Part 1 - The White Wash

Based on true stories.
Scene: The White Wash, a carwash/café in Sydney.
"Will! Will!"
Who was Will? It seems he was urgently needed.
"Fix Will!"
Will must be broken. The new guy had no idea how he might be fixed but a job at The White Wash was probably not the solution. Newly resplendent in red uniform his head spun in 360° of confusion as instructions in diverse accents issued from every direction. Judging by the frantic gesticulation that accompanied the order he was required to do something to the 'wheels' of the car in front of him, clean them perhaps. The impassioned voice was that of Balram Halwei, manager of The White Wash. Two days previously the same voice at the end of a phone had brusquely told the new guy to be at the carwash at 9AM on Sunday morning for training. Sunday morning had arrived and here he was yet it would be two further days until he actually learned the name of his immediate superior. Naming on the whole was a haphazard affair in his new place of work. Indeed the very name of the business was a misnomer in terms of the spectrum of nationalities represented by the workers. Real, invented or anglicised every employee had their given name bellowed across the forecourt at regular intervals. There was Sueño from Mexico, whose middle-aged hangdog expression betrayed a weariness at his lot and a general sense of defeat by life. His presence absorbed the greater part of Balram's daily ire and ensured a quieter life for the other employees. iPhone was from China (as iPhones are) and combined his mechanical engineering course at the local university with grindingly long hours at the carwash. He was also in charge of the microphone used to announce when customer's cars were ready for collection, Sueño's inability to distinguish between Honda and Hyundai, Mazda and Maserati ensured he was rarely given MC responsibility. Last of this group was Indra, an Indonesian, who despite being from the country with the world's largest Muslim population, was an incongruous christian. These three were all 'blue shirts', employees paid a set wage for stipulated hours. The true scullions were the 'red shirts' who were only paid when there were cars to wash, no money for a rainy day. And they were paid, curiously, two dollars less than the official minimum wage but no-one desperate enough to be a red shirt was really in a position to enquire about this discrepancy. Mohandas Narayanan Ramachandran or 'Mo' for short lead this motley crew. He professed to be from the Brahmin (priestly) caste in India, which gave an interesting dynamic to his relations with Balram given their origins on opposite ends of that country's social scale. Balram's surname 'Halwei' denotes the caste of sweet makers which falls within the larger shudra class at the bottom of the pile. Go back sixty years and Balram would be unquestionably serving Mo, Mo would be treating Balram with the scorn and prejudice that tradition dictated. As it was things were exactly the other way round and, in this instance at least, it would be hard to call it progress. Mo also claimed to be heir to a multi-million dollar fortune. Whether or not he meant rupees one still had to wonder at his motivations for working at the carwash. 'Bruce Lee' was so called because he was Chinese and no-one could understand anything he said including, presumably, his actual name. He didn't demonstrate any knowledge of martial arts so the resemblance ended there. The lofty Frenchman went by the name of Gasquet. He had a girlfriend in Sydney and thus was one of the few people at The White Wash that could genuinely claim to have something better to do. Charlie was Vietnamese and bore a constant look of abject misery and desolation. He was another who passed the day without holding a single intelligible conversation with any other employee. As far as anyone could tell he didn't surf. Angelo and Jesus were young South Americans haling from Brazil and Chile respectively. Jesus got that name due to his resemblance to the figure towering over Angelo's hometown of Rio de Janeiro. He shaved his beard after the first day which spoiled the reference but the name stuck regardless. Balram had probably imagined he could charge a premium to customers having their car washed by the son of God (or a look-a-like), 'The Holy Water Handwash, a baptism for your car' as, alas, it wouldn't be called. In reality the customer's options ran from the $55 'Spit Shine' all the way up to the $385 'bodywork by buffed by virgin's breasts' wash. The obscenity of spending nearly four hundred dollars in a time of worldwide financial crisis on your unnecessarily large, fuel-drinking, school-running, ozone-destroying 4x4 seemed lost on the population. In a country that continually reminded the occupants of its barren thirst, of its parched soil, the ecological irony of pouring thousands of gallons of water a week down the drain in the name of making things shiny also held no resonance. The business could only thrive in a culture of mechanical vanity. The final red shirt, Rocco, had recently arrived at The White Wash and the differences between this line of work and his previous career as the editor of porn movies in Italy were marked. They made for interesting conversation among the workers during the quiet periods.
So this is the story of the exploits of a close-knit, multiracial group of employees that commiserate at the status society has imposed on them, proud men forced to work at a meaningless job for meager pay. Enter the new guy, this tale is told through his eyes.

