I kind of cringe when celebrities are interviewed about the worst jobs they ever had before they “hit the big time” and their sheepish answers are always synonymous with my actual employment history, which unfortunately was not while I was a respectable struggling actor, but merely a person who made poor choices in life, whilst trying to make rent and get her sick 1990 Toyota Celica paid off. I always dreaded the idea of a high school reunion – having been intellectually in the top quarter (that’s my probably-incorrect estimate, anyway) of the already prestigious Otago Girls’ High School meant that I was supposed to do something impressive and befitting my IQ after I graduated. Surely the promising young Michelle would go on to do something her parents could be proud of, and would casually discuss with their high-society friends over brandies in the drawing room of a Wednesday eve down at the country manor.
Sadly, for my parents, there was to be no country manor and there were to be no brandies in the drawing room over my accomplishments. Like many of my peers, I went to the even-more-honourable University of Otago, where like many of my peers, I revelled in my newfound right to drink without using a fake ID. Unlike most of my peers however, I got pregnant on my 18th birthday, had an abortion and dropped out of uni – cementing my self esteem somewhere between my Vans and my kneecaps, meaning that a return to uni was the last thing I felt capable of. In a small town without a tertiary education or a more worldly attitude, the jobs available to me were all ones that I could do in my sleep, and didn’t especially enjoy doing awake. As the esteemed Mr. Campbell declared, “let me put it this way: I have an extensive collection of name tags and hairnets”. So let’s talk about my hilariously bad employment history (most of which is also omitted from my CV due to short tenure or irrelevancy to anything in life):
1999 – 2001: Babysitting three girls, who belonged to my dad’s best friends Pete and Kerri. This was a pretty rad gig to be honest, because Pete and Kerri are awesome people and their daughters are really cool. Myself and the oldest two, Kellie and Drew, used to tell the youngest, Jessie, that it was bedtime at 5pm, and when she complained that it was light outside, we did our best deadpan expressions, exclaiming, “yeah, it’s daylight savings, duuuh.” (Sorry Jessie, but in my defense you turned out really rad so it can’t have scarred you too much). In those days it was quite normal to be smoking cigarettes inside houses and because Pete and Kerri were down with the durries, I could smoke in their lounge, safe with the knowledge that I would never get busted by my folks. They also had a Playstation 1, on which I would play Colin McRae Rally 2.0 until Kerri drove me home (often in a motherfucking limo, because she was allowed to use her work’s limo). Did I mention that I got paid for all that lying about daylight savings, smoking ciggies and cruising about in a limo? Best job ever. The three girls all turned out bloody great and I like to think I played a wee part in that, haha.
2001 – 2003: Burger King. Known to you Aussies as “Hungry Jacks”, this was my first legit taxable job. Because the whole place was pretty much run by 16 year olds, it was actually the most fun I’ve ever had for being paid the princely sum of $5.45 an hour. Put it this way; it was a job you could come to completely stoned, have a top-up joint in your car on your break, and then eat all the chicken tenders you could cook in the time that the manager was out on their break. Also, post-mix was a free-for-all, and we got half-price food. Would you believe that I had a restrictive eating disorder during this job? Let’s just say that I had the best self-control in the world in those days (not so much anymore). I think I might have had sex with someone at Burger King, but I can’t remember who. There was too much post-mix consumption going on back in those days.
2003 – 2008: The Otago Racing Board. My mum owned the Stuart St. TAB and had been also been working on-course at the races for “donkeys”, so naturally I joined the crew the minute I turned 18. Working at the horse races was a really good job which is why it remains, to this day, my longest-standing employment situation. The reason it was so good was because it was the NZ equivalent of a “casual” job – I only worked when there were race meetings in Otago (often meaning travelling to Central Otago to do so), with many of these meetings being on a public holiday. We got paid public holiday loading, they put us on a bus there and back, AND paid for our time spent on the bus, as well as adding a 6% annual leave loading rate. To top it off, a meeting was typically only ten races, and of those ten races, you spent three of them on a break. A standard meeting at Omakau on January 2nd saw me receiving around $250 for about four hours of honest work – which in those days in New Zealand, was nothing at all to scoff at (and probably still isn’t). I was easily the youngest person working at those meetings, everyone else were all cantankerous old ladies, however due to my mum’s long tenure and noble “supervisor” status, everyone loved the shit out of me and I was pretty much considered the cheeky young thing, always turning up with a hangover, “bless the wee lass”, etc. I only stopped doing it because I moved to Australia, but if I went back and any of those old ladies were still alive, I might consider getting back on the horse (see what I did just there? Cos it was at horse racing? hahaahah. This is why I shouldn’t write while drunk).
2003 – 2003: Worked for the South Dunedin TAB. Again, this was a case of “who you know” – because of my mum’s high standing in the TAB scene, I worked here until the branch got bought by a dude who wanted to use his own staff. I didn’t mind too much, because those of you familiar with the people of South Dunedin will understand that the dirty old men at that place liked to just piss on their seats rather than get up and miss a race. It would have been more civilised and clean as a fucking combined needle exchange/brothel, seriously.
