Norma placed the tray upon the
kitchen sink, and then poured herself a cup of tea from the
teapot. She picked up one of the slices of toast and asked,
"Would you like a hard boiled egg, Chris?"
While Norma began to wash the
breakfast dishes, Chris returned to the kitchen table to read
through his schoolbook.
"What will you do with yourself
if you don't have any work to go after today?" asked
"Oh I'll go around to a few of
the shops in Footscray to ask about work, and stop in at the CES
a couple of times. They put new job notices up on their work
board a couple of times a day. Then I've got a night class at
"Well I'm glad to hear that
you've got at least one easy subject," said Norma. She was
about to say something more when there was a sound of knocking at
the front door.
"That's all right, Chris, I'll
get it," said Norma, seeing him about to stand. "You go on with
your studies, I she said, wiping her hands on a tea
Jack moaned from the effort as
he sat himself up on the bed. He sipped at the cup of tea, and
then finding it tepid, swallowed the tea in one gulp. He
replaced the empty cup upon the saucer on the bedside table, and
then reached for the newspaper upon the bed. He moaned again
and rubbed the back of one hand against his forehead as he was
stabbed in the brain by a shooting headache. Still, he thought,
he had been a lot worse only a couple of days ago.
Jack reached the newspaper, and
then sat back against the bed-head to read.
"Oh, Jack," said Norma, walking
into the bedroom. "There's a bloke at the door to see
"A bloke to see me?" asked
Jack, finding that he was unable to get his eyes to focus upon
the newspaper. "How old?"
"Late thirties, or mid
"What does he want?"
"He didn't say, said Norma.
"He's all dolled up in a fancy suit, about twenty years out of
date, so at first I thought that he must be a bloody Mormon.
But he insists he isn't."
"Well I suppose I had better go
up to see him," said Jack, moaning as he tried to stand up.
"Where's my dressing gown."
"You stay in bed," ordered
Norma, "I'll go up and fetch him down here."
She turned to leave, and was
almost knocked off her feet by Heinrich Himmler as he pushed his
way through into the bedroom.
Actually it wasn't really
Heinrich Himmler, just a very good facsimile, right down to the
starched black uniform; or rather, the sharp-cut, old-fashioned
suit could easily have stood in for a Gestapo uniform, apart from
the lack of insignia.
Under his left arm Heinrich
Himmler carried a black clipboard bulging with an assortment of
papers and forms. From his breast pocket protruded the silver
tips of a half of a dozen pens, making him look like a life
"Jack Smith?" demanded Heinrich
"That's right," agreed
"Well I'll leave you to it,"
said Norma. She walked out, and closing the bedroom door behind
"I'm Allan Juchster," he said.
But the reedy, effeminate voice did nothing to dispel the
resemblance to Heinrich Himmler. "I work for the Commonwealth
"Yes I know," said Jack.
"I've seen you down there on occasions."
"Then there's no need for
formalities, we can get straight down to business," said
Juchster. He opened up the clipboard, then said, "It's a bit
late in the day to still be in your P.J.'s, isn't it?" He glanced
down at his wristwatch, and then said, "Hell it's after
nine o'clock! Don't tell me that you're going to
a midday pyjama-party?"
"No, I've been laid up pretty
bad with the flu for the last two weeks," said Jack, land I'm
still not 100% yet."
"A likely story too," said
Juchster. "More likely you were hitting the piss in a big way
last night and just didn't know when to call it
"Not a chance!" insisted
"All right then," said
Juchster. "So you stayed up late last night, because there was
this really great movie on at 2:00 AM., The Return of the
Blood-Sucking Lezzos from the Red Planets, and you just
couldn't bear to miss it. And so now you're paying the
"Bullshit! Listen, what gives
you the right to come barging into my home, uninvited, then start
throwing around all kinds of wild accusations?" demanded
"What gives me the right?"
repeated Juchster. "The forty-nine ninety-five a week handed
out to you from my boss: the Department of Social
"That doesn't give you the
"It gives me the right to do,
or say anything that I like!" insisted Juchster. Seeing that
Jack was not going to be drawn any further, Juchster took a form
from the clipboard, clipped the form to the outside of the
clipboard, took a pen from his coat pocket, clicked the nib out,
then began to write upon the form. After a few moments he
looked toward Jack and said, "All right then, to start with, on
average, how many jobs would you say that you go out after in any
"There are none to go out after
at the moment," said Jack,
"So you don't go out after any
jobs at all?" asked Juchster.
"How can I, when there are no
Juchster scribbled upon the
form for a few moments, repeating out loud what he was writing,
"Doesn't...go out...after any ... jobs at all ...
Juchster looked toward Jack and
asked, "When was the last time that you actually did go out after
"Well, I used to go around to
about a dozen different places a day asking for work," said Jacks
"but gradually the number of places to go to dwindled down to
"All rights all right," said
Juchster. "There's no need to give me a flashback to when Adam
was a boy. I don't want to hear your entire life story, just
tell me about the last time that you actually did go out after a
"Well, I've been laid up with
the flu for the last couple of weeks, so I haven't been able to
go out after any kind of work for that long," explained
"So you haven't been out after
a single job for two weeks now?" asked an incredulous Allan
"No, because I've been too damn
sick to get out of bed! Let alone hunt around for
"I haven't got time to listen
to sob stories! If you're sick, you should be on the invalid
pension, not the dole," said Juchster. "The invalid pension is
for being sick; the dole is for looking around for work!" He
wrote upon the form again, repeating aloud what he was writing,
"Hasn't...been out...look, around...for work...in over...two
Juchster looked up at Jack
again and said, "That's a pretty slack effort, Smith. When are
you going to get up off your backside, and start looking round
"I am looking for work,"
"Yes, I can see that you are,"
said Juchster, he lifted up an edge of the bed and pointing said,
"I can see a job under there. And there's another, and another.
Dropping the edge of the
bedspread, Juchster said, "Look I know that you're due for the
old age lark, in a little under seven years time. But even so,
you should still at least make the pretence of wanting work in
the meantime, I
"But I do want work," insisted
"Yeah, yeah sure, and the
world's going to start spinning in the other direction from
tomorrow," said Juchster.
"For crying out loud, there are
no jobs around any more!"
"Bullshit," said Juchster. He
pointed toward the newspaper, and said, "If you ever bothered to
open that up to anything besides the funnies, you'd find that
there is column after column of jobs, just begging for someone to
go out after them!"
"And every one of them asking
for years of experience, a university degree, or else for
somebody under the age of twenty-one," said Jack. "After
working for the same firm for forty years as a lathe operator,
that's the only thing that I have any experience at; I left
school at seventeen, so I sure as hell don't have any degrees,
and you can see for yourself that I'm just a little beyond the
age of twenty-one!"
"Listen!" said Juchster. "I'm
not interested in hearing you're excuses. I'm not an idiot, you
"You could have fooled me,"
"I'm wise to you, Helen Kallio
"Who's she?" asked
"One of the slu ... women down
at the Footscray CES," said Juchster. 'Anyway,' she said,
'watch out for Jack Smith, he's got an answer for everything!"
And you have too, apparently. But let me tell you that I'm all
clued up, so don't think you can get away with trying to make me
believe that there are no jobs around. There are plenty of jobs
going at the moment," he said, pointing at the newspapers 'If you
just want work badly enough," Juchster paused for a moment to
write on the form again, then he said, "Look I know that you
think that this is just a job to me, and that if you tell me -a
lot of bullshit, I'll pretend to be sucked in, rather than going
to all of the trouble of putting in a negative report, then
having to follow up on it up."
"Oh what kind of an idiot are
you?" demanded Jack.
"And I know that there are a
lot of slack bastards around, who would take the easy way out
like that," continued Juchster. "But I'm not like them! I
take my job seriously; I take pride in doing a very difficult and
"Hell you sound like a bloody
Army Reserves ad.," said Jack.
"I take pride in helping to
protect this country from the burden of parasites like you,
Smith, So don't think that you can pull the wool over my eyes by
telling me that there are no jobs...I Juchster said, pointing at
the newspaper again, "when I can see for myself that there are
plenty of jobs available, all the jobs you could ever want, right
here in this paper," To emphasise his point, Juchster picked up
the newspaper, putting the clipboard upon the end of the bed, and
begin leafing through the back of the paper, looking for the
situations vacant section, After a couple of minutes, Juchster
looked accusingly toward Jack.
