Tuesday, January 15, 2013
'I hate Christmas', I said. 'It makes everything bad seem worse.' I was fourteen, the child of newly divorced parents and only just beginning the teenage years that were to be filled with determined and steely angst and indignation. I had heard that line in a movie, or read it in a book, believing it to be aptly suited to the way I felt about my current state of affairs. A lady I worked with, in her fifties, someone who knew a little something about the heartache life can bring, reprimanded me while her Christmas earrings jangled and flashed. 'Oh come on, tell me what's bad?'
'One day you will write a book,' my history teacher told me in Year 12, as I sobbed wearily and wiped snot from my nose with my sleeve, all because my final essay remained incomplete. 'On the pain and struggle of your life.'
By the time I finished high school I had a new mantra. 'I hate this fucking town', I spat, as I spent a summer sweating out 60 hour work weeks, all in a bid to leave as quickly as I could. I had tried pessimism on for size and loved the way it fit me. These days I love corny quotes, get a kick from cliches, write overly sentimental messages in birthday cards, gush at love stories, hold on too long during goodbye hugs and get teary at community events, but I'll still call myself a cynic.
The hospitality industry broadcasts the worst and the ugliest qualities in people, while human services shows you just how unravelled their lives can become. Am I doomed to see disaster every day, railing along the spectrum of no manners to no opportunity? I find solace in the sparks of children, who plough through minefields and manage to smile at the other end. The first time I saw a child in what I considered to be broken pieces of a life, shards that left innocence cut and bleeding, I refused to fathom its functionality. Families cannot be this way and still go on, my mind shuddered that night, as I drank red wine like water so I could stop feeling and desperately searched for someone to explain to me why it was. It seemed like months that I felt my way blindly through each shift, holding onto intuition with white knuckles and emerging a carb-craving mess at the other end every time.
Months on, nothing has changed too much, except now I have begun to be able to distance myself at arm's length. I don't dream of the little faces, have stopped seeing every problem of every person who passes me in the street. Maybe empathy has a limit, before it freezes you where you stand, arms outstretched in a bid to make it better. You are paralysed by comprehension of another's pain, such is so to the point where you don't recognise your own and cannot do anything to stop or change any of it. Last year I was at a friend's birthday, and his mother spoke of how he saw and felt the world's pain but was not overcome by it. I was immediately envious without knowing why.
Apathy panics me, so does idealism. Can't we just be realistic? I plead with my textbooks that reference long-winded theories and how they will help us achieve a world where social services do what they are supposed to, all of the time. They don't say anything about how you are supposed to feel when you watch a child's face remain blank as their parent approaches them for a court-ordered hour every week, of a grandmother's pleas, of tears and tantrums echoing in a carpark and trying to navigate the backstreets of a suburb so far away you wonder if you're still in the same city. I went to a seminar where a child protection worker spoke of 'Positive Fridays', and I thought it was a crock. Now I understand why you have to grab onto the little things every Friday after lunch, so you aren't swallowed up by a system that sometimes seems to hinder more than help.
How can I put Band-Aids where you are bleeding, when my own knees are still mottled purple with reminders of my mother laying her cool hands while I howled in pain? Those scars still aren't quite healed, remaniscent of cold asphalt netball courts, of creaking brakes on a bike, running down slopes, ramps and stairs with no fear, a childhood where blooming innocence was mostly left unpruned, happiness grew like the centimetres marking our height in lead pencil on our grandparents' wall, where strong hands held me, the bath water was warm and at night we dreamt of mostly good things while luminescent star stickers glowed on the ceilings. So blessed was I, that I simply cannot bear to comprehend your world where things have gone so wrong. I want to fix it all, put colour back in your sky as the grey clouds leech borders and the rain never stops. If I could I would, wrap you up tight and hold you close, make you okay. But you are not mine to have, not mine to hold. The broken pieces of the puzzle I desperately want to see, never fit together the way I imagine. Your sun is bright, until they go away, and I have vowed to stop, the day I go home unaffected, where I am no longer angry at the injustice of it all.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Thursday, February 9, 2012
One Student’s Struggle: is working in hospitality a rite of passage or just a soul eroding monotony?
On the good days, I find commonalities with someone from an opposite life. I banter and joke, there is a spring in my step, I turn my face to the early morning sky without a thought of the hour of the day and I smile at the sallow-faced commuters one-by-one. On the bad days, I scorn every inane request, every ‘excuse me’, I have no tolerance for the noise, the rush, the things that go wrong. On these days the hours trickle by and I grit my teeth as every minute passes, unsure as to whether I will finish my shift with my sanity and will to live intact.
