Friday, September 02, 2005

Company Man

Today on the shinkansen home, I started, with the help of someone who annoyed me considerably, to think about life, work, and loyalty. This annoying person was a 45-55 year old man. He got on the train, dragging about three bags, none actually held in the way they were meant, this guy sort of dragging them on the floor. He got on just as the train left, so, ok, I thought, he had maybe been in a rush. He then spent all the way to Omiya--about 18 minutes--fussing with his damned bags, putting them on the luggage rack, and then taking them down and messing with them, and then putting them back, on and on, all the while standing in the aisle and not sitting down, which I realised is rather annoying to those around the person doing this. He, unfortunately, did not seem to realise this.
I had passed the same guy on the escalator, because he was so damned slow. He was still, even after getting on the train, exactly that slow. I noticed that his hands shook slightly, and that he had frizzy hair sticking out from his normal salaryman hairstyle, indicating that he might have been through chemo therapy or something, which made me feel slightly guilty about my annoyance: I was just being petty. He finally sat down.
About 15 minutes later, as a conductor was passing through the carriage, the geezer flagged him. I couldn't hear what was being said, except that the geezer stood up and rushed to the end of the car, while the conductor stood in front of his seat, glancing every 30 seconds at his watch, and looking annoyed. I was annoyed just looking at the conductor.
When the geezer came back, he said "thanks alot. I used to be a kokutetsu man myself, for 20-odd years," and then went on to have a whispered conversation with the conductor, who looked happy to move on.
And I thought to myself, 'aha! A kokutetsu man! That explains it!' Explains what, you may ask, and I will explain precisely what it did explain: This relatively (45-55 year-old) youn man acted like he was 90; he was obviously coherent, saying some apologies to the over whose head he kept putting up and taking down his bag; and he was grey and his spirit apparently dead. Add that to the eccentricity of not trusting the guy in the seat next to him to watch his bag (or actively distrusting him enough to ask the conductor to watch his bags), and you have a kokutetsu man through and through. They are a bunch of intelligent people working at a mind-numbing bureaucracy, whose lives revolve around rules. They are salarymen.
Salaryman. A self defined by one's earning power. Horrible.
Today I got into it again with one of my least favorite people in the company. He started it, sending a mail to me and everyone else in his own department including his boss, that had an offensive tone and content.
One of the things he complained about was that I hadn't shown him a pamphlet that I had had translated and which involved his department. I had tried to meet him two or three times, and he had blown me off, and since his input was not required, I said to myself 'whatever--if he wants to blow me off, fine.' To tell the truth I hate the man. I used to think that I just didn't like him, or that we were different and there was something I just wasn't getting.
I went to his desk to apologise for any misunderstanding--I still need to work with him after all--and give him copies of the pamphlets. I had a couple of other things I needed to speak to him about, and addressed those things, and went back to my desk. About 30 minutes later, he came to my desk and threw pamphlets on my desk, and said 'what do I need these for.'
I was flustered, and stuttered a bit in Japanese, and said 'you said in your e-mail that your people hadn't heard of some of the applications in the pamphlets, so I..."
"I don't understand what you are saying, is that supposed to be Japanese," he said, turning his back on me.
Luckily my co-worker who sits next to me rescued the situation, since it would have definitely devolved. After talking to me through her for 10 minutes or so, he comes out with 'I don't need the pamphlets, I already received them before.' As*hole! Bakayaro!
I sat there, though, a plastic smile on my face, and nodded, thinking to myself I wish you a slow and painful death, but revealing nothing in my face. This is the Japanese way. It is also, one should note, the Japanese way to blow up occasionally, and if I have to deal with this joker again, it will definitely happen. I hate to deal with this guy so much, and I hate dealing with one of his subordinates even more, so that I avoid them when possible. This avoidance makes me feel weak, and when I do go to him, he somehow manages to render me invisible, small. This total lack of respect--turning his back on me--is the thing that really gets me about both him and his rabid subordinate. Sure, there is history. No doubt. Sure, there have been problems. But I have never gone out of my way to hurt him or her.
Sitting on the shinkansen tonight, at the end of a long day, when I did some really good work, but also felt the full might of a frustration and an anger building in me, I wondered to myself what I would be after 20 years. Would I be like the man annoying me so much, feeble, grey, slow, all the life sucked out of him by who knows what job? Would I be a beaten man? I am getting there. If I had seen him on the train tonight, my rage would have pushed me almost to the point of garroting him. But what about in five years? Will I just be a maké inu, a beaten dog? What about in 20 years? Like the annoying geezer?
This is, as my wife tells me after one of these days, and which is very little comfort, the life of a company man...

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