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?

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.

Remembering my birthday


I woke up this morning and it took me ten minutes to remember it was my birthday. It’s not that I’ve overlooked it. I shared in a birthday celebration Saturday night and there’s been plenty of other reminders along the way. These days though my birthday seems purely a social thing, an excuse to get together and have a drink. The deeper remembrance of what it actually means has passed into history.

I had passing thoughts over the weekend related to that very idea. I recalled a time when my birthday would come along and my mum, ever exuberant, would call me at the first opportunity and sing happy birthday to me. I would raise my eyebrows at it at the time, but it was heart-warming to be reminded I was so loved. I have no kids to wake me with breakfast in bed, and not even a family these days to share a quiet celebratory meal with, either out or a nice home cooked meal by mum. And presents, of course. I don’t even consider presents anymore, though once I would be curious with anticipation of what goodies the day would bring me.*

This is a difference. Birthdays now are single events when once they were part of a continuum that took in years of history and remembrance and family memory.

With all that said, it didn’t take long this morning to be reminded that it was my birthday. I was waiting for the train to arrive when I got my first message. I’ve had about another dozen since wishing me a happy birthday. My offsider, returned from holiday, came in with a bag full of pastries to celebrate; and the women I work with have very kindly cooked up a storm over the weekend for a birthday lunch together today. I’m grateful for that and more touched than I thought I would be. And I’ve just listened to a voicemail in which Donna sings happy birthday to me.

I’m not doing anything tonight but there’s another birthday celebration on Friday night – Donna’s – so it’s a busy and festive time all round.

*To be fair, I got a lovely bottle of Mamre Brook shiraz on Saturday night, and Donna doubtless will have a gift for me. And the combination of cocktails, Mexican food and friends Saturday night was great fun.

To Sydney and back


I visited Sydney last week for work. On the way there I was stuck on the tarmac in Melbourne and delayed for 45 minutes, and on the way back a delayed arrival meant we lifted off 55 minutes late. In between, it was all a rush.

I was there to meet with vendors developing the chat bot I’ve been instrumental in creating. They have the technology, but what it says and how it works – as well as some of the software tweaks I’ve requested – make it my baby. Till now it’s been frustrating dealing with them remotely – from Melbourne to Sydney to Bhopal – and it was thought to get us all in the same room would simplify communication and enable some decent brainstorming. That proved to be the case and, despite some hiccups, I left Thursday evening with some good progress.

They took me out for lunch on Wednesday. I went with the owner of the company and had an expensive steak and a bottle of red while we discussed the work we were doing as well as sharing some of our respective backgrounds.

That evening I caught up with my oldest friend. We went to school together for a couple of years at Turramurra High School and have been close ever since despite being vastly different characters.

After I checked into the Hilton and changed my clothes we went downstairs and had a beer at the Marble Bar. We then walked to Circular Quay where we had dinner at a rustic Italian restaurant. It was nice, the food old-fashioned, as was the service. At a table one over an elderly American couple held hands across the table as they ate their Tiramisu. On the upright piano, a woman in her early sixties played gentle tunes the whole night long. I imagined her as a part-time worker somewhere who did this as a second gig for love as much as for money. She wore brushed velvet concentrating on the keys she tinkled for such old tunes like It’s Not For Me To Say.

We had an ice-cream later and then I returned to my hotel.

I lay on my soft bed and read a while but I was very tired and switched the light off a little after ten. I had a sleep full of dreams I couldn’t remember when I woke. It was a good, long sleep but I got up from bed feeling bone tired still. I didn’t have to be in at the office until 9.30 so had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel bistro.

I sat by the window and looked across at the grand sandstone edifice of the Queen Victoria building. In the road below workmen idled by working on the controversial new light rail network, digging up the road and laying tracks. It’s been much delayed and dogged by problems, and as an outsider visiting has had a disastrous impact on the city. I was amazed to see so much disruptive roadwork – it seemed half the CBD was under construction.

I was tired as I worked that day, but it was productive. At the end of the day, I made my way to the airport where I found my flight had already been declared delayed. I bought myself a beer for solace and followed up on some messages. A few minutes later the phone rang from a recruiter I’d replied to. He had a couple of consulting jobs I might be interested in. Was I? There’s a question for the ages, and the answer, despite all my reservations, must be yes.

I can’t say no because it’s a possibility I’m being offered. I need the money too – an extra $50K – and want to get away from my current role. It’s consulting though, which I think I’m over, not that I really think I’m a show of getting either – though, as always, the recruiter was very keen.

I walked in the door of home that night just before 9.30. I was dead tired, and my mood wasn’t helped by a cab driver who’d driven slowly and cautiously all the way home, notwithstanding the one occasion he turned left into the right-hand lane at Marine Parade. I was in bed with the light off 15 minutes after getting home. Getting old. At least I had Rigby there to comfort me.

Home with my fantasies


I’ve done well this winter. There’ve been sick people all around me and a lot of sick days taken but other than a day off I’ve not been crook enough at any stage to justify a day home sick. Until today.

In all honesty I’m not terrible, but it’s uncomfortable to do anything, and plus the more I rest the sooner I’ll get over it. I’ve got a classic cold, all blocked up, body aching, can’t keep warm. It started coming on yesterday when the back of my neck and across the shoulder blades began to ache. I had sniffles. Later I got the coldness, which seems to come from the inside out. I got up to go to work this morning but without any conviction. I felt a bit wonky so back to bed I went thinking, I’ll just rest up for a bit.

I went out before to get some groceries. It’s a nice sunny morning. Coming back I started to feel hazy. I’ll spend the rest of the day doing nothing.

It’s not a great day to be away, and I took that into consideration. I’m still busy and today I was expecting something important to come through. On top of that, the applications closed yesterday for the job I’ve pitched for and there’s a possibility I might have heard something today. It can wait.

One thing I might do is lay back and reflect on certain things. I’m someone who benefits from deep contemplation. By ‘benefit’ I mean it feels good to consider these things but it’s rare that anything tangible actually comes of it.

Anyway, I’ll be thinking about women today, one of my abiding fixations. In general terms, I’ve stepped back from everything right now. There were some interchanges with some girls from work a little while back, but that’s not something I want to get into. I’ve kept it friendly since, and no more than that.

I was in a meeting last week sitting next to a woman I’ve spoken about before, attractive, elegant and fun, and we always connect. She put her hand on my leg under the table at one point and I don’t know if it was done unthinkingly, but much as I like her I’m interested in her like that. Work plays a big part in everything and I’ll only waive those reservations for someone I’m certain of.

Someone new started last week and for a brief period I was bewitched by the gap in her teeth. That can happen. She seems a lot of fun and I moved into flirtation mode without thinking and she responded, but I’ve pulled back now. It’s a dangerous game these days and besides, half the time I do these things out of habit. I’m a compulsive flirter, which probably explains why I have better relations with women than I do men.

Then we circle back to A. I’m putting no effort into her now, and haven’t for a while. Occasionally we intersect and the conversation veers between polite and flirtatious, either one or the other. In either case, I don’t place much stock in it. It’s got to a curious stage where I’ll tease her sometimes, daring her to respond. I don’t think she realises it, but I’m half taking the piss. It’s like I’m on the outside looking in, bemused by the situation, waiting for her to figure it out but letting it go until then, and if.

I’m cool with the situation, but now and then lately an image flashes into my mind of the delighted smile she gave me when I surprised her on the station platform. I wish we could be friends but I’m not as invested in it as I was before.

There, that’s much of the thinking I might do – except when I’m rugged up warmly in bed I might allow my mind to slide down a particularly alluring possibility or two, just for the fun and fantasy of it. You’re allowed to do that when you’re sick.

No small things


I went to the footy at the MCG with Cheeseboy on Saturday afternoon. We had a fine day sitting high up in the members stand watching an exciting game, and adjourning to the nearest bar for a quick pint before the game and at half time. The only downside was the result.

We caught the train back afterwards with it full of folk like us in their footy regalia returning home as we were. There were as usual a lot of families, generally fathers with their sons, though occasionally a complete family out for a day at the footy. It’s good to see and very familiar to me. I’ve been on trains like that a thousand times before and looked upon happy, smiling kids cavorting in the colours of their favourite football team. As a kid I don’t recall ever catching the train with my dad to the footy – we always drove – but later as a teenager I would be travelling solo among them.

