deus ex macchiato

Fabian Bazant-Hegemark's blog

Dog days

Waking up, drinking, community service.

I woke up today after drinking too much yesterday. There was this funny split second where I hadn’t realized that I had accepted taking Akira, S’s dog for the weekend, and suddenly there’s a dog in my bed. What did I doooooo last night?! I feel nauseous, there’s take away food trays on the floor and there’s a dog in my bed. Jesus Christ.

But speaking in general, waking up has lost it’s sting. I once used to somewhat dislike the idea of waking up, because it always held the option of remembering things I did last night. Or not remembering, only sometimes a worse alternative. This makes it sound like I had a drinking problem, I don’t think I do. I don’t usually drink, but when I do, I tend to drink to much. It wasn’t always like that.

There was a time in my life where I was on a spiral down, drinking regularly every day. It wasn’t even that I was with questionable company, it was just that I hated being sober. There wasn’t anything for me to look forward to, I was stationed in a public retirement home for community service. Now, public here meant that the people here either had no one to care for or about them, or lacked the money for a private retirement home. Basically what they do there is keep people alive, if possible until they die of old age. That’s the best case scenario. It usually doesn’t come to that.

So you have a building that used to be the quarantine station for the adjacent hospital, long hallways, bleak architecture, and the wailing of elderly people who can’t remember where they are and where all there stuff is. Their furniture. All they have is this modular hospital bed, a generic nightstand which is regularly cleaned out with what legally passes as their consent, to prevent mold or dirt from piling too high, they have their locker with their clothes, all have generic hospital name tags sewn into them so that the cleaning service doesn’t mix them up. There’s a TV set, always running on ORF2, sometimes the TV runs through the whole night, and the volume’s cranked up, so that they can hear it. In the morning it shows Wetter-Panorama. In the halls you hear their wails, “Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!” one would shout, because she needs to go to the bathroom, but there is only two bathrooms for 30 people, and there is only one nurse stationed during the night, three during the day. There’s bed pans and diapers. Dinner was between 4 to 5 pm, depending on where your room that you share with up to three strangers is, and where I would start my rounds.

Now, this is a lot better than what Simone de Beauvoir diagnosed in the Seventies in The Coming Of Age. It is just what you get when you deal bureaucratically with matters of human suffering. Also I have to emphasize that I feel that the nurses did the best possible job with the conditions they didn’t create. But there’s just so much you can do with a tight budget. And at least these people weren’t burning themselves horribly in their homes. You know, like that grandma, that almost burned down her house twice, and it always smells bad in her apartment. She covers up dirt and burn marks with old newspapers so that you don’t see them. And her home cooking, always revered, now tastes of butter that was no longer safe for human consumption. Compared to that reality, the bleakness of a public retirement home is very much preferable. And even the most unfriendly overworked nurse that condescendingly talks down to you as if you were a child is a million times better than not remembering which pants you can still wear, because you shit in several of them and can’t remember how the washing machine works. It’s all so confusing.

In the year I was there I drank so much alcohol. When I arrived in the morning, around 6:30am, I had usually smoked my fifth cigarette. By noon, the first pack of twenty was usually empty. When I left I went to the next best shady bar near the train station and drank. Depending on when I had to be back, I’d go to sleep really early or really late. Our shifts rotated all the time, sometimes we’d have 10 days in a row, switching from day shifts (7am-3pm) and night shifts (2pm-10pm), labor and employment laws don’t apply to community servants. Remember that community service is mandatory if you don’t want to be drafted for the military. You can influence where your post will be, and it might even be possible to switch once you’re assigned, but you can’t not go, you’d be committing a federal crime. If you’re sick, your MD has to write their diagnose on your sick note, including their prognosis on when you’ll be allowed to work again. In that time, you might be visited at home by federal agents who check if you’re really at home being sick. All of that would be illegal in any other kind of employment in Europe, but in Austria, in the 21st Century, that’s how it’s done. I actually had to convince my MD once to disregard their professional discretion because I needed them to write their diagnose of my illness on my sick note.

This makes sense if you see where community service comes from in Austria: it was seen as a big middle finger for the cowards, traitors and f****ts who didn’t want to join the Bundesheer. As a drafted soldier, if you’re sick you’d have to stay at the sickbay or military hospital. There’d be no confidentiality because your doctors would also be military personnel. So your superior in community service should obviously also know everything about your medical history. Because otherwise you might have some dignity left, and for one year, that doesn’t belong to you.

Since community service is cheap workforce (back in 2005 we received about 3600€/a(!), plus you might be eligible for housing benefits up to, I kid you not, 50% of your rent, but only if you live alone. If you live with your parents, fuck you. Oh, and of course you have around 40h/w of sometimes exhaustive work, so forget about having a side job. Most companies also don’t hire males who didn’t already finish their draft year) many integral parts of the health care and social security systems rely heavily on it. Basically all Emergency Services like the Red Cross have to rely on community service. So much so that when a referendum to abolish the draft was held a couple of years ago, people voted against human rights to work protection, because abolishing the state’s right to force you into the military would have also meant to abolish the right to force you into community service. Because, if Austrian organizations could no longer abuse the work and life force of adolescent males for a year (actually it’s down to 9 months by now), how would they pay for all these jobs that would open up?

How would a system work, in which fair wages would need to be paid? It is unimaginable. For me that is one more reason to support the unconditional base income. Because not even the vital functions of this country would work without exploitation.

Pictures are Akira in my bed this morning, and me being cold out after heavy drinking to “celebrate” my release from community service. I alienated and offended about 20 people individually in one evening. All time high score.