I don’t really get why warehouses still have so many human employees. As if robots can’t do the entirety of everything that’s done in these dreary places. But apparently there are still some tasks that cannot be automated, or at least for as cheaply as minimum wage. And that’s exactly the type of job that disaffected young men tend to take when they’re out of other options that don’t involve interacting with customers on a daily basis.
It’s hard to blame them. Customers tend to be awful, horrible people (yes, even you). It’s more fun to interact with a bunch of crates filled with stuff to ship than to pretend to be polite to some middle aged woman screaming in your face.
For a brief second, as I snatch a warehouse employee uniform out of the break room and put on my fake glasses, I consider the possibility of quitting my job at Atlanta Cares and going into the warehouse business. But, as sad as it is to say, the pay wouldn’t be enough for my fast-food-heavy lifestyle anymore. Yeah, Atlanta Cares pays me slave wages, but it’s DECENT slave wages, at least. I’ve gotten enough raises over the past year that it’s placed me firmly outside of the “abject poverty if my hours are reduced even slightly” category. A warehouse like this one would not have that same benefit.
“Yo, person, you clocked in yet?” a warehouse employee asks the moment he sees me.
“Yep,” I say. I’m also glad that everything is so anonymous at these warehouses that nobody even recognizes each other when they ARE real employees, let alone a cool fake like me.
I stalk around, looking for the image of Phil McWhorter that’s been burned into my head. But after only a moment, I’m stopped by one of the taskmasters—er, managers, a tough-looking lady with a portable PC extended out and sticky notes pasted all over the monitor. “You! You need to—Where’s your name tag?”
“Lost it in the break room, sorry,” I say. “Should I go back and—”
“No,” she interrupts. “If you’re clocked in, you’re on our time. Get to your next task. Your portable PC will light up wherever you need to go.”
“Of course.” I stealthily hide my hands behind my back to cover up the fact that I definitely do not have a portable PC on my arm. Very smooth.
She’s gone before she even has the chance to get suspicious. That figures. Warehouses like these are so much about efficiency and logistics that they fail to reconcile the fact that humans are lazy, dull-witted creatures. Just as Tony at the anime store called me a small-brain when I said stupid things, the same is true for the entire species, to be honest. We are like robots, but… Okay, robots are still dumber than us.
There’s so many employees here, most of them human, and most of them pacing slowly around as they examine crates of items and count them. It feels… I don’t know. Whatever metaphors you want to use about the end of humanity coming thanks to the automation and mechanization of the working class, go ahead and use it. I’m not educated enough to go into that kind of spiel. All I know is, this warehouse is kinda making me feel weird.
A box full of plushie puppies… A disgruntled young man counting them. A box full of magazines… A disgruntled young man counting them. A box full of sex toys… A disgruntled, red-faced young man counting them. A box full of Dogsitter laserdiscs? A disgruntled young—wait a minute. Dogsitter is still in theaters. How’ve they got the laserdisc copies already? Is this… Piracy?! Meh, I don’t care.
I see a lot of counting and a lot of young men, but where is the person whose existence is the only reason I have come to such a boring, soulless place? Phil, where are you?!
Wait a minute…
I wonder if I could…
Just kind of…
“Phil, where are you?!” I shout up towards the ceiling, letting my voice echo out across the whole warehouse.
“Over here!” a voice echoes back.
I use my super hearing skills to discern the approximate location of the responding voice and scurry over before the scary lady manager makes her way back over here to scold me for wasting valuable company time. (You think I’m making some kind of joke, but she is literally marching in this direction as we speak.) The maze of crates wind up and down the warehouse, dividing each section like massive, sky-high aisles. And so many forklifts.
Finally, over by a box full of bright yellow pots and a stack of crates that undoubtedly all contain the same thing, I see a young man who is honestly not very disgruntled at all, and who is looking right at me instead of counting. It’s Phil McWhorter! The exact man I’ve been looking for.
“Hey, that you?” he asks.
“Yeah, it is,” I say despite not understanding what he means at all.
“Thanks for that donut the other day,” he says. “Hey, wanna count this for me? I want to take a smoke break.”
“Uh, sure.” Wait, tobacco is banned in Atlanta, except for—
The dude blows a puff of vapor right into my face, sending me into a coughing frenzy.
Yeah, okay, e-cigarettes are usually still accepted. As long as the tech companies bribe the Mayor’s Office enough to get them classified as technology rather than drugs, somehow they make it through.
I finish counting. “There’s twenty-six in here.”
