Friday, 30 August 2013

Resolution Way Lewis extract 2

Lewis is cycling, head down, fast as she can along the South London Cycle Route, part of the Green London Urban Trail initiative connecting Deptford to Peckham to London Bridge and beyond that cynics say is really just there to compensate for the poor quality train service into the centre and help defray the added weight and inconvenience of all those eager new workers, urban explorers, professional pioneers reclaiming South London's under-appreciated and neglected living-spaces, flooding in from the gentrified concrete council blocks and flimsy steel and glass new builds.

She is going to see Dan, an old friend of Lee’s from when they were kids. Dan has his degree, now and debts he has no hope of paying and, astonishingly, a job.

He works at Heart of Chicken.

It goes by a number of names but Heart of Darkness or Arsehole of Chicken are the most common. Is there a worse place to work? A worse employer? Maybe Amazon now they too have introduced A.M. for all warehouse staff, who aren’t even customer-facing and, just like Heart of Chicken, publish daily Service stats and insist on monthly and weekly unpaid development sessions and reviews on putative days off. Heart of Chicken prides itself on being “a Total Employer” and “an engineer of attitudes and outlooks” helping partners “ make the mindset of intense customer focus a 24/7/365/4Life orientation” using a “holistic affective regimen” developed through “synergizing the groundbreaking techniques of NLP and Total Physical Response.”

Lewis has an interview coming up at Heart of Chicken, mandatory, even though she’s not Claiming because everyone seventeen and over now is obliged to undergo Recruitment Training and attitude and engagement are key factors in the assessment criteria. Though a job itself doesn’t exist and she wouldn’t take one even if it did she has to, for two humiliating hours, undergo a Welcome Session and be assessed on her suitability as a Potential Partner.

Lewis has asked Dan how he can do it, how he can hold the job down, what tips he has for this upcoming interview which she knows she is going to fail anyway and so have a black mark against her, more than that a whole set of data points and scores and ratings mapping her out as a potential employee in a file somewhere. Dan told her his technique for keeping the heart-shaped Affective Monitor he has pinned to his uniform pulsing hard and glowing rosily with love. It’s the standard technique, the one everyone uses as far as he knows.

What you need to do is search through your mind for your happiest memories and keep them in your thoughts at all times, focus only on these, after all the job is mechanical, what matters is that the monitor pumps out genuine pleasure in work, sincerity in service, proof that the smile and that upbeat, customer-oriented attitude are real. Focus on your finest, your best moments, the faces of friends, your first love, your kids, some fantasy you have of yourself, whatever is most precious and vital to you, anything that will flood your system with chemicals, keep the pleasure centres of your brain alight .
Heart of Chickens slogan and poster campaign show a young light-skinned black girl against a black backdrop beaming munificently out and an oversized plastic heart incandescent on her chest, the glow adding a pink sheen of satisfaction to her already enraptured face. Underneath it says “The Heart of the Heart of Chicken”.

 The slogan was created by a 23 year old Yale educated marketing vsionary Brewster Kervorkian, a lift from William H Gass’s collection of short-stories “The Heart of The Heart of the Country” a book his father had introduced him to as a child. “Our house was kind of atypical, “ Kevorkian said in an interview that Lewis read on the Guardian website a year or so ago “I mean, Pynchon, Coover, Saramago, Bloch, those guys were basically bedtime reading for us. Were we kind of bratty and precocious? Well, yeah, I guess.” Kervorkian is also responsible for the resurgent popularity of Huey Lewis and the News after his phenomenally successful viral marketing masterstroke for Heart of Chicken which took the groups 1984 hit “The heart of Rock and Roll is the City”, changing the final word to Chicken and showing the group, all wearing the trademark Affective Monitors bursting into song in a bright mock-50s diner. “It’s the irritation/fascination thing,” Kevorkian explained “plus all the references, to Back to the Future, and the 501 adverts and so on, plus the nonsenses factor, the surreal edge that makes that phrase “ the Heart of Rock and Roll is the Chicken” so hard to shift. It’s a brainworm. Plus Huey gives maximum Charisma, of course”

