Chapter Eight: Day Labor
It was 4:30 in the morning, on the third day of January. On this day, the new members of the U.S. Congress would be sworn in, many of them supporters of liberty. To Tony, however, it was an important day for another reason.
A staff member woke up the men sleeping in the shelter. Tony showered and shaved, then dressed and sat down at the table, eating some of the food he had bought.
At 5:15, a van pulled up, and the men got in and rode to Labor Ready, staying inside the warm vehicle until the place opened at 5:30.
At 5:30, a car pulled into the parking lot and a man got out. Men got out of the van. The man who had emerged from the car took out his key and opened the front door. Everybody else had to stay outside until he reset the alarm. Then he let them all in.
Tony signed in and then completed some forms. He enjoyed the free coffee and watched television.
At 6:30, the dispatcher called “Tony.”
Tony walked up. “I’m sending you to Sample Name Products Company. It’s assembly line work and pays eight dollars an hour. Here’s your slip. You’ll be going with Fred.”
Tony met Fred. They didn’t bother to shake hands. “I got the blue car out there with the Georgia plates.” Fred said. Tony took his food bag and walked out to the car, waiting outside it.
It was 6:38 when Fred drove Tony and himself out of the parking lot. They arrived at the site at 6:53. Tony paid Fred two dollars and went inside.
“They work until three thirty.” Fred said. “Meet you back here then.”
Tony checked in with Arnold, the supervisor. “I’ll show you where the break room is. You can put your food in the refrigerator there, and hang your coat. There’s a lunch truck that comes if you need anything.” Arnold said. “Let me get your ticket. You start at seven.”
Tony put his food bag in the refrigerator, hung his coat and followed Arnold to the factory floor. Arnold explained, “What you’re going to do is, you take one of these boxes and fold it up, like this. When one of these units comes off the conveyor, you put it in the box. Then you slide it to Charlie, and he puts the lid on it and fastens it shut. As soon as you slide it to Charlie, you need to build another box, to have it ready for the next unit.”
Arnold walked away. The training was complete with four sentences. Tony folded a box and put a unit into it. He folded another.
“You with Labor Ready?” Charlie asked.
“Yes, I am.” Tony replied.
“I started here with Labor Ready. Then I got hired. That was a year ago.” Charlie told him.
Tony could not resist sarcasm. “Imagine, you did such a good job, they promoted you all the way up to, get this, employee!”
Tony folded boxes and put units into them. He kept looking at the clock on the wall. There was one thing keeping him going. Jennifer promised to give it to him tonight. Hours passed. How long could he stand standing? Finally a buzzer indicated it was 9:30 break time. Everybody went into the break room. Tony enjoyed a can of cold tonic and some granola bars from his food bag. Another buzzer sounded. It was 9:45.
Tony returned to “his” work station and folded a box. He waited a minute for the next unit to come off the conveyor, then he placed it into the box. Minutes seemed like hours. The clock seemed to move very, very slowly. Another buzzer sounded. It was 11:30.
Some people had food in the refrigerator in the break room. Others went outside, to the lunch truck. Tony ate the submarine sandwich from his food bag, and drank another can of supermarket brand tonic. Everybody knew everybody else, except that Tony knew nobody and nobody knew Tony.
Another buzzer sounded. It was noon, time to go back to work.
Tony returned to the assembly line and continued working away.
At this time, in Washington, D.C., the new members of Congress were being sworn in. Nobody at the factory seemed to care.
Once in a while, Tony would see Fred walk by, with a pallet jack, moving a pallet of something from one place to another. Tony pressed on. Would Jennifer be good for her word? Would she really give it to him, as she said? Tony wondered to himself.
Time dragged on, but eventually, another buzzer sounded. It was 13:45, time for final break. Again, everybody sat down in the break room. Again, the break seemed to fly by. At 14:00, another buzzer sounded.
Tony returned to work, but now there was light at the end of the tunnel. Ninety minutes to go! He continued folding boxes and packing units.
At 15:20, Arnold came around. “Here’s your ticket. I signed for eight hours. It says three thirty, so don’t leave until then. I’m just giving the ticket to you now, so you won’t have to wait once the buzzer sounds. Can you work tomorrow?”
Tony hadn’t even thought about that. Tomorrow? Then he replied, “Yes, sure I can.” He could always back out later, or not show up.
Arnold said, “That’s good, because I think we’re going to need you. You did good work today. Thanks a lot.”
Tony smiled. He kept folding boxes and packing units. The buzzer at 15:30 was greeted with howls and cheers.
Tony went out to the blue car with Georgia plates, and waited for Fred to unlock it and let him in. He picked up a dime that was on the ground. As he sat down in the car, he drew his final two dollars from his pocket and gave the money to Fred. He didn’t say a word about the work. Fred just drove back to the Labor Ready office.
It was 15:44 when they arrived at the office. Tony walked in and signed back in, presenting his signed ticket. “Check or cash?” the dispatcher asked.
“Check.” Tony replied. He got a check for $55.64. When he left the office, the van pulled up, and brought him back to the shelter.
A volunteer at the shelter looked over the check. “I need you to sign the back of it, please.” he said. Tony signed his name. The man counted out twenty-seven two-dollar bills, a Sacagawea dollar coin, a half dollar coin, a dime and four cents. Tony counted and pocketed the money. The man said, “Obviously, you did a good job today. However, you’re going to need clean clothes now. We can offer you some clean clothes right now, on loan, while we wash your clothes.” Tony agreed to the deal. He showered and changed into the clean clothes and transferred everything in his pockets.
Jennifer arrived and led Tony to her car. They went to the supermarket again, and Tony bought a toothbrush and food for the next day. Then Jennifer drove him to the theater, where they watched a comedy movie and got comfortable cuddling with each other. Then she brought him to her apartment.
Tony’s heart was pounding faster and faster. “Thank you very much for this.” he kept saying.
Jennifer replied, “The idea is to help you improve your life. Yesterday, you were so down, you couldn’t see next week. You just wanted to spend your last twenty dollars on a quick fix. I personally don’t mind giving it to a guy, for a good reason, and helping a guy kick the cocaine addiction, is a good cause. Women enjoy sex, too.”
“There must be other women in the congregation of the Nashua Libertarian Temple. Do they all do this?” Tony wondered.
Jennifer explained, “Oh, no. Not at all. Not any more than every Christian woman is a nun. This is just something some of us do, applying the principle of voluntary action to solve society’s ills. You don’t just need a place to stay and food, like most charities would give you. Most charities don’t require you to stay off harmful drugs to continue receiving hand-outs, and even if they did, then the hand-outs wouldn’t be a strong enough incentive. You can see my apartment and my lifestyle, and you know you can achieve it, if you work at it, but it takes so long to see results like this, and you needed immediate results. Well, anyway, let’s do it.”
Copyright © 2004 Tom Alciere