I don't make a habit of chasing down professional athletes, but Tom Simonsen has become my exception.
I'm not after an autograph. Nor am I after a piece of his infamously hot arse, a bum that shot to fame after someone slyly snapped a few changing-room pictures on their phone and then plastered them over every gay website in the universe. We all like a cute rump, especially when it's part of an equally impressive package, but it isn't his physical attributes that have drawn me to Tom.
The reason I'm trying to locate Tom is because he's my brother-in-law. Well, my partner's brother's boyfriend, to be precise. It's a messy situation, and one that can be explained at a later point in time.
I'd heard from a friend of a friend that Tom had been working the odd shift at a local gardening store. I'm not exactly sure what a professional athlete could be doing selling watertanks and drought resistant plants, but I'm not about to pass off a possible lead. Besides, tracking him down is exciting. Locating a family member makes my life more interesting, and suggests that I'm not as boring and stereotypical as I fear, so I tend to approach the journey with as much gusto as a five year old on a Mintie hunt.
The establishment where Tom has been spotted working is a fifteen minute walk from my home. It's on a main road, although the entrance is on a side street, and I walk inside without hesitating. It's a place of business, so I have every right to be here. For all anyone knows, I'm nothing more than another potential customer here to see how I can maintain a garden despite the current draconian water restrictions.
Once I walk in the gates, I realize the place is bigger than I expected. It's on two blocks of adjoining land, with watertanks, plants, trees, mulch and a storage shed taking up the bottom half, and a greenhouse and residential house at the front. The bottom half of the house looks as if it's been converted into a store; the doors are open, the windows are large, and besides, where else would the proprietors charge their customers and process transactions?
I wander around, pretending to be interested in water tanks. There's an employee outside, in a dark blue shirt, jeans and a hat talking to a customer, and a couple checking out the palm trees, but Tom isn't in sight. Undeterred, I make my way up to the house. The bottom half has, as I suspected, been transformed into a store. There are more delicate plants and accessories inside, as well as an unguarded cash register.
Having worked in retail for the past seven years I marvel at the idiocy of leaving a cash register unattended. I temporarily suspend my search for Tom and walk towards the register to see if there are any security cameras trained on it. There's nothing in sight. I walk closer and stand directly behind the register. Still nothing. I would never, ever, steal from a register, but I'm nonetheless amazed at how easy it would be to steal from this place.
Just as I'm congratulating myself, I hear a dog growl. I glance down and see a terrier mix at my feet. The canine is not impressed at my intrusion. I mutter a quick 'oops' and walk away. Immediately the dog stops growling, and sits down protectively behind the register. It's a basic kind of security system, and one that's probably more likely to land the owner in a public liability suit than prevent anyone from thieving.
The dog's growling was obviously loud enough to alert the employee outside. He walks inside with a customer in tow, and gives me a querulous glance.
'I was just seeking if anyone else was here,' I explain hurriedly. There's a 'position vacant' sign directly in front of where I'm standing, and I nod my head in the direction of it. 'I was after some more information on the position.'
The man nods understandingly. 'Sweet. I can help you with that, if you want to hang around for five minutes. Did you have your resume with you?'
'No. I only saw the ad a few minutes ago and thought...well, I didn't come here expecting to apply.'
He shrugs. 'No worries. Take a seat in the office, then, and I'll be with you in a second.'
He leads me past the cash register and opens the door to the office. 'Take a seat.'
I take one, last, backward glance at the working week is five and a half days,and the requirements are horticultural experience, and an ability to undertake physical labour. Oh jeez. Why did I have to lie? I'm so unsuited for the position it's not funny.
The terrier follows me into the office. I take a seat, and tap my fingers anxiously, praying the dog won't take the opportunity to attack me. The dog knows the truth. The dog knows I was far more interested in the security of the place than the job opportunities.
The animal whines and comes over to me, wagging it's tail. I pat it experimentally. It's tail wags at a faster rate and it pushes it's body against my chair.
