Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bucket List Pt.1: Itinerant Worker and Miniature Donut Maker

For those of you not aware of my latest theme, see the previous post. I am currently bringing you on a tour of my life through my many varied and strange jobs. This very journey is being undertaken as part of a quasi "Bucket List" by my friend Big D who will attempt to get his mojo back by living my life in reverse.

Let's kick it off with the one that started it all.
1. Itinerant Worker:

When I was 17, my mother moved me and my brother from the most hoity-toity suburb of Melbourne to the boganiest suburb in the greater Melbourne area. I have mentioned before this municipality's notions on crime prevention and culture so i won't rehash all that here. All I will say is thank god for Melbourne's "Zone" system which tells you exactly how undesirable you are. We essentially moved from Zone 1 to "grey shaded area".

* The white part is the ocean...

I wasn't upset with losing the upscale neighborhood because I was in the midst of a very 90s obsession with cloaking myself in Led Zeppelin T-shirts and filth while being aggressively glum. I was however against being heckled from speeding Holden Commodores and being threatened with physical violence on my daily 2 hour (!) commute because I wore the (undeniably tauntable) school blazer.

* Oh no, no-one would *ever* make fun of a purple and gold uniform with a giant lion sewn on the pocket. Look at these poor Samoan exchange students hating life. She's crying on the inside...

I will say that this move prompted me to find a way out with the intensity of a thousand fiery suns. I redirected all the energy I had once spent on yelling at my mother and listening to Dinosaur Jr. into my escape. With a combo of birthday and Christmas money and savings I bought a round the world ticket for a year beginning on the day after graduation.

*An aside: There are many instances of teenaged assholery that I regret, but the one which I believe truly reflects how much of a jerk I was is that I made an "uncomfortable mix tape" especially for the already poignant ride to the airport with my mother. This cassette included the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" and "Cat's in the Cradle". I know, I know, I will definitely paying for that karmically at some point.

But, just because i had this ticket didn't mean my problems were over. No sir! I had to find a way to earn the funds to help me make absconding a feasible reality. Cue my Auntie G.

Before we go any further, it is important for you to understand the dichotomy which exists within my family. One the one side are the ne'er do wells (namely me) who were raised to be "ragbags" under the tutelage of my father. No disrespect, I think he was right. Ragbags are awesome. However, on my mother's side is a veritable ocean of piety and goodness. My Auntie G and her husband live on an idyllic farm, are local pillars of the community and have raised three strapping lads who help old ladies with their groceries and rescue children from burning buildings. They were even featured in a real documentary entitled "Knee benders and elbow benders" which highlighted the difference between their pious, righteous lives and those of the local pub dwellers. 

* They live here.

I have long harbored a sneaking suspicion that I am the Antichrist because very time I have gone to their house I have become violently ill for no reason. I'm talking hives and projectile vomiting the moment i get out of the car but which magically cease once we hit the city limits.

Anyhoo, Auntie G heard of my plight and told me that the kids were all going to spend the summer fruit picking in Southern New Zealand to raise money for the coming year. "Wizard!" I said. And so, I packed up my Doc Marten boots, my velvet choker and my bootleg flare jeans and headed off into the unknown.

This would be me and my cousins - the apple pickin' gang- having the time of our lives, makin' memories etc.

Apple picking turned out not to be the ideal first job. We were expected to pick approximately 1 million apples in 4 hours just to make enough money to buy a pie and a ginger ale from down the street for lunch. The day would begin with a 45 minute uphill bike ride to the farm because my cousins didn't have cars and were also as fit as tri-athletes. I, however, was coming off a few years where my only forms of aerobic exercise were running for the train, straining my upper body in order to blow illicit cigarette smoke out of my bedroom window and wrestling my brother for the best spot in front of the television. I had to take a nap under my apple tree when I got there.

Needless to say, my cousins were the superstars of the apple picking community, making cash hand over fist and tucking in to bed early after singing a few rounds of Kumbayah. I, however, was about as happy as a vegan at the Big Texan. So, the next day, when I was befriended by the locals (or "townies" as I believe they are referred to in the U!S!A!) I was ecstatic. Things were looking up! They would give me a lift to work every day in their hotted up, marijuana-scented bogan-mobile which they had taken the mufflers off of to increase their nuisance quotient:

Every lunch time they would come and collect me, and we would go to the pub to fill up what they told me were called "riggers" which were essentially empty 2 liter coke bottles that the pub would fill from the keg for a discounted rate. Once you got your rigger, you were mobile and could proceed to the park, abandoned golf course or out by the dam and be "no good kids" with ease.

