I realized that on Thursday, after spending something approximating 15 hours sitting in an unheated hallway letting people into the set and the bathroom and doing radio relay. Sure there's no rape, and you get to sleep in your own bed every night (at least on the nights you get to sleep) but what does that amount to really? The truth is that from the moment you wake up in the morning and rush off to work to the moment you get home and start limping towards bed, they control everything you do. They decide when you eat, when you sleep, when you get to go to the bathroom, who you can talk to, where you go, etc...etc... You spend all your time with the same group of people, none of whom want to be there, and a lot of it trying to avoid pissing off capricious bosses. There are even aspects of physical cruelty, such as the concept that if you are waiting outside a door to escort an actor to set it's better that you stand on your exhausted aching feet than take a seat on the padded bench right behind you. Sitting is for people who matter, for nobodys like me it is always preferred that you stand.
Of course there are significant differences between work and jail. For one thing inmates can get 8 hours of sleep if they want it. For another our prison is studded with celebrities, most of whom are nice because they work way fewer hours than we do and have actual rights and privileges. Also there's the lack of butt rape. I think that's actually one of our documented fringe benefits. Still there's a grim attitude that infuses the whole endeavor and I have to say that if nothing else this has been a character building experience. I've gotten the nickname "Iceman" for being able to withstand extreme cold temperatures for long periods of time, and earned at least some respect from hardened veterans of blue collar drudgery. I also now understand why so many people worship the weekend.
The worst part of the whole experience is probably the walkie-talkie, a horrid device that's always blasting indistinct orders into my ear, only a few of them meant for me. You have to keep it turned up lest you miss a staticy instruction, and the end result is that by the end of the day your eardrum hurts and you start hearing voices as you lie down to sleep. It's a lot like being paranoid or, I imagine, schizophrenic. It also means that you can never really get a moment's rest, since you must always be listening for orders.
This job is a ridiculous exercise in masochism, and people have openly asked me why I would do it. The only answer I can give is that once you're doing it quitting just seems like a weird concept. You get caught up in the whole experience and you don't have the time or energy to think things like "Holy shit, I'm killing myself for no reason." The others are mostly ambitious in a "work my way up through the ladder" way, but I'm not doing 600 days of this (what's necessary to reach the next level.) I'd hang myself first. I guess I haven't quit because I haven't been broken yet, and I want to see how far I can go before I do, actually, break. There's a Christmas break coming up in a couple weeks, and then the show wraps in mid February, so I might make it all the way through. If I do then I'll have a memorable experience, and a legitimate case for having worked a job worse than at least 90% of those out there. If I don't, then at least I'll have tried. Either way it's something I won't soon forget. I have more to say but no more time to say it. Have to be up in about 6 hours. Up and out into the cold. I would have written earlier in the weekend, but it took me this long to recover my sense of self and ego. Now that I finally feel like me again I get to return to the salt mine and go through it all again.
P.S. The only reason that this job is not even more intolerable than it is is because we get fringe benefits from unionized labor we work with. Grips and electrics can't be forced to come back to work less than 10 hours after they leave. If they could, we all would, but since they can't there's no point in putting us on the clock without them there. Likewise the actors unions make sure our weekends are clear, since they have a 54 hour protection there. I've always supported unionization of labor and the corrupt capitalist contingent has always snorted "And what have unions done for the likes of you." Well now I have an answer. There's room between ridiculous autoworker union demands and the sweatshop mentality corporations get when labor is powerless.