Going Out of My Mined – Chapter Fourteen – A bucket of short circuits
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Dispatch No 14 – Thursday, January 17 (morning)
A bucket of short circuits
He’s the JRT Projects onsite manager, reports only to Jonno, is incredibly entertaining, and appears to have lost a bunch of weight, his dirty and faded yellow high vis shirt now hanging off his still obese frame. He’s also finally had a shave.
Anyone new onsite is fed his homemade chilli beef jerky, and last year it nearly sent me to hospital. Despite the terrible toll it takes on anyone who tries it, apparently there’s no rule against what he’s doing, so he keeps doing it.
As a person with some authority, he also frequently abuses it for no reason but his own enjoyment.
JRT Projects has two apprentices onsite and so far he has sent them off to town, the storeroom or searching around the site for:
tin of striped paint
bucket of dial tone
packet of decibels
one long weight
After that last one, the shop assistant came back empty handed and asked the apprentice, ‘Is twenty minutes long enough? Or would you like to wait longer?’
He’s sent Jerome into the bakery in town for a ‘randee’ tart, and to the Debitel office for a stack of verbal agreement forms.
Every time he sees an apprentice electrician, he asks if they’ve got any spare short circuits.
Just before Xmas he gave Jokka a can of spray paint and told him he needed all the air out of it, so he had to shake the can until it stopped rattling. Jokka shook it for twenty minutes, then gave it to one of the apprentices, who shook it for another ten.
If you leave your phone around and unlocked, he’ll set the alarm on it for 2 am; there’s ten dollars in coins superglued to the ground just outside the office he shares with Ben and Donk; and last year in the wet mess he took a nail gun, stood on Cliff’s shoe, and fired into the floor next to the shoe, causing Cliff to scream, and then laugh.
At this morning’s site-wide meeting in the crib room, there’s the regular 200 blokes in attendance, plus nine well- watched women. After everyone’s done the daily breath test there’s the daily safety message from Leon, then Roy from Nuscon makes a special appearance to tell us that, ‘Although this smurfing project is winding the smurf down, it’s smurfing imperative that we keep smurfing focus and smurfing remain operating at full smurfing capacity, as there’s still plenty of smurfing smurf to be done.’
Every morning we’re given a similar supposedly urgent message. It’s usually delivered by Leon, but about once a week we get Roy or some other special guest, and the messages are meant to be unique and current, but are always a variation of:
work hard, we’re way behind
work harder, we’re nearly there
clean up the site, it’s a mess
nice work cleaning up, get back to work
work hard, keep clean, stay safe
nice work staying safe, have a barbecue, a backpack and a pat on the back
someone came to work drunk and that’s bad
Following this is the JRT meeting, where the guys fill in and sign the timesheet. Every day they write down an identical number, but every day at least one of them stuffs it up, and another couple walk away without doing it at all.
These same men are trusted to work out exact angles and gradients, and make important pipework both airtight and watertight, which the vast majority of them manage without a problem. They also never forget to take a break or when and where they’re meeting to drink after work, and if their pay is even one dollar out, they’re straight onto it.
Billy’s wife then phones me. Now I’ve never met Billy, but he apparently worked two weeks out here, and then disappeared. His last pay cheque was sent off months ago, and his wife is calling as according to her, it’s two hours’ pay short.
I phone Jonno, who says, ‘We paid that useless fucker $3000 a week and he disappeared, and now she’s arguing over a hundred bucks? Tell her to call head office, or ignore her. Completely up to you.’
So I ignore her. An hour later she phones back, so I give her the number for head office, who call Jonno, who then rings me.
‘You’re going to have to total up all of Billy’s hours from the old timesheets.’
Around once a month an ex-employee or their partner rings up chasing a tiny amount of wages, and they never give in until they get all of what they believe they’re owed, making the whole process usually cost way more than the total in question.
