The Long Black Line

Date: 16 July

Location: Centrelink Center, Collingwood.

I think I’m in love with my barista. No, seriously, hear me out; this isn’t just some trendy rant about how good coffee is and how a latte is like life.

My local Mister Barista is tall, dark and handsome so that’s a tick.

He owns the cafe, so he’s entrepreneurial. Tick. Plus, he’d be busy with coffee-related enterpriseing behaviour most days so he wouldn’t be able to get clingy and lurk around my apartment when all I want to do is watch Parks and Rec alone in my Abercrombie tracksuit pants (which are in the most unflattering shades of electric blue and orange known to eyesight) and make panang curry from scratch.

He can help me on the crossword with a 10 letter word for ‘ardent’ (‘passionate’ and I swear I really did need help on it) so he’s smart. Tick.

He has an endless supply of coffee which which to supply me, so I’d always been in a good mood around him.

Boyfriend paradox solved. Now, just to, you know, learn his name…

In other news, the job hunt continues at a relatively leisurely pace. My dad’s girlfriend’s son (and now there is a description I never thought I’d use) pointed out that, as an unemployed professional twentysomething actively looking for work, I would be crazy not to be on the dole. He is, I should point out, also an unemployed professional twentysomething actively looking for work.

Yesterday, I adventured to a Centrelink centre — the branch if the Department of Human Services that deals with job seekers — and accidentally into a space that I’m sure Dante feels remiss about excluding as one of his circles of hell.

To this gently bred young lady, the security guys at the door were a rude awakening (and made me think twice about leaving my precious bike, Thelma, chained up outside). Then there was Line One: a line to which you added oneself to be …allocated to a line. Line One ended at a cardboard-faced woman holding an iPad and surrounded by people. Once I learned that actually ‘lining up’ would get me nowhere and cunningly prevented a lone mother with her two toddlers sneaking in front me (in retrospect, perhaps not something to gloat about?) I won my turn and was sent to The Red Line.

In the Red Line I sat on a red chair and listened to the sweet harmony of voices blending: Trent tried to explain that he couldn’t go to job interviews now that he and his ‘missus’ were ‘disputing’; Ben tried to work out what his tax file number was (and whether, after not working for seven years, he really needed to lodge a tax return as a recent text message from the government had demanded); the toddlers screamed; Barney had a long and not entirely flattering conversation about his ex-wife while he waited in The Black Line. I was grateful for my red seat as there were only a few people on red seats and about fifty in black ones.

Finally, it was my turn to see Brian, a frighteningly skeletal young man with a broad Irish accent who, judging by the panic in his bloodshot eyes, was not loving his first week on the job. Brian took my details and my drivers licence and vanished. Dear Brian returned 20 minutes later to tell me that the system was rejecting me and that Francis (here, he gestured at a slight Asian man who had taken over from the cardboard-faced lady with the iPad at Line One) would need to see me. He then wandered off to sit behind his desk and call his next victim.

I returned to the rowdy throng that was Line One. I waited patiently for a few minutes before I realised what I had to do, so I did it. Loudly. “Francis, Brian told me to see you”. This irked not only the group of lost souls already in line but also the young Asian gentleman who turned to me, pointed at his name tag (Leong), sighed, “Black Line,” before swivelling back around to fend off the next attacker.

Oh god. My stomach lurched as I looked at The Black Line. Rows upon rows of washed-out used-up faces who had better prepared for this ordeal than me. One girl had a laptop, another an entire bag of Minties, another a half-read copy of Shantaram. His defeated posture suggested he’d started the epic tome in that very seat, just a few short hours ago. As I surveyed my options, weighing the relative merits of sitting at the back near Barney (he of the projecting voice) or near the family having what looked and smelled a lot like a Vietnamese feast or by the lady with the double pram and dubious looking hankerchief.

“Sorry, this one’s Francis.” My unlikely saviour, anaemic Brian, was back and leading me across the room to a desk behind which sat a friendly-faced man wearing a name tag, ‘Rohan’.

Rohan determined that, according to Centrelink’s IT records, I am a child of 0 years and 0 months and, as such, am not eligible for Centrelink.

And now? To the Black Line.

Love Alex

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