he was going to be late for work, or needed to take off too much time for his own doctors’ visits in addition to a number of other medical conditions for which his wife was being treated, as long as he had an adequate supply of PTO (paid time off), he simply needed to call out on the Attendance Line, call his supervisor, and then log onto an automated response telephone line run by an independently-owned contractor that took about fifteen minutes to record, if everything went well the first time…it usually took almost thirty minutes, even if you were prepared with the claim number, ID number, password, date of claim, time of claim, and type of claim. It was not at all uncommon to have the automated response system inform you that they had no record of that claim, and then disconnect you without warning or recourse. If it required being referred to a live person, that time would usually last about an hour. Believe it or not, although by comparison, Charles had learned how to use the system to his benefit; it still required him to document illnesses and conditions he had acquired while working for that system, and even then, your lunch and other scheduled breaks could get you fired. Twelve points in twelve months equals termination.

Last week, an associate of his had been fired without warning for too many accruals. Just like that. Came to her desk right after lunch and Security escorted her away to (In)Human Relations for a meeting, while another supervisor cleaned out her personal belongings from her desk, placed them into a white cardboard archives box, and handed them to her as she left the office, once they told her she was fired. No previous incidents, So sorry. Just like that.

Eight years earlier, he took the job thinking it was a temporary alternative… (to being unemployed). Freedom Medical Supply was then bought by Rexco, who was then bought out by PharmaCorp, his current employer. Four years earlier, he suffered a general nervous breakdown. Anywhere else, he never would have been able to keep his job. Here, hardly anyone noticed. He had been up and down so many times he lost count. Eighty thousand dollars in commissions, plus over thirty thousand in salary and overtime in one year, but less than half that amount a year later. Sixty grand gross the next year, and half that the next. He was back on the upside for about the last year, but any good fortune that came along just made him hold his breath as he prepared for the next shitstorm…not if, but when….

He often referred to himself and his peers as Lab Rats. As he saw it, they all were participating in a carefully controlled experiment in Human Engineering, to see exactly how much productivity could be extracted from a human being before it was officially documented and proven to be inhumane. Fuck the MLD (a pharmaceutical reference to the median (lethal) dose needed to kill one-half of its recipients.)…just wait until Congress decrees it to be inhumane, and then just claim “Who Knew?”

Just like the tobacco companies, except that in this case, psychological harm and mental impairment are very difficult to track and document in terms that the courts would find to be meaningful or significant. Similarly, being able to link cardiac, cancer, or diabetic diseases, or even erectile dysfunction to stress might prove to be even more difficult, no matter how obvious it appeared to the doctors who treated those employees. The healthcare insurance that PharmaCorp provided was a PPO, and the network providers in general had a distinct proclivity for avoiding addressing the issue in the first place. Most of the providers worked in the same building, and were sub-contracted by a single Management and Payroll contractor. It doesn’t take too long to realize upon what side your bread is buttered. Risk Management (Damage Control) Divisions work
hand-in-hand with Legal departments to push that envelope as hard and as far as possible, using seemingly unlimited resources and funds to discourage any challenges, even to what would have been regarded as flagrant violations of several civil rights and liberties formerly believed to be Constitutionally guaranteed.

How much time was spent on “personal non-work” (Bio-Breaks)? Management knows…to the second. How much time was actually spent “talking”? It’s also timed to the second automatically…. What was your “wrap-up time”? Tick, Tock, Tick Tock….What is your Adherence? How many conversions? What is your ratio of Rx’s per hour? What is your work percentage? Better hurry up, the clock is ticking, the recorder is documenting…Charles began to joke about “repetitive thought injury,” calling it “Cerebral Tunnel Syndrome.” All verbal responses, even the rebuttals, were very tightly scripted. If you stuck close enough to the script, you could even type while you rattled off paragraph after paragraph of required statements, legal disclaimers and other verbal mantras that no longer required mentation to recite. The script was the doctrine and dogma of the call center, and all heretics were subject to be burned at the stake (at the sole discretion of Management).

He would awake from bizarre dreams involving programs that wouldn’t open, or screens that populated with inappropriate information, all the while chanting the script. Then he started to notice that he couldn’t recall familiar names or words or terms that once sprang from his tongue like flushed quail from a bush…or his own phone number…or the name of an old friend.

It was the brain’s version of repetitive motion injury. He speculated it was from excessive stimulation of specific sets of neurons causing a build-up in acetylcholinesterase in response to high levels of acetylcholine caused by the rapid-fire stimulus-response mediated reactions to a very limited number of stimuli, but that was just his own best guess. After all, he was just a retired paramedic, not a neurologist. It just seemed to him that it was too much like stepping on the gas and revving the engine with the brakes locked and the transmission in gear. And that never even took into account the effects of SS/NRI (selective serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) that so many of his colleagues, as well as he were taking for depression. Charles once described the effects of these “next generation” anti-depressants as like experiencing a home invasion of your brain at the hands of party crashers you never met before, or having homeless people set up housekeeping in your attic.

He also began to realize the effects of the two-edged sword of stress and depression upon his general, as well as his mental health. Eventually he realized that after he could no longer feel anger over the daily offenses to his character and intelligence, the Depression would set in. For a long time, those seemed to be his choices, Unruly Anger or Compliant Depression. Eventually, humor proved to be his saving grace, although it frequently got him into trouble with Management, or rather middle-management, who became his nemesis over his “attitude”, fearing that it might “corrupt” the other employees.

Charles no longer possessed the ability to feel fear the way he had once felt it before. For one thing, Romance was back in his life in a very real way, and he and his wife were back in love and back on track as a joint entity in a way they had never experienced before, after over twenty years of marriage and three children, no less. Over the years, they had grown progressively farther and farther out of sync until only dysfunction and hostility remained until a series of intriguing coincidences brought them together again. Off and on, one or the other would try to revive the corpse of their marriage to no real avail. It was as if this was the one thing in his life that was so hopelessly fucked up for so much of his life that when he finally realized how easy it is to be happy and essentially fearless, a discernable calm passed over him that had been conspicuous in its absence. He said that Zen had taught him the difference between being emotionally dependent upon the kind of love that needed to be reciprocated from love that needed no payoff, that gave you pleasure just to give without expectations…now for the first time they were both doing the same thing at the same time for each other.

They spoiled and indulged each other in every way they could, even when they were broke, because acknowledgement, validation, appreciation, and some good old-fashioned idolatry cost nothing. As a result, it seemed like nothing threatened them anymore, as long as they had each other in the here and now. It seemed like they encircled each other in a protective spell of positivity that remained unbroken and imparted a state of mind that is infinitely calm and focused that generates, self-replicates, and attracts more Joy and subtle manifestations of power and peace into  Life itself. They became fearless as each became the other’s idol.

Charles was something of a Jack of All Trades, but he had developed a mastery of more than a few things that made him invaluable to The Home for Wayward Souls and in many ways, he could have been their poster child, and The Home for Wayward Souls was a perfect outlet for his energies. He generally shunned the spotlight, and preferred to play a more supportive but occult role. His expertise ranged from Music to Martial Arts, from Saucier to Security and Countermeasures, from Medicine to Mayhem, from Electronics to the Occult, Auto Mechanics and Gunsmithing. He could troubleshoot almost anything that was broken or inoperable well enough to at least to get you home on a wing and a prayer. He loved to improvise, and if anyone knew a way to make high explosives out of a stick of butter, it was him.

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