Archive for unprofessional

Double Professionals

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by javedbabar

“Welcome to the house,” Bobby said to the new couple. “Where have you just come from?”

“We were in the New City before this,” said the lady. “We needed to…” She looked at the gent as if to seek permission; he gave her a grave look.  She added, “We decided to move.”

They didn’t look like other people here; they were altogether more polished. He wore a button-down white shirt with handcrafted brown leather belt, and well-pressed blue trousers. She wore a white dress with blue embroidery, and high-quality, stitched brown leather sandals. They matched each other, which set them apart from everybody else in the halfway house, who were misfits.

“Do you know what happened to Nancy and Steve?” asked Bobby. The previous couple in their double bedroom – the house was mostly dorms – had disappeared overnight. Maybe they had got jobs somewhere. He hoped that was true.

“No, we never met them,” said the lady. “We just took the empty room.”

Bobby learnt that the lady was a cultural producer and the gent a project manager. Both were jobs that could mean anything at all. Then it hit him.

Though they were not traditional vocations involving expert and specialized knowledge, these were indeed professional jobs. This couple were from the social strata of well-educated, salaried workers who engaged in intellectually challenging tasks, and enjoyed working autonomy. They were most likely from a superior class background, and had been indoctrinated subtly to seek out others like themselves.

What were they doing here? This was a place for unprofessional people hoping to hold their lives together.

Over tea the lady said, “We are not moving here officially until next month. The Authority incentivised us to come to Lucerne, and offered us a choice of jobs. There’s so much on offer, we don’t want to rush, so we’re staying here till we’ve decided.”

The man said, “What is your job here?”

Bobby didn’t know what to say. He worked whenever somebody paid him, whatever the job. He mumbled, “Project worker. I am working on various projects here.”

He thought, I wonder if they know where they are. “How did you find this place?”

“We looked for short-term accommodation and this place was available.”

Bobby thought, I wonder why it was available? Maybe because it is a dive.

The lady continued, “To be honest, it’s not what we expected, but we’ve paid the deposit and we are here now, so we may as well stay.”

They used their mattress to make love that night. Others, using theirs for sipping whisky, eating fast food, injecting heroin, masturbation, weeping alone, and closing their eyes hoping that everything would go away, listened in awe.

People wanted to hate these bright, young people with university degrees, who had professional training and experience, and were makers of award winning work. But they couldn’t hate them. They were both so nice. They seemed to have morale and motivation, strong morals, and a high standard of manners.

The halfway house’s residents knew this was what separated professional people from them. And that’s why the piles of cash under the new couple’s mattress grew many times faster than theirs.

Money Under Mattresses

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2012 by javedbabar

There were boys’ rooms and girls’ rooms and communal areas. Maybe they were too old to be called boys and girls, thought Bobby. It would be better to call them desperate, middle-aged men and women.

How had he ended up at this halfway house? Was it halfway to employment and stability, or halfway to unemployment and the trash can? Most people lived in hope, but there was no telling which direction they were moving in; recycling or landfill.

The employment situation in Lucerne was dire. The number of sick and struggling people was rising, and doctors’, lawyers’, and accountants’ services were much in demand. These professional people were doing well, but everybody else, lumped together loosely as unprofessional, was suffering. Some turned to crime, robbing the professional people, who they said were taking much more than their share.

This led to discussions about the meaning of money. Clever people said it had no intrinsic value as a physical commodity; it was just fiat money, from the Latin word meaning “it shall be”; a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a standard of deferred payment only because The Authority said it was money.

The middle-aged men and women in the boys’ and girls’ rooms accepted all of this. They had no issue with money’s definition; the issue was that they had none. They had however not sunk to criminal actions, instead created an informal community, helping each other to survive.

Shama approached Bobby, looking angry, and asked. “Did you borrow some money?”

Bobby said, “I did last month. It was a twenty dollar bill. When I got some work at the Botanical Gardens I returned it.”

“Well, there’s still twenty dollars missing. Are you sure you returned it?”

“Yes, I did. I remember putting it under your mattress. There was about two hundred dollars there altogether. You had blue sheets.”