Jobs within the hospitality and retail sectors are far from uncommon for students, particularly those still in secondary education or the early years of an undergraduate degree. These types of unemployment took on a new role of emphasis for me when I moved out of home and my income was no longer purely disposable. Start and finish times suddenly mattered more, since rent and bills had to be paid and milk and bread bought and when I put ladders in all my stockings there was no parent figure around who might kindly pick me up some at the supermarket.
All of these lessons provided me with sound and valuable learning curves, and I can hardly say my everyday quality of life has diminished since I flew the nest. With that said, years on I am still trudging my way through what feels like the world’s longest university degree (please stop asking me how many years I have to go, it makes me despondent) and still slaving over tables with coffee permanently ingrained into my skin for what feels like a small cut above the minimum wage.
‘Oh it could be worse!’ I singsong, but as I approach my fortieth hour in the week of meeting other people’s needs before my own in shoes that give me no back support, I very much doubt it can.
A summer of sweating in a café in a suburb where the closest thing to a seaside breeze is when a rubbish truck drives past has given me plenty of time to ponder the pros and cons of working one of the bottom rungs of the hospitality ladder. I don’t feel like I’ve grasped onto any final conclusions but I have come up with the following.
1. Thank God for Centrelink
As many profanities have been muttered regarding the government department that begrudgingly provides us with a fortnightly allowance, existing without it would prove near impossible. Despite the bitter employees and handfuls of bureaucratic red tape, we are lucky to live in a place that supports students, and pretty generously at that. Sure, by the time I graduate I’ll have accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in HECS debt but since that will be slowly whittled away from my tax when I have a ‘real job’, I’m happy to place that at the back of my mind. My only gripe is Centrelink’s makes-little-sense eligibility criteria – surely if I live out of home and study full time and you live out of home and study full time we should be receiving the same benefits? With that said, Centrelink – thank you. I hate your automatic voice recognition feature (which doesn’t work, by the way) and I can never remember the answers to my secret questions in order to use your online services, but I know I am lucky to have you.
2. Summer Motivation Hits its Peak
I have never been filled with more ambition to fulfil my career dreams than after a shift where I have washed 30 salt shakers, accidentally shattered a latte glass into a pram ( fortunately without a baby in it) and served a table of beefcake Collingwood supporters with face tattoos ‘bundy and coke thanks luv’ at 10am. With every fork I polish, I think about what I want to do for the years to come, and I know it’s not this. Whilst this industry is made for some, and I admire those with a passion for it and wonder how on earth they summon the tolerance – it’s definitely not for me. I feel another line appear on my forehead every time someone orders a ‘quarter strength decaf soy latte with Equal and no lid on the cup thanks’. But all the hours I spend raging over how shit the human race can be remind me of why I’m studying – so I can end up in a job I care about, doing things I find interesting and engaging. My passion for my studies usually reaches its peak in the middle of summer, though I wish I could bottle and preserve some of that enthusiasm and ingest it during SWOTVAC when I’ve been hitting refresh on Facebook for three hours while twelve weeks of lecture notes on statistics remain untouched in front of me.
But in the mean time, I think of this as a means to an end, where the end will be that much more rewarding since I’ve placed 8764 cappucinos in front of people who don’t say thank you. But that’s okay, because I can see the end.
3. I Am a Good Customer
I am nice to people who serve me in restaurants, I make few alterations to the menu, I don’t get cross if I’m given a flat white instead of a latte, I’ll happily sit on a communal table and when I put my knife and fork together, yes I have finished my meal and you can take my plate, thank you very much. Working customer service jobs make you a kinder, more understanding and empathetic person. Even if your train comes in two minutes and you’re pissed off because you forgot your lunch and your umbrella and you were woken up by a leaf blower at 7am, you smile at the person who takes your coffee order because you understand and know what it’s like to be them.
4. The Value of the Dollar and the Meaning of Hard Work
I understand them. In theory. Even though I can approximate how many tables I served to obtain the paycheck clutched in my hot little hand, it doesn’t stop me blowing it in the first three days, then making 20 bucks last for the next two, before having to use my debit card to make a six-dollar purchase at Coles because I no longer have enough in my account to withdraw cash. Despite my lack of money management skills, I’d still like to think I understand what it means to earn it.
5. It’s Probably the Most Productive Thing I’d be Doing Anyway
This applies to the days where I wake up feeling like I’ve slept face-down in the Sahara desert in the middle of the day; where I can taste every minute of the last 12 hours and I regret it all.
‘Well I may as well be working when I’m that hungover,’ I said to a friend recently. ‘I wouldn’t be doing anything else anyway.’
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘But it’s hell.’
It is hell, from the moment you walk in and the room is still spinning, to the moment you walk out feeling like you’ve just run a marathon and your muscles are starting to be eaten away by septic acid. But, I argue, at least I can rock up five minutes before my shift starts smelling like a pub floor, eat two hash browns and drink five litres of apple juice, and still manage to perform my duties to a reasonably satisfactory level. As long as I don’t vomit when I’m clearing a table or drop anyone’s breakfast, though everyone notices my bloodshot eyes and shallow breathing as I will away the nausea, they mostly ignore it.
