Friday, February 4, 2011
"One of our Parking Officers is Missing"
Everyone hates parking cops, even their spouses and pets. That’s why they usually roam in pairs, so they don’t get punched out by irate motorists. A while back in the news there were concerned reports of attacks on parking officers. I was puzzled. Parking officers? Being beaten up? Is there a problem? And not to seem shallow, but why are they all so bloody unattractive? Are ugly people attracted to the job, or does the job turn them ugly? I mean they are uniformly, without exception, to a man and woman, as ugly as a hatful of arseholes – waddling dumpsters with faces like a panful of burnt bacon. With all the walking they do you’d think they might lose a bit of lard. Then again, these days if their prey is parked more than a block away they’ll drive. No point sweating off good calories.
But somebody’s gotta do the job, right? I mean just imagine if these zealous tyre chalkers weren’t taking their daily quota of scalps. What would the poor council do without all those millions milked from parking-meter miscreants topping their coffers? The Mayor would be reduced to busking in train tunnels. Look, I know it’s not rational to shoot the messenger. Someone’s gotta be the hangman. Someone’s gotta burn dogs at the pound. But it doesn’t mean you’d want to invite them around for a foot massage.
I should be able to empathise with parking cops. In another life I worked for Centrelink, deep in Dodge City at their Redfern branch, so I know what it is to be hated. Part of the job was manning the desk at reception (“deception”, I called it). With a security guard hovering close, I fielded flack and foam-flecked fury from the glowering queue of “customers”, who frequently felt they’d been screwed by some bureaucratic bungle, cut to, or cancellation of their dole. Frequently they had been screwed, and had kids and grievous ice habits to feed. Only not in that order. I also did time in Centrelink’s call centre, dispensing bad advice and trying to patch up what few blunders I could. People rarely rang to wish me a good day. A good many wished me dead. Even protected by the anonymity of a phone line, their rancour made me cringe.
Years later - and on the other side of the dole counter - my shortest job was as a telemarketer. It lasted fifteen minutes. I didn’t even have to sell stuff, just ask a questionnaire. (Mind you, the questionnaire was on “in vitro fertilisation”, a tricky concept to explain to an eighty-year-old Albanian pensioner). I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand bothering people, plaguing them like a malarial mosquito right when they were in the middle of dinner, or tv, or chucking crockery at each other. After a few fruitless calls I hung up the headset and said “I quit”. The supervisor, haunted eyes packed with heavy black bags, nodded his understanding. I walked out and celebrated by blowing my dole on cigars and Veuve Clicquot.
I found those jobs tough. How much more impossible then would it be to pull on that parking officer rig each morning and walk out to face a hating world? You might as well stick a leper bell around your neck. Though who knows, maybe they’re proud of their job. Maybe they’re brave, or insane, or maybe they’re sadists. Who knows, out of uniform they might be kind, loving, charitable human beings, crossbreeds of Ghandi and St Francis. But I don’t care. I just can’t wring any pity from my shrivelled black heart for a creature that would stoop to ticket my car with a $200.00 fine early on a Sunday morning in a deserted back lane where I’d stopped for five minutes to drop my kid off for a playdate. Bastard! No, like all my fellow victims, I hate ‘em, which is why a film serving up some vicarious revenge would chime with a big audience. Here’s the idea:
“One of Our Parking Officers is Missing”. A parking officer disappears off the streets, and the next day another. Then, before panic sets in and security can be upped, dozens of parking cops go missing in the one day, just spirited off the beat and off the street into thin air. Their cars are found undisturbed, ala the Mary Celeste, with engines still running, radios set to Alan Jones and half-eaten buckets of Kentucky Fried inside. Where are they? They’ve being kidnapped by a gang of aggrieved motorists who’ve banded together to exact revenge after being slugged with a ticket for some triviality once too often - maybe their car was a few millimetres too far from the kerb, or they were ambushed in a no-parking zone right outside their house, where they’d stopped for two minutes to unload a car of groceries.
So, the captive cops are transported in a lorry to a secret prison farm in the country, where they are forced to conform to a severely rigid set of rules. The camp is festooned with warning signs that detail all kinds of prohibited behaviour, and denote zones where certain things must be strictly complied with. For example “PRISONERS MUST BOOTSCOOT BETWEEN BARACKS AND TOILET BLOCK. SEVERE PENALTIES FOR NON-COMPLIANCE APPLY”.
Even the slightest infringement attracts a ticket from the guards, which they stick, in its manila envelope, into the perp’s top pocket – say, $125 for a messy bed, $175 for slovenly uniform, $200 for anything-less-than-spotless washing-up in the mess hall (where, cruelly, the inmates are fed nothing but salad and forced to listen to Radio National). Tickets are issued for walking too fast. Or too slow. Or too close or too far away from boundaries. Loiterers and malingerers are ankle-clamped to the spot. The toilets have parking meters that expire every minute, and if not re-fed with coins auto-issue a ticket from the toilet paper dispenser. The bunks also have meters attached, which if not re-fed every two hours trigger a violent mechanical shaking of the mattress.
Obviously the inmates would soon run out of cash to pay all their mounting fines, so the tickets get forwarded to the particular council that employs that parking cop, along with a demand for settlement: “ … OR ELSE MR RAMAREZ GETS IT!” What Mr Ramarez gets wouldn’t be specified, but we can assume some cruel and unusual punishment, like being strapped to a chair and smell-boarded with the aroma of deep-fried chicken. But the system would have to be fair. If they wished, prisoners could elect to dispute the fine and have the matter heard before a court – a court convened via live video linkup with a jury of aggrieved motorists.
How to end? There could be a mass escape, like the Cowra breakout. The bush swarms with desperado parking officers on the run, waddling towards freedom. But the very sight of them, in parking officer uniforms and with the words “I AM A PARKING COP” crudely tattooed across their foreheads, makes farmers set dogs onto them. Drivers not only won’t pick them up, but swerve to try and run them down. Hunters mistake them for feral pigs …
… Or, try a nicer ending …
The parking officers are re-educated, ala Alex in A Clockwork Orange, but instead of being forced to watch footage of cruelty, horror and violence, they are subjected to unrelenting scenes of charity, sweetness and kindness – gambolling lambs, laughing children at play, newborn babes, Kristina Keneally being euthanased ….
Or just give them a good old fashioned brainwashing, ala The Manchurian Candidate. After they’ve been programmed, drug and deposit them back to the location from which they were abducted. They wake with no recollection of anything that has occurred between their kidnapping and now – no inkling of who took them, where they were taken, or even that they were taken at all. Of course they undergo an intense barrage of questioning and speculation – where the hell have they been all these weeks, these months? But it’s a mystery, no one knows, least of all the cops themselves. As far as they’re concerned they just had a bloody good sleep on the job. (A sleep in which, oddly, they dropped twenty kilos).
Things eventually settle down and the cops return to the beat (replete with homemade salads and a Pavlovian repugnance for fast food). Only now, the act of lifting a wiper to slap a ticket on a windscreen triggers a sudden compulsion to screw up the ticket and replace it with a flower and card, worded something like “Dearest driver, please, if you wouldn’t mind awfully, at some stage in the near-ish future, might you perhaps kindly consider relocating your car? I mean, only at your convenience, of course! Thanks a million. Have a really, really special day!”