Tuesday, 4 April 1978
Jack hesitated for a moments considering whether or not he should leave the queue.He had been standing in line for more than an hour, in a queue almost one hundred metres
long, extending almost to the corner of Bourke and Russell Streets.
Jack felt out of place amid the queue.Apart from Jack, the oldest person in the line, was a man in his mid to late thirties, everyone else were in their teens or early
twenties.Also, Jack knew that he had little chance of being hired, the ad. had asked for, “A man or woman, young or old, to work in the evenings as a waiter or waitress, No experience
Apart from the middle-aged man, whose dress-suit implied that he’d had years of experience that were not needed, the crowd was composed of jeans and T-shirt clad youngsters who were
probably all chasing their first job, But, even if the middle-aged man did not get the job, Jack was unlikely to be hired in preference to all of the teenagers.Jack had no more
experience at the job than they did, while they had youth on their side.Also they could be hired at the junior rate.
But although he had little chance of being hired, Jack didn’t like to leave the queue, if there was any chance at all.As the queue slowly began to move forward, so that at
last Jack could see the entrance to the Bunker Beer House, Jack made up his mind that he would stay in the lines and go through with the interview.He didn’t see what other choice he
really had; he had only been after one other interview in the last week.
Almost all of the vacancies advertised in the newspapers were under the professional columns, so Jack could not afford to pass up even the slimmest chance of getting employed.
The Bunker Beer House was set in the basement of a dress shop, and was entered by way of the steepest escalator that Jack had ever seen.It was necessary to hold on to the
handrail for dear life while descending.
At last Jack was inside the Bunker, however, he still might have to wait another half of an hour to be interviewed, since there was still a small crowd of teenagers in line ahead of
Jack.The middle-aged man had been interviewed long ago, and had gone away looking very surly, which Jack hoped was a good sign.
Despite the name, the Bunker, was nothing but a sleazy bar and grill.Dim lighting gave the thirty-two round tables at least a pretence of atmosphere, but nothing could
disguise the sleazy look of the kitchen and service area, visible behind the glass-fronted service bay.Baskets of nuts and diced cheese stood atop the bar amid beer slops, and sickly
sweet desserts were housed within glass-fronted display cabinets.
Jack was three people away from the black door, behind which people were interviewed, when a young man, looking like television show caricature of a waiter, came out from behind the black
door, and said, “I’m afraid that the job has already been filled, however, we do still have a part-time Job, for a waiter or waitress two nights a week, for anyone who would like to
While Jack pondered whether to stay, most of the people still in the queue quietly left.A few stayed to be interviewed.And one youth decided to protest, demanding
to know, “How the hell can you have filled the job, when you haven’t finished interviewing everybody?”
“Because we found one guy who had years of experience at the job,” explained the waiter patiently.
“But the bloody ad. said that experience wasn’t needed,” pointed out the youth.
“That doesn’t mean that we can’t hire someone who has experience, I said the waiter.
“Well it’s a bloody rip-off,” said the youth.“I waited in that bloody line outside for more than ninety bloody minutes!Then, when I finally get inside it takes me
another half hour to get near the bloody interview room, then you don’t even give me ii bloody interview.The least you should have to do, is interview everybody who applies, before
making any bloody decision!”
“Look, calm down,” advised the waiter.
Jack thought of coming to the youth’s aid, as he agreed completely with him.
“It wouldn’t have been quite so bad missing out on the job, if I’d at least been given a bloody interview!”
As the youth refused to calm down, the waiter went back behind the black door.He returned a moment later with two burly bouncers.With the youth still demanding to
be interviewed, the two bouncers literally picked him up and carried him out into the street.
“You can’t do this to me!” shouted the youth, as he was thrown onto the footpath.“I’ll call the cops!”
“You can call your mummy, for all we care,” said one of the bouncers, as they went back inside.
“Well?” asked the waiter, seeing Jack and three teenage girls still standing in line.
“I’m waiting for an interview for the job two nights a week,” explained Jack.
“Oh,” said the waiter, taking Jack by the arm, and leading him toward the black door.“Well come right in.”
“I bet he gets the job,” said one of the teenage girls.
“Yeah,” agreed one of the other two girls, ’these old guys always have a zillion billion years’ experience at any job they go after!”
The three girls looked at each other’s then at the black door, ’Come on,” said the first girl, walking toward the escalators.Reluctantly, the other two girls followed
“How’d it go?” asked Norma as Jack slumped at the table.
“Shithouse, of course,” said Jack, making Norma think that he had begun to swear a lot since losing his job.“What chance did I have against a million kids going for the same
“Then why not give it up?” asked Norma.
