Arthur you can't lose all the time

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A darkly humorous and insightful piece on the complexities of enforced social acquaintances in an unfulfilling workplace.

Submitted: November 23, 2018

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Submitted: November 23, 2018



"There's only one way to quit smoking and that's to do what I did...and have yourself a heart attack"



Anonymous Bogan proverb



Arthur Northampton, is the kind of man that anthropologically exists somewhere between Neanderthal and a cro magnon. In fact you don't see many of his mammalia circulating in the general population anymore.


A hulking man who waddles side to side like an overpacked cattle road train on an unforgiving dirt highway.


If nominated to a casting agent he would have been undoubtably the ideal executioner in B grade historical film set in the dark ages.


Arthur was blessed with that quintessential English quality of possessing an unquestioning sycophantic reverence to superiors;one could only imagine he would have dutifully carried out any gruesome responsibility if granted the blessing to do so.


He had also been granted the god-given testosterone fuelled ability to grow hair, to almost to every part of his body, particular his shoulders and back.He is unashamedly manly; vibrantly hairy like a 70's Burt Reynolds; a throwback to a time when men were not afraid to have excessive chest hair.


His appearance attracted the typical references from fellow coworkers of how he resembled a silverback.Comments varied from "are you due back at the zoo?." To the evergreen "Charles Heston from planet of the apes called...he said he wants his suit back".

It was these kind of petty quips that generally received reactionary laughs of obligation from inside the small minded parameters of a warehouse.There are times where I can visualise him as a Celtic barbarian disemboweling the mirthful enemy with his trusty broadsword.


However, In a warehouse environment any laugh was a good laugh. As humour served as a reminder of a fleeting humanity you once knew existed.

The walls that confined your existence enforced some kind of tolerance for others and a distraction from the mundane life that awaits once the shift came to a close.


Arthur was a considerably large man who would sport a comically undersized high visibility shirt which would sensually accentuate his exposed protruding hair infested belly that as a bystander you slowly grew accustomed to and overtime accepted as a normality.


Most of his teeth were missing as he extracted them with a pair of pliers to avoid paying exorbitant dental costs.He was certainly no fool.


Arthur explained that his oafish high tolerance to pain granted him this remarkable ability.


As a registered voter, and paid member of the one nation party, he was very much apart of the reactionary Bogan heartland.


He didn't carry a malicious heart, however despite being an immigrant himself, Arthur was vehemently against all forms of immigration.


Yet he never saw the irony in this stance when questioned about the issue and on face value he didn't have any particular problem with anybody, except when they lived in the same neighbourhood as him.


He was one of those English working class types who harbours a nostalgic political fetishisation with the glory days of Margreat Thacther, even if he was one of the unfortunates being targeted.


Over the years he replaced his adoration for the Iron Lady with Australias nationalist provocateur, one nation stalwart Pauline Hansen .


For all of his physical shortcomings, and passive bigotry there was something redeeming in his overall character.A kindness, a humility, something that was humane and even so far as likeable.


A habitual close talker, his breath conjured a rancour of chewing tobacco and decay, which was accompanied by a southern English accent that times became completely unintelligible.


Sounding remarkably like an old sulky labador that had been left out in the rain, by a family who had decided he was not longer welcomed in the house.


For all of these shortcomings no one could not deny Arthur, simply because he would do anything within his influence to help someone if they needed.

In the zeitgeist of shameless egocentric based behaviour having the desire to help others as a quality actually is rare nowadays.


Truth be had, he was a golden soul..champaign, golden champaign.If a working class hero was something to be, he is a modern personification of that bygone legend.
Not that he ever complained, when he did it was with extremely trivial matters that seemed strikingly unaligned with the obvious problems that layed before him.


He once gave me a lift when my piece of shit car decided not to start;the waft of body odour and cigarettes permeated in the closed space of the Econovan and out of sheer courtesy I didn't even bother opening a window.


An external feature of Arthur's physical identity was that he an iconic ring tone on his phone. One that sounded like an emergency pre WW2 wartime air siren.It was piercing and unforgiving, he set that tone to identify when the school he sent his two young boys, Max aged 10 and Thomas aged 9 to were trying to call him in regards to their disruptive behaviour.


These calls from the school were quite frequent.
They were not nessecarily bad kids, yet with no mother around they were unapologetically male.They broke things, they fought, they were lads. Essentially good hearted boys, yet lads nonetheless.

They were seen as problems kids by the schooling authorities,who demonised both Max and Thomas for the inability to appease their boyish masculinity.


They provided there fair share of stress for poor Arthur, whose wife had left him, not too long after the boys were born.She offered no real explanation, and after the divorce moved a few streets away from the house they bought together.


