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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The last of my Smith/Bennett unemployment stories.

Submitted: January 03, 2011

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Submitted: January 03, 2011



Norma placed the tray upon the kitchen sink, and then poured herself a cup of tea from the teapot.She picked up one of the slices of toast and asked, “Would you like a hard boiled egg, Chris?”
While Norma began to wash the breakfast dishes, Chris returned to the kitchen table to read through his schoolbook.
“What will you do with yourself if you don’t have any work to go after today?” asked Norma.
“Oh I’ll go around to a few of the shops in Footscray to ask about work, and stop in at the CES a couple of times.They put new job notices up on their work board a couple of times a day.Then I’ve got a night class at the tech.”
“Well I’m glad to hear that you’ve got at least one easy subject,” said Norma.She was about to say something more when there was a sound of knocking at the front door.
“That’s all right, Chris, I’ll get it,” said Norma, seeing him about to stand.“You go on with your studies, I she said, wiping her hands on a tea towel.
Jack moaned from the effort as he sat himself up on the bed.He sipped at the cup of tea, and then finding it tepid, swallowed the tea in one gulp.He replaced the empty cup upon the saucer on the bedside table, and then reached for the newspaper upon the bed.He moaned again and rubbed the back of one hand against his forehead as he was stabbed in the brain by a shooting headache.Still, he thought, he had been a lot worse only a couple of days ago.
Jack reached the newspaper, and then sat back against the bed-head to read.
“Oh, Jack,” said Norma, walking into the bedroom.“There’s a bloke at the door to see you.”
“A bloke to see me?” asked Jack, finding that he was unable to get his eyes to focus upon the newspaper.“How old?”
“Late thirties, or mid forties.”
“What does he want?”
“He didn’t say, said Norma.“He’s all dolled up in a fancy suit, about twenty years out of date, so at first I thought that he must be a bloody Mormon.But he insists he isn’t.”
“Well I suppose I had better go up to see him,” said Jack, moaning as he tried to stand up.“Where’s my dressing gown.”
“You stay in bed,” ordered Norma, “I’ll go up and fetch him down here.”
She turned to leave, and was almost knocked off her feet by Heinrich Himmler as he pushed his way through into the bedroom.
Actually it wasn’t really Heinrich Himmler, just a very good facsimile, right down to the starched black uniform; or rather, the sharp-cut, old-fashioned suit could easily have stood in for a Gestapo uniform, apart from the lack of insignia.
Under his left arm Heinrich Himmler carried a black clipboard bulging with an assortment of papers and forms.From his breast pocket protruded the silver tips of a half of a dozen pens, making him look like a life insurance salesman.
“Jack Smith?” demanded Heinrich Himmler.
“That’s right,” agreed Jack.
“Well I’ll leave you to it,” said Norma.She walked out, and closing the bedroom door behind her.
“I’m Allan Juchster,” he said.But the reedy, effeminate voice did nothing to dispel the resemblance to Heinrich Himmler.“I work for the Commonwealth Employment Service.”
“Yes I know,” said Jack.“I’ve seen you down there on occasions.”
“Then there’s no need for formalities, we can get straight down to business,” said Juchster.He opened up the clipboard, then said, “It’s a bit late in the day to still be in your P.J.’s, isn’t it?” He glanced down at his wristwatch, and then said, “Hell it’s after nine o’clock!Don’t tell me that you’re going to a midday pyjama-party?”
“No, I’ve been laid up pretty bad with the flu for the last two weeks,” saidJack, land I’m still not 100% yet.”
“A likely story too,” said Juchster.“More likely you were hitting the piss in a big way last night and just didn’t know when to call it quits.”
“Not a chance!” insisted Jack.
“All right then,” said Juchster.“So you stayed up late last night, because there was this really great movie on at 2:00 AM., The Return of the Blood-Sucking Lezzos from the Red Planets, and you just couldn’t bear to miss it.And so now you’re paying the consequences.”
“Bullshit!Listen, what gives you the right to come barging into my home, uninvited, then start throwing around all kinds of wild accusations?” demanded Jack.
“What gives me the right?” repeated Juchster.“The forty-nine ninety-five a week handed out to you from my boss: the Department of Social Security.”
“That doesn’t give you the right....”
