Archive for category Work

My Marxist Pizza Moment

Another in my series about my adventures with pizza, including Pizza and Me, (8-17-11), Steak Film and Back to Pizza (8-21-11), and Pizza Success (8-23-11):

In general my time working with pizza from Village Inn Pizza to Rocky Rococo’s is an example of learning the business side of the restaurant business as well as the operations.  I was in “management” nearly the whole time, did nightly, weekly and monthly books, was proud of keeping my labor and food costs below the goal, and consistently had the best record for low labor cost percentage.  Yet it was there that I had what I have to call a “Marxist moment” – a time I got so pissed at the corporate capitalist structure that I struck a blow for the workers by allowing free pizza and even beer after close.   I then backtracked and decided that wasn’t the thing to do.   Looking back, I think my basic instincts on politics, ethics and economics can be seen in a microcosm in that experience.

I was still 18, had not started college yet, and in my first months as supervisor.   We were told that the big boss (I forgot his name) was coming from Spokane, Washington, for an inspection of whether Warren had fixed the problems the store had been suffering.   We had to clean the store spotless.     As we worked I started to hear Warren and the assistant manager talking about hiring a prostitute.   They needed to find someone attractive, sexy and not sleazy or scuzzy.   “Hard to do in Sioux Falls,” was one comment.   I just kept working; generally I’m not judgmental so it didn’t seem a big deal.

I also noticed that it was being paid for from the till, and that somehow it seemed the books were being manipulated to cover what the expense was for (“corporate will cover this,” I heard Warren say).   I wasn’t quite sure — I was trying to be observant, but obviously this was done with office whispers, glances and signals.   “What’s going on,” one worker asked.   I shrugged.  “Getting ready for the big boss.”

Finally, the “big boss” arrived.  He was quiet, sneered at the workers, and was fat and ugly.   After being introduced (he muttered something to me, not shaking my hand) I recall walking through the door.   “What’s the big boss like,” someone asked?   I made a face of general disgust.   The guy was gross.   We made little jokes about him (eating the profits, keep him out of sight of the customers or it’ll drive business away, etc.) as he walked around the store, muttering things now and then, but generally seeming to be sort of a dick.

Finally Warren came up to me and said “we’re leaving, the store is yours.”   As they left I heard the big boss asking Warren about “the girl” and assuring him that the money would be “taken care of.”   Warren didn’t seem especially comfortable with all this, but clearly had no choice.   Finally they were out the door.    I waited a few minutes and then took some trash to the dumpster.   The cars were gone.

“God, what a pathetically horrible excuse for a human,” I said loudly as I walked back in.   Everyone laughed, though I was the only one who knew about “the girl.”    We made jokes about his girth and poor social skills as we worked, and I bit my tongue, so tempted to spill the beans about the prostitute.  The next week the assistant manager told everyone the story; my silence had been unnecessary.

I was getting angry thinking about the guy.   He was ugly, gross, and buying a prostitute with Village Inn money, getting wealthy on our work, while we sweat and get paid minimum wage or slightly above.   What’s fair about that?   Who gives that wretched excuse of a human the right to come in, force us to scurry around, please him, and then let him get rich off our work?

“You know what,” I said at about 10:30, “we’re eating on the house tonight, make up a couple large pizzas.”

“Really?”  I think it was a guy named Steve I was working with.   “Cool!”  Steve started making pizzas.   “Why?”

“I’m pissed off at the big boss (I’m sure I used his no forgotten name at the time).”   He’s disgusting, I want to take away some of his profits.”   This was before I had studied anything about political philosophy so I wasn’t really using Marx or any one to justify this, it was an emotional reaction.

“All right!”  The crew was enthused.   We made the pizzas and all of us (about five people at that time) chowed down free of charge (usually food was half price).   After close we even had a few beers.  I realized at that time I was on a dangerous path.  If Warren found out I’d be in big trouble.   “OK,” I said, “this is a one time thing.   Just to spite the big boss.”   There was disappointment at that pronouncement, and others tried to get me to do it again.   I was surprised Warren never found out — or perhaps he did and decided to ignore it that one time.

