I Feel Like a Number

To workers I’m just another drone
To Ma Bell I’m just another phone
I’m just another statistic on a sheet
To teachers I’m just another child
To the IRS I’m just another file
I’m just another consensus on the street
Gonna cruise out of this city
Head down to the sea
Gonna shout out at the ocean
“Hey, its me!”
And I feel like a number
Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land
I feel like a number
I’m not a number
I’m not a number
Dammit I’m a man

Note to the uninitiated: Pete and Bob Seger are not related. Yet in this song at least, they and I seem to see eye to eye.

Because as I sit here at 1am in the morning, unable to sleep, I find that no matter how important I thought I was to how the system worked, I am merely a single digit on some unseen bean counter’s tally sheet. One single bead – very low set – on the giant abacus of our economy whose problems I have been recounting for the last year or so, sounding what alarm I could with my one small voice, knowing all the while that this day might come. I’ve been slid to the unpleasant side of the board: as of February 12th, my contract is expired and will not be renewed.

The air around me now is as indescribable as any I’ve known. On the one hand, I am grateful for three weeks of notice that gives me a bit of time to reconnect my network and get feelers out for a new gig. This is, after all, the life I’ve chosen as an IT professional; instability and opportunity in this profession go hand in hand, since IT people are always needed yet we’re also always the first positions cut when bean counters with foggy memories need to save a dime.

At the same time, I feel like a day to process what’s happening would be a good thing. But instead, I’m going into work to do. . . what, exactly? Surely, starting new projects doesn’t seem like a very good idea. But professional ethics make simply sitting there and job searching seem unseemly, somehow. Meanwhile, I feel in some ways like I’m the canary in the coalmine for my fellow employees, since my contract expiration – along with at least two others I work with – is a convenient way to do we are not sure how much of the housework yet to be done.

This was a good job, too. The trouble with pinning too many of your hopes on a dying star like Kodak is that I’m unlikely to get another job doing the same thing for the same pay. I’ve enjoyed the company of my coworkers, gotten settled into what I thought was a pretty good position. I even have a Britta filter sitting on one of the tables in my office. I now look forward to the possibility of working in a cube farm somewhere, stripped of my little cubicle-office, left to suffer the fate of so many Office Space characters, with dread.

Once, long ago, I dated a woman I worked with. Then it ended – badly – but we still needed to see each other at work. This feels rather a lot like that: some space to stop damaging each other seems like a good idea.

Looking back on my career to this point, I can say I’ve never been unemployed for more than a month, save for the year I went to school to switch from manufacturing to IT. Those are good odds, and frankly if there’s anyone who knows how to hustle to find a job, it’s me. But I get a pretty awful feeling that road construction projects and the Renaissance Square project are going to take a long time to start paying dividends for one in my profession. This could be a long one.

Said the old Zen master, “We shall see.”

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

6 replies on “I Feel Like a Number”

I hate the fact that the average
American worker has slowly given
up everything to the “CONTRACT HOUSE”. There are so many many of them now. They are the middle man,we are the serfs. They don’t
represent our interests, but profit
from us. Let’s face it we are all
slaves and the new Massa is “THE CONTRACT HOUSE”
when I worked at XEROX in R&D for the SUPERIOR AGENCY the one glaring omission they made is that they didn’t tell you after
18 months you HAVE to be let go.
Funny how that fact escaped them when I signed up. When I got to XEROX my new co workers had a great time telling me this fact.
Yeah Jim, no matter how hard you work, no matter what you do, you are history in 18 months. We all need a nation wide union to represent contract workers and negotiate terms with these obscene
contract houses. In California there is a union for IT people.
In my mind contract mills are worse than Wall Street or Bernie Madoff

@Jim ~ I’ve long advocated for a union that would get off it’s dead ass and start treating IT professionals like carpenters and pipefitters: operate as a clearing house for jobs in exactly the same way that temp agencies do, but offer benefits and such for us. I think that if enough people got behind this plan, temp agencies would have no one to hire out.

But I guess you and I just don’t get it, eh?

the only future we have is to break
the backs of the temp agencies,contract-whore houses.
We don’t realize how much of our rights we have given to them. Let’s face it most of us are so scared of being jobless we will agree to any terms the whore houses throw at us. We are frightened of unemployment so we
surrender all of our rights as a worker.
I’d love to find out the profit margins of temp agencies. If the
truth came out I think the average worker would be raging livid angry. I see an expose here
in the making.

Moreover, if the profits of places like Sutherland came out, there would be equal outrage. Jobs like that are a “backdoor draft” to slave work: they give you two weeks of vacation that they’ll never allow you to use the whole time you’re there and make you work holidays. . . in exchange for a floating holiday! Like if I can’t use my vacation, why would I be able to use my floating fucking holiday? My floating holiday just floated right the hell out of my life.

Tom, you were one of SEVENTY ONE THOUSAND workers canned Monday. Not that it should make you feel any better…

I, like everybody else, am terrified of being in the same position. First, I won’t have a fucking job, dammit! But second, I don’t understand what’s happening here.

The American market, as a whole is becoming top-heavy. White collar is laying off blue collar at such a phenomenal rate, the bottom is going to fall out.

Of course, the big excuse is “Oh, we’re outsourcing the work to people who will work for pennies”. Big profit!!!

Yep, right – to make goods and provide services to the US, where no one has the money left to buy anything at all.


Mark, you hit the nail on the head. Obama needs to start cracking the whip like he did with Merril and the stupid private jet business. Invest, invest, invest.

Fuck the “budget hawks” who have contributed nothing in the last eight years.

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