Earth Minus Jeans...( Lenny, Part 1 )
In part three of the manual Earth Minus Jeans Equals Slacks, it refers to a character whose name " will probably be Lenny ", and to another called Carlos or Pedro. Here's a bit more meat to the bones of these characters. The fashion retail working environment is rife with them.
Unemployment is like a big fat juicy burger crammed with onions, peppers and a mystery sauce for which the recipe is top secret but which you know is probably taking two weeks off your life expectancy. Initially it feels just so damn good, but you know it's wrong and that sooner or later you'll have to return to the fruit and veg of the working world.
Six months of being trapped in its slobbering jaws was a dangerously long time for me, and visits to the local job centre were turning into a parody of picking someone out at an identity parade. I would find myself walking along the line of small rectangular cards, silently repeating " Nope - nope - nope - uhh... nope ", before catching the bus home to watch some mediocre pop star performing her mediocre new single on some mediocre daytime programme to a mediocre studio audience who quite frankly must have given up on their own lives as much as I had.
It's a totally disparaging existence, and the scariest thing is, it's an existence you could easily get used to.
Part of the problem is that your senses begin to shut down. They become part of the conspiracy to keep you under the duvet until noon every day.
Your eyes for example are the worst offenders. They used to be your friends and collaborate with your brain to stop you walking into lamp-posts. They'd tell you " This is a doughnut - you can eat this " and " This is a garden slug - you can eat this as well if you want but don't bloody well blame us afterwards. " But after being on the dole for a while, they inexplicably turn against you.
They distort, they transform, they flout coherence. In short they become lying little buggers. The result of this is that you read details and requirements of a job that are far removed from what's actually printed in the advert.
Collecting trolleys from a supermarket car park is a position that even the stupidest kid in your class at school would be able to cope with. Your eyes have a different opinion on this. They decide to change it from the kind of job that merely requires you to have a part of your body through which you can breathe, to the kind of job where previous experience of Thermodynamics or Nuclear physics is essential.
Looking for a career that's different and exciting? Need a new challenge? Join our elite team of fast food serving morons and push the boundaries of burger flipping!.... A full understanding at Degree level of Non-euclidean Geometry would be preferred.
Sometimes your eyes won't even let you get that far, and seem to have the uncanny ability to change the language in the advert from English to that of a nomadic tribe living in the Western Sahara.
Looking for a career that's different and exciting? Need a new challenge? Join our elite team of splooj splooj dong moggy vnnk fellamatata bang screee mfgfjdkkk nip nip la bananaconkertreepants..... "
To summarise, unemployment is a rut. It was a rut that I had to drag myself out of.
Why were the police so selective when I was younger? I still remember sitting cross-legged in the assembly hall being told by the local constable about the dangers of playing on building sites, taking sweets from strange men, running head first into high speed trains, agreeing to go and see some cute puppies, taking sweets from cute puppies, taking strange puppies from sweet men, taking men for sweet rides on high speed trains with puppies to see strange building sites... ( well I don't know, it all got so bloody confusing after a while. )
I remember being shown endless videos about these dangers, and crying tears of laughter with the other kids when the boy gets buried alive whilst playing in the quarry ( probably whilst holding a puppy, I can't remember ), and the headmistress looking embarrassed and apologising to the constable.
I saw enough of those informational videos to become a critic on them in a sunday newspaper.
But not once did they warn us about the mental effects of working in a Jean store. Not once were we told to " Just say no " to tape measures or straight legged jogging bottoms.
So I put it down to a combination of mediocre daytime television and police officers with no foresight or diversity, that I ended up at an interview on a friday afternoon conducted in a shabby office that was just about big enough to house two smallish gerbils.
Accepting the job was not my first mistake as it happens. My first was to attend the interview dressed as if I was applying for a position in the Civil service. I didn't so much look out of place as I walked into the store, as out of the entire cosmos. And it was a mistake because I was shown to the office by Alan, the deputy manager. He wore a smirk as wide as a Sumo wrestler's waistline. I knew this was something he wasn't going to let me forget.