As I reflect on it, I think the emotion of disgust combined with the realization that a$$holes like the big boss were living pathetic yet wealthy lives on the work of lower paid folk, is the moment I realized that structural force exists in the system.

Yet, the knee jerk reaction to just try to take back value — in this case pizza — to compensate for the exploitation is misguided.   “Workers of the world unite, revolt against the oppressors, take back the means of production” — it was the reaction of 19th Century socialism, a revolt against the system — at least in its logic.   Yet I realized quickly that this was a path that made no sense.   It just wasn’t right.

Maybe the system is unfair, but it’s what it is.   And while the big boss may have been disgusting, he isn’t the whole corporation or system.    There may be exploitation going on, but there is also opportunity.   My ability to get hired and quickly promoted — and reasonably well paid for a high school senior — was testament to what the system could offer.  Compared to other parts of the world, that’s pretty good!    Some might say I stole those pizzas — but I had worked off the clock to avoid overtime enough that I’d contributed free labor to more than pay what they cost.

I determined that my ethics as a manager would be to always respect and treat workers well, and not act like the grotesque blob I thankfully never saw again.    I still think there is a lot of exploitation, and the wealthy use their status to manipulate the system in their favor.   That’s why despite my belief in markets, liberty and individual initiative, I still am not a free market capitalist.  I don’t trust capitalism any more than socialism or any “ism” – human behavior is too complex to be captured by an ideology.

The disgust I felt at the time to me symbolizes the legitimate disgust hard working Americans have about the fat cats — the financial bankers who gamed and rigged the system, the ponzi schemers who manipulated the real estate market, manufactured AAA rated crap derivatives, and pushed us into a global recession.    Yet like most workers, I don’t trust government to come in and equalize things, or to steal from the rich to give to the poor.  Rather, the system needs to provide equal opportunity and block the wealthy from using their status to enhance their opportunities at the expense of others.

Nothing is perfect, and what we have is pretty good.   Rather than destroy it in the quest for some ideal, it’s better to work with it, and try to improve it over time.

28 Comments

Pizza Success

(Another in my series about pizza and my youth)

I'm "saucing" a pizza (spreading the sauce by moving around the pan), the co-worker on the left is running the oven, on the right the roll out machine. This is from 1978.

My first night back at Village Inn Pizza was memorable.  It was a long 5 to close shift, and I quickly became reacquainted with a store that I worked at briefly in April of 1976, nearly two years earlier.   I was told to learn busing and dish washing, being trained by a guy named Mike.   Mike explained the basics, and having been busing and dish-washing at my last job I caught on quickly.

At one point Warren (the manager) asked me to go sweep up the front kitchen as the workers there were too busy.  I ran to the back and grabbed the broom and swept.   “That’s what I like,” Warren said, “did you see that, he ran to get the broom!”   I got a couple snide looks from workers in the kitchen.   Later one confided with me that they were in quiet revolt.  The last manager had been very popular, but the store wasn’t performing well.    The company decided to fire him and Warren came barking orders and demanding people do everything by the book.

My friend Dan (who suggested I apply) pulled me aside.  “Warren’s sharp, these guys are dead wood, don’t get pulled into their games.”   I had no intention of doing so.  When the “old guard” told me to slow down and not be a brown nose, I just shrugged, “he’s the boss, I’m new, come on, I need this job.”     Over the next two weeks I found myself learning more details about how the restaurant operated.   I made pizza dough, learned how to operate the roll out machine (no tossing the dough in the air!), run the ovens, run the cash register, etc.  I caught on quickly, in part because I had done a short stint there earlier.   I kept up my speed, and got in the habit of sweeping and cleaning up before Warren would ask — something I knew he noticed.

