Saturday, April 30, 2005
Job Scout: Cycle R
On the way to open my new account at the social security camp site, situated carefully on the edge of town and decorated with the bright primary colours usually associated with a Macdonald’s Burger bar, I stepped briefly inside a church. What attracted me to this place of spiritual healing was that it was standing directly opposite the Social Security Centre, with both halves of its ten inch thick arched wooden door left wide open in the wind and clattering against the sides of the entrance. After admiring the splendid stained-glass windows and simple no-fuss architectural design I wandered around inside for a while. I walked over towards the pulpit where nobody seemed to stop me from flying into a raging sermon for the disadvantaged and their new social security home across the way, sparkling as it was in the dazzling sunlight, attempting to enliven the imaginary crowd before me. Tiring after a while of strenuous arm waving and getting bored with the echo of my own voice I walked to the entrance door to survey the newly refurbished building opposite. I decided to give it closer inspection and dived across the busy road, narrowly missing an accelerating truck careering towards me!
After spending a few minutes shaking myself off and swearing at the now distant lorry driver I moved to within close proximity of the Social Security Venue. Its various plastic sections had been slotted into rows of tall rods plunged in to the ground at short intervals, the roof merely placed on top, fitting together as per instructions.
Inviting myself into the shadows of the walls I adventurously peeped through the tinted windows at the newly formed Formica interior. I tried carefully to keep below the windows, my head bobbing up to catch glimpses of the people who, after all, could hold the keys to my future finances. The workers' silhouettes shifted and ducked and disrupted the solid outlines of filing cabinets and photocopiers, breaking the smooth lines of the office carpet. 'You can gain employment now via the use of an automatic machine just inside the main door', read a notice framed on the brickwork outside. And there it was, a black curved mushroom shape standing in the entrance foyer like a giant game console sprouting from the ground with its buttons lighting up alternately. I walked too and fro, waiting for the opening time, studying the petrol station to the left which will be my refectory, the church my future waiting room and this security venue could act as club house, emanating what can only be described as a scout hut sense of grandeur.
I asked myself whether the automatic door open to the left as I go in or will it slide with an electronic regularity to the right? These were important questions and I was taken with the destiny of this mechanical device. The rabbit hutch door could open to a feasible gap and then I would slide on my back, rolling in on a specially designed trolley to perform my job-identification tasks from a horizontal position, seeing to the under body, the oil covered jobs slime down upon me while my shoes poke out from the entry hatch. I keep the queue of patient people waiting; just a moment I feel a job here, pass a screw driver! ...Spanner...Forceps!
After a long time waiting, they at last opened the hatch, which to my surprise, simply folded outwards in three sections, stretching back out once again when I had walked past an invisible line on the floor. I stepped back then to see if I could make the device function repetitively and witnessed it expanding and contracting and doing as it was told merely by the slightest movement of my body! I then saw it as my job to identify the point from which the laser signal was coming, moving slowly in towards the door and then out in a repetitive fashion with my right shoe. I learned to develop my technique to a point where I could stop it anywhere along its travels, the opening and closing parts mimicking the bending of my knee, having achieved contact.
Soon after, when I was just getting used to being inside this strange interior and now able to control the door I felt a light but firm hand upon my shoulder. Due to the experience of being torn from deep concentration and then the effort in having then to refocus on a uniformed figure now standing very close to me, I was unable to speak at first. However a quick glance up and down told me Security Guard. I even saw a holster with a weapon folded in the black leather case hooked onto his belt.
“Excuse me, you have a reason to be here?” he said.
“I want to sign on.”
“What d'you mean?”
“sign on's what I mean.”
“Oh, you mean make a claim!”
“Oh, that's what the new jargon is, is it?” I was then told to wait in a red chair near the corner with my back to the ladies at desks, while the guard signals my entrance to the required people. I dropped to the seat pointed at with a fellow job seeker seated next to me: She claims too? Don’t you think this place rather over staffed for just the two of us? Perhaps they were expecting some sudden serge of people. Reminds me of those times in town when just before a football match when suddenly there are hundreds of police watching and waiting, expecting trouble or the threatening army of baton clad officers gathering to ‘fend off’ a harmless protest march. Do they need guards at the door? I take it the desk staff do not want to meet us or shake our hands? Perhaps they have tried to devise something for the old chaps to do. It’s hardly customer service though is it? That guy he could have just walked in off the street, he had had no manners! I say these things in my head but my fellow job seeker just looks away.