“What?And wait out the next seven years on the dole, until I can get the old age pension?” asked Jack, genuinely shocked.
“Why not?” asked Norma.“Plenty of others would.”
“I’m not plenty of others!” pointed out Jack.
“No you’re not,” agreed Norma with a sigh.
“Kevin, or Bob Bennett might be prepared to do that,” said Jack, “but not me!”
Friday, 7 April 1978
Jack sat at a table in a corner, near the back of the room.Lifting his glass to his lips, he took a sip of beer and watched the men playing eight ball; Scotty Ward and Billy
Lock were at the table nearest Jack.For ten years now, the three men had been regular sparring partners at the American Game, as Billy Lock insisted upon calling eight-ball,
particularly after a bad loss when he would explain for the umpteenth time that, “Snooker is my game.”
Tonight, however, Jack sat drinking alone, while the other two men potted frame after frame, Over the last three or four months, Jack had found himself growing further and further apart
from the other two men, Not that they resented Jack’s status as a dole-bludgers but on the contrary, Jack himself felt uncomfortable around the two men he had worked with in the past, now knowing
that he no longer earnt his money, but received it as charity from the government.
“My round, I think,” said Scotty taking up Jack’s now empty beer glass.
“No mine,” corrected Jack.“You bought the last round.”
“Oh did I?” said Scotty Ward, feigning innocence.But, of course, he knew that he had.Both Scotty and Billy had taken to trying to rob Jack of his shouts now,
knowing that he could not really afford to buy a round.But to Jack it was a matter of honour that he should always pay his own way.
“Three more,” saidJack, taking the three empty glasses over to the counter,
“Make it two,” said Billy Lock, potting the black ball to win the game, “I have to be getting back before the missus puts out an APB on me.”
“You’ve got time for one more for the road,” insisted Jack, nodding to the barman to fill the third glass.
With the glass of beer thrust into his hand, there was nothing Billy could do, without offending Jack.
“We might as well have another quick game, while we’re drinking,” said Scotty Ward, indicating toward the billiard table.
Lock and Ward played a final game of Kelly Pool, which Ward won, Billy Lock declaring, “It’s not my game.You’d never have beaten me at snooker!”
“The pub doesn’t have a set of snooker balls,” pointed out Ward,
“The pizza place down the road does,” insisted Lock.
“I don’t like pizza,” said Ward.
“Wimp!” said Lock.“You just don’t like losing, that’s your trouble.”
“I like that,” said Ward, “I win four out of the last five games, and so he accuses me of being a bad loser!”
“Well we all know that Billy-boy can’t be a bad loser, said Jack.“He’s had too much practice at it.”
Billy Lock bought his final round, then left.
“One more for the road?” asked Scotty Ward.He bought the last round, and then departed, leaving Jack with the knowledge that he had still been cheated out of buying a
Jack rarely went to the pub at all these days, he just could not afford to.But somehow, whenever he did, Scotty and Billy always managed to buy the first two rounds and the
last two rounds.And the feeling that he had not paid his own way always robbed Jack of whatever satisfaction he might have otherwise derived from the gathering together with old
friends at the local watering hole.
Thursday, 28 September 1978
Chris sat at one end of the kitchen table, reading through the back pages of the daily newspaper.Over at the gas stove, the kettle began to gush water vapour, its whistle lost
“That’s all right, I’ll get it,” said Norma, striding into the kitchen as Chris stood to turn off the kettle.
“How’s dad?” asked Chris.
“A little better,” said Norma, taking the kettle over to the counter near the refrigerator.“At least he’s talking about wanting to look around for work again.”She
popped two slices of bread into the toaster.
“Is that a good sign, or a bad one?” asked Chris.
“That’s a good question,” conceded Norma, She spooned tea into the pot, then pored in the hot water from the kettle.
“Do you want a cuppa?” Norma asked Chris.
“No thanks, mum,” said Chris.He sighed, and then said, “the job scene is no better than it was this time last year.”
“At least your health isn’t being destroyed by acid fumes, and you don’t have those migraines any more,” said Norma.
“And dad won’t speak to me any more, now that I’m back on the dole.”
“Oh he’s not as bad as he was last year,” said Norma, buttering Jack’s toast.She spread on a thin layer of marmalade onto the toast, and then placed the toast, teapot, and a
cup and saucer upon a plastic tray.“At least they let you back onto the dole.”
“Yeah, but is that a good thing, or bad?” said Chris.
“Sometimes I think it would be better to starve, than to have to suck up to those backyard-fuehrers, just for a lousy fifty dollars a week.”
“Come on, it’s not that bad, is it?”
“You haven’t been on the dole,” said Chris.Holding up the newspaper, he said, “You might as well take that in to dad as well.”