I was not making friends with the old guard, but by that time so many of them had quit and so many new folk had been hired that it didn’t matter.   Just two weeks into the job Warren called me into his office.   “Scott,” he said, “you’ve been very impressive, you clean without being told to clean, and in two weeks have learned all the basics of the operation.”

“Thanks,” I said, noting that the comment about cleaning would shock my mom who complained I never did any cleaning around the house (which was, alas, true).

“How would you like to learn how to do the nightly books?”   He asked.   I replied sure.   “The only people who do the books are supervisors, the assistant manager and myself,” he continued.   “In two weeks I want you trained to be a supervisor.   That means you’ll run night shifts — Kevin (the assistant manager) or I usually leave by 7:00 — and sometimes the day shifts on weekends.   You’ll get a raise — I can’t have my supervisors earning less than the other help.   Right now you’re at $2.40, the highest paid non-superviser is at $3.40, so you’ll be bumped to $3.50 an hour.”

At that point I was feeling really good — my pay was going to go up by almost 50%!   “I would like to ask you to come in some nights and watch as I or Kevin do books.   You and Dan can come in together if you want, he’s going to be a Supervisor as well.   I can’t pay you for that, but I think it’ll be worth while.”   I agreed.   “One more thing,” he added.   “This is going to be really difficult for you.   There are still people here who have been here two years or more and they will resent you being promoted ahead of them.   Most will probably quit — that’s what I hope.  I’ve got enough people trained that I don’t need them around.   Others may ignore you or disregard you.   If you have any problems, let me know.”

I said I would, but added that I thought I could handle it.  “Don’t feel you have to prove anything, if anyone’s a jerk come tell me, this isn’t about your pride, I’m the boss, I should know everything. ”   I nodded.   “Oh, and don’t tell anyone about this yet.  I’m going to announce my changes soon.”    I went back out and continued working.    One of the old guard asked me what Warren wanted to talk to me about.   Before I could answer Warren piped up, “It’s none of your business,” he told the guy.   “I gave him a raise.  He’s proven he’s a hard worker.”     I shrugged my shoulders and the guy looked at me and shook his head.    When Warren was out of range he continued “this is just a part time low paying job, you really shouldn’t jump every time he says jump, the guy’s over the top.”   I ignored that comment.

The next night Dan and I came in to watch Warren do books.   Warren looked surprised, but we reminded him it was his idea.   “OK,” he said, “but now everyone knows you’ll be supervisors.”   Within two weeks I ran my first shift.   I positioned the employees where I wanted them, determined when to send people home, made sure the restaurant was clean, and of course worked.   On slow nights I would run the kitchen with one or two people helping with busing and dishwashing.    On busy nights we might have a crew of 12, meaning I’d have to figure out break schedules and focus more on dealing with customers and making sure everything was running smoothly.

The old guard complained, most did quit, but none of them gave me any trouble.   One time I sent one guy to help the dishwasher catch up and he complained that he always worked in the kitchen and that I should send someone else.   “You’re the fastest,” I said, “show Mike” (the guy who trained me my first night was still only busing and dishwashing) “how to speed it up.”   He didn’t protest.   For the first time in my life I had a job I really loved and I was in charge of the store, not just a busboy like at the First Edition.

Leave a comment

Steaks, Film, then back to Pizza!

This continues my posts about pizza and my life.  I apologize for the self-indulgence, but part of the purpose of this blog is to leave a record for my kids, and stories about my past are part of that.

I left Village Inn Pizza Parlor at age 16 and then worked nearly a year at the First Edition Restaurant and Steak House, and then a summer at a drive in movie theater before returning to the world of pizza.   Each of those experiences were important, and convince me that high school kids do need to work, you learn things on the job that you can’t get in school.

