Back in 2007 I had a job stacking cases of beer onto pallets to be sent off to bottle shops around Sydney. This is less fun than it sounds, and it doesn't even sound like fun in the first place. One day I said I needed to work more hours which my STACKING role didn't offer. They said they could move me to afternoon shift CHECKING.
I had seen the overweight morning shift checker waddling around pallets, checking them off against the lists we had used to stack the beer and it seemed like a pretty cruisy gig. Also that checker doubled as the warehouse security guard, so I figured if he could simultaneously check AND vigilantly defend the beer, I could easily fill one of those roles. So I accepted the role and celebrated my promotion sufficiently so as to arrive for my first day with a behemoth hangover.
I had a list handed to me by the supervisor, Heston. He said: "Take a seat. It's easy work. Wait until a truck comes in, check the load and send them off with it. You'll be working with Tiger." Assuming I'd misheard the name (presumably as a name rhyming with "Tiger", though I can't think what name that might be) I sat back and waited for...um, Rod Steiger.
faux-bo: someone with all the characteristics of a homeless person, including matted hair, wispy beard and rancid stench, but residing in an actual house (and not one made out of cardboard)
I think I smelled Tiger before I saw him. His odour could be replicated in lab conditions by having someone with colon cancer fart in a garbage bin that contained the rotting carcus of a dog that died of colon cancer that perished in the bin after emiting one final fart of its own. He had a beard that was racing his hair for the piece of chicken he was keeping in his belly button. He was only in his early thirties, looked nearly fifty, carried his possessions in a sports bag made of clear plastic so you could see its contents and was totally, certifiably insane.
He demanded to know who I was. Had I ever checked before? I conceded that I had not. "Heston likes playing games, does he? I can play games too," he ranted cryptically and strode off. I didn't see him again for two hours. Meanwhile I discovered checking wasn't as easy as I had been led to believe. I'd explain what it involved, but to this day I don't know what the job entailed. Heston had gone home, presumably to play more games, Tiger had gone AWOL, so I walked around trucks, pretending to "check" them, ticking off a list that didn't seem to correspond with anything going onto the trucks.
When Tiger came back, he sat at the desk next to me, but wouldn't even acknowledge me. I glanced down at his transparent bag and noticed several syringes in it (right next to a nudie mag). There seemed to have formed between us a silent agreement to take turns checking the trucks. And all the while I had no idea what I was doing.
The next day went pretty much the same way. Tiger checked a truck, I pretended to check a truck, Tiger checked a truck.... Eventually I turned to Tiger and broke the silence. I said: "I've got to be honest. I have no idea what I'm doing. I think I'd better tell them to find someone else that can actually help you". Tiger seemed strangely touched by my honesty. He said "Don't do that. They'll just give me some dickhead who never shuts up. At least you're quiet." The silence broken, I wondered if I could forge a friendship with this smelly creature.
I soon discovered why Tiger like 'em quiet. Once he started talking to me, he wouldn't stop. He talked about people he hated at work, people he hated on the street, family members he was going to have killed by a bikie gang he was apparently a member of (though I never saw him ride a motorbike). I tried to look serious and nod, but secretly I prayed for a return to our previous stony silence.
I think Tiger grew to like me, in his own way. Our days would consist of him telling me to sit down at the desk, where I would read the newspaper while he checked trucks. Towards the end of the shift the work would pick up, so he would give me only the simplest tasks that he didn't have time to complete himself. Occasionally he would give me two dollars to get him a can of coke and would always insist on me getting myself one as well. I even began to get used to his smell. Ours was a bizare relationship. I would sit in silence, always ready for a general outburst from Tiger. Sometimes he would, without warning, yell "FUCK!!!" at the top of his lungs, stand, kick a garbage bin and storm off. Another time he took umbrage at the actions of a coworker, a gigantic Maori forklift driver, and stood yelling obsenities at the man and telling him to "get off the fork!" The man lauged at him and drove away.
I worked with Tiger for a week and a half. I didn't quit this job, they just moved the operation to another warehouse and never asked me to go with them. I didn't mind, but I do reflect on my time with Tiger with a strange sense of wonder. I think during that time I must have felt what a white collar criminal would feel if they were bunked up with a murderer in prison. Grateful for every moment of peaceful silence, but always wondering what's going to happen when the guards turn the lights out.