Saturday, March 07, 2009

MBA: Mangle, Brutalize and Annihilate -- Tales from a Barbadian Sanitation Worker

Aside from the acronym HIV, there's not another in the world that arouses more fear, despair or hopelessness than MBA.

Skulking about in their Valentino suits, which stylishly squeegee their snail-trails of ectoplasm, MBAs insinuate themselves like termites in a wall, lick cockroaches in a food supply, overtaking countless millions of peoples' daily work lives like a plague of fire ants.

If only these geniuses of destruction could do for AIDS, cancer or diabetes what they've done for Wall Street, Hollywood and the auto industry.

The MBAs have even found their way into the Barbadian waste disposal company where I work. The most recent addition to our management mafia is Morag Merchant, the new head of our HR department. This sneering peach, with her wash-and-wear hair -- which sits on her head like a tea cozy -- severe black framed glasses and vulture's ectomorph physique, has come to bring us efficiency and order and civilization. She had apparently done the same in a school district most recently and has now washed upon our shore.

Coming from a school administration setting, you wouldn't think Morag would know much about waste management. But, seeming to equate education with garbage and trash with classrooms and students, Morag has come on the scene here with a missionary's zeal. She doesn't yet have a grasp on the various jobs and responsibilities that make the company run, but she leads meetings as though she's training us in our own jobs.

She's already brought in an over-paid consultant to instruct the pick-up crews on the finer points of lifting garbage cans -- which Morag calls "receptacles" . . . the twat. Another over-paid consultant came in to guide us in on-the-job hygiene -- how to spend a day slinging shit and return to the hub tidy as supper club waiters. The emphasis on tidiness has taken on pathological proportions with the installation of countless pump dispensers of hand sanitizer throughout the office, garage, break room and rest rooms. We've also been issued what can only be described as superhero utility belts on which we're to carry gloves, sanitized hand wipes, an extra pair of gloves, disposable facemasks, as well as plastic bags.

Plastic bags.

Morag now sends us on our routes armed with all of this unnecessary luggage -- and plastic bags. Why? In case we observe recyclable material amid the garbage.

Yes, Morag has drafted us into sorting garbage on the fly.

Obviously, none of us plans on doing this, but the insult and insanity of such a dictate stung like a rebuke.

If any of us thought the outrage would end there, Morag had plenty more in her alligator-skin folder.

Sanitation workers are now required to fill out paper work regarding any "items of a suspicious nature" in the trash we handle. "These include," Morag nasally intoned, "if you find numerous empty bags of fertilizer, or empty containers that might've held ingredients to make methamphetamine, any child pornography, drug paraphernalia, any containers that appear to have held narcotics . . ." The list went on. She gave us photocopied packets of things to look for, along with packets of paperwork. By the looks of abject disgust on the faces of my co-workers, you'd have thought she was handing around color glossy nude photos of herself.

It's no surprise Morag doesn't understand garbagemen. Few people do. We are our own breed. We are urban cowboys and our ranges are the alleys of the city. Although we work in pairs, much of our time on the job is spent alone -- it's difficult getting a conversation off the ground while hanging from the back of the truck, or running the compactor. And we see a side of life few others can imagine. Sure, everyone's familiar with their own garbage. I'm familiar with leavings of dozens of families. When you see that much trash, as often as I do, you get a pretty unique perspective on people. The broken toys, the broken booze bottles; sometimes I find photo albums, record collections, diaries, love letters, cards and enough discarded bills to break a millionaire's heart. The odd time there's even a dead pet. A few years ago, one co-worker found a dead baby.

And the life of a garbageman is one that starts around sunrise and ends when we finish our last route. If we accomplish that within eight hours, great, we're even. If it takes us longer than the eight hours for which we're paid, then tough. If we manage to get it done faster than eight hours, all the better.

Well, that's how it used to go.

Now that Morag's on the scene, she's established what she calls "duty hours." Our day begins around six a.m. and are now to end at four in the afternoon. My partner and I usually get done around two or two-thirty; some crews are faster, some are slower. When asked what point would be served by us hanging around the garage until four o'clock, Morag smiled her jackal's grin and informed us of still more paperwork that was being assigned.

"We have an opportunity to turn your daily observations into revenue for the company," she said. She handed around a new packet of forms. "The makers of trash receptacles are interested in learning what models people prefer, and why. At the end of each shift, you'll complete these forms that will do just that. Which we will then monetize."

The group of us just stared at her. There is a dense and seamless forcefield of officious impenetrability surrounding Morag, but not even that could deaden or dilute our blank, disenchanted expressions.

"Of course," she continued, "you will have management's great thanks, and also the satisfaction that you're helping your employer remain profitable." She produced a plastic shopping bag from her alligator skin briefcase. "As a token of appreciation, your leadership would like you to have these." She passed out badges that read: THE DIFFERENCE BEGINS WITH ME!

No one's sure when Morag's contract with the company expires. Doesn't really matter -- no one can wait that long. A few guys are giving the paperwork a try. Some trashed the forms on their way out of the windowless meeting room the first day they were given to us. A handful of guys just kept to their old routines of taking off for the day when the last route was finished. Last week those guys were sent offsite for some special training and no one has seen them since.

As for myself, I wear the utility belt on my route, and avail of the hand sanitizer when I'm in the office. As for going through everyone's garbage and ratting them out because a broken booze bottle has blood and hair on the end, or a severed doll's leg smells like someone's ass, I'll leave that to others who are more vigilant. No, I figured I would do my utmost to bring my daily experience to Morag. In fact, I'm bringing it to her right now. It's about three o'clock in the morning and I'm about to unload a truck I've kept full of shit onto her front lawn. Maybe Morag and her MBA hubby and MBA kiddies will gain some needed insight as they shovel the shit in a few hours.

The difference begins with me!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just gaze up at the fluorescent lights with fingers up your nose like me, you'll feel much better.