‘Come through the garage’, Michael* yelled. A jumble of tools, suitcases, clothes and cartons were strewed about. I picked my way through a pile of spanners that clattered over the concrete.
He was squatting in the shade next to the pool, smoking a roll-your-own, looking pale and nervous. Aged around 30, Michael was between gigs and had spent the past month engaged in a furious social media war against his former employer. I was there ostensibly to talk about that but more-so because I was worried about his state of mind. Others were posting small bites of support on his page, but there seemed to be a distance where no one wanted to do anything. He was clearly damaged goods and rattling a lot of people. The story fell out of his mouth, hit the ground, and reverberated chaotically. Photos of apparently unsafe rigging at a venue on his phone, screen shots of emails and posts, accusations, threats and claims he was being stalked by security agents. One had stopped in the alleyway beside his room the day before, and was looking in, he said.
But I soon discovered amidst the outpour, that I had accidentally arrived to witness his eviction.
The guy saw us from the upstairs window, and rushed down. He was swarthy, well built, and middle aged. “I can’t help you”, his landlord George said forcefully, standing over us. “You never listen to anyone. You can’t help yourself. This is to help you. You have to GO NOW.”
George came to me as I waited for my ride on the street later on. “Look please don’t think bad of me. I have rented rooms to guys who need help for twenty years. There’ll be another one here later. It’s not about the money, even though he hasn’t paid rent for months. It’s about him not wanting to help himself.” After realizing the work disputes were entirely matters between Michael and his ex employer, I turned the conversation to what was happening now, and what he would do next. Other than stuffing everything into his car, he had no plan. Did he have fuel in the tank? ‘Yes, full’. Did he have money for food? ‘Yes, some.’
I told him about Support Act, how it can help people in need who have been working full time in the entertainment industry for over five years. He qualified. We opened their website on my phone, and did the online application together. It was comprehensive and I worried that someone like Michael would not have the energy or be in the right mindset to complete the whole application.
Later on Lindy Morrison from Support Act rang me to check on the application as I was listed as an industry referee. She explained some people in need just call, and it is all done over the phone rather than using the online form.
“Do you have family”, I asked Michael. “Brother and father, that’s it”, he replied looking sadly into the middle distance. “Have you asked them for help?” “No. My brother is no good anyway.” “What about dad?” Silence.
Eventually I convince him he has nothing to lose, and I make the call. A gruff Scottish accent answers, “And who EXACTLY are YOU?” he barks. “I’m someone who helps people in need”, I stammer, “and Michael is about to be evicted. Is there anything you can do to help him?” “No. He doesn’t listen to anyone. I cannot help him”.
The next day the dad is on the phone to me. “Do you realize he turned up here, his car full of everything, and he expects me to help him?” he says forcefully. “He cannot stay. Tell him. Tell him he has to go.” I demur. “It’s your son, your family”, I say. He hangs up, angry.
That night Michael messages me and says Support Act have come to the rescue. I don’t know the details. He is happy, settled in a new place. But a few weeks later he is back on Facebook, slandering his ex employer and complaining he can’t sleep.
Hopefully Michael will get the help he needs, so his head can come back together. Then he can pick up the pieces and get back to work, using his rigging ticket or his truck license to snag some gigs with people he hasn’t pissed off. It’s a story about mental health – the ex employer seemed to be doing everything right, from what I could glean from the slew of emails I read. Michael just fell off the planet, for reasons unclear, and lacked the willpower to do anything about it. The rest was inevitable.
• Support Act assists professional crew who fall on hard times. Donations are tax deductible, and identities of supported people are fiercely protected. Get help, or donate, at http://supportact.org.au * Michael’s name was changed.