Saturday, December 27, 2014

UPDATE: Temp Slave Sounded The Early Warnings

Ah, now there's an image that brings back memories...glad to see some of you going back to The Squawker's original post of 2/6/12 ("Temp Slave Sounded The Early Warnings").  For those who don't know, Temp Slave was the brainchild of Jeff Kelly, who called himself "Keffo." For Squawker and myself, reading this '90s-era 'zine's attacks against the temp industry -- which soon broadened to a critique of the work world itself -- provided hours of merriment, because so much of it rang true for our own experience.

I only communicated with him once, following a blistering exchange with
Hate cartoonist Peter Bagge -- who wrote in to say that he'd picked up a copy and liked it, but found most of the tone overly negative (as if anybody in a permanently insecure lifestyle has anything to feel upbeat about, right?), and -- being a libertarian -- couldn't get all worked up about how the political system was treating people.

Keffo's response was suitably blistering and pointed ("You're a libertarian? I guess that means you smoke pot and exploit people"), which he signed off by saying: "You draw funny things, but you think funny thoughts." When I wrote to order a back issue, I thought only fair to get Keffo's take on the whole affair, which prompted him to expound thusly in his letter to me:

"Yeah, this whole thing with Bagge is stupid. Partly it's my fault. I assumed he was open to all kinds of material, but he isn't. I guess he's more oriented to pop culture kinds of things. But I just detest that cynical hip attitude he displayed. He talks of being proactive, but he draws cars with big tires, drunken twenty somethings etc...  I mean I like it for what it is but the only person he cares about is himself. I get shit like that all the time so it really doesn't bother me."

Keffo's response always stuck in my brain in the late '90s, when I moved to Chicago in hopes of trying carve out some kind of literary or musical niche there. My excitement quickly dissipated, however, after I picked up a copy of the Illinois Entertainer, and my eyes spied an ad for some local multi-band bill or other. Down the list I read: "Art Phag...Epstein's Mother...Walkin' The Dogma." Turning to the Squawker, I asked, "Wow, you mean these are actual bands?" I sighed.  "Man, oh man, is this place gonna's nothin' but a hotbed of irony."

As it turned out, Smashing Pumpkins' Big Dumb Rock Pose became the Windy City's defining alternative era export, but the lame attitudes that Keffo criticized continued to persist -- and I hated them, too. I had no time for that jaded-for-its-own-sake-I'm-so-cool-for-school bullshit that burped forth movies crammed with esoteric pop cultural references and loud video backgrounds...slick pop bands masquerading as "edgy" once they turned up the gain switch on their amp past five...and self-appointed Gen X lit "spokespeople" like Douglas Coupland, who went on and on about what "we" were thinking and feeling. Nobody asked me, though!

Anyway, I thought I'd see what happened to the man since Temp Slave faded into the ether of 'zinedom after its print comp, The Best Of Temp Slave, appeared in 1997. (And it's not hard to track down, either: last time I checked, Amazon had 31 used copies selling for a penny (!) apiece, while a few nearly new/"collectible" copies were fetching between $13 and $16). So I type in, "whatever happened to temp slave guy," and -- lo and behold, I find a March 2014 interview with Mark Maynard, done as part of a 'zine history project (see link below).

Now working full-time in the probiotic industry, of all things, it's good to see that the man is alive and well -- although, sadly, no longer moved to do any writing (even if he talks about finding other outlets like painting, photography and video, which is fine). However, Keffo's observations are spot-on as ever, and it's good to age that hasn't mellowed him on that score. This comment on young people, in particular, reminded me of our exchange from so long ago:

"After all, despite the best efforts of our generation, not much has been accomplished. Technology is their addiction, but, really, who, or what, do they have to turn to? The liberal left in this country stands for nothing. Their only goal is to elect a corporate Democrat, just so a Republican doesn’t win. Whether we like to hear it or not, Obama is nothing but a center right politico friendly to Wall Street. Republicans come up with insane conservative ideas and then the Dumbocrats come up with a lesser version."

That comment follows an observation from interviewer Mark Maynard, who notes that the satirical edge of programs like "The Daily Show" is often criticized for making rebellion less likely -- and that's before we get to the other relevant issue: what will people do with all that knowledge once they have it?

As Keffo suggests, if you look at the upheavals in places like Egypt, Greece or Ukraine, you'll get a better feel for what real political activity looks like, which often requires doing things that inconvenience us personally: "Remember, the powers that be, our exploiters, are working 24/7 to maintain their grip on power. We as a people can’t be weekend warriors about social change."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Two decades after Temp Slave started blowing the horn about the inequality gaps that were rapidly heading into a chasm, we find insecurity is now a permanent feature of the American landscape -- whether you call it contracting, consulting, freelancing or temping, the long-term outcome is basically the same, as Keffo notes in this 2002 interview (which you can also read in full below): "The longer you temp, the longer you don't contribute to a retirement fund, or to health benefits."

