More than any hunger for wealth or respect, my pursuit of work comes from an altruistic desire to contribute towards society. A bad joke of course, I work to fund my fledgling thirst for beer, drugs, and gambling.
My first real job, bartending a nightclub off Glenferrie Road, revealed to me the finer consequences of such tastes. It sounds simple enough, serving drinks, but with just the right attitude I find even the most mundane of tasks can become fuck-up-able. And by ‘fuck-up-able’ I mean being fired, beaten, and arrested within the course of a few hours.
My manager, a brick shithouse of a man who went by the regrettable name of ‘Fat Jad’, had told me in no uncertain terms that I was to keep pouring drinks; no matter how intoxicated the club’s patrons were when ordering. “You take the money, you serve the drink”, he’d growled. Usually when you say someone growled something it’s just a turn of phrase, but Jad really put something feral into his words. Although this policy was entirely in breach of my Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate, the man carried that brutish aura of intimidation that turns even the most law-abiding citizens into Yes Men, and so I nodded my head. A puppy learning its first lesson.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been the best at following orders. This is less because of some Byronic aversion to authority, and more because my artistic tendencies combined with poor manual dexterity lead me to fail in most enterprises of labour. Deep into one night on the job I found myself in a pretty average mood. Menially making my way through the cesspit of fake-tanned flesh and cheap cologne that was the dance floor, I walked with my eyes cast to the floor. Everywhere I looked, I’d bear witness to strangers locking lips and grinding hips, and if there’s anything I loathe more than licentious behaviour, it’s licentious behaviour when I’m not involved.
I’d made my way back behind the bar to resume my shift when I was approached by two tall, well-dressed gentlemen. Now, maybe I’m just a coward, but one glance at these guys and I was on edge. While Jad held the sort of menace that comes with muscle heaped on bone, at least there was something honest about it. These pale figures in their crisped shirts and silk blazers struck a different sort of chord; a baser, reptilian string that sings of serious amiss. They looked the type to pull wings off butterflies recreationally. One of them, I’ll call him Bateman, gave me a wink and slipped a fifty across the counter into my palm. I waited for his order, but instead he slid a small white capsule into the bunched up note. Young, and ignorant to the ways of night-life degeneracy, I asked him if he wanted me to serve a drink with what I could only assume was some sort of medicine pill. “Ah.” He grinned, showing too many too-white teeth, as if I’d made some sort of witticism. His companion Iago (for I’m confident such creatures lack the capacity for friendship) eased in on his behalf. “No. Not for us, my friend. We’ll bring a girl around in five minutes; do us a favour and drop that in her beer”. His voice slithered as if he were something not human, a cold and foul tone that froze me where I stood. In that dumb moment, as the proverbial light-bulb finally lit up and incomprehension gave way to understanding, it dawned on me then that I was being bribed to spike somebody’s drink. I opened my mouth to reply, paused, thought, thought some more and said “No.”
Though I make no claims towards moral uprightness, and I've always considered myself a strict adherent to Jad’s maxim “take the money”, there was something so inherently wrong in the idea that I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust. The pair glided off without a word, but not before Bateman offered me one last too-wide grin that made me deeply question the sensibility of my response.
Once I’d made sure they were out of sight, I crept over to the manager’s room at the back of the establishment and told Jad what had just happened. After my brief encounter with the two, the man could've been my kindly grandmother. “Doesn’t happen here, Joe. Go sprouting that sort of shit to anybody else and your employment here is over.” Right. Maybe ‘kindly grandmother’ was a stretch, but surely he wouldn’t just flat out reject my story, especially since I had evidence to back it up? On showing him what the pair had given me, he took the capsule, dropped it into the sink, and turned on the tap. The fifty he handed back to me – poker face immaculate -, and told me I should look for new work.
While decent folk lay sleeping, I huddled myself together at the tram stop. I was scrolling down Instagram, philosophically pondering the nature of evil when I heard footsteps approaching. Two figures sat down on each side of me. “Well, look who it is” a familiarly terrifying voice chimed to my right.
I turned my head slowly to both sides. Bateman and Iago looked far too pleased to see me. “Evening guys,” To my credit I kept the blind terror from my reply and didn’t shit myself. “Look, I’m sorry about before” I added, attempting a straight face, “I couldn’t have done something like that with my boss watching”.
“You think so?” Just the slightest smile mocking at the corners of his mouth. Something told me he’d worn that same smile when doing some sick things to people.
“I’m sure.” I didn’t even stutter. “I even left the capsule in the workers area upstairs in the club, in case I had a chance to use it later. I can go grab it for you now if you'd like?”. By my reckoning those things weren’t cheap. Besides, the important thing when cornered alone at a tram stop by criminals is to remind them how much more valuable you are to them when not cornered at a tram stop.
A cold stare fell upon me and I quickly turned my attention to the state of my fingernails. “That won’t be necessary” he smirked, and Iago stood up and slid back towards the club entrance.
You’d think that one less of the freaks to worry about would’ve eased my nerves, but if anything it made it even worse. You see, although Bateman had a foot or so on me, I’m not a small guy, and knew the element of surprise was on my side. I could probably take him. The problem then? Although I’m not perhaps the most generous of souls, there’s generally little violence in me. I simply didn’t want to get into a fight. It’s not a good conscience so much as being squeamish, and also afraid of the repercussions.
This philosophy underwent a radical transformation right about the time he laid his pale, fish-belly coloured hand on my knee. Now, I've always believed a healthy amount of fear is apt to get you through most situations, it being the purest form of common sense, but there's a point when your caveman instincts kick in and reason is given a violent shove out the door. A hazy red veil fell over my vision and I remember feeling a sort of fiery hate rise through me, drowning out the more reasonable voice wailing “no” as I launched myself at the figure. I don’t remember much of what happened after that, just an amateurish scuffle between us as we rolled down onto the ground. I do, to no small degree of shame, remember booting him a few times in the head when he was on the ground. It really hurt my toes, but I felt it a price worth paying.
Turning away was my mistake. Never take your eye off a foe. Especially after kicking them in the head.
I woke up in the Alfred Hospital a few hours later with a few new scars but no broken bones. Thirsty as hell, I grabbed the bottle of water next to my bed. I was carefully swallowing it down when I noticed two policemen standing outside my door. My observations were lost in a fit of choking as the sudden shock of what had gone down returned to me. Choking with badly bruised ribs is a painful affair and takes your mind off things, like worrying about policeman standing outside your hospital room. I wasn’t charged with anything, but they asked some pretty serious questions. It was nice to have somebody listen to me, though they never found the pair. The panda-like black eyes I sported in the next few weeks weren’t half as amusing as you might imagine, but I learnt an important lesson.
Turn the money down, by all means. But be ready for the aftermath, for nobody ever got rich from doing the right thing.