Xena Ain't the Only Amazon
By Wil Forbis
Mention Amazon.com to anybody on the street and you're sure to get an opinion. Some folks will applaud the online corporation as one of the Internet's few success stories. Others will rant and rave with accusations that the company's own ego turned what could have been a successful venture into a black hole for investors. Some people will pat Jeff Bezos and Co. on the back for helping revive the economy and region of the Northwest. Still others say it's helped replace Seattle's blue-collar soul with a bland commercial stuffing. But most folks who have opinion, yay or nay, have had little direct interaction with Amazon.com. Sure, they may have ordered a book or two from the company, or have a friend that works there, but they've had little chance to see the day to day operation of the e-commerce giant.
I worked at Amazon. And I was fired. How does this make me feel about the company? It's quite simple really. I would like to see Amazon.com as a company destroyed. I would like to see its stock declared to be valueless and creditors descend on its offices. I would like to see all the employees of Amazon.com fired. I would also like to see every one of these employees, whom were purportedly more "skilled" than myself, coming down with some sort of terminal disease, preferably one that causes big hideous boils on their faces, and festering, open sores on their genitalia. I would them like to see all these employees line up outside of my house, and beg for my forgiveness, in a chorus of, "Please, Wil, we're sorry we fired you. We now see that your skills were essential to the productivity of this company. Can you ever forgive us?" To this I would reply, "Ha! I pee on all of you." I would then pee on all of them; my smoky urine causing agony in their pussy wounds.
If you want to get technical about it, I wasn't fired, really. I was working there as a temp employee and they decided not to "pursue my employment" or some such legal mumbo-jumbo. But perhaps its best to tell this story from the beginning. Thus I give you...
MY INCREDIBLY EXCITING CAREER AT AMAZON.COM, THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BOOKSTORE!
It all started when I was a child. I was a remarkably precocious lad, indeed, when I was expunged from my mother's belly I was already quoting Shakespeare and discussing the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. In fact, during the birth process, I was coming out feet first and the incompetent young doctor was becoming flustered so I found myself yelling instructions to him. That's how ingenious I was. The first years of my life were wonderful; having tea with mother in the gazebo, lunching on caviar and Chianti at the finest Museums, and riding sea turtles across the Bering Straight in my preparation for the toddler Olympics. By age three, I was a skilled archer. By six, I had memorized the complete text of the Sherlock Holmes novels. By eight, I had composed my first sonata for the piano and kazoo.
Hmmm, at this rate it's going to take quite a bit of writing before I get to the Amazon stuff, so let's jump ahead, shall we? Duck into my phone booth shaped time machine and we shall zip forward to the year 1997 at which point I started my job at Amazon. (But first, let's stop off in 1978 to visit Studio 54 and the coke snorting grannies. "Do a little dance.... Make a little love...Yew!")
Towards the end of the year 1996, I had grown tired of my on again/off again job at Seattle's Elephant Car Wash, and had decided to seek employment elsewhere. One might think the job of an auto detailer would keep one entertained forever, with its steady supply of loose women and cheap narcotics, but I felt my muse could be pursued elsewhere and tendered my resignation. After a brief period of unemployment, I signed up with a temp agency. "Have you ever heard of Amazon.com?" the large breasted woman at the temp agency asked me on my first day of reporting to their premises. (I don't remember her name, hell, I don't remember the temp agency's name, but I remember the fact that she was large breasted. Hung low, like a Portuguese grandmother.) "Why, yes, I have heard of Amazon.com," I replied. And I didn't say that merely out of my propensity to agree with whatever large breasted women are saying. I actually had a few friends who worked for the company.
Now keep in mind, this is back in a day when not a lot of people knew much about Amazon. Or the Internet. Amazon's employees numbered in the low hundreds, most of them temps, some of them large breasted. And back then, Amazon only sold books. They had one warehouse in West Seattle, and it was there that they housed, packed and mailed the books. And it was that West Seattle warehouse to which I was assigned after getting the job from the temp agency. I showed up on a Wednesday, and headed into a room filled with about 30 other newly hired temp workers. For the most part, they looked like a cross-section of Seattle's unemployed hipsters, with enough tattoos and body piercings to set the grunge-o-meter to "high."
After the new blood was significantly settled, they came at us with the "orientation." This was performed by a bearded young man in his late twenties, whose name I've forgotten (though I want to say "Clay" or "Frank"). Like everyone at Amazon, and like everyone else in Seattle in a few years, Clay/Frank loved the company. He made it expressly clear that he was devoted to his job, and he felt that he was helping to build the future of a new economy - and we could too! If we took care of Amazon, Amazon would take care of us! And the best way for us to help was to get out there and perform the menial tasks of picking books off shelves and wrapping them up in cardboard!
Unfortunately, as with all things, there was a catch, which Clay/Frank made clear. If, after 30 days, Amazon didn't like the way we were picking books off shelves and wrapping them up in cardboard, if our way of picking books off shelves and wrapping them up in cardboard wasn't up to Amazon's standards of picking books off shelves and wrapping them up in cardboard, then we would not be asked to join the company as regular employees. Deep in my heart, I knew I was doomed.
