I have a job now.
Saints alive, yes it’s true.
An actual job working (virtually) in an actual office with actual real-life (virtual) people.
Before this blessed occasion, like most people, I was clawing at the walls in frustration. So much so that I applied for a job at a dry cleaners.
I’m no stranger to hard work having done my time in retail mopping floors, working tills, standing for an eight hour shift in four inch heels… So don’t think I’m being snobby. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep the wolves from the doors. However, it was not a good decision – because it was a scam.
As with a lot of scams you don’t necessarily know that they are one until you are in too deep to get the fuck out. And that is what happened to me. So please, dearest reader, use what follows as a cautionary tale.
My gut told me something was dodgey when I arrived at the head office (located in a warehouse at the corner of the arsehole of knowhere and fuck-knows avenue) and was kept waiting in a room of fifteen other people during a pandemic (with only a few of them wearing face masks) for fifty minutes. Yes – FIFTY minutes… while I can only assume new boss stocked up on cloraphorm and rags.
The only reason I didn’t jump out of my seat in indignation and march out of there was that I needed work. But then again, that’s why everyone stayed put. There was a definite stench of COVID-fuelled desperation in the air. I was the only office worker in attendance but if life were normal both myself and the others (former hotel managers, concierges and receptionists) would not have ordinarily been there. Especially at a head office that looked like it doubled as the location for snuff films.
What was even more depressing than that sobering realisation was the shitty attitude from management. Not only by keeping us waiting for so long but the “fuck you” attitude thrown in our direction. The resentment was palpable. But then, you may ask, why would anyone agree to hire people deemed over-qualified for the job advertised?
This little shindig was being held to go through contracts and ground rules.
The “regional” manager slouched into the room and started speed-reading through the contract in a supremely bored tone. A contract that “wasn’t zero hours” (but when you read it – clearly was), was grammatically abysmal, stated that “if you break it, you buy it” / “you may have a lunch break but may not set foot off the premises” / and “if the government don’t pay the firm during a lockdown” then they won’t be paying us either.
Also the salary, which was already very low, was significantly lower on contracts than stated on the job advert. Something this cretin explained away by informing us that “salary would be dependant on experience.”
Only – none of us had experienvce working at a drycleaners.
There was also a clause in the contract that stated – “should they decide” you don’t come up to scratch… they can give you (maximum) a weeks notice and also not pay you for that week worked. Retaining the money simply for the inconvenience of having to now find someone new to fill your shoes.
To cap off this little shit show – he then addressed ONLY the ladies in the room and said “Ladies, if you look after your manager… they will look after you…”
You can probably see where this is going.
As with any job my first day was all about learning the ropes. So I pottered about with my notepad learning what was expected of me. How to rack and process the clothes etc.
At first it was interesting (I had no clue people dry cleaned Primark) but then things turned morally ugly after repeatedly witnessing “new” services being pressured onto wealthy clientele where they didn’t need to be. This was called “marking up” and newbies were told that the more money they made through these “recommended” services the more of a pat on the head by way of bonus they would potentially get at the end of the year.
To add to this moral dilemma – my manager refused to wear a mask, refused to let me wear gloves and a mask (as this was “off-putting” to the customers) and treated me like a skivvy. Giving me all the work to do while he called me by the wrong name, sent me out to fetch him lunch and stood at the till to “observe” me and schmooze with the wealthy clientele. He would then check my work and grunt approval.
And so my first two working days went on like that.
I soon discovered that even though were in the middle of the first pandemic, people were not above bringing in some nasty things to be cleaned. I was prepared for dirty clothes… but this I was not prepared for.
And, naturally, although my manager was more than happy to schmooze with clientele he was not prepared to touch the items that were… for want of a better word… soiled by them.
That was my job…
During a pandemic.
Without being allowed to wear gloves.
The very first item I was handed was a huge silk bed throw that had blood and faecal matter on it. I even venture to suggest that there was a very suspiciously cock-shaped imprint to add to this horrifying cave painting.
During a pandemic.
Without being allowed to wear gloves.
I looked through the handbook to see if this was even allowed. Surely there was some form of line that could not be crossed by customers? Especially during a global health crisis.
Apparently no, we would accept even vomit covered items (whoopie!) – but the responsibility lay with the client to tell us this was the case. It wasnt up to us to make assumptions.
Unless it was glaringly obvious that someone – say – shit and bled on something and then “we could charge extra”
… good to know.
After my lunch break the manager – lets call him Guss – asked me where my last job had been. I told him that it had been in the west end at a hedge fund and without any sense of irony he looked me dead in the eye and said
“So you were here-”
*holds hand above his head*
*he makes a plane crashing noise and sweeps his hand downwards*
“You are here”
*and he points to the ground, smiling*
I’m not sure how Guss expected me to answer that.
He was clearly enjoying all of this – and the management stink-eye obvious at the “head office” seemed to be rearing it’s ugly head.
This was not my ideal but I was still being nothing but cheerful on the outside. You know, given a pandemic, losing my job, six months of unemployment and now having to handle shit-smeared bed covers for a living for this total megalomaniac as a result. I was keeping myself together at a somewhat herculean standard given the circumstances.
I could tell he wanted some form of reaction or for me to storm out by the way he was sneering at me, so I just took a deep breath and said “I guess so” with a shrug of my shoulders.
And by “I guess so” I really meant “Fuck you.”
Day three was a really bad day. Guss had decided to hide in the back room and leap out when customers wandered through the door like some horrible, obsequious jack-in-the-box. But the one time he didn’t and the till needed to be used, I had to go get him – and witnessed Guss “enjoying” some porn in the open-plan back room. A back room I could have walked into at ANY MOMENT.
To say I was mentally scarred would be an understatement.
I left the store immediately for my lunch break. Something you aren’t technically allowed to do – but then again I was pretty sure you technically weren’t supposed to catch your boss having a quick wank either.
I came back to get my things and that was when Guss (who was acting like nothing had just happened) told me that he didnt think that my future lay in the dry cleaning industry and that this should be my final day.
He asked me if I wanted to come back tomorrow and give it another couple of days but I had had enough of the passive aggressive hazing.
I had heard him bragging not so quietly each day into his mobile about new starters during this pandemic and how they ‘weren’t in a position of strength.’ It was clear that this company were taking advantage of people desperate for work, were taking on anyone and trying to get free labour out of them by having a high turnover of one-week-wonders. People they could fire after a week and not pay.
I told Guss that he was right. My future didn’t lay in dry cleaning.
He tried to backtrack – clearly attempting to get a couple more days of free labour out of me. Even lying to my face by promising me payment for what I had worked so far no matter what – but I just grabbed my bag and skipped out of the shop for good.
And what do you know? I never heard from them again and they never paid me.
But then, they never asked for my bank details – so how could they?
And that is how I was scammed into working for free at a dry cleaners.