OK, so I took the unemployment for a few months after my job at the typewriter repair shoppe was eliminated in May of 2020. The pandemic shutdown killed that job: Nobody wanted other hands on their Underwood for awhile.
I hadn’t been on unemployment before, after working full time for the previous thirtyfour years, but this wasn’t like regular unemployment- it paid much better, because of the pandemic. It was nice to sit out of the ratrace for awhile. It was kind of refreshing. I had the time I’d always wanted to work on projects: A cycle of songs for a Band of Pirates, louche paintings of Viking Girls or Zombie Girls, a daily Doc-Savage-Style regimen of exercise, and the completion of an inscrutable Tarot deck of 78 cards. Plus, I painted the basement.
Regrettably, in fall of 2020 I had to return to the kind of work that provides actual lucre, because not only did they stop the extra pandemic unemployment funds, despite the fact that there was no vaccine available right then, but also my right-then-spouse decided that the best time to divorce and sell our house was right then, of all times. Apparently that kind of thing happens, which I hadn’t expected, so let that be a warning to you.
There was no clear understanding of Covid, really, except that you could watch hundreds of thousands of people suffering and dying from it. I’d been sterilizing the paper mail we received and washing every rutabaga in the garage before it entered the house, wearing a mask I’d made myself out of a bandana and a vacuum filter. I was, frankly, scared to go into anyplace where people were breathing. On the other hand, it had been a half-year since I’d really been in the same room for more than a few minutes with anyone but my family, and with 3.33 percent of them not wanting me there at all, I needed to get out with other humans again, in the real world.
So I video-interviewed for a job in the boom industry of cemetery sales, and tried to pick up more art and design work, but there was a dearth of opportunities for anything except grocery stores and restaurants, service sectors the dominant paradigm had determined to be expendable.
And there were Transportation jobs. I’d spent a quarter century running a delivery company, Basket2Kasket Kouriers, LLC, and I had Mad Transpo Skills, and I Loathed the Transpo Industry, because dominated by male ex-military speed-and-bourbon freaks who underpaid and dangerously overworked their drivers. The Uber/Independent contractor business model made the industry into a slave ship, & where once there had been happy employees in shiny trucks with health insurance and paid holidays, now there was you make $1.37 per stop, $2.16 if rural, and you drive your own vehicle17 hours a day. It wasn’t fun being one of the drivers, and I found it even worse to be management, or a Dispatcher, assigning too many orders to some shlep. The whip felt all wrong in my hands.
But I was so desperate to get a job. If I could launch myself back up to $50 or $60 k, I might, I thought, be able to buy my divorcing partner out of the house that I’d carefully poured several cashed-out-401K’s and a lot of carpentry into for fourteen years. I liked that house. I’d never had a whole house before. I thought the kids liked the house, but later discovered that they actually didn’t care about real estate, so let that be another lesson to you.
So it was that I was accidentally sucked back into the industry. A former coworker, named Bonzo, now owned DeliverMe, a delivery company located out in Romulus near DTW, and called me up, he said, to come in and run the general operations, he said, as he was taking some time off and couldn’t be as hands-on. He said. And none of his existing people were right for managing, he said. It was just before the Holidays, which is a busy time for deliveries, so I was suspicious that he’d bring me in as a manager above existing staff. Maybe he was desperate for more dispatchers and would say anything, and I admit I’d seen Bonzo say almost anything, previously, as it suited his purposes. But the money.
Indeed, as I filled out the paperwork on my first day, I was by all accounts being hired as a dispatcher, because, he said, he wanted to get me assimilated into the daily business for a couple of weeks before announcing my new position, so that the transition would go more smoothly with the staff. Anyway, all of that stuff turned out to be immaterial in the fourth hour of my shift.
