By Matthew Godden
It’s the end of the holidays and I don’t want to go back. God, it was nice to be out of there, out of that hot puddle of piss-light, out of that yellow murky swamp of gas. I am doing exactly the wrong thing for a living. It’s mortifying. But I am so broke that I can’t afford to quit; I have no good choice, nowhere better to go. It’s the end of the holidays and I don’t want to go back, back to the soggy pudding of yellow light, the cubicle stained eyedrop- yellow under the wash of bulbs–
Outside in the polar cold the smoke moves in slo-mo and the cars race past; no one stops here in this burned-out core of the city, down by the lake and the freeway. The workers step out of their roaring cars, taking as few breaths as possible of the wicked air, and then submit to the medicine of the office, hanging up their coats in a chorus of plastic cheerful hello and HARyu-goodYU?-FINE and click-click-click of heels and clump- clump of man-soles.
There’s work going on all around me, numbers being shunted like traincars. I am a dysfunctional employee, strictly a temp, and not even a very convincing temp. I can walk the walk for about five minutes. I crunch the numbers well (young and smart and works hard) and see clearly what must be done, but my personality is all wrong, I smile at the wrong times, I’m too much of a loner–at break time I drift off like an untied boat and come back all dirty and wet. I don’t suspend my metabolism well, don’t submit easily to the new timescales the office requires. You can tell the temps by their silence, their springless footsteps trudging across the carpet. You can tell me cause I look like a monkey set loose in a hospital, or a little kid playing with toys who’s been brought to work by a parent, inappropriately building and scooting and babbling to self in a messy corner under bright fluorescents energy efficient and hot. Hot like the white full sun of July. Hot like the interrogation- light. Hot like your father’s rage. As soon as I step in under the lights, I feel the frequency hitting me like the crisping of skin on a beach. I feel like barfing.
I hate fluorescent lights. They are cold and hot but never just warm. They burn with an eerie unlifelike glow. It’s a hollow, twitching, evil, clattering light. A hollow, pissy, jellyfish blue. Too strong in the ultraviolet, too inconstant. It’s a glow like cold tinfoil transmitting through metal tooth-fillings, a glow like a pair of soggy white briefs freezing at the bottom of an icebox, the phosphorescence of a skeleton wired up to a lethal current. It’s the bad face of man’s electrical mastery of the cosmos, a million dolphins tethered to a dynamo that sterilizes niggers.
Every job takes its toll, even a do-nothing sit-on-your-ass desk-jockey job, even a job carefully chosen so as not to send stress home with you, so as not to infect your dreams, so as not to rupture the stream of your creativity–and in this job, for me, it’s a physical toll of radiation-strain, a heavy yellow staining toll of cold flickering light, banks of fluorescent tubes buzzing and sizzling all around my head like the swollen tropical buzz of flies over the stooped bare back of a fieldworker; plus there’s the weird virtual warp of the data-stream I ride like a burro over a hostile mountain every day, my shoulders filling up hour after hour with the tension of holding my head up, my eyes swollen with data and stress, the rest of my body forgotten, just an underused life-support system for the parts of me the Company employs–my eyeballs, my left brain, and my fingers. The rest of me is dead weight, the retarded brother who comes down with me to the fields each day and eats a lot of food and babbles and makes a mess but isn’t productive. The rest of my body just gathers strain and stress like my eyeglass-lenses gather the grease and dead cells that fly off the useless bulk of my body.
This job’s been giving me migraines. My left temple is the scalding, sour underbelly of this micro labour-economy. My left temple is the high screaming bonfire of a migraine the angry workers throw all their misdirected anger into, all the burnable stubs of their humiliating paycheques. My migraine is a temple of gold, hazy and high as the sun, where all the miserables chant and pray, the firepit they throw their empty boozebottles into, the sour hole of the whore they fire their angry loads into late Friday night. I sit at my desk and the kindling begins. I stare at the screen and the work comes to me, the hot stream of data, and my shoulders slump and my eyes stare, blinking less and less, and bit by bit my body submits. For seven hours I am here, steaming, hazy and yellow, the humid banks of light bearing down, the stream seizing me by the eyeballs, the unholy energy of commerce welling up and up in my left temple, the migraine rising there like a loaf of hot sour bread: those seven hours swelling up and taking over, reaching deeper and deeper into the evening, getting up earlier and earlier with me in the morning, the musculature and behaviour of the migraine bundling me up at night like a sleeping-roll. My eyeballs ride the stream of data into the monitor like a cablecar up the Matterhorn, the bags under my eyes sagging downward like tourist-bellies heavy with sauerbraten and gallons of yellow gassy beer.