2003 – 2004: Crofter’s Arms Pub, Mosgiel. I got this job because of my TAB knowledge and experience (there was a TAB in the pub) and thus it was my first foray into drunk, 40-somethin’ men wolf-whistling at me (the bar tops were tight and I was still harbouring a sexy figure at the time). I actually met my first husband here, presumably due to a combination of the tight tops and the fact that I used my incredible rack to my advantage when walking around the bar selling raffles on a Friday evening. The prize was always a meat pack from the husband’s butchery, however I was consistently asked whether I was the prize – to which I would lean over the table, giggle and compliment the heckler on his cataracts or whatever. Ain’t nobody could sell a raffle sheet as fast as old Michelle “Titzgerald”. I’m not sure why I just felt such a surge of pride writing about that.
Anyway, the manager was a really uptight and nasty woman in her 30s who would run around like a headless chicken, creating drama/panic where there was none, and constantly bitching out the bar staff, so in the end I quit because I got a fantastic opportunity at ………
2004 – 2004: Mobil Service Station, Graveyard Shift. This was fucking hell on earth, for $9.35 an hour … the only fun things I can remember about this job were;
1. Once the pies had been in the warmer for a certain amount of time, we could write them off and eat them! (Even though they would have been thermonuclear by that stage, and in those days nobody knew to blow on the pie).
2. One night this obviously underage dude came in to buy ciggies so I asked him for ID. He handed over the ID of Mike Fever, a guy that I actually knew. The funny thing is that awhile back, Mike had filled his car and hadn’t been able to pay for it, which meant that he was on our records as owing the service station money. I grabbed the smokes, put them on the counter (the kid’s little face lit up, thinking that he had fooled me into thinking he was 19) along with the outstanding paperwork, and said – “Mike, you’re on file for not having paid for some fuel awhile back – I’m going to have to call the police”. Him and his little mate bolted so fast. Good times at 2am.
2005-2005: The North Taieri Tavern. Located opposite the Silverstream freezing works, the North Taieri Tavern was a cross between a community hall, a bowls club and a bar. I had the good fortune of working there when NZ introduced the anti-smoking in bars law – imagine having to tell a bunch of chain-smoking country bumpkins that they couldn’t smoke in their local bar anywhere. It was actually at the North Taieri Tavern where I discovered my penchant for art, filling many lonely country afternoons creating lavish chalkboard art on the massive chalkboard, detailing bottles of Speights and Jack Daniels & Coke RTDs using different shading techniques. The locals thought my chalkboard art was amazing, and many of them would take photos of every mural I created, begging me to do the next one ASAP. I’m not sure how much of an eye for art a bunch of horse-trainers, freezing workers, and rural pot growers really had, but it certainly made me feel good about myself so to this day I still won’t look a North Taieri gift horse in the mouth. Often the locals would invite me around after work to a party at someone’s house, and one evening I was both impressed and warm when I discovered that one guy had removed his oven door and was using the oven as a rudimentary heater. We were using the inside of the oven as a heater and the top of it to do spots on. Three things I found distracting about the whole North Taieri thing:
1. Many of the locals were sporting teardrops tattooed on their faces, which I was too nervous to ask about, for it meant either a teardrop for everyone you have killed, a teardrop for every year you have done in “the clink”, or a teardrop for every loved one that has died whilst you have been in “the clink”. Let’s just pretend it is the latter, because that is very endearing.
2. They wore flannel shirts and straight-leg jeans at the exact same time it was super-fashionable, but they had no idea.
3. There was a huge fireplace in which I had to light a fire every day in winter. For wood and kindling, I had to venture around the back of the pub with a wheelbarrow to collect wood. One of the horses out there would follow me back and just stand in the back doorway of the pub (looking somewhat menacing) and I often wondered whether I should fix him a whiskey sour on the double. That horse actually died by rearing up and smashing his skull on a tree branch out there, which the locals ruled to be an “accident”. I’m pretty sure that it was actually suicide though, because North Taieri was so fucking boring that during my entire time there, the only notable thing that happened (apart from the equine suicide) was that a goat charged through the front door at the house of “Pop”, a 90 year old man who would come and drink a quarter of a bottle of gin every single day and just sit there, tending to the fire. He also could recite massive long irrelevant poems from memory, which I pretended to look interested about. In reality, he was probably an amazing man, but I just didn’t care enough at the time. I know this all sounds hideously fabricated but I can 100% assure you that it isn’t. Where do you think I got all my rugged “life experience” and “worldly views” from??
My tenure there only lasted a few months as the owners sold the pub to a couple that were going to be doing all the barwork themselves – I can only hope that they had the efficiency to be able to handle all three of the pokie machines as well as all four people in the bar at any given time.
2003 – 2008 (on and off): Heff’s Hotel, South Dunedin. Once again I had to call upon my TAB and bar skills to gain employment, however this time it was actually my surname that scored the job for me. My grandfather had owned dozens of hotels and bars around Otago, and thus his name still commanded a lot of respect among publicans in the area. The boss saw the front page of my CV, asked if I was related, and upon affirmation, gave me the job on the spot. Heff’s Hotel was patronised by a mixture of old folk, Mongrel Mob members, and intellectually handicapped people, all of whom were sure to make it out every Thursday and Sunday for the famous Heff’s Hotel “Gibby’s Karaoke”. If I ever have to hear “Suspicious Minds” performed by a slurring Mongrel Mobber amid drunken shouts of “yeahhh take it off Rangi!!!!” then I might have to commit some form of murder/suicide.
Here ends my love affair with the worst of New Zealand’s employment opportunities; watch this space for the next installment where I detail the excitement of the big smoke (Perth) and the unique and lucrative employment opportunities I have been afforded here.
Love, Chelleshockk xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox