Part 2 - Jingo unchained

The new guy, whom we shall call Jonny (for that was his name) had never considered himself racist. But there was something that grated about taking orders from Asians with a limited command of English. Being the new guy though meant everyone felt entitled to boss him around and deny him the privilege of using the spray guns. You could see this behaviour as the result of Balram's autocratic management style, the more experienced employees desperately grasping any shred of self-respect they could by elevating themselves above the others in informal authority. Jonny had never been especially patriotic, feeling the line between patriotism and nationalism to be too thin. But removed to a country far from his home soil he took a slightly arrogant pride in his Englishness and the automatic respect he felt should be afforded it. He had hoisted the cross of St. George in the front lawn of his conscious. Whilst he knew not what history was taught in Asian schools some of his nation's glorious past must have been worth a mention. After all Britain had invaded some 90% of the world's countries which he felt was an impressive statistic however you feel about colonial (mis)adventure. Balram had certainly noticed this aloof attitude and had mockingly taken to calling Jonny 'your majesty'. In truth, at 30 years of age, working at a car wash did touch Jonny's pride somewhat. This fostered and ill-suppressed sense of superiority was a means of protecting his self-respect and in that respect he was no different to the rest of his co-workers though the parallel was lost on him. He believed he was better than everyone else precisely because deep down he worried he wasn't.
"You think you're too good for this job." Balram accused one day.
"I'd hope everyone here feels they are capable of more." Jonny answered with a diplomatic avoidance of the question.
He still bore the indelible psychological scars from a failed degree a decade ago and sought to prove his intellect, sometimes abrasively so, at every opportunity. But conversations with Balram were just monologues with margin notes. He never asked any employee a question that he showed the least interest in hearing the answer to, indeed he never really established eye contact with anyone but customers. If Jonny hadn't exactly struck up the warmest of relationships with his manager he had at least swiftly become friends with Mo. While dialogue with Mo also involved a great deal more listening than talking there was at least an affable entertainment value to his filibustering. Ideas and opinions sprayed from him at such a rate it was difficult to examine their veracity let alone form a response. He regularly despaired at the state of his home country and seemed to harbour a genuine wish that it was still under the Raj. He confounded this desire with a gratification at the influx of Indian immigrants to the UK and the damage he imagined they were doing there. He thought this reciprocal invasion justified in light of the fact that the British 'took everything from the Indian peoples'. Jonny soon realised there was nothing particularly to be gained by pointing out contradictions in Mo's soapbox sessions.
"Yo Jonny English! You read Mein Kampf?"
"Can't say I have mate"
"It's good, you should read"
"Bit fascist for me probably, besides..."
"Nah man, good ideas in it you know"
"You do realise what Hitler would have thought about Indian people don't you?"
Whether he did or not, whether he truly believed the ideas he so vigorously espoused was anybody's guess. Mo was an avid collector of both foreign coins and foreign languages. He plundered the French and Italian lexicons of Gasquet and Rocco for phrases whose sound amused him and used them incorrectly and heavily accented at every opportunity. Jonny also counted the tall Frenchman and the short Italian among his friends. He was glad of their urbanity and felt a rapport carried all the way from the old world. The three Europeans would sit smoking cigarettes during their breaks discussing football, the crumbling EU and, naturally, Rocco's porn career.
"I am a manager"
"Oh. Right. Well no-one tells me anything around here"
Jonny hadn't realised that the blue shirt worn by, among others, iPhone denoted another level in the hierarchy. He had increasingly been greeting the instructions from, among others but especially, iPhone with a reply of "do it yourself". It was true that Balram hadn't bothered divulging information such as the management structure, the pay rate & frequency or, as previously noted, his name thus Jonny had to pick up what he could from the other workers. But it was probably injudicious to be so disrespectful while still in his first week. Most of the blue shirts wore their authority over the red shirts fairly lightly but iPhone definitely saw himself as Balram's faithful lieutenant. Jonny, prompted by Mo, was beginning to see iPhone as Balram's faithful lapdog. Any slight deficiencies in the work done by the red shirts was swiftly reported to Balram and no-one likes a snitch. iPhone seemed to have a bit of a man-crush on Balram given the sycophantic way he behaved around him. The bespectacled second-in-command ran the 'polish' section of the car wash, the final stage before a car was done. A car first entered the vacuum section where the detritus of the customer's lives on the road was sucked from the carpets and seats of their car. Jonny had been dispatched here on his first day under the care of Mo for his training. The training took two hours though anyone who failed, in thirty minutes or less, to pick up the skills required to vacuum, wash and dry a car was surely too inept even for this place. Training was actually just a ruse to get two hours of unpaid labour out of each new worker. The cars of dog