The Haught guide to learning fast

The kodiak bear, native to Alaska, can smell a mound of discarded roast pork, curdled custard and overcooked carrots in the Southern Hemisphere

Newcomers to Benign to Five, a column which I occasionally transpose into blog form for your delectation, may not be aware that, for a short period in the 1990s, I worked at the all-you-can-inhale restaurant, Smorgy’s (Burwood). Patrons entered through a fibreglass volcano and every three to five months thick black smoke spewed from its roof; these two facts were entirely unrelated.

In my 35-day period of employment at this venerable house of engorgement, I learnt almost everything I’ve ever needed to know in my professional career.

I learnt much of it from the restaurant manager, a man I once found in the men’s toilets vehemently accusing a whole defrosted turkey of cheating at Texas hold ‘em. (He made the turkey talk back by opening and closing its beak using a pair of tweezers, doing a C-grade impression of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. “You want the truth? Gubba gubba gubba! You can’t handle the truth. Gubba gubba gubba!”)

I learnt that meat which glistens with an alluring opalescence may kill you.

I learnt that sparklers definitely can’t remove cataracts.

I learnt that kodiak bears will travel across entire hemispheres if you leave enough uneaten food uncovered.

And I learnt that things don’t always go the way you expect them to. Or ever, in the case of Smorgy’s.

Once I turned up to work and the volcano had a giant, nude, blow-up effigy of the manager leaning woozily out of its crater with Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ blasting out of a vent in its mouth. I deflated it with the dart-gun I was carrying for the kodiak bears. That was another great lesson. It was a lesson about serendipity and contingency planning… sort of at the same time. 

Ultimately I learnt never to go near a Smorgy’s again. But in that month and a half I learnt the ways of the world.


An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

You can read the column – Benign to Five – in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the Workplace section of The Age, the Sydney Morning HeraldThe Canberra TimesWAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)

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