Fruits of Labor
Tyler Dudek picks a seed out of a bag, drops it into a hole that was made just minutes before, and then kicks some dirt over the hole. He moves forward a step and repeats the process. He has been doing this all day. His bag of seeds is getting smaller and smaller, which is a good thing because he figures that this will probably be the last one. Then it’s home time. He can’t wait.
At least today hasn’t been that bad of a day. ‘It could’ve been worse’ thinks Tyler. He just has to drop seeds into holes. It does get repetitive, but at least it isn’t that labour intensive. Although on second thought, those bags can get pretty heavy. Still, it beats harvesting or weeding. Tyler’s a big guy and doesn’t like to do much bending down, which harvesting and weeding involves a lot of. Even when he can use a tool to do the work for him, he still has to hunch over because the tools all come in one size, and that size is meant for people that are smaller than him. This all leads up to a pretty hefty back ache at the end of the day, although, those pills that they give him at breakfast and dinner seem to help with the aching.
They also seem to help him deal with the monotony of being an agricultural labourer. Some days he feels as though he’s on autopilot. He can just glide through these mentally un-stimulating routines with minimal resistance, which for the most part, means minimal mental activity. They’re a big help. Except for today. His Homestead - Southampton County 224 – has been behind schedule, so he has been working more hours than usual. This aggravates Tyler which makes him think more than usual, which in turn overrides the effectiveness of the pills.
Tyler’s not to blame for schedule mishaps though. It’s all because of those farm hands that have been leaving. The deserters. Those are the ones to blame. And also, those deserters are somewhat the manager’s fault. But here Tyler is, bearing the brunt of the force. He and his crew – the ones who are still noble enough to stick around at their post – have been working the fields for two extra hours a day. And this isn’t a new phenomenon; this has been going on for about two weeks.
Right now their behind on the soybeans, which is what they’ve been planting all day, but tomorrow they’ll be behind in everything else because today they’re behind on the soybeans. Wheat, corn, chickens, tobacco – whatever. It never stops. Once you get behind, you’ll never catch up.
Tyler learned this the hard way many years ago. It’s how he got into this predicament in the first place. He got behind on one of his monthly credit card bills, and since that moment, that has determined his fate. One credit card bill! He even remembers why he couldn’t pay that one off. He bought a new flat screen TV that month. He needed the new addition to his man cave. P-Deez bought a similar TV a week before, so Tyler needed to one up him with a bigger one so that the guys would continue to come over to his place. But that’s beside the point. The point is that he paid for the flat-screen up front which didn’t leave enough money left over for his monthly credit card payments. At the time he had a job as a personal trainer at a franchise gym in metro Phoenix, but that hadn’t been enough to pay off the car, the house, the mechanic, and the phone bill after the TV came out of his paycheck. So he got behind.
Before that he had been good with his credit card. He only put major purchases on it and he was always capable of paying off the monthly payments. However, you can’t always bat one thousand. He made his slip up, then he got into credit card debt. Interest then ate at the debt. Or rather, it kept feeding it and feeding it. That negative number got larger and larger, while he seemed to hit a dead end when it came to raises.
After a few months of watching that debt grow, Tyler decided to take some bold risks. That initial debt would be hard to succumb, but he was determined to defeat it. He thought to himself: that’s what entrepreneurs do - they take risks and have determination - so why shouldn’t I step up and start acting like one?
The first risk involved something that he loved to do: street racing. After getting paid with real money one day, Tyler took out some of the real money from his bank account then went to the start line of an underground street car race. The stakes were high; this race charged each car a $300 entrance fee, but that money went to the jackpot which was, from his estimate, around $4600 because there were sixteen cars at the start line. Forty-six hundred would be more than enough to pay off his debt. All he had to do was win the race, put the money in his bank, then pay off his monthly payments and his debt. Presto.
But it wasn’t that easy. He had been in a number of accidents, so his car wasn’t in the best condition, and besides, it was fairly outdated. These other racers, they had cars that were either fresh off the boat or fresh out of the shop or both. They were mint with specs that were truly admirable. Machines of marvel.
Upon first glance at his competitors, Tyler’s confidence began to wither away, and after just a few seconds from the starting gun, that confidence was completely gone. So that was $300 in the hole, and that $300 could no longer go towards paying off his credit card. Oh well.
The next scheme that Tyler thought up was a little more orthodox. He and his buddies planned a trip to Nevada to hit the casinos and strike it rich. It was an orthodox plan because many people before him - who found themselves in a similar situation - have tried to gamble themselves out of the hole. Most of those people have failed. But that wasn’t stopping people from going to casinos. Casinos operate under one underlying truth: a casino will stay in business as long as there are more losers than there are winners. Tyler knew that, and the bit about most people failing, but he didn’t let that get to him. He was special. He wasn’t like one of those schmucks that blew all their dough on a weekend in Vegas. He was going to be smart with his cash. He was going to start with small bets, get a profit going, then make incremental bets until he had enough to get himself out of the hole. And if he started losing more money than winning, he was going to pull the plug on the whole operation.
But it wasn’t that easy. He got caught in the moment. He succumbed to the glamour of gambling. At one point, he had a bit of a profit, but then he hit a losing streak that sent him back into the negatives. The fucking negatives again.
Tyler did learn a valuable lesson from that trip though: you can’t fight credit card debt. So, after only two attempts, he never tried to beat it. He just accepted it. There wasn’t any financial ladder, or grapping hook, or whatever, that could get you out of a financial hole. Everyone had some sort of debt and there was a reason for it. It was just part of being an American. It was socially acceptable. You might as well just face it; don’t fight it.
But that’s just the first part of the story. The mid-part goes like this: Alpha Corp. eventually took over the bank that Tyler’s credit card belonged to, just like it had done to all the other banks operating in the Republic of America. So, at the time of Restructuring when everyone was re-employed, Tyler wasn’t given much of an option as to what his new duty would be. He was to become a land laborer because of his debt, which at the time was getting into five figures. He owed Alpha Corp. that money, so he had to work it off in the hardest way possible. It was that simple. On the other hand, the people who were free of debt, the positives, were given the option: land laborer or white collar job. One can only guess which option they chose.
There’s a paradox to the re-employment strategy and it isn’t hard to spot. Tyler thought this one up a long time ago to help him gain pity for his own case. Say there’s a slacker who owns very little, but isn’t in debt, and there’s an executive that owns plenty, but subsequently has some debt tacked on to his name. Under Alpha Corp’s re-employment strategy, the slacker would get the white collar job while the executive would become a farm hand. Wouldn’t the executive be better suited for a managerial position since he has experience while the slacker would fit a job that entails less responsibility, such as a land laborer? It only makes sense.
Unbeknownst to him, Tyler hadn’t been the only one to think of that flaw. The planners of the Restructuring weren’t entirely stupid, so they had also figured that one out. Luckily for them, they had thought it through and found a fix. Just instill the populace with a little fear. That’s all. It’s a sure shot method that has driven motivation throughout the ages.
In Alpha Corps’ case, their preferred influence had been the Siberian gulags that the Soviets had built. Nobody wanted to be stuck in a harsh, cold, rugged, and dismal work-camp. People feared that sort of environment. So in order to get people enthused, Alpha Corp. needed their own Siberia. Fortunately for Alpha Corp, America had a nice piece of land that had similar conditions: Alaska.
So Alaska was to become the home of all the gulag franchises in the Republic; however, no forced labor camps had ever been built on Alaskan soil (or permafrost). Sure, they were going to build Homesteads in Alaska, but all of them were going to have the same employee conditions that any other Homestead in the Republic were to have. Alpha Corp. was a civilized corporation after all; it wasn’t willing to subject its employees to dangerous conditions like a totalitarian state would subject its dissidents to. It just needed a story to help work out some of its original faults. Fear doesn’t have to be an experienced emotion; it just has to be conceived. So, when the Homesteads were on their first days, the upper brass made it clear that any employee that did not do their new job to their fullest abilities would be sent to an Alaskan work-camp. The threat had been an empty one, but it had been enough to turn a non-experienced slacker into an exemplary employee. It had worked … as long as the worker’s weren’t aware of the fib.
Tyler was still thinking of his original debt when he realized that he was getting behind in his work. His coworkers - who were planting seeds in the adjacent rows and were neck-and-neck with him just minutes before – were already a few full paces ahead of him. He speed planted the next few plots in order to catch up. It hadn’t seemed like much, but at this point in the day, any extra effort was going to be physically exerting. He didn’t have much energy left in him either.
Then he heard the ringing that was coming from the bell tower. Shift’s over. All he had to do was finish this row then he was off work. He got excited. He could see the finish line. There were two dozen or so plots left in his row. He planted, kicked, stepped forward; planted, kicked, and stepped forward. When he got to the end of the row, he handed his bag over to the bag collector, then started walking towards the main compound. It would be about a quarter of an hour before he got there, but since his work was done for the day, he could start thinking about what he was going to do tonight to keep his mind occupied.
First of all, he is going to go straight to the cafeteria and get a good meal inside of him. Hopefully he can make it there before the crew working on the wheat fields gets there. The majority of the Homesteaders were out there today. Those fields are farther away from the main compound than the soybean field that Tyler was working on, so he thinks that he’ll be able to get to the cafeteria first. Then he won’t have to wait in line. That’ll be something.
He figures a good chicken dinner with some potatoes and a corn cob will do him good. Slather some butter all over it then you have yourself a meal. That’ll be on the menu for sure, and that should be enough to tide him over. Tyler hopes that they will be serving beer tonight, cause after a day like today, he could sure use an after work brew. That’s no guarantee that he’ll get one though. They only serve beers a few nights a week, and he had one last night, so he doubts that he’ll be able to enjoy one with his meal.
