Karim Spaulding returns to ‘Where You Deh?’ with the continuation of his life-changing travel story. Returning to the States after a 23 day trip to the motherland, Karim finds that the shenanigans of corporate America have only strengthened his desire to pull up roots and begin to roam…
“D0 you have anything to declare?”, said a straight faced man holding a small blue book between his index and middle fingers. His eyes ping-ponging from the passport to my face.“Yes…”, I responded in a tone 2 decibels higher than what would’ve sufficed, “….I didn’t see one jungle, lion or booty scratcher.” Not picking his head up to make eye contact, he responded by asking me a second time if I had anything to declare then added “…food, livestock, alcohol, et cetera?” Accepting that my humor was not welcomed I offered the customs officer a generic, “no” which he accepted by giving my passport a thud from his stamp. 10 minutes later I was in a taxi on my way back to my apartment in Harlem.
As the cab made it’s way through the traffic up towards the Triborough bridge, the driver turned on the radio. Out of the speakers I recognized the voice of Funk Master Flex. He was introducing someone on his show when I interrupted his interview, “Excuse me, driver, if you don’t mind I’ve just gotten off a 20hr flight and I was rather enjoying the silence, if it’s no bother to you could you turn the radio back off?” Without protest he extended a finger to the power button and the voice inside the radio was silenced mid-sentence. I occupied my time staring out of the window. From the back seat of the yellow cab, New York seemed a bit smaller than I remembered it or somehow I had become bigger, grown more…aware. It was as if I boarded the plane to Nigeria a New Yorker and returned a traveler.
To my surprise, when I returned to work, I found that my department had been moved to another floor and that the entire office was being redecorated. In the month that I’d been away, the company had hired an efficiency consulting firm who reported that a redesigned workspace would ‘enhance overall performance, create substantial energy savings and provide the company with an atmosphere deserving of an established multi-national brand, among other things. The theory was simple. That the renovations would streamline production and promote an open workflow. But the reality was that the redesign left everyone feeling over exposed. No longer were offices their usual private retreats for upper management and executives. They were now transparent glass boxes that anyone could see into. A few of the employees joked that it reminded them of the glass prisons you’d see in movies, housing villains who are extremely dangerous, super intelligent and speak in a British accent. In any event I wasn’t completely buying what the CONsultants and “the company” were selling.
Looking at the work floor from a distance, my heart sunk as I realized precisely what was happening. The company was actively dismantling our “personal space”. It had become a workspace where even the illusion of privacy had been discarded. Here I was, standing in a corporate office building, yet feeling like an employeee at a diamond mine. That big brother was watching and the new space order had inadvertently transformed everyone into a potential turncoat.
I overheard one co-worker telling another that, “…the way to move up here is to either know someone or throw someone under the (proverbial) bus”. It seemed to me that that was the general mindset of the people who worked at the company. Whether they actively participated in it or not, most people certainly felt like these were the only “honest” options. Internal politics and external economic conditions made for fertile ground in which to plant and grow fear among the staff.
To add insult to injury we arrived at work one morning to find that a care package had been left at our desks. Our illustrious CEO had provided us with a “gift”. Inside of a plastic zip lock bag were 3 erasable markers, a corkboard and a few push pins. Apparently these were tools what we were to use to make our workspace “our own” and to give it a bit of style and flair. To me, it seemed a pathetic attempt to distract us from the obvious, the equivalent of giving a baby a toy to distract him in the doctors chair while they stick him with a needle. Regardless of the underlying rationale I took full advantage of the markers. I am, after all, from the Bronx (birthplace of graffiti, the art of street expression).
Every free moment I had I would put the markers to use creating images that I felt relayed a deeper penetrating message. There was a graf writer in the 80’s named SAMO who used to go up and down the LES and SoHo writing messages in graffiti on walls and mailboxes to provoke thought. Not just as a act of rebellion but as a neurological jumpstart for new ideas. He would write things like, “SAMO© SAVES IDIOTS AND GONZOIDS. SAMO© 4 MASS MEDIA MINDWASH WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING IS OMNIPRESENT?  LEE HARVEY OSWALD  COCA-COLA LOGO  GENERAL MELONRY  SAMO©. I used this artist, who would later be known simply by his real name, Basquiat, as my model for constructive mayhem. My first post read, “WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING IS NOT A FORM OF CONTROL?  JELL-O  GLASS OFFICES  PTO’s  ELECTRIC KEY CARDS?”
About a month after the new space was revealed, the water cooler and coffee machine talk had turned to the word no one wanted to hear, layoffs. The fun and colorful place that I’d come to love during my first few years there had become wet and soggy amidst the talk . At the company all staff meeting, though the speakers denied any approaching layoffs, the fact that they brought it up was enough for me to know it was an accurate assumption. Having survived 3 layoffs since my I’d started, I felt like somewhat of a veteran. An angry veteran. I was angry at the company for responding to the economy in this way, angry at the employees for allowing the fear to turn them into uglier versions of themselves and most of all angry at myself for delaying my plans to quit corporate America. I returned back to my desk after that meeting and grabbed my markers. Making big broad strokes I formed a series of lines which became a game of Hangman, leaving co-workers to fill in the blanks to a phrase I’d picked specifically as a defense to the powers that be within the company. Day after day, employees and executives alike passed by my desk and shouted out letters and each time I’d respond with either a letter or a new body part. Ironically, the man was hung before anyone got the message……
“I HAVE OUTLINED A NUMBER OF DIFFERENCES AMONG THEM, AND I TAKE THESE DIFFERENCES AND MAKE THEM BIGGER. I USE FEAR, DISTRUST AND ENVY FOR CONTROL PURPOSES. These methods have worked on my modest business in the West Indies and it will work throughout your company.”
Those words were spoken by a man who remains a ghost in our history books, yet the impact of Mr. Willie Lynch’s letter on American culture may be immeasurable.
I eagerly waited for someone to open a dialogue into how we could combat what was taking place. I waited and waited and although I had heard a number of complaints, I hadn’t heard from one person who felt compelled or brave enough to do anything but complain. Looking for advice I decided to approach a contact that I had at the executive level. In our meeting I spoke about the things I saw and the concerns that I had, why I felt things were going in the wrong direction and how low employee morale had become. While we spoke my contact mirrored a lot of my sentiments and was able to clear up a few inconsistencies I’d been wrestling with. On the walk back to the office I realized that no one was going to hold my hand and walk me through this period of transition. Growing up I’d heard, “When the student is ready a teacher will appear”, for years I’d been looking for a mentor, someone to help me navigate this thing called Corporate America. Somewhere between the East side and Central Park West it struck me that my teacher has always been “experience” and it’s been slowly preparing me for a life of independence.
The next day I decided to hand in my 2 weeks notice.
Karim Spaulding, age 35, is a self proclaimed, “Student of life”. Born in New York and raised between, there London and Kingston, Jamaica, Karim developed a keen curiosity of the world. With a B.S. in Economics and 8 years of experience in corporate America, Karim is set to grow his design company, Colourful Money, to new heights of success. Though money may be the bottom line in his business, in his personal life Karim knows that health equals wealth and a strong mind and body sets the perfect foundation for spiritual growth. Karim walks the path of a modern day warrior of the light.
customs signage: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/colmmacc/213494220/”>colmmacc</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>
office cubes: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/dereko/5705744/”>pixelpony</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
graf artist: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/righter/8009455973/”>Zadokite</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>