Then again, the power structure's first loyalty isn't to provide everyone with a job...why else are they rolling out innovations like driverless cars and drones to drop off those bright, shiny packages that you order from Amazon (for less than the other guy, remember)? It's all because, as Keffo states, "business doesn't want an empowered workforce. They want you to kiss their asses and always be fearful about your job."  Keep those words writ large in your brain when you're deciding what type of action to take...whatever form it takes. --The Reckoner

Links And More Links (Here's Yer Lot, Then):
The Untold History Of 'Zines...
Jeff "Keffo" Kelly On Temp Slave!

Temp Slave: The Musical (A Brief Rundown):

Weekly Universe: Disgruntled Temps:
True-Life Tales Of Woe!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Too Much Pressure (Life As Evil Science Experiment, Take I)

Too much pressure, this pressure got to stop
Too much pressure, it's getting to my head
Too much pressure, 
they're giving me hard times
Too much pressure, my man made me sad
Too much pressure, 
him try to make me look small
Too much pressure, end up with no money

Released in August 1980, the lead-off single from this classic Two Tone band's first album sums up the steaming, noxious pile of crap that characterizes so much of our so-called modern life. I've always dug this song, because it does that classic R&B/soul trick of mating downbeat sentiments to some of the bounciest toe-tapping music you'll ever likely to encounter.

I'd have given anything to see the local lads' reaction once they stopped bopping their heads long enough at some hole-in-the-wall pub...and heard what the band was really saying underneath the bounciness. The song recently gained new life on The Abyss soundtrack, of all places -- but, hey, record sales aren't what they used to be, so you shake some action wherever you can, right?

Sadly, of course, this song's lyrics haven't aged a whit: for a further snapshot, see the link below to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's July 2014 press release on its survey about stress in American life. To me, the most interesting finding is that those in poor health and people with disabilities were most likely to report some kind of stressful incident in their lives. Such details have a "man bites dog" quality to them, but one that's often forgotten (especially by judgmental blockheads who tell you -- with a straight face -- to "just snap out of it").

Pressure has a funny way of blindsiding those of us who surf the margins...this is the third time I've restarted this post, because the situation keeps changing. For the last couple days, I've worked like a galley slave on various editorial projects to keep those funky dollar bills flying's a little hard to get into the Yuletide groove when you're feeling chained to your computer screen all day long. 

The good news, however, is that -- thanks to my strong last-minute footwork -- the budget chasm will likely melt down to a budget gap. The Squawker and myself aren't exactly ready to break out the confetti quite yet, because we've still got roughly $200 in bills to cover.  But I feel somewhat better than I did last week about where the budget equation stands -- or else, this post might have taken a considerably darker tone. 

Earlier this week, we also won a $100 gas card.  With the oily black stuff hovering slightly north of $2 per gallon right now, the timing couldn't have been better...hell, if we'd have had some extra nickels and dimes to scratch together, we could even have gone on one of our celebrated last-minute road trips ("Man, it's too nice to park in front of this computer screen all day -- let's get the hell out of here"). I'm sure we'll make up that lost time another day, though.

Too much pressure, and 
all them certain kind of people
Too much pressure, them having it easy
Too much pressure, them having it easy
Too much pressure, them sail through life
Too much pressure, them have no joy
Too much pressure, them have no joy
It's too much pressure, it's too much pressure

Like I've already mentioned, though, we're not out of the woods yet.  One troubling, wearying feature of modern life -- which, as Blur so sagely reminded us, is rubbish -- is that somebody always finds a way to reach into your pocket for more of the pittance that you do bring home.

Case in point: starting in January, I'll have to resign myself to shelling out an additional $30 per month for water and sewer. It's the first time that I've run into such a concept as a renter, which deep-freezes my heart.  My mental image is of a malicious Mr. Magoo type rubbing his bony calloused hands together, cackling: "How can we squeeze just a few more pennies from these people? Hey, wait a minute, this idea sounds pretty inspired..."

No matter, the rent now edges up to $800 per month, and -- although I've been promised that's the limit -- the jury's still out on that one, as far as I'm concerned. You know that old cliche: when anybody in an official capacity advises, "Don't worry"...that's when you should worry. Remember all those "temporary" jails and taxes? They have a way of becoming pretty damn permanent, especially when people quit paying attention.

