Some six weeks ago I let my fingertips fly across a keyboard and boldly proclaim that this new job was much better than my old one – and some six weeks ago that may have even been true. Unfortunately, I have come to the end of my working grace period where I am new to the job and the job is new to me, and everyone involved in the contract tries so very hard to impress one another. I am comfortable enough in my position to feel like I don’t need to be my best at all times, and unfortunately so is my boss. I no longer go on foot patrols four times an hour, and my boss no longer gives two shits towards the organisation of my roster.
This is always the very obvious hazard of casual employment. Without a contractual obligation to give an employee x number of hours per week, your boss can slam you with as many or as few as they very well please. You are the go-to for last minute situations (and in security work, with it’s emergency response shifts to break ins and robberies and it’s frankly unreliable workforce, there’s a lot of them). Never consider your rostered off days to truly be your own; someone will miss a shift, something will come up requiring one more pair of tired eyes, and you will be top of the list to be called in for it. And sure, you can say ‘no’, tell your boss you’re busy, you have other plans, you weren’t rostered on that day, you can’t just drop everything to cover someone else’s ass – but let’s be honest here: if you say that one too many times you are going to end up on their shit list. They will brand you unreliable. You will become that one employee who ‘never wants to work’. Bosses are kind when you’re helping them, but when you’re not willing to sacrifice your personal time to save them a little more trouble it’s a whole other story. And they will be underhanded, cruel, and incredibly passive-aggressive about getting back at you. Expect speeches on the phone about the way your company works, the expectation that others have of you, the teamwork that goes in to running a business, how damned privileged you are to have a position in that chaotic black hole that you call a workplace. Then, expect to have your hours cut – because they’re not at all contractually obliged to give you enough shifts in a week to even cover basic living expenses.
By all means, say no when your boss calls you in, but remember this: your time does not belong to you, and no matter how nice, how kind, how understanding your boss may seem, they will always take pains to remind you of that.
Of course, my new boss is far, far, far, far, far more enjoyable to work with than my last one, and the shifts that I have tend to take place in the same block every night rather than all over the damn place like they used to with SEC-1. And in a lot of ways, this job still is better than the last one. But I feel my displeasures in life far more acutely now than I did twelve months ago, and despite the step up that this job is, it’s still leagues away from where I want to be.
I feel like I don’t have the time to deal with my life anymore – not that I particularly dealt with my life when I was unemployed and had all the time in the world, but still. I work any number of weeknights (depending on how my boss is feeling when he writes up the roster and how many staff we have that week) from 10PM to 6AM, drive an hour to get home, kick around the house until I wind down enough to sleep (anywhere between 8 and 9, normally), and sleep away the daylight hours – you know, the ones where normal people go to school, or to work, or to catch up over coffee. If I want to do anything substantial before work, I’m out of bed by 2PM (3 at the latest). If it’s a weekend, work is 6 – 6 overnight, an hour’s drive each way – so forget being social, eating a home cooked meal, sleeping a full eight hours. Just forget having a life, basically.
Now, of course, I’m not rostered on every night of the week – but then, I work casual. So my three nights can turn into four, into five, into six – forget making plans with a job like this because you will never be able to keep them. And on that one day that I actually get off I don’t feel like doing anything, so there’s a night of lying on the couch feeling sorry for myself and waiting for my phone to buzz on the counter. Joy, right? Sounds great.
My phone rang on Friday night (rostered off, I was planning to go to the movies with a friend I haven’t seen since New Years) and as I pulled it out of my jacket pocket I felt that familiar cringe down my spine – you know: the one that used to accompany Darth Vader’s theme when I attributed it to my old boss. I haven’t given my new one a personal ringtone yet. I probably should.
This call didn’t cost me my Friday night, but he did ask for my Saturday. I said no, I was “busy” – and in part, that wasn’t a lie, I had been invited to a barbecue in the afternoon through to the evening and I was incredibly excited to go, to be able to spend my time with my friends and forget about my shitty life and how completely controlled it is by my shitty job. Mostly though, I just didn’t want to work day shift – the complete opposite of my 6 – 6 overnights (we’ve seen how switching sleep schedules screws me up, right? I crashed my car three weeks ago because of it). Also, it was in the city and I didn’t want to spend an hour’s pay on parking. Go figure.
My boss accepted this, and I hung up and spent the next half hour dwelling on the conversation, guilty as only I could be for the rare instance of putting myself before my job. Shouldn’t have been. He called back three hours later to tell me I now had a shift on the Saturday night. Wouldn’t make that barbecue after all. Dick.
