The Salaryman does the Front Range

This probably sounds like a really, really bad Japanese porno, a manga Brokeback Mountain or something of the sort. Don’t worry; it’s worse. Other people’s sexual disorders and perversions probably aren’t your problem. Job markets and workplace cultures, on the other hand, most likely are. It’s highly unlikely that anyone is forcing you to watch postindustrial Japanese erotica (Satan doesn’t count, since Murica Derp is not a Calvinist outlet), but you probably have to deal with the messes that other people make in and of the labor market. When shit happens in the labor market, it hits the fan in the public square, and no man is an island. Actually, Japan is an island, or rather a series of islands, and that’s a merciful thing for the rest of us, but this piece isn’t about Japan.

That isn’t entirely true, of course. Much has been made of the Japanese salaryman, an English term that few in the truly English-speaking world keep handy in their lexicons. The salaryman is internationally famous as either the honorable human manifestation of the Japanese work ethic and postwar economic miracle or, for those who give a shit about spheres of life other than those immediately pertaining to filthy lucre, a symptom of a pathological, crazymaking workplace culture with inevitable severe side effects and perhaps an inevitably short half-life. It’s probably some of both. It’s worth noting that although I referred to the salaryman as possibly honorable above, since that is exactly how his proponents have always tried to portray him, going around Japan talking about “o-sarariman” is probably a great way to be dismissed as either a gaijin n00b or, if one has some experience in these discussions, an intractably crazy white boy. Linguistically, the salaryman is held in lower esteem than his own box lunch. This is something worth keeping in mind if you’re thinking that the Japanese don’t have coherent cultural priorities.

If you’re thinking that, shit, that’s just Japan, and there’s no way that the United States could also turn into a bifurcated nation of salarymen and shut-ins, think again. God bless America, it’s already happening. We may not find our version as inexplicably weird as its Japanese equivalents, but this could be in part due to national chauvinism. We can’t even copy best practices from Canada, so of course we’ll never grok Japan.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to arrange a visit with a friend from back east who’s living in Denver. We had a tentative plan to meet this weekend, but she didn’t get back to me to confirm that she would definitely have this Saturday off. In the meantime, I was coming upon the witching hour for making travel arrangements; this is the weekend before Thanksgiving, so all the common carriers were filling up, and they were jacking their fares through the roof on many schedules. On the hope that the Canadians, not being Americans, weren’t celebrating our Thanksgiving, I checked fares to Toronto and Montreal, too, and they were even worse, eh. Harper, what the fuck? The result was that by the time she got back to me, I had already taken a train from Sacramento to Denver and booked a redeye flight to Philadelphia for Saturday night (through Miami, as one does).

It turned out that over the previous week she had been stuck at work or work events until eleven every night. She has two jobs, so I knew that she was working overtime, but this was on a six- or even seven-day workweek; one of the jobs is part-time, and the full-time one appeared to be pretty flexible but roughly based around standard office hours. So this wasn’t a case of waaaaahh I didn’t get off work until eleven oh yeah I that’s right started at like sunset; she was apparently stuck at or commuting to and from work for up to fourteen or sixteen hours in a single day. If she’s running on fumes, I can’t blame her.

I wonder, though, about these work events. One of the ones this week was at a Nuggets game. Everyone in the pictures looked happy to be there, and they hadn’t been dragooned into some abjectly insulting horseshit like Covey training. I didn’t know who the others were, but I figured that they might be colleagues since, duh, people who are new to a city usually make many of their friends at work. Wow Much Insights. Even so, I have to question the propriety of organizing office-wide nights out, especially on work nights and especially when they’re organized under official auspices. It’s one thing to tell a colleague, “hey, me and my buddies are going out and getting shitfaced in LoDo again tonight, and we’d love to have you along.” It can be quite another to invite low-seniority subordinates to after-hours events at expensive venues. Inviting superiors out can be problematic for slightly different reasons.

The lines between recreational and professional life can get blurred, and there can be an element of duress. It should never be considered a faux pas to decline an invitation to an after-hours event, especially an expensive one, but it often is. Junior employees in particular often feel that they could harm their own careers by not going along with these programs, and sometimes they’re right because they’re working for psychotic narcissists.

There’s also the question of how the hell anyone has the energy for this stuff on top of a full-time job and a commute. They’re around these people for thirty-odd hours a week, and now they’re expected to spend another five, ten, fifteen hours chilling with them off the clock? If they enjoy this, there’s nothing wrong with it, but what if they don’t? Do they want to sound like killjoys? And what if they have family duties, you know, like kids? It’s easy to see how ageism and classism get folded into this overly homogenized mix.