Of course you didn't start off picking books off shelves and wrapping them up in cardboard. First, you just picked books off shelves and they gave you a few weeks to get that skill under your belt. You see, one of the keys to Amazon's plans was that they needed to get books to their purchasers quickly. If you ordered a book off a web site and it took three weeks to get to you, well, hell, in that time you could've gone down to the local bookstore and gotten it yourself. Amazon needed to ship the books of as soon as the orders came in. And to do this they had gallons of books on hand in the warehouse. Rows of Tom Clancy novels, computer programming books, and romance guides were ready to dropped into the postal system. (I once asked a supervisor what the most popular books were. "Dilbert," the man, a graduate with a BA in literature, disgustedly replied. "Dilbert cartoon collections, Dilbert Joke-A-Day calendars and Dilbert fucking career manuals!") A key job for newbies like myself, was to grab an empty cart that would have a list attached to it. The list contained the titles of newly ordered books and we would track these books down and fill up our cart. It was actually quite an interesting job, as it allowed you to get a taste of what the American public was reading. There seemed to be a high amount of sex instruction booklets, bomb making manuals and more disturbingly, guides on how to start an online business.
After you showed a thorough understanding of the art of picking books of shelves, they would move you onto the more important skill of wrapping them in cardboard and putting them in the mail. If you pulled that off, you'd never have to pick a book off a shelf again for as long as you lived. To be honest, I always saw this as rather inefficient job assignment. What if picking books of shelves was what you did best? What if picking books off shelves was what God made you to do? Why should you, a master shelve-picker-offer, be wasted by wrapping books in cardboard? I brought my protests on this matter to Clay/Frank, but he would not budge. "It has always been this way and this way it shall always be," he would solemnly state. When I'd say "What's all this 'always' stuff, Clay/Frank? This company's only been around three years," he would simply walk away and I'd be left talking to a copy of "Annie Sprinkle: Post-Porn Modernist" that had managed to find its way into my knapsack.
Ahhh, but what about the workplace culture of Amazon? You've probably heard much about how employees enjoyed such luxuries as free sodas and being allowed to take your dogs to work. (Dogs, yes, I found out. Screeching spider monkeys, no.) Well those were all gifts showered upon the non-grunt workers. Those of us that worked the floor (I liked to call our area the floor, because most of it was spread out over a smooth, floor-like surface) were made of sturdier stock and had no need of free cheeses and facial moisturizes to perform our work. We simply picked our books and wrapped them in cardboard and were quite happy at that.
Of course, even amongst the grunt workers, there was a bit of a social hierarchy. The full-time employees, with their stock options and feather boas, clearly stood a bit taller than those of us still picking books on wobbly, colt-like legs. But all in all it was a fairly amiable place. I recall everyone being friendly and willing to offer a helping hand. Because everyone was so young (even the old people were "young"), it rather felt like a chance to do high school all over again except this time, it was perfectly acceptable to ingest psychedelic mushrooms in front of the teacher. We were a young, hip generation of slackers who were going to become millionaires.
Yeah, well, we all know how long that lasted. How did my downfall come about? One of the few rules they informed us about at orientation, was that if you were going to be late, you should call your manager so he could begin the desperate search of finding someone to fill your book wrapping position until you arrived. Well, a couple days after my 30-day trial period had ended, with no comment either way from Clay/Frank, I found that I was, indeed, going to be late, and made the call. And, of course, that afternoon, two Amazon employees called me into a room and told me that my trial period was up and I was no longer needed at the company. (They needed two workers in case the news caused me to burst into a psychopathic rage and begin destroying the office.) It was pretty obvious that what had really happened is that they'd forgotten all about me and my phone message had foolishly notified them of my existence. If I hadn't made that call, I'd probably still be there.
So you see, my hatred for Amazon is not based on tall tales they told the investment community, nor the accusations often laid against the corporation that it was an uncaring monolith disguised as a new kind of company. My hatred is based on good old-fashioned jealousy. Jealousy of the people who did become full time and garnered profitable stock options. Jealousy of those who were there from the beginning and could claim that they were an integral part in the building of an Internet success story. (Well, the jury's still out on that one.) Jealousy of the many large breasted women there who were able to wield such power over me with a single low cut top. While they all went on to better things, I sank into a routine of unemployment and absinth addiction, only to hit rock bottom and create Acid Logic. But perhaps… that will be my salvation. Perhaps Acid Logic can rise up and take on Amazon.com in a Celebrity Web Site Death match! That seems reasonable enough, don't it? Please say it is… please…. please…
Ahh, forget it. I'm going to order a copy of Love and Kisses from Annie Sprinkle (30 Post Porn Postcards) and take a bath.
For more Amazon wackiness, read my interview with Mike Daisey, creator of the one man play 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com.
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Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - email@example.com
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.