Monday, 17 October
"Knocked him back for being too
old," said Gladys.
"But I thought he was only in
his early twenties?" said Frank.
"Twenty-two," said Gladys.
"And he's always been good with figures. So a job in a bank
would be right up his street. But the bastards said he was too
old, they'd rather hire a sixteen or seventeen year old, who they
could pay junior rates for four or five years."
"Bastards!" agreed Frank.
"How's a kid supposed to get ahead in the world, if they won't
even give him a chance?"
"Yeah," said Gladys.
"Nowadays they won't hire you without any experience. But,
coming straight from school, how can you get any experience, if
they won't hire you? Catch
"Christ!" thought Jack.
"How'm I supposed to keep my food down, with those two whingers
doing their level best to make me throw up ... If the boy really
wanted work, he'd land a job soon enough. Probably got hair
halfway down his back, and wears jeans and T-shirts to his job
interviews so he can seem to be looking for work, but without any
danger of actually getting employed!"
Jack looked around the small
canteen, hoping to find himself a seat further away from Frank
and Gladys. But the canteen was only very small, "the inbuilt
cupboard" as old Rossi had used to call it. There were six rows
of rectangular steel-framed benches lined up like school benches.
In one corner, at the front of the room, a cigarette machine
stood next to a soft drink vending machine. Along the front of
the canteen ran a small counter, behind which three women worked
away preparing sandwiches and pastries to sell at lunch
Jack noticed old Bertha Spitz
among the three women. Five years Jack's senior, Bertha had
started work at the factory the same day Jack had, nearly forty
years ago. Jack thought about going over to strike up a
conversation with Bertha, but he knew she wasn't allowed to talk
while on duty, other than to take orders, and he didn't want to
get her into trouble.
He looked around at the six
rows of faces, but there was no one Jack was particularly
friendly with. Bertha, old Rossi, and Jack had been what Bertha
called the "Three mouseketeers of the old timers". Up until
Rossi's retirement the year before.
As far as Jack could see, there
wasn't even a vacant seat that he could move to. "A full
house," as old Rossi would say.
Jack listened to Frank and
Gladys for a moment longer, then stood and walked over to the
soft drinks machine. He stood near the machine for a few
moments, pretending to be selecting a drink. After three people
had nudged Jack aside to make their selections, he gave up the
pretence and returned to his seat to listen to Gladys and Frank's
tales about their respective offspring' attempts to find
Jack wished that he could
return to his lathe. They were only supposed to have fifteen
minutes for morning tea, but to Jack it sometimes seemed like
"Of course we tell him to keep
his chin up, and all the other clichés," said Frank, stirring the
sugar around the bottom of his empty cup with a plastic spoon.
"But it's getting harder all the time. You feel as though
you're lying to him when you tell him something is bound to turn
up soon, because maybe it won't. Maybe he'll never get a
"Yeah, I know what you mean,"
agreed Gladys. "There's virtually nothing to even go out after
"Nothing at all," said Frank.
"Only the occasional bar course disguised as a job ... And, of
course, the usual run of door-to-door jobs."
Gladys snorted her contempt and
said, "He'd be better off on the dole, looking around for real
work, than wasting his time going door-to-door."
"What's the matter?" demanded
Jack. He had listened to as much as he could stand, "Is the kid
afraid of some fresh air?" Gladys and Frank both looked shocked
at Jack's interruption.
They exchanged glances, then
Frank said, "No, but there's just no future in it."
"Even so, the boy would be
better off going door-to-door for a few years, while looking
around for something better, than just rotting away on the dole,"
"He'd need his licence for one
thing," said Frank, "and he doesn't have it."
"There's no law saying he can't
go for his licence, is there?" asked Jack. "You don't have to
be born with a driver's licence, you know? These days there's a
test you can go for, and if you pass it they sell you a licence
"Even so, he'd need a car,
which he doesn't have," said Frank.
"What's wrong with buying a
"What's wrong with winning
Tattslotto?" asked Frank. "Nothing! Only the bloody odds are
against it. Where would he ever get the money to buy a car?
