I was living in the red-light district of Sydney, working, drinking, and always broke. Like many travellers I just couldn’t get out of Kings Cross. I was well and truly stuck. Then I had an idea. Two jobs. That was it, a double income. Then I would be able to get the fuck out of the Cross, get back on the road, and embark on some serious Australian travel. Hey, hey, happy days.

     I worked days, porter in a private hospital, on the ball-breaking early shift, 6 am to 3pm.  But if I could stay out of the boozer, my evenings were free. After a four-day toot I woke up one shaky hung over morning and decided to get busy. I scoured the Help Wanted ads. With zero qualifications and little experience other than a few dead-end menial jobs, my options were limited.  I rapidly flicked through the pages until one advertisement caught my eye.  Telesales, on the job training, OTE $$$!  But most importantly, no experience required!

      Being on a mission, I wasted no time in dialling the number and lined up an interview for the very next day. Cheered by the news, I grabbed a cold one from the fridge, and had a hair of the dog that bit me.

     The job was 5.30 to 9.30 PM, and involved cold calling members of the public via the dog and bone. It was an impossible gig, one thought up by an insane person. We had to convince punters to re-mortgage their house and invest in new properties situated out in the middle of nowhere. Crazy shit. The Telemarketers even had a special name for the con, Negative Gearing. Negative Gearing, I mean think about it?  What the fuck? Although I kind of liked that name, Negative Gearing, it had a certain ring to it, even poetic in a strange way. Negative Gearing.

       It was mostly young immigrants in that boiler room, British immigrants like me.  Aussies were few and far between.  To lighten things up a bit, we’d adopt the name of famous Brits.

‘Good evening, this is Noel Gallagher calling. Are you aware of Negative Gearing?’

Childish I know, but nine times out of ten the Aussie on the other end of the line didn’t realise.’

‘No, Noel, I’m not.’

Ha, bloody ha!

     The Manager on the evening shift was an interesting chap. He was tall and blonde, and looked like a movie star. The job was paying his way through college. He planned to be a big-shot lawyer, and I had no doubts that he would make it, he looked right for the part. Despite this, he also had a great interest in literature.

     To pass the time some of us would chat about favourite writers, books etc. The guy next to me was an aspiring author, heavily into Kafka. I remarked that Kafka’s greatest achievement was the invention of the Hard Hat. Saved a lotta lives, I said. The wannabe didn’t know what I was talking about. Yet, he was big into Kafka?

    Anyway the weeks passed and I got bored and tired. Fifteen hour days can do that to a fella. Even adopting famous British names began to pale.  What most galled though, was that despite two jobs, I still didn’t have any money.  I couldn’t understand it. I was earning more, but somehow spending more.  And then there was the author. This dude was irritating. He kept moaning about the job, the calls, his shit turd life. What a fucking whinger! And because he was sat right next to me, I couldn’t get away from it.

     Then the day came. The pressure was on. We had to book more appointments. If we didn’t hit the targets the job was over. We stepped to it. The future big-shot lawyer paced the room, urging us to greater efforts, at times even imploring us. We can do it, he kept saying. We can do it! And maybe we could. Meanwhile the author was still grumbling, I wasn’t listening, I was too busy dialling numbers. The dude kept the grumbling shit up and then called the manager over,

‘How,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ said the future lawyer.

‘How can you enjoy Kafka, and then do this for a living?’

The lawyer didn’t even blink, ‘Fuck Kafka,’ he said low and hard.

And in that moment I wished I said exactly the same thing.

    

