I was recently able to buy one of my most coveted T-shirts. It’s the one adorned with the logo of Nightwing. What? You don’t know who Nightwing is? Let me educate you. Nightwing is Dick Grayson, the first man to hold the mantle of Robin. He was leading a happy life as Batman’s sidekick, but it wasn’t long before he hit adulthood. Now his own man, he found it more and more difficult to be “the sidekick.” Eventually, he grew frustrated with his position and knew that he would forever be the second half of “Batman &….” This led him to leave the Dynamic Duo and strike out on his own. Getting a new uniform and changing his name to Nightwing, he began dispensing justice his own way in Gotham City’s upstate neighbor of Ravenloft. Of course, he still pops into Gotham from time to time when Batman needs back-up. After some reflection, I am starting to see how my current situation at work reflects Nightwing’s origins.
At work, we recently changed our payroll system. It used to be we wrote down our hours on a timecard after work. If we worked through our break, we got to add another 15 minutes. If we wound up working overtime, we just simply added the extra half-hour or so to the timecard. Now, we’ve all got these new name tags with magnetic stripes on the back. When we start work, we swipe our name tag through a reader to punch in. When work’s done, we swipe our name tag again to punch out. If we end up working more than our scheduled hours for the week (i.e. working through break, overtime), we have to tell the supervisor that this happened and a notation is made in a log book. It seems over-complicated now, but I guess too many people were abusing the system.
Now, it doesn’t bother me that we’ve moved to this card system. Hell, back in my old college days, I had to do that every night in order to eat. That’s how I get money from the bank. I’ve long since grown accustomed to the fact that my life had been reduced to a series of magnetic stripes, bar codes, and 4-digit ID numbers in corporate computers. Right now, I’m just waiting for the day when fingerprint scanners are cheap and reliable so I don’t have to remember all these PIN numbers. What bothers me about this new system are these new name tags.
I wouldn’t object if they were photo ID’s, like what FBI agents wear on all those X-Files reruns. But no pictures are on them (and besides, even if they were photo ID’s, I had already put plans in place to replace my photo with one of Darth Maul). I don’t object to the sickly green color that they are. Green is my favorite color, even the sickly shades. What I object to about these new name tags is, right below our names, in letters just as big and black, are our job titles. My name tag doesn’t read “Mark.” It reads “Mark: Bagger.”
Now, as long time readers know, I am a lot more than a bagger. That name tag could just as easily read “Mark: B.SC.” or “Mark: Amateur Writer” or “Mark: DJ.” But no, it reads “Mark: Bagger.” The company has now branded me as a bagger for the rest of my career with them. They don’t see me as a person with degrees in math and physics. They don’t see me as the budding young head of a .com. I’m just “Mark: Bagger.” (I’m sure had some of the management in Edmonton had their way, the tag would have read “77973: Bagger,” but their research department told them that “names” add a personal touch to a customer’s shopping experience.)
Because of my youthful exterior, I’m positive that everyday I’m fighting the stereotype that I’m a high school dropout trying to make it without an education. Now, the corporation is doing their part to further that image. When a customer makes small talk with me, I always see the shock in their face as I say my answer to their question, “Why aren’t you in school?” Their eyes widen and they take in a breath as I say, “Actually, I have two degrees and, with the job market the way it is right now, this was the only thing I could get.” And the corporation is doing their part to make sure the people remain shocked.
Sure, I can do things to get out of my position. When I applied to work there, I put in for a management position. In the interview, I was told that management positions would be opening up shortly. My boss has told me on numerous occasions that if I want to transfer to another department, all I have to do is say the word. But, do I really want to transfer? It’ll mean even more contact with stupid customers. (Trust me, a bagger does not get near the abuse a stocker does.) And as for management, well. I’m sure most of you readers are familiar with my “altercation” with the regional manager, and another member of visiting management decided that my black bow tie was not a black tie, and thus a violation of the dress code. With the idiocy I’ve seen from these people, do I really want to put myself in direct contact with them? Not really. My best option is resuming the search for something outside the Extra Foods family.
I know I am not my job, as much as I am not my bank account, my colon cancer, or my fucking khakis. (Ye gods, I’m turning into my crazy Fight Club quoting friends.) But, it’s stunning how much of society judges you on your job. “Oh, he’s just a bagger. He must’ve dropped out of school or something.” “Oh, he’s a regional manager. He must be the nicest person in the world to have gotten where he is!” Well, guess what? This bagger is over-educated for his job, and is better with numbers than that snotty MBA could ever hope to be. It really hurts that now I have to broadcast that I’m nothing more than a bagger to every customer that walks through that door. I know I am not my job, but how do I convince them?
This must be how Nightwing felt. He knew that people would forever view him as the sidekick as long as he had that “R” on his chest. He knew he was capable of more, and he had to show the world, even if it meant changing his name and moving to another town. Nightwing is probably the best superhero for me to embody right now. We are each capable of more, but it’s hard showing the world that as long as we have our job titles blazed across our chests. But, the only difference between Nightwing and myself is that he knew what he had to do. I am still in that long, drawn out process of figuring it out. I will move to Ravenloft. Someday. But for now, I must be the sidekick.