Tuesday, 4 April
Jack hesitated for a moments
considering whether or not he should leave the queue. He had
been standing in line for more than an hour, in a queue almost
one hundred metres long, extending almost to the corner of Bourke
and Russell Streets.
Jack felt out of place amid the
queue. Apart from Jack, the oldest person in the line, was a
man in his mid to late thirties, everyone else were in their
teens or early twenties. Also, Jack knew that he had little
chance of being hired, the ad. had asked for, "A man or woman,
young or old, to work in the evenings as a waiter or waitress, No
Apart from the middle-aged man,
whose dress-suit implied that he'd had years of experience that
were not needed, the crowd was composed of jeans and T-shirt clad
youngsters who were probably all chasing their first job, But,
even if the middle-aged man did not get the job, Jack was
unlikely to be hired in preference to all of the teenagers.
Jack had no more experience at the job than they did, while they
had youth on their side. Also they could be hired at the junior
But although he had little
chance of being hired, Jack didn't like to leave the queue, if
there was any chance at all. As the queue slowly began to move
forward, so that at last Jack could see the entrance to the
Bunker Beer House, Jack made up his mind that he would stay in
the lines and go through with the interview. He didn't see what
other choice he really had; he had only been after one other
interview in the last week.
Almost all of the vacancies
advertised in the newspapers were under the professional columns,
so Jack could not afford to pass up even the slimmest chance of
The Bunker Beer House was set
in the basement of a dress shop, and was entered by way of the
steepest escalator that Jack had ever seen. It was necessary to
hold on to the handrail for dear life while
* * *
At last Jack was inside the
Bunker, however, he still might have to wait another half of an
hour to be interviewed, since there was still a small crowd of
teenagers in line ahead of Jack. The middle-aged man had been
interviewed long ago, and had gone away looking very surly, which
Jack hoped was a good sign.
Despite the name, the Bunker,
was nothing but a sleazy bar and grill. Dim lighting gave the
thirty-two round tables at least a pretence of atmosphere, but
nothing could disguise the sleazy look of the kitchen and service
area, visible behind the glass-fronted service bay. Baskets of
nuts and diced cheese stood atop the bar amid beer slops, and
sickly sweet desserts were housed within glass-fronted display
Jack was three people away from
the black door, behind which people were interviewed, when a
young man, looking like television show caricature of a waiter,
came out from behind the black door, and said, "I'm afraid that
the job has already been filled, however, we do still have a
part-time Job, for a waiter or waitress two nights a week, for
anyone who would like to stay."
While Jack pondered whether to
stay, most of the people still in the queue quietly left. A few
stayed to be interviewed. And one youth decided to protest,
demanding to know, "How the hell can you have filled the job,
when you haven't finished interviewing everybody?"
"Because we found one guy who
had years of experience at the job," explained the waiter
"But the bloody ad. said that
experience wasn't needed," pointed out the youth.
"That doesn't mean that we
can't hire someone who has experience, I said the
"Well it's a bloody rip-off,"
said the youth. "I waited in that bloody line outside for more
than ninety bloody minutes! Then, when I finally get inside it
takes me another half hour to get near the bloody interview room,
then you don't even give me ii bloody interview. The least you
should have to do, is interview everybody who applies, before
making any bloody decision!"
"Look, calm down," advised the
Jack thought of coming to the
youth's aid, as he agreed completely with him.
"It wouldn't have been quite so
bad missing out on the job, if I'd at least been given a bloody
As the youth refused to calm
down, the waiter went back behind the black door. He returned a
moment later with two burly bouncers. With the youth still
demanding to be interviewed, the two bouncers literally picked
him up and carried him out into the street.
"You can't do this to me!"
shouted the youth, as he was thrown onto the footpath. "I'll
call the cops!"
"You can call your mummy, for
all we care," said one of the bouncers, as they went back
"Well?" asked the waiter,
seeing Jack and three teenage girls still standing in
"I'm waiting for an interview
for the job two nights a week," explained Jack.
"Oh," said the waiter, taking
Jack by the arm, and leading him toward the black door. "Well
come right in."
"I bet he gets the job," said
one of the teenage girls.
"Yeah," agreed one of the other
two girls, 'these old guys always have a zillion billion years'
experience at any job they go after!"
The three girls looked at each
other's then at the black door, 'Come on," said the first girl,
walking toward the escalators. Reluctantly, the other two girls
* * *
"How'd it go?" asked Norma as
Jack slumped at the table.
"Shithouse, of course," said
Jack, making Norma think that he had begun to swear a lot since
losing his job. "What chance did I have against a million kids
going for the same job?"
