Monday, April 6, 2009

Super Good

One time I worked as a warehouse/shipping and receiving clerk in a middle-sized distributing company in Oklahoma City. I can't say much for the job. The pay was average, the work was both boring and physically-demanding. The company sold everything related to gas stations. From the nozzles and hoses to the tall pumps and underground tanks. You would be surprised how many things actually go into the creation of a gas station. Surprised perhaps but not at all interested.
Businessman cowboy The owners, as far as I could determine, were two brothers. There was Kyle, a young man clearly in over his head who hated taking orders from his older brother, Russell. Between the two, Russell was the clever one but that was not saying an awful lot. I suppose they were satisfactory businessmen but only average people. And perhaps that is giving a bit more credit than they deserved.
One day, they decided to initiate to this motivational program which they probably spent a small fortune on. The program came as a set, video tapes with morale-bolstering lectures, audio tapes (presumably for drivers who were motivationally insatiable or illiterate) and workbooks to measure your rising levels of good cheer and effectiveness. The main aim of the program was not to make you happier or self-fulfilled or a better spouse. After all, why should any boss care about that? No, the idea was, through a series of sermons and idea-packed speeches, to make thou a better worker. And, if you are a better worker, it follows naturally, they stressed, that you would be a happier person. You would be fulfilling your life's mission and this would lead to satisfaction and God would shine his ever loving light on your cold stone of a heart. So went the theory anyway.
In Oklahoma, Capitalism and Christianity walked hand in hand like a pair of leather clad lovers on Castro Street. This was the 80s and under Reagan, it was unquestionably accepted that material success was God's way of blessing you. Like, go on buy yourself a mansion on the hill, you been a good soul. Material success was, above all, a sign (as if you really needed a sign, at all) there was only one true religion and ostentatious wealth was merely a confirmation for all the doubters that Christians, specially Re-Born and evangelical ones, were the chosen people.
Of course, to every flock, there are sheep that stray, eventually become lost and make easy pickings for the wolves that lurk in the shadows. Apparently those sheep make lousy workers, become unemployed, carelessly have lots of baby sheep and expect the shepherd to give them a free lunch on the backs of taxpayers.
There was quite a crammed market for motivational programs back then. By listening to motivational speakers telling you about what exactly was wrong with you and how, with a little fine tuning, you could be a better worker, the doors of opportunity would apparently fly open.  At one point, all of the workers had to stand up in turn and announce to the others why we were poor employees and in what ways we had failed the company.
My co-worker, George was a cross between Jimmy Cagney andArchieBunker Archie Bunker. In Oklahoma, he was definitely as out of place as a lobster in the desert. He would chomp on the remains of a cigar and call everybody, "Butterball" From the first morning of the program, he was visibly skeptical. "I don't need anybody saving my soul. This is where I work. Churches are for that." The owners took no nevermind to George and dismissed him as a crank who would soon be retired.
We had to come in early three times a week to watch a tiresome video. It was, indeed,  like going to a Southern Baptist revival. Zig Ziglar  was of the Dale Carnegie species but with a emphasis on the Christian ethic. All very well and good but, coming to listen to his video lectures three times a week-at 8 in the morning yet- well, my enthusiasm waned pretty quickly.. (Wikipedia tells me that his first name was actually Hilary. Now I can understand why he would change his name. An unpromising childhood AND a girlie name? But, isn't  it remarkable he would change it to Zig. Why not, Bert or Sidney? A disembodied voice perhaps inspired him.)
I don't actually remember much about him except his incessant drone and catchy quips. Chortling from the other workers was about the only thing that kept me awake.  There were a few points I didn't disagree with but most of it was a bit heavy on the "God's plan" aspect. I imagine his scheme might work better on some people than it did on me. Maybe I was less of a lost sheep than a found wolf.
Ziglar told stories about his rather deprived childhood during the Depression and all he learned from it. How his grand success was a result of being right with God and, for a small fortune, he was quite willing to share what he had learned.
On one of the videos Ziggy said that, when somebody asks, "How are you?" instead of saying something typical like, "fine and you?" you should proudly and loudly say, "I am super good but I'll get better." Honestly. The reasoning behind it now escapes me. Something along the lines of self-suggestion. Believing is the most important part of being. I was sitting there and thinking, "if that isnt the most.." while everybody around me was nodding in agreement with blurred grins on their faces. Oklahoma was generally like that.
And worse than that? One of the owners, this bullish dull-witted guy named Jeb, would walk around greeting people and waiting for this-and only this- response. First time I answered (incorrectly. according to him) he glared at me like I was suddenly speaking Klingon or something. With some awkward prompting, he eventually got the words out of me. Soon I was doing my best to avoid him and eventually when cornered, I quit answering him altogether. I took to becoming a mute whenever he came into the warehouse.
In time, I found better things to do with my mornings (like snooze) and, since the owners were too cheap to pay us to attend the program, they could not, in turn, force us to comply. After that, everybody began thinking of excuses for non-attendance until there was one poor guy all alone in the meeting room, murmuring, "Super good.. super good, but.."
A few months later, George collapsed at work. Never missing an opportunity, the owners decided the time had come to put old Georgie out to pasture. Time had come to retire, old boy. At first he resisted but then, when the doctors told him they had found some shadows on his x-rays, he had to agree. I was left to run the entire warehouse alone which was no small task. Kyle promised to find help for me in the warehouse but that never came. Call it cost-saving.
In the following year, George would call, his voice getting weaker and weaker. I have to say, I didn't visit him as the brain tumor grew and his strength left him. I still regret it and wonder what I was afraid of.
It was the hottest part of a hot Oklahoma summer when George died. I recall sitting in the company car on the way to the cemetery as Russell openly debated with himself whether he should pay us for attending the ceremony or not. And if we were to be paid, should we receive full or half the normally hourly wage. I think this was the moment I decided that I'd begin looking for a new job.

1 comment:

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