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Perhaps the best off my Smith/Bennett/Mayron unemployment stories.

Submitted:Jan 2, 2011    Reads: 31    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

Late July 1977
Mid Morning
There was nothing at all!
'There's never anything worthwhile!' thought Chris as he stooped to read a small card pinned only centimetres from the bottom of the notice board.
He read the card to himself, then straightened to change places with a tiny woman, who glanced toward the card then shrugged at Chris who nodded his agreement.
Chris glanced back over his left shoulder and saw that the crowd at the counter had not visibly thinned out during the last half hour. But at least he had already put in his card, unlike many of the people jostling for a place at the front of the counter.
'All day!' thought Chris. 'I'll be here all day, waiting for a five minute interview. How do they expect you to ever find work when they fool you around like this?'
Heinrich Himmler goose-stepped to the front of the room, picked up a green card from a wooden out tray upon a small table, a metre or so behind the counter, and called out:
"Smith? Christopher Smith?"
"Over here," called out Chris as he began to push his way through the thick crowd to reach the front of the counter.
Chris was marched down a long, thin aisle, which reminded him of the thin aisle between the pews at church. 'But this place is too depressing for a church,' thought Chris. 'It's more like a walk to the showers at Auschwitz!'
* * *
"Take a seat," commanded Heinrich Himmler a few moments later, when they were hidden away from prying eyes, within the confines of the tiny interrogation booth.
He introduced himself as Allan Juchster; however, the reedy, effeminate voice did nothing to dispel the resemblance to Heinrich Himmler.
Chris realised that they were in the very last interrogation booth and wondered if "the people at the front counter, at the other end of the building, would be able to hear the screams it Juchster resorted to the third degree.
Most of the floor space in the booth was taken up by a small desk, piled high with note pads, card indexes, and other writing paraphernalia. Seated the two men were close enough together so that their knees were almost touching.
Juchster read through the green card to himself for a few seconds, and then looked up at Chris to say, "It says here that we sent you out after a job in a textile mill in Hyde Road last week."
"That's right," agreed Chris, sitting to attention upon the small, three-legged stool.
Chris's back ached for a backrest, however, he knew better than to complain. Any show of weakness would give the enemy a lever to use against him. The backless stool was a deliberate test of his stamina.
"How did it go?" asked Juchster.
"Not very well," said Chris. He sighed, knowing that the interrogation was not going very well either. "I had to turn it down, because it was too far to walk."
"Too far to walk?" echoed Juchster.
"That's right, over eighty minutes' walk each way."
"What's wrong with that?"
"It's my kidneys," explained Chris. "As a kid I suffered from kidney trouble: nephrotic syndrome."
"All right, all right," said Juchster, "don't baffle me with bull! Just tell me why having had bad kidneys as a child stops you from taking a perfectly good job, now that you are grown-up?"
"Because I don't have the stamina to walk eighty minutes twice a day, as well as doing an eight-hour shift."
"Don't have the inclination to work, more like it!"
"Look, I've brought in papers from the Royal Children's Hospital a number of times, to prove that I'm not able to do anything too strenuous," insisted Chris. He sat back on the stool and had to quickly sit forward again as he almost went over backwards.
"Papers! Huh! I haven't seen any papers from the Royal Children's!"
Juchster scribbled upon the green card with a biro for a few seconds, and then said, "Look, you said yourself that it is only eighty minutes' walk. That, on top of a day's work, is not going to kill you. It would be one thing if it was heavy work, but it's on a weaving machine. Even if the walk to work in the morning knocked you out a bit, you would have all day to catch your breath before walking home again."
"But I don't have the energy for that kind of marathon effort," insisted Chris.
Juchster wrote upon the green card again and said, "Christ! If you are that badly off, you ought to be on the invalid pension, not the dole!"
From the front of the building came the sound of a decapitated head falling into a basket. Then Chris remembered that the Nazis did not use the guillotine, so that it must have been the sound of something, which had dropped onto the wooden floorboards, amplified by the building's eerie acoustics.
"Then how would 1 go about getting onto the invalid pension?" asked Chris.
Juchster rummaged through the three drawers of the desk, until finding a form pad, then said to Chris, "I can give you an application form, if you like. But I don't fancy your chances very much."
Certain that he could hear the sound of storm troopers goose-stepping at the front of the building, Chris asked, "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you cannot get the invalid pension unless you can convince them that you are at least eighty-one Percent incapacitated," explained Juchster.
Amazed, Chris thought, 'How can they distinguish between eighty-one Percent incapacitation, and a mere eighty point-nine Percent?' Aloud, he said, "Then why the hell did you suggest it in the first place?"