He went straight onto the dole from school."
"Why don't you lend it to him?"
asked Jack. "Surely you can afford at least a few hundred for a
"A few hundred?" asked Frank.
"You might as well say zillions. I don't have any money in the
bank. Christ, if I ever did get any money, I probably wouldn't
know how to fill in a deposit slip to put it into the
"Well, if he's been on the dole
for a few years, he should have saved a few hundred for himself
by now," said Jack. "How much does he get a week? $250?
ninety-five," said Frank.
"But I bet you keep him
rent-free, don't you?"
"We have to," insisted Frank.
"Otherwise he'd starve."
Jack laughed then said,
"Christ! He's really got you dancing on a string. If he
hasn't got any bed or board to pay, he should be living on easy
street," said Jack. "On forty-nine ninety-five a week, it's a
wonder he doesn't have his own Rolls Royce Silver Cloud by now!
Or hasn't he been on the dole long enough?"
"Look," said Frank getting very
tired of Jack's sarcasm. "Even if he did have a car it wouldn't
be a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. And even if he did own a car, I
wouldn't want him going door-to-door. Those jobs are all
"You sound very sure of
yourself," said Jack. "Wow you have been busy, if you have
personally checked out every single one of them!"
"No, of course I
"Then how can you say they're
"Everybody knows it," insisted
"Everybody in the whole world?"
asked Jack. "Well, as long as you've established it
scientifically, that's the main thing. I suppose you've
personally conducted a survey of the entire four billion people
in the world to make sure they all know it?"
"No, of course, I didn't!
Look, those jobs are all jilts," said Frank. "They offer you a
great wage, regardless of what if anything you sell, plus a
commission on what you do sell."
"Hell, it sounds pretty good to
"Except that if you don't sell
anything, they never pay up. And most people never sell
"Whose fault is that?" asked
Jack. "You can hardly expect them to pay you for
"No, I guess not. But you
have to be unnaturally aggressive to make a success of the
"So you lad's a bit of a pansy,
is he?" asked Jack. "Can't he hold his own?"
"Look those jobs are all
jilts!" insisted Gladys, coming to Frank's aid. "My son, Dave,
got stranded in the middle of nowhere, going door-to-door a few
"How'd that happen?" asked
"Well, the firm advertised a
weekly wage of ninety dollars, regardless of whether or not you
"Not bad," said
"Plus two-and-a-half Percent
commission on any sales. And you didn't even have to have a
"Sounds all right," said
"Yes it did, in fact it sounded
too good to miss when we saw it in the paper ... they called
around in a panel van each morning and picked him up, and drove
him out to his sales area, then picked him up again and brought
him home each night"
"So what happened?" asked
"Everything went all right for
a week, except that he hadn't managed to sell anything. I guess
it was partly my own fault, I should have known Dave was too easy
going to be able to con people into buying things they don't
"Anyway, when they stopped to
pick him up on pay night, they were bloody mad when they found he
still hadn't sold anything. They swore at him, and accused him
of trying to take their money for work he hadn't done. They not
only refused to pay him, but they drove off before he could get
into the car, leaving him stranded in the middle of the Woop
"He had to walk back nearly
eleven kilometres and didn't get home until after
"Why didn't he take a taxi
home?" asked Frank.
"He should have, of course, but
he never saw one, and didn't have the money on him to phone for
one. He should have placed a reverse-charge call to me, and I
could have phoned a taxi for him. But he was only seventeen at
the time, so he just didn't think of it."
"Thick as a brick in other
words," said Jack.
"The employers in this country
are long overdue for a good shaking up," said Gladys. "Their
open exploitation of the unemployment situation isn't helping
things at all. Just the other day my daughter got the
run-around when she applied for a job as a shop
"That should have suited your
Jenny down to a T," said Frank.
