Finance Work John Safran’s first job: “I got paid to talk to girls”

John Safran’s first job: “I got paid to talk to girls”

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When I was 14, I worked for a Jewish guy called Moshe who had a shop called Moshe’s Menswear. I was going to Yeshiva College (in Melbourne) at that point and he was a religious Jew from the same sect.

He used to have a stall at the Queen Victoria market and he also had two shops, one in Swanston Street and another on Collins Street or Little Collins Street. With both, you had to go down a staircase and they were stocked with stuff that I’m not sure was really fashionable at the time. Maybe if you had less of a clue – like I did – you would think it was fashionable. This was in the mid to late 80s, so there were thin ties and cheap suits.

I just remember my dad thinking it was good for me to have a job, so he was really happy I was doing it.

I had to stand outside at the top of the staircase. There was a speaker and a microphone and I said things like, “Unbelievable value, rush on down the staircase, all the latest fashions, very reasonable prices at Moshe’s Menswear”.

John Safran's class photo. (He's bottom row, second from right.) Source: Supplied.
John Safran’s class photo. (He’s bottom row, second from right.) Source: Supplied.

People kind of liked it and in retrospect I realise it was because I was young. You know how it is when someone’s young and they’re doing a grown-up job?

I went to an all boys’ school and there wasn’t a lot of interaction with girls. I do remember girls would stop and talk. I actually got to talk to girls. This was me being a functioning human, rather than being at this all boys’ school where there was no interaction with the opposite sex.

I would have been a bit nervous when I first started, but I think in retrospect I liked it because I had permission to be blabby. People looked at me and thought, “I get it, that’s his job”. It was relaxing on that level – I wasn’t just a lunatic.

Back then, I was dabbling in different things like trying to audition for Red Faces, trying to put a band together and would take time off for things like turn-table scratching competitions at housing commission flats. I would always be sneaking around because my school didn’t have arts or any creative things, so I was forever trying to quench my thirst for being creative.

Moshe also employed this guy who had a sandwich board with “Moshe’s Menswear” on it. He was an old man who walked up and back and he was really miserable looking. He probably wasn’t the best guy to have your shop’s sign on. He was a bit crazy, or whatever the polite way of saying crazy is in 2014. So there was him and me, doing my thing.

I remember one time I’d gone to lunch and when I came back sandwich-board guy was really miserable, because the council had come and taken his sandwich board away. They said he was sandwich-boarding illegally or whatever. But I think he eventually got it back.

I would spruik all day, but I had breaks. I remember I would talk for half an hour at a time and then take a break. I always felt like a bit of an idiot and tried to do variations on my spiel.

I remember people tried to hurt my feelings, like guys walking past saying things like, “Dickhead”. I remember thinking, “What an unimaginative way to live your life”. It didn’t really put me down, it just showed me there were people out there I didn’t want to be like.

But I liked it in general – the fresh air, I got paid, talking to girls. I can’t think of a bad thing about it.

I was only allowed to do it during the holidays, so it ended after a month or so. When school started, my parents were more concerned about me going to school. They though an after-school job would be a distraction, but I think it would have been better to continue with my spruiking. Now I spruik every Sunday night with Father Bob.

Years later I saw Moshe on the tram one day and he looked a bit down on his luck. He told me he didn’t have the shops anymore.

Safran’s new true crime book, Murder in Mississippi, is published by Penguin. His radio show with Father Bob, Sunday Night Safran, can be heard on triplej.