“Uh-oh, that’s not good,” says Phil as he puts the e-cigarette device back in his uniform pocket. “My portable PC says there’s supposed to be twenty-eight. Either there’s a glitch or someone stole a couple. Either way, we’ll have to file a missing items report. Do you got your tasks page pulled up?”
“N-no, sorry,” I say. “I forgot my portable PC at home.”
He stares at me intently for a moment. “They let you take it home?” he asks.
“That’s awesome. I wish they’d let me!” he exclaims. “You know, though, I’ve been meaning to ask you something for a while now, and never quite gotten around to it.”
“What’s your name, again?”
Shit. Is he catching on to me? He’s on to me, surely. “My name? You don’t know my name, and I gave you a donut?”
“Heh, sorry,” Phil says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m not so good with names.”
This pasty, fluffy white dude acting so nice is really throwing me for a whirl when I thought for sure that I’d be getting in the middle of a fight by now. This is a far cry from his cousin Beth, who is one of most intimidating-looking buff women I’ve ever encountered. I guess punching doesn’t run in the family as much as I had suspected. Maybe I’ll actually end up going to bed tonight without landing a single blow on anyone!
“Ah that’s okay,” I say. “I don’t have my name tag, after all. I’m Tracy Silver.”
“Tracy Silver… Really?”
“Um, yep! That’s me. Tracy Silver.” Repeating my name a lot cements it really well.
“Heh.” He chuckles softly to himself like he just thought of a great new joke. “That’s interesting, Tracy Silver,” he says slowly.
“Interesting? And why is that?”
“Because…” He leans in close, close enough that whatever listening devices the employers have planted all over the warehouse won’t be able to hear him. “Silver is pretty close to my other job.”
“You mean, video games?”
“No way, man. Video games are a lifestyle, not a job.”
I feel very tense, like he’s about to attack me at any moment.
“No, silver’s pretty close to my other job because I work in gold,” Phil says. “Gold, like as in the shiny bricks.”
“My cousin works in a lot of, uh, interesting fields. If you know what I mean.”
“I’m not sure I do,” I say.
“She’s that Mighty Slammer villain that’s been blowing stuff up lately. I totally work with her all the time. I’m like her right-hand man. And I’m the one who deals with the gold bars.”
He’s just saying everything before I’ve asked a single question…
“Gold bars sound really expensive,” I say.
“A lot more expensive than silver, that’s for sure!” he exclaims as if he made a clever statement. “My other boss is some girl who calls me on this burner cellular right here. I only use it to get calls from her and nothing else. Well, sometimes I play Snake on it when I get really bored, but you know.”
“You have another boss? Not the warehouse people or Mighty Slammer?”
“Yeah, isn’t that what I just said?”
“Okay, just… making sure…” I’m too stunned by Phil’s forthcoming statements to… really understand what’s going on right now. “Do you know her phone number?”
“Yeah, of course,” he says. “You want to call her yourself? Maybe you can get a job too. Though she told me never to call her. It’s supposed to be receiving only.”
“Well, it might be fun anyway,” I say.
And then he hands me his cellular and lets me copy down the contact information into my own. He just… lets me.
“Yeah, it’s a really fun gig,” Phil says afterwards. “They make me hide the gold in this really nice spot—underneath one of those R-18 holo-booths at some Anime Attic. You know the ones, I bet. You sure look like the type, Tracy Silver. Heh.”
“I d-do not!” I exclaim.
“Sometimes, after I complete a mission or whatever, I use the machine a little myself, ya know?” He raises and lowers his eyerbows suggestively.
Ew, gross, why is he telling me this, and also I guess that’s the only reason he showed up in the records to begin with. That’s a lucky break. Lucky in the detective sense, though probably not in any other.
Wait a minute, that means he and his cousin both used the same holo-booth for… presumably the same exact activities. That’s… I don’t want to think about this stuff anymore. Let’s just move on.
“So, yeah, nice meeting you,” I say.
“It was nice meeting you, too, Tracy Silv—wait a minute, we didn’t just meet! What are you talking about?”
“Shit! I mean, uh, nice meeting you on this specific day. I’m saying that because I’m leaving now.”
“Oh, that makes sense,” Phil says. “I’ve got a new task to get to after I fill out that missing items report. Ugh, that’s gonna be such a pain. Hey, are you free after work? Wanna hang? I got Genesis Crush!”
“Tempting, but no, sorry,” I say, marking the first and hopefully only time in my life that I ever turn down a game of Genesis Crush.
This may have been the most successful questioning of my entire life, and I’m not sure I even had to ask a single question to make it happen.
I’m so confused, and yet happy at the same time…