“You keep it Chris, he’s still too ill to go out looking for work.”
“That’s all right, I’ve finished with it.Maybe you can cheer him up by reading the funnies to him.I suppose that I’d better get on with my homework.”
Chris picked up a slim textbook from the kitchen table, and began to read through the book.He mouthed the words, as though trying to make himself understood too a lip reader,
struggling to make any sense out of the text.
Norma added the newspaper to the tray, and carried it in to Jack who was propped up in bed, four pillows behind his back.
“How are you feeling, love,” saidNorma, placing the tray upon a small plastic bedside table.
“Shithouse, of course,” saidJack, reaching across to lift the newspaper from the tray.
“Now, now, Jack,” saidNorma, taking the newspaper from
Jack. “First you have something to eat, then I’ll read the newspaper to you.”
“I’m not hungry,” insisted Jack.
“Now don’t start acting like a bad tempered little boy, or I’ll put you across my knee, I warned Norma.
“Promises, promises, you’ll get me excited with that kind of talk.”
“Well if you’re going to get excited,” said Norma, “we’ll have to build your strength up first, so that you can do something with your excitement.So how about some toast and a
hard boiled egg?”
“No., no, I couldn’t eat anything,” said Jack.“I’ll just have a cuppa while I’m looking through the situations vacant pages.”
“Situations vacant!” said Norma, almost shouting.“Don’t be stupid, if you can’t even eat, then you’re too sick to go out looking for work.”
“I’m not being paid to eat,” saidJack, “but I do get paid to go out looking for work.”
“You don’t get paid to kill yourself.”
“Don’t be so bloody melodramatic!” said Jack reaching for the newspaper.
Norma held onto the newspaper and took a step back from the bed, saying, “Anyway Chris has spent the last ninety minutes going through it with a fine tooth comb, without finding anything
to go after.”
“Still I might find something that Chris missed,” insisted Jack.He pulled himself to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, groaning like an old man afflicted with
“Oh don’t be so bloody silly,” said Norma.“I’m not going to give you the paper, so you might as well lie back on the bed.Even if Chris did miss anything, you’d be
lucky to be able to even read the paper, with those rheumy eyes.You look as though you’ve been on a nine day drinking binge.”
“All right then you can read them out to me,” said Jack.“You offered to read me the paper.”
“All right,” said Norma.She opened the newspaper to the back pages.“Here’s one you might like, ‘Barmaid wanted to work 6:00 to 10:00 in the evenings.
Must have good legs.’Well I guess that let’s you out, your best feature is between the legs.Here’s another one, ‘Typist, stenographer, keypunch operator
wanted.Must be prepared to work overtime, all night if need be, working under the section boss.’No I suppose that lets you out-too.”
“Look there must be some jobs for blokes,” insisted Jack, teetering upon the edge of the bed.
“Yes, here’s one, ‘Senior lecturer wanted to teach advanced computer techniques, at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.’Or here’s one, ‘Director wanted for major
Sydney based firm.Applicant must have past experience on the board of large firms, and must be prepared to move interstate if need be.’That sounds like just the ticket for
you,” said Norma.
“Very funny,” said Jack.“Surely there is something that doesn’t require endless experience and education?”
“Yes here’s something,” said Norma, turning to the sports section, Port Melbourne in the VFA are looking for a new winger for next season.No, sorry, it says that the maximum
age is fifty-three, so I suppose that’s the end of that.”
“Where are my slippers?” demanded Jack, almost falling off the edge of the bed as he hunted around under the bed.
“Never mind about your slippers,” said Norma.Taking Jack by the shoulders, she pushed him back onto the bed, then, lifting his feet up, she tucked them under the
blankets.“There is no point in you killing yourself, going out after non-existent jobs.”
“Well even if there’s nothing in the paper,” said Jack, groaning as he pushed his legs over the edge of the bed again, “there are still all of the local factories that I haven’t been able
to check out for two weeks, while I’ve been sick.”
“Hell Jack, they’re probably well and truly sick of the sight of you around at those places, you’ve been around to most of them twenty or thirty times at least over the last
“Then maybe if they get sick enough of me badgering them, they might give me a job just to get me off their backs.”
“I wouldn’t count on that.”
“Neither would I,” admitted Jack, “but the more times that I go around to those places, the more likely that I am to be in the right place at the right time, if a job does come
“If they did have any work goings Jack, no one would hire you at the moment, when you’re so obviously under the weather!Now I don’t want any more arguments from you, you’ve
been sick as a dog for the last two weeks, so you’re going to stay in bed for qt least the rest of this week, to make certain that you’ve completely recovered!” So saying Norma put Jack’s legs back
into the bed, and took two pillows out from behind his back so that he could lie down.“And if you’re not going to eat, at least you can got some rest.”