Shama became angrier. “I always have blue sheets. I don’t have another set. Are you being honest with me?  If you still have the money, that’s okay, but just say so.”

Other boys and girls in the lounge went quiet. Someone may have turned down the TV. It suddenly seemed quieter, and their voices, louder.

How could Shama say that in public, thought Bobby, accuse him like that? It wasn’t on. He said, “I’m not lying. I told you I took it, and I told you I put it back. Why would I lie?”

Shama shook his head and walked away. They grunted to each other after that, but didn’t engage in real conversations. Tension built in the house. What they called their economy of trust became strained.

Most people had lost the use of their bank accounts when they had entered into voluntary liquidation agreements, paying off their overdrafts as loans. Banking facilities for fiat money were thereafter withheld from them.

What money they had, they threw under their mattresses. Shama had always thought this was appropriate, as mattress comes from matrah, the Arabic word meaning “to throw down.”

The first mattresses had been leaves, straw or grass, covered by animal skins, which had evolved into cotton, foam rubber, and metal spring frameworks, even water and air beds. The money beneath people’s mattresses was as insubstantial as this latter filling. The boys and girls knew this, and helped each other; there was give and take.

“Money come, money go, money nothing,” Shama’s grandfather used to say.

Shama remembered a night at the Lucerne Valley Hotel bar where he had spent $20 on drinks, and then come home, dropped onto his mattress, and dreamt of better times. Maybe Bobby hadn’t taken it after all. Maybe Shama had spent it on forgetting.

Rag Pickers

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2012 by javedbabar

Sami let rag pickers work the Transfer Station’s bins. He wasn’t really allowed to, as it reduced the waste’s recycling value. However it could be termed a grey area, as people were allowed to “retract and repurpose extant waste”. He had skim-read regulations and found that phrase. He could quote it if questioned.

He called out, “Jamz, how’s it going over there?”

A thin boy in a red hoody, crouching in a bin, straightened up and waved. He cupped his hands to his mouth and said, “A good day so far, Mr Sami. Let’s hope it gets even better!”

Sami loved these kids. He saw them most days after school, analysing the day’s new arrivals, before the waste was shipped out the next morning. At weekends they were usually away, helping their families with odd jobs around town.

They were poor kids from the trailer park. The rich-poor division in Lucerne was extreme. It was often referred to as the professional-unprofessional problem, but in truth it was more about privileged and unprivileged members of society, if such a thing existed.

A famous British Prime Minister had said, “There is no such thing as society”. Sami’s teacher, Guru Baba, had wanted to meet this lady to ask her what she meant by that, but she had recently died. He referred to her as an “anti-role model”.

When Sami worked on film crews, he had learnt about the effect called persistence of vision, where an image remains on the retina for a short period after its source is removed. This effect is used to create the illusion of continuous motion between frames in movies.

There was a similar effect in societies called persistence of privilege. Studies showed that children of wealthy people were physically and mentally healthier, wealthier, and ultimately happier in life. You can’t blame the parents, as their biological imperative is to promote their genes, and you can’t blame the kids for having good role models, and for enjoying their lives. Who can you blame then for children picking rags daily after school?

Jamz was the rag pickers’ unofficial spokesman. He came over later and said, “We’re all done for today. There’s nothing much out there, but slim pickings are better than thin air. Thanks again.”

There was an informal agreement that rag pickers would not take the right materials from bins, only misplaced materials. They took plastic from metal bins, metal from wood bins, wood from fibre bins, and fibre from paper bins. This cleaned the waste stream, making it easier to sort later; less labour was needed to dismantle complex consumer products, such as cell phones, and there were fewer breakdowns at the processing centre. So the value of materials lost was recouped in efficiency. Sami felt it was a case of win-win, or maybe bin-bin.

Sami began training Jamz on the 3D Unit. He taught him to prototype products, print components, and create unusual gifts. At Christmas, he called the rag pickers together and said that he and Jamz would make them each a model of anything they wanted.

At first they were shy, but then began to speak up.

“A dad.”

“A mum.”

“A house.”

“A car.”

“Money.” This wasn’t allowed at the 3D Unit, and would set The Authority’s alarm bells ringing.

“A better future.”