I wished on a monkey's paw a few months back that looking at Twitter for nineteen hours a day and getting drunk every night would become more socially acceptable. I should not have done that and I’m sorry.
I’m going to get the stupidest tattoo when this is over. Yes even stupider than the ones I already have.
As always immense gratitude to those of you who support my work here with a paid subscription.
In today’s Hell World I talk to a worker at Whole Foods who is part of a social distancing stand out action taking place in Boston on Tuesday along with workers from other chains. If you can please join them at 11 am outside the Whole Foods location at the Ink Block in the South End and/or sign their petition here to support their demands.
I also checked in with a worker at Starbucks in Las Vegas. First a couple other things. Here’s a post I just saw on Facebook from a doctor in New York.
“Who’s going to pay for it?”
Last words I’ll never forget // the response my patient gasped out (between labored breaths) to me and my team, after we explained that he needed to be intubated and placed on a ventilator. We then called his wife to have him speak to her for what was likely his last opportunity, as many patients do not recover once tubed.
This situation is by far the worst thing I’ve witnessed in my collective 12 years of critical care & anesthesia. Next-level heartbreak = having to hear a dying patient use his last words to worry about healthcare finances.
This country is truly a failed state, and it’s so sickening to witness firsthand, more blatantly than ever.
And then he shared a quote from this piece in Truthout: The US’s Wave of Hospital Closures Left Us Ill-Equipped for COVID-19.
“As COVID-19 spreads around the world, now impacting over 700,000 people in 194 countries and territories, there is a clear difference in how well various countries are containing the pandemic. Those countries that have universal, publicly financed health care systems are better able to coordinate their responses and care for those who are ill. They have been the fastest to slow the spread of the virus.”
Here’s a story from my hometown:
Duxbury Man May Face Charges After Allegedly Coughing And Spitting In Kingston Stop & Shop.
A 65-year-old Duxbury man may face charges after he allegedly coughed and spit in the Stop & Shop in Kingston.
Police responded to the Summer Street store Saturday afternoon after the man allegedly began to fight with staff and witnesses.
That’s the store my parents shop at. Feels very bad!
Today is the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death and if you never read it you might appreciate this piece You have eternity to be dead so just wait one of the earliest Hell Worlds where I figured out what I was doing and what this was going to be.
The electrician found the body that morning but I guess it took a little while for the news to spread. It had been waiting there for three days but we didn’t know that yet we just knew all of a sudden that a person was a body now and that was that. It would have been early evening when I found out about it. April. My football coach broke the news to me in a football coach voice because that was how you found out about things back then. You’d walk around not knowing some shit until someone would tell you and then you had to wait to bump into someone else and go ahead and tell them. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it was something like ay your boyfriend Kurt Cobain killed himself. Football coaches don’t like it when you care about anything other than football such as music for example which is for homosexuals. Kurt was twenty-seven years old which everyone remembers as the famous age to be dead at. I remember my coach mispronounced his name as Co-burn which is something a football coach would do on purpose to fuck with you and then we had to go and lift weights. I don’t remember if we listened to Nirvana while we lifted the weights but I hope we did not.
Like fifteen years later a friend of mine was at the state fair in New Hampshire and he took a video of an Army guy at a recruiting tent doing pushups while “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was blasting out of his truck speakers and I sometimes wish he hadn’t shown me that shit.
It is as they say “one of the good ones.”
Sorry but this is very funny to me:
This is the first Hell World being written from the new town we live in now. We moved over the weekend and moving house fucking sucks at any time under normal circumstances but doing it for the first time in fourteen years leaving a home that was not your home but it was your home and saying goodbye to all of that during a pandemic with a fucked up back while it’s raining like it’s a funeral for a superhero only to arrive in a foreign town where no neighbor dares welcome you makes it even better.
I was supposed to be sitting here in the desolate suburbs complaining that there is nothing to do and nowhere to go but now everywhere is the desolate suburbs for those of us who are still fortunate enough at this point to have only been laid low by the stillness of the plague and not the violence of it.
Also I don’t know how to turn on any of the lights in here or how the heat works.
As usual my shit is nothing compared to those of millions of others but it is still nonetheless my shit.
Here’s what the Starbucks worker told me:
I work in a Starbucks within a grocery store in Las Vegas, which is not as much on the frontlines as many of the great people I work with, but there is a bizarre level of stress in my head, maybe because of that fact. Because Starbucks wants to ‘reassure’ the public we won't close, maybe I should be happy I'm still working (?), yet in my head I get pretty angry thinking about these assholes still coming in and insisting on getting their fancy coffees with their kids more often than not.
I’m a little embarrassed because I'm not sure my story is important enough. My husband works in one of the higher end casinos in town. His income is our main income. We have already been kind of tight on money because this job for me is only paying about half of what I used to get. My daughter is still living at home, planning on doing some college courses online. Most of her life is online, but she has good friends and she is a great individual, yet a little sheltered.