They would sometimes run into each other at the local supermarket chain.
She would ignore him the way an ex girlfriend does when she has the inconvenience of having to possibly interact with a regretful romance of the past. 


As darkly comedic as a situation might appear, this was Arthur's life;for all of his idiosyncrasies,habits and attracted criticism he nonchalantly shrugged off the bourgeoise pretensions that he cared little for, which seemed so important to others.


Above all,undoubtably Arthur is a man, that carried all the warranted burdens a single father raising three children could.He is a man, that refused to not shy away from the responsibilities of being a provider, a carer,a friend,a role model.

 If all that was simply being someone that worked everyday; he did so, with an English fortitude that would carry on regardless even if his two dodgy knees couldn't hold him.Like so many baby boomers, who were regarded as 10 pound poms, or immigrants of that era he was tough,consistent,he would continue to carry on with every ailment,sickness , disease known to man until he would perhaps die on the warehouse floor, from the exhaustion of life's demands.

You would honestly have to shoot the man before he would even consider having a sick day.

Because he carried this dignified working class grit you could only resentfully admire his determination.A soldier of the unremarkable.He wasn't an academic, he cared very little for art, science or literature.Yet he was never late for work.


Walking in to work, with his signature limp that was more like a Clydesdale gallop in slow motion, you could hear him panting for breath as he sluggishly shuffled towards his assigned forklift for another day of monotonous labour.
A fastidious man by nature he studiously went through the checklist.

He set that good example that no one else in good society cared about.

What was important to remember that regardless of opinion or pride we were all equally unimportant on the conveyor belt of working class ubiquity.


However Arthur was the epitome of the working class anti hero, someone who you would swear you would never become like, yet over time in some perverse sense of admiration you start to revere his strength and that if you ever did become like Arthur one would hope you had half of his tenacity to face the bleak reality.


How much can your soul withstand a battering and not succumb to bitterness that seemed mandatory with working life?

The ability to be throughly beaten by life and still face the next round for more gruelling punishment was  inspirational as it was depressing.


As we checked in awaiting our daily jobs, Arthur's phone began to ring.
It was English world war 2 emergency air siren.There were two different types. One was the yellow siren to alert the public of incoming danger and the other was blue to signal that danger had past.

Arthur's ringtone was set to yellow. It is a hauntingly foreboding sound that you would never want to hear in real life.

Even as a ring tone, your immediate reaction upon hearing is this sense of apocalyptic dismay.A dreaded fear and an acceptance of what is about to come.It was completely inappropriate.


The slow winding air siren ringtone began to sound.

Arthur started fumbling through his pockets.

"Bloody hell, it's the school I'm not answering this time" he whispered

Arthur went through this ritualistic routine every time the school called. He would throw his arms in the air in an exasperated frustration, furrow his brow and swear that he would refuse to answer the phone.

He always did the second time around. He had three children under 10 all attending a local primary schools.

The boys who were consistently finding themselves at odds with some of the school policies and his daughter who was the youngest, named Eliza.


Eliza was subjected to cruel teasing from the other kids, until her brothers intervened, and threw a chair at one her tormentors which broke the bullies nose, one of the boys Max was sent to a specialty school for his actions.However his actions inspired enough fear in the others not to tease his younger sister again.


Overweight, and sporting home-job haircuts Eliza wasn't blessed with aesthetics that inspired jealousy.However there was always a particular brand of cruelty fit for everybody in public schools, and if you couldn't find a flaw, you simply were not trying hard enough.Her mother played little to no role in her life.


The other children would call her orphan Lizzie amongst other vulgarities.Confirming the fact that children are by nature horrible people.At school you were either, too short,tall,white,black,ethnic, Asian,red haired,ugly,hyperactive, lethargic,fat or poor.There was bound to be something wrong with you.


She was once sent home because it was discovered she had lice.The parental response from Arthur being a clueless well-meaning Luddite was to shave her head to the skin and sent her back into the hyenas den called the Australian public school system.


This was a devastating thing to do to a young girl.

Yet like her father she was tough and stubbornly determined.Which was noticed by her teachers.She was angelically good hearted, thoughtful but by no means the most gifted student.However she obsessed over her homework and assignments,developing a self discipline that other children her aged had not yet acquired.


Her grades started to gradually climb and within a space of 6 months she was reading at a year 8 level.She eventually earned the top marks in her class.
She wrote an essay on her fathers emigration to Australia from England, in the late 60's.It was disturbingly poignant for an 8 year old.It was over a 1000 words, which was a monumental effort, for someone at such a tender age.

One of the lines reads as such:


"...My Dad came to this country by boat, with his family as a young boy.They were sad to leave their home but my nan would tell all my aunties and uncles that a better life is waiting for them in Australia. when they arrived, they were given homes and work.

