Letters from Scotland: Adventures at Steel Hill and Salamander Bank Part II

by Roxane Hudon

 

[All names of places and people have been changed not to gna gna gna see Part I for full shebang]

 So, where was I? Ah yes, the worst job in the world. I’m listening to Leonard Cohen for some odd reason and it’s just not working as the right mood music for this piece; it’s the right amount of melancholia, but it doesn’t feel like a knife being driven into my soul. Alright, I just searched for “80’s” and Spotify supplied me with the perfect playlist, hold on world, I’m letting Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” seep into my being and ruin all of my dreams and aspirations.

Here we, here we, here we fucking go.

 Alright, I’m back there, I’m stooped over a desk, I’m holding a staple remover and I’m participating in a conversation about favourite pizza toppings and whether ASDA or Morrison’s has the best deals. I’m coming in at nine, walking with the crowd of drones. That must be one of the most depressing parts of working 9 to 5, coming and going at seemingly the same hour as most other people. You don’t really have to put one foot in front of the other; you can hover and let yourself be pushed into work, pushed into the train, pushed in front of a bus, pushed in front of a big, cold pint, pushed into bed.

 Alright, I’m back there, I’m stooped over a desk and I’m looking at the time, 11:14 a.m., time for the first 15 minute break, when we all gather in the canteen and everyone looks at their phones and comments on how it’s going to be a long day. Someone gets up to get a chocolate bar. Another gets up to get an Irn Bru. “I’ll shoot you, if you shoot me,” says a co-worker. That’s nice, that’s reassuring. It’s good to know that option is out there, I guess. “What happened to Roxane?”  “Oh, she moved to Glasgow and someone shot her in the face while she was unstapling shit, supposedly Toto’s “Africa” was playing at the time.” “Ah, that’s too bad, what are you having for lunch?”

 I’m writing down the numbers. If every batch has 25 work items, and every box has 20 batches, and I finish 2 boxes a day, that means that I write down 1,000 numbers a day, 5,000 a week. Maybe I could somehow insert that in my CV, somewhere between filming myself saying nonsense and reviewing important  books.

 I’m back; I’m remembering the system, the complex inner workings of Steel Hill. I refused to understand the hierarchy of the company, refused to understand what was going on, because that would mean emotional involvement, just like that time I cried when I quit Second Cup. But if I understood something about the hierarchy of Steel Hill, it was that we, the “batchers,” were the bottom feeders, the plankton, the field mice. Our batches would go to the “scanners,” who would sometimes bring them back if we miscounted something. “LISTEN TO ME WHEN I’M TALKING,” an angry Polish “scanner” once yelled at me. Again, I didn’t know what was going on, I just nodded. “She’s a bitch,” said the small, pregnant one. Don’t turn your back to anyone at Steel Hill; they’ll peck at your flesh like hungry vultures. Like any good office, sometimes ripping the shit out of each other just spices up the place.

The “scanners” were mostly Polish women who didn’t have to wear the uniform, the stiff, light blue button-up shirts the others wore, and who claimed to have Denis wrapped around their little, Polish fingers. All blonde, dressed with the right amount of office-appropriate tartiness, they looked at the others, spoke to each other in Polish, laughed loudly and then looked back at us with big, insincere smiles. I was definitely in the wrong gang. I don’t know what it took to be in the Polish “scanner” mafia, but I guess I’ll never find out. On top of the food chain sat the “indexers,” typing away furiously on their computers, looking down at us “batchers,” and stating that they had “real work” to do and had no time to make jokes, you know, like the barrels of laughs we were rolling up and down the batching area.

 I’m back there, and someone just put a CD on. It’s Savage Garden, no, not just one song, not just that one hit, but an entire Savage Garden album. Since we all don’t care enough, and we’re all too busy hunched over our work, sweating to reach targets, picking staples out from our hair, we don’t bother to change it and it plays 3 times in a row. Oh good, someone’s finally changed it for Now #23456, featuring hits from popstars who should have been forgotten like Blue and Steps. Oh, good. “I want to kill myself,” says the sporty one, rolling a chair carrying a box. Again, I don’t know why they do that here, but people are always rolling chairs with boxes on them.

 Oh good, it’s 1:30 p.m., time for lunch, time for our unpaid 30-minute lunch where we don’t really have time to go anywhere else but the sad, overcrowded canteen, or, if you’re one of the two people who enjoy the sun (most hate it, it reminds them of life and joy, and who wants to be reminded that exists when you don’t know how IT FEELS), you can squeeze in on the stoop of the neighbouring church. Most lunch breaks were spent with the one friend I made who enjoyed the same, simple pleasures in life, namely men and booze. Other lunch breaks were spent observing two different ways people could eat a chip sandwich. For those back in the New World, yes, that is a sandwich composed of fries. One way was to karate chop a slice of white bread in half, slather one side with brown sauce and stuff the bread with chips. The other was to spread a thick layer of butter on a slice of white bread, empty packets of brown sauce in a separate plate, dip each chip individually in the sauce and place each carefully on the buttered bread. Another popular lunch choice to accompany a conversation about why all-inclusive resorts are a good vacation option, because, supposedly, you really need relaxation when you spend your entire life swivelling on a Steel Hill chair and staring at things, was a baked potato swimming in beans and brown sauce.

 I figured, if I wanted to stop being a moaning, sluggish shell of a person, I’d have to quit eventually, because as much as you can comfort yourself by saying grand, rational statements, like ‘I need the money’ and ‘Everybody’s gotta work,” you must also remind yourself of grand, passionate statements like ‘Carpe diem’ and ‘You only live once.’ The day I decided it was going to be my last day at Steel Hill, I announced it with great pomp to my fellow co-workers. One half-turned and said “GOOD RIDDANCE.” My heart sank a little, because I’m the kind of asshole who doesn’t like being disliked. I’ll shit on you, but you cannot shit on me, everybody knows this, do not be a fool. ‘You can’t win ‘em all,’ life keeps telling me.

And so, when I walked, okay, when I skipped and ran out of the Salamander Bank building for the last time, I felt one step closer to the “WHEEEE,” it’s getting there Glasgow, I feel a slight trepidation at times, and sometimes I whisper a little “HOO-HA.” I may still not know what to answer to the timeless “SO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” question, but I’m still here, Glasgow, I’m still here and I’m learning. Lesson of the week: one is never too old to learn how to make smoothies. Never too old, friends, never too old.

 DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’, HOLD ON TO THAT FEEEEEEEEEELIN’

 

 

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