Dear Rufus and Zadie.
One day this “someone else feed, clothe, shelter me” malarky will come to an abrupt halt and you’ll have to get what’s called a job. I know neither of you are even 5 years old yet but the time will come around sooner than you think. Especially once you’re both toilet-trained, not just Ru. I’ve worked with dudes who still can’t successfully whizz in the toilet without splashing the floor, and they’ve got jobs. So you never know when the man is gon call. Now, I am your mother and one of MY jobs is to school you in the ways of the world. So heed these, the lessons I’ve learnt about work.
In my very first job, I was lucky to escape killing hundreds of people. My cousin employed me in his board shop, no doubt to the ire of all the legitimate (i.e. gnarly) employees. I can kind of surf, and a few times I went on a ski biscuit on the back of my cousin’s boat, oh and once I chucked an ollie by accident on my bro’s skateboard. But I was/am not a wakeboarder, snowboarder, waterskiier, snowskiier, heliskiier, slalom skier, or any other sort of boarder or skiier. I am just my cousin’s cousin. However, I am a quick learner and a good faker, and I was soon seen leaning against the counter discussing heelside 360s and backside 720s with regular clientele. And getting mad air on my pop shuvits in the car park. For the most part I stayed away from the dangerous elements of the job. The real employees did board repairs, operated the power tools, recommended the ski locales. I stuck to visual merchandising, selling t-shirts, and pressing play on the extreme videotapes playing around the store.
Then winter rolled around and it was so busy, I was thrown in the deep end. Off the mountain. Into the powder. The hire part of the shop stayed open until 10pm every night, and it was my job to take imprints of people’s credit cards and then help them choose ski suits and toboggans to rent. One day someone asked for help with a rental snowboard. I knew I could do it. “Goofy or natural”, I asked naturally, not goofily at all, and then screwed the binding plate on as I had watched the other staff do so many times. We were that busy, no-one really cared.
Do you understand how bad I am at operating a screwdriver. Do you understand!! (Probably not because Dadda operates all the tools in the house. But remember that one time I hung a picture frame and gouged huge chunks out of the wall with my less than skillful hammer operation? And then hung the frame sideways, ensuring Joel would take it down to hang it straight, ensuring he would see the wall, ensuring I would get a caning? Now take off 15 years of life experience and imagine how idiotic it was for 15-year-old me to be wielding a screwdriver.)
I sent out hundreds of snowboards that winter, and quite a few pairs of skis, and when no-one died from boarding into trees as a result of malattached bindings, I did it again the next winter and the next. I also started fitting snow chains to people’s tyres. PS I was 15, had never driven a car, and it was dark in the car park. And sometimes I was only pretty sure I’d done it right. The ridiculous potential for liability stemming from this use of family labour still staggers me. My actions could’ve bankrupted us all. Which is obviously secondary to the innocent lives which would’ve had to have been lost for it to come to that. But nothing bad ever did happen, and my confidence grew and I began recommending tow ropes to waterskiiers in the offseason. And still nothing happened. Somehow my luck never ran out in that job, but my interest did, and after an awkward resignation confrontation, I kickflip-method-grabbed my way out of there.
-Never work for your family. It seems like an easy way out but it’s always harder than you think.
-Don’t pretend you know shit about stuff you really know nothing about.
My next job was at Yabbies, an up-market fish and chippery run by a paeophilic moustachioed strongman and his hot-panted partner whom he’d picked up at a school camp. They sacked me for swearing at a customer. I took them to the Industrial Relations Commission. They bribed me. I took their money. And I won the case too. I’ve already blogged about it extensively before so I won’t continue.
-Beware employers whose relationship began in illegal fashion. It’s unlikely they will abide by business laws either.
-If you get unfairly dismissed, fight back. I will always support you. Don’t be afraid to accept any bribes on the side though. I don’t mind if you fight dirty.
My next job was at a local florist. This was one of the bigger florists in Melbourne at the time, with a large day-to-day corporate clientele as well as contracts for the Australian Grand Prix, Spring Racing Carnival, AFL, etc. Initially I was employed for the last three hours of the night, to help with the shut-down. I think my job description was “child slave”. For a dry crust of bread and a sip of water from a dirty tin cup, I was expected to pack down the entire shop, which involved trundling huge trolleys of ferns and trees up and down Brunswick Rd and into the garden behind the shop. The plants were so tall and so heavy, I could never see where I was going, and I dropped the handles repeatedly under the huge weight. As I bashed and crashed into people’s fences and gates, icy cold water sloshed over my jeans and into my boots. I completed this arduous journey up to 20 times, and then had to squelch back and forth emptying all the bins into the skip. Which was through a huge deserted dirt carpark, at 9pm. It was unlit, and my water-logged shoes squeaked the faster I ran as I became more and more sure I was going to be attacked at any second. Then it was back to the shop to drag in all the plant stands and smaller plants from out the front, into the coolroom. It was naturally freezing in there but at least it was well-lit, and it was nice among the rows and rows of shelves crammed with buckets of cut flowers. Most of the time i couldn’t enjoy it though because my vision was blurred from the early stages of hypothermia. When I was sick, I made my sister fill in for me. I still regret that. I could barely manage the job and she was two years younger and punier than me. The owners were a couple who hated each other desperately. They swore and physically fought all the time. They were going broke. They had two kids in daycare until 8pm. I was sad for those kids. But I hated them because they paid me $7 an hour. In those days, you still got your pay as cash in a little bank envelope. Rustic. Once I broke a vase and they opened my envelope and took a $10 note out to cover it. I hated them. I hated them! I remember my parents at the time were all “Ooh aah, it is so great, you’ll be able to buy heaps of the current faddish consumable” but I knew it was shit. It was 1995. CD singles had already cracked $5.
