Let’s not kid ourselves, people. I am a bonafide genius; a regular freaking font of knowledge. Pearls of wisdom, mots full of bon fall from my lips like spring rain, or perhaps more aptly the viscous drips from a bulging septic tank. Therefore, it’s only natural that my co-workers to come to me to explain for them aspects of the new industrial relations reforms. “These new laws,” they say. “What are they about? What will they mean for me? Tell us, tell us do!”
Well, yes, alright, that’s something of a lie. No, not about me - I’m ever so smart (good lookin’, too) – but when my colleagues discuss the plight of the workers, the debate usually runs thusly: “Industrio wha? Booring! Omigod, isn’t Paris Hilton just fab!” Which says a lot about my choice of workplace. But if they did finally tire of discussing La Hilton’s myriad talents and calling me names behind my back, I’m sure they would ask my sage advice on this important issue. To which I would reply, “We should be wary of these reforms, as they give employers excessive power, and leave employees few avenues of complaint. For example: if the backs of the unions have been broken, who are you going to turn to when your boss masturbates on your desk?”
Now, do you see what I’ve done there? I started off all topical and then used that to segue into what will hopefully be a semi-amusing anecdote. And it was absolutely seamless, no?
Let’s just put poor lead-ins aside, shall we, and concentrate on this disgusting-yet-true tale of sticky desks and bad career choices. Who here remembers the high and far-off times of the year of our lord 2002? Those were the days in which cargo pants were still in, in which we were just beginning to realise that tattooing the Japanese character for ‘beetroot’ on your arm might not be such a smart idea, and in which I – a lad of few discernable talents – had risen to the heady heights of middle management in a financial planning firm. And when I say ‘middle management’, I mean glorified office-bitch. And when I say ‘firm’, I mean I worked out of a converted garden shed. When they talk about backyard industries, this was the acme. I shared my office with the occasional spade, an interesting collection of venomous spiders, and an elderly collie.
My boss and owner of the shed tended to put people in mind of Tony Soprano, not merely in his looks or rotundity, or his propensity for using the word ‘cunt’ as both noun, pronoun, verb and adjective, but in his business practices. Example: he once re-negotiated my pay system while leaning on an axe. He had three secret loves, and none were his wife (having met her, this was understandable): the first was writing fan-fiction, which was unbelievably, hilariously adolescent in content and infantile in grammar; the second was the bottle of whiskey kept in the bottom of the filing cabinet, for the boss enjoyed a tipple after a hard days bitching; the third, which I discovered while browsing through his computer files, presumably illegally, during idle moments, was pornography. Being well aware of his character, this came as no real surprise – one of my many duties was cleaning the office, dusting down the shelves with an ancient hole-infested t-shirt kept specifically for the purpose, and I’d previously turned up a few inexpensive stick mags during a tidy-up (left on top of a pile of folders, they disappeared without mention the next day) – and as it was really none of my business what he got up to in his private life, I put it out of my head.
That all changed one fateful Australia Day. Despite my earlier protestations of genius – accurate protestations, mark you, and don’t dare deny it – little things can slip my mind…dates, places, girlfriend’s name, simple stuff like that. As it was, I’d forgotten the public holiday. Traipsing all innocent up to the office that morning and whistling a merry tune, I prepared to open the door. It was locked: very unusual. I thought I heard an intake of breath, but ignored it and jangled through my keys to find the appropriate one. Then a voice came from inside, low and fearful, “Who’s there?” After a few moments to consider the possibilities, I elucidated, “Um, me?”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” This barked visciously.
“Well, I work here…” This being a display of unusual perspicacity. A long pause followed.
“Just…just hold on! Wait outside! I’ll be there in a minute.” This growled with desperate venom. In a state of mild confusion, which I admittedly inhabit a lot of the time, I waited, listening to a series of grunts, bumps and panicked curse words floated from under the closed door, which, after a few minutes, slowly opened.
The boss’s head emerged, blinking in the bright January sunshine, followed by his torso. He was dishevelled, unshaven, his comb-over in disarray, and clouds of whiskey-fumes rose in a steady haze from between his chapped lips. But, horror of horrors, though he concealed himself as much as possible behind the door, I could see he wore only the old, tiny, stained t-shirt I used as a cleaning rag. Under it strained his heaving belly, and from beneath its tattered hem coquettishly poked a hint of his hairy, naked hip. I shuddered visibly.
There followed a brief but vigorously-worded conversation about the existence of public holidays, as all the while I fought desperately to keep my face straight, my eyes from straying south, and my feet from running, running and never stopping. Eventually and with false jollity, I apologised for my mistake, told him I’d see him tomorrow, and got the hell out of dodge. I spent the rest of the day conducting experiments which ran along the lines of “How much beer is required to forget your naked boss?” They were all unsuccessful.
It was the next morning that was the clincher, however. The office was unoccupied when I arrived, and the boss’s car wasn’t in the drive. The empty whiskey bottle and the t-shirt were lying on the floor, though, and the computer was on, open to the file where he kept his ‘collection’. And on the desk… oh gods. Let’s just say he’d obviously celebrated Australia Day several times over. I went and found some disinfectant and a pair of rubber gloves, and spent a busy hour with a scrubbing brush.
I’d put up with a lot in that job, and from that boss – poor work conditions (i.e. garden shed), constant ‘unprofessional’ language, unreasonable workload and below award wages, having to fire subordinates according to his whims, and occasional suggestions that it would be a good move to date his step-daughter – but that was the last straw, and I handed in my notice later that week (although, coward that I am, I did not state my reasons as ‘having to clean up your jism’).
This, this is why we need unions, people. If, like me back then, we have no representation, or our representatives are rendered effectively powerless, who is going to stop our employers just jerking off wherever they like, hmm? Was that amendment covered in Howard’s 700 page blockbuster? I think not, and I for one won’t rest easy until it is.