As I write this, I'm contemplating some type of eBay sale -- or maybe a repeat of October's hat trick...when I sold off about a quarter of my record collection to inject some greenback lifeblood into my bank account. In one sense, it's not a big deal: if you're a dedicated vinyl and CD archaeologist, it's not unusual to buy, sell and re-acquire three or four copies of a favorite album.  
On the other hand, it's another reminder of the nether status that you seem to permanently inhabit -- because, obviously, if your situation didn't feel so precarious, you surely wouldn't contemplate such a maneuver. Lately, this so-called contract life feels like bank robbery: you can't build a rainy day fund, because you've been forced to spend all the money that you just made from the last job...which forces you to go back out, and pull another, and another, and another...and so on, and so forth.  Wash, rinse repeat.

Suffice to say, it's not a situation that you feel like tolerating indefinitely. The Squawker and I talk a lot about what more we want from life -- the right combination of dominoes hasn't quite fallen into place, I suppose. For the moment, I'll just enjoy myself, unleash some of my pent-up creative energies -- starting with this post -- before I square off again with the economic forces of reaction that so many of us are staring down right now.  We'll see how things turn out, but just remember...pressure doesn't ever take a holiday. --The Reckoner

Links T'Go (Before Yer Head Implodes...)

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:
The Burden Of Stress In America:

Too Much Pressure: The Play:

Too Much Pressure: The Selecter (YouTube Video):

Friday, December 12, 2014

Homeless Hate

It's so wrong they ban sitting or lying down in some of these towns. That could affect the none homeless disabled or elderly who may need to take a rest. When 100 towns make laws like this
this means compassion is short in supply in America! --The Squawker

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Life's Little Injustices (Take V): A Chair! A Chair! My Kingdom For A Chair!
"Hi, dear -- no, save the casserole, I haven't finished
 my latest design. I call it 'Art Deco Ugly Stick...'

If you spent any time watching America's favorite TV family, The Brady Bunch, you know that a fair proportion of the jokes revolved around Mr. Brady's architectural career. Many a domestic scene at Chez Brady revolved around scenes of Mike in his vomit-colored patterned shirts and polyester suits -- oh, and let's not forget that quintessential '70s fashion of patches on the elbows!  Makes me queasy to think about, even now.

That being said, I'm "happy" -- those who didn't take Sarcasm 101, you may want to cover your eyes and ears at this point -- to report that Mike's questionable architectural legacy is alive and well in my crappy little corner of the universe. Every time I take The Squawker to a medical appointment, I see the symptoms in full effect -- tiny, crappy, puke-colored art deco chairs with arms that nobody but the skinniest, wafer-thin California model could ever fit in.

A few offices here changed -- if ever so begrudgingly -- with the times by getting a few plush sofas to sink into, or even a full-length couch (gasp, shock, horror, oh, how innovative!) Our latest unhappy run-in occurred a couple of weeks ago, when -- you guessed it -- we walked in and found ourselves surrounded by a sea of tiny, crappy, puke-colored art deco chairs that somebody probably picked up at an '80s bankruptcy auction.

What made me feel worse, though, was seeing the medical staff sitting quietly at their plush chairs, gazing out with their usual bovine incomprehension (hey, uh, why's everybody so upset? can't you just put a finger down your throat and vomit up your meals like the rest of us?).  I was reaching the point of waving imaginary semaphore flags in their complacent faces when I finally snapped. I'd reached the end of my tether. As usual, my partner needed help, and nobody was lifting a fucking finger. As usual...

So I floored it home, grabbed this sturdy wooden chair that we keep in place by one of our computers -- zipped back, and came dragging it in full view. Of course, by then, somebody had finally roused themselves out of their semi-permanent nine-to-five coma, so I wound up having to put the chair back in the car -- but I'd made my point, I suppose.

What else can I say about this image, except -- "Honk if you love Habitrail-style furniture?"

I can just imagine an alternate script exchange between Mr. Brady and the eldest member of the tribe:

(CUE upbeat transitional music: Bah-dah-DAH-DAH, Bah-da-dah-DAH-DAH...)

GREG BRADY (GB): Gee, Dad, these plans for the new Tippity-Top ice cream buffet complex look great!  There's just one thing, though...

MIKE BRADY (MB) (furrowing brow): Gee, son, what's that?

GB (points to schematic drawing): Um, why aren't there any handicapped ramps or elevators? Seems like I'm seeing those downtown now, everywhere I go...

MB (rattles drawing for a closer look): Hmm...well...I'm not sure if we should encourage handicapped people to chow down on Rocky Road, son.  It's bad for their constitution. (CUE canned laugh track.)

But that's OK -- they can leave their wheelchairs downstairs, and we'll have some volunteers carry them up to the second floor!  Sam the Butcher has already said he'd take some Friday volunteer shifts.  We'll pull 'em up by their bootstraps, 'cause that's the American Way!

GB: You're the greatest, Dad.

(Free frame father and son hunched over drawings in study as background theme begins to cue up.)