On the other foot


Yesterday I experienced something which a lot of women probably have to deal with all time.

I left work early to go to a specialists appointment at Cabrini hospital. The receptionist was an extroverted, middle-aged woman who appeared quite taken with me. My vanity deals with that very well, but the result of it was unwanted attention.

I’m an easy-going, friendly character. If someone speaks to me, then I’ll speak back. I’m happy to engage in conversation as appropriate, and God knows have many times flirted with an alluring someone. To my knowledge I’ve never persisted past the point, it was welcome.

I won’t say it was unwelcome yesterday, I’d have just rathered it didn’t happen. It was pretty innocent, and though it made me a little uncomfortable, there was no sinister intent. As far as she was concerned, she was having some playful fun with someone she obviously found attractive. I played along, mostly from good manners, but I’m in a hospital waiting room and not in the mood to be witty and charming. Basically, I want to be left alone.

Most of it was pretty innocuous. She’d keep talking to me, a suggestive smile on her face. When she wasn’t talking to me, then she’d be in conversation with her offsider, obviously intended to be overheard, and sometimes making comments concerning me.

For example, she asked her offsider if she thought much could be told about a person’s personality by the socks they wear? She gave me a cheeky smile as she said this, her eyes shifting to my daringly striped socks. I gave her a friendly, closed mouth smile, but chose not to contribute to the discussion. There was a lot like that.

When I think about it, it feels sorta strange. I’ve had many conversations like that, but generally only when there’s an understanding already in place. Give and take. While I wanted to keep to myself, responding to her conversation wasn’t really a problem. What felt uncomfortable was being alluded to like that as the third person. That, and the raw, unashamed interest she had in me.

I expect women experience this all the time, and to a much greater order of magnitude than this. I’ve heard this before, but I didn’t really know it. Sounds funny, I felt kind of objectified – who’d ever think I’d have a problem with that?

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Not my scene


On Tuesday night I caught up for a drink with a friend I hadn’t seen since late last year. She was at a bar at Southgate, Left Bank, with her husband, and I was there by 5 o’clock.

After about three beers, I was thinking about heading home. It was only meant to be a catch-up, and I had to get home to feed the dog. Then someone brought back another beer for me, then another after that and then my friend said, we’re going next door for dinner.

She’d been on the phone to her brother, who is a multi-millionaire business owner, and who just happened to be at a restaurant nearby having dinner. Come along, he’d told her.

At this stage, I tried backing out again. Gotta go home, I said, have a great night. But then she demanded I join them and her husband, a lovely guy, said I may as well join them. You might find it interesting he told me. Besides, it was a free dinner. So I joined them.

We found my friend’s brother in a private room with his friends and hangers-on. Apparently, he has a standing booking and turns up 3-4 nights a week for dinner. Hence the private room.

I looked about. As I already knew, it wasn’t my scene. There was a group of about six sitting around a round table, a married couple from the business and a few gay friends of the host. Bar one, they were pleasant. The host himself I’d met him a few times before and always found him a charmless character. He’s gay, short and plump with a nearly bald head and small eyes. He’s one of those people who don’t seem to say much but looks out on his entourage, occasionally speaking in a closed-mouth sort of way.

I had a glass of wine and thought twice about ordering a steak, uncomfortable to accept the generosity of someone I hardly knew. I joined in the conversation, but mostly I observed. In my imagination, I considered how 3-4 times a week the host holds court like this, watching on as others enjoy the fruits of his hospitality. It sat poorly with me all round. I’m old school in a lot of ways, but, you know, I’m not above accepting the occasional freebie if someone really insists. Sometimes it’s not worth making such a fuss about. Next time, you think. But to turn up night after night knowing that your meal – and your company – was being paid for is a different thing.

I get how people like free things. And a free meal in a nice restaurant is a treat. But to do it, again and again, makes it seem cynical. Worse, though – for me – would be the sense of being owned. Rented, at least. And I think that’s likely a part of the appeal for the host. He knows their price, and he can easily afford it. He watches them eating from his trough and takes pleasure from it. It’s just money after all, and he has plenty of that. In exchange, he has power.

And yep, I may be being unfair and judgemental here, and just plain wrong. Maybe it’s not the same people all the time. Maybe they’re generous in return in their own way. Or maybe they’re just happy knowing it gives the pleasure host to entertain them – it’s made round to go round, as my grandmother used to say. It’s all perspective. To each their own. It’s not for me, though.

Despite this going through my head, I ended up ordering a steak. I wasn’t going to starve myself on principle, and I intended to pay for it.

In the end, I ate it but never got to pay for it. As I was finishing my meal, a fierce argument broke out. “Come on, mate,” my friend’s husband said, pulling me from my chair, “I’ve seen this before”.

