Mid-Life Crisis

by Phil Geusz

NOTE- To follow this story, one must first have read "TBP- Holocaust".
It is on Thomas's web site --
click here to go to the Links page.

Ka-Chunk, Ka-Chunk, Ka-Chunk…
Every four seconds the press cycled, ten tons of automated hammer
falling onto another ten tons of anvil. Huge orange rails cycled
endlessly in perfect time with the press, supporting fingered arms that
grasped the naked steel and advanced it from station to station as the
ram rose and fell.
Ka-chunk, Ka-Chunk, Ka-Chunk…
On good days the press sounded like the footsteps of some great
dinosaur. On a bad one, however, it sounded like a funeral drum beating
out remorselessly the seconds of my life. Each beat produced an
anonymous little stamped part that fit into an obscure part of an auto
frame, and each beat brought home to me that my job, my life, had no
more meaning than did the parts I was stacking and racking at a furious
Ka-Chunk, Ka-Chunk, Ka-Chunk…
The rhythm can put you to sleep even as you slave and sweat, even as
your hands get sore and your wrists send warning flares of pain to come.
So it was a welcome surprise when the voice of my partner finally came.
"Got it, Phil."
"OK," I answered as always. The only good thing about my job was that
it was classified as very heavy work, and thus I work 30 minutes on and
30 minutes off with a partner. The benefits of this are obvious; such
jobs are in high demand and I was lucky to have found one. Yet somehow
the half-hour spaces of "dead" time can seem worse than the labor.
"Hey, Phil!" called out an old friend as I headed for my accustomed
seat in an obscure corner. "What's new and different?"
I sighed, and forced a smile. "John! Good to see you! How's things back
in Paint?"
He grinned widely. "Just not the same since you left. Of all the times
to get the Flu…"
My friend John was referring to the fact that I had managed to contract
a serious illness right at election time. Which quite naturally swept me
out of office. My hard-line stands and tactics made me controversial to
begin with, and without me there personally to shake hands and kiss
babies, well…
"Has it been rough on you, losing your elected job?"
"Not really. In fact, I don't miss it at all." This had surprised
everyone, me most of all.
"I keep hearing that. But you just seemed SO sunk into your Union work…"
"Maybe that was the problem, John. Now that I've gotten a little
perspective, I realize that I didn't ever really care for representing
people after all. I was doing it because OTHERS wanted me to, not
because I wanted to for myself. Just because I could do a job doesn't
mean it was right for me."
John laughed. "Your replacement is having a VERY hard time. He keeps
cutting deals, and management keeps asking for more afterwards."
I grinned back. "Just like I always said they would. It's far better to
fight 'em up front, and never even pretend to cooperate. Even if it is
"You know," John continued, a speculative tone entering his voice,
"There's an E-board slot opening up when Frank M'Benga retires next
"I know," I replied, my voice suddenly dead.
"A bunch of us would like to see a Green Caucus guy filling that chair.
Like you."
I sighed. How do you reply when you are being offered a tremendous
honor that doesn't interest you in the slightest? "John, really, I am
very grateful that you would think of me, but…"
At this, John frowned. "What's gotten into you lately anyway, Phil? You
used to be such a fireball! And now it's almost like you don't care
about us anymore!"
You got it in one, I thought but didn't say. "I'll think on it some,
John, but…"
"…but you don't think you're interested. That's OK, Phil. I
understand." It was clear from the disappointed look on his face,
however, that he did not.
Then it was time to return to work again, time to resume stacking and
racking, time to waste my life away in four-second increments.
Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk.

Lunchtimes were the worst. Because of the difficulties involved in
starting and stopping the press, my team took all its breaks in one big
lump, giving us an hour. Add onto that my half-on, half-off rotation,
and I had ninety minutes of dead time to kill in the middle of each day.
Usually I hid in a cafeteria booth with a nice thick book, but often my
co-workers failed to take the hint. Then I had to force yet another
smile onto my features, and talk inane politics for a time until the
clock freed me.
But even when I pretended to read, my mind was cruising darker
channels. There is nothing so horrible as waking up one day to realize
that you are mortal, and have been utterly wasting your life.
It was the Flu that drove it home, of course. Being diagnosed with a
disease that carries a 25% mortality rate is no picnic. I stayed
coherent long enough to ask for a lawyer to come help me make out a
will, but lost consciousness before he finally arrived.
But the darkness came too late to save me from the realization that I
had no one to leave anything to, no enduring cause I supported, no link
to the future once I had passed on. Losing consciousness while so sick
is a good facsimile of death itself, and I found myself facing Eternity
unprepared, having accomplished nothing of real importance.
What could possibly be a more sobering experience?
Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk…
The half-hour sessions of racking and stacking seemed interminable
sometimes, too. On a bad day, I handled nine tons of steel- before
lunch. The figure seemed incredible when a co-worker first informed me
of it, and never got less so even after I had achieved it many times.
The aches and pains were bad at first, then lessened. But over time, the
steady wear and tear of such labor replaced the original stiffness with
a deep sense of perpetual fatigue. Eventually, as time allowed, I would
be trained to operate the press itself, to set up and change out the
massive fifty-ton die sets, to do quality checks. I was told that the
engineers were quite eager to work with me on any ideas I might have to
improve things- the paint shop engineers had told them I was bright. And
eventually, I would even get to operate the massive industrial cranes
used to shift dies around the shop floor.
I told them all to take their time, not to inconvenience themselves in
scheduling my training. I was content just loading. Stacking and
The special election for the e-board slot came and went. I wrote a nice
letter of support for the Green Caucus candidate.
She lost.
Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk…

