7am, day 9084 of my existence. My alarm goes off, ripping me from a vague and confusing dream to remind me that I have an early morning appointment with Centrelink. ‘That’s what you get for not reading your mail’ I thought ‘ they make appointments for you, at ungodly hours of the sun cycle.’
I hit snooze a few times but it does nothing – the alarm keeps going off the second I close my eyes. Five minute intervals mean nothing in early morning sleep-in terms and I can’t figure out how to make them longer, so I delete the alarm and set another one for 7.30. It doesn’t work; apparently sleep-ins have no regard for 20 minute intervals either. I roll out of bed before I let my brain indulge any further in the idea of turning off the alarm and ‘just resting my eyes’. It never works, not even with one foot on the floor.
I can tell by the horrible dark grey colour of my room that it’s raining outside, a suspicion confirmed by the rolling sound of thunder and the dripping of a broken gutter outside my window.
Todays programme is brought to you by the letter ‘fuck’.
I waddle into the bathroom and stand under a shower that runs slower than the broken, dripping gutter and contemplate life.
Why am I living here? Where am I going? Why does my housemate keep pissing on the floor around the toilet? Does he have his dick pierced? Did he lose his knob in a welding accident? Why does he fail at life? I look at the empty shelf and remember yet again that the new soap I bought is still in my bedroom. One day I’ll bring it in before I get wet.
I sit in the kitchen, staring at the floor, practicing what I’m going to say to the Centrelink beasts when they ask me why I’m still unemployed. I know there’s some sort of review taking place today and I have the fear that my time has run out – that I’ve been in the system too long, desperately clinging too the glory days of being a student, and someday soon they’re gunna send me to the rape room and make me do ‘work experience’ at Vinnies or an old peoples home. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to be unemployed for such a lengthy period of time since graduation without a bounty hunter tracking me down and claiming my scalp. George just lucky I guess… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a dole rat, I’m not heading down to the local with Shazza to blow my pay on beer, ciggies and pokies, then fight some cunt ’cause he made fun of me flanno, and I’m not sitting at home sucking down Orchy bottle bongs and eating Dominos whilst watching Jerry Springer. I’m just an artist is all. Any of you who understand will know that’s enough said.
The rain gets heavier, and I watch through the kitchen window as torrents of water pour from the rusted holes in the gutters of our garage. My raincoat is on the other side of town and I lost my umbrella in a protest march a few weeks back. I toy with the idea of going back to bed and telling them that I misread the time of my appointment, but some niggling sense of responsibility makes me put on some shoes.
I throw down some toast, make a sensible clothing choice and head to the train station once the rain eases. There are a surprising number of strangely dressed people on the platform and I remember that this is the time that noose-wearing people go to work. The whole train smells like old-people morning breath. Nobody is smiling. Nobody wants to be here. No amount of fake tan, foundation or concealer can hide the puffy eyes of an early morning on a rainy day and she knows it. Some business woman on a mobile phone starts the “I can’t hear you – you’re breaking up’ routine and the train turns to a murderous mob of iced eyeballs. Thank fuck I’m getting off, it’s too early to see a freshly beaten corpse.
I arrive at Centre-stink twenty minutes early. Nothing can excuse this – I could have hit snooze 3 more times… I am shocked an appalled at my behaviour. The doors open and I enter the strange, silent, sterile and spotless government building. It is one large, featureless and soulless room, the same as all the rest; far too big for the intended purpose, separated by office partitions and manned by the same breed of people as the train dwellers. They look tired, sad and lacking basic human emotions such as empathy and compassion. There will be no happy smiles and I can only hope that their coffee kicks in before I have to talk to one. I have no idea why an office like this would need to hire a Sudanese security guard at 9 in the morning. He is the happiest, friendliest looking puppy dog of a security guard – I can’t even imagine him with a frown, let alone a threatening stance or an ability to restrain someone. Then I remember that we’re in Whitesville, Australia, and that suburbanites are afraid of being talked to or touched by black people. I wonder how much he gets paid to stand in the corner and people-watch all day?
My efforts of being early go unnoticed, as I wait in line with chatting mothers, sick children, old people, and a man who looks like he carries barrels of concrete for fun – a short, dense, stocky unit of a man, unable to put his arms flat against his sides, but instead hovers them outwards, like a cowboy in a pistol duel, poised and ready to draw his sidearm. If he was the secco, I’d be worried. He looks like he could bench press a panda whilst simultaneously winning a pie-eating contest.
The silence in the building is horrifying, with no radio or background hum of idle chatter or office machinery – only the odd rustle of paper or clearing of a throat. I feel sorry for the people who work here; they look pained. I’d love to burst in here one day dressed as a clown, riding bareback on a llama with a brass marching band in tow, handing out balloons and lollies, just to brighten their day. Then we’d see if that security guard was worth the money.
The awkwardly silent line of waiting customers is subjected to the confused pleas of a Thai lady as her application for a payment is greeted with apathy and despondence from the man behind the service desk. I sense the growing restlessness and uncomfortability in the crowd and I wish I bought my headphones or a sketch pad. Almost on cue, a cross dresser enters the room to antagonise the situation. A blackie and a gay all in one morning? Can these folk really handle that?
The man is tall and lean, with thin, hairy legs, scuffed black slip ons, a short, twisted skirt, mismatching top, small breasts, a days beard growth and a tangled mess of unbrushed bed hair, badly homestyled into a woman’s cut. He looks edgy, nervous and strung out as he adjusts his skirt and tries to fix his tits. By any standards, if this were a genuine woman, she’d look like a cheap whore, who had encountered a rough night. If he was going for a glamorous and seductive transformation, he had failed miserably. He picks his undies out of his bum as he walks awkwardly over to the waiting room and starts noisily rummaging through his bag and knocking things over. Comedowns are a bitch.
For some reason there is a pile of seniors newspapers in the waiting room and I scan through one with fleeting amounts of interest to kill the time. Funeral ads, nursing homes, dementia, meals on wheels, nostalgia, bingo, campervans, hearing aids and war memorials. Some old timer in the classifieds claims he has a sure-fire way to win division 2 and 3 in the lotto and he’ll sell you the tips for a decent price. Sounds legit. I’m tempted to write down the number.
I’m starting to get a bit nervous about the appointment. I have no idea what’s going to happen or what they’re going to ask me. Was I supposed to bring anything? Was there a form?
They call me over and I prepare for the worst, but receive nothing but the boring basics. Have you been looking for work? Are you in stable accommodation? Have you ever smelled honey? How many fingers am I holding up?
They never ask you anything personal on an individual level. They never ask if you’re having an existential crisis about your role and purpose in the universe or if you’re experiencing a general sense of disgust and disillusionment with the trends of society and the continuing relentless destruction of the planet.
There’s no form to claim for those kinds of ailments.
They don’t seem concerned that my job search provider hasn’t contacted me about a job since I signed up, or that I spend my days drawing cartoons and ranting about the state of things. I get a few stamps and a bit of paper with a barcode and that’s that. See you in a month or something. The door keeps revolving and before I know it I’m outside and walking back to the train. How anti-climatic. I’m suspicious that someone’s following me, or that a ninja will jump out screaming from behind a bush and decapitate me, but it never happens. The system is flawed. None of it makes sense. I suppose it’s time to get a haircut and get a real job.