That Mandible’s* friend, Belty, and his wife, Jan, appear to have cobbled together a relationship right under the considerable Mandible probiscus, begs a couple of questions. Was Jan’s unrelenting insistence that Belty was a ‘loose unit’, whose ways could only lead to a long period of incarceration, a leaden subterfuge papering over a randy suburban romp? And how come a seemingly intelligent Mandible didn’t notice that the two of them were ‘at it’, possibly for years? Perhaps even years enough for Belty to have sired the twins that an unsuspecting Mandible had carelessly parented with his loopy worldview for eight of them. This despite their appearance being utterly incompatible with his own. Like Belty, they were pale-skinned redheads. Mandible would be [and sometimes was] described by police officers as ‘swarthy’.
But let’s table those questions for the moment. Besides, who are we to judge? Like Mandible, we should broaden our horizons. This new family dynamic has enough on its plate without us peering over the back fence. Instead, let’s look back at how Mandible lost his foothold in the Department of Interstitial Indices.
I’m a lifer. I became a public servant the day after my hangover from graduation celebrations subsided. I walked out of the sheltered workshop of a degree in public administration into the sheltered workshop of public administration. My life as a stunted adult had begun.
The florid florin
I was fortunate in that I was taken under the wing of the legendary Robert Stemcell Brumley, or ‘Two-bob Bob’ as he was affectionately known. Bob took a shine to me the day I returned fire when challenged by a diminutive balding man, with leather elbow patches on his grey cardigan, to explain why I was without a tie and wearing what appeared to be flared trousers. He spat the latter at me as if hacking up a nasty fur-ball. Furious that my $52 ‘v’ knee Staggers original needlecords could be dismissed with such venom, I asked him, ‘who the fwerp** do you think you are?’
‘I am, boy,’ he iced, ‘the head of this department, your better and your master.’
And that’s when Two-bob Bob, Father of the Chapel of the Forthright Practitioners of the Arts of Public Service Union of Australia stepped between me and Sir Langley Broche and sent us back to our corners. Bob had saved my arse as I drew my first few breaths of employ and, on reflection, I am uncertain whether to be grateful or vengeful for the life of cynical languor he had sentenced me to.
Broche, of course, was doomed and he knew it. The edifice he had built around himself was under attack and he could see that his map of the buried bodies, the overlooked indiscretions and the patronage doled out over his decades of inaction were probably no longer enough to save him. Besides, he was 78 years old and had maximised the benefits from the unique superannuation fund he had helped invent, again built on a kind of soft blackmail, light bullying and a forensic recording of human errors. He was rich beyond avarice and we, the people, had paid for it.
Rolled up pants and a secret handshake
Once the old geezer had been disposed of, and following a careful scrutiny of my capacity for indolence, obstruction and obfuscation, Two-bob allowed me into the inner sanctum of knowledge. He did not find me wanting. ‘A chip off the old block,’ he would say as we bottom-drawered another reasonable proposal or drilled a couple of holes below the waterline of an entirely feasible development plan. On and on we went. Years of sidelining, diversions and digressions as we future-proofed our positions against any smarty pants who might decide to lift the corner of the rug and discover the truth beneath.
And just when we were nice and comfy, Clive Sleem turned up.
Sleem was a devotee of the hard school of exploitation of the unwitting. He had sentenced many to uncertain careers cheaply renovated with fly-by-night lowlife marketing gobbledygook. His was a special kind of roguery; Sleem was a salesman. He fed from the bottom up.
The halt, the lame and the blind
A small coterie had begun to develop in The Department. These disaffected idealists were in search of a leader. Two-bob Bob had christened this clique the ‘flannel-heads’ and quietly corralled them into a dead-end backwater, starving them with dashed hopes and thwarted expectations. Sleem immediately recognised Two-bob’s strategy as straight from the Machiavellian playbook and set about recruiting this callow clump, as any sly guru might.
Sleem knew the value of jargon. When he wasn’t ‘deep-diving’ with this hapless bunch, he was ‘leaning in’ [possibly to relieve them of their wallets, but there was no evidence of this].
He shared with them the seven habits of highly effective people, the five stages of grief and the secrets of the one minute manager. He had them onboarding with come-to-jesus moments, let them transcend pain points to punch a puppy, while ideating how they would expand bandwith in the big data space. They took to carrying dog-eared copies of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which they quoted at random. A favourite around the tea urn was: ‘Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt’.
We thought it a harmless distraction. It wasn’t. Sleem had formed an army and we were the enemy.
Leadership loses critical mass
Two-bob Bob was the first to go. Following the grand Broche tradition, he too had feathered his nest with some ‘strategic’ adjustments to the inhouse super scheme, so his post-work life wasn’t going to be stressful. However, when he delivered up yet another aprés-lunch swaggering, faux-bigotted mouthy pronouncement [I believe he advantaged one minority over another], it was his last. Sleem climbed atop this faux-pas waving the rule book at a phalanx of Departmental heads and Two-bob Bob was heading for the down elevator with a sad cardboard box, a dirge in his heart and a scowl on his lips.
That left me
While I ruefully recognised that history was repeating itself and, to stay true to its intent, my next move should have been to recruit Sleem to the dark side, shore up my retirement entitlements and then lie back and await the inevitable coup d’état. An added degree of compulsion was the marriage I was committed to and the twin eight-year-olds whose long-term security depended on my steering a steady, responsible course.
The problem was that I regarded Sleem as an unworthy candidate to take up the torch that Two-bob Bob had passed to me, and told him so. I went straight to apex fulmination, describing him variously as a festering pustule, a superating canker, an oozing ulcer and, warming to my topic, a scooping of sewage. I said it to his face and I said it in public.
I was fwerped**.
To be continued.
*Possibly not his real name.
** Poorly disguised obscenity, but you know what I mean.