The other day was my daughter’s birthday. We had already had to promise her a gift she wanted down the road, because we didn't have the money. And that was the day my husband got the call he was laid off. They were talking April 16 for a return, but I'm not seeing that happen. The casino promised a two week paycheck for everyone, and he got it this past Thursday. The thing is for dealers, the bulk of their income is tips. With the check they sent, they included an average amount of tips into the check, which was greatly appreciated, but we haven't heard any promise of anything since. And my check, well, it's small. They are giving us an extra $2 an hour which brings me to 12.40 an hour — whoo! — but I only work 20-25 hours a week. The good thing is I do have union health insurance.
I get more anxiety just watching the wonderful people I work with in the grocery store working 50+ hours a week, and certain shelves not being restocked, like paper products and pasta. The store tries to help the workers by keeping some items like water in the back that we can buy after hours, but god, they are working non-stop.
I have very mixed emotions about even working at this point. I get the grocery store angle, but do these fuckers really need Starbucks? And since we are basically on our own, we have to handle the dirty money, wash our hands, sanitize, then make the drinks. And these fuckers are ordering like 3-4 drinks at a time, showing up with all their kids. One woman, face mask and gloves, came up to order a drink, then accused me of breathing on the cups after asking me to show her the different sizes. I assured her I would use new cups.
A random thought: We went shopping today at Walmart. If I'm not infected already I'd be surprised. There are so many people out and about in Las Vegas. I think until someone is affected directly, they don't think it's real.
What is Las Vegas like in general right now? I rarely go down to the Strip so I just see it on social media mostly. I use public transportation — the bus, which is an entirely different set of stories — but if I had a car I would be cruising down there just to see the emptiness. Someone posted a video of a family of Canadian geese walking by the Venetian yesterday. Since I don’t go over there often it hasn’t really hit me how weird it is. I went by a casino we visit frequently closer to home, and seeing the parking lots empty and blocked off made me a little sad, mostly for all the people it affects, and wonder realistically when they will reopen. We depend on tourists so much. How will they determine it's really safe, and when will the public feel it's safe enough to visit?
One other story from work. About a week ago an older couple walk up, and the guy is all like, Can you believe people getting all worked up about this? blah blah blah. Meanwhile, his wife is coughing up a lung right next to him, right at the cash register. That's when I wanted to just leave.
Here’s my chat with the Whole Foods worker:
What’s going to happen on Tuesday?
We’ll be doing a social distance stand out, to demand from Whole Foods and Amazon that we’re compensated properly for putting our health at risk during the pandemic.
What are you demanding?
We want proper hazard pay, which means time and a half. Right now what they’re offering is $2 per hour extra, which is like a 13% increase if you’re making the minimum of $15 an hour. If you’re making more it’s even less. For people to put their lives on the line that really doesn’t cut it. The second point is we need to be allowed to wear and be provided safety masks and gloves for all team members so that we can be safe and protect ourselves from the risk of the virus.
Are you not currently allowed to wear masks?
It depends. They’ve kind of loosened up on it a bit, but there was definitely a period of time where they were strict about it, that we couldn’t wear masks. So that’s one of the themes. They’ve slowly rolled out certain things. They did give us the $2 an hour. Then like two weeks in they gave us a 30% team member discount versus the usual 20%. Now they’re doing things like limiting the number of people in stores. But each of these measures have been implemented really, really slowly, to the point where team members are certainly, even if asymptomatic, they’ve certainly gotten infected with the virus by now. We’re already seeing cases in stores in the region.
Is it a piecemeal thing region by region, or is there any national leadership?
It’s a little unclear. Most of it is coming down as regional decisions. Things like the $2 an hour hazard pay, if you want to call it that, is from Amazon. Some of the decisions seem to be more regional based. But that’s another one of the issues, that it’s been really unclear what we can expect, what precautions are going to be taken. I want to make another thing clear. The PPE demand, there’s a sub-point to that, which is having more liberty to protect ourselves by asking a customer to please stand further away for both of our safety. To not just put sales first and to take seriously policies like limiting the number of people in the stores, rather than just saying there’s a limit, but then letting as many people in as want to come in. The third thing we want is fully paid sick leave for people who either show symptoms of the virus or are taking care of family members.
Have people gotten sick at your store?
People haven’t gotten sick at my store yet, but I have seen people who are at risk, either immunocompromised or elderly, who are continuing to work because otherwise they aren’t going to be paid. Some people I know have had to leave work to self-quarantine and take unemployment pay. They’ll have a job when they’re able to come back, but who knows when that is, and unemployment can be as little as 50% of what you usually make. For an industry where we’re really not paid that much that can be really difficult to make ends meet.
