Room 101

1 11 2007

I am finally, at the young age of 28, moving out of home. In order to better faciliate the transition from being provided with my meals in a rent-free environment to, you know, having no money, I thought that I had best go and make some. My scholarship deposits money into my account every fortnight but, as a part-time job would give me so much more to play with on a weekly basis, I bit the bullet and got employed. Thankyou, thankyou. The following is a description of the job that I now hold (as a data entry clerk for an infringement processing bureau) and is aimed at those of you who may not have realised that such places exist outside of novels by George Orwell and Franz Kafka.

First things first: let’s talk about design. Stuck on level 1A (a split-floor level, both parts of which feature frighteningly low ceilings) of a dilapidated building on the outskirts of the CBD, our lovely office was painted by a tradesman who was only in possession of one colour: brain-matter grey. The subtle alternations of tone are enough to make one cry with joy that there can be such beauty in our world. The rows of desks, like a high school examination room, are of grey plywood. It is a lighter shade of grey than are the walls, a design feature to which is owed the aesthetic quality of the whole. Computers punctuate the desks at intervals, each one gazed into by a squint-eyed member of the Inner Party. These Ministry officials, clackety-clacking in silence as they copy traffic infringements onto their monochrome screens, struck me at first as people who do not exist within reality. The walls of their daily prison constitute the extent of their universe, for such morbidly obese and myopic misfits could not possibly people our planet. Alas. The nature of the work has informed me that they may have been like me but one month ago. All that, of course, I did not know when I first went in to do a speed test, almost two weeks ago now, and I am already beginning to do the ‘death walk’ every afternoon when I walk out the door into the grey beyond. But let us leave that for now, while I describe the nature of the actual work.

I knew not what to expect, for the speed test itself had me almost giddy with joy. I had to copy down a story onto my monitor that struck me as having been from one of Burroughs’ more surreal acid trips. Interspersed amongst the turgid prose, like the spontaneous verbal ejaculations of a gibbering psychopath, were strings of numbers, there to throw me with their random irrelevance to an already irrelevant and thoroughly confusing narrative. I nearly exploded with pure delight. Is it possible that I was going to be paid (reasonably well, as fortune has it) to participate in a bizarre bureaucratic experiment? The human menagerie amongst whom I sat seemed truly to be great delight to me and, as an eager connoisseur of human folly (I use that quote at liberty these days), I was so excited to be working for the ministry that I asked if I could begin right away. They were more than happy to accept as they were quite desperate for more staff. I wondered at that then, but figure now that perhaps the last three committed suicide just to get out of work.

Perhaps, with a five-hour day, I’ve no reasonable right to complain. The other members of the Inner Party are all full-timers and are well and truly a part of the Matrix. They are also, in some cases, beginning to grow into the carpet. Which, incidentally, is a slightly deeper and more resonant shade of grey than the walls. They seem to enjoy what it is that they do (although not all of them are still possessed of a forgotten ability to register emotion) and many of them listen to music on their portable mp3 players. This is wise, as the radio plays pop music only and I am becoming thoroughly disinterested in the failing love life of Fergie, whose irritating and poorly-written song is played every hour for those who simply haven’t heard it yet. But I digress. My comrades do not all listen to music, choosing instead a frequency that broadcasts local news. In Sydney, local news is apparantly of a humorous nature, for they occasionally burst out in little explosions of laughter, which go off like bottle rockets in random parts of the room. This is very disconcerting.

I also listen to my iPod while I am there, but I have discovered that the music that I listen to can completely alter the nature of the work at which I am engaged. An example. When I listen to Mozart, I feel as though the task at which I am engaged is designed to produce a certain catharsis, like an active form of repeated meditation. My mind turns off and am able to become one with the machine on which I rest my dancing fingertips. When I listen to Pink Floyd, on the other hand, I feel like a working class revolutionary (unless it is The Wall, in which case I just feel despair) and have to change the genre before I leap up, throw my computer through the window and set all of my fellow prisoners free. They wouldn’t like that, I do not think. (Poor fools have been trapped for so long.) Today I decided to listen to a Hebrew reading of the Tanakh, and found that the Fall from Paradise took on a certain historical significance for me. Looking around at all of the other bureaucrats, all a part of the system to which I am contributing my time and labour, I actually found myself whispering along to Genesis 3, “Don’t eat the fruit… don’t eat the fruit… “. They ate the fruit.

Another group of people with whom I am becoming familiar, funnily enough, are the policemen who fill out the forms that I must copy down. Let’s see… There’s Sen. Const. Taylor who has difficulty with spelling (poor chap, he was once Sen. Const. Tayler), Sen. Const. Armstrong who confuses his 6s and 8s (irritating fellow, I’ve no sympathy for him at all) and, oh yes! Sen. Const. Bailey. I would love to see Sen. Const. Bailey pull someone over because I am anxious to know what he has in his hands. It is most certainly not the pen. That, I truly believe, he grips with his teeth, because I am certain that I could train my dog to write more legibly than he does, and I am often forced to admit defeat and leave whole sections of scrawl blank on my screen. Unfortunately for the offender, that will not get them out of their fine (rather exorbitant in some cases), but merely land them with a rather silly letter in which their name is jumbled and their gender is unknown.

I am coming to know some of these offenders as well, because many of them reappear. It seems that there are some people with a real penchant for speeding in school zones, in unregistered vehicles, while their license is at home. Silly fools, but they are the blessed balm that restores my peace of mind, and I’ve a place in my heart for their foolish and deadly shenanigans. I especially enjoy reading the excuses that they give when being told of their offence. Yes, all that is recorded, so if you are ever pulled over – beware of what you say. Somebody like me is probably reading it. The following are some of my favourites.

• I didn’t realise that I was speeding (going at 110km/h in an 80km/h zone);
• Really? Where’s the school? (going at 60km/h in a school zone);
• I was late for work (going at 100km/h at 3:00am);
• Oh (in numerous contexts).

But my absolute favourite would have to be one that I encountered earlier today:

• I thought that I was only going at 110km/h (booked for travelling at 130km/h in an 80km/h zone).

That man deserved a medal for stupidity as well as a fine. But I don’t make those: they get done at the office next door.

Yes, all in all, it is a rather entertaining job. I enjoy trying to pronounce the names of people whose parents were only familiar with aspirated consonants, as well as reading the daily deeds of parking officers who can travel from one street to another in less than half a minute – and that includes writing up both of the fines. Amazing. Yes, I think I’ve got a winner of a profession here and if the PhD doesn’t work out then I will always have this other job to fall back on. Perhaps, if I’m good, they’ll promote me and then, maybe one day, I can be a monkey.




One response

1 11 2007
Chris Weimer

Hey! At least you’re not a waiter like me… o me miserum!


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