This is a Writers' Other Jobs post from Edmund K. Coleman, a 17 year-old Melbourne student.
Image source: Flickr creative commons / johngarghan
My first job was at KFC. My attitude on the first day was a healthy mixture of nerves and excitement. I soon violently awoke to the harsh realities of employment at the ‘dirty bird’, and I knew only one thing: I needed to get out. I instantly recognised the butted-out cigarettes in the wash-up sink, toilet seats covered in piss, and the distinct look of booze-failure and borderline insanity in my manager’s eyes as the primal traits of a workplace where the crazed, depraved, and artificially-sedated all functioned in symbiotic disharmony.
As scarring and painful as this experience was, it truly did give me a greater appreciation for those on the very fringes of society - a luxury not afforded to my contemporaries at Grill’d or Schnitz. I watched as a rather rotund lady came in, ordered a family dinner box, and after single-handedly eating the entire thing, proceeded to turn, look me in the eyes, and lick her fingers with a twisted air of gentry. What’s more, she came in at exactly the same time the following week, approached the counter, looked me in the eyes and asked, ‘What’s in the family box? I don’t eat here much.’ It was only then, as I listed all the components of the family dinner box, that I came to appreciate and admire her effort the previous week. I understood the look of aristocracy as she licked her fingers - she was on a totally different level to everyone around her, and she knew it.
I became friendly with a regular customer who had been in H-division in Pentridge Prison. He started calling me the KFC Kid; I was too scared to call him anything. This unlikely and potentially very dangerous relationship proved useful after I stopped receiving shifts from KFC after finding the manager’s bong in the storage shed.
I used to walk home from school at the same time as Pentridge was walking to KFC. Eventually I learned that his name was Frank, and as it happened Frank was an emerging writer. Frank had published a book, which he insisted was first written on toilet paper during a three-month stretch in isolation. It was called The Almanac of Evil – google it and you probably won’t doubt Frank’s claim.
After a couple of weeks, Frank asked me if I’d like to do a little work with him. I was 16 at the time, but when a guy with more facial tattoos than teeth asked me if I would like to ‘do a little work’ for him, alarm bells nonetheless were ringing. I later discovered that the job he wanted me to do was – although illegal – pretty innocuous. A couple of weeks ago, Frank got permanently banned from the local bottle shop for throating the cashier because Frank thought he had been short-changed.
So the operation went: Frank gave me a bit of money, and I bought him a slab of VB and a bottle of white-label Jim Beam bourbon. He was a fairly heavy alcoholic, so the job paid well.
I eventually became a little disillusioned with being a petty teenage criminal, working for a hardened middle-aged criminal, so I told Frank I needed to take a brief hiatus. I’m fairly sure he didn’t know what ‘hiatus’ meant, but the look in his eyes indicated he understood, and we parted ways forever.
After that chapter in my life, I went through a trough of unemployment, which is when I discovered that art galleries give out free piss at openings – suddenly I became a lot more cultured.
Sometime after my stint as the dogsbody of a maniac, I found myself staring at a painting by Lani Mitchell, red wine in hand, and realising something was missing in my life. The next day I registered to volunteer at the only op shop – I was rejected by four – that would take a 17 year-old with an obvious hangover. This was the Epilepsy op shop on High Street. Mind you, I think the only reason they took me was because on the sign-up sheet I told them my younger brother had Epilepsy. I don’t have a younger brother.
After I was in and introduced, volunteering at the op shop was probably the most interesting of all three shitty jobs. I learnt a wealth of information on the finer details of living on the pension; I was shirt-fronted by a shoplifter; and I acquired a taste for dead people’s clothes.
The first thing you have to learn to appreciate about op shops is that few people come in, and even fewer purchase something. There is a steady but diverse trickle of clientele, which can be categorised as either: the housewife looking for things to sell online or, eBay-mother; the disenfranchised fashionista; and the unscrupulous teenage shoplifter. I had a front row ticket to watch the beasts at work.
My usual customers on Sunday, however, were the mass-produced lebenskunstlers, suffering for their art way too much to afford something as morally impure as a brand. They were the most pleasant customers, always happy to speak about their art, or the parallels between Abbott and Stalin.
Towards the end of one of my time at the Epilepsy Op Shop, in came three guys about my age, who lacked the kind of lost, despairing look of most people who came in. These boys had the kind of aura that only attaches itself to the nefarious and sociopathically inclined, who steal from op shops supporting epilepsy; a kind of backward Robin Hood, that tortures small animals, and who I served at KFC. It was when they went into the change room with a number of polo shirts and came out with nothing that I confronted them. I told them in no uncertain terms to return the shirts and be off with themselves. The biggest guy, who was a brutish, primordial creature with no doubt a beep-test score higher than his IQ, grabbed me, shoved me across the store, and made way with haste.
I went to work for a couple more Sundays before I came to the conclusion I had given the Epilepsy Op Shop on High Street all I had to give.
I am now happily unemployed, writing as much as I can, and getting by selling English essays to my classmates.
I haven’t had a wide breadth of jobs to support my writing – being able to use school printers and living with my parents helps – and I still find the idea of writing horoscopes for a low-rent porn magazine to support a writing career quite romantic.
But writers never really stop working at KFC. In mid-2014 I saw Irvine Welsh, a genius contemporary writer, speak at the Athenaeum. About five minutes before he finished his speech, Welsh announced that he would be signing autographs and taking photos in the foyer after the show. I was second out the door and pretty much at the front of the line for the signings. After the signings, my dad, cousin, and I went to a nearby pub for two or three hours. As we walked back past the Athenaeum, there was Irvine – still taking signatures. His shift hadn’t finished yet; he was still taking orders.
Edmund K. Coleman is a 17 year-old high school student living in Melbourne. He has a shitty blog, and divides his time between writing, rowing, and school. He looks forward to going to University with no idea what he wants to do with his life, although writing will be the constant.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.