A couple weeks ago I talked to a guy from a competitor and they were already separating people outside and making limits on how many people can go in. Is your store doing that now?
It is to an extent, but at the same time it’s just been rolled out really slowly, and the extent to which it’s actually enforced has been hit or miss.
And this action isn’t just Whole Foods?
Yes. It’s in front of Whole Foods in the South End, but it’s going to be Stop & Shop workers, and Trader Joe’s as well as customers.
You’re encouraging customers and sympathetic people to come down?
Yes and we’re encouraging everyone to stay six feet away from each other and to wear masks if possible.
This is a real difficult time for worker actions like this. Normally you would be psyched if a thousand people came down. This has got to be difficult to manage.
Yeah it’s tough. From a socialist perspective it’s difficult. One of the things that prevents workers getting what they deserve is when they’re alienated and not working together. So if we can’t physically be in the same space it makes it all much more difficult.
How have things changed in your store recently?
There was a period of panic buying and it was really busy and our store made a huge amount of money. That’s kind of where the injustice lies. An event like this happens, the company reaps the profits, then we just get a little slice of that.
Are customers acting responsibly now?
There are customers who keep their distance and try to adhere to the policies, but there are a lot of customers, groups of people just browsing, getting things that aren’t really necessary. I don’t know how much time you’re spending outside, but it’s kind of like some people get it and some people don’t. When you’re not working you have the option of taking yourself out of that space. Say you’re taking a walk and someone isn’t really moving, then you can move. But when you’re at work, you’re there to work, and you don’t really have that option. As someone who’s working with the public, you’re there to serve them, so there’s really only so much you can do.
Like I get to sit at home here doing my useless job as a writer. But when I’m out walking or running or something, and someone is not getting out of my way, I can say hey fuck you pal. You can’t do that when they’re in the fucking… frozen foods aisle.
Right. I would be helping customers, and I would take a few steps back, and they would take a few steps forward. It’s like how are we going to do this and protect ourselves? The more stories that come out about people in perfect health sometimes even dying… I think one of the dynamics at play too is when you sign up to work in, say, the medical field — and total solidarity with medical workers — you know it’s a hazardous job, there’s a chance you can get sick… Now we’ve been elevated to this kind of essential worker status and the media is saying, oh, they’re heroes, but we signed up to work in a grocery store. There’s a lot of reasons you might do that, but you don’t think of it as something where you’re going to be putting your life on the line.
What do you think about this whole thing where you guys are the troops now and we have to thank you for your service?
From every grocery worker I’ve spoken to it’s really frustrating to hear the thanks, even though we know where customers are coming from. When I see stories like that in the media I know where they’re coming from, but it kind of misses the reason we’re there. Whatever job you have, hopefully you feel good about it. When I do my job I feel like I’m helping people get food. But at the end of the day I’m there so I can pay my rent, and because I get my health insurance through work. I’m there to survive. I don’t see myself as some kind of hero. I don’t think any of us do. Calling us heroes is kind of like, I don’t know, it’s almost a little bit patronizing.
What is the average pay for Whole Foods?
I don’t know the average but I know that it’s an industry with high turnover. There are a lot of people who’ve worked there for a year or less, so they’d be making $15 an hour. Amazon is obviously a very wealthy company, they have a lot of resources, so a while back they raised the minimum wage for all Amazon employees to $15. They’re a company that can afford to do that. The $2 an hour is more than say Stop & Shop offered, which was 10%. It’s tough. When you live in Boston, even $15 an hour isn’t enough to afford rent and a comfortable lifestyle.
For sure. We literally just moved out of the Boston area this weekend because we can’t afford to live there anymore, and we have fairly decent paying jobs. It’s just impossible.
Right. One more point I want to make. We’re protesting Whole Foods because of the power that Amazon represents, but the other element of it is it’s solidarity among grocery store workers at whatever store you’re at. It can’t just be the workers from one company going up against their employer. It has to be all of us together, on a broader level, having customers involved, whatever their workplace is. It’s bigger than just Amazon or Whole Foods. Working people in this country deserve a living wage and to not have something like this totally upend our lives.
Do you think this is a clear opportunity for workers around the country to seize the moment and show the power that they have, or on the other side do you think this is a fucking scary opportunity for the government to go too far in the opposite direction?
It’s both. I think on the one hand it exposes a lot of different kind of workers to the idea that their safety and health is absolutely not guaranteed and that the rug can be pulled out from under them at any minute by something like this. I think with climate change more things like this are going to be happening in the relatively close future. So I do think it wakes some people up. I think it gives us an opportunity to organize and spread class consciousness. On the other hand, yeah, I think that it puts people in desperate positions where the government can come in, and because we’re so dependent on getting some help right now, that the situation can be taken advantage of.
It’s a scary time. I hope it tips in the right direction, for you guys, and all of us.