The acting thing wasn’t going great. I was in a play, but it was unpaid, overly long, am-dram and terrible. I was dressed as a yokel and had to wear fake freckles over my real ones. I wrote myself a note that I stuck on my wall, it said – NO MORE ACTING IN PLAYS. I was sleeping with one of the lead actors who only ate pies and protein shakes. When we met up and decided to call it off I smoked three cigarettes. It wasn’t stressful; I just thought it should’ve been. My flatmate was an alcoholic on the methadone programme who loved Judas Priest and Dolly Parton. He was currently addicted to prescription painkillers and passed out most nights to the sound of the opening title sequence of The Sopranos or The Godfather. The night before my new job, The Godfather seeped into my dream, and I dreamt my flatmate was ripping up our floorboards with a crow bar. I laughed about the dream at work the next day, as I fed another double-sided sheet of paper into the photocopier in preparation for scanning. Watching the magic of two turning into one.
I’d been hired by a guy named Roger, who seemed impressed I was into the old acting thing. His brother-in-law was a regular face in his local amateur productions. He was multi skilled apparently, as an actor, lighting operator, and make-up artist. I told Roger it was difficult to be an actor when you hardly ever got paid. He sighed and nodded, and said something about his brother-in-law not having the time he wanted to devote to his art. I thought it was good that Roger and I had some common ground. I’d brought my C.V. in for him to look at, but he hadn’t read it. He said he was sure I could handle the job. He laughed at me without smiling.
I worked in a room that was filled with large boxes numbered 1 to 375. Roger opened one showing me the double-sided sheets stapled together at the top left hand corner. He kicked his index finger against the staple that bound the two sheets, and looked at me trying read whether or not I could see the problem. My job was to pluck the staples out of the documents and photocopy the double-sided sheets into single sided in preparation for scanning. He stressed the importance of speed and accuracy. He warned there would be “Bedlam” if we did one box out of sequential order.
I was introduced to my colleagues, whose names I forgot as soon as Roger told me. There was a Chinese girl who had an American boyfriend who worked at Subway and brought her free foot-longs for lunch. She had a successful concert pianist mother, and home-stayed with some racist who wouldn’t let her leave the house past ten at night. She dressed like a ten-year-old boy and listened to Green Day. The other girl had worked the job for four months, ripping staples out of documents the entire time. Roger had told her that once this job was done she would move onto more challenging design focused tasks. She had started a design degree but thought it was weird and didn’t get along with any of the tutors, so she quit. When I put on some music she said it was weird and asked me if I ever listened to anything in the top forty.
I took my first fifteen minute unpaid lunch break and sat by the construction site next door. Then one of the workers came by and asked if he could sit with me. He looked tough, a big guy in overalls covered in sprinkles of off-white paint.
I told him what I was doing for money. He told me he was getting paid a dollar more a week to build expensive apartments for a boss who called him Retard instead of his name. He told me I was lucky. He said he’d gotten a scholarship to study at university. He’d come from a family where no one had been to uni, so he would have been the first. But he’d messed it up, said he got silly. He was taking too many drugs at the time and told them to fuck off; he didn’t want their scholarship. “I fucked that one up,” he said. We sighed, and I tried to smile in encouragement. “Maybe see you tomorrow,” he said. We both went back to work.
After work I bought a bottle of wine on the way home, and committed to drinking the whole thing by myself, and quickly. When I got to my room I’d already started drinking from the bottles lip. My flatmate came in. He had an internal GPS for booze. He was already armed with a glass in one hand and a bowl of vanilla custard in the other. He poured himself a large glass and thanked me for saving his life.
The Chinese girl made the job more bearable, and by the second day we seemed to have a good rapport. We went on lunch break together. Her boyfriend wasn’t working, so no free foot-long. Instead we went to this suit filled, botox-lip-soaked haunt of a café. As we ate we talked a bit more about how racist her host-family were, how her boyfriend was Jewish and she was Catholic, and the economics degree she was doing that bored her almost as much as this job.
Roger didn’t like this, this people getting along business. He looked at us disheartened, paced into the room where the boxes were, looked around pretending to count, and then walked over to where we were working. He sighed and told us that we better “chop chop.” He said that I suffered from “talkalitus.” It was like primary school again. I was so scared of the teacher that instead of asking to go to the toilet I would stand behind the blackboard and piss my pants. I asked Roger for a chair and he said no. He said it decreased productivity.
I angrily fed the pages into the copy machine. I ripped the staples out with abandon, sometimes with my fingers, not caring if I ripped the corners. Sometimes I didn’t even photocopy both sides, just to fuck with him.
On the third day I had three paper cuts, an increased alcohol consumption rate, and a dull mind. People usually steal things at jobs they hate, but there wasn’t even anything to steal. There was nothing to do but pull pages and think. Think about why I was even in this situation.
That night we had a dress rehearsal for the play in the park, and it poured with rain. One of the guys in the cast had a fight with a girl because she told him he smelled of BO, while protein shake guy tried to make eye contact with me whenever he had the chance.
I didn’t quit in person. I called Roger the next morning. I told him I was too busy with this play to commit to staple pulling. He sighed. It was a sigh that seemed completely void of any real emotion, and sounded even more drawn out over the phone. He took his time to say he was very disappointed in me and that my acting was stopping me from committing to the job. He then took a deep breath in anticipation, as if he was expecting a response.