I was in therapy, of course. Universal Motors benefits are excellent,
and therapy was ALWAYS indicated for a Flu victim, at least until he was
past the common window for SCABS. Two more sessions, and then I would be
released as being almost certainly one of the lucky ones.
You can't hide depression from a trained therapist, but you CAN
misdirect their instincts. I carefully dropped some quite subtle hints
that SCABS deeply terrified me. The counselor took the bait, and
focussed our sessions on the subject. It was foolish, I knew, but I was
determined to work through my problems on my own. He and I talked for
hours about the happy new lives that many SCABS patients had found,
while most of my brain sat back and coldly ignored the proceedings. Yes,
SCABS scared me some, but I knew the odds were very much in my favor. I
had run FAR worse risks in my time.
It was in my everyday normal pointless life that I was drowning.
Eventually I mastered loading steel to the point that I no longer had
to think about what I was doing. It was then that the days became truly
endless, and my mind began to really deal with my plight, to seek out
the point at which things had gone wrong for me. When exactly I had made
the decision to trade a real life for a well-paid rut.
The experience wasn't pleasant. In fact, it was downright painful.
Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a fool I
had been.
Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk…
One afternoon, I broke out in tears.
It was overdue, really, my final breakdown. All morning my co-workers
had been asking for help in dealing with a real asshole of a supervisor.
In times past, it would have been a piece of cake. I would have gone
over his area of responsibility, and found things wrong. In his case it
would have been easy- like most real assholes, he was utterly
incompetent. Then, without ever mentioning his name specifically, I
would have reported on these problems at various quality meetings.
Most of the problems I chose would be insoluble, though the higher-ups
wouldn't realize this. And if I couldn't come up with any insoluble
ones, my people on the floor could always create some.
He would spent more and more of his life inside the plant trying to get
his act together under the most severe and subtle pressure I could
arrange until he either quit, was fired, had a nervous breakdown, or
became bright enough to figure out why I was riding him and back off of
my people. In any case, my people's problem would be solved. It was a
brutal business I had been in, yet I had to admit that I had developed a
taste for the blood of assholes…
Which, I knew deep down, was part of my problem. In the end, the only
way I could be effective as a Union official was to be as devious and
cunning and ruthless as those around me, and then to go one step
further. Most of my kind seemed to enjoy the game, to glory in the petty
triumphs and miserable plotting that served as an invisible spider web
holding Universal Motors together. But it had always merely sickened me,
served as a depressing background that made certain every truly ethical
decision would be quashed, every act of genuine act of kindness punished
without fail.
In the beginning, I had tried to rise above the moral cesspool that was
my factory, and in the cold light of day I had to admit that I had to a
degree succeeded. But real life has the tendency to exist in amorphous
grays rather than the stark beauty of black and white, and I had
indulged in my share of grayness. And everyone, even management through
their own sheer stupidity, kept pushing me over the long years to
acquire a darker and darker shade…
Why could I not be pure and clean, as I knew I had once been?
The tears began to flow freely then, but in the privacy of my loading
area no one would see until my partner came to relieve me. I was too
busy to wipe them away, and too upset to care.
Why had I let my life turn me into a stalker of men's careers, a
destroyer rather than a builder? For this inevitably seemed to be my
role more often than not. True, I had chosen my targets carefully; even
in my angst I knew that I had injured no innocents, never hurt the
undeserving. But why had it been my part to always be the one to make
the kill, to be the Green Caucus man sent when nasty work had to be
done? To be the enforcer, the one with scalps on my belt and blood on my
hands? And why did my friends keep pushing me to go on? Couldn't they
see what I had been becoming?
When I was a boy, I had been gentle of nature. Somewhere along the line
that had changed. It didn't matter one whit that I had gained the esteem
and even trust of others through my selective nastiness, for my career
had not made me happy.
Why could I not be gentle again?
Parts began piling up on the table as the agony and rage built up within
me. I was doubled over now, in mixed anger and pain over the wasted
years. Wasted decades, even! Why must men age and die, pass from this
Earth after having gained wisdom at such a terrible price? What a
terrible waste!
Why must I be mortal?
Then I realized that the agony was more than emotional, that the burning
fire was not only within my soul. There was a terrible twisting in my
torso, and suddenly somehow I was on the floor.
In the distance, just as I blacked out, I heard the press fault out as
it choked on its own products.
Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk, Ka-chunk, THUMP!
And then there was only silence.

I woke up white and furry, of course. And with a whole new outlook on
life. Rabbithood will do that for you, if it accomplishes nothing else.
Especially when you have no mind.
But again I was one of the lucky ones- while still in the hospital I
came around enough to use language, and thus become eligible for
additional treatment. By that time my wordly goods had already been sold
off in preparation for a clearly inevitable commitment to the Colonies,
and the last cards from friends and co-workers had long since quit
arriving. I wasn't connected to the real world at all any more, and deep
down wasn't sorry. I didn't even complain when the barred truck came for
me- the videotapes with their soothing music and safe images of other
happy bunnies snuggling and grazing peacefully in the sun took out of me
what little fight lapiform SCABS might have left. The only precaution I
took was to call a young lawyer to manage my assets, and arrange to have
her check back with me every six months. Covering my tail had been a
professional habit of long standing, one that withstood even my sudden
change of species…
It saved my soul. But that is another story…


* * *
Copyright 1998 by Phil Geusz. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.

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