The Lucky Ones

Posted on September 24, 2010



To be read while playing for atmosphere.

What lies beyond Philadelphia? What is the allure of New Jersey? Growing up on Manhattan the answer was simple: taxes. On Manhattan the taxes are:

Results based on your request:
Taxing jurisdiction: New york city
Jurisdiction reporting code: 8081
Combined state and local sales tax: 8.875% *
 What Goods and Services are Subject to This Tax?
New York City imposes sales tax on the sale or use of the following items in the City:
  1. Most tangible personal property (i.e. alcohol, furniture, electronics, etc.); 
  2. Gas, electricity, refrigeration, steam, telephone, and telegraph services; 
  3. Detective, cleaning, 	and maintenance services; 
  4. Occupancy of hotel 	and motel rooms; 
  5. Food and beverages sold by restaurants and caterers; 
  6. Admission charges to places of amusement; 
  7. Receipts from beauty, barbering, hair restoring, manicures, pedicures, electrolysis, massage, and other, similar services; 
  8. Receipts from the sale of services by or use of facilities of weight control salons, health salons, gymnasiums, and similar establishments; 
  9. Sales of credit rating and credit reporting services; 
  10. Receipts from the sales of the service of parking, garaging, or storing motor vehicles; 

And this tax applies across the board on all items. Milk – Tax, School Clothes – Tax, Anything –Tax!

New Jersey does have a lower sales tax rate, and does not have sales tax on some “necessities” of life, like clothes and certain foods. While Delaware, just a bit further from Philadelphia, has no sales tax whatsoever.

Anyway, South Jersey exists basically on the same premise Northern Jersey exists, the cities are too expensive.

I traveled East today to see what was beyond Philadelphia. The Answer was more than I expected. I expected: Malls and Suburban sprawl. You know, the kind of building that has no esthetic or engineered layout of the overall design of the municipality it is built into. It just exists as an ugly edifice. It is just “there” like a canker sore. Nothing really serious, not really pronounced, but annoying all the same.

However, driving further down this highway, we came to a nearly empty mall that looks like it was a leftover from another Era. It was an 80s mall. You know the kind, with a drugstore, music store, toy store, comic book store, and a movie theater. Contemporary mall design seems to have a sterile, white, marble look to it, and sometimes an ultra-modern fountain at its centre.

In this mall, in particular, were a group of people ranging from middle-aged to just-out-of-college gazing down the corridors. I would find out later this crew of people were mall surveyors. And all of them had bags under their bloodshot eyes. The people clutched white clipboards filled with stacks of white wrinkled papers.

Now, I don’t want to lump these people in with the Greenpeace/PETA people who harass you in the city asking for donations. These people were, well, friendly, looked like decent people, and for some reason I kinda felt bad for them. And they didn’t use loaded questions to trick you into their machinations. The Greenpeace/PETA people always ask something like: Would you like to help save the planet? Would you like to help end animal abuse?

You know those real low-life questions that are akin to: Do you still beat your wife?

The mall surveyor was upfront, he asked me to take a survey which paid anywhere from $2 to $10. If I smoked I would be paid $10, and unfortunately I didn’t, so I settled for the $2 survey. This particular chap, was quite nervous, but well dressed and polite. The other surveyor thanked me for helping this particular chap, because he had a quota and hadn’t reached it yet. The chap was in his mid 20s, personable, but he couldn’t shake that nervousness. He said, “I’ve been here since 10 am.” It was now 8 pm. He told me he had been standing all day, and beseeched me if we could sit down. “Sure.”I said. And that’s when the other surveyor told him, “You’re not allowed to sit down.” And he responded back with, “Really? But what if I say he wanted to sit down?” Meaning me. I said, “I’ll say I have bad knees and I have told him to sit with me.” The other surveyor shook his head, and chuckled, “If our boss finds that he sat down he will yell at him.” “Wow!” I said, “that’s kind of harsh.” “He’ll do it.” the other surveyor said. He continued, “he’ll do it in front of all these people.” We remained standing.

Now, I’ve had some miserable jobs in my life, but not being able to sit down—this one takes the cake. I can see why I agreed to take this survey. I felt a sense of pity for this gentleman, doing all he can for a paycheck. Humiliating himself everyday by asking strangers to participate in something he knows is annoying. This type of job would wear my soul thin in a few minutes. And this guy has been standing for about 10 hours and can’t even sit down.

I went through the survey, it took about 3 minutes to ask me questions on what type of butter and cream cheese I use. Then I signed a confidentiality agreement and we walked down a labyrinthine of narrow hallways, deep in the intestinal tract of this 80s mall. Eventually we arrived in a cramped, humid room filled with people sitting on worn-out, office chairs, and small lunch tables. I could smell their breath. The “office” was a beehive of activity. It looked like it employed about 13 or so people. 13 people, all squished together rushing around, in a claustrophobic, tropically humid, fluorescent lit, 30′ x 30′ cube, yelling over each other like they were in a pentecostal church—all in some 80s mall in New Jersey at 8 pm.

At the front of the office, behind a computer resting on a folding lunch table, was a pixie-like, little, man, with a bright lavender shirt, rectangle hipster-glasses, and a shiny, bald, head. He, of course, spoke with a lisp.

He snapped answers back at the other workers, and barked orders at, what I am guessing, were other surveyors on the phone. “I told you before!” he said snarkily into the phone, “just write the number on the top!” and slammed the receiver down.

While sitting there, it hit me. These people, who I was feeling sorry for, were the lucky ones: The Employed. They were killing themselves for this pathetic little marketing firm. “Whatever they were being paid, it wasn’t enough! It couldn’t be enough! Could it?” I thought.

To which, in retrospect, I hope I am wrong. I hope I am a condescending idiot whom is projecting some part of myself on them; perhaps my contempt for office work. I know it’s hard to look at someone else and judge them so clearly. But, if I am to be fair here, it looked as if these mall surveyors were a good group of hard workers, some of which probably recently graduated from university, and somehow they got roped into this marketing company. They took the job seriously, and unfortunately had a boss who acted more along the lines of a prima donna than a manager. Quite simply: He didn’t give two squirts of piss about his employees.  The relationship was clear: He was the diva and they were his underlings—easily replaceable.

My mind reeled the same question: What makes a person work a job like this? And I could only arrive at one, expletive ridden answer: Fuck! It can’t be anything else than lack of options.

I thought of all the countless faces, who have been besieged by worse. People have lost their homes, their futures, and cannot afford a visit to the doctor. Then there are many others who are a diagnosis or a pink slip away from poverty. They are fighting, tooth and nail, to stave off the necratization of the economy. And I guess that’s how they wind up in offices like this. No air conditioning, nor windows, and inhaling the breath of others.

It filled me with a morose feeling. Everyday the public is told, by news corporations, that Americans are under-educated, lazy, and greedy. Today, my experience said quite the opposite: This could not be further from the truth. Today, I saw a group of “kids”, and older-people killing themselves for their shitty job. And a manager who would not hesitate to turn the knife.

Why does such a lie exist about the American worker being lazy and greedy?

Perhaps, it is easier to accept the lie about “laziness” and “under-education” than the awful truth: Americans are hardworking, and an educated people simply left with no place to go.

Posted in: Life Lessons