We took our wine and left the room, sitting out in the restaurant proper. I knew it was a volatile family, and my friend herself was subject to fierce emotions. We drank our wine while it was explained to me that once these family conflicts start, they couldn’t be stopped. Best to get out of the way.

Long story short, we were soon gone. I had only the opportunity for a quick goodbye as I grabbed my coat and bag, ushered away from the fractured atmosphere. Then I was walking to the station.

The night only compounded itself from then. No trains were running on my line, and the three Ubers I ordered one after another never arrived. In the end, I got a taxi home for twice the price, and long after I should have been.

Trust and affection


I went out for a drink last night with one of the women here. Spring only sprung a couple of days ago, but it’s started well. It was a balmy evening for this time of year and we sat atop the Rooftop Bar above Cookie and shared a few pints looking out over the city skyline.

The woman I went out with refers to me as her ‘boss’ to anyone who asks, though I only supervised her for a brief period. She’s a lovely, bubbly personality, good hearted and generous natured. She has a loud voice and a laugh that belies her small stature. She’s a fond character who tells me she ‘loves’ me, and that she’s ‘proud’ of me, and so on. Much of our relationship is me teasing her or her teasing me.

Last night’s drinks have been on the cards for a few weeks, but was hurriedly brought on by a strange rivalry with one of our co-workers. To hear her describe it it seems she and this other guy got to talking about me over lunch. Somehow it escalated into a competition between them as to who I liked more, who liked me more, and who had the earlier friendship. I had to ask her twice, but that appears to be the true story. Last night she took the opportunity to send triumphant messages to her rival, though I told him I was open to bribery.

Among the things discussed last night she told me that knowledge that I’d once been homeless was now reasonably general. I didn’t mind so much, but I was surprised. She was quick to tell me that it was nothing to be ashamed of and that everyone thought it was admirable how I had survived and recovered. That’s why she was proud of me.

I had lunch with the other woman yesterday, and we have a coffee date tomorrow. I didn’t have plan to have lunch with her, I saw her sitting downstairs and said hello and she asked me to join her. She told me a bit more of her story, advising she’s very careful who she shares it with. The obvious question then was why she was sharing it with me? I guess there might be an obvious answer to that, too, but still – she hardly knows me, she likes me for whatever reason, and what is the basis for her trust? Unless it’s a speculative gesture – I’ll trust you, this is who I am, how will you react, and what will you tell me? Not much, as it turns out, but only because the time wasn’t right and she had to go back to work.

Monday morning


I had that dread feeling going into work this morning. It was superficial, I knew, but it was indicative of my current state of mind.

I spoke about it with Donna on Friday night. Each year we catch up for dinner to celebrate mum’s birthday. It was delayed this year, but once more, it was a fun night. I had a quiet pint by myself waiting for her at the Meyer’s Place Bar, then we walked around a while looking for somewhere suitable to eat. After a few false starts, we ended up at Tonka. It was a good choice.

We sat on the corner of the bar and grazed through a variety of modern Indian dishes. The place was lush and warm.

We always have candid conversations when we catch up. I have few people to discuss these things with now, and in me, she has someone she can trust and who will understand. We talked about everything, including mum, and also touched upon such prickly topics such as our health, about getting old, and our respective state of mind. At one point, I recited to her the recent mental challenges I’d faced, giving an interpretation of them. She listened without interruption, then told me she knew exactly what I meant because she’d experienced precisely the same.

It’s good to have someone I can talk to about such things. To be fair, I think she’s had a tougher time of it than me. I still reckon many of my issues are situational. They’re more easily triggered than ever before, but once I get them managed – as soon I will with my current challenges – then I fall back into a relative state of stability. Not happy, but not unhappy, either. I think Donna has been generally unhappy for a long time, with spikes in it according to the issues she’s dealing with – and they’ve been a few of them lately.

Friday night though was very pleasant.

To my surprise, I got an invitation to have dinner at the Cheeses Saturday night. It used to be that I’d be over there at least once a month, but it’d fallen away drastically this year, to the point that I wondered what it meant. I might have been over for a barbecue early in the year, but that was it. At a time I needed all the friends I could get, I felt this absence keenly. When I was invited, I couldn’t help but remind Cheeseboy of that a little. I thought you’d never ask, I said.

As ever, it was low-key but easy and good, and I was grateful to get out, though I confided nothing of my concerns.

The rest of the weekend was as normal. I did my shopping, got a haircut, stayed up to watch the Ashes, and I wrote. Then this morning I head off to work, and I know I don’t want to be there. I don’t feel 100% these days, I’ve got a cold, different niggles, just feel a little off in general physically. Nothing a decent holiday wouldn’t restore to me. But then there’s the new job too, and uncertainty around it, and a current lack of structure – things I know will pass, but which I feel keenly in the meantime.