"Yes, it would have," agreed
"So what went wrong?" asked
"Well, she went around to the
address advertised an hour before the firm opened, on the day it
said to apply. But when she got in for an interview the bastard
says they never advertise in the paper, only with the CES. So
Jenny showed him the clipping and asked, 'How do you account for
that?' So he rings through to their head office. then says the
job has been filled already. He reckons some bloke went around
to their head office, which opens an hour earlier than the branch
"Huh!" said Frank. "Sounds
like the bastard gave the job to one of his mates, then still had
to advertise it to keep head office in the dark."
"That's what we thought," said
Gladys. "But there was no way to prove it.
* * *
Jack stood tentatively in the
doorway to Bob Withers, office. Jack had only ever been inside
the executive wing twice before: the day the second world war
ended, and for a celebration drink the day old Withers had been
promoted to Chief Manager of Productions, fifteen years
For five minutes, Jack watched
the bald head bobbing up and down as Withers wrote, hunched over
his desk. Finally, seeming to sense Jack's presence, Withers
"Steve Wilkins, the foreman in
my area, said you wanted a word with me," said Jack.
"You're Jack Smith?"
"Take a seat," said Withers
waving toward a leather chair near the desk.
Jack stepped tentatively into
the room and sat on the very edge of the chair. "Don't tell me
they've finally decided to promote me, after all these years?" he
Withers went on with his
writing for a few moments, then he looked up at Jack again and
said, "Sit back in your chair, Jack. We want you to be
Withers looked toward Jack for
a few seconds, finally he said, "I suppose you realise things
have been pretty bad lately?"
"Things aren't nearly as bad as
some people would like you to believe," said Jack.
Withers thought about Jack's
remark for a few seconds, then said, "Perhaps not, Jack. But on
the other hand, things aren't nearly as good as some people would
like you to believe, either."
Withers leant back in his
chairs and lit up a cigarette. He offered one to Jack who shook
his head. "Well, at least he doesn't have the mounting cost of
the weed to worry about," he thought.
Withers took a puff on his
cigarettes then said, "Business hasn't been very good
"Been going through a bit of a
"No, I'm afraid it's much more
than just a dry spell. The company has been losing an awful lot
of money lately. So much, in fact, that the directors were
forced to hold emergency meetings all last week, to discuss the
situation. Apparently, after considering all of the
possibilities, there was only one conclusion that could be
drawn...." Withers realised he was talking too quickly. He
stopped to have another puff of his cigarette.
"Yeah? What was
"They decided that the company
as a whole could be made profitable again if they were to shut
down two sections."
"Yeah? Which ones did they
"The east and west wings ...
they're the ones that have been causing the deficit. The north
wing is just about breaking even, and the south wing is actually
bringing in a quite healthy profit. In fact, it has been
keeping the whole company afloat for the last five years. But
recently the east and west wings have started losing too heavily
to be carried any longer. The directors considered converting
the east and west wings to produce the same components as the
south wing currently does. But the changeover cost was
prohibitive." Withers paused, and thought to himself, "My God!
How am I going to tell him?"
"So you're going to shift me to
a new wing, are you?" asked Jack, disappointed, but not really
surprised, that it was not about a promotion. "Well, anything
to keep the directors happy."
"God, Jack, I only wish we did
have a place for you in another wing. But as it is, we don't.
We'd have to sack another man to make room for you."
"Are you trying to say you're
Withers was quick to state,
"No, not sacking you, Jack! We're being forced to stand you
"But for Christ's sake, I've
been working in this company for forty years!"
"I know you have, Jack, and
you've always been a good worker. But you can see our
situation, can't you? If the wing isn't making money it has to
be closed down, that's only sound business practice."
"Sound business practice!"
echoed Jack contemptuously.
"And obviously we can't sack a
younger man to make room for you, because that wouldn't be fair
to him," said Withers. He realised he was speaking too quickly
again. More slowly he said, "And we can't create a bogus
position for you in another section, because you aren't the only
long-termer being stood down. If we were to carry you all in
other sections, then they would stop being profitable too, and
would soon have to be shut down too. Before you could look
around, the whole thing would have snowballed out of hand, until
the whole factory had been closed down. At least this way, some
of the workers will still have jobs."
