Letters from Zona Monetaria

Thanks for PW 3, which came wrapped in plastic, mangled by the Postal Service machinery. It was good to hold something made by unalienated labor.

The management trainees here decorate their cubicles with all kinds of anti-management paper. Nothing strange about that except that the manager has noticed and commented in a memo. ""Directories, "to-do' lists and cartoons are wallpapered on every vertical staff surface. I find it painful to sign the monthly rent check for this building when I see what our working quarters look like. Since we all spend so many of our waking hours in this building, wouldn't it make sense to take a few minutes to make the overall appearance a little more attractive?'' It's now two months later and the look of the vertical staff surfaces hasn't changed. One example in my line of vision: a xeroxed cartoon with 2-inch lettering reading ""They can't fire me! Slaves have to be sold!'' Actually, slaves can be discarded. The welfare lines are full of them. This morning these vertical staff surface paperers were showing off the afterwork clothes they'd wear to a punk rock concert. The most conservative had the most outre costume, which he claimed was absolutely unique--a pair of chef's pants.

Fashion fascism is the rule here. There's certainly no punk style from 8:30-5. The women in management are dressing for success; secretaries wear pants and success knock-offs; plantation workers labor in polyester. My fantasy today is that there are giant petri dishes on the 39th floor cloning thousands more of these workers. Will the new ones take better care of their vertical staff surfaces?

Call me Mister Kurtz.

Although this job is full of the usual disadvantages, it does offer the chance to expropriate from the expropriators in a modest way. Whether or not I can actually become involved in pushing the advantages of carcinogens in drinking water is a real challenge.

Interesting conversation now about conditions at the PG&E building--workers complaining about airborne particles and ""dust'' on office windows, dry eyes making wearing contact lenses uncomfortable, etc., etc. Management maintains the vents have been ""turned off.'' Messenger expresses reluctance to return to PG&E, even though he's been told his ""nervous condition'' is responsible for his fears. What's going on here?

This place sells soft drinks to the Third World (it's a source of sterile water, I hear) and lots of other stuff like candy bars and carcinogens. I think you can understand my struggle with ethics. Is this an alternative to being a vent person (def.: derelict who finds a place on the sidewalk near or on an exhaust vent, esp. in winter)? Because that's how it looks to me. If I'm too squeamish or exquisite to swallow the corporate dose of cynicism, then what's left for me--the sheltering arms of the streets? But I digress, and there are miles of multiple copies before I sleep.

* * *

Peasants of the global village unite! You have everything to lose if you lose your senses. Break the hypnotic trance induced by hours of office drudgery. Look, listen, touch, taste, and smell. Thinking naturally follows. Start with something simple.

For instance, buttons and buttonholes. Ever noticed that the more buttons on someone's clothes, the more power and influence, and the less socially useful the wearer? The six-button vest, three button suit coat, six- or eight-button coat cuffs, button-down shirt collar equal a real heavyweight in the zona monetaria. Less obvious and much less frequent are the button fly of the $1200+ custom-made suit and the two-button shorts (underwear).

In the fashion fascism game the scoring goes something like this: no points for zippered polyester jump suits (or abberations like snap fasteners posing as buttons--a real button means a button hole, preferably hand sewn); good points to old-style international diplomats, mostly for double-breasted coats and European handtailoring; good points, too, to high-ranking Mafia members; winning score for vestments, especially the Pope's (note number of buttons on chasuble, everything hand sewn in gold or silk thread--the tops).

Question: If (against all odds) computer work stations do increase managerial productivity, will costume reflect this change in efficiency? The five-button vest is becoming more commonplace, probably due to cost-cutting by clothing manufacturers. However, the longstanding tradition of leaving the bottom buttonhole open is disappearing. Brooks Brothers still sells only six-button vests. Any other questions?

* * *

Dressing for success is impossible unless you're a hooker with an esoteric specialty. Vuitton and Jordache, like sex, are the great equalizers. Designer-initialized clothes do attract attention, but probably from muggers. How often is a secretary rewarded with envious looks of her inferiors or the approving ones of her superiors just because she wears Calvin Klein? And how important is a $90,000 sable coat if you can't have one in every color?

* * *

And then there are the plastic buttons that you punch, push, or press.

At a conference of the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers Association last fall, Xerox President David Keans expressed impatience that after five years, ""some of you are still wrestling with the question of whether a word processor is a typewriter or a computer.'' He dismisses this titanic struggle with the following: ""I don't think it's an important question. It gets in the way of what really is important, which is that these machines increase productivity dramatically.'' No wonder there's concern with declining productivity if five years is spent on such questions. Of course, Mr. Kearns isn't disinterested. Besides throwing kisses at the icon of productivity he's also a shill for the Xerox 8010, a ""personal information'' system aimed at the business professional. Managers, professionals, and executives in this instance are interchangeable terms. However, vendors using their own definitions divide the market into four parts: ""clericals, who work with numbers; secretaries, who work with words; professionals, who work with ideas; and executives.'' Now we know what executives do.

To help them do it better, vendors are using the print medium in full-color and a catchy slogan, something about ""just pushing a button.'' A similar slogan was aimed at women during the 1950s. Then the vendors were manufacturers of washing machines, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners and other plug-in servants. Curiously, the most resistance to pushing buttons came from white southern women who maintained that if any finger pushed a button it would be a black finger. Executives do push buttons to summon secretaries and subordinates and to practice other forms of harassment. Nation's Business believes executive fingers pushing the buttons of the future will mean a redistribution of workloads.

In a particularly crass aside NB notes that ""clericals who face change have little choice but to comply; managers can resist change -- and often do.'' No examples of resistance were given, but I have no doubt there will be resistance. I am certain, too, that an entire subindustry is poised to spring forth. Led by a media blitz which has already rolled out, this industry will devote itself to the adjustment of managers to the new technology. There will be books and TV shows focused on executive alienation, seminars on technology-related managerial stress, discovery of unknown allergies, digital fatigue, and assorted ""needs.'' The personal computer, once an office companion, will be transformed into a tribble.

In the meantime, I am able to remain a member of la bohème--the temporary work force. Until the necessary point of view develops that will force managers to push buttons I am the known value in the servility quotient, to bring in the multiple copies one at a time. I tremble at the thought of future chores as a result of redistributed workloads, and I know whose time will be saved and whose will be wasted. When the leaders talk of peace, Brecht wrote, you may be certain your draft notice is already in the mail.

--J. Gulesian, Temporary-at-Large