Ignoring Chris's question, Juchster said, "So as it stands I suggest that you forget all about trying to latch onto the invalid pension, unless you want to step in front of a green tram first."
"So where does that leave us?" asked Chris.
Juchster wrote upon the very bottom of the green form, then said, "Well, I don't know about us, but it leaves you with two clear alternatives: accept the Hyde Road job, or get thrown off the dole!"
"Thrown off the dole?" asked Chris in disbelief, almost toppling off the stool as he sat forward too quickly.
"That's the way it goes: you can only reject three jobs offered to you before you lose the dole. This is the third job you have knocked back."
"But none of the jobs you've offered me were any good! One of them required me to do heavy lifting all day, which my kidney trouble won't allow. Another required me to be on my feet all day long. Now this one would mean walking nearly three hours every day."
"Tough luck! The CES regulations require you to be prepared to walk up to two hundred minutes a day, if need be, before you can knock back a job on the lame excuse that it is too far for you to walk."
"But I've got bad kidneys!" insisted Chris.
"The CES regulations don't say anything about making allowances for bad health. In fact, they do say that you have to be 'fit and able to work' before you are eligible to receive employment benefits. If you are not 'fit and able to work' then you have been receiving the dole under false pretences, for the last four and a half years, and could be liable to repay every cent that you have received."
"But you can't do that!" shouted Chris, knocking over the three-legged stool as he staggered to his feet.
"Just watch me, sport!" said Juchster. "All right then what is it to be, the Hyde Road job, or the bum's rush?"
"But it's too far for me to walk!" shouted Chris. He heard his voice echoing around the building, and knew that he should try to calm down.
"Then it's the bum's rush," said Juchster. "Fine by me."
"I don't intend to take this crap lying down," shouted Chris. He was aware that the people in the other booths and at the front counter had stopped talking to listen to him. "I'll take you to court!"
"Why don't you get Galbally?" suggested Juchster. "He only charges a couple of thousand dollars a day."
Chris moved round the desk, grabbed hold of Juchster's tie and dragged him to his feet, then said, "Well, maybe you won't be so smug with a mouthful of broken teeth!"
Trying his best to keep the quiver out of his voice, Juchster said, "Calm down, doing your block isn't going to help anyone."
Holding onto Juchster's tie with one hand, while waving the other hand menacingly in front of Juchster's face, Chris said, "Well, it certainly won't help you, that's for sure!"
"Look, just to show you what a fair man I am ... " Juchster said, desperately rummaging through the papers on top of his desk with one hand, "I'll give you one of these." Having located a thin pad of yellow foolscap forms, he tore off one of the forms and held it out toward Chris.
Accepting the form, Chris released Juchster and asked, "What is it?"
Straightening his tie out with one hand, Juchster explained, "It's an appeal form. Fill it out and send it off to the address listed on the back. Your appeal will be considered by an independent panel, and if they think you have been hard done by, they will allow you back onto the dole."
* * *
"Knocked him back for being too old," said Gladys.
"I thought he was only in his twenties?" asked Frank.
"Twenty-two," said Gladys, and he's always been very good with figures, so a bank job would've been right up his street. But the bastards said he's 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," agreed Gladys, "nowadays they won't hire you without any experience, but coming straight from school, how are you supposed to get any experience if they won't hire you?"
"Catch-bloody-twenty-bloody-two!" said Frank.
'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? The boy'd land a job soon enough, if he really wanted work. Probably got hair halfway down his back and wears blue jeans and T-shirts to job interviews, so he can claim to be looking round for work, without the danger of really getting hired!'
Jack looked round the canteen in the hope of finding himself a seat further away from Frank and Gladys, but the canteen was very small. "The inbuilt closet," as old Rossi had always called it. There were four rows of rectangular steel-frame benches lined up like school benches.
Jack noticed old Gerda Spritz among the three women working behind the Formica-topped counter at the front of the canteen, preparing sandwiches and pastries to sell at lunchtime. Three years Jack's junior, Gerda had begun work at the factory the same day that Jack had, nearly forty years earlier.
Jack considered going across to talk to Gerda, but he knew that the women were hot allowed to talk while on duty, other than to take orders and he did not want to get Gerda, or himself, into trouble.
Jack looked around at the four rows of faces; however, there was no one who he was particularly friendly with. Gerda, old Rossi, and Jack had been what Gerda called the "Three mouseketeers of the old timers, up until Rossi's recent retirement.
As far as Jack could see, there was not even a vacant seat that he could move to. "A full house," as old Rossi would have said. So, after listening to Gladys and Frank for a few moments longer, Jack walked across to the soft drink vending machine, at the front of the canteen, near the counter.