"Then why not give it up?"
"What? And wait out the next
seven years on the dole, until I can get the old age pension?"
asked Jack, genuinely shocked.
"Why not?" asked Norma.
"Plenty of others would."
"I'm not plenty of others!"
pointed out Jack.
"No you're not," agreed Norma
with a sigh.
"Kevin, or Bob Bennett might be
prepared to do that," said Jack, "but not me!"
* * *
Friday, 7 April
Jack sat at a table in a
corner, near the back of the room. Lifting his glass to his
lips, he took a sip of beer and watched the men playing eight
ball; Scotty Ward and Billy Lock were at the table nearest Jack.
For ten years now, the three men had been regular sparring
partners at the American Game, as Billy Lock insisted upon
calling eight-ball, particularly after a bad loss when he would
explain for the umpteenth time that, "Snooker is my
Tonight, however, Jack sat
drinking alone, while the other two men potted frame after frame,
Over the last three or four months, Jack had found himself
growing further and further apart from the other two men, Not
that they resented Jack's status as a dole-bludgers but on the
contrary, Jack himself felt uncomfortable around the two men he
had worked with in the past, now knowing that he no longer earnt
his money, but received it as charity from the
"My round, I think," said
Scotty taking up Jack's now empty beer glass.
"No mine," corrected Jack.
"You bought the last round."
"Oh did I?" said Scotty Ward,
feigning innocence. But, of course, he knew that he had. Both
Scotty and Billy had taken to trying to rob Jack of his shouts
now, knowing that he could not really afford to buy a round.
But to Jack it was a matter of honour that he should always pay
his own way.
"Three more," said Jack,
taking the three empty glasses over to the counter,
"Make it two," said Billy Lock,
potting the black ball to win the game, "I have to be getting
back before the missus puts out an APB on me."
"You've got time for one more
for the road," insisted Jack, nodding to the barman to fill the
With the glass of beer thrust
into his hand, there was nothing Billy could do, without
"We might as well have another
quick game, while we're drinking," said Scotty Ward, indicating
toward the billiard table.
Lock and Ward played a final
game of Kelly Pool, which Ward won, Billy Lock declaring, "It's
not my game. You'd never have beaten me at snooker!"
"The pub doesn't have a set of
snooker balls," pointed out Ward,
"The pizza place down the road
does," insisted Lock.
"I don't like pizza," said
"Wimp!" said Lock. "You just
don't like losing, that's your trouble."
"I like that," said Ward, "I
win four out of the last five games, and so he accuses me of
being a bad loser!"
"Well we all know that
Billy-boy can't be a bad loser, said Jack. "He's had too much
practice at it."
Billy Lock bought his final
round, then left.
"One more for the road?" asked
Scotty Ward. He bought the last round, and then departed,
leaving Jack with the knowledge that he had still been cheated
out of buying a round.
Jack rarely went to the pub at
all these days, he just could not afford to. But somehow,
whenever he did, Scotty and Billy always managed to buy the first
two rounds and the last two rounds. And the feeling that he had
not paid his own way always robbed Jack of whatever satisfaction
he might have otherwise derived from the gathering together with
old friends at the local watering hole.
* * *
Thursday, 28 September
Chris sat at one end of the
kitchen table, reading through the back pages of the daily
newspaper. Over at the gas stove, the kettle began to gush
water vapour, its whistle lost long ago.
"That's all right, I'll get
it," said Norma, striding into the kitchen as Chris stood to turn
off the kettle.
"How's dad?" asked
"A little better," said Norma,
taking the kettle over to the counter near the refrigerator.
"At least he's talking about wanting to look around for work
again." She popped two slices of bread into the
"Is that a good sign, or a bad
one?" asked Chris.
"That's a good question,"
conceded Norma, She spooned tea into the pot, then pored in the
hot water from the kettle.
"Do you want a cuppa?" Norma
"No thanks, mum," said Chris.
He sighed, and then said, "the job scene is no better than it was
this time last year."
"At least your health isn't
being destroyed by acid fumes, and you don't have those migraines
any more," said Norma.
"And dad won't speak to me any
more, now that I'm back on the dole."
"Oh he's not as bad as he was
last year," said Norma, buttering Jack's toast. She spread on a
thin layer of marmalade onto the toast, and then placed the
toast, teapot, and a cup and saucer upon a plastic tray. "At
least they let you back onto the dole."
"Yeah, but is that a good
thing, or bad?" said Chris.