owners were bad, interiors coated with clinging hairs from the boot to the front. Jonny was slightly concerned at the amount of time dogs seemed to spend in the driver's seats of cars in Sydney. Outdoorsy types were worse, somehow managing to turn their car floor into a forest floor. Leaf litter, gravel and soil formed a new carpet on top of the existing one. It would have made a habitable environment for all manner of ground-dwelling insects had not The White Wash's industrial vacuums made short work. Children. Undisputed champions when it came to transforming a car interior into something unrecognisable from the spotless, movable lounge that you drove off the dealer's forecourt, still savouring that unique smell, were children. One child seat in the back portended destruction, two meant de-se-cration. It seems keeping your little angel(s) fed whilst on the road was a top priority given an average level of food debris that would have sustained a poor African family for a week. Vacuuming the mats was a Sisyphean task, each sweep of the nozzle stirred up a 'fresh' layer of particles from the substrata of the mat. After the vacuum stage came wash. The car was doused with water from the spray guns and then soaped up like a bed-ridden pensioner. There were several important things to remember when washing - 1, Not too much soap. Too much was anything much more than any. 2, Straight lines. Move the brush in smooth, lateral strokes along the bodywork. Mr. Miyagi's circular 'wax on, wax off' technique was not applicable. 3, Avoid white cars. Dirt clung to white cars like a limpit even after the usual spray, soap, rinse cycle. Now, every car would retain some sort of invisible mark that would require Balram to redo whatever task you had just completed but white ones were especially bad. White 4x4s were incredibly popular in Sydney. Post-wash came iPhone's fief, the aforementioned polish stage. Here the customer's car is dried with chamois, the windows wiped with a soft cloth and a paintbrush is used to gently disperse the dust from the dashboard. And not forgetting the application of liquid silicon to the tyres to make them shiny. The importance of shiny tyres cannot be overstated. All these varied disciplines Jonny learned in his first week. His first literal week for there was no 'working week' at The White Wash. Monday to Sunday, half six to half six, 364 days a year. Christmas it was closed but New Year was a half day because even as the clocks were turning to midnight and people's minds were turning to the hopes and resolutions of a fresh annum and its clean slate, somebody somewhere in Sydney was thinking 'my car is dirty'. Completing his first week had also left Jonny with two enhanced senses. The first was the sense that no matter where he was and no matter what he was doing somebody was about to rush up and berate him for doing it wrong. It was a feeling of uneasiness, of a wariness that sat at the back of his mind and kept him tensed whether sat eating breakfast in his hostel or browsing the aisles in the supermarket. Balram's irritability and impatience had claimed Jonny's waking hours as well as his working hours. The other enhanced sense was that Sydney Part Two was not going to resemble Sydney Part One nearly as closely as he had hoped. For he had been to and left this city before. The first time Jonny had acquired a good job, friends, a girl, a life, with astonishing rapidity. On this basis Australia seemed a fine country in which to live and Jonny, in order to secure a second year to his visa, had duly decamped to the other side of the country to complete the farm work required for this. Six months later he departed the isolated town nowhere near anywhere and returned to the bright lights and big city. It didn't seem to have noticed he was gone. His old job couldn't or wouldn't take him back, the employment agency he got it through were indifferent to his availability for redeployment and after sixty job applications and zero interviews his vivid picture of Sydney had turned grey and bleak. Hence the car wash. Six short months had seen his hands re-purposed from valued articulators of high technical knowledge to blunt instruments of basic motion. Where once his fingers danced over keyboards crafting elegant expressions of 21st century advancement on-screen now they formed a rictus grip around a vacuum nozzle or stiff-bristled brush. Jonny painted a romantic vision of himself as strength in adversity, as undergoing a trial until the world righted itself and remembered "who the fuck I am!" He'd only been doing the job a week. But that was a not entirely insignificant amount of time to work at The White Wash. In those seven days he'd seen others come and go with regularity. Staff turnover was a mildly vexing issue to Balram. "Backpackers come to the car wash and they, y'know, they can't handle it, they're unreliable." True, thought Jonny, they probably aren't used to being greeted on their first day at a new job one of two ways - with unfriendliness if Balram was in a good mood, with outright hostility if he wasn't. Despite having told these new guys to come he seemed to regard their subsequent presence as a nuisance unreasonable to have to endure. And despite the mandated two-hour training he thought every aspect of The White Wash's functioning to be simple and obvious. Any gaps in the haphazard training were therefore to be covered by your own 'common sense'. Should your common sense fail you Balram would fail to conceal his deep and abiding belief in your deep and abiding stupidity. All this Jonny had endured and his tongue was near bitten through but since begging was undesirable choosing was also not an option. Sunday came around again.
"So, your majesty, you coming next week?"

No comments:

Post a Comment