October 12, 2020

Chicken

This story takes place in July 2003 and is entirely true. I'd just graduated from Uni and was just a couple of months away from getting married. And, yes, it doesn't show me in the best of lights!

Chicken

I sit in my car in the Gellatly Street car park. An invisible force fixing me to my seat. Try as I might I can’t muster the strength to exit the car and make my way to my final destination. I didn’t sleep much last night. I hate this feeling. There’s no denying what the feeling is. It’s shame. It’s embarrassment. It’s the ultimate admission of failure. The only thing I hate more than feeling like this, is the thought of being late. I hate being late.

I’ve passed the Job Centre thousands of times. Most of the time without ever really noticing it. And, when I have noticed it, it’s because I’ve been a horrible version of myself. That poor looking soul, shuffling and swaying his way towards the door, under the influence of god knows what, the one that deserves nothing but pity, instead gets judgement. Of course, I’m too nice a guy to share these thoughts with anyone, but those thoughts are there all the same. Denying their existence would be a lie. I, like you, have the capacity to be a bit of a dick at times. So now shame has been joined by his good buddy regret at this shit-show of a party.

I take a deep breath as the automatic doors open. I imagine this is how Clive Smith, the mild-mannered accountant from Stoke-On-Trent feels as he reveals to Matthew that tonight he’s going to be Luther Vandross. I walk in. It’s strangely quiet. Not really what I expected at all. Actually what did I expect? I think I was expecting something akin to the Cantina scene in Star Wars. But, ‘a hive of scum and villainy’, this most certainly is not. Everyone looks so normal. A few even look like me. Then I hear a warm ‘hello’. For the briefest of moments I assume this is a member of staff. The cold demeanour of Job Centre staff, as portrayed on countless TV sitcoms, is clearly wide of the mark. I’m being welcomed as if I have a day pass to a particularly exclusive Spa. But it’s not staff, it’s worse, it’s one of my mum and dad’s friends.

Somehow this makes my shame worse. The fear of making my first trip to the Job Centre has been diminished by the prospect of being anonymous. Having a family friend witness my humiliation should have helped. A familiar face in an unfamiliar setting should have been a welcome relief. It wasn’t. We exchanged a bit of small talk.

Yes, the four years of my degree really did go fast. No, I can’t quite believe the wedding is only a few months away. And, yes, this really is my first time ever setting foot in a Job Centre.

The brief conversation although well meaning serves only to remind me of my plight. I quit a good job with good prospects with The Sunday Times to go back to University. I’d be able to get a great job in IT when I finished. The World would be my cliche. It wasn’t. There were no local IT jobs to be had and moving elsewhere wasn’t in our plans. By the time my name was called I was feeling worse than ever and just wanted to get this whole farce over with. We’d have a chat. They’d share some jobs. And, I’d ‘sign-on’ thus securing some small financial benefit that would help fund our lavish lifestyle and luxury condominium on Lochee Road. It had a bay window and everything.

There was no Day-Spa greeting. There was a gruff grunt from a middle aged woman. She had a plaque on her desk with her name on it, but that name, I can’t recall. She did though resemble a ‘Moira’, so for the ease of completing this tale, that’s what she was called. Moira asked me a few questions. Nervousness always makes me talk too much. Moira has no care for my plight. She can’t even feign the mildest bit of joy that I’m about to get married. I like telling people about our impending nuptials. Primarily because I can’t quite believe my luck. Wait. Did Moira just glance at her watch? The cheeky unsubtle bitch! Apparently she’s has no interest in my incredibly emotive back story.

She rattles through a few more questions. Mostly of the ‘yes/no’ variety. I’m being ‘tick-boxed’ to within an inch of my existence. She then punches a few things into her keyboard and stares at her screen.

“There’s a security job at a chicken factory.” Moira says with more pride than the statement merits.

I ask if there’s anything a bit more, you know, ‘computeree’. I am advised that there’s not. She’s definitely holding back a more sarcastic answer. “Oh yes, Mr. Anderson, I totally skipped past the Head of IT role at The University of Dundee. That would be perfect for a recent graduate like you.”

