The following excerpt about working on Amazonstraße is from Heike Geissler’s nonfiction novel Saisonarbeit (English title “Season’s Greetings From Fulfillment”), originally published on n+1. Geissler’s prose is certainly much different from most writing about working for Amazon. Check out the much-recommend the full version on n+1 here.
Dear Ms . . . ,
Thank you for your interest in a position as Dispatch Agent for the Christmas season at Amazon Distribution GmbH.
We are pleased to invite you to the next Selection Day on our premises this coming Wednesday at 1 p.m. This day gives you an opportunity to find out about the various positions at Amazon. You can then take a practical selection test in the working area of your preference.
We have vacancies in the following areas:
Incoming stock: standing activity, working with PC
Stock storage: walking activity, working with hand scanner
Order fulfillment: walking activity, working with a hand scanner
Packaging: standing activity, packaging items, working with scanner
Should you be unable to attend on this date, please contact us to arrange a new appointment.
Our address is:
Amazon Distribution GmbH
Please note that we unfortunately cannot reimburse travel expenses for the appointment. We look forward to meeting you!
With best regards,
Your Human Resources Department
IS ALL THIS a matter of life and death? I’ll say no for the moment and come back to the question later. At that point I’ll say: not directly, but in a way yes. It’s a matter of how far death is allowed into our lives. Or the fatal, that which kills us. To be precise: compared to the fatal, death is nothing but a little orphan boy. Or: death, compared to the fatal, is a gentleman with good manners and a shy look in his eye.
From now on, the fatal is your constant companion; that much I can say. But first of all we’ll set out, because you have a job interview. You set out, and I’ll accompany you and tell you what it’s all like and what’s happening to you. From now on, you are me. That means you’re female; please don’t forget that, because it’s important in places. You’re a writer and a translator, and at this point in life you have two sons and a partner who suits you well, something you’re usually aware of.
Your boyfriend wished you luck before you left home and told you yet again that you don’t have to do this. But that’s not true, you do have to do it; you have to take the first best job that comes up, to get some money in the bank.
Your job interview isn’t called a job interview, so you haven’t thought up anything to say or put on any special clothes. You’re wearing jeans and a sweater; we’re not talking about a career move here. You leave the house, possibly nervous because you want the job; you haven’t got any money, and you refuse to claim welfare benefits for certain reasons that I’ll explain later. You do get child benefits for the two boys, you can get your bills paid, but unfortunately your bills don’t usually get paid in good time. An aggravating factor is that you’re not good at writing invoices either; you tend to put them on a back burner. That back burner is a long way back, about a mile. You never send out payment reminders either. You think people won’t give you any more work if you do. You are now, if you weren’t already, a delicate soul. You’re very sensitive—you have that in writing—but don’t worry too much about it. People shouldn’t hold your sensitivity against you; from now on you’re welcome to regard your sensitivity as a form of potential. Your vulnerability harbors all kinds of options. As I said: you’re sensitive and you’ll stay that way—and we’ll be coming back to that, too.
Possibly, even this trip to Amazon, which may or may not, you don’t yet know, yield success—that is, a short-term employment contract—might seem to you like the beginning, or the evidence of, a slide down the social ladder. You’ll try over and over to view it differently, but even from the start, the experience forces you to your knees and down a social stratum, and that’s the way it will stay. Yes, you’ll start to see strata in society, if you don’t do so already. You’ll see the strata before your eyes as clearly as geologists see the structure of the ground where they’ve dug a deep pit. When you think about it, you sometimes come to the conclusion that the term “social descent” is only a makeshift description for something that is in fact closer to a solidified lack of options and farsightedness. So this is how it will be: you’ll get the job and will be pleased to have gotten it, and then you’ll be tired, will hardly keep your eyes open every day. You won’t have enough energy for anything pleasurable, or for anything at all, and you’ll know a great deal more about your life and the lives of your parents and all those who have bosses. You don’t normally have a boss. You’ll soon know something about life that you didn’t know before, and it won’t just have to do with work, but also to do with the fact that you’re getting older, that two children cry after you every morning, that you don’t want to go to work, and that something is essentially rotten in this job and many other kinds of jobs.
You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about what work is, why work ought not to be imposed on anyone. You’ll misunderstand things and muddle things up and your sensitivity will be processed and challenged by the first best instance of the fatal, so that it will take you a while to find out what’s really troubling you, and to realize that your trouble and suffering is by no means specific to you but of an astonishingly generic nature. Yes, you are generic; I intend to regard you as generic and introduce you to your most generic traits. But the specific comes first.
It is at any rate almost impossible not to be forced to your knees and into defiance by this job you’re about to have.