Jack. "So where does that leave me?"
"Well, Jack, we'll certainly be
giving you a glowing reference for all of the great work you've
done here down the years. You know you can count on us for
"And, of course, you'll be paid
two months' salary in advance, when the section closes down on
"Friday! Hell, you don't
waste much time, do you?"
"We can't afford to. The
sooner the two wings close down, the sooner the company as a
whole can get back on its feet again."
"Fair enough, I
"I'm truly sorry, Jack," said
Withers. Even as he was speaking, he realised how lame the
"It isn't your fault. I'll
soon get another job, a man of my experience will be snapped up
pretty quick smart."
"I hope so," said Withers,
Taking his cue, Jack shook
Withers' pro-offered hand and returned to his lathe.
* * *
Monday, 17 October
Norma glanced at Chris, but
said nothing. She placed the second piece of meat into the
saucepan, and began to tenderise the third piece, as Jack walked
into the kitchen.
"Hello love," said Norma as
Jack slumped into a chair at the table. "You're home
6:30," said Jack listlessly.
"Oh, has it? Well, I'd better
pull my finger out in that case. I'm afraid tea will be a bit
late tonight." She placed the third piece of meat into the
saucepan and turned on the fourth burner.
"Don't rush yourself on my
account. I'm not particularly hungry."
"What's the matter, love?"
asked Norma, sitting next to Jack at the table.
"I've just been
"What!" said Chris and Norma
"How come?" asked
"The firm was going bust, so
they decided to close down a couple of sections, including the
one where I work."
"But, Jack, you're their
longest serving employee! Surely they could find you a job in
another section?" said Norma.
"It's because I'm their longest
serving employee that old Withers gave me the bad news as soon as
he heard it."
"When does your section close
"This Friday, apparently they
want to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible."
"But don't they have to give
you some notice? To give you time to find another
"They're giving me two months'
severance pay to tide me over until I can get another
"Two months! You'll be lucky
if you can get another job that quickly," said Chris.
"No worries, I'll find another
job long before two months is up. I'm not a bludger to spend
years of my life on the dole!"
"That's right dad, I forgot,
you're a forty-year-man. You'll have to carry around a bit of
four-by-two to beat away the prospective employers!" Chris
"What did you say?" demanded
Jack, jumping to his feet, and leaning over Chris.
"You heard me!" said Chris,
standing and glaring a challenge back at his father.
"Well, maybe you'd like to
repeat it? Sometimes I'm not too fast on the
"You said it dad, not
Jack raised his fists and moved
toward Chris. Norma rushed between the two men only to find
herself being jostled on both sides, as Chris and Jack tried to
reach around her to get to each other.
"Chris, go to your room, I'll
bring you your tea," said Norma. When he hesitated, she added,
Chris turned to leave the
"If you're old enough to cheek
me, Chris, perhaps you're old enough to think about leaving
home!" shouted Jack.
"Maybe I am!" Chris shouted
back, as he left the kitchen.
Norma turned to glare at Jack
and demanded, "How can you be so heartless! You know he can't
afford to live away from home!"
"Oh, hell!" said Jack, slumping
back into his chair. "I don't intend to drive Chris out, but
why did he have to talk to me like that?"
"Because," said Norma sitting
on a chair beside Jack, "after four years on the dole, he needs
your sympathy, not abuse. So naturally he couldn't resist the
chance to get a bit of his own back."
"How about a bit of sympathy
for me? How do you think I feel, having a son living on the
dole for four straight years?"
"No worse than he is feels,
being on the dole for four straight years!" said Norma, going
over to attend to the food cooking on the stove.
"Whose fault was that?" asked
Jack, turning in his chair to face Norma. "I didn't want him to
leave school so young. I had to leave school myself at
seventeen to get a job, because the old man couldn't afford to
support me any longer. So I wanted Chris to get a better
education than I had. So what did he do? He turned around and
knifed me in the back."