“It gives me the right to do, or say anything that I like!” insisted Juchster.Seeing that Jack was not going to be drawn any further, Juchster took a form from the clipboard, clipped the form to the outside of the clipboard, took a pen from his coat pocket, clicked the nib out, then began to write upon the form.After a few moments he looked toward Jack and said, “All right then, to start with, on average, how many jobs would you say that you go out after in any weekly period?”
“There are none to go out after at the moment,” said Jack,
“So you don’t go out after any jobs at all?” asked Juchster.
“How can I, when there are no jobs around?”
Juchster scribbled upon the form for a few moments, repeating out loud what he was writing, “Doesn’t...go out...after any ... jobs at all ... anymore.”
Juchster looked toward Jack and asked, “When was the last time that you actually did go out after a job?”
“Well, I used to go around to about a dozen different places a day asking for work,” said Jacks “but gradually the number of places to go to dwindled down to nothing.”
“All rights all right,” said Juchster.“There’s no need to give me a flashback to when Adam was a boy.I don’t want to hear your entire life story, just tell me about the last time that you actually did go out after a job.”
“Well, I’ve been laid up with the flu for the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been able to go out after any kind of work for that long,” explained Jack.
“So you haven’t been out after a single job for two weeks now?” asked an incredulous Allan Juchster.
“No, because I’ve been too damn sick to get out of bed!Let alone hunt around for work.”
“I haven’t got time to listen to sob stories!If you’re sick, you should be on the invalid pension, not the dole,” said Juchster.“The invalid pension is for being sick; the dole is for looking around for work!” He wrote upon the form again, repeating aloud what he was writing, “Hasn’t...been out...look, around...for work...in over...two weeks.”
Juchster looked up at Jack again and said, “That’s a pretty slack effort, Smith.When are you going to get up off your backside, and start looking round for work?”
“I am looking for work,” insisted Jack.
“Yes, I can see that you are,” said Juchster, he lifted up an edge of the bed and pointing said, “I can see a job under there.And there’s another, and another. …”
Dropping the edge of the bedspread, Juchster said, “Look I know that you’re due for the old age lark, in a little under seven years time.But even so, you should still at least make the pretence of wanting work in the meantime, I
“But I do want work,” insisted Jack.
“Yeah, yeah sure, and the world’s going to start spinning in the other direction from tomorrow,” said Juchster.
“For crying out loud, there are no jobs around any more!”
“Bullshit,” said Juchster.He pointed toward the newspaper, and said, “If you ever bothered to open that up to anything besides the funnies, you’d find that there is column after column of jobs, just begging for someone to go out after them!”
“And every one of them asking for years of experience, a university degree, or else for somebody under the age of twenty-one,” saidJack.“After working for the same firm for forty years as a lathe operator, that’s the only thing that I have any experience at; I left school at seventeen, so I sure as hell don’t have any degrees, and you can see for yourself that I’m just a little beyond the age of twenty-one!”
“Listen!” said Juchster.“I’m not interested in hearing you’re excuses.I’m not an idiot, you know?”
“You could have fooled me,” said Jack.
“I’m wise to you, Helen Kallio warned me....”
“Who’s she?” asked Jack.
“One of the slu ... women down at the Footscray CES,” said Juchster.‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘watch out for Jack Smith, he’s got an answer for everything!”And you have too, apparently.But let me tell you that I’m all clued up, so don’t think you can get away with trying to make me believe that there are no jobs around.There are plenty of jobs going at the moment,” he said, pointing at the newspapers ’If you just want work badly enough,” Juchster paused for a moment to write on the form again, then he said, “Look I know that you think that this is just a job to me, and that if you tell me -a lot of bullshit, I’ll pretend to be sucked in, rather than going to all of the trouble of putting in a negative report, then having to follow up on it up.”
“Oh what kind of an idiot are you?” demanded Jack.
“And I know that there are a lot of slack bastards around, who would take the easy way out like that,” continued Juchster.“But I’m not like them!I take my job seriously; I take pride in doing a very difficult and important job!”
“Hell you sound like a bloody Army Reserves ad.,” said Jack.
“I take pride in helping to protect this country from the burden of parasites like you, Smith, So don’t think that you can pull the wool over my eyes by telling me that there are no jobs...I Juchster said, pointing at the newspaper again, “when I can see for myself that there are plenty of jobs available, all the jobs you could ever want, right here in this paper,” To emphasise his point, Juchster picked up the newspaper, putting the clipboard upon the end of the bed, and begin leafing through the back of the paper, looking for the situations vacant section, After a couple of minutes, Juchster looked accusingly toward Jack.
