2  RCA 'roos univ.

  When the Radio Corporation of Australia decided to use trained kangaroos as salespersons, back in the 1950s, it turned to... well, to what would now be called its 'Head of Human Resources', but whose title then was just "Bill".

  "Bill," said the Vice President of Sales. They all despised Bill really. Never an idea, not one for promotion, heck no, miserable as a bandicoot. He waited, standing in front of the uninterestingly veneered desk, upon which stood a small, painted, metal model of a kangaroo, complete with a joey poking its head from a rather dusty pouch, and a small plaque, denoting... he tilted his head, and squinted at it but its meaning was lost—

  "Bill..."

  "Sir?"

  Then the words came in a rush and he didn't have time to register surprise at each surprising phrase.

"We're going to employ these little fellers here in a new initiative which I PERSONALLY am supervising having thought it up to sell, and really I mean to assist by their presence the sales of, our new range of long range range-finding radio, er, rangefinders. Which are really radios anyway and have a direct connection to Flying Doctor services which we sincerely hope our customers and their families will never need. Each salesman will have a kangaroo. The animal will wear, will be trained to wear, an RCA hat and a kind of emblazoned waisted coat no no, let me finish, I can see how excited you are, and the 'roo will greet the customers with special gestures and double our sales no one has this no one good idea Bill yes? Yes."

  "Sir, I—"

  "Right-ho. Excellent Bill. And YOU— you will be in charge of the selection, training, of both 'roos and men, and distribution of the damn fine creatures to local sales centres! Waddya think. Good. Now go and grab a tin o'beer, and start... THINKING for once. Friday. When we start."

  Bill had never married, though he sometimes felt he was already divorced. From life, from... the company, everything. From himself. But in the Out Back, his favourite and indeed the only bar in the small town, almost a Sydney suburb, of Wayknot, an unprepossessing dump whose only singularity was that it indeed had just this one bar, he'd got talking to a drunken but philosophically inclined Trail Maintainer and part-time perpetual motion machine inventor. Who'd said just one important thing: "If yer wanna get ahead... getta hat." And had then laughed at, and repeated to himself, his fifth-hand joke on and off for a duration of three more beers. Though not interesting per se, the man's utterance had made Bill think. For he already had a hat.

  I have a hat, he thought, and yet am by no means ahead. And by a circuitous route we find him two days later thinking: I can and must get ahead, hat or no hat. And then: if I already have a hat, I must

be already ahead. And so by an internally consistent process which left him for the first time in his life euphoric: I will be A Head. Friday came.

  "Bill..."

  Barely shaking, Bill proffered a sheet of forcefully typed paper, with a large hand-written heading or title outlined and coloured in, crosshatched, in red ink from a real pen. It said "Bill Thompson BSc, Head of Kangaroo Education".

  "This," said Bill.

  It is important to note here that the Vice President was not a well man, at all. Plus his wife had left him the day before, taking their son but not their daughter with her. Her note, propped on the lid of the unplayable piano, said "we can't stand the smell any more, but Marg can so she's staying".

  "Whatever," said the VP. "You know. Tuesday, OK."

  Not on Tuesday, nor the next, but weeks later, at a full meeting of the board but with the VP of Sales indisposed, his daughter having disappeared but not in any really disturbing way, the RCA 'roos University was approved. A trial group, a cohort of young but not too frisky kangaroos, already semi-domesticated, sat waiting for the VIPs in a grassy enclosure in their hats and weskits. They were given treats of ferns and beets if they could lay a five-toed forepaw, at a signal from Bill, upon an RCA Rangefinder Radio, and tilt their heads, charmingly. The board boarded a bus and were taken to the enclosure. A finely painted sign, gold on a green background, said WELCOME TO RCA 'roos UNIV.