"Sometimes I think it would be
better to starve, than to have to suck up to those
backyard-fuehrers, just for a lousy fifty dollars a
"Come on, it's not that bad, is
"You haven't been on the dole,"
said Chris. Holding up the newspaper, he said, "You might as
well take that in to dad as well."
"You keep it Chris, he's still
too ill to go out looking for work."
"That's all right, I've
finished with it. Maybe you can cheer him up by reading the
funnies to him. I suppose that I'd better get on with my
Chris picked up a slim textbook
from the kitchen table, and began to read through the book. He
mouthed the words, as though trying to make himself understood
too a lip reader, struggling to make any sense out of the
Norma added the newspaper to
the tray, and carried it in to Jack who was propped up in bed,
four pillows behind his back.
"How are you feeling, love,"
said Norma, placing the tray upon a small plastic bedside
"Shithouse, of course," said
Jack, reaching across to lift the newspaper from the
"Now, now, Jack," said Norma,
taking the newspaper from
Jack. "First you have something
to eat, then I'll read the newspaper to you."
"I'm not hungry," insisted
"Now don't start acting like a
bad tempered little boy, or I'll put you across my knee, I warned
"Promises, promises, you'll get
me excited with that kind of talk."
"Well if you're going to get
excited," said Norma, "we'll have to build your strength up
first, so that you can do something with your excitement. So
how about some toast and a hard boiled egg?"
"No., no, I couldn't eat
anything," said Jack. "I'll just have a cuppa while I'm looking
through the situations vacant pages."
"Situations vacant!" said
Norma, almost shouting. "Don't be stupid, if you can't even
eat, then you're too sick to go out looking for work."
"I'm not being paid to eat,"
said Jack, "but I do get paid to go out looking for
"You don't get paid to kill
"Don't be so bloody
melodramatic!" said Jack reaching for the newspaper.
Norma held onto the newspaper
and took a step back from the bed, saying, "Anyway Chris has
spent the last ninety minutes going through it with a fine tooth
comb, without finding anything to go after."
"Still I might find something
that Chris missed," insisted Jack. He pulled himself to a
sitting position on the edge of the bed, groaning like an old man
afflicted with arthritis.
"Oh don't be so bloody silly,"
said Norma. "I'm not going to give you the paper, so you might
as well lie back on the bed. Even if Chris did miss anything,
you'd be lucky to be able to even read the paper, with those
rheumy eyes. You look as though you've been on a nine day
"All right then you can read
them out to me," said Jack. "You offered to read me the
"All right," said Norma. She
opened the newspaper to the back pages. "Here's one you might
like, 'Barmaid wanted to work 6:00 to 10:00 in the evenings.
Must have good legs.' Well I guess that let's you out, your
best feature is between the legs. Here's another one, 'Typist,
stenographer, keypunch operator wanted. Must be prepared to
work overtime, all night if need be, working under the section
boss.' No I suppose that lets you out-too."
"Look there must be some jobs
for blokes," insisted Jack, teetering upon the edge of the
"Yes, here's one, 'Senior
lecturer wanted to teach advanced computer techniques, at the
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.' Or here's one,
'Director wanted for major Sydney based firm. Applicant must
have past experience on the board of large firms, and must be
prepared to move interstate if need be.' That sounds like just
the ticket for you," said Norma.
"Very funny," said Jack.
"Surely there is something that doesn't require endless
experience and education?"
"Yes here's something," said
Norma, turning to the sports section, Port Melbourne in the VFA
are looking for a new winger for next season. No, sorry, it
says that the maximum age is fifty-three, so I suppose that's the
end of that."
"Where are my slippers?"
demanded Jack, almost falling off the edge of the bed as he
hunted around under the bed.
"Never mind about your
slippers," said Norma. Taking Jack by the shoulders, she pushed
him back onto the bed, then, lifting his feet up, she tucked them
under the blankets. "There is no point in you killing yourself,
going out after non-existent jobs."
"Well even if there's nothing
in the paper," said Jack, groaning as he pushed his legs over the
edge of the bed again, "there are still all of the local
factories that I haven't been able to check out for two weeks,
while I've been sick."
"Hell Jack, they're probably
well and truly sick of the sight of you around at those places,
you've been around to most of them twenty or thirty times at
least over the last year."
"Then maybe if they get sick
enough of me badgering them, they might give me a job just to get
me off their backs."
"I wouldn't count on
"Neither would I," admitted
Jack, "but the more times that I go around to those places, the
more likely that I am to be in the right place at the right time,
if a job does come up."
"If they did have any work
goings Jack, no one would hire you at the moment, when you're so
obviously under the weather! Now I don't want any more
arguments from you, you've been sick as a dog for the last two
weeks, so you're going to stay in bed for qt least the rest of
this week, to make certain that you've completely recovered!" So
saying Norma put Jack's legs back into the bed, and took two
pillows out from behind his back so that he could lie down.
"And if you're not going to eat, at least you can got some
"But I can't," insisted Jack.
He moaned as he sat up again.
Norma eased him down onto the
bed again and said, "You can spend the day trying to sit up if
you like, and I'll spend the day lying you back down again, I
don't mind. Then when you're strong enough to stop me from
lying you down, we'll both know that you're well enough to get up
and look for work."
"But I am well enough,"
insisted Jack. He groaned as he tried to sit up
"Jack!" said Norma, lying him
down again, and holding him down on the bed. "You Pre not
getting up from this bed, even if I have to sit on your face to
hold you down."
"You're only trying to make me
die of lust before I'm well enough to take you up on that,"
Norma tore the situations
vacant pages from the newspaper, and then placed the newspaper on
the bed, saying, "If you want to have a look at the paper later
on, you can, but I'm taking the work section with me."
"Sadist," said Jack.
"Actually I'm quite happy about
it," said Norma.
"Do you want any of this, or
can I take it away?" Norma asked, indicating the breakfast
"You can leave me a cuppa,"
Norma poured a cup of tea,
returned the pot to the tray end turned to leave. She had taken
a couple of steps toward the bedroom door when she stopped.
Looking back, she said, "Oh Jack, this might not be a good
time...But while we're talking about work, I've got another
chance of a job with Debbie Williams."
"Another one? How many jobs
does she have going?" asked Jack. "I didn't think that the
laundry business was doing so well these days."
"It isn't, I conceded Norma.
"It's the same job."
"You mean to tell me that, with
so many people looking for work, she hasn't been able to fill the
job in nearly a year?"
"It isn't that she can't fill
the job," said Norma. "She filled it shortly after she first
offered it to me, but she hasn't been able to get anyone to stick
to the job for more than a few weeks."
"Christ! It can't be much of
a bloody job," said Jack. "You ought to thank me for telling
you not to take it."
"Oh Jack, she's only had young
kids in the job so far, and what doesn't seem much to teenager,
might be just the ticket for me."
"Still I'd prefer that you
didn't get a job while I'm still able to."
"But you haven't been able
"Not so far," admitted Jack.
"But I will eventually...Hell I thought you'd given away the idea
of working nearly a year ago."
"No, Jack, you gave up the idea
of me working nearly a year ago, it seems. I've spent the last
eleven months waiting for you to see reason! Hell, Jack, there
are times when I've considered just taking the job, and then
telling you to like it or lump it!" said Norma.
"Then why haven't you?"
"Out of respect for your
feelings. Which is more than you seem to have for
"Surely you wouldn't take the
job against my wishes?"
"I really don't see why I
shouldn't take it. Housework only lasts me a couple of days a
week. Recently I've found myself washing down the walls and
ceilings, end scrubbing the kitchen floor, every few days. If I
don't take a job soon, I'll end up scrubbing the paint right off
"Oh Norma! Maybe I'm
old-fashioned…" began Jack, then seeing Norma raise her eyebrows,
he said, "all right, all right, so I definitely am old-fashioned,
but I still don't like the idea of having n working wife," as
Norma started to interrupt, Jack raised his voice a little to
add, "It'd be bad enough at any time, but while I'm on the dole,
it'd be as though I was letting you be the
"Oh Jack! Stop living in the
past," said Norma indignantly, "There is no stigma these days
about a man having a working wife." Then as Jack tried to
interrupt, it was Norma's turn to talk him down to add; "Even men
who are on the dole...Hell I can't help it if you're out of work
and can't dig up a job, when one has come my way."
"Oh all right, but I'd still
prefer it if you were to wait till I can get a job myself," said
"Oh Jack, you've been on the
dole for nearly a year now, without even a sniff of a job,"
pointed out Norma. "Why can't you just accept the fact that at
your age you aren't likely to get another job?"
"Give up and bludge on the dole
for another six and a half years? What do you take me
"Hell, Jack, you've done your
bit for this country, and now they treat you like muck down at
the employment place, because you can't find work, after forty
years of hard labours you don't owe those bastards anything! So
isn't it about time that you thought of getting something back
"It's soon enough to start
thinking about getting something back for myself when I'm old
enough to qualify for the old age pension," insisted Jack. "At
least then I'll know I've earnt it, not like the dole which is
only bloody charity."
"Oh Jack!" said Norma, marching
out of the room. It was the first time Jack had ever heard his
name made to sound like in obscenity.
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