There’s an air of exasperation in Moira’s demeanour. Her nostrils are flaring to such an extent that the fine dark hairs on her upper lip dance into life. I don’t think she likes me. Which, to be fair, at this precise moment makes two of us. The security role isn’t as left-field as it might appear. I did have security experience. To help fund my university studies I had a part-time job at the Virgin Cinema where I was eventually offered the illustrious position within the security team. I say ‘team’ but it was just me and a chap called Paul. I handed back my blue polo shirt which signified me as a member of the ‘floor team’ and exchanged it for a black polo shirt that signified that I was a bit of a bad ass. I even got a radio. Although this has not been officially verified, I believe that I was the shortest security guard in Dundee at the time. It’s not much, granted, but hey, we’ve all got to add some padding to our CV.

The point is, the immediate feeling of being insulted by such a prospective job is ’top-trumped’ by my absolute desperation. Being ‘unemployed’ would definitely taint our wedding day.

“Do you Gillian Lyall, take this unemployed loser to be your fiscal responsibility until such a time as he gets his shit together…”

I start to rationalise.

  1. I do have experience of working in security.
  2. I quite like the idea of working nightshift.
  3. I could pass the time reading formulaic crime novels.
  4. It doesn’t have to be for ever.
  5. And, of course, I love chicken.

I then realise that I am now ‘tick-boxing’ myself. It’s oddly infectious and satisfying. Damn you Moira. I shuffle off with the application form in hand and complete it there and then.

Four days later and I’m making my way to Coupar Angus for my job interview. I’ve prepared well. I’ve read up on the business. I’ve thought about how I’d answer the typical interview questions, (Miraculously “I work well individually, and as part of a team”) and I’ve even selected the greatest hits compilation from my time on the frontlines of cinema security. I quite rightly decide to omit the story about the man in Screen 7 for reasons I don’t need to go into. I’ve prepared enough for an hour long interview. It lasts 15 minutes. As I drive away I smile and wave to the security guard, my future colleague. And who knows, potential friend. Although it’s maybe a bit late to change the seating plans for the wedding. He doesn’t respond in kind. Perhaps he is Mr. Moira?

I take a quick detour and drive into the car park of The Red House Hotel. The venue for our wedding. There’s a satisfied sigh. A sigh that says, everything is going to be OK. Whatever happens, Gill and I will have each other. We’ll proclaim our love and who cares if I am only a security guard at a chicken factory. It’s just part of our story. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning. Shit, I forgot to ask if I get a discount on chicken. As previously stated, I like chicken.

I wait for a chicken scented letter to arrive. It does not.

On my next trip to the Job Centre, I expect to hear the good news. Surely a human as erudite, mature and with security experience will have this gig in the bag. I’m assuming you know what’s coming. It’s not the most subtle of build ups, but it’s genuinely how I felt. For the first and only time in my life, I told myself the story that I was going to get this job. It is arrogant in the extreme, I know. It doesn’t show me in the greatest of lights. (See previous reference to ‘being a dick’.)

Without looking up from her computer, Moira calls my name. When she finally looks up there is no hiding her disappointment. It’s a look that says ‘can this day get any worse?’. When I ask about my job at the chicken factory she shuts me down with a blunt ‘you didn’t get it’. She doesn’t wrap this news with an ‘I’m sorry to say’ or opt for a kinder ‘I’m afraid you’ve been unsuccessful on this occasion’ - she just delivers the news bluntly.

When I return to my car in the Gellatly Street Car Park the invisible force once again takes hold. My hand should be turning the key in the ignition by now. Instead I take out my frustration on the horn. I hold it down. It drowns out the ‘what the actual fuck’ and the ‘fuckity fuck’ I scream from the top of my voice. The realisation hits me hard - if I can’t get a security job at a chicken factory, how the hell am I ever going to get a job that I actually want?

I take a few deep breaths, compose myself, turn the key in the ignition and vow never to eat chicken again.