My wife took the jobs section
out so that I wouldn't go job hunting while I'm still ill,"
"The extent that some people
will go to when avoiding looking around for work," said Juchster.
He put down the paper, picked up the clipboard, and made a
small notation upon the form, then said, "Honestly, Smith, I can
never understand you bludgers. This is a great country, Smith!
You can become anything you want in Australia, if
you're just prepared to work hard enough for it!"
"Gung ho!" said Jack. "Then
when are you going to become Prime Minister of
Australia? Or don't you work hard enough?"
"There's no call to be bloody
sarcastic," said Allan Juchster. "You're in enough strife as it
is: this is the third time that I've called on you in the last
six months, and on each of the other occasions you were out. At
the early morning session at the movies, I'll bet!"
"What the hell are you raving
"That's what everyone else
does, so that they won't be home whenever we call around to check
on them, Then the bastards think that they can spin us a yarn
about being out looking for work, and we won't be able to prove
anything, even if we do wise up to them."
"Maybe that's what the others
do," said Jack, "but that's not my way of doing
"Then where the hell were you
when I called around?"
"If you came around at this
time in the morning, I was probably out chasing up
"Got you!" said Juchster.
"How the hell could you have been out chasing work, when you've
just told me that there is no work around to chase after? Talk
your way out of that one!"
"Because the job situation
hasn't always been as bad as it is now. Even up until a month
ago there were still some jobs going, but gradually the amount of
work around dwindled out to nothing." said Jack.
Juchster shook his head, half
in amazement half in amusement, and said, "Well it looks as
though Helen was right. She said that you had a veritable
genius for improvising on the spur of the moment."
"Christ," said Jack, "I've
already told you that whenever a job does come up, I haven't got
the qualifications to get it. What am I supposed to do, lie so
that I can get job that I'm not really capable of
"Hey, now you're starting to
get with it a bit. We don't give a shit how you get a job, or
what it is, just as long Ps you get off the dole: If you have to
lie to get work, then we'll back you up to the hilt. No
worries," said Juchster, patting Jack almost affectionately upon
"Oh great!" said Jack. "So
now I'm supposed to go into some place and say that I've got n
degree in advanced whatever, but I've misplaced it, and I've
forgotten the name and address of the institute that I got it
"Hey that's not bad," said
Juchster. "We'll back you up; you know you can count on
"Or perhaps I could tell them
that I've had years of experience at the job, and then name some
imaginary firm -is my past employers. If they bother to check,
and discover that the company doesn't exist, I can always say
they must have closed down recently."
"Great, great, it's getting
better all the time," said Allan Juchster. "For a while there
you really had me worried."
"Or perhaps I could say that
I'm really only nineteen, but eleven months on the dole has aged
me so much that I look as though I'm fifty-eight," suggested
"No, no, it doesn't pay to
admit that you've been on the dole very long. Tell them eleven
weeks, not months, and we'll back you," said Juchster. "But if
you want to try the other two, that's all right." "Fine, if you
want me to go to gaol!" said Jack, "but even then, whenever I do
find a job to go after, there are always at least two or three
hundred others after the same job. Most of them years younger
than me; some of them hardly more than a third of my
"Yes...well I can see that
could be n bit of a problem," conceded Juchster. "Listen," he
said, snapping his fingers, inspiration struck; "you could never
convince anyone that you're only nineteen, but you do look pretty
well preserved for your age. So, we'll back you up, if you want
to say that you're only fifty, or even forty-five for that
matter. I'm sure that with the department's help you can fool
them, just say you've lost your birth certificate, and give them
our phone number for verification of your age."
"But even if I was dumb enough
to try something like that, and I was lucky enough to find an
employer dumb enough to believe its I'd still have to compete
with dozens of young kids with degrees, or even higher
"I don't suppose that you could
string all three together?" suggested Juchster.
"Don't you think it's asking a
bit much, for anybody to believe that I've forgotten the name of
my institute and can't find either my certificate or my birth
certificate, as well as my past employer having suddenly closed
down?" asked Jack.
"Yeah, that could be asking a
lot," conceded Juchster.
"Do you think dad will have
finished with the paper yet?" asked Chris.
