This piece originally appeared in Luke’s newsletter Welcome to Hell World and as a chapter in his book of the same name, available now.
Jackie Crow lost one hundred pounds and she’s very proud of that fact and why wouldn’t she be that’s almost an entire adult human being that she doesn’t need to carry around with her anymore. If you lived for years with a one-hundred-pound person riding around on your back and then one day they got off like ok I’m done with the piggyback ride now you’d be elated. Imagine how much more lightly you could step.
Jackie Crow lost the weight by working as a delivery driver for Amazon although not really working working for Amazon it was working for herself is what they call it and Amazon just happened to tell her where and when to do the work and monitored how efficiently she did the work all the while being able to increase or decrease her opportunities to do the work whenever they decided. Still it’s a job right. It’s not though but still right.
Three years ago Jackie Crow who is almost fifty years old was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she weighed three hundred pounds so she needed to make some changes in her life and when the gig with Amazon Flex came along she made the most of it.
“I feel great. I have more energy, I’m active, I don’t need a walker anymore,” Jackie Crow told KSHB in Kansas City and we know about her story because Amazon the company with almost $180 billion in revenue a year owned by the richest man in the history of the world shared the piece on Twitter and you have to admit it is pretty generous of them to allow Jackie Crow to lose all that weight.
“Amazon Flex allowed this woman to lose 100 lbs in 18 months by creating a workout while delivering packages,” Amazon News tweeted.
Imagine if you had $140 billion like Jeff Bezos and then lost $139 billion of it. Imagine how much more lightly you could step.
People think we live in a harrowing dystopia but the world is really a lot dumber than that. This sounds like something out of Philip K. Dick or whatever similar dude you care to think of but as many people pointed out it’s literally an episode of Nathan for You and I’d say that’s fair that’s about what we deserve. The real twist of the knife of Hell World is that we get to slowly boil through the invention of all the punishments of techno-futuristic space capitalism without even living long enough to see the cool stuff like Moon Baseball.
“Amazon Flex allows drivers like Crow the flexibility of picking their own work schedules,” is what KSHB wrote about the whole situation with Jackie Crow and they also said the flexibility of the job helped her have time for her family and to help with the other job she has at their family pizza shop. You can be so much more flexible when you aren’t given set hours at a job and it’s nice to be able to come and go and work whenever you want without the responsibility or benefits of a full time job everyone knows that. Jackie Crow also said the extra money she makes helps her pay for her son’s college.
“I use it as a way to get my heart rate up,” Jackie Crow said over footage of her jogging briskly up the stairs in the news report. “Amazon!” she says outside the door bending down to drop off the package in a voice that sort of breaks my heart a little. Maybe she says it like that usually or maybe she thought she had to put a little extra something on it because the TV cameras were there. It’s not easy to bend down like that when you have arthritis you’d have to guess.
“I’m constantly looking at my watch,” she says on the TV and that’s probably partly for her health but also because Amazon Flex workers are incentivized to do as many deliveries as possible in as short a period of time because they’re all competing for a limited number of gigs available in their area on any given day so you have to go so fast.
I called Amazon Flex just now to see about signing up to get some extra work and the woman at the call center told me I could make no less than $18 and up to $25 an hour delivering packages in my area but a report from Bloomberg said it actually ends up being between $5 and $11 an hour when you factor in expenses like gas and tolls and wear and tear on your automobile because you have to use your own car don’t be fucking stupid they aren’t going to give you a car to use where would they get cars for their business from?
“Package runs are timed, and workers are kicked off the system for missing delivery windows, which creates an incentive to run red lights, double-park and go over the speed limit, drivers say,” according to Bloomberg. “After an assignment, Flex workers are sometimes required to bring goods they were unable to deliver back to the warehouse. The trip is unpaid and can take an hour or more but is necessary to stay in good standing with the company.”
UPS pays about $36 an hour plus expenses and the American Postal Workers Union says workers make around $75,000 a year. My uncle was a postal worker most of his life and he raised a few kids and owns a home and seems to have had a happy life but now he has Parkinson’s disease which is what killed his father my grandfather and will probably kill me? Remind me to look up if that is hereditary.
