Adam’s Summer Purgatory, 2008 (2013)

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In piece work, it is said, you eat what you kill. You work hard, you earn more. The best rise above the rest and enjoy a special status: the highballer - the person who plants the greatest numbers and earns the most. When presented with grievances about money from lesser producers, management will quickly point to the highballer: as did Kayla, recently.

‘____ is making six or seven hundred dollars a day in the same land,’ she said, with the implication that I could too, that anyone could make six or seven hundred dollars if they possessed the mastery and skill of ____.

I was a highballer in my first two years of planting. By the end of my rookie season I was the top planter in camp, better than all of the vets - which was unprecedented.

I remember having the sense that the other planters in camp resented me, to a degree. Perhaps I was not tactful or graceful in my newfound status - I remember feeling proud, proud and strong. I remember hearing rumors that I was stashing trees, that management was giving me the princess treatment. I attributed these rumors to the envy of others who didn’t have it in them to do what I was doing.

This is probably the ego's natural reaction to success. When a person rises to the top of any hierarchy, that person will likely see their ascent as evidence of their merit. When a person is floundering near the bottom, I am learning, the ego acts in a similar self-serving manner. You aren't there, at the bottom, because of your lack of ability; you are down because of injustice, inhibited by external, uncontrollable circumstance.

Our crew seems to be getting the short end of the stick. I have been dissatisfied. We have been dissatisfied. Mostly Caroline and I have been dissatisfied. (We are the most willful and competitive.)

Here is our beef: first, we are being sent to blocks with tree averages far below what we feel we can plant. For example: if we are sent to a 6,000-tree block, as happened last shift, and there are six of us, a 1,000 tree average is imposed on us before we even bag up. That means, at a tree price of roughly $.17 cents, our crew will make an average of $170. To me, this is not enough.

Second, we feel that we are being asked to plant higher quality trees than the rest of camp. We are constantly replanting. We feel that we are coming to be relied upon as a 'quality crew:' a group of janitorial low-ballers who clean up small blocks while the more established crews take the bigger and more lucrative terrain.

This problem is systemic. We are a six-pack in a camp with two other full crews: one with 15 mediocre planters, and another with 25 solid vets. The other two foremen have seniority over Kayla. When the ‘higher-ups,’ as we say - the supervisor in conjunction with the three foremen - are making decisions we are, in lieu of our small size, the final consideration. We are producing probably 1/6th of the total, with the other crews doing 1/2 and 1/3 respectively.

Lately, near Caroline's sleeper van, our crew has been assembling to discuss our predicament. We have drafted a formal complaint.

‘We, as a crew, feel that we are not being allowed to reach our potential as planters, and thereby earn enough money to be happy with our season thus far. We have also agreed that administrative adjustments must be made in order to enable us.’

We have decided that Caroline would be the best person to present these arguments on our behalf.

Meanwhile, we have finished our trees at Alexis Creek, packed, and set up a new camp at the Chief Will Yum campsite just south of Williams Lake. We are all happier with this location because it is merely 10 minutes from town. This greatly elongates the amount of free time we’ll have on days off.

The campsite also has a shower, laundry facilities, and a pay phone. I am very pleased to be able to talk to Lauren on a daily basis.

I called her to tell her the good news. We talked about Kayla, about the political situation. We talked about how Lauren is spending her time while I am away. She is going out, and with friends more often than when I was in New York, but she misses me.

Prior to leaving, I had told her she was the only thing keeping me in New York. I would either have to leave New York or we could get married. I don’t think either of us feels ready to get married, but this is my only clear path toward a US visa and the preservation of our relationship.

We talked about breaking up. We talked about getting married.

As the date of my departure approached, I thought about everything - my relationship, my career. I tried to come up with things I wanted, but I didn’t really want anything.

What would I do with the rest of my life? Where and how would I live?

Our conversation was rational and economic, then sentimental. We weighed the costs and benefits of each path before us and then cried together quietly.

I want Lauren to believe that I am doing this for her.

I exaggerate how bad I feel, how hard I’m working.

She asked me if I wanted to talk to our cat and put the receiver against his stomach. The purring was insanely loud.

It is unclear whether the political situation will improve. We have stated our case.

Caroline told a story about a crew in her camp last year. She said they low-balled the camp every day and still had to replant all the time.

They were forced to a higher quality standard than the other crews because of their small numbers and anal retentive foreman.

'What happened with them,' I asked.

'Eventually they just got fed up and everybody quit.'

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