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It was drinking all night and 6.00am starts that did it. No it wasn’t, it was the crazed supervisor, but the 6.00am starts and hangovers of death didn’t help. I’d done it in England, waking up in the dark, going home in the dark, like some sub-human nocturnal work beast. And here I was in Australia doing exactly the same thing. Now how did that happen? Wasn’t I meant to be surfing at Bondi or playing a didgeridoo in the outback somewhere?
     I was a catering assistant in a small private hospital. In the hierarchy of the hospital the catering assistants were at the bottom, even below the cleaners. Of course the doctors were top of the tree, especially the plastic surgeons. My job was to serve breakfast, lunch and tea to wealthy, but ill people.
     The supervisor, a brick-shaped middle-aged German woman, was obviously crazy. She looked like someone’s mad aunt, or demented cousin, fresh out of the nuthouse. Her first words to me were, ‘In here, the doctors are God, got dat? And I’m ze boss, got dat?’ I got it alright. All the other co-workers were middle-aged women, but unlike the supervisor they weren’t mad. I was the only man.
    Most of the woman did two jobs. They worked the morning shift, 6.00am- 2.30pm and then went to another hospital and worked the evening shift, 4.00pm-7pm. That made it a minimum fifteen hour gig, and they did it everyday.
     Often I found myself gazing at these women and wondering. Were they bionic women, possessed of secret powers, and incredible endurance levels? Strangely I possessed none of these values. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, a basic malfunction of the brain, or born under a bad sign. 
     But back to the supervisor, crazy, blonde, and fiercely German. She had me by the balls from the very first day. She took me to the kitchen and told me to peel a paw paw. I grabbed a knife and was about to start, but the German stopped me dead in my tracks,
‘NOT LIKE ZAT!’ She screamed.
She grabbed the knife and pushed me out of the way. ‘Zis is how you do it English boy’
I watched as she skilfully sculpted that large orange thing, it was like a work of art, a carving of love. Afterwards I was handed another paw paw, the medical wonder fruit, and told to follow her example,
‘NOT LIKE ZAT!’
   Once my senses had recovered from another verbal attack the supervisor instructed me on how to clean work surfaces. I was handed a cloth and a variety of cleaning liquids, but just as I went to start scrubbing another scream shattered my already battered eardrum,
‘NOT LIKE ZAT!’
     Then she showed me how it should be done. She scrubbed the surfaces until she was blue in the face. I was impressed. I thought she was going to have a heart attack, whilst scrubbing. The rest of the training continued in the same vein. I didn’t learn anything, except how it feels like to be shouted at by a mad woman.
     For the first week or so I was late for my breaks. I would get to the staff canteen, breathing hard, sweating, with just enough time to stuff a slice of toast in my mouth, and then back to work. I couldn’t understand it; those women always seemed to make it on time.
     How could they be faster than me, a young man in his prime? On the second week I decided to find out. I pulled one of them aside, a Fijian Indian, late thirties, sexy, always wearing layers of red lipstick.
‘Sabrina how do you guys manage to finish on time?’
‘You still do service like the German bitch tell you?’
I nodded.
‘And do you only do two toast at a time?’
‘That’s the way the Soup told me, do any more and they get cold.’
‘Who cares what that crazy lady say, you toast eight slices at the same time, got it.’
I nodded.
Then Sabrina informed me of all the other timesaving measures necessary to be able to complete the service in time for my own breakfast break. I was shocked,
‘Why didn’t anyone tell me before?’
Sabrina looked at me and laughed, ‘Because we need to know if you have what it takes, otherwise what’s the point.’
I had to admit there was some logic to this reply.
   With the short-cuts the job became almost doable. But it was the 6.00am starts that began to kill me. Most nights I was drinking till two or three in the morning, singing songs, smoking cigarettes, and defying the dawn. I lived five minutes walk from the hospital, but gradually the drinking and early starts began to have a strange effect. I began to lose all sense of perspective and became reckless, even suicidal.
     One morning I woke surrounded by empty beer bottles with a knife in my hand. I looked at my wrists. It could be done easily, just two quick slashes. No more 6.00am starts.
     Then I thought about the mad German supervisor, telling everyone she had doubts about me all along, a weak personality, no gumption. Then there was all those middle-aged women doing two jobs, fifteen hour days, seventy-five hour weeks for years and years. I threw the knife to the floor and clambered into my uniform.
    But something had to give. Something had to happen. And the day came. It was a Monday. That morning I’d eyeballed the roof of my apartment buildings. Ten floors high, concrete pavement, instant death, brains splattered across the road. A white tent constructed, police cordon, an outline of my body drawn where I fell. I headed to the hospital.
     At work the Soup was up to her usual tricks, shouting at her staff, finding imaginary faults, making the job a thousand times harder than it actually was. We were two short, and the German bitch loved it. The power trip working overtime. With two short it was going to be a tough day, and boy did she let us know it. Several times during the shift I had to stop and take a count of ten, so as not to grab her by the throat and throttle her. It was tough, but I managed, somehow.
      The seconds passed like minutes, the minutes like days, the hours like weeks, but after an eternity the end of the shift finally approached. I’d been avoiding the clock all day, but with less than ten minutes to go, I began eyeing the hands studiously.
     Despite being two short, the shift passed uneventfully, no mishaps, minimum fuss. The supervisor was disappointed, deflated.  She revelled in mini-dramas and calamities. She needed to find fault in everything and let others know, that unlike her, they were incapable.
     I was finishing my last task of the day, washing the trolleys down. There was less than a minute to go. Sabrina was next to me, folding serviettes. Although it was almost time to go home, I could feel something in the air, something ominous, a trace of dread in the pit of my stomach.
     I clocked the supervisor. She was tapping a pencil on her desk and looking around. Then I sensed it coming,
 ‘Somebody needs to refill ze zalt an pepper pots!’
Somebody needs to what? I looked at Sabrina. Her ever-present smile had disappeared, her big brown eyes filled with barely-concealed fury.
     The Soup made a beeline to me and put a hand on my shoulder,
‘Ze zalt and pepper pots need to be refilled. You don’t mind to do them do you?’ She asked sweetly, making each word sound like it were covered in huge dollops of honey and maple syrup.
     My head began to spin. I looked at the salt and pepper pots. There were over four hundred of the fuckers. What did she mean clean them? ‘Huh?’
At this the Soup suddenly came alive, eyes twinkling, smile radiating insanity, ‘You empty each pot, one salt, one pepper, den wash out each pot, dry each pot, and re-fill each pot, and then top up with new zalt and pepper.’
Was she serious, was she joking? I looked her dead in the eyes. Nope, there was nothing there, total blankness.
‘What?’
     The Soup repeated the nonsense, sensing victory. Sabrina shot me a worried glance, her eyes pleading with me not to react. I spotted an industrial meat mincer to my left. All I had to do was shove her into it head first, along with the four hundred salt and fucking pepper pots. I bit my lip, counted to ten, and then twenty,
‘Ok.’
The Soup smiled warmly and dusted her hands, ‘Goot, goot, you are a very goot boy, it vill not take longer zan one hour.’
Thirty.
     I resigned myself to the task of emptying the salt and cellar pots, but on the way out the German made sure to have the last word,
‘And remember English, I vill be checking them in ze morning, so make sure you do dem properly!’
Forty and counting.
     Sabrina remained in the kitchen. Everyone else had gone home for the day. She poked me in the side,
‘Don’t let her get to you kid. If you walk off the job, she wins.’
I could see where Sabrina was coming from, but pleasurable images of stomping on the Soup’s head flashed through my mind. I smiled weakly.
‘Come on I’ll help you, we’ll get them done in twenty minutes.’
     We worked fast and with no one else around Sabrina began to relax and even flirt with me. She was married with three kids, a reliable husband, a good man. I began flirting back, the pointlessness of re-filling hundreds of salt and peppers pots quickly forgotten.
     We emptied them, washed them, dried them, and then refilled them. Soon it was over. Sabrina looked at me and I looked at her, and suddenly the connection was made, one of those rare events that perhaps only happen once or twice in a lifetime, and sometimes never. She took my hand and led the way.
      Inside the changing room Sabrina unbuttoned her yellow uniform, revealing black underwear adorned with sparkling pink sequins. The shiny sequins took me by surprise and fascinated me. I mean, despite everything, the gruelling job, the mad supervisor, the endless shifts, Sabrina was still holding something back. A little bit of magic, a little bit of fuck you!