"You mean he knifed himself in
the back. All you've got is hurt pride, Chris is the one who
has had to live with being unemployed for years."
"And I'm the one who now has to
live with the shame of being unemployed, and having a son already
ahead of me on the dole."
"Well, you don't have to worry
about that any more," said Norma. "Chris isn't on the dole any
"You mean he's finally done the
right thing and found himself a job?" asked Jack.
"No, I mean those bastards down
at the employment centre have finally done the wrong thing, and
have thrown him off the dole!"
* * *
Tuesday, 25 October
Norma moved back and forth from
toaster to refrigerator, from gas stove to kitchen tables
preparing Jack's breakfast. Occasionally she glanced over at
her husband and stepson, who were sitting as far away from each
other as possible, at opposite ends of the kitchen table. Jack
sat gazing into his coffee cup, while Chris pored slowly through
the Situations Vacant section of the daily newspaper, which he
had spread open on the table.
"There you are, love," said
Norma, as she placed a plate of bacon and eggs on the table, in
front of Jack. She rescued two slices of toast just before they
began to smoke and placed the toast upon a bread plate on the
table near Jack.
"Oh, I'll bring you the
marmalade from the fridge," said Norma.
"And the butter," said Jack,
looking with distaste toward the plastic tub of margarine sitting
in the centre of the kitchen table.
"You'll have to settle for
margo this morning. I didn't have time to nip down to Sims'
"Well, for God's sake make sure
you get down the street for some today."
"I will, Jack, cross my heart
and hope to die if I tell a lie," said Norma, mimicking the
Playtex bra ado, as she walked over to the
"There's no need to be bloody
sarcastic about it," said Jack, reluctantly spreading his toast
"I'm sorry, Jack, but perhaps
you could buy some butter while you're down the street today,"
said Norma, placing the can of marmalade upon the
"I should have seen that one
coming a mile away," said Jack. As Norma cleared away Chris'
breakfast dishes, Jack spread a thick layer of marmalade onto his
toast, hoping to smother the taste of the margarine.
"Any luck?" asked Norma, as
Chris continued to pore through the newspaper.
"No, nothing," said Chris.
"But I promised to help Beth and Uncle Bob to move today
"That's right, I forgot they're
moving house today."
Jack said to Chris, "Well, have
you finished with the paper yet? You're only bludging anyway.
You could soon get work if you really wanted it badly
"There are times, dad, when you
sound just like our duh prime minister: Mad-Cunt
"Watch your bloody language,"
warned Jack. "And don't give me any of your bloody
"Here, have your bloody paper,"
said Chris. Standing, he threw the newspaper at Jack across the
"Jesus Christ!" said Jack
ducking as the paper went over his head. He turned to see the
newspaper pages flutter apart across the linoleum covered
"I'll see you later, mum," said
Chris to Norma as he walked out of the kitchen.
"Good bloody riddance," Jack
called after Chris.
* * *
"It's now or never," thought
Jack, standing outside the interview room. Manual labour was a
big come down after forty years as a trained machinist, but he
was determined not to follow Chris' example of waiting forever
for the non-existent perfect job to come along.
Pushing open the door, Jack
Opposite the door was a large
desk which took up most of the space in the room. Behind the
desk sat a fat man who looked as though he was about to depart
for a trip to Hawaii, dressed in thongs, shorts, and a psychedelic
beach shirt. Most of the space on top of the desk, on top of
the two metal filing cabinets behind the desk, and around the
floor, was taken up by literally tens of thousands of forms,
colour-coded into pink, lime, lemons navy, orange and
Running a hand across his grey
hair, broom-cropped like the hair of a television show army
sergeant, the employment officer looked up and saw Jack standing
in the doorway. "Yes?" he asked. "What can I do for
"I read in the newspaper that
you've got a job going," said Jack, taking a newspaper clipping
out of his shirt pocket.
"We've always got jobs
advertised," said the employment officer, "squillions of them.
Which particular one did you want to apply for?"