My wife took the jobs section out so that I wouldn’t go job hunting while I’m still ill,” explained Jack.
“The extent that some people will go to when avoiding looking around for work,” said Juchster.He put down the paper, picked up the clipboard, and made a small notation upon the form, then said, “Honestly, Smith, I can never understand you bludgers.This is a great country, Smith!You can become anything you want in Australia, if you’re just prepared to work hard enough for it!”
“Gung ho!” said Jack.“Then when are you going to become Prime Minister of Australia?Or don’t you work hard enough?”
“There’s no call to be bloody sarcastic,” said Allan Juchster.“You’re in enough strife as it is: this is the third time that I’ve called on you in the last six months, and on each of the other occasions you were out.At the early morning session at the movies, I’ll bet!”
“What the hell are you raving about?”
“That’s what everyone else does, so that they won’t be home whenever we call around to check on them, Then the bastards think that they can spin us a yarn about being out looking for work, and we won’t be able to prove anything, even if we do wise up to them.”
“Maybe that’s what the others do,” said Jack, “but that’s not my way of doing things.”
“Then where the hell were you when I called around?”
“If you came around at this time in the morning, I was probably out chasing up work.”
“Got you!” said Juchster.“How the hell could you have been out chasing work, when you’ve just told me that there is no work around to chase after?Talk your way out of that one!”
“Because the job situation hasn’t always been as bad as it is now.Even up until a month ago there were still some jobs going, but gradually the amount of work around dwindled out to nothing." said Jack.
Juchster shook his head, half in amazement half in amusement, and said, “Well it looks as though Helen was right.She said that you had a veritable genius for improvising on the spur of the moment.”
“Christ,” said Jack, “I’ve already told you that whenever a job does come up, I haven’t got the qualifications to get it.What am I supposed to do, lie so that I can get job that I’m not really capable of doing?”
“Hey, now you’re starting to get with it a bit.We don’t give a shit how you get a job, or what it is, just as long Ps you get off the dole: If you have to lie to get work, then we’ll back you up to the hilt.No worries,” said Juchster, patting Jack almost affectionately upon the shoulder.
“Oh great!” said Jack.“So now I’m supposed to go into some place and say that I’ve got n degree in advanced whatever, but I’ve misplaced it, and I’ve forgotten the name and address of the institute that I got it from.”
“Hey that’s not bad,” said Juchster.“We’ll back you up; you know you can count on us.”
“Or perhaps I could tell them that I’ve had years of experience at the job, and then name some imaginary firm -is my past employers.If they bother to check, and discover that the company doesn’t exist, I can always say they must have closed down recently.”
“Great, great, it’s getting better all the time,” said Allan Juchster.“For a while there you really had me worried.”
“Or perhaps I could say that I’m really only nineteen, but eleven months on the dole has aged me so much that I look as though I’m fifty-eight,” suggested Jack.
“No, no, it doesn’t pay to admit that you’ve been on the dole very long.Tell them eleven weeks, not months, and we’ll back you,” said Juchster.“But if you want to try the other two, that’s all right.” “Fine, if you want me to go to gaol!” said Jack, “but even then, whenever I do find a job to go after, there are always at least two or three hundred others after the same job.Most of them years younger than me; some of them hardly more than a third of my age.”
“Yes...well I can see that could be n bit of a problem,” conceded Juchster.“Listen,” he said, snapping his fingers, inspiration struck; “you could never convince anyone that you’re only nineteen, but you do look pretty well preserved for your age.So, we’ll back you up, if you want to say that you’re only fifty, or even forty-five for that matter.I’m sure that with the department’s help you can fool them, just say you’ve lost your birth certificate, and give them our phone number for verification of your age.”
“But even if I was dumb enough to try something like that, and I was lucky enough to find an employer dumb enough to believe its I’d still have to compete with dozens of young kids with degrees, or even higher degrees.”
“I don’t suppose that you could string all three together?” suggested Juchster.
“Don’t you think it’s asking a bit much, for anybody to believe that I’ve forgotten the name of my institute and can’t find either my certificate or my birth certificate, as well as my past employer having suddenly closed down?” asked Jack.
“Yeah, that could be asking a lot,” conceded Juchster.
“Do you think dad will have finished with the paper yet?” asked Chris.