Here are the common American Workplace irritants/red flags I ignored, first:
1. The DeliverMe HR Manager praised Trump effusively because of gains in her 401K and told me that she didn’t believe in women’s rights because she worked for a living. I know, there’s always the coworker with the weird fetish. Whatever
2. The guys in the DeliverMe warehouse sure appeared to hate each other, as I watched them carefully smash a 12-foot boxed glass window into a thousand pieces. The staff in general evinced various levels of dissociative depression or passive aggression, which wasn’t unusual, for staff, so NBD
3. The DeliverMe office had the ambiance of an abandoned bunker, but with worse carpet. That’s as expected. Free oily hazelnut-flavored white fluid to add to your free Costco Coffee, when it’s not baked into a puck at the bottom of the carafe, so that’s something
4. The DeliverMe workers weren’t consistently wearing masks in the building, nor being temp-tested upon arrival, as Bonzo had assured me they would be. Considering that almost all the workers were independent contractors, I hadn’t believed that one, anyway
It would still be 6 months until I’d be able to get my first vaccination, but I was masked and wouldn’t have to be within twenty feet anyone while working in the big cinderblock building, so I was still in a state of oh-fuck-maybe-I can-make-this-work-somehow-because-money when the Medical Couriers began to return from their routes of specimen pickups.
I’d spent decades overseeing the handling of medical specimens, but not the way DeliverMe did it. Instead of the required hard-sided coolers marked with a biohazard symbol, the drivers came in, unmasked, ungloved, with black plastic garbagebags full of hundreds of specimens of blood, urine, tumor bits, whatever, from labs all over Southeast Michigan, to be packaged and sent out by air for testing in some other state.
They dumped the individually bagged testtubes and slides from their garbagebags onto a dirty plywood table. There was a giant pile of sickness on that table, and you’re not supposed to handle that stuff on a surface that can’t be sanitized, in a room that’s not airtight. I was already starting to stand up from the dispatch chair, when the other dispatcher walked over to the table, with a Mountain Dew in one ungloved hand, and began to blithely pop open the ziplocked specimen bags, squeeze all the air out so they’d be smaller, and jam them as tightly as possible into the box for air transport, so they could pay for the transport of less boxes.
Specimen testtubes aren’t always perfectly sealed any more than anything is always perfectly sealed, plus, even once sealed, they’re breakable. The ziplocked bag is important, like the hard-sided coolers they also didn’t use.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I said. The dispatcher, his girlfriend, who was not an employee but had just come in for the free Tuberculosis, and several drivers all looked at me in consternation.
“I’ve never seen such negligent handling of specimens. Who trained you people?” That was a rhetorical question: no-one had trained them, obvs.
The level of hostility in the room dialed way up, and the dispatcher took a step towards me, “Oh, what?” he retorted, “are you afraid of covids?” This kind of jeeringly, with another slug of Mountain Dew and, probably, Dracunculiasis medinensis larvae.
“I’m afraid of all the airborne and bloodborne pathogens,” I answered honestly, “those come from sick people; even the doctors don’t know what’s in them. That’s why you’re are sending them to be tested.” There was no immediate response. I said, “I’m leaving, I’ll call your boss on the way home. Nice to meet y’all.”
On I-94, on the way home to the house I was losing, I called my former associate. “What the fuck, man,” I said, “Take me off the books. I was never there. That was the stupidest thing I ever saw. You can’t have your people handling specimens like that- somebody’s gonna die. You’re gonna lose everything.”
Bonzo was indignant, “We’ve been burping bags like that for twelve years* and nobody’s ever died.”
“You do realize that the common cold and flu are airborne, right?” I said, “it’s possible for your people to spread stuff to thousands of people, along their routes,” I didn’t point out that it goes both ways- his company was also potentially contaminating those poor patient’s specimens with whatever disease made his company stupid. “That’s really dangerous. I can’t have any part of it, dude.”
“Yeah,” he said ruefully, “That’s why I never go into the office anymore.”
*Burping Medical Specimen Bags is Not a Thing