I asked the Amazon Flex rep what I needed to do to sign up today.
“Do you have a vehicle with four doors? Do you have a driver’s license, insurance?” the nice woman from the Amazon Flex call center said. They also require a background check she said.
“Once you get accepted and you have the app downloaded onto your phone, you will be able to pick up delivery shifts and it will let you know on the app, if it’s a block between say 12:30-4:30, it has a certain amount of packages you need to pick up and it will let you know how much you will earn for that four hours. You pick them up, everything is self-explanatory in the app, it’s step by step, you punch in when you arrive, then you get paid. Pay usually goes out on Tuesday and Fridays. It starts at $18 depending on the size of your vehicle and how many packages you can deliver. It varies from $18-$25.”
There are no limits on how much I can work she told me but there are sadly no benefits offered.
“You’re considered an independent contractor so it’s like you’re working for yourself, you’re just being able to deliver for Amazon.”
Do people actually … like the job?
“People tend to like it,” she said. “They like the pay. Who doesn’t like to get paid?”
One way I’ve been thinking about trying to lose some weight myself is to not drink 1,000 calories of whiskey every night. I haven’t consulted a dietician or anything but that seems like altogether too many calories of whiskey. On nights when I don’t drink I really look forward to it since the experience of not drinking is relatively novel to me in the past two years since my body and brain and heart broke.
In June of 1963 Thich Quang Duc a Vietnamese Buddhist monk burned himself alive on the streets of Saigon as a form of protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. The president at the time Ngo Dinh Diem was a Catholic in a country that was around 90 percent Buddhist and as such set policies that were favorable to Catholics in terms of military and government promotions and land distribution and so on basically the same shit that happens everywhere when any asshole gets into power. It’s weird how there are only a few variations on the type of powerful asshole we end up getting over and over again.
Some Catholic priests operated their own private armies I guess and Buddhist pagodas were often raided and destroyed and the people were generally fucked with in all the ways you would expect.
One of the reasons he had gone and set himself on fire was because of some violence the month before. People had taken to the streets of the city of Huế waving Buddhist flags on a holy day and this was a crime. On the other hand Diem had encouraged his people to wave Vatican flags during a celebration for his brother who was a Catholic archbishop a few weeks earlier so this really pissed people off. The celebration soon turned into a protest and the government went in with guns and grenades and people drove automobiles into the crowds and next thing nine people were dead.
The photographer Malcolme Brown was on hand for the self-immolation and he went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his famous photo of Thích Quảng Đức burning himself quietly and silently there in the street in front of the Cambodian embassy and it is a very good photo but you have to admit that it’s a little unfair that he was the one who won a prize off of it since he really didn’t do that much of the labor involved here did he.
David Halberstam of the New York Times was there as well and here is what he wrote about it in his book The Making of a Quagmire: America And Vietnam During The Kennedy Era:
Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think . . . As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.
Things pretty much went to shit on account of that and the ensuing unrest. In November an army coup backed by the US revolted against Diem. He didn’t have much support left at this point and the CIA said lol go for it. Diem and his brother tried to escape through a tunnel in their church but that didn’t work vis-à-vis they got shot to death and then not long after that the U.S. would get involved in the war in Vietnam and next thing a couple million people were dead.
The house I grew up in is so old and the walls are so old they sort of warped out over the centuries and the ceilings are so low because people were a lot shorter then is what we were always told. It was built in 1766 by a guy named Nathaniel Bradford who was the great grandson I think of William Bradford the first governor or Plymouth Colony. He fled his country due to religious persecution.
If that makes it sound like it’s some fancy preserved historic home or something that people would come all the way over to there to look at it wasn’t it was a piece of shit and I think my parents paid like $20,000 for it in the eighties. There was an outhouse still connected to it and the room where my mother smokes her cigarettes and watches Fox News every night now didn’t have a floor back then it was dirt. It’s nicer now since my stepfather who is my father made it a lot nicer. My bedroom on the second floor had a ceiling so low that if I had wanted to I could have squatted down and jumped really hard and fast and snapped my neck on it but I never ended up doing that.
