Please excuse (or enjoy) this repost of an earlier Technical Difficulty. Thanks for reading!

Ore cars at the docks in Duluth, Minn. Oct. 31, 1903. Artist Frances Benjamin Johnston. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Workin' on the Railroad

Good morning! It's May Day, the original Labor Day. Do you know who your bosses are? Here at Indignity, we are notionally Our Own Bosses, as right-thinking entrepreneurial Americans are urged to be, but we somehow so far have missed out on the part where we get to wear bulging waistcoats and sit on even more bulging sacks of money. It's almost as if the real bosses are somewhere else out there, obscured behind a veil of woven strands of gig work, while we toil away on our own supposed behalf.

I've been trying to sign a union card for one of my side gigs for a while now, but the union card arrived in the form of a locked pdf, and then when I finally got the password and unlocked it and filled it out and emailed it back, it had somehow converted itself to a jpeg with the signature page removed. So I have to print it out and redo it by hand and then send in a photo of it, when I get a moment to do all that, by which time my contracted term of gig employment will have just about ended.

There was a story in the real estate section of the New York Times a couple weeks ago—maybe just one week, in the print edition—about a person who commissioned a two-story work studio for himself that rides on its own little private set of train tracks. He steps out the door of his house and gets into his studio and fires up "a vintage General Motors Electro-Motive Division control panel from South Korea" to send the whole 35,000-pound thing rolling 110 feet away into the woods, to get the seclusion he needs for his work as "a creative director who has worked in branding and marketing for clients including Lexus, Microsoft and Lego."

The big picture was simultaneously horrible—"a total cost of about $375,000, including the structure and the railroad"—and seductive: it's a train! Choo-choo! (The story ran, hilariously, under the rubric of Living Small, "a biweekly column exploring what it takes to lead a simpler, more sustainable or more compact life.") But what really stuck with me was one little detail. The office owner, age 48, got his rolling dream studio built with a second-floor library accessible only by a vertical ladder.

Forty-eight! Friends, there is mobility, and then there is mobility. The story noted that the builders had used a spare switch in the train control panel to power an electric dumbwaiter, after the owner "realized that it would be difficult to climb up to his library while carrying books or a laptop." But how many years does he have until he realizes it's going to be difficult to climb up to his library while carrying his own body? A lower back, a knee, an ankle—on the far side of 50, these things will betray you sooner than you imagined.

People always dream up something misguided in their dream houses, as we've seen before. But there's something particularly haunting about getting one's own workspace so wrong. The rich person's office ladder suggests an open-ended future of fulfilling labor, an eternal productive present, unshadowed by the limits of age or gravity, let alone the petty terrors of the job market. Every day, he'll just keep climbing.

Meanwhile, posting may run a little light this week on Indignity. The side gigs are all pressing in at once, and your editor seems be developing the world's most overdetermined case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Think of it as a low-grade job action against myself, the only boss who's handy. Or maybe the real bosses here are the subscribers of Indignity—in which case, why not upgrade to a paid subscription? Thank you for reading; solidarity forever!


New York City, April 30, 2023

★ A smell of mildew was coming from somewhere, and why wouldn't it be? Yesterday's umbrellas were out by the doormat, waiting to go back to work. Before the morning was over, the rain was splatting down again. People trudged along with their hoods up. A cardboard box in the roadway had been reduced by rain and tires to an almost unrecognizable field of reddish-brown scraps. Rain poured down into the subway station, so that the sheet of water on the cover of the downtown third rail reflected the windows of an uptown train. At intermission of the ballet, the doors to the balcony were all roped off. Standing water took up more than a quarter of the width of the subway station underpass on the way out.

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 57: Cashing in their star power when it matters most.
Listen now (3 min) | The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.

The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of a sandwich from Favorite Southern Recipes by Southern Ruralist Readers, published in 1912, found in the public domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Three pounds of ham. chopped fine, three pounds of chopped cucumber pickles; heat one pint of vinegar, then beat three eggs well, and to the eggs add one tablespoonful of flour, one tablespoonful of mustard, and one tablespoonful of butter. Add pepper and salt to taste. Beat this together and pour into hot vinegar, but do not boil. Pour this dressing over chopped ham and pickles and mix well.
— Mrs. A.J. Brye, Hilliard, Fla.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, kindly send a picture to us at

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