"Er ... it's job BYZ 4725 dash
479," said Jack reading from the slip of paper.
"Do a flashback over that one
will you? Only this time in slo-mo."
Jack repeated the number, and
the employment officer asked, "And what the hell is that supposed
to mean in English?"
"That's the number you've got
it referenced under in the newspaper," explained Jack, handing
over the clipping to the employment officer who glanced at
"Yeah, well, all that kind of
bullshit is concocted by the cock-heads up at head office," said
the man. "What I need to know is the actual type of job," He
read the slip to himself, then said aloud, "Storeman and packer,
and other light manual labour as directed, could involve some
sales over the counter." To Jack he said, "That's rights we do.
Take a seat."
As Jack sat on the wooden chair
in front of the desk, the employment officer identified himself
as Don Reynolds, and handed Jack one of the pink forms to fill
The form completed, Reynolds
took it from Jack and began to read it through to himself.
After a few moments, he said to Jack, "It says here you've been
working for the same firm since before World War Two?"
"That's right," agreed
"Well, I've got to hand it to
you, you've certainly got one hell of a good work history ...
What was your reason for leaving after all of those
"The firm was going bust, so
some of the workers had to be laid off."
"I see," said Reynolds looking
down at the form again. He looked up again to ask, "Can you
drive a forklift?"
"Yes, I had to on rare
occasions in my last jobs but I don't have an endorsed
"Who gives a bugger about
that?" asked Reynolds. "We'd only have to pay you more if you
did." He wrote upon the pink form, then continued to read it
for a moment before asking, "Do you know how to use an
oxy-welder? And don't tell you can't drive any oxy, I've heard
that joke a zillion times."
"No, I've never used an oxy,"
said Jack. "They did some welding where I used to work, but
they had three full-time welders on the payroll."
"I see," said Reynolds, writing
on the pink form again. "Well, that's no real sweat, you'll
soon get used to it. Most of the welding we do here is
electrical. Arc welding is even easier than oxy, we're quite
prepared to train you on-the-job," he added as an after thought.
"We aren't one of those slack companies that expects someone
else to pay for your training, just so you can do all of your
best work for us.
"You live in
Reynolds, looking up from the pink form.
"Yes, that's rights," conceded
"Isn't that a bit far to travel
into BeauLarkin every day?"
"No worries, I live only five
minutes walk away from West Footscray railway station."
"Does the train take you all
the way through to BeauLarkin?"
"No, but it would only take me
a few minutes to switch trains in the City every morning. Or
else I could catch a tram from Spencer Street to Bailey Street, BeauLarkin."
"That sounds like a lot of
trouble to go to?"
"Not really, it's better than
being stuck on the dole. Besides, I've got a licence, so once I
had the job for a while, I could afford to buy a car and drive to
"Fair enough I suppose," said
Reynolds out loud. To himself he thought, "Who does this guy
think he's kidding? I've never yet known anyone who'd rather
earn a living than scrounge it off the government. Most of them
only apply for jobs when they have the CES standing over them,
then do everything they can to give a bad impression so there's
no danger of them being employed, yet they can still honestly say
they went for an interview."
Reynolds read through the pink
form again for a few moments, then asked, "Do you have much of
history of illness?"
"Worst thing I've ever had in
my entire life was a head cold. And then not a very bad
"What about workers' comp?
Have you had much time off on compo down the years?"
"Never had a day's compo in my
life. You don't need it, as long as you're careful. Only
bludgers need compo. All the slack bastards who deliberately
give themselves minor injuries so they can slack off on the
firm's time. That's not my way. I like to know I've earnt my
money, not bludged it."
"Good, well, everything else
seems to be in order. Of course, you'll have to be checked out
by our doctor, and we'll get in touch with your last employer ...
Oh, yes, by the way, have you got a reference from
"No worries," said Jack, taking
a folded sheet of paper from his shirt pocket.