"... the refugees who we turned away are trying to do the same thing as my dad had done when he was a boy I believe they deserve a chance for a better life away from harm and I think we should help."


I remember when I was 7 had won a school writing competition, all I wrote about was the brief history of Australian Football.She actually had a gift.


Her gift was being blessed with an unwavering empathy,an audacity;most importantly an independent mind that nobody could claim responsibility for.When stubbornness and empathy combine forces it makes for indefigatible spirit.She channeled the energies of his fathers bloody mindedness applied her own aptitude and slowly started to mould her own political thoughts.


This gained the attention of the teachers in which they enter her essay into a statewide competition.The teachers assisted with some editing,and grammar however the body of the writing was all hers.

She won, which entitled her to a scholarship at a private school, and was also published in the local newspaper.

As our container unloading team was picked which consisted of Adam, Arthur and myself we starting to make our way towards the docking station.

Arthur's phone started to ring again.

"Answer it arthur, it could be important"

"It will be the boys playing up again, not today , I've had enough" Arthur was set to wave the white flag, and not come out of the corner to fight this time.


Adam being young and obnoxious was not accepting this as an option

"You don't know that, answer the fucking phone"

"I can't the boss will see me" protested Arthur in his predictable work before family stance.

"Hide behind the 40ft container, I'll cover you" suggested Adam, the kind of mate always willing to bend the rules for a noble cause.

Arthur looked around then hobbled off behind the container, we were watching his expression closely.

He looked utterly confused, as if he was speaking to an outsourced Indian call centre trying to tell him that he owes a fictitious tax department money.

When he finally hung up the call, he looked perplexed.

'What happened?' I asked

"It was the school" Arthur sounded somber with a hint of confusion.


"They wanted to inform me that my little girl has won a scholarship for an essay she wrote". Scratching his head as if it were completely unfathomable that such a thing could happen.

"Oh wow, that's fantastic!" Adam and i knew how hard it had been for Arthur, some good news made for a well needed change.

"Yeah they want me to attend the school awards day where she will presented a scholarship"

'That's amazing!' I couldn't even mask my enthusiasm for him

Sheepishly he admitted "I can't go though?"

'Why the fuck not?' Adam, interjected now becoming more irritated.

" Because i have to work" he sounded pathetic as if he didn't even believe it himself.
I had to take a hardline approach on the issue.
'Arthur I'm only going to say this once.You are going to that school presentation.Your going to get an annual leave form, sign it hand it to management.' 

"I can't " as if he was asked to leave his battalion, mid battle.

'Arthur you can' we responded in unison.

"I can't" replied Arthur with his arms crossed.


Upon hearing this Adam and I decided to take matters into our own hands, we devised a plan to approach one of the supervisor who were usually referred to as screws or boss as if we were in a 50's southern state prison.We scanned the warehouse searching for the most sympathetic heart.


We decided to target Garry, a mid 50's Englishman from Portsmouth, who had a penchant for collecting coins, and toy cars from the 60's.


"Hey boss can I ask you a question, it's not work related" I knew I was leaving soon, so I afforded myself the privilege of asking for a few favours.


"Sure mate what's the problem?" Garry inquired whilst inscrutably overlooking some paperwork.

"Ah no your a father right?I figured you could possibly shed some light on this question"

Garry always appreciated the effort of flattery

"Yeah mate two boys, one girl whys that?" He said proudly

"How important is it to support your child's academics achievements?"

It was a loaded question, yet I had to start somewhere

"Oh mate, encourage, encourage I say so they don't end up in a place like this"
He waved his arm in the manner that a waiter would at an upmarket restaurant, showing you where to sit.
We all jovially laughed.

"Why that's" Garry queried

"Can you have a word with arthur?" I pressed

"Possibly... what's the issue?"

"Well his youngest daughter just won a scholarship to go to a better school, he won't put in an annual leave to witness this important moment, I was wondering if you could have a chat and encourage him to do so?"


Garry looked as happy as I felt when I first found out.
He looked around the warehouse suspiciously like he part of some benevolent conspiracy.
"Leave with me boys" he assured us.

Even though Garry was English he was the type of man that made you feel proud to be Australian.

Garry called out "Hey arthur,"

"Yeah, boss," Arthur was in a container drowning in a sea of cartons.

Garry started to make his way over to the docking station, watching Arthur trying to navigate his way out of the container.


"I heard your daughter just won some award what day is the presentation? "

Stumbled by the fact that news spreads like wildfire in a warehouse he struggled to reply."Next Thursday" he blurted out

Before he could even elaborate Garry had unceremoniously cut him off
"Put your form in, your having the day off.I better not see you here Thursday mate." Garry was not joking.

My coworker and I waved at Arthur, from a distance.The kind of wave that symbolically claimed a responsibility or had an influence in a particular outcome.