The interview itself consisted of three words and lasted approximately fifteen seconds. Janet the manageress took one look at me, stifled a laugh of surprise at my suited-and-booted outfit, and removed her hand from her mouth just long enough to say the words " you start tomorrow. "
I say that's all the interview consisted of, but actually that's not quite true because then I descended into a state of shock. My vocal chords instinctively responded to the questions I hadn't been asked , but had been expecting.
" Uh well, I'm very easy going, " I said, " I get on well with people of all ages.... "
Janet smiled kindly, removing a cigarette and putting it to her mouth. " Like I said, you start tomorrow. "
" ....I'm good at communicating with the general public, which is obviously an advantage in uh... in this kind of work..... "
Janet stopped smiling. " You start tomorrow, " she repeated slowly.
" Uhhh....I'm conscientious and hard-working... "
" Yeah I'm sure you are sweetheart, and as I say- "
" ....punctual and reliable... "
" Jack, you've got the job. "
" ....and although I don't have any previous experience...."
She peered over my shoulder. " How do I switch you off? Is there a lever round the back here or something? "
" ....and uhh... "
" Bye bye Jack. "
" ....I ermm... "
" Piss off now Jack. "
" ....able to adapt quickly... "
" Please will you piss off now Jack. "
" ....work on own initi- "
Janet suddenly grabbed me by the tie, lifted me out of my seat and pushed me out of the office. " See you tomorrow then, " she said, slamming the door shut.
Shaken from my daze, I walked back out on to the shop-floor wearing a foolish grin matched only by the deputy manager's, as he got a second look at my state of over-dress.
" Hey Carlos, " he called over to a big Latino who was precariously perched on a ladder, " I didn't know we had a vacancy for a Butler. "
For reasons that were lost on me, the store came to life with guffaws from customers and staff alike, and the Latino nearly fell from the ladder in hysterics.
" Well he needs to earn a living somehow, " Carlos called back. " Now that Princess Di's gone. "
For reasons that were not lost on me, the store fell deathly silent. A customer tut-tutted.
" I don't get that one, " said Alan.
Carlos went back to whatever it was he was doing, probably thankful that his olive complexion couldn't turn a beetroot red.
I was still in a state of shock as I skipped deliriously and danced my way out of the shopping mall like a bit of a freak. I was like Gene kelly without an umbrella. I should have twigged by then. I should have had the sharpness of mind to realise that interviews like that don't exist in the real world. They are never that easy, certainly not to the point where you don't have to even open your mouth.
That is of course, unless they are so desperate for staff that so long as you've evolved from ape to homosapien, you are considered suitable and where even a grumpy Orang-utan with fleas might get a second interview.
There was some kind of veiled warning here that I couldn't quite lay my finger on.
A couple of old drunks watched me with interest as I hallelujah'd past them. They exchanged remarks that i didn't quite catch, but looking back I believe the exchange might have gone something like this.
" Ere Reg, take a look at this one 'ere, either this geezer's just won the lottery or the security guards at the local mental home have taken the day off. "
" Nah, I reckon ees just got that job that's been going in that jean store for the past six months. "
" Ah right, poor sad deluded fool. "
" Yep, always someone worse off than yourself aint there. "
Okay, so what did I actually know about this line of work?
Umm... not a great deal if I was honest with myself. I knew that clothes were these things that we put over our bare bodies, and that it was logical that these clothes probably came in different sizes. That stood to reason because people came in different sizes, or at least in my experience they did.
Based on the many weddings I'd been to as a child, as soon as 'Rock around the clock' was played, it was plain for all to see that when Auntie Doris was on the dance floor, she looked like one of the mops out of that Merlin and Mickey Mouse cartoon, whilst Auntie Vera resembled a freshly set jelly during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Okay, so that was a start. Not a particularly in- depth one, but a start all the same. As I drifted off to sleep that night, my mind was filled with anticipation for the coming day. It was anticipation bordering on relish and eagerness.
Poor sad deluded fool.
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