Working in the New Age
Words & images © Paul Ransom
NOTE: A version of this piece first appeared in Jobmap magazine in April 2008. It was an experiential piece written for an audience of backpackers looking for work in Australia.
“It’s not about the money,” they said. “We’re trying to do something real here.” Perhaps the saddest part is that I believed them. They seemed so genuine; an earnest but sensibly dressed hippie couple operating a New Age monthly from their loungeroom in the leafy inner suburbs. True, they had the crystal thing going on, and they scrupulously avoided red meat, rock’n’roll and anything less than 70% tofu, but it really did seem like a step up from selling ads for a music mag.
When you are travelling you expect to have shit jobs, especially if you end up in hospitality, (which, by some strange twist, turns out to be a most inhospitable industry). Indeed, I still have fresh memories of London pubs, of guv’nors who liked my partner but hated my earrings, and of fellow workers with medieval bathroom standards and music taste mercilessly confined to Cat Stevens. Relentless fifteen hour days and beer rash only served to render the so-called hospitality even more unwelcome.
Then there was the gig as a glass boy in a gay bar. The owners were swell guys. They certainly liked me, but were less keen on the partner, who they referred to as ‘the fish.’ (I, meanwhile, was simply another sausage.) Yet, after getting my buttocks massaged for three weeks by the ever friendly punters, I was unceremoniously replaced by a younger, prettier boy who had agreed to take part in the nightly strip act.
“But he’s underage,” I protested.
“Hey, we’re running a business here, not a charity, and hot meat sells drinks.”
And that was that. The money had not only spoken but looked cute and got nude. How could I possibly compete?
Back home in Australia, the urban hippies and their spiritually evolved magazine seemed like a much better deal. When they first approached me I was working for a denim clad collective of tiring rock hacks. The hippies headhunted me. “We want you to be our Assistant Editor,” they declared.
So I decamped from rock to reiki, from mere employee to valued team member, and from low pay to even lower pay. We were going to make the New Age respectable, to liberate it from tie dye outfits and charge-by-the-second charlatans.
But not, as it happened, from the local truth-channelling, intergalactic messengers of light.
Awakened though my new employers claimed to be, they were totally in the thrall of their near neighbours Janice and Will, a non-descript looking couple with an irritating nine year old son and a wardrobe consisting entirely of Community Aid Abroad gear. There was nothing about them said ‘alien super-beings.’ You could stand behind them in the check out line and never guess they possessed the power to free you from darkness.
The moment I met them they set their sensors on me, doubtless trying to work out if I was a suitable candidate for cosmic uplift. Turns out I wasn’t. I ate meat, liked electronica and was being controlled from afar by an evil alien mofo with designs on their friends’ magazine. (Quite why super intelligent galactic entities would be obsessing over a failing New Age monthly is still beyond me. Didn’t they have anything better to do?)
Nevertheless, I was despatched forthwith to Will’s clinic to be de-programmed.
“You have a lot of light in you, Paul, and I’m going to release it for you.”
That sounds nice, I thought – picturing calming light baths and sweet smelling clouds of atomised elixir.
But no! Janice and Will were hardcore aliens. Not a stick of Nag Champa or whale song playlist to be found. Liberating my inner radiance was clearly a task for serious machinery.
After strapping me to a creaking massage table and attaching what looked like standard issue KGB electrodes to my head, Will proceeded to consult his mixing desk of dials and little red globes and commune with the universal guardians of luminosity.
I am still not sure what the guardians had to say but Will began to emit low, rhythmic, bovine sounds.
Meanwhile, his curiously Steampunk contraption started bleeping and burping and Will was soon rocking metronomically, muttering cow sounds, while I lay there wondering whether the demonic magazine pilferers that Will insisted had taken over my soul were being frightened off. At any rate, I was certainly having second thoughts.
I emerged from my demon cleansing session feeling…erm, lighter? But not quite as light as my bosses’ wallet, from which the universal warriors of cosmic compassion had just extracted 250 bucks. Salvation, it seems, did not come cheap.
Unfortunately, the boss couple were less than impressed that I was less than impressed – and suddenly it was, “Oh, I don’t suppose you could get here a bit earlier in the mornings.”
Then my pay started not to appear on time, and when it did arrive it came with frowns and penny pinching angst. Even though I was writing and/or copy editing the entire publication by that stage things had started to switch from something real to something less expensive, thank you very much.
In the end, saving the galaxy turned out to be less important than saving a few quid; and the eco friendly, macrobiotic messengers of love started to look more like trust fund tossers who had just worked out that chakra balancing the whole world was costing Daddy the earth.
“We just can’t afford to pay you,” they said, after I had put the latest issue together. “It’s not personal, man, it’s just a money thing.”
Time to get real, it seemed. If only I had listened to my partner. She never trusted them, they never warmed to her, and I never got that final pay packet.
That sure gave me something to meditate on.