I continue patting the animal for perhaps ten minutes before my interviewer enters the office. He leaves the door to the office open and gestures for the dog to go out and sit guard, which it does without a second's hesitation.
'Hey,' he greets, holding out his hand. 'Jamie.'
'Luke,' I reply, shaking his hand.
Jamie's hazel eyes drift curiously over me for a second or two. 'You were interested in the job?' he confirms as he sits down.
'Yes.' I reply. I'm going to have to bluff my way through this interview, because believe me, there is no wayI'm going to be offered the position. I am not a gardener, nor a labourer. I've got no idea whatsoever about current horticultural practices. What I do have is an English literature degree and a lot of experience selling men's clothing. At five foot eleven with a non-sporty build, and clothing thathints that the wearer is the sort of person totally unsuited to physical activity, I can only imagine what Jamie's opinion of me is. 'I'm interested in moving away from retail.'
'Do you have any experience working in nurseries, or with building materials?'
'Manual car licence?'
'Any labouring experience?'
He rests his gaze on me. 'So why would you be interested in working here?'
I take a deep breath and tell another lie. Sometimes I'm scared by how easy it is for me to lie to strangers. 'As I've said, I'm interested in changing careers. I'm a hard worker, and I'm physically fit. I learn fast. I really think this seems like a good opportunity.'
Jamie frowns. He crosses his tattooed arms and leans over the table. 'You'll have to go to TAFE. I'll pay, of course, but you'll need to do a Cert three at the minimum. Workdays are Tuesday afternoons, from twelve to four, then Wednesday through Sundays. Hours are seven through to four. I'll pay award wage for the first month, and then we'll renegotiate depending on how you're going.'
'That sounds great.'
He nods. 'Are you working at the moment?'
'Yeah, but only on a casual basis. I don't need to give notice.'
'Great. We'll start training on Thursday. Be here at seven, and make sure you're wearing jeans and steel-capped boots. It's workplace health and safety stuff.'
'I've got a new job.'
Ezra pauses. 'Really?'
'Yep,' I grin. 'I start on Thursday.'
'Thursday as in 'two days from now, Thursday'?'
'Uh-huh. I have to buy steel-caps tomorrow.'
The expression on my partner's face is priceless. 'May I ask what this job involves?'
I explain the position as best as I can, given what little I know about it. This means I sum up the job in about five words, given that during the exceptionally brief interview, I forgot to ask what the job actually entailed.
'Okay,' Ezra agrees hesitantly. 'Are you sure this is a good idea?'
'Um, he seemd alright,' I reply. You'd have to blind and deaf to miss the fact that I'm as gay as I come, so my new employer can't be a homophobe. 'I spoke like this.'
I imitate the voice I used during the interview. It's slightly more stereotypically masculine than my regular voice, but still nowhere near that of the regular heterosexual male.
Ezra isn't convinced. He quizzes me about Jamie, the location, the hours, and the pay. I answer as honestly as I can, and eventually he seems more or less convinced that I won't be brutally murdered during my first day on the job.
On Wednesday morning I go to my current place of work for the last time. My employer is unimpressed to learn I'm leaving, but there's not really much he can do about it. He sighs and complains until lunchtime, and then after I return from lunch (with my new workboots in a bag), he starts up again.
I'm grateful when the day ends. Tomorrow I start a new job, a job I'm starting to feel more and more positive about. Who knows, maybe it will be better than my current job. At least I'll be out and about in the sunshine, not locked inside catering to moody, careless customers and constantly worrying about whether or not I'll meet my sales quota. Plus, if Tom does work there, I'll have the perfect opportunity to get to know him.
It's a terrific turn of luck, come to think about it. I've been working for minimum wage for years on end now, and Ezra and I are unfortunately in the kind of position where we need some extra money. We have a problem typical of many twenty-somethings; too much credit card debt, a bulk of 'buy now pay later' payments due, and our perpetual inability to stick to any form of budget are causing financial pressure. If I could simultaneously find Ezra's family, and get rid of our debt, I'd have nothing left to complain about. Nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever.