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August 08, 2022

The Dream Factory, Part 3

By David Byron

It then became clearly evident to me what was happening here: Any employee who ceased working during their breaks suddenly became self-ostracized by their conscience; distracted, preoccupied, even tormented by that which was transpiring around them. There was this troubling atmosphere that pervaded the factory if anyone was missing for any time; the source of which stemmed from the new supervisor and spread like a virus to every worker. But those employees who continued to work during their break were unaffected and unbothered by this influence that had everyone else plagued with an inner guilt. By the last break, no one budged from their respective stations.

They say repetition breeds familiarity, meaning there is comfort in security through having a daily routine. On the other hand, familiarity breeds contempt, meaning there is only so much shit you can swallow before you choke on it. What others were seeing as good and needed in a poor small impoverished town where hundreds of new jobs had been created, I was seeing as an evil empire bringing about an apocalypse. I was seeing more of my own life disappearing and more being demanded and required of me everyday just to keep what I had. It was turning into absolute madness. There was zero compassion or sympathy for individual needs. It was modern-day slavery in disguise. Our lives were simply not our own anymore; I certainly know mine wasn't.

That night as I lay on the couch I resisted the need to take my work meds. Damned if my mind raced or my legs and feet twitched. I wanted to stay awake and just think away and be distracted. I simply wanted to be myself again. Keep in mind that I once had higher flown ambitions and hopes of one day becoming a writer. I didn't care about work tomorrow or how tired and in a vegetative state I would be -- I just wanted my life back dammit. I sat and bathed my brain in beer suds, one after another, until I was downright drunk. I had the muse for creativity, so I decided to write with what little time was still mine, even if I had to do an all-nighter until the morning. The result of it was this story is what you are reading right now and living vicariously through me without the aid of medication!

Another day of rack 'em, pack 'em and stack 'em awaited me. My body knew I was doomed; my eyelids grew heavy, my head was numb and fuzzy feeling. I couldn't take the company meds as they chiefly promoted sleep. Not taking them, however, was causing my body a breakdown of its fundamental functions and making me feel like my old sluggish and lethargic self again. Perhaps I was experiencing some withdrawals and pulls as a side effect. When the guys picked me up for work not much conversation took place, if any at all. My fellow zombies it would appear were under the sedating influence of the meds by the lack of reflection in their eyes. As we arrived at the factory, I could see a massive thundercloud of blackness brewing on the distant horizon. It almost emulated the dark gray milky smog over the factory to demonic perfection.

We arrived a good ten minutes earlier than normal. It was now a requisite to be the first crew there as the new guy was part of our team and no matter what time we arrived, he was always there like a fixture. Still nameless after all this time, we called him number one, and he called us by our respective numbers, according to where we stood on our assembly block. What new surprises and memos awaited us today I wondered in dark awe? No sooner thought, did I have my answer. Aside from the new extra mandatory hour they'd added without overtime, it was official in a new memo. Hours from 6 A.M. to 7 P.M were now mandatory with a half hour's unpaid lunch and two unpaid 15 minute breaks to make up for the hour of downtime. We now needed twelve full hour days at five days a week to equal the needed 60 hours before we could receive the benefits of overtime pay, so long as we kept our new quotas.

I almost forgot to mention the other little surprise. Andersen & Company had changed their minds and decided against making another assembly block in the former break room, but rather give something back to all the hard working laborers. They were actually planning on hollowing it out and expanding it into an employee bunk dorm of ninety-six beds; four atop one another with two rows of twenty-four on each wall. It was to be completed by this weekend and available by Monday, for all employees who worked overtime above the 60 work hours per week. Food vendor trucks would now be allowed to visit us three times a day at the same time for our nourishment needs so now we didn't have to leave the factory and it would save us money from buying at the diner. Since the factory was nowhere near town, most of us just packed lunches. But no more, we would now have factory approved foods only, via metal vending trucks.

Now inside the factory and manning our stations I started feeling like death sucking on a Lifesaver. I could feel my productivity slacking and mind wandering. The new guy more than once said "Number 4, increase your rate of productivity." But my eyes were sealing like coffin lids before me. By the first break at 9:00, I sat against the wall alone to gather my thoughts. It was Friday, thank God, the end of the work week. I had 51 hours in and just 9 more to go before I could qualify for overtime. Maybe I'd do half a Saturday in the afternoon and have a sleep in as soon as I got home. Building bunk beds would change the pace for me and it was now paying an all time high of $20 per hour. If I could just hang in there until 6:00; I'd have to bypass lunch to make it that long.

I guess the biggest surprise of the day came about an hour after lunch around 2:00 p.m. Something seemed different in the factory. Either I was becoming immune to the routine daily sound of clicking and snapping -- or there was less of it going around. Many of the assembly blocks were just completing their quota, or just nearing it and needed to restock their inventory. We had runners for this, who would wheel the metal pieces to us as needed, but they came back with less and less each time. This I found to be somewhat baffling. Next, signs were being distributed to all the assembly blocks that were out of parts. The sign simply said 'Stand by and wait for further instructions." Prior to now we had never run out of those metal parts.

Soon our group was finished with its production, with only a few groups remaining to complete theirs, as we sat around and watched while doing nothing, feeling a bit disconcerted. We were getting antsy, irritable and restless. Somehow despite my exhaustion, we'd worked at an even faster rate with even more production than yesterday. The longer hours and faster pace was quickly becoming an established pattern of accelerated evolution with mastering metal piece assembly. It wouldn't be long before the factory allowed us to have a handful of hours which belonged to us. The last assembly was completed by Hector's crew and work was done.

We stood there for a long while, silently at our posts like soldiers on guard duty. The workers were becoming more frustrated looking for something to do with their hands. For the first time ever in factory history, the company was failing to provide us with the structure we needed in which to function; the same structure they demanded of us. Like the workaholics we were, hopelessly addicted to our functions, we quickly started feeling the painful withdrawal symptoms. The more time passed, the more we agonized over how much work we would have to do to make up for the downtime. Were we even getting paid for this unusual downtime? A degradation of morale was on the rise, culminating in what was developing into a complete breakdown. Soon, a small riot was beginning to escalate in the factory. First came arguing and accusations, then yelling. Two workers at a nearby station broke out into a fist fight and, like dedicated followers of the business model, more began to follow suit, while others watched and questioned the rebellion at hand. It felt like a prison riot as the workers grew extremely hostile and downright violent, now using the assembly tools as weapons!

The new guy did not partake in the negativity and saw the mass anarchy unfolding and spiraling out of control. He dismissed himself from his station without mention to see what the delay was about. He headed directly towards the supervisor's office and boldly went inside. Would we soon witness another horrifying event behind the scenes of the office with shadows falling, leading into some mass exodus followed by another suicide? I ignored the mediocrity around me and watched carefully the office.

It would seem though, that no one was inside. The absentee landlord must have vacated already. I could see the new guy's silhouette casting a shadow against the heavily fogged glass window. He seemed to be on the phone with someone. Mere garbled whispers were all that emanated through, but nothing audible that I could distinguish with any clarity. The doors stayed shut as his shadow paced rhythmically across the glass. Shortly after, an announcement was broadcast over the intercom which, up until now, I didn't realize even existed. It was some disembodied voice of the company itself speaking.

"Attention employees," began the robotic echo. "We have an important announcement. There has been a big accident reported on the bridge. Lightening struck the tower when our delivery truck was crossing. The impact sent bricks and mortar onto the truck and through the window killing both the driver and the stockman. All the pieces and parts are irretrievable and no more will be arriving until Monday, if they fix the bridge by then. It is now 3:00 p.m. Nothing more can be done so you can all clock out for the day. Due to the circumstances, there will be no overtime this weekend as the company is suffering a loss. Mandatory overtime without time and a half will be implemented next week to compensate. An outside crew has been hired to build the new bunk dorms for you, which will be in place on Monday. We had no choice but to take this route to save the company money as they will do it for less money than you. Team 22 ? Hector's crew: Your productivity is the lowest and therefore the company has to let you go to make room for a new team. Thank you all for your service and all the rest, report to work at 5:00 a.m. Monday. Does anyone have any questions before we call the bell?" echoed the resounding voice.

"I do," I said boldly questioning our God. "We were three hours shy of qualifying for overtime. How can we make up for those hours and earn them back?"

"By hard work and dedication next week. The company is suffering a loss in parts and downtime. We must all accept the loss equally. We will be back to normal soon."

"Wait, one more thing," I said, acting as our self-appointed attorney. "Do you realize you just let four of the most dedicated workers go, some of the nicest and most loyal employees who have been here since this factory started?"

"As we all know, nice guys finish last, much like their productivity, #4. If they were indeed loyal, they would have completed their work on time. We must find more eager and willing workers to replace them to improve the overall production. This is nothing more than a business and numbers game and nothing personal."

"Are you in charge now and making the decisions?"

"I am the voice of Andersen & Company, the one who signs your checks. I oversee the operation. We also had to let the temporary supervisor go, for not anticipating this downtime. A new supervisor will take his place on Monday."

"But as you mentioned, it was due to an act of God."

"I did not cause the truck to go into the water, #4. I will speak no more of this incident and you will cease any more questions of this nature. You will stop being selfish and cooperate like part of the team. Now everyone is dismissed for the weekend, while the company provides a new shelter for its workers. Be prompt on Monday, be ready to work and be early if you can so we can minimize our losses."

"No more," I said to myself three times like Norm to affirm my words as I exited the factory. I'd made up my mind. I was done here at the factory and I would not be missed or noticed in my absence. I left with Edgar and Mitch, but said not a word to them. Normally this type of incident would have stirred much controversy among us, but none of it mattered. They would still return promptly or early on Monday like willing lambs to the slaughter and all would be as it always had been with even more constraints on us. That names, words, ideas were becoming obsolete and more unnecessary now with each passing day is what I came to learn by working here. Once they dropped me off I would call in my resignation and finally be done with this place forever.

I finally had what little of my own life back to myself again in the form of the weekend. But rather than going out and drinking to oblivion, I elected to stay home and brood. Vestiges of my fractured life lay shattered in the ramshackle ruins of my mind, where misery resided like a bad tenant. My thoughts spinning, my mind restless and wandering, I resorted to the pharmaceutical meds and imbibed a mouthful. I sank into a sullen depression of depths I had not previously known. I had to abandon my livelihood at the factory before it consumed me completely. Or should I say what little was remaining of me? It felt good not to be needed for a while, even though a creeping guilt was already churning inside me, coupled with feelings of uncertainty. For now, my life was mine as much as my future was empty, thus creating a euphoria of creeping insanity within me. And so began my addiction to the company meds.

I dragged my body like a wounded animal into my one bedroom and flopped face-first into bed almost sinking and melting into my mattress; shrinking into myself. Despite taking the meds, I tossed and floundered in my bed, feet and legs spasmodically twitching. The factory was alive in my head, magnifying thoughts of how no matter what I did, it was never enough. I dreamed some horrible dream so traumatic my subconscious must have blocked its memory from my mind. My forehead and armpits were drenched in a balmy sweat. So depressed was I that the remainder of the weekend was a repeated ritual of this, with very little nourishment or sunlight. I was one with my pillows, doing as little as humanly possible by way of existence.

As Monday was upon me, it was time to make the call. At the end of the hallway of my apartment was a public telephone on the wall where I would call in my resignation. I couldn't imagine doing so in person with yet another new supervisor whom I did not know. The appearance in my mind of a newer and tougher one was more intimidating to me that even the previous one. I could not bring myself to enter that office of heavily fogged glass and become absorbed in the shadows of flailing arm protrusions with strange guttural sounds, making a raving lunatic of me. Whatever it was that appeared to me behind the glass in various forms and manifestations of figureless shadows and disembodied voices, scared me to my wits end. The indistinctive shape that seemed to shift and churn like a dark cloud of death was even more magnified in the form of the newest supervisor.

With that in mind, I would call in my resignation to the nearest regional office to the appropriate person in charge of such matters.

The phone rang so many times I feared no one would answer. Finally someone picked up and sounded very far away, his voice like an AM radio with static while inside a tunnel. I stated my name and the nature of my business in a very bold and forward manner. In the background I heard this strange reverberating buzz, like a hum of killer bees in a hive almost piercing my mind. It was drowning out the foreground of his voice, making it difficult to hear him clearly. Apparently, he could not hear me clearly either:

"I said I want to resign from the factory," very loudly.

"You'd like to sign up for the factory? Great!" he misheard.

"No, resign. As in quit! I've had enough," I clarified.

"This is the regional office you've contacted. We don't process resignations here... in fact, I'm certain Andersen & Company isn't accepting any resignations at this particular time. I can transfer you to our new supervisor. He's taking over the position permanently."

"No wait, I want to speak with someone here. Can anyone else help me?" I asked as the buzz got even louder and voice fainter.

"I can hear you, but you must speak with the supervisor."

"Please help me in whatever way you can, I begged.

"I will transfer you now, sir. Have a good day."

Before I knew it, I was transferred over to another ringing line. What did he mean 'not accepting any resignations'? And how did anyone know which supervisor was permanent or temporary for that matter? This was getting stranger by the moment and I wanted a resolution to this at once. I swear I was going to report them to the respective department of employee and labor rights. I'd never heard of anything like this before. It was like a new form of control and mind manipulation.

"Hello," I shouted into the mouthpiece, when I thought I heard someone answer. But all I could hear was the indistinct churning buzz, highly reverberant and fading in and out. Then the echo swelled and pulsated. This noise like a roaring hiss of digital proportions almost infected me with its power. I felt the echo of it traveling up my wrist and vibrating in my eardrum, even thought I held the phone far away from my ear. I felt like a computer being programmed by a mysterious maker, opening my eyes to a far away, strange inhuman world. I could feel my hand quivering around the phone as it was almost pulsing in my hand and traveling upward through my body. Even after I slammed the phone on its cradle, this strong electronic sensation kept creeping up through me as if it was slowly trying to paralyze my extremities and liquefy all my muscles, including my vocal chords so I that could not even scream inside myself.

I was so utterly terrified by the phone call I made that it sent me into a frenzy of dread I could not name. For days I lay there in paranoid seclusion in my private dwelling, completely estranged from the world. I grew even more addicted to the meds with each passing day. Soon I found myself as a shadow on my walls, uttering garbled words and making strange guttural sounds like I was trying to force mucous from my chest with no success. But now that I was out of my meds and my guilt was becoming me, I knew I would have to return to work to satiate my fix and feel like a productive member of society again.

I only remained AWOL long enough to complete this story I'm sharing with you. If you recall, I once possessed higher flown ambitions and hopes of one day becoming a writer, but as time passes, my dreams have been replaced by goals and quotas to keep me a happy captive of my misery. But as I've learned the hard way, there can be no bad dreams if there is only one dream. So as my hopes and ambitions were becoming more vague with each passing day, I knew it was time to go back to work once more. Since I no had other viable prospects in which to earn a living and never enough money saved to sustain myself for long periods of time, I reverted back into a gerbil on my spinning wheel of misfortune.

Besides the infectious effects and pull of the meds I now required to merely exist were calling out to me. I now realized they weren't side effects, but primary ones taking over what was once the person I knew; me. I dreamed like everyone else, but who had time for that anymore in the name of productivity?

Goals were kind of like dreams, adult ones, once the colors have left their world; neither black nor white, but rather a dulling of both, fading into gray. Those dreams are simply called quotas now. Everyone at the factory had big dreams once, which the meds always cured just to make their existence more tolerable, not just the manual laborers, but all the staff on the pharmaceutical side as well. It was a living and breathing zombie factory of lost souls, whose lives were as gray and colorless as the dark grayish milky fog swelling over our factory, who live in sufferance of Andersen & Company.

Yet no amount of medications I take now will allow me to benefit of an overdose as I am now immune to them. No amount now will prevent my nocturnal assault of nightmares or even erase the memories of them. I could not even go out with dignity like Norm in his act of suicide. The meds were now flowing in my veins like rivers flowing smoothly through my system. Besides if I was no longer employed I could no longer afford to get my prescriptions refilled and thereby tolerate my miserable existence. There is always some proverbial carrot hanging over our heads. Of course, I could have done away with myself in some other manner, if I had only been so inclined or had the courage. But I still retained higher flown ambitions and hopes for what remained of my life.

Of course, I wasn't sure if my position was still available or occupied by another replacement when I returned a week later. I wasn't even certain what the result of the call had been, whether I said I resigned or even if I was absent for a whole week of lost productivity. No matter how long you are gone, once you're back it's like you never left. It seemed as though the team adapted and overcame despite me being the missing-in-action link. In fact there was a bit of a surprise in store for me. I had now moved up to the number 3 position at block one. Yeah, that's me moving up in the world. Edgar and Mitch were in the one and two position, while the new number four remained nameless. It seemed the new guy who still remained nameless to this day had now become the new and permanent supervisor. Although he was somewhat familiar and known to us, his new intentions were not, which was very disconcerting. Now that the tricks of his trade were learned and implemented, he moved up to the best position of all. But would his new ways still be adapted while he was no longer leading by example?

This was after all the place where I stood for so many hours of my life, seeing the same soulless faces, doing the same things. As I mentioned, repetition breeds familiarity, the source of all our comforts and contempt. Already attired in my regulation grey uniform, I was ready to start working again. I proceeded towards my new station where I was greeted by the others.

"Welcome back," said Mitch, as if not surprised.

"I tell them you be back soon," said Edgar, still having difficulty deciphering English.

"Thank you," I replied. "It's good to be back."

"Nice to meet you," said the new number four."

"Likewise, and thanks for covering for me."

"No problem. We have a full team now," he said.

"It's almost like I never left," I said to myself.

With those pleasantries exchanged, I geared up and feverishly began fitting those small metal pieces together with my hands in the newly adapted style in which we were all taught. Production had reached a whole new level of speed and stealth since just one week ago. Now all of our hands were but a mere swift blur of motion. But as I looked towards the supervisor's office, through the heavily fogged glass door windows, I saw a new and even more ominous glob or mass of shadow outlined, scaling or rolling along the glass. It was expanding and contracting, making strange gurgling and groaning noises; moving even swifter and more mysteriously than ever before.

The new guy had definitely changed and become something else altogether, whether it was an evolution or devolution of himself, none of us were quite sure. We all had changed it seemed and the factory would never be the same again. With the new bunk dorms installed, more of us could work around the clock in shifts to increase productivity. After all, Andersen & Company was always changing the way in which it conducted its business, even if it wasn't necessarily for the better. Who needed a life when you had a dream or piece of someone else's vision for a mere trading of one's time? For time is all we ever have -- and why dream small when we can produce big?

We were now practically working around the clock with the new production quota in place. Overtime was now mandatory and time and a half was but a relic of the past. With truckloads of more eager and willing workers ready to take our place, we slept a mere four hours a night in our bunks without feeling too guilty since we bypassed all our breaks now with the exception of 10 minutes at lunch so we could nourish our famished bodies. The newest competition was seeing who could sleep the least and still do the most work. Some were even taking metal pieces with them and training themselves to complete the motion in their sleep. Others were also learning how to fit the pieces together with their feet as well as their hands, at the same time. Over time this too became a mandatory way of doing things. For every ten we did with our hands, we would do one with our feet, but that was still a 10% increase of overall productivity, which added up over the course of a lifetime.

The company had installed special foot pedals for us where we stood on the assembly blocks. Our feet were tilted sideways with our soles facing each other, spread six inches apart. While our hands manipulated our main production, our feet learned to assemble pieces with our toes, which were naturally slower, but still added value to the overall cause. Since we were already standing there with our feet idle, why not take advantage of that too? Thank God or something that we had no other extremities with which they could benefit from us! Yet while none of us could resign or retire, they still weren't hiring more workers to alleviate the existing crew, only replace ones that would collapse or go defunct in some way.

I was never sure in retrospect that I had ever made a call to the regional office to resign. After all, why wouldn't I want to become a part of something bigger and greater than myself and seek a greater opportunity in the American Dream; a concept sold to us every day and bought by us every night when we sleep in our lofty little beds. But if I did in fact make a call to the regional office that day, I can never be certain that what I experienced wasn't borderline phenomenon. All I can remember was the things I heard and felt pulsing through me like some elaborate brainwashing, cattling me back to the position where I now stand, fitting together those metal pieces with both my hands and feet. But in no way do they resemble the recurring nightmares I suffered when I didn't work at the factory for a week.

Once I returned to work, however, I no longer had the nightmares which caused me to go running back to the factory in the first place. Still to this day I continue to feel the atmosphere of those dreams in the forms of the presence of the temporary supervisor and our current permanent supervisor. It is that icy creeping feeling of a lingering haunting figure lurking behind closed doors that terrifies me beyond words, even as a writer. I believe this overseeing presence was a calculated, meticulous measure devised by Andersen & Company, who is always making adjustments in the way it conducts its business.

The company maintained its policy of not accepting any resignations and soon extended it to not accepting any retirements. We have all been prescribed more potent medications as our bodies have become too accustomed to the old ones. I can't say for how long this has been transpiring, or exactly when it happened since no one at the factory knows how many years we've been working here; or even how old any of us are. Such trivial life-related issues are quite irrelevant now. Yet our pace and productivity somehow continues to increase with each passing week. It seems as though the permanent supervisor and company he keeps will never quite be done with us: Yet we are only human beings... or at least we were before the change took effect.

Naturally, as mere physical beings, we must all eventually die one day; hopefully not while we are working. This is the only retirement that the company will accept currently, even though no one is looking forward to that time when it comes. We can't help wondering what's in store for us afterwards, though it creates some miniscule downtime on our productivity. I wonder what role the supervisor and company might play in that. But matters such as life and death are such a vague ambiguity here at the factory that it is almost pointless to pursue. All we really know is taking our meds and working at a fast and furious pace, fitting together those small metal pieces with our hands, take our mind off such matters and makes us feel complete.

Now that my story for you had reached its end, I must get busy again, for my work here is not yet done. P.S. Please don't tell anyone that I found this extra time in which to complete my story!

* * * * *

The End

Article © David Byron. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-12-10
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