Gateways: Minion of the Grind by Vishesh Abeyratne read by Alex B. Reynolds

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Vishesh Abeyratne. Born and raised in Montreal, Vishesh holds a BFA in Playwriting from Concordia University. His plays include Indifference (Newmarket National 10-Minute Play Festival), The Procrustes Pitch (Between Us Productions, New York), Exposure (published by YouthPLAYS in Los Angeles), and Divide and Rule, which was one of the recent winners of Infinitheatre’s Write-On-Q! playwriting competition in Montreal. A self-avowed geek and lover of all things speculative, Vishesh loves to read and write science fiction and fantasy when he is not writing plays. This is “Minion of the Grind”.

My fellow workers,

Thank you for joining me. It is an honour and a pleasure to be here among such fine upstanding men. Men who won’t sign away their futures to some machine and take money from the government to sit on their couches and drink beer like the empty joyless wretches that they are! I’m grateful that you’re here tonight – all three of you.

I am a man very much like you. I am a man who has been wronged very much like you. And I’m here tonight to tell you my story.

I went back to my old job trying to regain my position. I felt like an idiot, a real stand-outside-your-ex-girlfriend’s-house-with-a-boombox-to-get-her-to-take-you-back kind of idiot. But I went anyway. I wasn’t going to have my job replaced by some stupid robot.

“But Ludd!” You might be wondering. “If the government’s finally given us a guaranteed minimum income and almost every job has now been automated, what the hell are you so bummed about? You can do whatever you want with your life! You can volunteer in your community! You can travel around the world! You can write a novel! The possibilities are limitless! Why the long face, bro?”

I am quite possibly the saddest, most boring human being on the face of the planet. I’m not good at anything. I have no special talents. Making coffee at the 10th Cup Stop was my job and I was content. I knew how to operate the machines and I made delicious drinks. People appreciated them. At least, I think they did. They had no complaints, which is a ringing endorsement in the service industry.

Until one day the federal government finally decided to give us all a universal basic income – three thousand dollars a month to live on. And what do you think happened? People quit left and right – can you believe it? – just because the government paid them more to do nothing than they would earn in an honest day’s work. It’s the company’s fault, really. They could have enticed them to stay by paying them more, but no. No, that would have been too expensive for them.

And then my worst enemy joined the ranks of our corporate chain – CM-259. That piece of junk was installed in every 10th Cup Stop outlet across the country and around the world, and stole my job! I stood there and watched it make a perfect venti-mocha-frappuccino right before my eyes and I knew I was finished. I tried to turn to my friend Keisha for solace, but she was too busy working on her rap demo to pay me any attention. Harris was sketching drawings in his notebook, and Rajiv was whispering a monologue to himself from a play he’d been working on.

And they looked happy about all this! Happy! Why would they be happy with a robot singlehandedly destroying our livelihoods?! Where was their loyalty to the company who had given them jobs, routine, a sense of purpose in life? I can think of no greater affront to the benevolence of a giant corporation than to find your own sense of purpose.

We were all laid off that day. Everyone celebrated by throwing a party right there in the café. Even customers joined in! Keisha was the DJ, of course. Her new single blew everybody’s mind. I’m sure she’ll have time to write many more now that she’ll be sucking on the government’s teat full-time. I couldn’t stand it, so I went home and got drunk and passed out.

When I regained consciousness I felt ashamed of myself. I knew I couldn’t give up that easily. I marched right back over to that coffee shop and demanded my old job back. I fought my manager with arguments about the value of human labour and how we can be empowered by hard work. I’m not super articulate unscripted, so I had to use Ayn Rand to get my point across. But none of it sank in. She just kept giving me these looks of pity, telling me that it wasn’t up to her, that Corporate made this decision a long time ago.

She asked me if I had any interests or hobbies or passions – anything I’ve ever wanted to do with my life but couldn’t because I had to work. She kept saying, “Ludd – don’t you understand? You’re free now. The door of your life is wide open. You’re free, Ludd. Go home.”
But I refused. I told her that my job was all I had, that my ability to make a perfect venti-mocha-frappuccino, my signature drink, was all I had. She told me that CM-259 could make an even tastier frappuccino in under a minute. And I snapped.

I issued the boldest challenge I’ve ever issued anyone. I challenged CM-259 – to a barista-thon. Or, rather, I challenged my manager on CM-259’s behalf, since CM-259 can’t talk. I bet that I, Ludd Terkel, could make a perfect venti-mocha-frappuccino in half that time. If I won, I would get my old job back as the sole human barista at the 10th Cup Stop. If I lost, I would turn around and never return to the store. She accepted – I suspect to humor me.

Well. I don’t think I need to tell you all what happened next. The damn thing whooped my ass. In my rush to complete the drink, I forgot several ingredients and I spilled it all over myself. CM-259 clocked in a perfect drink at twenty seconds. I’ve never been more humiliated in my life. For the second time that week, I went home dejected and distraught.

I tried to hang myself, but wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t do that either! The rope snapped and I fell and broke my tailbone. Maybe if they made some damn contraption to do the job, it could even kiss me goodnight before I fall asleep forever.

Fellow workers, ours is a tale of woe. We have been left behind for the lazy and the selfish. For those who have forgotten that there is nobility in the Grind. The Grind gives us discipline. The Grind gives us strength. Before it we bow, and we let it lay waste to our bodies and souls until we are made whole again in our exhaustion. We are its servants, and it is our master. Who are we without it to guide us?

If they will not give us our jobs back, I say we take them back.
I say we go into every 10th Cup Stop in the city and smash those machines to bits!
Willing drones, under my command, let us unite as one!

Today’s reader Alex B Reynolds began their acting career as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade, and has since been seen around Chicago in such roles as Gandalf the Grey, Luigi Mario, and Skeletor. They are so grateful to return to the Gateways Reading Series, and can otherwise be heard on the “Meet/Cute” sitcom podcast, the Filmthusiast “Final Cut” podcast, and on whatever customer support line is paying their bills this month.