Once I’m sitting at my desk, it’s not so bad. I know it will be fine and I’ll be fine, though I still need that holiday. I can’t though and need to hang on for a few months before I can do anything like that. In the meantime, news on Friday will have an impact on how the future shapes.

A week before I started in this job, one of my advocates, a digital marketing manager, left the business. He was instrumental in me gaining this position. Then his boss, the big boss, a guy I’ve worked closely with in guiding the chatbot, he called us into a meeting room Friday and announced he’d be leaving at the end of the month.

We’ve had our run-ins, but there’s a lot of mutual respect. He wanted me for this job, and I’d hitched myself to him in no small degree. There was the promise of more to come with him around. And now he’s going.

That’s life. My two biggest advocates are either gone or going, but it may also make for an opportunity. Speaking to him late on Friday I got the sense that there may be more to come – that, down the track, our fates might once more intersect.

Snakes and ladders


I had another test on Tuesday and used it as an excuse to take the day off. The plan was to be up early and getting the test done not long after nine. I woke at the usual time I would if I was going to work, but as I wasn’t going to work all I did was get up to feed Rigby. I couldn’t even have coffee since this was a fasting test.

I went back to bed with Rigby joining me. I didn’t read as I might normally but chose to catch up on my sleep. I was weary, I hadn’t slept well, just as I haven’t for a few weeks now. It turned out I slept for over two hours. The body takes what the body needs, and the body needed this. I don’t know if I could have slept as long if it was the weekend, but it’s different on a weekday. On the weekend you have things to do and the whole world outside is home as well as you. On a weekday if you’re sleeping in, you’ve already opted out of your commitments, and in the meantime, the world about you has evacuated to keep to their obligations. It’s a different mindset. You’re in a cosy cocoon. You have a leave pass from daily life, and the body relaxes into restful sleep.

That’s how it was for me. Rigby slept on the bed beside me or else curled up in the curve of my body. When I woke, I could have closed my eyes for another snooze, but it was getting on for ten by now.

I walked down the road to get my test, this time for liver function. I fully expect the results for this will be negative, just as it was for glucose/diabetes. I’ve got to tick that box, however. Afterwards, I walked down the road where I had a coffee and a slice to break my fast. I deserved it.

The rest of the day was a whole lot of nothing, a bit of this and that, though pleasant enough. I managed to change my ISP – doubling my speed for just an extra $6 monthly. That was great until I found out the router I had – and now owned – had been locked by the old ISP, which meant I had to go out and buy a new one. I walked Rigby, I did some cooking, I wrote a paragraph, and generally I felt poorly.

I’ve had a couple of health niggles lately, as most had, and not nearly bad as many. I didn’t feel a hundred per cent and, despite the extra sleep, felt weary still. The weariness may well be a symptom of my state of mind, which has sharply declined in recent weeks. I’ve gone into that. What it boils down to is that there’s nothing in the centre of my life where there should be something warm and safe. Then, late in the day, I got an email that slammed me hard.

It was from the ATO. For background, I incurred a substantial tax debt about seven years ago, around the time all the shit was going down in my life. The shit continued for another few years, but that was near the start of it. Somebody from the ATO suggested I could appeal the debt on the grounds of hardship – I’d been ripped off a hundred grand, I was unemployed and without fixed abode, had sold off my assets to survive, on top of which my mum had not long died, and half the family was threatening legal action. So, I appealed, and that dragged out for maybe three years and included an appearance at VCAT as the ATO resisted. In the end, they conceded a little. I’d dug in my heels, not that I had much choice. As I told them, they may as well bill me for a million dollars as for the amount I owed (initially $31K, now near $50k with interest), as I was just as likely to pay that.

For the last 3-4 years, they’d let me alone, but there was always the possibility – as they had told me – of them returning to haunt me once I got on my feet. I submitted my tax return a few weeks ago, and the calculation showed that I would get a return of just over a grand, consistent with the government tax cut. I figure that amount – $1K – triggered a response. The email told me that my tax return was delayed because they were investigating my tax debt – the inference being, at the least, that they may claim my return and apply it against the debt. The worst-case scenario is that they take the opportunity to reactivate their claim against me and set in motion garnishing my wages.

When you’re in the state of mind, I was anything vaguely negative hits you hard. You break a glass by accident, and it sets you off. This was more than broken glass, and my first reaction was to wonder: what’s the point? I felt as if no matter what I do, there was always something to drag me back. I’ve strived to get ahead, to drag myself out of the hole I was in; I’ve fought with every ounce of strength until I ached with it, and my mind was weary with the struggle. Finally, I had managed lift myself to the next level, somewhere I could breathe a little easier – and then, on cue, just a week or so later, the ATO come calling. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.

