Friday, October 9, 2015

my worst job ever...

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It was the worst and also the shortest. It was on a line at a scalloping factory. I was sixteen.

To get this fantastic position, I stood outside the scalloping factory at 6 am. The Man came around at 6:30ish for a 7 am start and pointed to about 10 of us. We all marched inside, then we were lined up along a conveyor belt and told to pick off the Bad Scallops as they went past us. I had never actually seen a scallop before, so I really wasn't sure what the difference between a Bad Scallop and a Good Scallop was and so, I asked. The Man told me to ask the woman next to me. I did. Unfortunately, the woman next to me didn't speak English. I turned to the woman on the other side of me. She didn't speak English either.

A terrible mechanical sound began suddenly, so loud you literally could not hear yourself shout. I know this to be true because later in the morning I tried it, with mixed results. A disgusting looking belt began its 10 hour long journey, round and round, carrying scallops through the production line before plopping them into cans at the end.

Did I mention that I hate seafood? Did I mention that the smell was utterly rank? There were four of us in the Picking Off The Bad Scallops section and I observed what the others were doing in order to better understand what a Bad Scallop might look like. Please, don't ask me because I don't remember - I've blotted the details out of my mind. The sound tore at my ear drums, the scallops shells cut through my rubber gloves, the smell kept my tummy in a state of constant alert, as if it were saying, 'Now? Did you want me to hurl now?' But well, I'm smart. After a short while, I figured it all out and I was picking those Bad Scallops off that belt like I was born to it.

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this before, but I'm a compulsive singer. I sing ALL THE TIME. I had a friend at school who used to punch me in the shoulder and say, 'Stop. Fucking. Singing!' at least once a week. So once I'd got a rhythm going and felt I could eradicate those Bad Scallops without having to think too much, what do you suppose I did? I began to sing. Really, really loud, because as I mentioned earlier, I couldn't hear myself over the machinery. I don't remember what I was singing but taking into consideration the year and the place and the shoutiness required, it was very probably KISS's I-I-I want to Rock'n'roll all night... AND PARTY EVERY DAY!

I don't know how long I did this for but I do know that everybody on that production line went off into their own little world as they attended to the scallops and their canning. I checked, you see, as I began to sing. I checked to see if anyone would see me and think poorly of me, perhaps even punch me in the shoulder like my school friend, Robyn, used to. But no, nobody cared, they were all off in whatever place it was that allowed them to endure the scallop line.

So, I really got into it. It helped a lot to be able to sing really loud knowing nobody could hear me. It made it almost bearable. Until, smoko time when all the machinery cut out with a single switch bringing sudden, utter silence.

Well, silence except for me shouting a Kiss song at the top of my lungs, of course. I don't know how many words I sang into that deafening void. It doesn't matter - one was too many. Every head in that dark grey factory swung to look at me like The Terminator hearing the name Sarah Connor. I have done some crazy things in my life and I have been looked at like I was an total nut many times. But never like this. NEVER. LIKE. THIS.

I then made a fatal mistake, but hey, I was 16 years old and as yet, had not seen Bootmen or The Full Monty, both of which clearly demonstrate what a working class person should do when caught in this kind of situation. The best course of action is to sing even louder and start leaping all over machinery whilst making jazz hands.

Alas, I froze like a sea-wombat caught in the navigation lights of a scalloping boat.

I thought I knew what humiliation tasted like. I thought being the new kid at half a dozen separate schools had shown me the sharp edge of social disapproval. That was child's play. Those scalloping women were not amused, not even slightly, by my anti-social facsimile of joy. I looked around at those bleak angry faces and was overwhelmed by a visceral experience that can best be expressed by these words: GET ME OUT OF HERE NOW OR I WILL DIE.

I made my way to the toilet and sat down on the closed lid. What was I going to do? I couldn't stay there the rest of the day. I just couldn't. I couldn't tell the boss that I couldn't stay there for the rest of the day because I was about a month out of school and I thought the rules were the same.

That is, that if I went to him and said, 'Hey, I've changed my mind about this job and I'm going home,' he would behave like a teacher and say, 'Oh, no, you're not. You will finish this day and then when it's done, you'll go to the office and write fifty times 'I must not sing on the production line'. Anyhow, my traumatically embarrassed sixteen year old brain came up with the only sensible solution - I stood on the cistern and pushed open the high toilet window.

Being young and agile, I slithered out like a snake and ran across the back yard of the factory and out the back gate. This took me into a strange, urban no-man's-land of warehouses and 6 foot wire fences. I kept running. Just like Forrest Gump. I don't know why. I guess I thought they could do something to make me go back.

Yeah. I was a weird kid. Some would say that the only thing that's changed is that if it happened today, I wouldn't have a hope of getting out that window.

Check out my novel, The Anzac Girl, on Amazon: 
The Anzac Girl

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