“Oh I doubt if he could have even read it, with the state that his eyes were in,” said Norma, “but if you want another look through the situations vacant, I’ve got them here,” she said, taking the three newspaper pages from the top of the refrigerator.
“No I wanted the theatre section,” said Chris.“I’m taking Rita to the 9:30 showing after school tonight, if I can get home and change in time, so I wanted to check the address of the cinema.”
“Rita?” asked Norma.
“She’s a girl I used to work with,” explained Chris.“I’ve sort of been seeing her on a semi-steady basis for the last couple of months.”
“I thought that you were going steady with this girl Sondra?” said Norma.
“Sonja,” corrected Chris.“I more or less am.”
“How can you be more or less going steady with them both?”
“I have to arrange my timetable very carefully, so that I never invite them both out on the same night.”
“Doesn’t that put a strain on your budget, now that you’re back on the dole?”
“No worries, I usually don’t take them to the pictures, only for a walk through FootscrayPark, or wherever.I’ve invited Sonja, to Footscray Park for Melbourne Cup days so that we can stand on the rise and peer down into Flemington to watch the cup live, You save the entrance fee into Flemington that way, but it means you only get to see the cup live, you can’t hear anything from that distance.Also you have to get there very early to get a good spot, because there are always at least 150,000 people in FootscrayPark on Melbourne Cup day.”
“But don’t they suspect about each other?” asked Norma.
“Oh sure, they know all about each other.They hate each others’ guts, but they’re both trendy enough not to take it out upon me,” said Chris.
“Well that’s reassuring,” said Norma.
“The only time that they ever see each other, is when I take them to the OOWPAG.I usually take them together to the Out of Work People’s Action Group meetings, because I figure why should only one of them be bored to tears?”
“Oh, I’m glad that you reminded me,” said Norma, inspiration struck.“Some woman from the OOWPAG has been ringing around, asking for you.Gabrielle somebody or other.”
“Gabrielle is sort of an off-and-on old flame of mine,” said Chris.
“She sounded a little old for you,” said Norma,
“Age has nothing to do with it,” said Chris.“Gabrielle is my kind of woman: breathing!”
Norma laughed, then said, “Well I think that you had better get in touch with her fairly urgently she sounded very keen to hear from you.”
“I’ll wait until the next OOWPAG meeting on Tuesday,” said
Chris. II don’t want to seem too anxious to see her.She’s been a little bitchy since we had a tiff a few months back, so it won’t hurt to let her stew in her own juices over the weekend.”
“Do you think that that’s a fair thing to do?” asked Norma.
“Maybe not, I agreed Chris.“But fairness doesn’t come into boy-girl relationships, it’s strictly dog fu...eat dog.”
Chris blushed at his near slip, and Norma said, “Well I guess that at twenty-one we can hardly expect you to be content with just holding hands.”Then in a bid to change the subject, “I’m sure your father will let you have the paper, he’s still talking to that bloke who came to see him.”
“What bloke?” asked Chris.
“I don’t know,” said Norma.“Some young bloke.”
“Might be someone from where he used to work,” said Chris, walking out into the hallway.
Chris heard the sound of voices as he approached his father’s room, so he knocked on the door before entering.
“Dad,” began Chris, and then stopped, put out at seeing Juchster.“Dad, have you finished with the paper?”
“Yes, you can take it,” said Jack.
“So here’s the other one,” said Juchster, as Chris walked across to the bed.
“Other one?” asked Chris.
“Helen Kallio told me that there is a whole brood of you bludging Smiths.You notice that I didn’t say a pride, since that’s one thing that obviously doesn’t exist in this house!”
“Who are you accusing of bludging?” demanded Chris.
“You, sport!So just watch the lip, or you’ll land yourself in hot water.I’m.…”
“Yes, I know who you are,” said Chris, reaching for the newspaper on the bed.“Heinrich Himmler!”
For a moment Juchster was silenced by this unexpected affront, then as Chris began leafing through the newspaper, Juchster asked.“Which picture are you going to see?”
Chris stared at Juchster, wondering whether the CES officer had read his mind.Chris thought, ‘I knew he was psycho, but not psychic?’ Out loud Chris said, “I’m taking a girlfriend to the 9:30 sessions.”
“Well you’d better get going,” said Juchster. “You’ll just make it!”
9:30 at night,” said Chris.
“Oh yeah, a likely story,” said Juchster.