At the First Edition my duties were to bus tables, sometimes run the dish washing machine, and keep the salad bar stocked.   Memories include eating steak off plates that were brought back to be washed (when you’re 16 you chow down anything), sneaking into the walk in cooler to sample some of the ice cream prepared for the bar (which had ice cream drinks), and a grill chef throwing a steak on to the ground before putting it on the grill.   “Well done!?  They want a filet well done?   They may as well go to McDonalds!”   Seeing the shocked expression of a 16 year old bus boy, the chef smiled, “Don’t worry kid, the grill will burn off any gunk from the floor.”   Needless to say, I order my steaks medium rare.

We had the cleanest kitchen in Sioux Falls according to the health inspector, and I recall cleaning grease above the grill, scrubbing down every inch, and coming in on Sunday mornings for intensive cleaning (windows, polishing brass, etc.)   To be sure, not everything was clean.   One day a waiter came back with what looked like clean silver ware.   “They say this has been sitting on the table too long and they want ones freshly cleaned.”  He then licked them.  “There, this should satisfy them.”   I watched as he brought out the “clean” silver ware and the customers thanked him (and likely tipped him well).   Another note to self: don’t send back the silverware for replacement unless it’s clear they are dirty!

I also would grab sugar packets and chug sugar during my shift.   The packets are small, but I thought I didn’t need the extra calories so I decided to try Sweet N’ Lo.   Note to self:  NEVER chug sweet and low!    The restaurant was also a bar, and at closing time if we did a really good job the manager would often let us have a beer.   That was illegal of course, but hey, this was the 70s.   The trouble was, at that point in my life I did not yet like beer.   But I couldn’t admit it (what would the other busboys think?!) — so I’d secretly pour it down the drain and pretend like I drank it.

I was very observant and learned a lot about the restaurant business and its demands.   I appreciate what waitstaff go through and still observe restaurants for how they operate.  Yet I grew sour on the job — there was no real chance to move forward.  I couldn’t become a waiter because I wasn’t 21, and thus not able to serve drinks.    I decided to try something else, so I took a job at the drive in movie theater, East Park Drive In.

That was my slackest job.   The place no longer stands — it’s now a K-Mart — but it was fun and I was able to rack up hours, even though the pay was low.   I did a couple dusk to dawns, having to wake up people who fell asleep during the night (usually it was a series of five films).   One time I knocked on a van window and saw a naked man and woman wake up.   “It’s morning, time to go,” I said.   “Thanks man,” was the reply as they covered themselves.   We’d joke and flirt with the concession girls.  They had a machine that you poured the syrup for the soda into the top, and it would mix it with the carbon water.   I started making strong sodas, my favorite being orange soda syrup, and then mix it with 7-Up.   I also recall the manager being amazed at the summer phenomenon at the indoor theaters.  A film called Star Wars was in town all summer, breaking all sorts of records.

I also remember beers after close (by this point I indulged, albeit not as much as my co-workers).   Perhaps the low point was when I loaned my Oldsmobile — a Delmont 88 — to some drunk girls (co-workers).   They took off and my manager said, “Scott, what the hell are you thinking?”   They returned, thankfully, vehicle in tact.  Otherwise we had a running battle with kids trying to watch the movie from the lot beside us, chasing them off and/or flirting with the girls.   Of course, I had one of those flashlights with the orange bit at the top.    At the beginning we’d take tickets, and then every once in awhile I’d see trunks open a couple people pop out.   One co-worker, Orville, would yell at them and make them pay.   I’d usually just smile and look the other way.

My favorite movie of the summer was the original Freaky Friday.   I also recall learning the lines to A Star is Born with Streisand and Kristofferson almost by heart.   That movie played two weeks since one of the weeks was fair week and business that week was always bad so they didn’t bother with a new film.   I also volunteered to work every night so my co-workers could enjoy the fair.   I can’t remember many of the other films we had; I know we showed Stephan King’s Carrie.   But it was a fun summer…a few cars drove away with the speakers, but in all it was a more laid back job.

