Campbell’s Inferno

I have a tendency to hint at my brief tenure in the service industry as mysteriously as if I were Lovecraft weaving a tale of horror, which is precisely what that infinitely long six months was. I feel it’s in society’s best interests to know the grim extent of the truth of this brief period in my otherwise comparatively pleasant existence, lest the memories of my time in service engulf my sanity and it is too late…

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. I was supposed to graduate high school and revel in my glorious unemployment, idly ploughing the depths of my bellybutton for anything of vague scientific interest whilst reading the Great American Novels or watching Star Trek from the beginning. In order to secure some pocket money I made the journey to the local benefits office as soon as I got up in the afternoon. In front of me in the line was a single mother about as young as I was, with six children hanging like dribbling monkeys off her flabby person. Behind me was a man with about three-and-a-half teeth and a gruesome mullet, eating sultanas one by one from a stash in his pocket. Offended by the cliché, I chucked my freshly completed benefits form in the bin and was so horrified I got a job on the way home.

It was in a café, hidden in a backstreet in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley – too far away from the cluster of graphic design companies to be full of black-rimmed spectacles, and too family-friendly to be frequented by the local prostitutes (though I would wave hello to them on my way to work at 6am as they were hiking up their knickers, united by virtue of being the sole life forms on a deserted street). Mainly the café was full of patients and their time-killing family thanks to the surgery across the road, which mostly dealt with the cosmetic side of things, like big noses and even bigger bottoms. I would make and deliver perfectly triangular crustless sandwiches to the surgery’s kitchen, and on my way out, as I was left momentarily unsupervised in the ward, I would subtly peek through the slits in the curtains at faceless people wrapped in mummy bandages, sat beside wilted, untouched sandwiches.

Back in the café in my grandiose position of Most Inept Waitress I would clumsily spill vats of chocolate milkshake on patients’ mums or wives, and look aghast as scoops of vanilla icecream and brown syrup left glistening snail trails down their conservative lavender-cardiganed breasts. In a pathetic and improvised effort to make good, I, service industry misanthrope, would force an ill-advised hug on the poor woman, and despite feeling her shrink beneath me in abject revulsion I would boldly see it through to the end, shouting “I AM SO SORRY” into her ear at hideously close range. Having thus halved the burden by coating myself in second-hand shake, I would spend the rest of the hot Australian afternoon sashaying my curdled milky stench throughout the room.

When I was abruptly fired (“You’re fired.” “I am?” “Yes.”) I found a barstool in the pub around the corner and called it my very own. I regaled the barman with an enthusiastically prolix description of the woman who replaced me, complete with my own vision of her upcoming wedding (I was obviously not invited), at which she would be raffling off a meat-tray on a bowling green. The barman soon realised I had nothing better to do on a Thursday afternoon and gave me a job in the kitchen, no doubt in the vain hope I would stop talking.

The pub was an old heritage listed building with a verandah spanning its exterior like a paper doily under a cake, as is the style of the area. It was not made to have a kitchen, evidently, nor was it made to house anyone over 5’6 – at a little over six feet tall I would bang my head on cement doorways and sob into the Fairy liquid. Having proven myself useless in the Department of Washing Dishes I was promoted to the lofty heights of Burger Cook where it was my job to mutilate tomatoes, burn seeded buns, cremate burgers and fry bacon to an inedible crisp. Having eschewed Health & Safety’s advice and left the non-slip rubber matting in the shed, a freshly peeled errant avocado would leave the head chef and I skating around the kitchen rink clawing at magma-hot stovetops for balance.

My boss, whose name has long disappeared from my internal HD like the taste in those burgers, was covered from chin to toe in floral tattoos – in their garish pinks, greens, reds and yellows, he looked like a pair of horrendous ‘80s floral leggings. I only know this, not because I ever saw him naked, but because in the heat of the kitchen – which skyrocketed to an inferno of 50 degrees Celsius in the summer – his white chef’s uniform would turn completely, soppily transparent and he would become technicolor. With his bald head, slitty eyes and thick caterpillar monobrow, he looked like a rejected prototype Muppet, shouting obscenities through the window at any customer who dared to mispronounce the word jus. With an ape-like rage and daintiness to match he would drop baskets of chips from a great height into the bubbling vat of oil, causing a tidal wave of fat to slosh excruciatingly up the bare pale arm of your sniffling narrator. He found me in the freezer one Friday lunchtime, having abandoned my slippery post in favour of sitting on a crate containing bags of blood and meat and misfiled broccoli, crying in great uncontrollable heaves. He promoted me way out of his jurisdiction and I took up my new precarious position behind the bar.

Brisbane, like any city, has its contingent of old goths. Once a month, this regular old pub played host to a club which was not only full of the pasty-faced, patchouli-doused, lace-dripped fright-dolls, but also the BDSM community, or at least the less adventurous only-on-weekends geriatric type of the marginal latter. Being frequently black-clad myself, and with a physique that prompts utter dicks to yell “XENA!” out of car windows, I was chosen to be the sole barmaid for this monthly occasion. They blacked out the windows with bin bags, propped a crucifix against the wall and chained people and their trembling cellulite to it. Whips and wax would meet hairy backs as I pumped endless soda into infinite vodka like some drinks-based Groundhog Day. It was hot as balls in that faux-dungeon. Though not, I nauseously imagine, as hot as the balls encased in fast-disintegrating latex.

When the brainless accounts girl finally chucked a lit cigarette butt in the wastepaper basket and burned a hole in the centre of the building so that it resembled a colossal heritage listed chimney, I took my leave. I just went home. I left a month’s wages uncollected – wrote it off as Idiot Tax – and took up residence on the sofa, where I did end up watching Star Trek from the beginning and added several great American novels to my Amazon wishlist. Years later, when I saw my Jim Henson-styled ex-boss angrily folding discounted plus-size underpants in the sale section of a department store, he didn’t recognise me. If he had, he probably would have promoted me way up to full-price.




Next week, on Friday night, I will be giving a talk on horror comics in a curiosity museum in London. The other half of this upcoming double-bill will be the dirty-minded Tim Pilcher (author of Erotic Comics: A Graphic History) telling you all about rude comics – the ones with tits and bums in.

The talk won’t be a regular history lesson where you write things down in a stuffy room and become increasingly enamoured with a fly caught in the double-glazing, it’ll be a lot like something I would stick on this blog. It’s an autobiographical history of comics as I discovered them through the shit I found lying around the house while my dear ol’ Dad Eddie Campbell was illustrating Alan Moore’s From Hell, sketching bits of cow as they slowly rotted on handkerchiefs on the carpet.

I’ll be talking about Moebius with the same reverence as I’ll be talking about my very own contribution to the genre – childhood drawings reclaimed from the fridge for your own wonder and amusement, featuring all the ways in which my deranged six-year-old self reckoned you could meet your gruesome end. There will be pictures of things you’ve never seen before and if that’s still not enough to entice you there’s always the curiosities – the first paragraph in that thing I wrote about Valentine’s Day is all about this wonderful place called The Last Tuesday Society, full of skulls and taxidermy, and butterflies. I’d invite you to sit beside the polar bear only someone bought him a couple of weeks ago, the bastard.

I’ll be in the pub afterwards where you can confess your sins. If there’s a pint in my hand I’ll never remember them.

with Tim Pilcher & Hayley Campbell

Friday the 8th of April 2011
Doors at 6 pm, Show commences at 7 pm

The Last Tuesday Society, 11 Mare Street, Bethnal Green.

Tickets available here.

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