Don’t Do ‘Anything’
My Dad spoke and with each word the unfamiliar smell of The Royal Mint lashed at my nostrils. He told me he had found me the perfect part-time job. Three cherries whirligiged into place and coppers clattered from the one-armed bandit of my mind.
The perfect part-time job. That intrigued me for I was unaware that he knew anyone from Faber & Faber, or Warner Brothers, or Endemol. Still, I was a dozen days out of uni, no longer a graduant but a graduate, and any real job opportunities had yet to rear their heads.
‘It’s shiftin’ mattresses for a mate o’ mine.’ I looked past myself to see if he was looking at me, or another son that I somehow couldn’t see. A son from an closeted previous marriage. I only shift, I tell him, when I need to capitalise a letter in a piece of my, as yet unpublished, poetry. I am six foot two of gangle. I have the upper-body strength of finger-framed Sooty, and sometimes I get out of breath lifting a forkful of chips to my mouth as I try fruit(and veg)lessly to sustain a body weight that would not see me concertina under severe hail.
Still, I thought, seven sweet, sweet pounds an hour. One measly day a week. He explained that it was perfect for me because I could spend the other six days pretending to be PD James, or Pam Ayres, or whoever it was I wanted to be that week. In my head I calculated that seven nines were sixty-three; sixty-three glorious rounds of Her Majesty.
‘Tell him, I’ll take it.’ I started on the Thursday of the same week. I met the manager of the shop in question – Dadsmate – the day before I started work. Dadsmate was nothing but angelic. Cracking, I thought, if he is going to be the delivery driver, I have absolutely nothing to worry about. I turn up the next day in my least skinny skinny jeans, most masculine pumps and most workmanlike top, to be greeted by Dadsmate with this introductory morsel –
‘You’ll be delivering the beds with Mebrother Inlaw.’ Mebrother Inlaw appeared from ‘the back’ and my heart slid into my Converse sneakers. Mebrother Inlaw, with less teeth than a Spangled Drongo, and the man-management skills of Charles Manson. He grunted something too butch for my poetry-trained ears to hear before leading me to the van.
We had five deliveries that day, he told me between bouts of strained silence. To say we shared no common ground would be a geographically astute observation. We did have five deliveries that day and each a little more body-mangling and soul-penetrating than the last. Mattresses dragged up endless flights of endless stairs, my breaks for breath being verbally assaulted by Mebrother Inlaw who would browbeat me with a ‘C’mon, pull it!’ as if I didn’t want to succeed, as if I enjoyed looking feeble in front of the peering heads of the proprietors who watched keenly from between bannister spindles.
There were about thirty separate occasions in which I could’ve cried in front of him. Somewhat fortunately for me, I held back just long enough to get out of his line of vision and in the office of Dadsmate. In the most awkward encounter of my life, at twenty-one years old, I cried in front of an employer. I told him that he could keep my wage, but that I couldn’t continue doing something that I was quite evidently not built to do. He told me that was fine, though three working days later my sixty-three pounds, now slightly salty with tears, slid their way into my bank account.
I had tricked myself into thinking that I wasn’t out of my depth and told myself that the banking of cash was more valuable than my own happiness. I could see the watch-tappers watch-tapping and I felt hurried into earning my status as bread-winning, bread-tearing-with-teeth male.
I learnt the hard way to not just do anything. To choose my opportunities more wisely. To work just as hard but without jumping into something I could not yet handle. This life thing was going to be trickier than I imagined.