Capitalism is dreaming in me. But of what does it dream?
You've found yourself in a warehouse job. They gave you free ‘toetectors’, there they are on your feet: black trainers with a hard tip. Sometimes at the weekend you come in for order picker training. You are learning to drive a forklift. Before the practical, the theory. A man pulls over the sheet of his flip chart. He's done this before, trained countless employees. The forklift, it says, with a diagram of the forklift truck. Your best friend – picture of a forklift truck unloading pallets – or your worst enemy – picture of a man beneath the forklift. You laugh, but you shouldn’t laugh. Everyone is looking serious. You stop laughing.
I was young then and introduced as ‘the lad’. I was an assistant to an older man, who liked to take things easy. I am replacing another ‘lad’ who has graduated from the warehouse to the office. I’ve inherited his workstation, his cartoons sellotaped to the cubicle wall. I think to myself: I’ll never live up to the example of my predecessor. I’m supposed to find packages lost in the warehouse: unable-to-locates, they’re called. UTLS. I get a list of them every morning, and off I go. Only I go nowhere; it is easier not to look. I wander from coffee machine to coffee machine. I take breaks sitting on the stairwell which goes up to the roof, where I can read in peace. What I am reading? Something trashy. Really, it’s a waste of time.
Meanwhile, there are forms to fill in. Time to wander through the warehouse again. Today it’s my birthday, my boss lets me off early. When he is away, I go up to the offices and sit in his cubicle. He has books about management and getting on with your employees. Every month we have a team meeting. There’s three in my team: a guy who dresses like a cowboy we call Cowboy Pete, some other guy, very skinny, and me. Then my boss, who likes The Stranglers. This is what we talk about, if we have nothing pressing on our minds: The Stranglers. My boss deigns to talk to me about Hugh Cornwell, Rattus Norvegicus etc.
It’s high farce. We’re playing at team meetings. Nothing depends on us; nothing we do matters. We search for UTLs and fill out forms saying we can’t find them. And when we do find them, we bury them more deeply. It’s not worth the bother of finding things. So we say: we can’t find them. And my boss arranges for a report to be sent out to customers and an insurance claim to be made. Job done.
Today, though, it’s my birthday, so I’m let out an hour early. I go towards the train station past the fields where new buildings will be constructed. I think to myself: how is that you haven’t dissolved into the air? By what force are you held together – what counter-force binds you to yourself in the midst of this absurdity? Is it possible to die of absurdity? Or would you simply evaporate into the air? Or is it possible that this is already the afterlife, that the disaster has happened and this is a form of punishment? You are a banal Prometheus having his insides pecked out every day. And this industrial estate (but where is the industry? It’s all multinational computer firms …) is a benign hell. But it is also a dream.
Capitalism turns in its sleep. When it wakes up, the whole world will vanish.