"In a salt mine, no one can hear you scream. They're all screaming, too."
|"God money's not looking for the cure. God money's not concerned about the sick among the pure. God money let's go dancing on the backs of the bruised. God money's not one to choose. Head like a hole. Black as your soul. I'd rather die than give you control."
TRENT REZNOR--"Head Like a Hole" from Pretty Hate Machine
In one week, it will be the 6 month anniversary of my arriving at a small, privately owned chemical business I'll call the Salt Mine. This labor camp is run by the attention impaired owner I prefer to call The Warden along with a VP he captured a couple of decades ago I'll call The Orck. The Warden was the cheap son of a dead rich man and a scatter-brained entrepreneur who ironically had the air of being a know-it-all. Unfortunately, he frequently was a don't-know-at-all type, making arbitrary decisions based not on what was, but what should be. Constantly chasing new ventures while his old ones burned, he was the distracted captain of a slowly sinking ship. He was also a liar. I came to know that a week or two into the job when I walked out of the lab for less than a minute. When I returned, he told me I'd l overflowed a vessel and flooded the floor while in plain sight, the reservoir in question wasn't even full yet. Pragmatically I reasoned that he was just trying to reinforce the need to keep an eye on that little issue. But, it nagged me inside the ease with which he overtly lied and then cruelly chastised over a minor issue.
The Orck had good attention to detail depending which side of the bi-polar imbalance she was on but also had a nasty habit of allowing things to go wrong so she could bite your head off and eat your brain. And perhaps I should say she had good attention to detail but not perfect, which really pisses off a person with a nazi like sense of perfection. Then, there are the four other people who run the place: The POWs. I hired in as one of those. Gollum ran the plant operations, i.e. did all the work. I call him Gollum not because of his appearance or any unnatural obsession with anything the plant had to offer. It's only because he was small and wiry and knew his way around the forest. "You are in an unsafe workplace," he advised me as he leaped from tank top to tank top like Spiderman. The Warden and The Orck worked him 7 days a week under the mistaken notion that their last minute whims were the flawless decrees of a Pharaoh. If there were any problems, any at all, then Gollum took all the blame. If Gollum were fortunate enough to have a helper...one that lasted more than a week, that is...then shit ran downhill. Let's say rather it "rolled down a gentle incline".
There was an office manager, Persephone. Persephone was highly skilled and captive, occasionally escaping only to be dragged back into this madhouse of misshapen egos. Like a good prisoner of war, she bestowed savvy advice to the new forced labor between repeated escape attempts. One day, she finally got away. Ironically, they tried to lure her back into her cell by promising her more freedom. She politely declined and disappeared over the hill in a cloud of dust.
Then there was my cellmate, Skywalker. Actually, he was anything but. However, in his mind, he was the final hope of mankind, a genius of unparalleled intellect and defender against injustice. What he was is an inept, deluded, egotistical megalomaniac. Only two types of people exhibit that level of confidence: experienced employees and arrogant assholes. Skywalker fell into the later category, and I met him at the Gates of Hell one morning in April.
I was standing beside my car at the front gate of the plant as I was repeatedly pressing the "Call" button trying to get in. I briefly wondered if maybe I should have called ahead, after all, what kind of an idiot would forget a new employee just might be arriving at 8:00 a.m. and either be on the lookout, or at least leave the gates open. Ah, but if you leave the gates open, someone might escape. That should have been my clue.
After a few minutes of inane button pushing up drove Skywalker in his TIE-Fighter. He certainly looked the part: Hollywood hair, sunglasses and an arrogant attitude that permeated out of his vehicle like a scent. Thinking he was one of the regular minions I approached his car, asking if he knew the code. His solution was to call someone. Genius! So what was the phone number? Riiiiight, we're both new, we know nothing.
But suddenly, in the eerie fashion of a a haunted house movie, the gates suddenly opened. I returned to my car and entered, Skywalker following closely behind as the gates slammed shut.This began my first day in the Salt Mines. Many had entered those gates before us, but few had survived.
The Orck cheerfully escorted us to our cells. I barely heard the cell door lock behind us in the lab. We were given our inmate numbers. Our inmate duties had me as he-who-is-responsible-for-absolutely-everything and SkyWalker, Lord of Ego and ill-defined research, responsible for nothing. I admit, it irked me that this inexperienced narcissist son-of-a-bitch was making the same money as me. But as if to add insult to injury, we were both making only as much as the college intern who came and went at will like a trustee. But this was the only circus in town, so I had to travel with it, at least for a while. They told me they wanted a juggler but they put me in a trapeze act. And what they really needed was a mind reader.