"Oh I doubt if he could have
even read it, with the state that his eyes were in," said Norma,
"but if you want another look through the situations vacant, I've
got them here," she said, taking the three newspaper pages from
the top of the refrigerator.
"No I wanted the theatre
section," said Chris. "I'm taking Rita to the 9:30
showing after school tonight, if I can get home and change in
time, so I wanted to check the address of the cinema."
"Rita?" asked Norma.
"She's a girl I used to work
with," explained Chris. "I've sort of been seeing her on a
semi-steady basis for the last couple of months."
"I thought that you were going
steady with this girl Sondra?" said Norma.
"Sonja," corrected Chris. "I
more or less am."
"How can you be more or less
going steady with them both?"
"I have to arrange my timetable
very carefully, so that I never invite them both out on the same
"Doesn't that put a strain on
your budget, now that you're back on the dole?"
"No worries, I usually don't
take them to the pictures, only for a walk through
FootscrayPark, or wherever. I've invited
Sonja, to Footscray Park for Melbourne Cup days so that we can
stand on the rise and peer down into Flemington to watch the cup
live, You save the entrance fee into Flemington that way, but it
means you only get to see the cup live, you can't hear anything
from that distance. Also you have to get there very early to
get a good spot, because there are always at least 150,000 people
in FootscrayPark on Melbourne
"But don't they suspect about
each other?" asked Norma.
"Oh sure, they know all about
each other. They hate each others' guts, but they're both
trendy enough not to take it out upon me," said Chris.
"Well that's reassuring," said
"The only time that they ever
see each other, is when I take them to the OOWPAG. I usually
take them together to the Out of Work People's Action Group
meetings, because I figure why should only one of them be bored
"Oh, I'm glad that you reminded
me," said Norma, inspiration struck. "Some woman from the
OOWPAG has been ringing around, asking for you. Gabrielle
somebody or other."
"Gabrielle is sort of an
off-and-on old flame of mine," said Chris.
"She sounded a little old for
you," said Norma,
"Age has nothing to do with
it," said Chris. "Gabrielle is my kind of woman:
Norma laughed, then said, "Well
I think that you had better get in touch with her fairly urgently
she sounded very keen to hear from you."
"I'll wait until the next
OOWPAG meeting on Tuesday," said
Chris. II don't want to seem
too anxious to see her. She's been a little bitchy since we had
a tiff a few months back, so it won't hurt to let her stew in her
own juices over the weekend."
"Do you think that that's a
fair thing to do?" asked Norma.
"Maybe not, I agreed Chris.
"But fairness doesn't come into boy-girl relationships, it's
strictly dog fu...eat dog."
Chris blushed at his near slip,
and Norma said, "Well I guess that at twenty-one we can hardly
expect you to be content with just holding hands." Then in a
bid to change the subject, "I'm sure your father will let you
have the paper, he's still talking to that bloke who came to see
"What bloke?" asked
"I don't know," said Norma.
"Some young bloke."
"Might be someone from where he
used to work," said Chris, walking out into the
Chris heard the sound of voices
as he approached his father's room, so he knocked on the door
"Dad," began Chris, and then
stopped, put out at seeing Juchster. "Dad, have you finished
with the paper?"
"Yes, you can take it," said
"So here's the other one," said
Juchster, as Chris walked across to the bed.
"Other one?" asked
"Helen Kallio told me that
there is a whole brood of you bludging Smiths. You notice that
I didn't say a pride, since that's one thing that obviously
doesn't exist in this house!"
"Who are you accusing of
bludging?" demanded Chris.
"You, sport! So just watch
the lip, or you'll land yourself in hot water.
"Yes, I know who you are," said
Chris, reaching for the newspaper on the bed. "Heinrich
For a moment Juchster was
silenced by this unexpected affront, then as Chris began leafing
through the newspaper, Juchster asked. "Which picture are you
going to see?"
Chris stared at Juchster,
wondering whether the CES officer had read his mind. Chris
thought, 'I knew he was psycho, but not psychic?' Out loud Chris
said, "I'm taking a girlfriend to the 9:30
"Well you'd better get going,"
said Juchster. "You'll just make it!"