I hear something in my left ear, a faint calling, getting closer each time it was repeated. I slowly realised that it was my name being called. I look round quick to see who it is – where, which desk - I spied the lady in question. She saw me. I launched myself from the low reclining seat with a heavy sigh and taking the hard desk seat, sat staring at the women who was, in turn, staring back at me. She flicked her eyes back and forth from the information screen in front of her.
"New claim?" she said.
"Let me see…Joe Blakelock?"
You have been sentenced here by Her Majesties service due to your flagrant lack of employability. We are forced to remunerate you by some ancient law seemingly immovable by all parties due to the strange workings of this countries industrial system. We have entered you into the non working, supposedly job seeking pool of vertebrates that seek to survive on this island even though they do not join in and can prove that they are not able to fill in straight forward application forms and follow simple orders from their gently spoken well mannered line managers. There are a range of contestants competing and we have regular aptitude tests, psychological training etc, to support you in the efforts that you will make. We give you training sessions if you have not spring boarded yourself into a position of status within the first six months. Then Mrs Brey over there, behind the boards, checks your forms, who has been especially developed for this task at head office. You notice the special crook in her neck and those sharp fingernails rasping at the stack of forms in front of her. You must understand that we never intentionally neglect a form or request things again and again that you have already sent us. From time to time our system of organisation may seem out of date and dysfunctional but that suites our needs. We know that half the people who apply don’t really need the benefit anyway and the delays are all part of the incentive training you see. Nobody gets anything for nothing in this world.
I sat up and realised that I hadn’t listened to a word this woman had said. She must have subliminally entered information into my brain for a moment there without my noticing. I woke from my dream talk and tried again to listen to what she was saying.
“You know we are the only country where every citizen can claim even though they haven't paid up in tax! You get a much better deal here, you know, than in other countries”
“Yeh, in other countries, you’re on the street aren’t you. Places like India and South Africa.”
“Um, yes. They think we’re…”
“We’re lazy yes I know, it’s pathetic really isn’t it. I once had this conversation with an Indian lady while passing through Birmingham on the train and she couldn’t understand what she called ‘the British and their welfare system’, she said…”
“I’m sorry but we have to get on with the meeting Mr Blakelock. Here are the forms that you have to fill in. Shall we set your next meeting for the 4th, you're able to make that, right. Remember I am only passing information on to you from central office. I am trained to merely pass on any complaints to another address and they take such a long time to respond!”
“Hang on just a minute surely you’ve forgotten the housing form, aren’t I claiming housing benefit at all?”
“Oh no Mr Blakelock, I’ve looked through your details and I’ve decided that I don’t think you will be successful.”
“Well the information doesn’t support it. With your job history you usually have savings and it’s ten to one your claim will be dismissed.”
“Well fetch me a form and then we’ll see won’t we.”
“Well in my experience…”
“Can you get me the form, please! Where's your manager? That her, over there?”
“Alright, alright …er… Just a minute.” She moves from her desk and over towards Mrs Brey. I catch a few words from the distance; “do we have to give them this form. We don’t usually give them the housing forms do we…“
“Here you are, and if you fill in just the smallest bit wrong we send it back to you and that delays your claim, so you must concentrate, understand!”
“Yeh, OK, Right, well why couldn't you have given me this in the first place?”
"It doesn't matter now, see you on the fourth then?
I’m sure I noticed a serial number appearing on her fore arm underneath the cuff of her blouse. If I uncapped it I might find a mesh of wires. Would they charge her up at night ready for the day ahead? If I opened that cupboard in the corner over there would I be shocked to find a row of replicas shaking with their arms attached to the wall sockets?
“You may go now.” A sharp look crossing her face.
“I may go, I may go, right, OK then. Bye?”
She makes no reply. She is not required to. I hear only the faint hum of information spinning around in the hard disks, my information being passed through the computer network.
As I make my way out a layer of grey shaded my immediate surroundings and I walked as if through a tunnel, out of the building. I felt eyes staring at my back as I shuffled past the guard and the folding door, not looking at anyone. I clung on to the forms bunched in my right hand and tried not to let them go in the swirling wind. On the other side of the road the church appeared older now and more timeworn. Someone had closed the doors and locked them with the aid of a large rusted iron bolt and chain. The road back seemed longer, and when my aching legs brought me at last through the door of my flat, I sat down and stared at my forms for a while before bothering to unfold them.
Then I stared at them again for a while before reluctantly starting to fill one in.