05. The working poor

Ratatatatata! My jackhammer wreaked havoc under manic laughter. I happily chopped around with great caution for whirling concrete. Especially my back was quite pleased with this brute mechanical force. Initially, I had to do this chore with a pickaxe. The struggling, complaining and cursing only stopped after they gave me a jackhammer. Yeah, that construction site really was (not) in the industrial time. You’d say everything would be modern, thoughtful and somewhat civilized in the 21st century. Well, not really. That view was completely shattered. The inefficient work fitted in perfectly with the employment-agency in question. All the equipment and timesheets were to be picked up and dropped off daily at HQ. Repetitive instructions were another daily requirement, hearing the drivel time after time didn’t change that fact. Even receiving a salary on a bank account was too much to ask for. Instead, we received cheques (to be cashed at a specific bank). Cheques! What a hassle. Not having a car made everything more complicated. Walk, paperwork, wait, take the bus, walk, paperwork, wait, instructions, walk, etc. So much time was lost before the workday even started. In fact, it was more of a work-for-work day than a workday since the (full-time) salary wasn’t sufficient to support myself. Blimey.

I finally arrived at ‘my’ hostel after a long workday. Eating, showering, messaging friends, socialize a bit and go to bed early. That was the plan if it weren’t for my meal to disappear out of the fridge. Moody, I walked towards the nearest supermarket. The absurdity of my situation hit hard along the hike. Going to another country without a plan to see what happens used to work for me. Interesting people and opportunities came along my path back then. This experience convinced me that I could repeat this trick anywhere at any time. However, shit hits the fan once trust turns into a blind trust. The over-confidence blinded me from the risks of such endeavors. For several rounds, I bet on red while the ball landed on black. In Canada I couldn’t get around it anymore: this was a flat-out nosedive. Slowly I got bankrupt and disillusioned. This was just another stop of a trip that didn’t go well. I couldn’t find my feet despite my experience, character and positive state of mind. This was a dead end. I ended up on (or near) the so-called ‘bottom of society’. Out there, the ‘reward’ mainly consisted of ‘starvation-wages’, very weird characters, a busted spine and an anonymous struggle that never seemed to end. Clearly, there are more promising places to linger around. Still, I saw a lot of added value in this period. It was a time in which a lot fell into place, a period that instigated something positive. All the experiences created some sort of value that cannot be expressed in data, statistics or money. It’s about remaining truthful to yourself, wherever and whenever, regardless of the situation or circumstances. It’s about letting go, self-respect, imperturbability, balance, focus, perseverance, dedication, adaptability. It is about something deep inside, something that is not for sale or to borrow, something that cannot be learned in a course, profession or seminar. It is something that gives a lot of self-confidence.

Something snapped in my head once I reached the supermarket. I obeyed the name of the game: I paid taxes, had the right visa and didn’t cause any trouble. With honest intentions, I genuinely tried my best to make something out of this. But everything was such an unrewarding hassle, such a fetish for contracts and so-called certainties. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of struggle, yet carrying on stoically wouldn’t have any added value anymore. The most important lessons were learned at this point. Rules, expectations, formats, laws: it’s all a big joke. A – Big – Joke. That’s why I picked my nose, got hold on a booger and shot it away. I burped with full force while repeating that uncivilized act. Then I strolled through the supermarket while farting out loud multiple times. Bystanders sneakily stared at me; at my posture, worn-out flip-flops, hole-covered t-shirt and half torn shorts. Now I didn’t just look like a swine; I behaved like one. Fantastic! I rather am an honest prick than a made-up saint. Bring on the burning eyes of quick judgments, simple opinions and rigid boxes. I’ll take it airy since it’s not worth taking seriously.

My uncivilized version still had the upper hand once I reached the cashier’s office. The timing of answering the typical North-American ‘hiiii, how are youuuuu?’ couldn’t be better. Of course, I knew that this question is just a polite form of interaction. But the Dutchman within me decided to consciously ignore this cultural difference. Let me be very direct with a brutally honest answer. I’m doing fine because I’m going to swap this pointless laborers’ existence for more madness, unpredictability and debauchery. I’m doing fine because tomorrow I’m going to sleep in while I’m expected at work. I even wanted to add that I was sick of this whole act of pretending, that I got fed up with it all. Even with restrained speech, she and the bystanders who heard me were as silent as the dead. How awkward. Once again I was stared at, yet I couldn’t care less. Just don’t ask me questions if the answer doesn’t interest you anyway. What’s the use of phony attitude and forced kindness if you’re an underpaid workhorse in the end? One that has multiple jobs while working longer weeks for less holidays. After paying the groceries, I bought a ticket to Colombia on the app of Skyscanner. Ok, done. Until departure, I will work under the table and enjoy the summer. Gratefulness descended on me, knowing that I am going to leave this senseless rat-race – even if it’s just temporarily. Running my legs off without getting anywhere, I’ll resume that later. Working-class heroes, give me a break.

Working hard and making an honest living: you’d say it always pays off, but what you expect isn’t always what you get.

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