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Almost all the decisions we make in our daily lives have more to do with automatized rituals than with autonomous acts, much less with gestures of freedom. Our days are more-or-less predetermined by the voracious demands of the economic system. Since we are young, they teach us to love work and hate play, despise it, even. Anyone with a job knows what I'm saying.

As you might expect, my daily ritual during work days was the stuff of nightmares one would find in a J. G. Ballard novel, a form of terror grounded on perpetual boredom and minor yet pervasive anxieties. Daily, I somehow find the strength to leave bed, eat breakfast (if time permits), and rush to catch bus 299 which leaves me two blocks away from the warehouse. I work alongside what they call mojados (undocumented immigrants), old chinese women with fragile skin, and a few aging felons under extreme heat while being submitted to increasing forms of domination.

We load boxes of regional citrus fruits for a living. Our work speed is defined by the capacities of the conveyor belt that moves the fruit laboriously through such advanced technology as to give one the impression that such marvels ought to lessen the burden of work rather than raise it. After we pack a box full of grapefruits or oranges, we place it on our worn-out shoulders and carry it to the back of the warehouse, where they check the quality of our work and keep tabs of our loads. We get paid by the box, not by the hour as is legally required. If we can't keep up with the minimum speed allowed - 6 boxes an hour, at the least - you get pushed back to the street without a paycheck or a job.

"There are hundreds just like you just dying to take your place, best not forget," the managers make sure to remind us a few times a week.

At 75 cents per box, 70 boxes per day on average, 430 per week, we ended up with around

$200 come pay day, after the bosses had taken their cut for providing water and rotten foodstuffs. I thought, they give us water as a trucker feeds oil to his truck, all while denying us pavilions of dreams and spaces of hope, and they charge us for it! This is why, as the worker- poet T-Bone Slim wrote, this is why workers are broke everyday but payday. The thieving bosses pay us just enough to keep us alive, for us to show up at work the next day. It's a losers game, and fewer and fewer are winning these days.

The first thing I noticed while walking into Bodega Fruta Libre was a group of five new workers who, as usual, were being given quick instructions before being thrown to the aggressive orders of the conveyor belt. It was their first day, hell even before the official start of their first day, and their faces already carried the look of doom, the look that says - I know something bad is coming, I'm not sure what it is, but it is out there, waiting for me, like a yearning leopard waiting to devour his tragically easy prey.

Later I learned they were from Ethiopia. During our 20 minute lunch break, they were already complaining about the work.

"This is too fast. My arm - almost gone, man!" expressed one of them. Him and his friends began to laugh about it, making jokes only they could understand in a blend of Amharic, english, and some obscure sounding language.

We waited at the bus stop looking like a murder of crows, silent, bleak, and essentially harmless. Our friends from Ethiopia were visibly uncomfortable, I knew the look, but after a week of being here they would learn what it feels like to be worn slam out by the violence of the conveyor belt, at least physically speaking.

I decided to introduce myself, lest they get the wrong idea about us. "Rough first day?" I asked.

"Yes, friend. Rough shit indeed," said one of them with a grin, "by the way, my name is Ife." "I'm Segundo, see y'all tomorrow," I said and waved hello-goodbye to the rest of them.

Their young faces looked exhausted. Today had been their initiation into the American nightmare - the seemingly invisible cruelty that underlies the rhythm, flow, and quality of our lives - and they didn't even know it, yet.

I got off the bus on the corner of Elsa and Fields street and decided to walk home the rest of the way, making a pit stop at the Montes' corner store. Then, the nightly ritual began: a few shots of whisky and a steady stream of whatever drink was at hand, today it was rum and coke. I sat down and thought of better things to come. That was the only thing that made reality pleasant. Dreamin', that is.

The intoxicating effect led me down the royal road where memories, history, and dreams converge. I saw strange snapshot images like the flashes created by fireworks: tired detectives, piles of bodies scattered like leaves in a warehouse, machines engulfed by fire, the reflection of the moon. Then, a more familiar montage of despair and hope: visions of youthful torment gave way to the gleaming spark of the cold flame that lit within me during the eventful days of yesteryear.

I stumble upon crowds, a sea of enthusiastic, exalted, and enraged faces trying to find words, each other, themselves. They did it with such urgency that made you think they had never attempted to express themselves before. The crowd was debating it all - work, cities, music, jokes, buildings, poetry, love, history, and the importance of games.

"What to do? Where to go? Who will join me?" wondered the multitude aloud with piercing eyes.

"Let's unbury the dead and conjure the ghosts that haunt us!" shouted someone in an attempt to win over the crowd.

"The tears of the bosses are the nectar of the gods!" said another as the crowd laughed and enjoyed itself, merging and blending in unexpected ways, giving way to new forms and shapes.

"Society is a carnivorous flower!" announced someone else.

The crowd went on debating and throwing everything into the destructive force inherent to the critique of everyday life. A strange sound began to engulf everything. The atmosphere and our mood mutated as the blinding red and blue lights of freedom captured the night sky, the buildings, and the faces in the crowd. The sound of police sirens benumbed us and we were forced to disperse by the burning shower of rubber bullets and tear gas thrown our way.

The passing of time has the effect of demolishing everything that stands in its way. People, places, my own self, were constantly changing, but nothing new or better ever seemed to replace anything. Old buildings were demolished by the city and nothing was built in their place. We live among ruins in a forgotten border town.

I sat on bus 299 headed to work. Last night I dreamt of crowds and today I am immersed in them as I make my way to work. Real life crowds seem to be united by their disunity, I thought. People walk past each other daily without ever stopping to think about how much we would gain by embracing each other, which is to say ourselves. Where are the starving, restless crowds of yesteryear?


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