“But I can’t,” insisted Jack.He moaned as he sat up again.
Norma eased him down onto the bed again and said, “You can spend the day trying to sit up if you like, and I’ll spend the day lying you back down again, I don’t mind.Then when
you’re strong enough to stop me from lying you down, we’ll both know that you’re well enough to get up and look for work.”
“But I am well enough,” insisted Jack.He groaned as he tried to sit up again.
“Jack!” said Norma, lying him down again, and holding him down on the bed.“You Pre not getting up from this bed, even if I have to sit on your face to hold you
“You’re only trying to make me die of lust before I’m well enough to take you up on that,” accused Jack.
Norma tore the situations vacant pages from the newspaper, and then placed the newspaper on the bed, saying, “If you want to have a look at the paper later on, you can, but I’m taking the
work section with me.”
“Sadist,” said Jack.
“Actually I’m quite happy about it,” said Norma.
“Happy-ist,” said Jack.
“Do you want any of this, or can I take it away?” Norma asked, indicating the breakfast tray.
“You can leave me a cuppa,” said Jack.
Norma poured a cup of tea, returned the pot to the tray end turned to leave.She had taken a couple of steps toward the bedroom door when she stopped.Looking back,
she said, “Oh Jack, this might not be a good time...But while we’re talking about work, I’ve got another chance of a job with Debbie Williams.”
“Another one?How many jobs does she have going?” asked Jack.“I didn’t think that the laundry business was doing so well these days.”
“It isn’t, I conceded Norma.“It’s the same job.”
“You mean to tell me that, with so many people looking for work, she hasn’t been able to fill the job in nearly a year?”
“It isn’t that she can’t fill the job,” said Norma.“She filled it shortly after she first offered it to me, but she hasn’t been able to get anyone to stick to the job for more
than a few weeks.”
“Christ!It can’t be much of a bloody job,” said Jack.“You ought to thank me for telling you not to take it.”
“Oh Jack, she’s only had young kids in the job so far, and what doesn’t seem much to teenager, might be just the ticket for me.”
“Still I’d prefer that you didn’t get a job while I’m still able to.”
“But you haven’t been able to!”
“Not so far,” admitted Jack.“But I will eventually...Hell I thought you’d given away the idea of working nearly a year ago.”
“No, Jack, you gave up the idea of me working nearly a year ago, it seems.I’ve spent the last eleven months waiting for you to see reason!Hell, Jack, there are
times when I’ve considered just taking the job, and then telling you to like it or lump it!” said Norma.
“Then why haven’t you?” demanded Jack.
“Out of respect for your feelings.Which is more than you seem to have for mine!”
“Surely you wouldn’t take the job against my wishes?”
“I really don’t see why I shouldn’t take it.Housework only lasts me a couple of days a week.Recently I’ve found myself washing down the walls and ceilings, end
scrubbing the kitchen floor, every few days.If I don’t take a job soon, I’ll end up scrubbing the paint right off the walls.”
“Oh Norma!Maybe I’m old-fashioned…” began Jack, then seeing Norma raise her eyebrows, he said, “all right, all right, so I definitely am old-fashioned, but I still don’t like
the idea of having n working wife,” as Norma started to interrupt, Jack raised his voice a little to add, “It’d be bad enough at any time, but while I’m on the dole, it’d be as though I was letting
you be the breadwinner.”
“Oh Jack!Stop living in the past,” said Norma indignantly, “There is no stigma these days about a man having a working wife.”Then as Jack tried to interrupt, it
was Norma’s turn to talk him down to add; “Even men who are on the dole...Hell I can’t help it if you’re out of work and can’t dig up a job, when one has come my way.”
“Oh all right, but I’d still prefer it if you were to wait till I can get a job myself,” said Jack.
“Oh Jack, you’ve been on the dole for nearly a year now, without even a sniff of a job,” pointed out Norma.“Why can’t you just accept the fact that at your age you aren’t
likely to get another job?”
“Give up and bludge on the dole for another six and a half years?What do you take me for?”
“Hell, Jack, you’ve done your bit for this country, and now they treat you like muck down at the employment place, because you can’t find work, after forty years of hard labours you don’t
owe those bastards anything!So isn’t it about time that you thought of getting something back for yourself?”
“It’s soon enough to start thinking about getting something back for myself when I’m old enough to qualify for the old age pension,” insisted Jack.“At least then I’ll know
I’ve earnt it, not like the dole which is only bloody charity.”
“Oh Jack!” said Norma, marching out of the room.It was the first time Jack had ever heard his name made to sound like in obscenity.
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© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.