I don’t have a very good idea about the particulars of my friend’s workplaces and their cultures. Their boundaries may be a lot healthier than I’m inferring. The lifestyle that she has been maintaining recently, however, does seem to require a preternaturally high energy level, and it’s inescapably clear that many Millennial workplaces have shitty-ass boundaries. There’s a huge potential for soft discrimination, and specifically for soft discrimination that has fuck-all to do with work qualifications or competencies. Walk around trendy parts of the Bay Area drunkenly throwing rocks at office buildings and you’ll quickly hit one whose tenants have much worse boundaries than anything I’ve inferred from my friend’s workplaces in Denver. But it’s a Denver problem, too. This I can say almost as confidently as I can say that there are assholes at FCI Englewood, and that some of these are inmates.

The hip parts of Denver have been overrun by trendy youngsters from around the country, and a few from other countries. The ass ends, like Aurora, have been overrun by Latin American immigrants of indeterminate immigration status. The whole fucking Front Range from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins has been overrun by outsiders. Some on the right wing lament that this is why Colorado is no longer solidly Republican, but they forget that Denver and Pueblo have historically been left-of-center and that Colorado Springs has progressively become a magnet for evangelical Christian wingnuts from all over hell. The more I heard about Columbine High School, the less surprised I was that the Columbine massacre happened there and not in, say, some midmarket old-line part of Denver or in Orange County or any number of places in or around Philadelphia or the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The community, if one can call it that, in Jefferson County has a really unhealthy, unsettled vibe about it. There’s just too much churn in the population, the commuting distances are too long, and there has to be a huge amount of self-medication and stress-induced mental illness. Putting a bunch of teenagers on a high school megacampus didn’t help things, either.

My suspicions about the Johnnies-come-lately fucking things up were confirmed in 2008, when my car broke down in downtown Denver and was towed to a shop in Arvada. The guys at the shop, locals as far as I could tell, really had their shit together and treated me wonderfully. I also briefly dealt with an Enterprise office in Arvada, which was staffed by callow, insecure, and thoroughly insincere dipshits who promptly screwed the pooch by telling me that they couldn’t rent me a car on a debit card since I had an out-of-state license. There I was, a sixteen-year resident of Pennsylvania getting screwed over by a Masshole who hadn’t been in Denver for a year, and it took the local mechanics to pull my chestnuts out of Enterprise’s fire by finding me a loaner car late in the day.

I don’t think I’m reading too much into this incident. It’s perfectly emblematic of the kind of trouble that large numbers of transplants cause in adopted communities where the locals really know how to hold shit together. It’s the same old song with a somewhat hipper beat in the Bay Area on account of the dot-com hordes. Putting young people with no community ties in charge of policy, either public or private, in a city where the old-line locals know what the hell they’re doing is a perfect recipe to seriously fuck shit up.

I’d be interested to see who’s behind the fare structure and website of the Denver Regional Transit District, both of which are seriously fucked up in spite of RTD’s actual transit services being pretty good and undergoing a huge expansion. It’s definitely the newcomers who are behind RTD’s Free Ride for Bougie program on 16th Street through downtown, officially known as MallRide. Oh, you say, but anyone is allowed to ride it for free pursuant to Title IX nondiscrimination requirements? LZLZOZLZOZLOZO. The poors don’t have a hell of a lot going on along that stretch of Sixteenth Street. Other than a few down-and-out homeless, it’s nothing but Bougie who has the time or the occasion to take that free ride. Meanwhile, a twelve-minute bus ride up Interstate 25 to the Thornton Park-n-Ride costs $4.00. But of course it’s just a coincidence that Thornton is inhabited by the poors. It’s just a coincidence that there’s a Fogo de Chao not three blocks from Union Station and that I spent close to a cumulative hour last night and this morning repeatedly unclogging the toilet in the $60 room that I had rented at the Thornton Crossland Economy Studios. None of this has anything to do with public policy.

Denver is a really cool city. If you don’t believe me, spend a week in Grand Junction or, better yet, Green River with nothing to do and get back to me. Denver has a pretty serious industrial and commercial base, too; I saw a lot of it on my way into town this afternoon, and it only cost me four dollars. It’s just too bad that so much of the region’s leadership has been hijacked by carpetbagging wankers, the sort of people who structure a baroque fare system because they’ll never really have to ride the bus. This is why RTD has another ten dollars in fare to squeeze out of me when I go to the airport tomorrow night. It’s the wankers’ world; I just live in it.

Contact me privately if you have winter vineyard maintenance work available around Junction this year. I can probably learn how to prune fruit trees pretty quickly, too. Not everyone can get a job fucking up policy for the little people, after all.


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