Even remembering Kevorkian’s tousled hair, John Lennon glasses and tweed suit has got Lewis’s irritation levels cresting and a strap of rage pressing tightly behind her eyes. She breathes out hard as she rounds the corner and the Shard comes into view, this will never do, she has no chance in the interview. Not that she doesn’t have good memories but in reality, even though Dan shrugs it off, isn’t it the saddest thing? He’s told her that he maintains a kind of crop-rotation system, cycling his memories and fantasies around to keep them fresh and productive, to replenish them, leaving some fallow for a while so the don’t get used up too quickly. But inevitably they begin to wear out, deplete, and people of course especially the rush hour crowds at morning and evening, the Friday and Saturday night drunks heading for the last train home, do everything they can through covert or overt means to get his monitor down to orange or, even worse blue, especially now that the burgers come free not only if service takes over two minutes but if the numbers on the LCD display showing Dan’s Authentic Satisfaction Level fall below 80. Everyone wants a free burger so the techniques range from hostility and rudeness, to threats, to delaying techniques to passive-aggressive fumbling with cards and change.

There’s even a pass-time now called ChickenSmashing and a Facebook page and a Twitter feed dedicated to hints and tips on particular techniques, certain members of staff it‘s easy to upset or intimidate and the haul of free burgers and Sticky Thighs and Tinglewings and TenderCrowns that can be claimed. The Facebook page she glanced at once immediately depressed and enraged her and she had to go to the gym to work her anger off.

“Leyton posse smashed the Fairfield Lane Heart of Bullshit last night. Made the shaky, grinning bitch Amanda cry by asking her how the fuck she felt about working in Heart of Chicken for minimum wage at 11:30 on a Saturday night when decent people were drinking good beer and having lives. Heart rate dropped straight to blue, numbers down to 64 (SMASH! I thank you!) Complimentary burgers all round from the cock-kissing manager, Amanda sacked on the spot (double SMASH). What the fuck ARE these people good at?”

For a while Dan could hold it at bay, overlay the angry, insulting faces the delighted demands, the watchful eyes, the gangs of youths relentlessly mocking him, the jaded businessmen fussing and barking orders, by sheer power of projection, screening them out them with some sweet, sylvan scene from his childhood, his first kiss, the day he got his A Level results, that big night out he had , his mates’ faces, jokes and larking and moments of fun and ease and possibility, but slowly they are being worn threadbare, no matter how quickly he recycles them, until eventually they will be used up, affective burn-out, his memories bleached and barely accessible to him, his dreams parched and empty and he will be, what, twenty-one next month and his minimum wage, zero hour contract at Heart of Chicken will regrettably be terminated due to his insufficient commitment to Heart of Chicken’s service-oriented ethos. "At Heart of Chicken, we wear our Heart on our Sleeve, quite literally,” the promotional pack that Lewis flicked through at Dan’s flat one day informed her,” the Heart of Chicken difference is that we take genuine pleasure in serving our customers, that is what has made us the world’s number one crafter and purveyor of a range of creative chicken options. Our Affective Monitoring system WorkingHearts let’s the customer, partners and the point of delivery staff themselves know whether they truly love the product, love to serve and genuinely love to embody outside and in the Heart of Chicken ethos and ethics.”

Jesus. All this talk of love. All this talk of genius. All this talk of ethics. She can barely imagine what it must be like as she stops at the lights and watches silver-grey Summer storm clouds gather over the river. She’s held one of the affective monitors in her hand and shuddered, thin, cheap-looking, made in Cambodia with a short white wire and a little flesh coloured adhesive sensor-pad at the end that reaches back through a gap in the stupid uniform to attach itself to your chest. She knows Heart Of Chicken has the highest staff turnover ratio of any company in the world, six months is a long career with them, and she knows they favour the young due to their “greater natural optimism”, “stronger affective immediacy” and "chemical rich bio-environment."

The Affective Monitoring System has been around for a while but it was Heart of Chicken’s CEO Hugh Barton’s strategic genius and vision that saw its potential in the retail sector. It started off innocently enough, as these things do, a gimmicky pair of electronic cat ears, essentially a toy developed in Japan, that wiggled when the wearer was happy and that soon got used in the Hostess bars and Soaplands so that there was no faking it anymore for the salarymen whose egos needed stroking and the girls who could keep their ears waggling were the ones who became semi-celebrities. At last the question was answerable, the doubt that perhaps she was only pretending, that her pleasure was faked, put to rest. From there of course it went mainstream, this simple little technology, revolutionizing retail and recalibrating customer-focusedness as part of a global mission to make service transparent, authentic and truly satisfying.
As she sets off again she goes past an advert for a high end Casino that says " Surely the whole purpose of life is to enjoy!"



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