Published in ERG: A ‘Zine About Work, 1:1, Seattle, 2011
Exciting Careers With GovCorp!
Alison tore off a corner of the glossy brochure that had been passed out by the fake blonde in the heinous business suit at the beginning of class, and waited until no one was looking to write a note to Jesse on it. The special guest who was apparently important enough to co-opt an entire period of English class to talk to them about Exciting Careers With GovCorp!, which was also the title of the glossy brochure, was flapping her lips and generating a nasal whine at the front of the room; this was far more unbearable than anticipated.
Money, that’s all it was, Ryan Wong had said before the bell rang, when several students sat around speculating, loud enough for the guest to hear, as to why a corporate tool in an ugly beige suit was taking over their boring, but at least presumptively educational, hour with the well-intentioned but uninspiring Ms. Everett (who was attempting to get them to engage with 19th century literature in which authors took whole chapters to describe what a room looked like – as if anyone gave a shit), an hour they despised under normal circumstances but were quick to reclaim – to champion, even – when it was replaced by an even more boring presentation about an even more boring topic by a lady who lacked any of the sincerity of their teacher (who might be just a little too perky and just a little too enthusiastic about literature for her charges’ taste, but who nonetheless had a quality of realness – however pathetic she might be – that this lady from GovCorp lacked completely).
Geoff Dyers said that Ryan and the other students were being idiots, that GovCorp had already proven that the private sector could do the work of governments more efficiently and effectively, and that this was the future, but he was shut down quickly by Jesse – “Is that what your Daddy says?” – and everyone laughed because Geoff believed everything his dad said and everyone knew his dad was a suit-wearing neo-con.
Money, that’s all it was, Ryan continued – as Alison and Jesse listened approvingly without actually participating in the conversation while the GovCorp lady readied and re-readied her brochures, watching the clock, pretending not to hear the strident voices of the students as she waited for the bell to ring – GovCorp allocated more money to schools that agreed to promote the GovCorp agenda. The other students snorted and agreed that as usual, it was all about economics, so why was anyone trying to fool anyone, and Alison even gave Ryan a quick smile of approval, though he was still pretending she didn’t exist, and she wished she could take back the smile when he didn’t respond because, come on, you have to get over things, especially when you only dated for two weeks and OK, she’d been kind of a bitch, but she was trying, here, and after all, they were definitely all on the same team when faced with this ultra-bitch from the most ultra-evil corporation on the planet.
Twenty minutes into the class period, the lady was droning on and on about how advantageous a start with GovCorp could be for a person’s future. She referred them to the chart in the center of the brochure, which broke down how many dollars toward university tuition one earned for X number of years of service to GovCorp, though many people, the lady pointed out proudly, ended up being so happy with their GovCorp careers that they didn’t feel the need to pursue further (costly!) academic studies and chose instead to keep their jobs and take 80% of the tuition credit they’d earned as cash (GovCorp would love to give 100% cash in these situations, of course, but the retrograde U.S. Congress had insisted that there be some incentive in the deal to urge young people toward higher education), thus building one’s future security earlier in life and advancing one more quickly toward a fulfilling adulthood. Ryan forgot about not talking to Alison and gave her a huge, exaggerated eye roll and sigh.
Alison scribbled on the corner of the paper she’d torn from the brochure: I dare you to ask a question, and passed it to Jesse. Jesse read the note and grinned at Alison, nodding slightly, indicating that she would wait until the official question period.
Their teacher, relegated to the sidelines today, trying not to fidget, saw the exchange and knew the girls were up to no good, but decided to let the corporate whore deal with whatever trouble Alison and Jesse were cooking up. Ms. Everett had cut her chops at an inner-city high school for students with behavioral disorders, so two obnoxious snots like Alison and Jesse were not exactly a challenging discipline problem, though in general she was extremely annoyed by the girls’ immature faux-adult pretensions, their arrogant pseudo-intellectual posturing, and their privileged appropriation of the term “socialist.” Still, she hoped they’d give this GovCorp swine their best.
Ms. Everett tuned out the fake blonde and thought about what her second career might be, because there was no fucking way she was staying to teach after GovCorp took over the district next year. She thought about the general strike the teachers were planning when the takeover happened, and that she could not feel more solidarity with their cause, but that it was inevitable that the strike would amount to nothing – the union had been fighting the takeover every step of the way – five years now – and had lost, every step of the way. Those teachers who refused to work under GovCorp, which had a team of “experts” – none of them classroom teachers – reevaluating the curriculum and making “structural changes,” would be replaced by young college grads desperate for jobs who would agree to teach for an hourly wage rather than a yearly wage, who would accept that 30 hours in the classroom was only considered “part-time” by GovCorp – after all, other people worked a 40-hour week, and it was time that teachers stopped slacking off, letting their union negotiate unfairly large salaries for what amounted to very little work, with all the vacations and all – these fresh-faced young workers would dismiss the outraged protests of the old-timers, say to each other that the oldsters just didn’t understand that the world had changed, things weren’t the same as they had been, and good riddance, because after all, they remembered how shitty their public educations had been.