I was thinking about the photo of Quảng Đức because I read a piece in the New York Times magazine’s “Letter of Recommendation” column about the band Rage Against the Machine and I remembered I had printed out a photo of the cover of their first album which showed him burning to death and that just about blew my mind as a teenager. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen so I taped it up on my wall. Not cool but you know what I mean. The sincerity of it.
In the piece Jonah Weiner writes that he first learned about Quảng Đức and a host of other protests and instances of government corruption from that album which is also true for me and then he wrote something that I think about sometimes about how we have to convince ourselves at some point as we get older that being pissed off about that sort of thing is somehow the realm of misguided youth like it’s immature to walk around fucking rip shit all the time about how people are being taken advantage of by the powerful and always will be.
There’s a cynical conception of ‘maturity’ that asks us to disavow things we believed in our youth, not because they were shameful but precisely because they were virtuous. In this view, adolescent dalliances with Rage Against the Machine – like dalliances with vegetarianism and Howard Zinn – reflect an idealism we’re meant not to carry into adulthood but, rather, sagely slough off. The prerogatives of the machine, to use [Zach] de la Rocha’s shorthand, are mistaken for immutable forces of nature; bending in deference to them, we become the compromised adults our younger selves knew better than to trust.
Around that time I went to my first-ever real concert which was Lollapalooza 1993 and it was held at an Air Force field or something in Rhode Island. The first band that day was Rage Against the Machine and as you can probably guess they just about broke all of our brains. Another thing that happened that day is my girlfriend at the time fainted in the crowd and we had to leave early so I don’t remember if I got to see Alice in Chains. That might have been Lollapalooza 1994 actually but in any case she was my first love and she fainted a lot back then and I think I sort of thought of her as a delicate swooning character out of a Brontë sisters novel but now that I think of it again she was probably just starving herself all the time and passing out due to that but no one really knew how to talk about or worry about that since it was the nineties. One time she gave me a Mazzy Star CD single of “Fade Into You” which is still just about the best song I’ve ever heard.
We didn’t drink much back then none of us really did in my group. We’d go skateboarding behind the supermarket although I fucking sucked at it so I’d usually just videotape things and make goofy skits and shit like that. I don’t know if I’d want to watch any of those videos right now but my mother has been asking me to come get my sentimental shit out of that room with the low ceilings for like fifteen years and I always say I don’t care throw it out throw out the pictures of my old friends and girlfriends like the one who fainted a lot and old papers I wrote and letters people sent me. I say whatever ma to my mother like I’m still the exact same age as when I accumulated all that shit but I secretly hope she doesn’t throw it out just between you and me.
The thing about not drinking is it makes you realize how long a day is. A day is so much longer than you really think it is when you’re there for all of it but life is very short and it goes by so quickly you barely even notice.
They say when John F. Kennedy saw the picture of Quảng Đức the one thing he said was Jesus Christ which is about what you would think someone would say especially a Catholic like he was and I was for most of my life. I guess I still am by default. I’m not sure if you can get that stuff off of you once you’ve been steeped in it long enough.
One time when I was a young boy I’m not sure how old I got my hands on a copy of Dante’s Inferno and that fucked me up pretty good I’m not going to lie about that. Some other time I drew a picture of my church burning down and the priest Father Mike I think his name was was also there in the picture I drew was that his name Mom and then I had to go talk to some professionals or something I don’t really remember. It turns out I had probably just been fucked up by hearing about how much I was going to suffer some day in a pool of fire when I was a little boy. Imagine if you lived your entire life believing that a deity was watching your every move and tabulating every misstep you made and that if you fucked up enough times you’d be tortured to death forever and then you managed to shed some of the weight of that. Imagine how much more lightly you could step.
Luke O’Neil is a journalist who lives in Boston. His work has appeared in Esquire, The Guardian, New York Magazine, The Washington Post and many other publications.