Sitting behind us was an old man who opined on the game we had just attended. Like me he was an Essendon supporter. I didn’t set eyes on him, and presume he was old – somewhere north of 70 – by his voice and manner. Every so often I would listen in, finding little to disagree with. I imagined him a tall, spare, dignified man on the edge of austere. It was in his voice, which was assured and intelligent. I liked him. I respected him. In my imagination he had a lifetime behind him of barracking for the same club as me. He had paid his dues and along the way learned a thing or two about the game. As I got off the train at Hampton I thought, that’s me in 20 odd years.

Walking onto the platform at Hampton I felt a moment of unexpected emotion. That doesn’t happen to me much. I’m sensitive, but it leads more often to reflection, even contemplation. As you know, I think things out. Saturday I didn’t have time for that. Ahead of me was a trail of people having got out of the train ahead of us. It was a well-known scene. I cast eyes upon them then I felt a brief but intense mistiness. As I followed Cheeseboy it cleared and I began to wonder at it. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I had hit another long delayed milestone that day.

I used to go to the footy 18 games out of 22, and for near on 35 years, from when I was just a kid. By the time I encountered my difficulties I’d slowed some, but still probably managed 10 games a year, most of them at the MCG – my MCC membership was one of my most cherished possessions. Once my difficulties hit it slowed more. I couldn’t afford to go as much and my MCC membership lapsed, plus I was living a pretty unsettled life. I probably went to 2-3 games a year.

Now things have improved I’m not going to any more games really. A lot of it is that I still don’t have the spare cash, but much of it is now habit. I watch every game, but it’s from the comfort of my home.

In May this year I finally got my MCC membership reinstated after nearly 5 years dormancy. And this is the milestone, which I was oblivious of until I stepped onto the platform at Hampton railway station. Saturday was the first time in 5 years that I’d attended the footy as a MCC member. Watching the footy from the salubrious surrounds of the members was not the point – the point was that I had regained something I had lost, and thought lost permanently at different times. The milestone was that I had reclaimed one more small thing along the way to reclaiming something of the life I had lost and hope to regain.

It was one of those days Saturday. Getting off the train – all happening then – Cheeseboy invited me to have dinner with the family at a nearby restaurant. I visit them at home regularly, but am wary of intruding too much upon their time or hospitality. Not unusually I made my excuses at first, claiming I couldn’t afford it. Don’t worry, he said, we’ll shout you. Still feeling a little tender I agreed.

I sat with them and had dinner and what this means to me is hard to explain. I’m close to them and they have been great friends to me over a long period of time. I’m very grateful to them. These days it means much more because I don’t really have a family of my own. I’m familiar with the forms of family life because for many years I was well and truly immersed in it – family lunches, birthday celebrations, mothers day, barbecues, Christmas, and so on, my life was full of such occasions. As you do, I took it for granted. Then, with the death of my mother, all of that ended. If there was any doubt then the rupture with my sister terminated all bit the most random contact. Effectively I have been cold turkey on all forms of family contact for about 6 years.

I’m a resilient dude. It is what it is, I accept it. I don’t mope or feel sorry for myself. Still, sometimes I miss it, and certainly on the key dates. The Cheeses aren’t my family but I can feel something of that by proxy simply by sharing in some of their occasions. They’re very good like that, especially Mrs Cheese. I sit their feel it and remember and it’s very pleasant just to be amid it.

It was like that on Saturday night, which was really a low-key event. I felt humbled by it. Yesterday I sent them a message thanking them for sharing their life with me. It’s no small thing.

My second coming


What an interesting week it has been, though in subtle ways. This time last week I was unhappy at having my plans thwarted. Today I feel refreshed.

What has happened? Little that’s material. I was knocked back from one job, but had another suggested to me, and another couple at work mooted to me. Nothing is ever definite until it is, but at least there appears a promising trend.

After my disappointment, I bounced back quickly, as always I do. I’d be interested to place myself of today against the man I was ten years ago and make a comparison. In many ways, I would be pretty much the same, but much has happened in that time, and there are differences. I’m tempted to think most of them are positive.

I was always a strong man, but that strength has been proved by experience in the years since. In so doing it has transmogrified into something more authentic. It’s the difference between muscles wrought in a gym and those that come from hard labour. The whole experience has belatedly made me more open and accepting. I am more mindful.

