I was told that in Japan they have what’s called “Salarymen”. They’re, usually, men that have devoted their whole lives to the companies that they work for. Young men often go straight from college to the job until their retirement and it’s seen as the standard white collar trajectory. I was talking to this guy before who’d worked in Japan for a while. He was Russian and was translating games for Sega. He said he’d see them in their suits and long jackets pouring onto the trains and out onto the streets in the mornings. Then seen chain smoking outside all the skyscrapers and office blocks and then drinking heavily at hostess or karaoke bars, either with clients or with each other. He said they were like zombies. They’d cut through the city, morning or night, the same paths they’d always made. If you ran in to one they’d just stand still vacantly and wait for you to move so they could pass.
I’m fascinated by the images of them getting messy drunk every night of the week. Those “pod hotels” that were world famous as the smallest hotels aren’t actually for tourists. They’re for Salarymen to pass out in and then head to work first thing in the morning. As an alternative to sleeping on the street or on a train. Home wasn’t that important. They’d support their families. But the main thrust in life for them was the betterment of society. It was through their dedication to the company that they were able to benefit society as a whole. It wasn’t just on being happy with your lot. There’s no individualism. They give all their life to the company. And in return the company would give them a salary. And strip back everything else about them that makes them human. Although that’s what I think.
We mightn’t have a name for it in the Ireland but we definitely have salarymen and salarywomen here. Though we try to blend it in with individualism where we spend the salary on stuff for “ourselves”. Food, clothes, holidays, movies, concerts. We get the best and we get the latest. We’ve been working hard all week, we are not going to miss out what’s to have. Yet the creep goes from what we can spend from working to working for what we’ve spent. That loan for the car, the exotic holiday, the spectacular wedding, the overpriced mortgage. Work for time you work. And spend for the time you’re not working. Spend a little after a day’s work. Spend more after a week’s work. Splurge after a years work. Let the debt spike up. And we’re happy to do it. Maybe the salarymen are happy to do it. Maybe they’ve just come to terms with it, that their life will be that office, those people, that commute. And they just get to it. They’re helping the company that is doing something bigger, contributing to the tentpoles of the economy and the society. Here we hate our companies. We don’t care what they do. We bad mouth them while we work. We take their money and we run. But always come running back for more. Work and spend and hope they balance out by our end.
In an office job I’m working at now there was talk about this six horse accumulator that had won the night before. 20 quid would have gotten €62,000. The fact that it had been won let us all believe that we could also win. And we all started to dream. My dream was, and still is, to quit the job. Just not turn up the next day. Stay in bed and try stretch it so you can live on little and you’d not have to work for a few years. But I was the only one. Everyone else was talking about it going on the weddings and the deposits for the mortgage. If they won sixty two grand most people would go to work the next day. The money propels the spending forward. It’s not a prize at the end it’s a boost forward. The race still to be run.
My ideal self would be having enough to be able to work on creating stuff and experiencing what others have made. But I got carried away with that lifestyle. I had a show, a cartoon called Ends Meet, on tv a few years ago and I lived the dream. Only the dream ran out of petrol and now I’m working in a call centre in an industrial estate. I fantasise about being able to quit everyday. Yearning for the second that I can walk out the door and never have to listen to a customer get snippy with me at nine in the morning. I hate the company. I won’t even admit to my artistic friends what I’m doing. The money is just going towards me not having to work there. I get home worn out and I’d rather just relax when I get off but if I do nothing creative then all I’ve done that day is work for the company. And I hate the company. I’m not going to give myself 100% to the company. I have to leave something for me. A few hours of making something that I’ll enjoy and can try to get me out of the job again. I’m working so I can hopefully work really hard again on something I’m passionate about. The TV show took the best part of three years , from pitch to airing. And there was no clocking out at 5pm every day like there is in the job now. And I’m reconditioning myself into thinking that it’ll all be better once again, the early mornings, the repetition, the drawn out decisions, the stress that you’re making the wrong decisions. The weight of it all will be better because I care about it.
Maybe that’s what the Salarymen do. They care what they do and that helps them do it. Is it better to take the money and have the decency to have gratitude to the faceless corporation that’s giving it to you? Accept my role in the day to day, week to week, year to year. Be proud of being that necessary cog in that mammoth machine. I could just adopt that thinking. I should go to work and slot in and help the bigger cogs turn. It’s me there and I’m helping something bigger than me. And be proud of that. Focus on my purpose. And if anyone gets in the way as I head to the office in the morning. I’ll just, politely, wait for them to move aside and continue on my way without a fuss.
Mark Baldwin 2018