Archive for December, 2010

Clotheslines and Meat Hooks

A Holiday Begins – A Worker is Born

I was not yet fifteen when my mother came home, dropped her shopping bags onto the kitchen bench and announced with her long perfected maternal-dictator tone that she had found me a job.

As I had never shown any interest in finding one, I wondered what I could have done to convince her otherwise. Only a few of my friends had jobs; stocking shelves or spilling coffees at the local cafes, and I had certainly never shown any interest in joining them in their weekly doldrums. Indeed, the closest I came to interest was showing a vague contempt while visiting them as they lived their second lives.
“The work’s not great, but it pays well” Katherine would claim as she soaked up old milk under fridge for $7 an hour. “Anyway, we will all have to do it one day.”
“And then what? What happens once we’ve done it?”
“ Well, then you die I suppose.”

Asides from my own aversion to entering the workforce, I was surprised that my mother would find me fit to hold any job, as she had only just fired me from my pocket-money position. My chores had been to do the family laundry once a week, but after a few months I had realised three very important things: firstly, that five people generate an incredible amount of dirty clothing, that the distance between the machine and the line was intolerable, and finally that I could get my brother to do it for only a fraction of what I was making. It didn’t take long to convince him of the benefits that an extra $5 a week could bring, and were it not for his tiny frame and easily distractible nature it would have worked forever. Yet, as it was, one could never be sure when the clothes would make it onto the line and whether the wash-water would cease to be an endless ink and tissue soup. The end came soon and I was called into the kitchen and asked to sit down with my mother.

“I think you know why I’ve asked you here today…” She said slowing bringing her fingertips together to an accusing point.
“I know, believe me I know. The quality’s not great, but he’s young and eager to learn” I explained, “ and of course you only get what you pay for…”
“Exactly, I paid for you…”  Her eyes narrowed at me from across the table.
“And I pay for him. Listen, we’ll sort this all out; I’ll have a word with him.”

Unfortunately for me the time for further words never came. Negotiations with my mother failed and I was unceremoniously ‘let go’.  She rationalised it by claiming it would teach me about life in the real world, and the dangers of outsourcing to unskilled workers.

Life continued and, although I understood myself to be poor having surrendered my $15 a week allowance, I was no less happy than I had been before my termination. The world now stood before me with its wild, free weekends and weeknights. Hours would drift deliciously like days as I watched Katherine scrape mould off the bins at the back of her shop, and evenings would drift in a vagabond haze as I mocked my sister doing the weekly vacuuming.  Life was good, cheap, basic and beautiful.

It seems that my grand discovery was fated to be accompanied by another: that while not working is dandy, staying that way is rather more complicated. Also, it seemed that even in a world where your own mother won’t hire you, it does not signify that she can’t find someone else who will.

My mother explained that it would be a real job. The kind where you have to turn up on time, work hard, then leave only when you were told you could. I professed ardently that I wouldn’t have it, and pleaded my newly awakened spiritual ties with the vagrant soul; that I was beyond normal earthy bound needs, which was true until she threatened to revoke my ‘earthly’ use of the shower, bath and toilet. The job was to be mine, promised to me like a prince to a cataleptic maiden.  However, in a very un-maiden-like manner, I was not to spend my afternoons and weekends arranging flowers, polishing silver or waiting tables. I was to be the first female butcher shop assistant in our small town and had some large, bloodied boots to fill.