Thoughts over a chicken sandwich

So I’m up early this morning like I have been the last few Saturday mornings zipping between open for inspections. The last few weeks have been frustrating. Nice looking places online turn become hovels in the flesh. Reasonable places are marred by ugly bathrooms, tiny kitchens, a lack of natural light. Good places are ruled out because the yard isn’t sufficiently large for Rigby. Then there are the places you never get to see because the real estate agent never turns up, leaving 20-30-40 people in the lurch (I could understand people wanting to abduct agents, who are the dregs, but more likely it’s just laziness). Then there are prices. I have to blink my eyes siometimes: $600 for this?! Truly, I never realised what a good wicket I was on before.

Disheartening as it is, I persist. In two weeks I gotta be out of here, and if not into my own home, then where? And so I’m in the car again early doors before most people have roused themselves from breakfast and am zig-zagging around the southern and eastern suburbs of Melbourne in the seemingly random pursuit of a place to live.

First place is a bomb, but I expected as much. Nice location, not far from the river, about 700 metres from my last home – but it’s run-down, and dark, something I can’t abide. So back in the car. The next place confirms the strange physics of the internet, whereby something can look quite spacious online and then turn out to be the size of a postage stamp. Let’s call it the reverse Tardis effect. I walk in, and I walk out. I drive over the river, and then back again. The sun is shining down, bright and warm. The sunroof is open. The radio is on though I hardly notice it. I pass by the same cafe four times going one way and the other, but never stop. As I jag through traffic my mind wanders.

I travel through Malvern. Suddenly I am thinking of B. This is where she used to live. I don’t think of her a lot, but when I do it’s always powerful. I wonder if I can live this close to so many memories. I look at the park where we used to lie on the grass and talk staring up at the sky. I remember a day when she plucked from the lawn clover and different types of grass, and with a cute voice explained to me what each of them where: she had studied horticulture. As always I feel sad. Why didn’t I tell her I loved her, I think. I think of all the hard times and with retrospect wonder how I could not have opened up to her about what I felt, truly, that I loved her and wanted to be with her and protect her for the rest of my life. Perhaps she might be alive today if I had. But maybe I did: I don’t remember now. What did I say? Well, it doesn’t matter now.

I head back towards Hawthorn. I’ve seen one half decent place, but the yard still seems insufficient. Will I, won’t I? I don’t know. I have time to kill now until the next inspection. Perhaps I’ll have some lunch. My mind drifts on.

I’ve read a lot about psychology, but what I know – really know, inside – I know from the observation of others, or the study of myself. It’s my nature that I tend between extremes, the indulgent and the ascetic. I’ve been ascetic a long stretch now, but not by choice. I yearn to break out, to indulge my senses in every vivid colour, but I can’t. And so I realise that because I can’t, I go the other way as if it is a choice of free will, to exert myself, to prove, perhaps erroneously, that I have a say. I love food, and I love to cook. In bad times to cook up a feast has always been a solace. There is pleasure in devouring it, but the greater satisfaction comes from putting it all together. It is another form of will. I hardly cook now either.

With these avenues denied me I have taken ascetism to a new level. My body has become my portal. Like those who throw themselves into their gymwork with a missionary zeal, I am driven towards an end. I can see it though, that person sitting on my shoulder watches, he laughs and occasionally whispers in my year: his is a sardonic approval. Needs must, and becomes truth.

I think this as I sit down in a cafe in Hawthorn. Families sit around me having their lunch. Sunlight filters through the leaves. I question the chicken sandwich I’m about to consume, the latte. Everything I’ve written here I see, and more; and looking about me my thoughts bounce off the people there like asdic. I pick up the sandwich and eat.

I eat much less now than I ever have before. From being a man with huge appetites I have assumed more modest habits. I barely drink, though I still enjoy it. What I eat is different too. I still relish the sensual pleasure a good meal provides, but that too has been moderated. I eat less, and what I eat is much healthier. As I’ve never before I have an eye on the ‘balanced diet’. As I feel it shape me I go harder. This is the other side of it, the athlete’s search for meaning in the workout. Harder, faster, higher, the pain itself serves only as an additional spur, a proof of efficacy.

So I’m a man eating a chicken sandwich in the open air, sunglasses gazing, heavy shoulders in a dark polo, an ever more trim figure. In all of this, in this search for a home, in fragmentary memories, in the car going hither and yon, in random thoughts and observations, there is an existential motif. The meaning of life is not in a chicken sandwich, but somehow a chicken sandwich fits into some idea of what life might mean.

I glance at my watch. The sandwich is gone, the latte drunk. There is one more inspection to go, not hopeful. I still have time to kill.

In the car between properties the Irish had texted me about seeing James Bond tomorrow. Ok, I told her. Now I look ahead, to tonight. I text a couple proposing dinner. The answers come back quickly. My sister, her family, won’t be home till late. The other is a woman I know, engaged, but her fiance is away. Sorry, she tells me, at a hen’s party. Bring ’em along, I respond with a playfulness I don’t feel. I ponder a moment longer, then send a message to someone else. This time it’s good. Sorted, I pick up my keys and head off to the final open for inspection, hopes well in check.

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