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!"



Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Resolution way. Lewis extract one.

Lewis says she would take on the debt. 

What can you do, where can you go without debt.? She wants that University place, she wants to study Political Science, or Law, or both, fuck the cost. She wants revenge for what they did to her brother, for what they have always done, for what they are going to do now to what's left of her family. 

 In the gym every day working out, plenty of protein shakes, no alcohol, no weed, in bed  early every night, hitting the books at home. She keeps quiet, keeps her head down and boils with rage.

Revenge consumes her, in the gym as she strains for the last rep she thinks of her brother. When she wakes up aching and has to plough through The Republic or The Prince or Leviathan she thinks of her brother. When she has to go into work and listen to all that bullshit, she thinks of her brother.

And she thinks of her father, of course.

She has a girlfriend now and they refuse to be cowed. Laura is three years older and the most beautiful, powerful woman she has ever seen. They caught each others eye at a rally in Peckham and immediately she knew. The same evening they began an affair of such intensity that she felt she could crush the world into dust, that was how much strength she gave her.

All the boys down Deptford High Street know she has a girlfriend, the boys in the gym, always coming on to her, trying to turn her. Chatting all that shit about needing a real man and how they will take the pair of them on. Such stupid shit they talk. Her mum tells her just to ignore them. They are just boys, she says. Lee wasn't like that. Neither was dad. I know Paula Adonor says. Well, you’d be amazed by how different people can be. Look at you,she says and strokes Lewis's face. I am so proud of you.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Pride. Fuck you. You can't take that away from me. She is half drunk on her own refusal to play the game. On her own monomaniacal determination to fuck them over, even if it is purely through her refusal to be intimidated, to be broken, to fall apart. A few months ago she shaved her head, a number three cut all over and  Laura says she loves running her hands over it, especially when Lewis' head is down between her legs and she has her beautiful strong feet up on Lewis’ strong back. She loves Laura's flesh, her belly, her big hips. her boobs, her lack of shame about taking up space.  She never tries to disguise her size, spilling out of her clothes, undulating down the high street in a feather boa and high heels, a skin tight second hand business suit and planting a fat warm kiss on Lewis' lips outside PayBank, grabbing her bum as all the market traders pause momentarily in their barking and wheedling, and the old Rasta who has been sitting in his blue  deckchair mid street as long as anyone can remember, shouts encouragement.

Fuck the world. She is 18 years old and she will take on the debt to study even if she has to work for the rest of her life to repay it. The  world is bigger and stranger than you imagine it to be, there are people in this world, she knows, because she is one of them, that you wouldn’t dream existed, that seem fantastical. Sometimes at night she seems fantastical to herself and the prospect of what she might do, how extraordinary she might become intoxicates her further so that sometimes the only release from the waves of excitement that sweep over her is to nudge Laura awake and make love. At other times, true enough, she hears her brother moaning in his room, snorting, making noises, hears his head thrashing and then she is dropped suddenly, violently out of life and bounds back up scalded with rage. Sometimes she goes to him and puts her arms around him to try and soothe his fears, other times she is appalled and the idea that it would be better if he had died, better still if he did die assault her and she rolls over and over in the bed, trying to outmanoeuvre her own thoughts.

What to do about Lee, now? It has been eighteen months since he was injured and the appeal is just due to start and there will be no justice. Everyone knows what happened. They say his brain turned in his skull with the force of the blow and that was it, in an instant he was gone, evacuated, jettisoned, nothing of her brother left at all. Some knotted cord twisted too tight, a few threads snapped and all that he was is lost, unrecoverable. They know the name of the police man that did it, there is phone footage everywhere, She has seen it, once. She won't watch it again. The Officer moving forward with his baton raised, the police horse coming in from behind. Lee trying to back away from one, backing in to the other, the man on the horse flailing his baton around. The blow is deliberate, anyone can see that except the jury, the police complaint's commission, the press. In defending himself against attack the officer accidentally catches Lee on the head with a downstroke. And its true the police officer, the pig, the fucking filth, does get hit with placard, bouncing off his protective visa as he cracks her brother on the head with his truncheon. Distracted, confused, in fear of his life, responding to a volley of abuse.  The  whole  situation "regrettable".