Alas, drive in movies are seasonal, and I needed to get a job in the fall.    At first I went back to The First Edition, but the job wasn’t as fun or interesting — always the same routine.   I quit to focus on debate for awhile, and then in February decided to head back to Village Inn Pizza.   A friend had gotten a job there and said they were hiring lots of new people.   So I re-applied.  The manager grilled me on why I left a year earlier, and I was honest — I said I thought the pay was better at the other place.   Then the manager, a guy named Warren Andy, looked at me intently.

“You know something, if you want to work, this is the place for you.   $2.35 to $2.45 an hour?  That differences is crap.  It’s shit.  You don’t leave a job for a dime an hour.   You know what — everything is in play here.   The old management has been fired, I’ve been brought in to clean up.   You work hard, you’ll go places, I’m even looking for supervisors, maybe three or four to run shifts.   I’m not going to choose them from the old staff, they’ve been spoiled, I’m going to fill those positions with my people.   I can’t promise anything, but if you really are willing to work, this is the place to be.”

“Yes, I want to work here, and I will work hard,” I replied.   Warren smiled.   “You start Saturday night, tomorrow, five to close.  Is that a problem?”   It was — I had plans.   “No, no problem, I’ll be here!”   He gave me my uniform — a white and red checkered shirt and a bow tie and paper work to fill out.   Little did I know I was about to start not just another job, but a job that I still look back on with pride and fondness.  I did become a supervisor in less than a month, and it was a grand experience.    More to come in future posts…

11 Comments

Pizza and Me

Despite having a blog devoted to politics, philosophy and the cultural changes taking place in the world today, I’m going to start writing about an important part of my life: pizza.   As I reflect, I realize that I cannot do justice to “pizza and me” in one post.   So interspersed with my other writings I’ll inject a pizza post now and then.  Consider this an introduction.

As a child I did not like pizza.  I didn’t know why, I’d never tasted it, but it just seemed something I wouldn’t like.   Then at Shakey’s Pizza in Sioux Falls at a birthday party my sister Roni had, I decided at age 12 to try a slice of hamburger pizza.   Delicious!  I was hooked.  Since then pizza has played a strong role in my life.

My first job was at Village Inn Pizza in Sioux Falls at age 16.   I left it for a higher paying busboy/DMO position at First Edition Steak House (instead of $2.15 I’d make $2.45 an hour), but returned in less than a year.   DMO stands for Dish Machine Operator, and I was told by the manager Warren that I was the fastest dishwasher he’d ever seen.   Perhaps I had a future in that profession, but I never pursued it.   Within a month after my return to Village Inn I was promoted to Supervisor/Night manager, and continued working there off and on until I was done with college.  My sophomore year in college I got a 30 hour a week job at a law firm, but in summers I combined it with my pizza work to total 60 hours a week.    Before going to grad school I worked at Guido’s pizza in Sioux Falls, an unbaked pizza place that later went out of business.  It was either me or the manager/owner working there, and due to lack of business I spent most of my time studying Italian or playing Donkey Kong.

After a got my MA and did a stint working for a Senator in Washington DC I decided the political games of DC were not for me so I quit and moved to Minneapolis, MN.   There I learned that an MA in International Studies from Johns Hopkins SAIS was impressive, but not really helpful in getting work in that part of the country.  So I became an Assistant Manager at Rocky Rococo’s pizza, starting in Uptown and then opening the store in Brooklyn Park.   My pizza career ended when I started the Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota.

Through grad school I ate pizza almost daily.  I made my own dough, mixed spices with tomato sauce, paste and water to create my own sauce, and topped it with cheese.    Between that and pasta (usually also with a self-made red sauce and some grated Parmesan cheese) I ate cheaply but well.  I mean, pizza and pasta, what could be better?   To this day I still make pizzas often, though I’ve found that my family prefers the cheap store pizza sauce to my own concoction.

