My first proper job (not counting head chef at Burnie KFC) came in late 2001, the day I handed in my last uni assignment and graduated from seventeen years of school. I stepped into the conditioned air and screaming carpets of the Canberra Labor Club. The ‘Labes’ was a superclub that Uni of Canberra students had been frequenting for years, drawn to their schnitzel burgers and beer at warehouse prices. It was IKEA for drunks.
Armed with a BA in Professional Writing, I was just qualified to wipe out ashtrays and call bingo. My professional communication skills had me fraternising effortlessly with regulars, such as the girl who asked for a shot of raspberry in her beer, or the old man with a cleft palate and magnified glasses who would shake my hand while sliding his thumb over the top whispering, “I could take care of you, Justin.”
Being a writer who wanted to pursue a career in music, there were times when my position in the service industry didn’t feel as though it was fully utilising all of my skill set. One neon Wednesday, I dumped an ash bomb in my cart and watched disgusted as a public servant blew a semester’s worth of course fees in twenty minutes. I’d recently secured a weekly songwriting segment on Triple J, and begun my career as The Bedroom Philosopher. I tied this win to my uniform, the excitable balloon keeping my spirits above sea level.
My fear was that I’d be swallowed up by my casual job and lose sight of my artistic dream. To protect (and protest) against this I’d workshop songs while carrying out drinks to the pokies (it stopped people sipping from their coin cups – the service, not my songs). I’d lurk behind ‘Queen Of The Nile’ and jot lyrics down on a Keno ticket. If I found a melody, I had to protect it from the jingle jungle by humming on loop until I could deposit a haunting message into my sharehouse message bank.
To alleviate the light horror of spending eight hours doing mundane and potentially meaningless activities while not having anyone telling me to write, I started a blog. I’d offload 2000 words every three days on my laptop — harvesting my experience by writing about work as if it were my own personal sitcom. It became so intense that for a while whenever anyone spoke to me, their words would appear in Times New Roman twelve point. My misadventures with the old man who kept asking if I’d like to move in with him became one of my first published pieces in the literary mag Voiceworks.
After six months I qualified to call bingo. This was big city bingo – a far cry from the quaint, country love-in of my retirement fantasies. Mean old ladies stabbed their sheets with puce fury, scowling every time I strayed from the script.
“One – the loneliest number.”
“Zero wearing a belt – eight.”
“Life begins at – 70!”
To make matters sadder, they didn’t even shout ‘bingo’ – they simply blurted ‘here’ in a business-like tone, arm raised.
And HERE-O was his name-NOT!
This wasn’t what the first Heazlewood to go to uni went to uni for.
What the ‘Labes’ gave me was a comfy stool in the real world, at a time when my own life was bingo barrelling. The low pressure of no more school met the high pressure of a national radio gig, leaving flashes in my dreams and thunder in my blood. Regular shifts gave my week structure and cash flow (a gap year from Centrelink), while pulling beers was a meditative escape from existential crises in front of The Simpsons. (I practiced mindfulness; the members practiced blindfulness.)
Crucially, my first job prepared me for life in the public glare. Being the only employee with mid-length hair and glasses I was told I looked like every person in history with mid-length hair and glasses. I earned the nickname Shaggy (from Scooby Doo), which quickly got its own nickname: Shags. (Shagster if you were feeling cheeky and Shagadelic for special occasions, fusing it with my pet hate: Austin Powers). At no extra cost they threw in Harry Potter, The Guy From Oasis, The Guy From Weezer, The Guy From The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Guy From The Seekers, The Guy Out Of Pulp, Keith Richards, John Lennon, George Harrison and The Security Guard In A Clockwork Orange.
Secretly, I was The Bedroom Philosopher, but in 2002 I was the barroom philanthropist – donating my time in return for $20 an hour, half-price meals, and all the lemon, lime & bitters I could handle (made with lemonade, not lemon squash for god’s sake). It wasn’t such a bad place to be.