Needless to say, this arrangement did not bode well for my apple picking job. Around week two, my boss took all of the kids who weren't cut out for doing the job (which I believe machines have been invented for already) and gently told us that we should look down other avenues of employment. I think my cousins were promoted.

I needed to find a new way to make that paper. Luckily, the townies knew everyone in the fruit picking game and quickly arranged for me to work in another arena of nomadic employment: raspberry picking.

While apple picking was the New Zealand option for middle-class white kids fresh out of high school to learn responsibility before heading off to their tertiary studies, raspberry picking was a major step down the ladder. When I arrived at work, I realized that this was hardcore. First, raspberries grow on bushes, bushes with ouchy prickly velcro leaves. Also, raspberries are very difficult to pick without smooshing. If you smoosh them, you get in trouble with the bossman. Incidentally, the bossman down at casa de raspberry was quite different from my old apple boss. Whereas Appleman was a ruddy-cheeked jolly farmer, Raspberryman was more like Boss Godfrey:

Speaking of Cool Hand Luke, here's a treat for all of you ladies out there:

* You're welcome

Do you know how many raspberries you have to pick to fill a bucket? A shit ton, that's how many. It also doesn't help that raspberries are possibly my favorite fruit of all time. In New Zealand during summer you can buy a kilogram of raspberries for a pittance. When I was little, I routinely ate an entire kilo by myself and each time would be crippled by gastrointestinal distress. It never made me slow down. I would eat raspberries like it was my business. Anyway, you can imagine how I spent the first few hours of my new job:

* One for you, one for me...

Later, as I lay clutching my belly, lips and fingers stained a dark purple, I began to notice the other workers around me. They didn't look like future college students, or even families picking fruit in a banal attempt to "do something together for once, goddammit". No, these were pros. I watched as they toiled under the midday sun, their nimble fingers pulling perfect raspberries off the bushes and dropping them into their overflowing buckets. They also ran the gamut from very old to well below the legal working age. They even had little foetuses using their webbed fingers to clutch onto the low hanging fruit.

After making some inquiries, I learned that I was working with illegal Cambodian refugees. They had probably escaped the horrors of Pol Pot's killing fields in order to make a better life. Every time a helicopter would fly overhead, they would get very antsy. Here I was, a privileged asshole with no idea how to pick fruit, eating all of their possible profits with a cavalier disregard for my own employ. No wonder I had no friends.

I immediately felt highly out of place. The fetus was giving me a bitchy side-eye glance every time I placed another stone in my bucket to weight it down. "Shame on you," it seemed to be saying, "I came out early, and do what needs to be done for my family to survive and you have a big fat mouth like a monster. I hope you die." Well, with the stones and gorging, my stint as a pro-raspberry picker was doomed from the outset and I was summarily given the heave ho. 

2. Miniature Donut Maker at a Country Fair.

After the fruit picking debacle, i was desperate for another means by which to make money. Luckily for me, my bogan friend's Uncle Wayne owned a miniature donut truck which he would operate at local fairs, sporting events and in abandoned train station parking lots. He heard I was after work and offered me a weekend gig in the cart. So, I arrived one dreary saturday morning, donned a hairnet and waited for instructions which were (verbatim):

"Melt the lard 'til it bubbles then make sure none of the batter clogs, or you're fucked." 

Readers, I have felt the sweet sting of sizzling oil hitting human flesh. Repeatedly. I still harbor scars on my knuckles from it. When I was in there, watching helplessly as mini-donut after mini-donut plopped out of the machine, each betraying me anew by allowing its delectable body to launch into the bubbling oil and sting me with its deadly splash, I couldn't help but identify with Tupac who sagely noted, "My only fear of death is to be reincarnated".

It was like a bizarre form of Chinese water torture except with cinnamon sugar and rendered animal fat. Needless to say, I didn't re-up for another tour.

Next up:
"Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams: Illegal Alienhood in the Big Apple".

1 comment:

  1. I was definitely less than pleasant to be around during my teen years but I was an amateur at best. I tip my cap to you and your mix tape. Talking about some real art there.