The abuse they have received for campaigning for pushing the trial through the courts, then appealing. All the social media stuff, the sheer, almost fanatical hate and poison. The smears in the press, press run by rich men. Pointing out that Lewis was "typically" raised by his mother alone, no mention that her dad died or acknowledgement of just how fucked that is for her mum, to lose her husband, for the children to lose a father and then to not even lose her son but to have him go out one day to support his friends on their protest, to go out to in protest because he know what it will mean for his sister, who wants to go to Uni in a couple of years' time and be returned to them as a shell, twisted up, eyes blank, rocking back and forth in a wheelchair, can't feed himself or wipe himself, or speak his own name.

Oh Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Christ. And now they smear her and her mum when they can. Some of her relatives have asked her to tone it down, to not be so openly rebellious, even if by that they just mean out and proud and in love. Do it for her own sake, make herself less of a target, make  the family seem more respectable but her mum says no, no way,  you be who you are I am proud  of  you, proud of you. They don't like the fact that her mum is educated, articulate. They want to dismiss the whole thing, they want to make it, make it part of some whole chip on the shoulder thing, a column in The Telegraph referred to the regrettable role model of Doreen Lawrence, a woman simply unable to let go, as though you could  ever let go of the  death of  your  child, the  murder of your child, and counselled acceptance suggesting that her mum's constant demands for justice represented a form of harassment of police officer's already under considerable strain and attempting to do their job under difficult circumstances, what with all the recent  unrest.

 Her mum laughed at that one  a bitter  laugh in the  kitchen and then her eyes filled, for a dazzled second with tears she quickly squeezed away. That's how it  was, she was victimizing them. Her mum has cut the articles out and kept them to remind her just what they are up against. Another columnist had asked just what her child, a personal trainer, "and  clearly not himself academically gifted" had been doing at such a demonstration anyway and whether his presence hadn't perhaps been due to his mother's seemingly radical convictions rather than his own, that perhaps might the root of the this time "highly" regrettable incident not lie there, the blame, the  culpability, the final responsibility, laying with, as  always, as always, the mother. What radical convictions are those? Paula Adonor asked in a letter back, that education should be free for all here as it is in many countries, that  the police should not be able to ruin a young man's life with impunity?

Yes, yes yes. Lewis can not exactly see what she will do, how her revenge will manifest itself, in what ways she will make them pay, cause justice to come to being in the world but that is not as important as her desire and her will. First she must understand the world more fully, the way her mother understands it, the  way Laura and her friends understand it. She sees herself now,even more fully, as part of a struggle. What it is to be seized that way, when you are still young, by a conviction that will shape your life. Certainly she was always interested but everything that has happened in the last two years has strengthened her resolve. Even before, even as a kid she was dipping into the books that filled the house, books which are proving invaluable now as she does all the reading for the degree that maybe, probably she will never be able to afford. Perhaps The Open University, which is itself getting more and more  expensive  every year is her only option now she has to help her mum look after her brother, especially now that they have cut benefits, taking away his help. Perhaps she can do some online courses and build up credits, some MOOCs and UACs and cobble it together that way. If it wasnt for Penny next door they would be in an even worse situation and she might have to move out soon if her  rent goes up again this year. They will all have to move if the place gets sold out from under them. Which  her mum says  is only a matter of time, anyway.
Why does it have to be this hard just to live? How many different battles should a person have to fight just to live? Work all day, look after a disabled child, try and get some justice through the courts for an obvious and grievous wrong that has been committed against you, fight to keep the little  support you are offered while the people you rely on and who rely on you in turn are swept up out of places they have lived all their lives and dumped somewhere miles away like so much rubbish.

I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. Her mother tries to calm her sometimes, nodding along to Lewis's ranting, telling her she knows, she knows, she understands and yes of course she is angry too, but she is also careful and tired and she has to conserve her energy and hate is exhausting when you get older. And when you were my age? Well, of course I wanted change and of course that is what I struggled for in a way, but life was a lot easier fro me, your grandmum didn't have to pay for me to go to University, there were more jobs around, rents were lower. And I hadn't had any tragedies in my life. Yet, Paula Adonor almost says. Yet.

Fuck tragedy, She gets pissed off if her mum uses that word, it is not a word she accepts for herself, for her own experience. Once when her mum said it she spat back, best thing that has ever happened to me. And her mother then flew into a rage, this is not about you, this is not all about you, its about all of us, the three of us. They didn't speak for the rest of the day and Lewis went out, up to New Cross with Laura for a rare day of drinking and almost got into a fight with some boys, some typical, fucking stupid boys halfway down Lewisham high road who started kissing there teeth and cat calling. Moments like that she wishes she was bigger, physically bigger so she could slap them down, humiliate them, five foot four is not much when her mum is five foot nine. How come she didn't grow taller? No one knows. Maybe her dad dying stunted her. The shock, suddenly like that when she was thirteen. Her mum kept telling her she would have a surge but it never came. If she was taller, six foot tall, which was Lee's height, six foot five, six foot eight, she would beat them down, she would make them beg, these stupid fucking stoned, drunk boys never read a book in their lives and think they are masters of the fucking world, think they are running things. Slaves. She remembers a line she liked from a film she watched with her mum when she was a kid, "Once Were Warriors", all about the Maori in New Zealand. She bugged her mum like mad after that to get a tattoo and she dreamed of a a face tattoo, permanent war-paint. That line, she's wanted to us it herself sometime but is just too corny to do it, when the drunk husband has pinned his wife up against the wall and is going to her hit and she says “ Go on Jake, hit me, hit me. You're still a slave. A slave to the bottle. A slave to your fists.”

And then she knew, she got her first taste of how not to be slave. Stay away from the bottle, use your mind not your fists. And yet, she dreams of violence and she asks Laura sometimes, don't you want to kill them, kill them all? All the pigs, all the fascists, Tories, Labour. You cant trust any of them. She doesn't trust anyone except Laura and a few people she knows from demos and occupations, people she follows on Twitter. Her mum, of course. The boys who run the arts centre, her uncle James and her cousins and some of the people down the gym, so, really, she laughs at herself, actually if you spread it out, if you imagine it like water flowing out and around obstacles in rivulets and streams and hooking up, merging and combining with other streams that seem to be seeking hers out then she trusts really a lot of people, but no one higher up, maybe, although her mum's colleagues are decent people too and her teachers and Lee's lawyers and so. And so, really. So many good people all wanting the same thing, the right thing, for the world to be put right, for there to be some justice. So why isn't there, why not? How come? How  come  we  can’t  just shake all the bullshit, all the bullshitters off and  just live together?

She asks her mum and mum says it's a constant fight, sometimes we have the upper hand, sometimes they do but Lewis can't remember a time when she felt like her family had the upper hand, maybe when she was a kid and her dad was still around, and Lee was ok and they weren't fighting this court case and worried about her mum losing her job and money money money all the time being a problem.

Fuck money. She'll take on the debt even if she has to clean toilets to pay it back, even if they put her in jail because she can't repay it. She will still have learned it all, it will still be in her. They can't take that away from me. That's mine for life, that and my friends, that and my mission. That and my demand for justice.

But look at Lee. Maybe even that, your learning, your self, the self you struggle and sweat to build, they can take that away from you too, most valuable thing you have, and no-one has to be held to account. They just laugh in your face. Tell you it is "regrettable"
And she roles over in the bed, worried suddenly that perhaps finally there is nothing that can' be taken away from you.

Perhaps they will never stop until the whole world is used up, until the last tree is felled the last fish left floating, the air unbreathable, all of humanity squatting in the dark in poverty and disease and fear.