I’m sure you’re sitting there, you’re thinking “surely if you just explained you had other plans it would have been fine.” True, my boss seems to be a mostly reasonable guy – certainly nicer than my old one. But here’s the thing – I’m twenty years old, I work casual, and I can’t take that chance. My car, despite the minimal amount of damage, was written off as a total loss by my insurance company, so now I need to buy a new one. My unintentionally insensitive older sister finds any and every way to get me to pay for her groceries, her petrol, and her pasttimes, and I haven’t gone to the dentist in two years now. This is the corner that most working bodies my age have been backed into, and it’s a hell of a tight spot. I need money, which means I need hours, which means I need to keep my boss happy. And if that comes at the cost of sleep, of socialising, of keeping a calm mind, then that’s what I’ve got to give up for it. You’ve got to pay to get paid – welcome to modern society. It makes me want to break something.
When I was younger – around my first decade in this world – I had a lot of problems with controlling my anger. My mother told me a few years ago that I would attack her in my rage, all harsh words, fists and feet. I don’t remember those times – they are blank spots in my memory, complete blackouts amidst the rest of my unsaturated life. I do, however, remember throwing books and sticks and other hard objects at my sister across the room whenever she stepped on my toes or hit a nerve. I remember how it felt to have my blood rushing in my ears, to hear my pulse thrumming in my head, to feel like I was burning up beneath my skin, all heat and anger and no way to release it.
I’m not like that now; my anger doesn’t get away from me, and I feel it far more dully; a simmer rather than a burn. But I often feel my muscles ticking beneath my skin when I’m mad – when my boss calls and my personal time is torn away like a rug beneath my feet. I have an image I associate with the feeling – a craving to take a baseball bat through glass or fine china. This isn’t something that I’ve ever experienced, but it’s the urge that always comes to mind.
In part I’m sure it’s about the physical exertion of swinging the bat – but I’ve tried exercising to deal with my anger, and my stress, and my general state of upset, and the last time that I did that ended up with me having a panic attack in the passenger seat of my mother’s car on the way home from the gym. But I am more of an artist, in my mind – a poet, if you will. And it’s because of this that I came to the conclusion that this urge is less about the bat, the physical motion, and more about the moment of impact. It’s the idea of breaking things that appeals to my mind the most. My life has been made up of moments, of experiences that carried enough weight to push me into new actions and ways of thinking, and far more of those experiences have been unpleasant than they have the opposite. Recently, it has felt like everything that can go wrong for a person in life has gone wrong for me – a pessimistic, fanciful, and ultimately self-obsessed notion, of course, but I’m only human and much like the majority of my race I have difficulty with controlling the way that I feel. I am stressed, I am tired, I have been backed into a corner, and it seems like the world is determined to crush me – to ply me with problem after problem until my psyche shatters under the pressure. It makes perfect sense, really, that if I am truly upset about something in the world trying to break me, I should want to break something in the world.
It’s made worse, I suppose, with the knowledge that following through with the urge isn’t going to make anything better in the long run. Perhaps for a moment I will feel relieved, lightened by the experience, but in the minutes afterwards I will doubtlessly remember that dropping a glass on the floor will not change the fact that I hate my job and I still haven’t found another one, that I am twenty and directionless in life. I favour goals as though achieving them will suddenly make my life work out – “when I do this one thing everything will be better”. That’s not true, life isn’t that simple. I could get a new job tomorrow, and it might be better than this, and it might come with a part-time contract and a lack of last minute call ins, but in reality that’s still not going to be enough for me. I will still have the nagging need for money (for the car I don’t have anymore, the dentist visit I’m dreading but can’t afford). I will likely still not be doing something that gives me the sense of purpose in life that I so desperately desire. And maybe I’ll like it more than this, right now, and things will get a little bit easier for a while, but there will always be something else – some other obstacle in life designed to sit on my chest while I sleep and steal my breath, some other “when I do this, things will be better”.
Breaking something is not going to fix my problems – and I know it well. Life is going to be a struggle until the day that I lay down and die. There are always going to be more problems. But I also know that no matter how many terrible days there are – no matter how many of them seem to be centred solely on me – they can be offset by that one genuinely good day. Enjoy the little things until something big actually finally goes right (I’ve got to be due for one of those things by now, I swear). Back when I was writing music regularly and a friend of mine was seriously contemplating suicide, I tried to be understanding – I would be more so now, what with the cacophony of negative emotions that I have been handling over the last three years – and like all arrogant teenage singer-songwriters I penned her a few verses to show my support. I understand better now where she might have been emotionally, mentally – entirely – and I may have sounded pretentious when I sang for her: “no more acting on all the good that has yet to come”, but I still stand by the idea. No matter how unstable I may have been recently, I still entirely believe that there are going to be good days, that there are going to be experiences and events and moments of impact that are inherently worth every bad day, every low moment in my life. And I believe that because I have to – because without those fleeting moments of happiness, or relief, of mere contentedness, what would be the point of life? Things can’t be droll all the time.
So perhaps then, for the sake of even a moment, to steady my shaking hands and slow my racing heart, I’ll buy a stack of plates from K-Mart purely for the sake of throwing them against the garage wall – and change my boss’s ringtone so I know when to use them.