  The animals performed moderately well, beer was served to the humans and accidentally or not to several beasts, but amidst the slight animal uproar and the attendees' general approval, even optimism for the future, the President, after regretting the VP's absence and enforced in-situ medical leave ("Or just staythefuckathome ha-ha"), asked a simple question (he had risen to this question-asking position from a rather lower one on the strength of his wartime service in a still unacknowledged department of clandestine documentation and conceptual transmission). He flexed his fingers and said: "What is the theory. Behind this. Theory, gentlemen. And ha-ha, lady." There was a silence. People looked uneasily at one another.

  The previous evening Bill, perhaps a little daringly given the momentous meeting the following day, had decided to go out to the Out Back. He had a small shot and was then offered a large beer by the very same Trail Surface Technician (a new job description in lieu of a pay rise) he'd met before.

  "Y'see Bill, these roos o'yours, they're a viral part... no a vital part... of ah 'istory mate. That's why — well that's why. Know how 'e got 'is name? Yer kangaroo?" Bill shook his head. "Captain Hook. Cook. James Cook FRS. Know what that means? Fucking Royal Society. Clever bloke. But..." (he took a large swig of beer) "but not, bright, enough. No. He sent these sailors, matelotts, ashore an' they saw this strange bouncing animal what no one 'ad ever seen before. An' they rushed back, in their boats they rushed back an' said 'Sir, we saw this creature...' 'an they described it, an' he said well what's it called, 'cos animals 'ave to 'ave a name don't they, and they 'ad no fuckin' idea an' 'e said well just row back to shore an' ask the natives, the aboriginals, an' so they did.

  "'an the natives… they went up to the natives and said see that bloody odd creature over there, what springs and jumps an' sort of boxes wiv 'is other ones, well what's 'e called ? 'an the natives said 'Kangaroo'. So back they go to the ship, and to Mr... Captain... James Cook FRS they say 'It's a bleedin' kangaroo' 'an he says 'Well done boys', 'ere's a shilling,' an' when 'e got back to London they'd got one what they captured for 'im and 'e said look at this bugger see 'ow he bounces it's called a kangaroo an' look we fitted 'im wiv some boxing gloves, and they said, the Royal Society said 'bloody 'ell an' 'ere's a silk purse wiv sov'reigns an' now you are FRS'.

  ”But. What they didn't know is, that in the native language, 'kangaroo' just meant—" he paused for another gulp and heaved with laughter, "kangaroo just meant 'WHAT?' See? 'What did these pink fuckers say? Can't understand a fuckin' word!'"

  As his interlocutor choked with laughter Bill was, once again, thoughtful. He realised that... that language could mean anything at all, you could say anything and no one would know what it really meant but it would still work. He went to bed hardly depressed at all, partly because he'd told the Trail man that his frictionless bearings weren't really frictionless and that perpetual motion was a non-starter, not a non-stopper.

  "I ask again. What is the theory behind this project? Bill?"

  Bill glanced quickly at the piece of paper in his hand and said...

  "Sir, it's all about facilitating marsupial integration into a repurposing of..." - he rapidly drank a glass of water - “...current procedures for horizontal optimisation of paradigmatic schemes to address the expert-client experience in a context of long range rangefinder radio findings and sales..."

  There was a profound silence, then:


  "Bill..."


  "Sir?"

  "Bill... people, this is a man... a man ahead of his time. You may not understand, not right now, the words you have heard today, in this... this... temple to the marsupial arts and sciences. But I do. And, if I may Bill, I'd just like to condense them down to one word. And that word is: profit! Greatly enhanced profit. Three words then. Ha-ha. Mabel! Break open the champagne tins. A toast! A toast to... he looked around and saw the green and gold notice. A toast to RCA 'roos UNIV ha- ha-ha. And... and to... Bill?"

  "Oh, Sir..."


  "No, ha-ha Bill, I'm asking you, a toast to the University, and... to what else? You choose!"


  Bill thought, then smiled, but not a real smile. The eyes. You know. "Kangaroo, Sir?"


  "Damn right. To... KANGAROO!" They drained their glasses.


  Bill smiled again.

 

©2020 by Brian Reffin Smith