As we left work that day, Arthur had a smile, that I could only describe as unconquerable.


We left through the exit door, into the car park before we parted way in our respective cars and I remember saying in the spirit of working class brotherhood.

"You see arthur...we can't lose all the time".


The next day I decided to hand my notice in and sign an employee exit form.As I was sitting in the car I started reflecting on all the characters I had befriended in the workplace.Arthur in particular, laughing to myself how I never would of met these characters in any other place.


We are taught to only glorify success stories that have an aesthetic that we can be envious of, regardless of how difficult the obstacles for the more unglamorous might have been to overcome.

That the lesser known wins, are insignificant.The kid that was scared of the football kicking their first goal.The drug-dependent overcoming addition, or depression.The long term unemployed finding a job, the refugee finding safety and a place to exist.The alcoholic finding sobriety.

Every action in every minute of the day we take makes or breaks character.

When we want to bask in the light of someone else's success it is not because we want to feel an artificial pride.It has more to do with the fact that we grow tired of feeling ashamed of our own inadequacies and limitations.

If protecting fragile egotisms were a religious organisation it would

 be the unthinkingly predominated faith of choice in contemporary secular society.

To feel the radiance of another person triumph against adversity alleviates the guilt of mediocrity and lack of our own personal participation.Silently barracking at distance yet are not willing to celebrate until we know that victory is assured.


When Eliza read her essay out to the audience nobody in the room felt ashamed, the cacophony of murmurs transformed into a attentive silence.The teasing and bullying,were cast aside and made way for an applause.Anyone who was present in the room had the opportunity to personally witness what courage looked like.


Little did anyone realise that the criticism, harshness and lack of support become instrumental factors in the shaping of the young essayist character.


Arthur invited me to attend this awards night,I felt honoured that he asked, I decided to attend as I believed I was going to witness something that I may not see again.

As Arthur was quietly observing in the back row, he felt this strange repressed feeling of something that at first seemed unrecognisable to him.


A pride that had been heavily safeguarded, never allowing himself the privilege of happiness,as the odds had been stacked up against any positive experience being an actuality.He had to remind himself this wasn't England at the World Cup, he could not possibly jinx this moment,he was aloud to celebrate.He beamed a captivating toothless smile and shed a quiet tear as his youngest went onstage to accept her award.


In the increasing hyper awareness our surroundings, our projection of ego and of perception of self, we become more dislocated from each other.We gradually associate with people that we think are kindred spirits, that compliment our bias.Those who have similar artistic tastes,a particular image of wealth,a non threatening passivity,or those who simply massage the ego of fragility.

It has become more obvious that for better or worse ego is the god, we choose to worship,for without it, we have a deep-seeded fear of becoming irrelevant.


You may not have had the privilegde of knowing a Arthur Northampton.
One would be more likely to find him in any walmart around the world bumbling through the aisles telling his kids to put whatever it is they have in the hands back,on the shelf, shamelessly declaring how " we can't afford that".As you find yourself safely cringing from a distance, hoping not to make eye contact.I know I have.


We rarely make the time for those that we don't see as superficial kindred hearts because they live in a different area, support a different football team, have a different accent,skin colour or religion, different socio-economic group,political party,or affectation.


We keep telling ourselves how "different" we are, taking the path that offers the least resistance, making it seem like a natural order of things.

Yet when you deconstruct the motivations of such an act it reveals itself a truth with sparkling clarity.We live in a community of different social strata,ethnicities,religions yet only want to make the social effort for people which we think remind us of ourselves somehow.


There will come a time where I probably will never see Arthur again.I have every bit of confidence that his daughter will be successful in whatever she focuses on.
I cut out her article in the local newspaper and placed it into a chest where I keep sentimental objects that reminded me of a place and time.


As I sat in a writing workshop, that was mostly comprised of ambitious literature graduates that range from intellectual bearded hipsters, to Sylvia Plath aficionados.
All who shared a love for Kafka,Bukowski and Lars von trier films.I should of felt like I was finally associating with the bohemian creative types I always thought I yearned for yet the atmosphere was somehow uninspiring,wooden and hollow.
Sometimes the only thing worse then being rejected by middle class pretension is being accepted it.

One of the exercises in this writing workshop, is to write something "engaging" and "readable" about a traditionally "unlikable" character, and to emphasise the concept of "failure" in the literary sense.We had a 1 hour time limit.My unlikable character has so many likeable qualities and his failures, by societies standards were small pockets of successes to him and those he cared about.

A journalist friend once told me that there are two things you shouldn't write about:
Stories about failure and unlikable characters.I replied that's why your'e a journalist and not a novelist.We don't talk anymore

© Copyright 2019 jim koya. All rights reserved.

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