During the break in my time as a solicitor when I went back to university for other studies and supported myself as a music teacher and law teacher, there would always come a time over the Christmas/summer vacation when money got really tight. It was at this time that I took, for one day only in each case, the two hardest jobs I have done in my life.
Building site cleaner
I got this job from Xk, who at the time was running a contract cleaning business. D had already worked for him a few times. On each time, D would come home complaining about how lazy his fellow workers were. They were mostly Filipinos. There was an element of Chinese disdain for the lesser (and, in this mindset, laid back and lazy) South-East Asian peoples mixed up in D’s complaints. Having given vent to these feelings, D would take to his bed and only very rarely would he make it out of bed the next day or back for the next day’s work. So I should have been warned.
Our mission was to convert Harry M Miller’s “sub-penthouse” on level 41 of the then not-quite-complete Horizon Apartments in Darlinghurst from a building site to a state where he could hold, that very evening, a New Year’s Eve Party. Various other building tradesmen were there putting finishing touches to plumbing and kitchen installations – not to a point of absolute completeness, but to a level of functionality which would permit the party to go ahead. We just had to clean the place up. The biggest part of this was to remove the building mess and polish up the still-rough concrete floor. As we were doing this, other caterers and party-contractors were arriving to get things ready. It was an impressive (and, given my economic fortunes at the time, depressing) display of what a rich man can have and what he can get done for him. The apartment was enormous – it occupied the whole floor, or at least the whole floor on the side with the city-ward view. Even Deborah Hutton turned up later in the day, and very glamorous she was too, close up.
I soon found myself joining in D’s scorn for my laid-back fellow workers. They for their part good-naturedly joked about how D almost never came back for a second day. For most of the day I worked the grinder – that is, something a bit like an electric floor polisher, but I also mopped and squeegeed the floor. By about 4pm, our part was finished.
I was exhausted. By the next day, I was a physical wreck. I simply did not have the physical condition to work so hard for so long. I now have a much more sympathetic view for manual labourers – you know, the ones who are proverbially said to be always leaning on their pickaxe or shovel. The truth is, you have to pace yourself to that kind of work. Sure, you can work hard in bursts, but it is not really possible to keep that sort of thing up for a whole day. I doubt if you could even if you were in condition for it.
Gay sauna attendant
I saw the ad for this job on one of my rare (honestly! well, you can believe me or not) visits to a well-known gay sauna in Sydney. So the adjective in this case modifies “sauna” rather than “attendant.” They were advertising for casual staff on New Year’s Eve. I got the job.
I didn’t fit the usual mould of employees at this sauna. Mostly, they were a local variant of gay bar staff. They wore T-shirts and skimpy shorts. In their own minds, and perhaps even truly, they were public figures on the gay “scene.” They had a lot of attitude. It was because they had to be seen at the big NYE dance party that the need for my engagement arose.
On my arrival, I was left in no doubt that I was not to presume that I was truly one of the elect. This was obvious anyway, because none of their skimpy shorts would fit me: they eventually managed to find something larger though not in the standard style. Together with my fellow casual employee, who was on an invalid pension and equally fell well short of the requisite standards of cuteness for the permanent staff, I was given my instructions: we were to collect, wash, dry and fold the towels.
We wore rubber gloves, for the obvious reason. After about an hour and a half and much complaining, my fellow worker threw in the towel (sorry, this just came to me). His financial need was evidently less than mine and the job was harder and far less glamorous than perhaps he had imagined. I completed the 12-hour shift (with some breaks, to be sure) by myself – diligently gathering towels (handling them gingerly), piling them into the pair of washing machines and then putting them through the banks of clothes dryers before folding them ready for further use.
It was hard work, even though not in quite the same way as the cleaning job. It was pretty hot and steamy in there. Mostly I just tired from being on my feet for so long. Even so, there was a certain interest in seeing things from the other side of the counter.
As I cycled home in the early morning of the new year, I consoled myself that things could only improve in the year to come. This was probably my worst job ever so far.