Eventually I moved on to greater responsibilities. Though I was never allowed to serve in the shop, on account of my knowing pretty much nothing whatsoever about plants and flowers, one day I had to cash up for some reason and the husband noticed my keyboard aptitude and from then on I was his “personal assistant”. This job was only better than the pack-down because there was no water involved, or dark scary environments. It was a well-lit scary environment though – in his “home office” in the house at the back of the shop. It was an absolute sty, and I was charged with doing all the banking/invoicing/ordering. What is it with people entrusting my teenaged self with positions of immense responsibility I was in no way qualified for? I didn’t have anything further to do with plants, trees, flowers or trolleys, except during the Spring Racing Carnival when I was seconded back into the shop. They brought in an extra 10 florists during this time, and myself and two other sullen teens were to be their assistants. We rode illegally to Flemington in the back of a 3-tonne truck, each cradling enormous floral arrangements, arriving trackside at 5am daily. We spent the next seven hours stripping thorns off roses, still in the back of the truck, and then schlepping completed arrangements around to the marquees. At 5pm, as the day was ending for drunken racegoers, we emerged from our sweatshop, arms and hands cut to ribbons, and walked around picking up any floral detritus we could see. It was crushing to see all the drunks with our flowers stuck in their hats and smashed under their stilettos. On the final day, the owners did shout us an afternoon in a marquee. I drank enough alcohol to power a small sustainable car, and was found wandering the streets of Ascot Vale by my dad some hours later. I still cringe at the memory every year on Emirate Stakes Day. I resigned soon after.
-If you don’t feel safe, speak up. Don’t ever be as scared as me!
-Don’t work for $7 in the first place. I know you will always be worth more than this.
At the beginning of my final year of high school, I got a job at a huge sports emporium opening up in Moonee Ponds. Locals will know that area has been dominated for the past 40 years by Sims Sports, so this new venture was doomed to fail, particularly since it was staffed by people with things other than selling tracksuits on their mind: year 12, drinking, and shagging each other. The time I spent here was filled with unspeakable shenanigans and hardly any selling of sports products, to the endless chagrin of our boss, an Ari Gold type walked around yelling things like “Retail is Detail”. COCK!! We all used to drink at the now-defunct Cactus Club on Mount Alexander Road. After one session, about 10 of us walked up to our place of employ, ripped a vinyl sign off the roof, and graffitied all over it. It was sooooooo funny, all cartoons of the owners and witty observations like “Roger [surname] is a cunt”, “Daniel [surname] has a mole on his arse”, “Mr and Mrs [surname] are ugly motherfuckers”. We dumped the sign out the front of the shop and went back to Cactus. How funny at the time, and how horrendous a couple of hours later when I realised out of all the perpetrators, I was the only one working that day. At 6am, probably still drunk, I drove with my friend Erin up to Puckle St, in my bright yellow Ford Telstar. We picked up the sign, stuck it across the back seat, and drove home with it protruding 2m out the window. In our nighties. Imagine how much fun that was explaining that to my mum when we bumped into her as we were hauling the sign around to hide down the sideway, and she was leaving the house to go to the gym.
-Never work in retail. Trying to make people buy stuff they don’t want or need is pretty unsatisfying.
-Don’t drink and drive. Mama is a bloody idiot.
-Don’t engage in unspecified shenanigans. I know you know what they are by now, because I’m sure Joel won’t let you read this until you’re about 36 years old. Just don’t do it. You’ll regret it later.
After this, I started work at a call centre for a major telecommunications provider. Lesson learnt: don’t work at a call centre. No, I can do better than that. We were tasked with linking people’s landline and mobile accounts together to produce a single bill. Customers had already requested the single bill, so we only had to call them when they’d made a mistake on the request form. Which was just about every customer. This was just prior to when call centre conditions apparently got really bad, i.e. timed toilet breaks etc. We had it pretty good. We had to link 10 accounts an hour and we scored 10c for every account we linked beyond that. Remember my previously mentioned fast keyboard operation – I linked accounts like a maniac. We also had free and complete access to the whole database. We spent most of our time looking up our own accounts, finding out famous people’s addresses details, and i guess exploiting every right to telephonic privacy in the land. Our office was in the middle of Footscray and a couple of times we had dead bodies in the foyer from ODs. Unhappy times. When I left, I knicked one of those call centre headsets. Sadly it never worked on my home phone.