"9:30 at night,"
"Oh yeah, a likely story," said
Chris turned to leave the
bedroom, and Juchster said, "Not so fast, I want to have a word
with you. Just a few questions about what you're doing about
finding work." So saying, he took a second form from the
clipboard, and placed the form on top of the first
"All right," said Chris, "would
you like to follow me through into the lounge room?"
"What's wrong with right in
here?" asked Juchster. "Surely you aren't afraid to have your
old man hear how little you've been doing to find a
"I've got nothing to hide from
dad, or from you for that matter," said Chris, "but at the
moment, there just aren't any jobs going, unless you have a
degree in something."
"Oh no!" said Juchster. "Like
bludger, like son, eh? I'll just bet that you two have
carefully worked this line out between you." Juchster scowled
toward Jack and said, "And you almost had me believing that you
were fair dinkum about looking for work, for a moment
"What the hell is he raving
about, dad?" asked Chris.
"Don't ask me," said
Juchster turned back toward
Chris and demanded, "Well aren't you going to tell me that you
can't get any work, because whenever you do find a job to go out
after, all of the other applicants have stacks more education
than you have?"
"Not all of them," said Chris.
"But enough so that I never have any real chance of getting any
job that I go after."
"If it's that big a problem,
why the hell don't you go back to school?" asked Juchster.
"Then at least you could bludge off the Education Grant, instead
of the dole."
"What's the difference?" Jack
Chris went over to straighten
Jack's pillows, so that he would be a little more
"What's the difference?"
"That's right," Jack
"There is a hell of a lot of
difference!" said Juchster. "For one thing, the dole is paid by
the Department of Social Security, whereas the Education Grant is
paid by the Department of Finance."
"So what?" demanded Jack.
"It's the same bloody government, isn't it?"
The three men were silent for a
moment, and then Juchster addressed himself to Chris, "Well?
Have you even considered trying to switch over to the Education
"Of course I have," said Chris,
"but I can't get enrolled at a tertiary institute until I get my
HSC. And I've only got fourth form level so far."
"Then why don't you go back to
school to get your Leaving and HigherSchool
Certificate?" asked Juchster.
"Because you can't get the
Education Grant doing less than HSC," pointed out
"So in other words, you don't
intend to do anything at all about it, just bludge off the dole
for the next forty odd years!" said Juchster, more as a statement
of opinion than as a question.
"Bullshit," said Chris. "I
did three subjects of Leaving last year at night school, and I'm
doing another three subjects this year!"
"And doing your homework during
the day time no doubt, instead of going out looking for work,"
said Juchster, in obvious disgust. "I've heard of that trick
before! I don't know ... any excuse at all to get out of
finding a job!"
"I thought we'd agreed that
there are no jobs around?" asked Chris.
"No we never agreed to any
such thing," said Juchster.
"Look, you asked me what I was
doing about getting enough education to get a job, didn't you?"
"Granted. We want you to get
the education that you need to get a job, or at least to get off
the dole. But we don't want you to get it in our
"Then when the hell am I
supposed to get it?" demanded Chris.
"Look, don't raise your voice
to me," said Juchster. "You're in enough bloody trouble as it
is." He paused for a moment to allow himself to calm down a
bit, then said, "Sure we'd like you to get your Leaving so that
you can transfer onto the Education Grant. But in your own
time, not ours. Your days Monday through Friday, and Saturday
morning, are strictly for job hunting."
"Then when am I supposed to do
my homework?" asked Chris.
"You're doing night classes
aren't you?" asked Juchster.
"Yes," agreed Chris.
"How many nights a
"Then that leaves you two
evenings a week, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday to do
your homework," said Juchster. "That should be plenty of
"And what about my social
life?" asked Chris.
"Your what?" demanded Juchster.
"You're on the dole, sport; you shouldn't have enough time or
money for any bloody social life. Hell, if we were to make it
too comfortable, no one would ever lower themselves to finding a
"But even so...." began
"Look," said Juchster.
"Frankly, I don't give a bugger about what you are currently
doing with your times other than to find out why you aren't
spending it looking around for work!"
"But I am trying to find work,"
insisted Chris, trying his best not to shout at Juchster. "The
only way that I'll ever get a job is by increasing my education
so that I can compete with the other job applicants."
"Nice try," said Juchster.
"Nice bloody try," - He was doing his best to keep the contempt
that he felt fo