WORK: What is good for?
By Sam Cox

Winner of the 2002 Ann Brian Smith Literature Award, and the 2002 JBH Short Essay Award
Also published in the International Journal of Ethical Philosophy 31:213

The work world, as we know it, can be brutal. Is brutal. Is never not brutal. If you don’t feel brutalized, you’re not working hard enough. How un-patriotic of you. Brutality is the essence of capitalism, hence the astounding popularity of full-contact sporting leagues plus wrestling in the US. Art imitates life. So does wrestling. We all work because of one simple thing: microwave ovens. We, as a species, need microwave ovens. They are vital for survival on planet earth. Believe what you are told. Anyone without a microwave oven is no one. A bum. Transient. River Rat. A thug, perhaps. Fully suspected of being an agitator. In my house we have two, just to be on the safe side. Microwave ovens cost money, and to get said paper rectangles we get up early in the morning, often ridiculously early in the morning, to travel to a remote location where we trade the minutes of our lives away for pieces of paper with which to barter for microwave ovens. Seems like a fair trade. I’ll give you 480 of these, and you give me 240 of these. Deal. Off to the microwave store we go, but there are other expenses to pay before that. You didn’t think it was that easy, did you? The word pay is so fitting. In itself, it just sounds penal. If you’d never heard the word PAY before, and you heard some old man say it to you on a dark and windy night in upper Manhatten, you’d be afraid, just intuitively, you see. So when you PAY someone to do something, it is always at your loss. Someone is always making a profit on something by selling it at a cost higher than it’s worth, therefore, you are always getting ripped off. No need to get upset, we’re all getting ripped off together. Equal opportunity. But to PAY for the means to get to the job where you sell your life away, you have to first have a place to sleep, because as we all know, you can’t simply work somewhere without a permanent address. Why? It’s simple. You might, you know, you just might one day, uh…You’ll need a right fancy apartment, and people will simply laugh at you if you don’t at least make some token attempt to put a framed picture of a rock or a sailboat on the wall, properly matted with bevel-cut acid-free rag matte. You’ll have to sit somewhere in order to legibly write out checks which represent your promise that someone else, whom you have bribed to do so, will willingly pay out your assets to whomever holds this other piece of paper with your signature on it, written in the fancy roller ball pen you just paid cash for. Sucker. You paid how much for that pen? Do you know how much it cost to make that pen? Getting up early requires an alarm clock for most of us who spent more than an hour after work entertaining ourselves prior to bedtime, and you’ll have to PAY for that. Plus, you’d be fired if you didn’t shower in the morning, an activity requiring water service, gas service, deodorant soap, shampoo, herbal conditioner and foaming shaving crème/tri-blade razor, or an electrical model with special lift-and-cut action. Who will PAY for all that, if not you? On welfare you say? Unemployment compensation? Miner’s disability? You’ve PAID for that already with every stick of gum you’ve ever bought (7% + locality tax). Towels are nice, but you can get by without one provided you have extra time, but you won’t, since fully 1/3 of your life belongs to the company now. So, towels for you. They’ll get dirty eventually, a peculiar thought since technically it is only your clean body you’re wiping off. Where does the dirt come from? It is not the purpose of this article to speculate on such theological questions. Nevertheless, you’ll need a right smart bright white extra-capacity washing machine and since land prices are too high for any but the stupidly wealthy to afford, you won’t have a clothes line out back, since you’re in a high-rise apartment building, so you’ll of course also need a drying machine. The inventive among us have made real progress in combining the functions of the oven and dryer into one single multi-purpose appliance, the “droven”, but the projected lost revenue of millions of homeowners buying only one large appliance instead of the requisite two large appliances convinced CEOs of major corporations across this great country to stick with the two bulky items. “The working man needs more bulky appliances to fill up those great spacious houses we’ve been clearing the forests for, don’t you see? Let the working man buy his bulky appliances.”  Microwave-purchasing working persons must eat, no? You’ll need to stock your fridge full with fat-free salad dressing since the salad you’ll be buying comes from over 2000 miles away, and had to be picked three days prior to germination of the seed to make it to your local supermegalomarket fresh and green. Pick up the 8-count pack of hot dogs and a 10-count pack of buns and don’t you dare ask what the hell you’re supposed to do with the extra two buns. Don’t forget the low fat milk, which still has more fat than any other beverage known to man, or those fat free potato chips (they’re really not fat free, it’s just that you can’t digest the type of fat these chemists have plotted…it just passes right through and lubes you up like an automobile engine so that you’ll experience the joys of explosive diarrhea first hand. No, it’s not a tummy ache. But you won’t get fat! Isn’t looking good worth it?) Of course, looking good is everything. How could you doubt it? You’ll need to look your best to please your boss and make friends. Your boss will give you your money, so may your friends, if they’re good ones. Good-looking people everywhere are having more meals bought for them than any other ethnic group, anywhere. Look into that. As a species we find that looking at naked people is generally quite entertaining, provided they are within 30% of the American Heart Association’s listed target weights. Yet, we have decided that going around naked is unacceptable, an arrestable offense, and this makes perfect sense. We feel that because we didn’t PAY to see someone naked, it’s not right to do so. Therefore, we wear clothes, often to the detriment of our sweat glands and comfort, sometimes not. Nevertheless, you need to buy clothes to wear to work to trade your life away for paper that can be bartered away for microwave ovens of all shapes and sizes. You’ll need a car to get to that job. And that car, no matter how much you love it, no matter how much Car and Driver Magazine recommends it, or how many “awards” the company claims their particular car has received (Who the hell gives out these awards, and why should we trust them?), it will eventually break down. Several times, perhaps. Most likely, many more. You will need to PAY to have this vehicle repaired. You will get ripped off, but every guy needs a microwave, he’s only charging you 56$ for a 30 cent fan belt because his wife and kids need a microwave too! Get off his back, buddy! So there are the basics, and you’ll no doubt want a few extras to make the more hideous tasks less so. Now that you’ve boxed yourself firmly into microwave payments, like a good citizen should, you’ll want to have some sort of activity to let you forget how miserable each slaving day is. Alcohol is a favorite addition to any home seeking solace from the 9-hour hell of the workday. Movies, television, sex (in no particular order), gourmet food (which is simply a code word for “expensive food”), games, lawn ornaments; these are all just things to get our minds off the real story..the fact that you have agreed time and time again, willingly, almost EAGERLY,  to trade your one-and-(as far we can prove)-ONLY life for money with which you will dutifully buy your microwave oven. Everyone is doing it. Why aren’t you? Clinical psychologist Jenny P. Peters says, “Only the sick and un-American in this country would think of not owning a microwave oven.” Clinical psychologists always tell the truth, so you can trust her. This is why you work. We are a nation dedicated to the production, sale, utilization, and discarding of microwave ovens. Go forth, and microwave! That is why you go to work each day. That may or may not be why I go to work each day. At the moment, it goes nowhere to explain why I go to work each day. I’m still looking for that elusive answer that keeps my eyes open in the shower every morning. “What the hell is it all FOR?”

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