Jack stood near the machine for a few moments, pretending to be making a selection. After three different people had nudged him aside so that they could make their selections, Jack gave up the pretence and returned to his seat beside Frank.
Jack wished that he could return to his lathe. They were only supposed to have fifteen minutes for morning tea, however, it sometimes seemed more like fifteen hours to Jack.
"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 the boy if you tell him something is bound to turn up sooner or later, because maybe it won't. Maybe he'll never find a job."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," agreed Gladys. "There're virtually no jobs to even go out after these days."
"None at all," said Frank. "Only the usual run of bar courses and typing courses disguised as jobs, and, of course, the usual run of door-to-door jobs."
Gladys snorted her contempt, and then said, "He'd be much better off on the dole, looking round for real work, than wasting his time going door-to-door."
"What's the matter?" demanded Jack, having listened to as much as he could stand. "Is the boy afraid of some fresh air?" Gladys and Frank looked shocked at Jack's interruption, they exchanged glances, and then Frank said, "It's not that. It's just that there's no future in the door-to-door racket."
"Still, the boy'd be better off going door-to-door for a few years, while looking round for something better, than just rotting away on the dole," insisted Jack.
"Maybe, but he'd need his licence to go door-to-door," said Frank, "and he hasn't got 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 they sell you a licence to drive."
Ignoring Jack's sarcasm, Frank said, "Still, he'd need a car and doesn't have one."
"Why doesn't he buy a car?" asked Jack. "Surely he can afford at least a bomb that'd do him a year or two till he could lash out and buy something better?"
"Dream on," said Frank. "Where'd he ever get the money for even a bomb, going straight onto the dole from school? I sure as hell don't have anything saved up to loan him."
"If he's been on the dole for a few years he should have saved a few hundred dollars by now," insisted Jack. "How much does he get a week on the dole? $250? $300? $350?"
"Forty-nine dollars ninety-five."
Jack looked shocked by this revelation, however, he quickly recovered his composure and said, "Still, I bet you keep him rent-free, right?"
"We have to," said Frank, "otherwise he'd starve."
Jack laughed then said, "He's really got you dancing on a string! If he hasn't got bed and board to pay he should be living on Easy Street on forty-nine ninety-five. It's a wonder he doesn't have his own Rolls Royce by now, or hasn't he been on the dole long enough?"
"Look, those jobs are all jilts!" insisted Gladys, coming to Frank's aid. "My son David got stranded in the middle of nowhere, going door-to-door, a few years back.
"The firm advertised a weekly wage of $900, regardless of whether or not you sold anything, plus 5% commission on all sales. And you didn't even need a driver's licence."
"Sounds all right," said Jack.
"Yes, it did," agreed Gladys. "They called round in a panel van to pick him up each morning, drove him out to his sales area, then picked him up again and brought him home each night. "Everything went All right for a week, except that he hadn't managed to sell anything. However, when they stopped to pick him up on pay night, they were bloody mad when they found out 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 anything, but they drove off before he could get into the car, leaving him stranded in the middle of the whoop whoops. He had to walk back nearly twenty kilometres, and didn't get home till well after midnight."
"Why didn't he call for a taxi?" asked Frank.
"He should have done," agreed Gladys, "but he never saw one and didn't have the money to ring for one. Of course, he should've called me reverse-charge and I'd've phoned a taxi for him. But he's just a kid so he didn't think of it."
"Thick as a plank in other words!" said Jack.
"Here let me give you a hand," offered Debbie Williams. She pushed back her chair from the kitchen table and walked the three steps across to where Norma stood near the kitchen sink.
"No, no, love, you go on ahead into the lounge," said Norma, as she began to pour the scolding hot water into the stainless steel teapot. "I've got everything under control."
"All right," said Debbie walking out into the corridor.
* * *
"Help yourself to the bikkies," said Norma, placing the plastic tray upon the small cane coffee table half a metre in front of the sofa.
As Debbie helped herself to two chocolate biscuits from the red tin, Norma sat beside Debbie upon the green vinyl sofa and began to pour the tea.
"You only like it weak, don't you?" asked Norma.
"That's right," agreed Debbie.
The two women were complete opposites. Debbie Williams was one hundred and eighty-five centimetres tall, lean from driving herself at work all day, with hard features seemingly chiselled out of marble, and close-cropped platinum-blonde hair. Norma Smith was one hundred and sixty-five centimetres tall, plump from eating too much fatty food, with soft features and shoulder length auburn hair.
"Business doing so well that you can afford to take a day off?" asked Norma, helping herself to a Monte Carlo biscuit. "Or are your staff so efficient they can run things without your supervision?"
Debbie sipped her tea, helped herself to a third biscuit, and then asked, "What staff?"
