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Short story By: Philip Roberts
Literary fiction

Out of order; this is the story where Jack Smith gets laid off from his job.

Submitted:Dec 23, 2010    Reads: 29    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

Monday, 17 October 1977
9:20 AM
"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 bloody-twenty-bloody-two!"
"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 time.
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 work.
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 hours.
"Of course we tell him to keep his chin up, and all the other clich├ęs," 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 job."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," agreed Gladys. "There's virtually nothing to even go out after these days."
"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," Jack said.
"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 to drive."
"Even so, he'd need a car, which he doesn't have," said Frank.
"What's wrong with buying a car?"
"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 bomb?"
"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 bank."
"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? $300?"
"Forty-nine dollars 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 jilts."
"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 haven't!"
"Then how can you say they're all crooked?"
"Everybody knows it," insisted Frank.
"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 me!"
"Except that if you don't sell anything, they never pay up. And most people never sell anything."
"Whose fault is that?" asked Jack. "You can hardly expect them to pay you for nothing."
"No, I guess not. But you have to be unnaturally aggressive to make a success of the door-to-door racket."
"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 years back."
"How'd that happen?" asked Frank.
"Well, the firm advertised a weekly wage of ninety dollars, regardless of whether or not you sold anything."
"Not bad," said Jack.
"Plus two-and-a-half Percent commission on any sales. And you didn't even have to have a driving licence."
"Sounds all right," said Jack.
"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 Frank.
"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 need.
"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 Woops.
"He had to walk back nearly eleven kilometres and didn't get home until after 1:00 AM."
"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 assistant."
"That should have suited your Jenny down to a T," said Frank.
"Yes, it would have," agreed Gladys.
"So what went wrong?" asked Jack.
"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 office."
"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.
* * *
11:30 AM
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 earlier.
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 looked up.
"Steve Wilkins, the foreman in my area, said you wanted a word with me," said Jack.
"You're Jack Smith?"
"That's right."
"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 thought.
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 comfortable."
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 lately...."
"Been going through a bit of a dry spell?"
"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 that?"
"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 decide on?"
"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 sacking me?"
Withers was quick to state, "No, not sacking you, Jack! We're being forced to stand you down."
"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."
"Tre-bloody-mendous!" said 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 that."
"And, of course, you'll be paid two months' salary in advance, when the section closes down on Friday."
"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 suppose."
"I'm truly sorry, Jack," said Withers. Even as he was speaking, he realised how lame the words were.
"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, standing.
Taking his cue, Jack shook Withers' pro-offered hand and returned to his lathe.
* * *
Monday, 17 October 1977
6:30 PM
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 early."
"It's gone 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 sacked!"
"What!" said Chris and Norma together.
"How come?" asked Chris.
"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 down?"
"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 job."
"They're giving me two months' severance pay to tide me over until I can get another job."
"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 shouted.
"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 uptake!"
"You said it dad, not me!"
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, "Now, Chris!"
Chris turned to leave the room.
"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 more."
"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 1977
7:00 AM
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' last night."
"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 refrigerator.
"There's no need to be bloody sarcastic about it," said Jack, reluctantly spreading his toast with margarine.
"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 table.
"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 anyway."
"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 enough!"
"There are times, dad, when you sound just like our duh prime minister: Mad-Cunt Frazer."
"Watch your bloody language," warned Jack. "And don't give me any of your bloody lip."
"Here, have your bloody paper," said Chris. Standing, he threw the newspaper at Jack across the table.
"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 floor.
"I'll see you later, mum," said Chris to Norma as he walked out of the kitchen.
"Good bloody riddance," Jack called after Chris.
* * *
8:00 AM
"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 walked inside.
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 mauve.
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 you?"
"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 it.
"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 in.
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 Jack.
"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 years?"
"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 licence."
"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 West Footscray?" asked Reynolds, looking up from the pink form.
"Yes, that's rights," conceded Jack.
"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 work."
"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 one."
"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 them?"
"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 few moments.
"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," replied Jack.
"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 it."
"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 hands.
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 wait out.
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 unemployed.
"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 break."
"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 fit!"
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," said Jack.
"Yeah, but I'm not really likely to get it."
"Why not?" asked Jack.
"Because it says 'On-the-job experience preferred.'"
"Still, if it's only preferred, you might get lucky," insisted Jack.


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