Just after lunch, I feel a presence behind me and turn to see Dale, squinting at my screen.
‘Mate, you’re doing way too much typing for that to be real work.’
He’s got me cold – I was in the process of writing up this very diary entry.
‘What are you doing? Writing a book or something?’ he asks.
‘Yes, actually. That’s exactly what I’m doing.’
He laughs. ‘You wish. As if you could ever write a book. If you were a real writer, you wouldn’t be out here.’
‘Really? Where should I be then?’
He laughs again. ‘Not fucking here, that’s for sure.’
During afternoon tea, JRT employees trickle in until the office is full of them. They all check which swing they’re working, although they should already know. Over half of them ask me if they’re working the last weekend in March, which is Easter, and some ask if they can change their roster, so I print them off the appropriate form.
‘Just write personal reasons,’ Pando tells Ben. ‘Because they’re not allowed to ask.’
‘What about a pregnancy?’ asks Ben.
‘Is your wife pregnant?’
‘That only works if she’s about to give birth. I’ve already tried it,’ Pando replies.
‘If you’re looking for a reason to not work Easter,’ I tell them, ‘I think a death in the family would be more appropriate. Giving birth is more of a Xmas thing.’
They stare at me.
‘Fuck you’re weird,’ says Pando.
‘We don’t want Easter off, we want to work it,’ says Ben.
‘Double time and a half for working public holidays,’ Dale explains. ‘Am I working Easter?’
‘Doesn’t look like it,’ I reply.
‘Write this down,’ he tells me. ‘Unable to fly out at that time due to requirements associated with final inspections from a storm-proofing perspective, and associated and urgent site-wide health and safety concerns. Got it?’
‘That’s what you put on my form. If you say safety, they always approve it. That even trumps childbirth.’
For the last few of hours of the day, there’s a constant procession of interruptions from people searching for Dale and Jonno. Which happens often but is particularly intense this afternoon, probably because Dale’s back and Jonno hasn’t been sighted.
When I first started out here, I tried to help. Then I discovered that Jonno is renowned for stating the time he’ll be back, and showing up hours and sometimes days later. While Dale doesn’t even specify times and is nearly always onsite somewhere, but is an expert at hiding.
Once I handed out Jonno’s phone number, and a minute later he rang me.
‘If someone doesn’t have my number, there’s a very good reason. Don’t do that again.’
Next I tried taking messages, but that never worked either. Jonno and Dale always politely listened as I read them, but never followed up. Whoever left the message would then reappear, ask if I passed on the message and glare at me, certain I was lying.
I used to try harder for anyone who seemed important, but the results were always the same. So at least ten times a day, and around twenty times this afternoon, I’ve had this exact conversation.
‘Dale or Jonno around?’
‘Know when they’ll be back?’
‘Have they got their phones on them?’
‘Are they on email?’
‘Maybe. Don’t know.’
There’s a pause, the person’s disappointment palpable, and then they leave.
It occurs to me, as I pack up for the day, that your level of importance is directly proportional to how easy you are to find. Which is why I’m always in the same place, and nobody is ever looking for me.
While bending over to put my laptop in my bag, there’s a rush of ice cold water down my back, pouring into my bum crack, and soaking my jeans. Dale roars with laughter. I didn’t even hear him come in, and Donk, Ben, Pando and Cliff are in the doorway, clapping and laughing.
I slowly stand up straight and nod. ‘You got me.’
‘Cheer up, Xavier mate,’ Dale says.
‘I’m not upset.’
‘I’m not upset,’ he repeats in an imitation of a wounded voice.
‘You’ve got off lightly,’ he continues. ‘I’ve seen guys with coins superglued to their foreheads, car horns hooked up to brake pedals, and guys trapped in portable toilets. Once, for an entire weekend.’
‘We should actually do that to him,’ says Pando, and they all laugh again.
That was Going Out of My Mined – Chapter Fourteen – A bucket of short circuits
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