So even though I spent most of my rent money and have once again disproven the highly contested theory of If You Go to Bed Before Midnight You’ll Be Fine, at least I’m at work earning it back and trying to regain status as a functional member of society.
Plus there’s usually someone worse off than me.
6. So At Least
Days of assessing the alleged silver linings of the hospitality industry have left me feeling lightened. Even if everything I’ve outlined above is blatantly untrue, the knots in my back are starting to unclench as the realisations dawn upon me. Crap hours, crap pay and the broadcasting of humanity’s really ugly qualities – ticking all the boxes. But you have to crawl before you can walk, so I guess that means I have to have surgery on my arm for a burn obtained from carrying a chicken parmigiana plate, before I can get paid for doing what I love.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
I scoffed at the overpriced 3am notebook, for the recording of thoughts and dreams had in the dead of the night. But now I rake my memory for dreams from past nights and I can't, they are leaves that have felt the brunt of the evening rain and are now sodden, mulched into the grass, unidentifiable from one another. We should have raked the lawn.
The buses used to line up at the curb, next to the gymnasium that had such a dusty floor. They were really lined up in some kind of pecking order based on location. With that said, the pack of sweaty and wild-eyed individuals bound for the city centre waited in the scorching sun, no relief. The last bus had a sad stringy gum tree and fence posts that offered leaning opporunities, so maybe it was worthwhile, living where I did. Arguable, though, given the number of times we watched Wizz Fizz being snorted up nasal cavities, arse cheeks being pressed against the back window, fruit and stale sandwiches being thrown back and forth, grubby fingers pressing the bell with no intentions of getting off the bus, and the driver hitching up his shorts as he strode down the aisle to where the culprits sat, threatening to throw us all off on the side of the freeway.
For three months a year, when the cold and grey winter persisted, the slick of green grass that ran parallel to the bus stop became perilous. When the rain bucketed down, the grass became a stage, a slippery slope of doom that saw many scurry too fast and fall to social injury in efforts not to miss the bus. In the navy jumpers that reeked of wet dog when it rained, we piled aboard. One headphone for each, we would share Discmans, in efforts to block out the surrounds.
You were in my dream, I was playing in a band. I know you’re horrified, because my complete lack of rhythm, tone deafness and lack of social etiquette used to make you cringe on a regular basis. Why were we so compelled to sit on the concrete, the cold dirty ground? We were drawn to the curbs, stairs, patches of grass, benches, fences, window ledges. Then we grew up, and now we stand and wait in uncomfortable shoes.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I imagine a comparitive line graph, red and blue squiggles dancing around each other. Normal is at a lower level for addicts but easier to reattain when the sought-after substance is clutched between two fingers.
My main questions are these: What do you do when you're waiting for the train, and there are exactly 7 minutes until it is due to pull into the station? Do you admire what's in the vending machine? Do you watch the other commuters examine their Metcards, read their newspapers, pace back and forth in their polyester suits? Do you count the number of butts stamped into the bitumen? Doesn't time past so slowly, wind lashing against your face? What do you do, with 3 minutes to go, except draw in your breaths harder and faster, smiling if the timing is perfect?
What do you do when you get home from work? Do you take off your coat, hang it up, take off your shoes, line them up, turn the kettle on - and then what? Sit quietly on your lounge setting and drink your tea, watching the 6pm news? Feel the warmth ebb back through your limbs as you prepare for your evening to be spent indoors, without five minutes of freezing interjected at intervals you determine?
What do you do when you finish your dinner, full to bursting? You recline, digest, then what do you do? What comes between dinner and dessert, that you can't have anymore? That course is missing, and it's the one you're craving the most, regardless as to whether the pit of hunger in your belly is filled to the brim.
What do you do, whilst you talk on the phone, except play with the fire inbetween your fingers, over and over and over? What do you do? Do you pace back and forth, wearing marks into the cream carpet? Do you fold the basket of laundry that's been at the end of your bed for a week, is that what you're supposed to do? Do you sit idly, cross-legged, as numbness sets into your feet?
What am I supposed to do, as I scrape the coffee foam back from the sides my glass, as I stir the ice in my drink with my straw, as I bite my nails as the ball of anxiety in my stomach grows, as I ingest chapter after chapter, as I sit in a crowded room with too many other minds humming, as I sit outside in the sun, as I sit outside in the cold, as I sit outside in the rain? What am I supposed to do?
Tiny little rosebud
With sweet smelling hair
A whole world exists for you
White tiles and cream carpets
Dark haired girls
Soul food on mismatched plates
Frayed flannelette with buttons missing
Endless winter days