It was a tough time, a time when desperate men do desperate things. Blondie was working in Shakespeare’s pies on the main drag, but I was off work with a broken arm. As a casual hospital employee I wasn’t entitled to any sick pay, and as an illegal immigrant I wasn’t entitled to any welfare either, so I was dead broke.
      Luckily I was still able to eat. A perk of Blondie’s job was that he got to take home leftover pies. At the end of each shift he returned to the flat dragging a bin liner’s worth of assorted pies and pastries behind him.  I’d jump up and stick my good arm inside and grab a pie, or a croissant or a sausage roll, or something. So although broke I wasn’t starving, in fact I was putting on weight.
     One night Blondie came home without the bin liner. I was sitting in an armchair nursing a longneck of Toohey’s and feeling peckish, despite the fact I’d been living off stale pies for over a week,
‘Where’s the bag, I’m Lee Marvin?’ I asked.
Blondie marched to the fridge, grabbed a cold one, and collapsed into an armchair opposite,
‘I got the tin tack.’
I felt a small panic well up inside me. Did this mean no more free pies?
‘What for?’
Blondie flipped open the beer cap with the use of his teeth and took a large swig, ‘Foul and abusive language.’
‘Huh?’
‘These drunk pricks come in don’t they? You know rich Aussie types, pissed as. And well, I was tired and they were annoying. And when one of the cunts starts mocking my accent I told him to fuck off.’
‘And the boss heard ya?’
‘Jinxed or what? The freak was standing right behind me, nightmare scenario.’
‘Shit, now we ain’t got a breadwinner in the house.’
‘I know, what the fuck we ganna do?’
      Strangely, for the last few days, I’d been thinking about just such an eventuality, and what with my broken arm and everything,
‘You know I heard an interesting convo on the bus the other day.’
‘Tell me everything,’ said Blondie.
‘Ok, it’s a long, long shot, but before you find another job, I think it’s worth a try.’
Blondie was confused, ‘Whaddya mean? Before I find another job?’
I raised my broken arm in silent protest.
‘Ok, ok, but stop talking in riddles?’
       I stood up and grabbed another cold one from the fridge,
‘Listen, it could be total bollocks or an urban myth, but the other day when I was coming back from Shark bay…’
At the mention of Shark bay Blondie’s ears pricked up and he cut me short,
‘Can’t work, but can go to the beach…’
‘Shut up and pay attention. There were these two young Scottish geezers on the bus.’
‘Yeah?’
‘Yeah, they got on at Double Bay and I overheard everything.’
‘And?’
‘This is the interesting bit. They were talking about the Ritz Carlton hotel and rich Jewish women.’
‘What the fuck?’
‘According to them they’d just met two milfs in the hotel. It was all pre-arranged.’
Again Blondie was confused, ‘Huh?’
‘I’m talking gigolo action comrade, getting paid for sex!’
Blondie spurted a mouthful of beer onto the carpet, ‘Are you serious?’
‘Totally, these guys were genuine. And they were just ordinary looking geezers, nowhere near as handsome as me.’
‘Or me?’ Asked Blondie.
I gave Blondie an odd look and then continued, ‘Apparently the hotel is a well known pick up joint for bored socialites looking for some toy boy action. All we’ve got to do is go into the bar and wait for a wealthy divorcee or bored wife to walk in, and give us the sign.’
‘What sort of sign?’
‘Fuck knows, but there’s always a sign in situations like these.’
‘Shit, it sounds like something out of Midnight Cowboy!’
I leaned over and clinked my bottle against Blondie’s, ‘Might as well get drunk to celebrate our new venture a?’
Blondie winked, ‘Fucking A!’

