November 20, 2009

What Color Is Your Badge?

I just finished my first month at my new workplace, and I must say that I'm happy as all get out to be there. What with unemployment in this state currently running over 10 percent, I'm a pretty lucky guy.

I'm not exactly an employee of the place where I plop my ass down every morning. I actually work for someone else. Which makes me what's known in the trade as a contractor. My employer, wielding great clout, finds me work at another organization. That organization pays my employer an agreed upon sum, and my employer, in turn, throws some money my way. I receive no benefits, vacation or holiday pay. If I show up for work, I get paid. You could say I'm a modern day indentured servant, only I don't get flogged if I fuck up.

The site I work at is huge and at any given point in time, there are thousands of people occupying the grounds. There are reasonable security measures in place to keep the blaggards at bay, one of which is a security badge, which everyone wears someplace on their person. Some people wear them on their belts, others wear them around their necks and a few free spirits clip them to their ear lobes or wear them in their hair as part of a decorative bow.

The badges all have embedded microchips so you can get through traffic gates and enter the various buildings on campus. Your badge has your picture on it, taken by that same guy who came to your grade school every fall and made sure that all conditions were just wrong before he snapped your picture and charged your parents $12.95 for the "skool daze" package. My picture makes me appear as if I am suffering a particularly advanced stage of jaundice.

So, just a badge ... plastic and ink. But there is one odd thing. The badges that the organization employees wear are all white. The badges that the contractors wear are white also ... but with a yellow stripe at the bottom.

It's a small thing, but it struck me as odd that one group had to be differentiated from another.


I haven't figured it out yet. Is there some plausible, reasonable explanation for it that only certain people know? Or is it some unwritten caste system, that will help organization members sort out their true brethren from the outsiders, so that they don't get too close to them?

Absolutely no one that I've encountered so far has treated me any differently than anyone else, and we all talk and joke freely. But I do notice when I walk down the halls, that people will flick their eyes from my face to my badge, and then back to my face when we greet each other. Are they just mesmerized by my jaundiced visage on the piece of plastic, or do they want to classify me?

I've often suspected that I'm neurotic by nature and perhaps this is the definitive proof, but just this morning, I was talking to a woman and she happened to ask me how long I had worked for the organization, but then her eyes went to my badge and she said "Oh, you're a contractor!", and gave me a sad smile, sort of like someone would do if they said "Oh, you poor dear."

As I mentioned earlier, it's a minor thing and I suppose everyone has the need to sort and drop people into certain slots in order to keep everything straight in their own minds. I do it myself. I suppose the organization is just trying to help with visual aids.

It's just human nature.

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