I’m just as smart as I ever was, which came as a relief. I feared being out of the game for so long that my reflexes may have failed me, but I’m it and a bit more besides. In general, I’m less diplomatic than I used to be, though still capable of charm. As I’ve explained, my experiences have left me with impatient with the insincere and insubstantial. Life’s too short. I remain very effective.

One odd difference is that I seem to have hit a late prime. A friend a few weeks back said I was looking better than I had for a long time. I think much of that comes down to a state of mind. When you’re weighed down by the struggle to effectively survive it impacts on appearance and demeanour, and a revision in attitude since has probably helped.

At the same time, I am looking good. I’m fitter than I was ten years ago, and most days I walk out the front door, better looking too. I come from a good-looking family and so the importance of appearance, if not a sense of vanity, was imbued in me from an early age. I still recall quite vividly my mum telling me that I would grow up to be a man with the good looks of someone like William Holden. As recently as a few weeks ago I was emphatically reminded that I look just like Colin Firth – not something I agree with. But still.

(A peculiarity – like Benjamin Button, I seem to be ageing in reverse. I’ve always looked youthful for my age, but it seems now that as my ageing has slowed still more than my contemporaries are going by me more quickly. I have no wrinkles at all, and though I have grey hairs they make my hair sandy. I was always worried that one day I would wake up and find it had all finally caught up to me. I was afraid that this youthful advantage would be denied to me and the opportunities it gave me lost. Bitter day that would be! I no longer think that. As long as I stay healthy and fit I’ll always be youthful).

On top of all this came the realisation a couple of weeks ago as I sorted through my books that there was still a lot of life ahead of me, much to look forward too and be excited by. That’s an attitude I want to embrace, and having brought it to the forefront of my mind I find it infusing me with expectation. It’s helped by positive signs on the work front, as well as with my writing.

I’ve come through tough times and survived. I’m reframing this time of my life as a late flowering, a renaissance, and it’s amazing how that shift in perspective changes things.

One thing that hasn’t changed yet is my relationship status. It’s shocking to think but for basically the last 6 years I wouldn’t allow myself the possibility of a serious relationship. I wanted to get things right first. I needed to stabilise. The time is now right and fits well with this state of mind.

Nothing is more complex than relationships. I’ve documented the situation with A., which is ongoing. I’ve given up trying to work that out, except to acknowledge that she likes and respects me but there is something that keeps her from me. That’s up to her to figure out now. I hope she does.

In the meantime, some episodes on Friday night brought to light other possibilities.

I’m very wary of being the cute older guy that younger women want to have a fling with. I’m not against a fling, but my priorities are more serious. All that is doubled when the women at question are from work.

There was a function in the office on Friday night I helped to organise. A. was there for a while and very typically was aloof for part of it before reaching out to mitigate it. Strange that the lightness and flirtiness of her emails no longer translate into the flesh. As I said, she has to come to terms with that.

There was another girl there I’ve become friendly with in recent months. The first time I set eyes on her I felt a visceral attraction to her, but it was purely physical. In recent times we’ve overlapped and got to know each other well. She’s smart and fun and very attractive and has a lovely smile and likes me. It’s at the stage where it might quickly become something more if we choose it – a drink, some flirtation, then…

On Friday there was both drinking and flirtation, but other people too. I enjoyed it, but at the back of my mind was two things: A.; and the knowledge that I’m a much older colleague of hers. She’d be about 28-30, too young for a serious long-term (A. is 35).

I knew about this woman, but another emerged on the night. Perhaps it was the alcohol that did it, but a woman I’d merely nodded to in the past or exchanged conventional greetings with was quite aggressively flirtatious with me. I enjoyed it. I always enjoy flirtation and aggressive flirtation is my favourite kind.

She’s not as attractive as the other, but has a raw sexuality which is alluring. In basic terms, I’d love to fuck her and think it would be a great fuck too, but I almost certainly won’t. She’s about the same age, less pretty, more assertive, and probably wants no more than a fuck if her behaviour Friday is any guide.

I’m gratified by the attention and glad for the possibilities, but doubt there is anything I can really do with either of these women, for the reasons I said above. It might be different if I didn’t work with them, but even then, I want a keeper.

My gut-feel is something probably will happen with the pretty one, but in any case, the trends are positive. Renaissance it is.