I still remember my first night at Village Inn.   It was my first “real” job, and I was told to run ovens.   They had a “buy a family size get a single free” coupon out, so my ovens were full.   They were the old fashioned Blodgett ovens where you use a large wooden spatch to get pizzas out — no wimpy conveyor belt.   Here in Farmington both the Farmington House of Pizza and Athena’s have the same kind of oven.   I also had a metal tool I could use to pull the pizzas to the edge (it had a spot to grab the pan with), and then lift the pizza to check the dough.  I also had to pop bubbles.   Bubbles emerge if the pizza hasn’t been “doc’d” (little holes put in the dough), and even if doc’d often pop up as the dough rises.  They can get very large and potentially ruin the pie.  Unless they were small, you had to not only pop them, but cover them with a little cheese to avoid having an ugly pie.

I would later become one of only a few people who could run all four ovens full of pizzas without needing assistance (I also would hold the record for rolling out pizzas, topping pizzas, and dishwashing — I was fast!   Thats a trait I have to this day – slow people annoy me.)    That first night was fun, I was getting constant praise for how well I was doing on ovens and it was cool to bake pizza and then pull them out of the oven, slice them, and call out on the intercom “pick up pizza number 35 please,” and take the order to the counter.  I felt very important, I was the guy handing out the pizzas!

Alas, one negative of those wonderful old Blodgett ovens is the tendency to burn oneself.  Over the years I got burns all over my hands and arms, but the worst was that first night.   I got a bad burn on my hand, and it puffed up bigger and bigger as I kept working, having to put my hand into the oven to retrieve pizzas.   I tried putting ice on it, and ignored a co-worker’s plea that I ask to be relieved of oven duty.  This was fun, I didn’t want to have to go bus tables!

At about midnight that co-worker told the manager about my burn, and he came and looked at it.   I expected sympathy or perhaps praise for fighting through the pain, but instead he got mad.   “This is just a job, you don’t have to be a hero,” he yelled at me, “my God, when did you get the burn?”   When he found out that I got it relatively early in evening his anger grew.   “You can injure yourself badly, the heat from the oven only makes it worse, that’s just plain stupid.”    He then ordered me to go the ER — my first ER visit ever — to treat the burn, and said to make sure I tell them Workman’s Comp should cover it.   “And don’t ever do anything this stupid again.”

The ER experience was interesting.  The manager had called my parents to let them know I’d be late, and I definitely had an interesting first night in the pizza business.   The manager went from anger to playful teasing later on, I think he realized he’d made his point.

Still, that first stint at VIPP (Village Inn Pizza Parlor) was short.   A neighbor owned the First Edition restaurant and talked my parents in to having me apply there.    It would be a year before I’d be back at VIPP and really make pizza a permanent part of my life.   But hey – running ovens, getting a burn, going to the ER…I’d say it was an interesting first night in the working world!

2 Comments

Real Work

I’ve been busy — teaching a three hour a day class, and working on projects at home (yesterday it was the drainage system around the house and pulling stumps) is time consuming.   Yet it isn’t stressful or exhausting.   I think that’s because at a fundamental level, the work I’m doing is real.

This morning I reflected on the nature of work, particularly my experience of work, as I was carrying stumps pulled from the ground to a pile of stacked up branches, plants, and raked sticks we burnt.   Between digging in a muddy trench (we have an excavator, but have to dig to assure the right incline, and where power lines are), I ended up covered in dirt head to toe, strained my left upper arm muscle (rejecting help carrying a stump that in reality was a tad too heavy for me alone), and had sweat out what must have been gallons of water.

Yet I did not feel like I had been doing anything unpleasant.  I was physically tired, but not in a “thank god this horror is over” way, but “OK, we got a lot done, time to shower and get to class.”

Last night I was up until 1:00 preparing for the class.  I re-read the assigned reading, thought about various topics and how to discuss them, then did some work to look up side theories and evidence that might be useful.   When I went to bed I did not think “thank god that’s over.”   I found the work to be interesting and enjoyable, especially reading the daily student papers.  I was playing with ideas in my mind from the readings as I drifted off.