So I performed all three acts, walking an emotional tight-wire while juggling an increasing number of responsibilities and trying to read the mind of an Orck. It's hard to read the mind of an Orck...there's just not a lot there. And what is there is dark and twisted. All of this while trying to tunnel out of this cell and into a holding cell on higher ground lest I drown my career in the rising tide of despair flooding the place.I was the only one digging, though. Skywalker was actually happy to be in the cell despite the rising water. He did provide support in the form of endless chatter about his favorite subject: himself. It wasn't easy trying to keep a dozen balls in the air while being chided as being unable to juggle if I ever dropped just one. On top of that, walking the tightrope of keeping a job in such a harsh environment was complicated by someone constantly trying to knock me off the tightrope. And it didn't take a mind-reader to figure out who.
Skywalker and his personal troubles were the center of his own fucked up universe, an ever expanding black hole of delusion and woe that threatened to encompass the entire lab. I curtailed that shit at every oppotunity. What I couldn't control was the sadistically odd Warden and his bi-polar Orck who alternated between sycophantic pandering and wailing rage. The outbursts occurred in situations where time resources were inadequate for the magnitude of tasks. This translates to the majority of the population as every fucking day. On top of all that, hidden elements in the environment had a perchance for trickery and sabotage. Having existed in such a dangerous universe before, I determined to nip it in the bud.
The problem with sabotage is the culprit likes to leave clues implicating others. I learned long ago not to play that game. You'll find yourself self-guessing yourself about everyone. You'll diminish your resources chasing phantoms. Instead, I took away the means for mischief. Valve left open flooding lab? I turned the water off at the source. Sampling irregularities? I got them myself. Salting an internal audit with fabricated nonconformities? I'd seen that trick. This was not my first rodeo.
So how do you catch a rat while not looking for them? Generally, every time you fail to fall into a trap, whomever screams loudest is the likely culprit. Or maybe only a culprit. Doesn't matter. The bottom line is you don't really give a fuck who it happens to be. All you want is to annihilate their ability to affect you negatively. But what if you discover the saboteur in question is the very person or the people busting your balls to achieve more and more in return for your meager intern salary? Awkward.
Imagine being in a prison run by maniac, in a cell with a lunatic, tormented by a sadistic guard while a Yoko Ono soundtrack plays in an endless loop in the background. Then add a dash of collective illusion colored with the pretense of business ethics. Couple with the soundtrack of mock indignation timed to play in an endless loop at the smallest of errors.
If that doesn't get inside your head then endure the complete mental collapse of your manager and witness the vile exhortations that spew forth about all who came before you. The worthless, useless others who produced nothing. There ain't enough Holy Water in the world to exorcise that level of demonic infestation. According to this manager, only they really do anything around here. All the while, you're buried under a steaming pile of their previously neglected issues. The bitter flavor of hypocrisy was never an acquired taste but it was a taste I'd come to know well over the next few months.
Five months and four batshit crazy breakdowns later, my time there was up. Skywalker never accomplished a damned thing other than pissing off some Sith Lords in the legal system and talking non-stop. The Orck led him from the cell for execution a mere two weeks before they shot me at dawn. Even with a noose around his fucking neck the poor deluded fool was expressing how fortunate he was to be there. He was still babbling when they finally dropped the trap-door. I heard the snap and the Salt Mine went silent. I sat in my cell juggling, watching my time slip away like sand through an hour-glass, no possible parole and no escape. They actually gave me a hammer and attempted to get me to construct my own gallows, but executing my right as condemned man, I requested, 'Shoot me, motherfucker!" As they scrambled around, cussing and trying to find a bullet, I watched the final two weeks of my employment trickle away. It bought me two weeks but it wasn't enough.
When they finally came for me, they forced a sign around my neck that proclaimed, "Cannot Juggle". That's the thanks I got. For a few months, I'd briefly held the world upon my shoulders while The Warden and The Orck stumbled blindly in search of golden apples I already had in my back pocket. I had witnessed the insanity and ineptitude of management, endured the babbling of a madman and managed organizational dysfunction with duct tape. For this I was banished into the desert of unemployment. Again. It had taken me nine months to get here in the first place and only five to leave. But, I proved to be a hard act to follow. Going through three more chemists in only 6 weeks, I shot the sheriff and I shot the deputy right in their puny ass bottom line and rode off into darkness.
But, the damage to me was already done. I divested myself of my most precious items in return for some stale bread and water, making plans to cross the desert....at night. At this age, my wife and I were forced to take only what we could carry on our backs and disappear into the mist of uncertainty. But, I wasn't always just a chump chemist for a couple of trolls running a salt mine. Once upon a time, I did university research....but that's another story.
Epilog: What's On The Warden's Playlist
1. "With Orck, Without You!" by FU2
2. "I Get Money 4 Nothing (U Get Shit 4 Free)" by Dire Poverty
3. "Welcome to the Bungle" by Huns and Moses
4. "Smells Like Broken Spirit" by Delirium
5. "Welcome to Your Nightmare" by All Us Cooped Up