It was question time. The room was silent. The corporate bitch asked again if there were any questions. Veronica Dunn (who was in the honors classes only because her parents were rich, even though everyone knew that Veronica was, like, one of the stupidest people at San Mateo High) raised her hand. The fake blonde lady smiled even bigger and called on Veronica, who sat in the front row, as usual. It was easy to see how in a few years Veronica would be the GovCorp lady. She was already working the fake frosted hair and the perma-smile.
“So, I was wondering, um, if you, like, get to choose what job you do when you join GovCorp, or do they, like, just assign you to something?”
Alison couldn’t help herself. She snorted out loud. One of the major lures to rope young people in, touted largely in the brochure, was that you got to Choose From 10 Different Exciting and Challenging Tracks!
The GovCorp lady’s face almost fell, then she answered smoothly that one of the most wonderful things about a career with GovCorp was that you got to Choose From 10 Different Exciting and Challenging Tracks!, which were all conveniently listed in the brochure.
The class was silent again, then Jesse raised her hand.
“Yeah, I was wondering about diversity in GovCorp,” Jesse began, “Because I see here in this photo in the brochure, there are two guys and two girls, and all four people are different ethnicities, and I was just wondering if that was actually representative of the percentages of gender and race of people serving in GovCorp, or if it was just a decision on the part of the marketing department to stage the photo that way so GovCorp would be alluring to the widest possible swathe of kids?”
The lady faltered, then played dumb. “I’m not quite sure what your question is – are you asking about the diversity breakdown of GovCorp employees?”
“Yeah,” said Jesse confidently, “To put it simply, do you happen to have any stats on the demographics of GovCorp workers? I’d be curious to know about gender, race, and economic bracket – which populations you guys are decimating the most, and whether it follows the same patterns of class exploitation as military enrollment.”
The lady’s face was absolutely non-reactive, her smile frozen solid. “You know, I actually don’t have those statistics, but you could definitely contact our office of public relations and they might have that type of information for you. Next question, please?”
Alison raised her hand. The lady tried not to call on her, but no one else had a question. She smiled even bigger, as if to reassure herself that it was fine, everything was under control, and gestured to Alison that it was her turn.
“Um, yeah, this is kind of a personal question. I was wondering if you’re actually a robot engineered by GovCorp, or if you’ve just had so much botox that your face doesn’t move anymore?”
The class erupted in laughter. The GovCorp lady turned bright red and stopped smiling, looking to the teacher for help. Alison noticed that their teacher, though she was quick to say, “Alison,” in a warning voice and give the entire class her “I’m not amused” look, had not been able to help herself from grinning involuntarily.
“Now settle down, everyone,” Ms. Everett said, taking control almost effortlessly – next to the GovCorp lady, their teacher was a paragon of intelligence, awareness, and competence – “Alison, anything more out of you and you’re going to the dean’s office. Class, please be respectful of our guest. Are there any more questions?”
Ryan and Veronica raised their hands at the same time, and the teacher hesitated for a fraction of a second, during which the GovCorp lady decided to reassert her authority, and called on Ryan.
Ryan didn’t look at the GovCorp lady, but addressed his question to the teacher, “Ms. Everett, can we talk about Tess of the d’Urbervilles now?”
“Tomorrow, Ryan. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Chapter Six. Veronica, what was your question?” the teacher asked.
“So, I actually have a question about GovCorp,” said Veronica smugly, “Since I’m actually thinking about my future.”
The GovCorp lady beamed and nodded approvingly.
“I was wondering,” asked Veronica, “If working at GovCorp, like, helps you get into a good college?”
The bell rang then, which was fortunate for Alison, because she couldn’t keep from laughing out loud, which might have gotten her sent to the dean’s office, which she really did not feel like dealing with today. She and Jesse cut out of there as quickly as they could, decided that Spanish definitely wasn’t worth their time today, and headed to Wolfshead Coffeehouse to discuss all the questions they regretfully hadn’t had time to ask, like Can gay people join GovCorp?, or Is GovCorp modeled after The Party in 1984? (the lady probably wouldn’t get the reference, Jesse pointed out, because GovCorp actively discouraged people from being educated, though their teacher would have appreciated it), agreeing that it was a shame no one had asked the simple, yet certainly unanswerable (least of all by the bot in the beige suit) question: Why is GovCorp taking over our school?
This piece is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, provisionally titled
Restless Before Migration.