I awoke the next day, sometime after noon, with a raging hangover. Blondie was still asleep, crashed out on the living room floor in the recovery position. As I stepped over his prostrate body to get to the toilet, the urban myth of meeting rich Jewish older sorts floated through my bleary head. Maybe it was true, I thought as I took a healthy beer shit. Who knows? It could be. Double Bay was only a short bus ride away and I reckoned there was no harm in trying.
    After wiping and flushing I returned to the living room and gave Blondie a swift kick in the gut, ‘Come on, get up, we’re going to Double Bay to hook up with some loaded socialites!’
Blondie jumped up with a start, ‘Now ya talking!’
        We left the flat and stepped out into the bright yellow light of a perfect Sydney day, weather wise. I turned to Blondie, 
‘Right let’s hit Double Bay, find the hotel, and ave a few hairs of the dog.’
Blondie smiled from ear to ear, ‘Then wait to be chatted up by sexy, mega loaded, old Jewish birds!’
‘Bring it on!’
       By the time we got to Double Bay the sun was beating down with an unusual ferocity. Being both hung over and broke we were jittery, and as everyone knows hotels drinks are expensive. I decided the best ploy was to pick up a six pack from the nearest bottle shop and drink it to calm our nerves.
     Once we had the booze we retreated to a park and sat on a bench. As we sat there, drinking in the burning sun, I had a rare moment of clarity. What the fuck was I playing at? Imagining I could walk into a five star hotel and pick up a wealthy lady who would then pay me to have sex with her. Was I off my nut? As the doubts came thick and fast I told myself to think positive.
     Once the six-pack had been taken care of we brought another, and by the time we rolled up to the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton we were both boozy,
‘Did you know this is the hotel where Michael Hutchence topped himself?’
Blondie stepped inside a giant revolving door, ‘Who?’
I waited for him to reappear, which he duly did, ‘Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS. The geezer who inexplicably dumped Helena Christensen for that old minger Paula Yates!’ ‘Yeah, I remember. Geezer must ave lost it!’
‘Maybe the Yates had a magic vagina.’
   This time we stepped inside the revolving doors together,
‘Magic vagina or no magic vagina, there’s no way I’d swap a Danish super model for Geldof’s sloppy seconds.’
There wasn’t much I could say to that because Hutchence’s wonky decision defied all logic,
‘Let’s hit the bar and try to act normal.’
    We walked into an empty bar, not a rich Jewess in sight or any women for that matter. Not that we were sure what a rich Jewess looked like, maybe a cross between Sophia Loren and the older bird in the Graduate?
     When we tried to order drinks, we didn’t get very far. I don’t think the tee-shirts and thongs helped much, or the broken arm, or our boozy demeanours. Within seconds four serious looking hotel staff approached,
     ‘Excuse me gentlemen, but are you residents?’ The smarmiest looking of the uniformed quartet demanded.
‘Residents?’ Queried Blondie.
I stepped in to sort matters, ‘Yes, we’re in suite 270,’ I mumbled.
The smarmy fuck flashed his colleagues a knowing smile,
‘I’m sorry sir, but there is no room 270, I’m afraid I must ask you to leave.
    Outside we stood on the exposed pavement and wondered what to do next,
Blondie began grumbling, ‘Weren’t any Jewish birds in there anyway.’
‘Maybe they only go on certain days,’ I wondered allowed.
Blondie shrugged his shoulders and licked his lips, ‘Could do with another beer.’

‘Yeah so could I. Back to the Cross then?’
‘Let’s go.’