I’ll manage. I always do. Lot of it these days is playing a role, some of it instinct, and a fair bit of it mere habit. I don’t inhabit myself right now as I did before, but I know the tropes, I know the lines, I can pretend, and I can force myself forwards. It now appears I may need to fight again. I’m over fighting, but the alternative is not an option.

Right now I’m in a better space I was on Tuesday, but still a long way short of my best. It’s Friday, I’ve had my crumpet, it’s the last day in this job, and on Monday I begin in my new role. As they say, I’ll be taking it one week at a time from here.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it


Just after 9am yesterday I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee (or two) and a pastry at a French cafe we catch up at every few weeks. It had been raining, and there was still a light drizzle when I left home. It was cold and the sky grey. Normally the outdoor tables are full, but yesterday when I got there everyone was inside warm and dry.

After a couple of minutes, Cheeseboy arrived with his dog, Bailey, and after ordering, we sat outside. The tables were arranged along the curb, and the chairs nearest the road were wet with rain, while those on the shop side had been sheltered under the overhanging eaves and had remained dry. As there was no-one else about, we sat at adjoining tables on the dry seats.

Within twenty minutes one of the other tables was taken by lycra-clad cyclists, who are everywhere early every weekend morning. In another five minutes, a larger group of people turned up wanting to sit outside. There wasn’t room for them all in the current configuration, and one of them turned to Cheeseboy and asked: “Are you guys together?”

Cheeseboy feigned outrage at that. “That’s a bit personal, isn’t it? I don’t even know you and your asking if we’re together!”

He went on in the same vein while the questioner appeared flummoxed. I began to laugh, and some of the man’s friends started to smile. I chipped in with a “we’re just good friends” line, and Cheeseboy was continuing. “What if I got offended by that? I don’t mind, but it’s none of your business.”

By now the questioner had the inkling that we were having a lend of him, but still came out with a plaintive “I just want somewhere to sit.”

Eventually, of course, Cheeseboy gave up his seat and came to sit with me, but this is a fine example of Cheeseboy’s playfulness. It’s one of the things that make him such fun company. He’s had a charmed life, and it shows, and I think he knows it. Yesterday we were just a couple of middle-aged Hampton dudes sharing a coffee and taking the piss as if we had not a problem in the world.

Free days


I woke this morning after a good nights sleep with the rain falling in a gentle, steady hush. That was a couple of hours ago, and it’s rained for most of that time since. Today is a free day, a public holiday with nothing I must do or anything I must be. Together it made for an easy peace of mind as went about my holiday rituals – coffee in bed with a book and an iPad, the dog close by, nestled into the curve of my body as I sat up on my side, or leaning against my back behind me.

As always Rigby is alert to everything even with his eyes closed. He knows the routines and the little tells he reacts to immediately – the picking up of my glasses from the bedside table, the snap shut of a book when I have finished reading, the book being replaced on the pile beside the bed – and he is up immediately, standing on the bedclothes with his head turned to me, before leaping down to the floor and turning my way expectantly. It’s the dregs of the coffee he’s after, the dregs he drinks every time cleaning out the coffee mug, just as he has for many years since. Both of us are creatures of familiar routine.

It feels fine to be free of obligation, and I wish there were more days like this. Though there is nothing I must do, I know what I will do. I’ll read a little, write for a while, and towards late afternoon I will cook. With the food in the oven or on the stove top slowly cooking I’ll fire up a hot bath and laze there reading my bath book while Rigby attends me bath side, licking the soap from my skin as he’s so inclined. I’ll wash my hair and shave my face in anticipation of the working week. For a few moments I’ll reflect on this and that: some of my best thinking comes in the bath.

Then it will get dark. I’ll eat my dinner with the TV on and by then I’ll be resigned to the fact that I must work tomorrow. Depending on how the day has been – particularly, how the writing has gone – I’ll feel either satisfied or searching for more. In either case, my mind may be busy with thoughts and conjectures. I’ll wonder at things, at words and probably at life itself, then possibly the latest footy scores. With work ahead, I’ll be aware of the things I intend to do. I start refreshed, as I do every week, as if this week I can change things, that the frustrations I’m victim of will clear, as if all I need do is keep going, persist, stay true and strong. Bending to the situation is not a consideration, and never has been. I’ll succeed on my terms, or fail, but it’s not obstinacy that informs that but irrepressible optimism.

Yesterday was a different day. We had arranged to drive down Red Hill way and attend the annual Winter Wine thingy. We’ve done this before, though for many years. I caught a train with JV to Frankston were we were picked by Donna on the way through, a couple of her friends with her. We spent the afternoon going from one winery to the next, though fewer than I hoped for. Navigation let us down once or twice, and a late, extended lunch at T’Gallant meant that by the time we left most of the openings had closed. I missed out on Manton’s Creek and Aringa Estate and one or two others I wanted to attend, but never mind.

I got home near 8pm last night, glad to be home and with Rigby again.