When I prepared dinner, put the kids to bed (an an hour and a half routine involving a bath, then laying with each one for awhile — not endorsed by Super Nanny, but it’s a chance to lay down and rest!), I realized that I don’t mind that work either.  It’s part of being in a family, it has meaning to me.

One topic of the reading lately has been labor.   Marx’s theory of alienation was a theme, and for yesterday we read about Fordism and post-Fordism (assembly line manufacturing, replaced by service sector employment).    I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend all of life working on an assembly line.    I did that for a summer at a kitchen cabinet factory, and it was the knowledge that “I’m getting my degree to get away from this” helped spur me to get through that summer!

I have come to appreciate that I am one of the lucky ones who have real work.   By that, I mean work that I enjoy doing for its sake, and have as much control as possible on how I do it — I can be creative and innovative, and change my routine.   This morning with the outdoor work I set my own pace, could leave for a few minutes if I wanted to, rest when I felt I needed it, and had no stress or pressure to do anything at a particular pace.   It was great to be outdoors on a sunny day, and I really appreciated the beauty of our woods.   I felt like I was part of a meaningful project — a marriage of materialism with a sense of spirit from nature and family.

At night I was reading for class, on consumerism and the economy — topics of interest to me, knowing my job would be to work with students to delve into these concepts.   With a group like the ones I have this summer, that’s fun.

To be sure, my paying job isn’t completely free.   There are specific time frames when class must be held, certain standards for grading and course content.  There are academic policies, and sometimes meetings I’d rather not attend about minutiae like how the academic departments are organized (evoking a reaction where the level of emotion is inversely related to the importance of the issue).   But I can choose my books, my methods of teaching, my way of grading students, my standards for class room conduct, and I can try new things.  I can be creative and spontaneous, there is no stress.

Most people cannot do that.  Demands from the boss, the competition with others, or just the stress of a work day where people have to multitask and deal with a variety of little stresses pile up.   Real work is not a particular kind of work, but an orientation to work.   As such, real work is not contained within the work alone; it includes both the nature of the work and the orientation of the worker to the task.   A contractor who works on remodeling homes and can use his or her skill and creative juice is doing real work if it hasn’t become a boring routine or stressful because of so many clients or demands.     A job like landscape architect certainly has a greater likelihood of offering a platform for real work than work on the assembly line, but it still requires the right orientation from the person doing the work.

I know of college professors who find their job too demanding and feel stresses and anxieties that I do not.   And, of course, if I had been complaining about the work this morning, I might have experienced it differently.   Misquitoes were biting, my body aching; if I felt I was there by compulsion to do a project I really didn’t want to help with, then it would have been less real.

It seems to me that a task for people to undertake is to think about how they can make their own work (at home or office) more “real.”   Are there ways to take control, to change attitude, to find releases for creative and interesting activities?  And if not — if things are so structured and constrained that the alienation is insurmountable — to look for an escape.    At home it’s more likely that people hold themselves back by their attitude towards their work “I wish I didn’t have to do this for the kids, for my wife, or because guests are coming.”  At times it could be an over demanding spouse or family.   For the former, try to make it real with the right attitude.  If it’s the latter, then it’s time for a family meeting.

Still, we’re in a culture where alienation in the work place is a mark of efficiency, and in many jobs finding meaning can be elusive.   Modern practices of controlling employee behavior can be dehumanizing and cause intense stress and alienation.  Personally, we need to claim our own sense of meaning in our work; politically, I think we spend too much time thinking about the material aspects of work (wages and benefits) and not enough on whether or not we’ve got a work culture that encourages authenticity — real work.

In general, the more hierarchical and exploiting the work place, the greater the chance of alienation, with work as unreal, disconnected from anything meaningful to the self.    You might be bribed to accept it thanks to a high paycheck, but if work is meaningless, the risk of alienated boredom increases.

9 Comments