-Workers doing repetitive work like this are undervalued. I only lasted three months.
-Don’t work in deepest Footscray if you can help it (even though we live not 2km from there now!)
-Don’t steal from your boss; even if you don’t get sacked, you don’t REALLY want the stolen item.
A lady in an adjoining cube in the call centre had a neighbour who was an office manager looking for a new office girl. That girl turned out to be me. My new boss was the pre-eminent forensic psychiatrist in Melbourne. He practised from a set of suites at the top end of Bourke St that hadn’t been renovated in half a century. His work procedures remained likewise unmodified. The waiting room was filled with ancient Readers Digests and dusty indoor plants. There was a really loud manual doorbell that indicated the next patient had arrived. I had to settle them in the waiting room, get them a drink, and then return to my work of endless filing. The doctor wrote copious notes throughout each appointment, in a huge scrawling script, on index cards. He wrote so big, about three words per index card. These cards were stuffed in yellow manila envelopes and it was my job to file them alphabetically. He had had to keep hiring out extra suites in the building to house all his files. So I scurried up and down floors, arms full of files, some with famous names on them. I also had to get the good doctor’s lunch. At work, he only ate boiled eggs and drank Pepsi Max. The boiled eggs had to come from a particular deli at the other end of the city, and could only be purchased individually. He’d eat six a day, but you couldn’t go and buy six; you had to buy them “fresh” each time. This guy was an absolute nutbar. I never had a clue what he was talking about. He was friendly but weirdly absent in conversation. Occasionally I had to sit in with him as a kind of witness during consultations, where the client was a woman sent by a law firm for examination as part of a rape or sexual assault case. In his consulting room, he was a completely different person. He did have a couch for the patient to recline on, and those clicking metal balls on his desk, and a fish tank – and he was a brilliant psychiatrist. I think. I don’t have much previous experience to compare to. The difference between his two personalities was quite alarming.
-Don’t judge a person by their outward nutbar presentation.
-Eat a varied diet, and Coke is way better than Pepsi Max.
At this job, I met a wonderful typist who was constantly engaged in writing novels about the Romanov. I mentioned to her that I wanted to join the typing pool at the doctor’s office instead of go on boiled-egg runs six times a day, and ring for the valet to bring his car up at the end of the night. She asked how fast I typed. Then she gave me the phone number of her boss at her other job, a court reporting company.
And that’s how I got where I am now.
Well, not directly. The company she worked for was an outdated operation furnished with wooden chairs and desks and populated by elderly typists who looked like they’d rather still be using an Underwood typewriter. I got the job but I also applied for a position at that company’s rival and modern counterpart. I got that job too, and THAT’S how I got to where I am now. I started off as a transcript typist and a monitor. Monitors record the audio from the courtroom for the typists. When I started, we were still using cassettes, but eventually it went digital. Type type type, tape tape tape. The work was usually fascinating, occasionally boring beyond compare (crime, tax law). We did nearly all the federal and state jurisdictions in Melbourne, and I was particularly fond of Federal Court. I eventually became a scopist, which is a kind of editor who works with stenographers, and then I decided I did want to stay in this work forever, but I didn’t want to be a typist for the next 60 years. And so I decided to become a steno. And so I did.
-Be a steno, it’s the greatest job in the world! Probably ima start teaching you both as soon as your hands stop being inexplicably covered in jam, even when we don’t have any jam in the house.
And then, I decided to try out captioning, which is the other thing stenographers do. And that’s how I ended up at Channel 7. And that’s how I met Dadda, and we all lived happily ever after. Oh yeah, and I learned how to caption, and got paid to watch lots of TV, especially news and sport, and caught lifts with many C-grade celebrities.
-Naomi Robson has many pimples.
-Shiftwork is way better than 9-5.
-Never abide by the maxim “don’t date people from work”. They might just be the love of your life.
Then I worked for a bigger international captioning joint so I got to watch even more TV and sport. And also caption meetings and uni lectures for deaf people. But you already know that, because I did it from home.
-Ask if you can work from home. They might just say yes!
-Do anything you can to keep working after you have kids. It’s good for your brain.
-Even though you work from home, and even if you’re a breastfeeding mother, wear a bra. Basic professionalism, god.
And then, seamlessly, with no interruption to our lives whatsoever, we moved to Hong Kong, and here we are!
So you see, my loves, I’ve got where I wanted to be via a most unlikely circuit of odd jobs. My burgeoning university career ended after six weeks. I felt obliged to go to uni after high school, though my parents put no pressure on me. Society, man. Society. Luckily I only wasted six weeks there. Some of my friends spent years there before admitting they never wanted to be there in the first place, and now they’re stuck in jobs they don’t like to justify all the time spent, and saddled with HECS debts for the next 85 years. Uni obviously can be great but if you don’t want to do it, we are more than happy with that. Just try and end up with a job that you love so much, you’ll most likely do it until you retire. Which will probably be the day i drop dead, if we keep spending at this rate.