Flicking the sheet of paper
open, Jack handed the sheet to Reynolds who read through it for a
"Right, well, this seems to be
okay," said Reynolds. "But we'll still have to check out your
history of illness and compo before I can tell you anything
definite. Still I don't see any reason at this stage why you
shouldn't get the job ... Oh, yes, there is just one thing: how
old are you?"
"Fifty-seven. I'm sorry, but
I'm afraid we can't help you. It just isn't worth our while to
take on a man who will retire in eight years' time. It takes us
two full years to train you properly, then you'd only be with us
for another six years after that," said Reynolds. He was
pleased he had at last found an excuse not to hire Jack. It
worried him the way Jack talked about not wanting the dole at all
costs. Reynolds had been around and in his time had met his
fair share of people, and he thought, "A guy who refuses to
scrounge off the government just can't be trusted! Bludging is
a national pastime in Australia, it's unpatriotic not to want the
dole. Since the government robs people with taxes, it's
everybody's patriotic duty to grab back whatever they can through
the dole, as well as other pensions. No, a guy who won't bludge
off the government, can't be trusted for any money!"
Returning the reference to
Jack, Reynolds said, "No, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that's
"I'd be prepared to work well
past the age of sixty-five," offered Jack.
"What! And get us in the
shits with the union? Forget it! We're in bad enough with
them as it is, without pushing our luck any further ... No, I'm
afraid we can't help you."
Jack sat dejectedly in his
chair for a moment, gazing down at the paper in his
After a moment Reynolds said,
"Look, are you still here? Why don't you go and enrol for the
dole? No one's ever going to hire you at your age, it's just
too big a risk."
* * *
Jack sighed with frustration,
walking slowly, shoulders be at, from the interview room. He
wondered if this would be all he could expect, if at fifty-seven,
still nearly eight years away from the old-age pension, he would
find himself unemployable due to his age?
Lost in thought, Jack stumbled
from the building. Head down, eyeing his feet, Jack noticed the
other man rounding the corner, but was unable to stop in time to
avoid the collision.
Looking up as he ran into the
other man, Jack came almost cheek to cheek with his younger
brother, Kevin. There was a ten year age gap between the two
brothers, however, age had nothing to do with the fact that the
two men were barely on speaking terms. Two years earlier, Kevin
Smith had been retrenched from his job as a grit-blaster at a
local company that repaired and manufactured cargo containers.
The job had required no qualifications, other than the sheer
brute strength needed to control the fireman style hose used to
spray iron-filings at high pressure to strip the old paint off
containers, prior to repainting. As a result, as an unskilled
labourer, Kevin had found it impossible to find any sort of work
after two years. Like Jack, Kevin faced the prospect of having
to see out his time on the dole, until qualifying for the old-age
pension. Except that Kevin would have an extra ten years to
The two men were very similar,
both were of medium height and well muscled, with Jack showing
just a hint of fat. And, despite the age difference, the two
men could almost have been twins, since Kevin Smith seemed to
have aged at least a decade in the two years he had been
"Kevin," said Jack, making it
sound more like an accusation than a greeting.
"What are you doing here,
Jack?" asked Kevin more civilly.
Jack explained about being
retrenched, then said, "In other words, pretty much the same
thing as you: getting the run-around." He paused for a moment,
sighed, then said, "I'm starting to think it's not so good to be
a forty-year-man after all. Because, by the you're a
forty-year-man, even if you started work at seventeen, as I do,
you're too close to retirement age for anyone to give you an even
"The only break you'll ever get
from an employer, is in the neck," said Kevin. "They're not
worried about a chance, only in what they can get out of your
hide. As far as those bastards are concerned you're not a man,
you're just a commodity to be used then thrown away as they see
The two brothers stood looking
at each other in silence for a few moments, then Kevin asked,
"Have you got any other interviews to go out after?"
"No, this is the first one I've
had in two days ... What about you? If you don't get this one,"
"Yeah, but I'm not really
likely to get it."
"Why not?" asked
"Because it says 'On-the-job
"Still, if it's only preferred,
you might get lucky," insisted Jack.