After the meal he has got only one thing planned (well, only one thing besides going to bed and all that). Tyler’s going to do the same thing that he does nearly every night: he’s going to spend hours on his ARTifact. It’s the only thing to look forward to at the end of the day. But what a thing to look forward to.
Yesterday he was working on song in Cut n’ Paste that sounded a lot like an old Thicky Wooster tune. He wants to finish it tonight, then show it to some of his friends on his floor. Hopefully that won’t take him too long. He has got other stuff that he wants to do on his ARTifact tonight as well. He wants to go through his pictures, play a few games, watch a few episodes of his favorite show, and maybe even make a little music video for his song. So much to do, so little time.
It’s a shame that his ARTifact doesn’t have an internet connection though, like what they used to have in the old days. But nobody else’s does, so it’s not like anything is wrong with his’. If his ARTifact had an internet connection, then Tyler could do a whole lot more with his ARTifact. He could message some of his buddies from back home, which would be pretty sweet, or phone them or even play a game against them. But that’s impossible these days. It’s frustrating, but people just have to come to terms with it.
Onetime an old floor mate of Tyler’s tried to explain to him why the internet no longer worked. It had something to do with transmitters not having enough energy to make contact with satellites. Getting an internet connection to a wireless device sounded like it involved some complex shit. He couldn’t remember it all, and he never could even grasp the concept in the first place, but it helped him accept the fact that he probably will never get his ARTifact to do all the things that it was once capable of. It was just one of those inconveniences of modern living.
Wrapping up his plans, Tyler focused once more on the world in front of him. At the time, he was making his way through a shelterbelt that ran alongside an old road. Once he got past the trees he had a clear view of Southampton County Homestead No. 224’s main compound. He saw the bell tower that signified the end of shifts; the concrete apartment blocks that housed the employees; the administration building where all of the decisions were made; the railroad tracks that led up to the garages and sheds; the water towers atop of the apartment towers; the stables; and best of all, the cafeteria.
Before he could get there though, Tyler’s attention was drawn to a horse-and-buggy that was making its way up the road. Two horses – one brown and the other a mix of white with black spots – were pulling the remains of a hybrid SUV. Once it was close enough, Tyler could make out a black man with tightly coiled hair steering the buggy and a thin white man with light gray hair sitting in the passenger seat. The buggy made its way closer and closer towards Tyler while he just stood there and stared at it. When the vehicle part got beside him, the buggy abruptly stopped. The white man was looking at Tyler, then his mouth started moving.
“Hmmm,” replied Tyler.
The man looked down at the interior of the door, inspected it for a few seconds, then looked over at the driver. The driver shrugged and started moving his mouth. Finally, the white man opened the door to the vehicle.
“I’m sorry about that,” said the white man, “I couldn’t open the window. Damn power windows, they’re useless these days. Now I wish they just had the old cranks.”
Tyler stood there not knowing what to say. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence that he had the opportunity to interact with complete strangers. Actually, it has probably been years since he has met someone outside of his Homestead. So, at this moment, Tyler had the demeanor of someone who has just been star-struck.
The driver gave the passenger a weak backhand slap on the passenger’s left shoulder.
The white man clued into it. “Oh right. Don’t be alarmed, I just have to ask you a few questions, alright?”
“Uhhhh sure, I guess.” Tyler wasn’t in a very talkative mood right now, so everything that came out his mouth right now was slow and dull sounding.
“Is this,” the man stopped talking for a second, put a piece of paper in front of his face, then finished his question, “Homestead number 2-2-4?”
“Where can we find the manager of this Homestead?”
“He’s probably in the administration building. If he’s not there then he’s probably in the cafeteria, but he’s never in there for too long, so I would just check administration.”
“Alright. Thanks for the help.”
The passenger signaled to the driver to get a move on. The driver was about to lash the reins, but then the passenger changed his mind and put his left arm across the drivers chest.
“Just one more thing,” said the white man. “Who should I ask for?”
“Gerald. Gerald Clarke. He’s the one in charge around here.”
With that the buggy took off towards the main compound.
Immediately after they left Tyler had thought of something: he wished that they would’ve offered him a ride so he could get to the cafeteria quicker. Those two have probably stalled me long enough for the wheat fielders to make their way to the cafeteria, thought Tyler. To compensate for the lost time, Tyler picked up his pace.
When he got to the cafeteria he noticed a large line. He hadn’t made it in time. Shit. So much for getting here early, thought Tyler. He just hopes that once he gets to the front of the line there will still be some corn left, and hopefully one of those bigger pieces of chicken, but that’s probably too much to ask for.
But then again, around 200 people that Tyler knows about have left this Homestead, and if Southampton County No. 224 is still ordering enough food for 800 heads, then that means that there’s going to be plenty of meals left over. Tyler could potentially have two meals tonight. Fucking rights.