Chris turned to leave the bedroom, and Juchster said, “Not so fast, I want to have a word with you.Just a few questions about what you’re doing about finding work.”So saying, he took a second form from the clipboard, and placed the form on top of the first form.
“All right,” said Chris, “would you like to follow me through into the lounge room?”
“What’s wrong with right in here?” asked Juchster.“Surely you aren’t afraid to have your old man hear how little you’ve been doing to find a job?”
“I’ve got nothing to hide from dad, or from you for that matter,” said Chris, “but at the moment, there just aren’t any jobs going, unless you have a degree in something.”
“You’ll only
“Oh no!” said Juchster.“Like bludger, like son, eh?I’ll just bet that you two have carefully worked this line out between you."Juchster scowled toward Jack and said, “And you almost had me believing that you were fair dinkum about looking for work, for a moment there!”
“What the hell is he raving about, dad?” asked Chris.
“Don’t ask me,” said Jack.
Juchster turned back toward Chris and demanded, “Well aren’t you going to tell me that you can’t get any work, because whenever you do find a job to go out after, all of the other applicants have stacks more education than you have?”
“Not all of them,” said Chris.“But enough so that I never have any real chance of getting any job that I go after.”
“If it’s that big a problem, why the hell don’t you go back to school?” asked Juchster.“Then at least you could bludge off the Education Grant, instead of the dole.”
“What’s the difference?” Jack asked.
Chris went over to straighten Jack’s pillows, so that he would be a little more comfortable.
“What’s the difference?” Juchster repeated.
“That’s right,” Jack said.
“There is a hell of a lot of difference!” said Juchster.“For one thing, the dole is paid by the Department of Social Security, whereas the Education Grant is paid by the Department of Finance.”
“So what?” demanded Jack.“It’s the same bloody government, isn’t it?”
The three men were silent for a moment, and then Juchster addressed himself to Chris, “Well?Have you even considered trying to switch over to the Education Grant?”
“Of course I have,” said Chris, “but I can’t get enrolled at a tertiary institute until I get my HSC.And I’ve only got fourth form level so far.”
“Then why don’t you go back to school to get your Leaving and HigherSchool Certificate?” asked Juchster.
“Because you can’t get the Education Grant doing less than HSC,” pointed out Chris.
“So in other words, you don’t intend to do anything at all about it, just bludge off the dole for the next forty odd years!” said Juchster, more as a statement of opinion than as a question.
“Bullshit,” said Chris.“I did three subjects of Leaving last year at night school, and I’m doing another three subjects this year!”
“And doing your homework during the day time no doubt, instead of going out looking for work,” said Juchster, in obvious disgust.“I’ve heard of that trick before!I don’t know ... any excuse at all to get out of finding a job!”
“I thought we’d agreed that there are no jobs around?” asked Chris.
“Nowe never agreed to any such thing,” said Juchster.
“Look, you asked me what I was doing about getting enough education to get a job, didn’t you?” asked Chris.
“Granted.We want you to get the education that you need to get a job, or at least to get off the dole.But we don’t want you to get it in our time.”
“Then when the hell am I supposed to get it?” demanded Chris.
“Look, don’t raise your voice to me,” said Juchster.“You’re in enough bloody trouble as it is.”He paused for a moment to allow himself to calm down a bit, then said, “Sure we’d like you to get your Leaving so that you can transfer onto the Education Grant.But in your own time, not ours.Your days Monday through Friday, and Saturday morning, are strictly for job hunting.”
“Then when am I supposed to do my homework?” asked Chris.
“You’re doing night classes aren’t you?” asked Juchster.
“Yes,” agreed Chris.
“How many nights a week?”
“Then that leaves you two evenings a week, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday to do your homework,” said Juchster.“That should be plenty of time.”
“And what about my social life?” asked Chris.
“Your what?” demanded Juchster.“You’re on the dole, sport; you shouldn’t have enough time or money for any bloody social life.Hell, if we were to make it too comfortable, no one would ever lower themselves to finding a bloody job.”
“But even so....” began Chris.
“Look,” said Juchster.“Frankly, I don’t give a bugger about what you are currently doing with your times other than to find out why you aren’t spending it looking around for work!”
“But I am trying to find work,” insisted Chris, trying his best not to shout at Juchster.“The only way that I’ll ever get a job is by increasing my education so that I can compete with the other job applicants.”
“Nice try,” said Juchster.“Nice bloody try,” - He was doing his best to keep the contempt that he felt fo

© Copyright 2017 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.

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