"I thought you employed a young girl three days ago?"
"I did," agreed Debbie, "and a young girl two days before that, and a young bloke a week before that."
"Then what's happening to them all?" asked Norma. She reached for a second biscuit as Debbie reached for her fourth.
Debbie munched the fourth biscuit then said, "They quit."
"All of them?" asked Norma. She wondered for the umpteenth time how Debbie could eat so much yet remain so deathly thin, while Norma herself ate only half as much and struggled to keep her weight under control.
"Yes," said Debbie, "the bloke lasted four days, the first girl one day, and the second girl quit just before lunch on the second day.
"There has never been a fortune to be made in the laundry business, but I could at least make a reasonable living, if only I could get someone to settle in as my permanent assistant. As it is, I've gone through nearly two dozen assistants already this year."
Debbie took a sip of her tea, and then shovelled in six heap spoonfuls of sugar.
"Perhaps you aren't paying them enough," suggested Norma. She grimaced as Debbie began to drink the over sweet concoction and thought, 'If only she'd stir the bloody stuff, she could get by on two spoonfuls, and I wouldn't have to scour the gunk out of the bottom of the cup after she's finished.'
"I'd pay them more money if I could," said Debbie, "but what would be the point of having a steady assistant, if I had to pay her so much that I wasn't making any money on it myself?" Debbie sipped her tea then grimaced.
'Serves you right!' thought Norma, only to watch in horror as Debbie shovelled three more spoonfuls of sugar into her tea, then took another sip.
"Aaaah! That's more like it," said Debbie, reaching across for a Monte Carlo biscuit.
She ate the biscuit in two bites, then said, "It's not really that the money is so bad, rather the job is so bloody monotonous: ironing and spray cleaning all day long. After a day or two of that they all think that there has to be something better just around the corner."
"The poor silly twits," said Norma. For a moment she wrestled with her conscience, then seeing Debbie reach for a sixth biscuit, Norma decided to risk a third biscuit herself. 'What can a few more kilos hurt at my age?' decided Norma, helping herself to a chocolate-coated teddy bear biscuit. "They'll probably spend years on the dole regretting their mistake."
"And I feel sorry for them, truly I do, but I feel much more sorry for myself. I've got enough headaches trying to run a very shaky small business, without the added burden of having to find replacement staff five or six times a month," said Debbie. She sighed, and then said, "Kids! They all expect too much out of life these days. They don't just have great expectations, they have ridiculous expectations."
Debbie selected a seventh biscuit, which she devoured more from anger than from hunger, then said, "What I really need is a mature, older woman. Someone who realises that any job at all is better than no job at all."
Norma leant forward to place her empty teacup on the plastic tray, then said, "It can't be any more monotonous than house work. It's almost the same job, except that in your work there are only half as many different things to do."
"And you'd get paid for your efforts in my work," pointed out Debbie. She sipped her tea, then said, "So what do you do with your time these days, Norma?"
"Oh the same old drudgery," said Norma. "Washing, cooking, and ironing mainly."
"Surely that can't take very long, with only the three of you to take care of?" asked Debbie. "Particularly now that Chris is old enough to help out a bit?"
"Yes, he cleans out his own room, makes his bed and sometimes washes the dishes for me in the evenings."
"Then you can't really have much to occupy yourself with," said Debbie. "What you really need is a job to keep you busy."
"Oh no, I couldn't really," said Norma, thinking, 'Why didn't I see this coming a mile away?' "I'd love to help you out, and I could certainly use the money, but...."
"Then what's wrong?" asked Debbie. "You admit you need something to help pass the time, and what could possibly make the time go faster than working at a job?"
"I suppose so, but...."
"Then what's the problem?" demanded Debbie, leaning forward to place her empty teacup onto the plastic tray.
"You know what the problem is," said Norma, grimacing at the sight of the thick sludge of sugar in the bottom of Debbie's teacup.
"There's no need to even tell him!" insisted Debbie, turning upon the sofa to glare toward Norma. "Hell I don't want Jack to work for me!"
Norma sat forward upon the very edge of the green vinyl sofa and peered down at the plastic tray upon the small cane coffee table, to avoid eye contact with Debbie, and said, "He'd sooner go to work for you himself, than have me take a job." Debbie sat forward in a bid to force Norma to look her in the eye, and said, "Come on Norma, Jack's your husband, not your master! He's got no right to stop you living your life any way you choose."
"I know that," said Norma. "It's just that ... Well, Jack is a little old-fashioned when it comes to working wives."
"Working wives?" asked Debbie. "Hell you make them sound as rare as dinosaurs!"
"You know what I mean," insisted Norma.


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