Mistletoe & wine

Day 400 - Sydney

My list of favorite cities reads like the signage above an international fashion store or perfumery - London, Paris, New York...um...Sydney. So the latter is somewhat incongruous but here I was carried back across the country on the wings of fond remembrance and affection. I was on a high, in my mind (a fertile, febrile place) returning like a conquering hero. Flushed with western success life seemed a simpler game or if not simpler then one at which I was now more adept. I'd taken a room in Coogee for a couple of weeks and its streets (street) and bars (bar) held happy memories. Amy and Laura were my temporary flatmates, Jeanette, being away for Christmas, was the other resident whose room I had taken. I went directly from the airport to CBH not even stopping to dump my bags. Amy and Jayne were back from their tomato farming and familiar faces were there in force. Christmas is an understated affair in Australia, they don't go in for the cold, dark days broken by warm light seeping from shop windows and twinkling off decorations that I missed from my chocolate box memories of home. And home is where the period would have been spent had I the financial wherewithal. As it was it would be my second consecutive Christmas out of the old country, hopefully there won't be a third. Life In Sydney was much the same as before and yet also tragically different. Me and the girls had the eve in an Irish pub with an obligatory nightcap at CBH. Christmas morning, a little gift giving and receiving (more the latter on my part) at Kirsty and Ferris' flat in which the girls were staying and then I went back to mine for a collective dinner with Amy, Laura and friends. The climate had made a decent effort to allay any homesickness and steadily threw down rain all day. My new flatmates would not be deterred from Christmas on the beach though and headed down with umbrellas and festive bikinis. I rejoined with A&J for a cup of mulled wine in the afternoon. Actually if I recall correctly it wasn't mulled wine, it was gallons of beer. Having said that the memory of much escapes me but we ended up at Morooka (home of several friends in Coogee) for more drinks and dancing before finally making it to the beach for a early hours swim in our underwear, a heady sight to be sure. As the sun rose on boxing day the girls pushed me home in a shopping trolley, my wallet, sadly, stayed on the beach. The messiness of festivities over I knuckled down to finding work, reasoning that my prior success would stand me in good stead. There was no anticipation of the difficulties that lay in this endeavour. I was also shortly to be homeless due to Jeanette's return. Handily Laura would soon be away for 2 weeks herself opening up a vacancy in her room but there was a few days gap between the coming and going. Rather than a hostel I opted to crash with Amy and Jayne who were now living up in Bondi Junction. Their flatmates had disappeared just before Christmas to where we knew not and were back we knew not when. The door opened one evening just before New Year and they entered with two friends and a notable disinclination to speak to us. Seven barely acquainted people crammed into a 2 bed flat made for an awkward few days! Sydney is a city famed for the way they see in the New Year with their spectacular fireworks launched from the harbour bridge, it would be a good bucket list tick. A few of us setup in a park in Balmain to ensure a good view. And spectacular they were, probably the best display I've ever seen. But my night was barely begun with the gong of midnight. Emily was in Sydney and had urged me to book tickets to a boat trip around the harbour to begin at 4am New Year's day. Without understanding what exactly it entailed but in need of some sort of firm NY plan (this was a couple of weeks previously) I had duly booked. I'd kept a steady hand on my alcohol intake over the evening so had few difficulties making it to Darling Harbour for launch. The next 6 hours passed in a mildly euphoric sway, the dance music suitably ambient and the party in muted pleasure. Everyone stepped blinking off the boat at 10am glazed with sweat from the first sunrise of 2013 but in a happy daze.