I. Birdsong, Breakfast and Biliousness
Kookaburras start up pre-dawn. Such regular boisterous buggers. The alarm clock with it’s eerie green nocturnal glow was turned off last spring and gathers dust on the bedside table next to a half read novel. Come winter it will be switched on again. The bird chorus is aligned to the seasons, pity for those locked into unshifting mechanised time.
Legs bend and sweep over sheets washed on Saturdays. Body rolls left, then right, then back to flat on back. Eyes rubbed with hands soft from a fifty hour office week. The ceiling comes into focus, every crack and peel imprints onto the morning mind map.
With kettle boiling and coffee jar opened—is it the aroma, the ritual, the hour—the call to stool is triggered. Evacuation the greatest pleasure of the day. With only half a roll left, toilet paper joins the brain’s shopping list.
Birdsong enters phase two. With kookaburras now hunting early worms, butcher birds and magpies compete like divas in nature’s own Grammy Awards. It should be beautiful not harrowing.
Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. A mantra composed by the captains of industry who stole lunch from the tenants of modern life.
Starters: coffee, tomato juice, muesli with yoghurt, sliced banana and honey on top. Consumed while the squeals of the garbage truck bisect the week and herald hump day. Getting through Wednesdays a small and repeated triumph—the thirty eighth this year.
Next: fry, in butter, eggs, tomato, mushrooms and kidneys. Paleo dietary consciousness now permitting the indulgence of renal meat. Carnivorousness no longer hidden through fear of vegan retribution. It’s as trendy as quinoa for heaven’s sake.
Finally: toast with Vegemite, peanut butter, plum jam, and honey. In that order, half a slice for each condiment. More coffee.
Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. Eat up, such gluttony won’t really have an impact until sixty five or seventy. The productivity commission has worked that out.
The ironing board is pre-set in front of the telly, the shirts labelled Permanent Press are liars. Attempts at doing a whole week’s worth of shirts on Sunday evenings given up due to the biliousness that comes on around 2pm of the day of rest. A nausea that only beer, wine and spirits can abate—last drinks please ladies and gentlemen. Mondays have a lovely, numbing haze.
Fridays, hallelujah for small mercies, is now sans-ironing. The new boss, hailed by HR as a new-millennial-innovative-leader, insists for the sake of teamyness, that staff must wear the undersized, corporate, grey and green, polyester polo shirts that she handed out for free on her first day. Workers with unacceptable mid-sections now take their RDOs, sick days, compassionate leave, cultural leave, annual leave and moving home days, all on casual Fridays. HR have stuffed up again—unless of course it’s all a sick joke.
The mirror and a swipe of the hand help determine the need for a shave. Mondays it’s a no-brainer; the weekend fuzz must go. Tuesdays, thanks to a fair complexion and possible declining testosterone, the face can have a rest from foam and blade. That extra time gained allows the morning’s shower to include self gratification accompanied by fantasies involving multiple participants from the opposite sex. Hot water, soap, freedom, release.
Wednesdays is touch and go. When confidence runs high, shaving is deemed an act of submission. The two day growth becomes a mask of defiance to be worn all day, a small revolutionary act.
Mostly now confidence is gone, just like joy and inner peace. Better shave old man.
Has the world really changed that much? Or, is it just one’s perception of it all? Is this what nostalgia feels like?
A belch of breakfast smells slightly eases this new and disturbing discomfort.
In the haunting horror of humiliating defeat to the world at large, razor nicks the bottom lip. Furious blood letting tests the absorbency and capacity of the half a roll of toilet paper. Brain moves toilet paper from weekend shopping to pick up on way home tonight. The shower makes matters worse, steam and futile attempts to get hard quickly over the weather girl, key ingredients for non-coagulation. Blood circles anticlockwise down the plug hole.
Dressing in front of a suicide bombing and a cash give away, the irony is lost when blood drips from lip onto freshly ironed shirt. New shirt needed. Kidneys rumble in stomach. Iron takes a century to re-heat. The economy is growing too slow. The pretty weather girl, she couldn’t do it in the shower, now she’s predicting rain.
Thursday’s shirt is confused but compliant. Can Monday’s shirt front up tomorrow? Better hang it up to air. Bottom lip sucked into mouth for insurance.
A shoe lace breaks. It never rains but … Rip out lace, rethread leaving out the bottom row of eyelets. Fumble with fingers to achieve a secure knot. Failure. Done too fast—left end is longer than the right—start again. The knot is stumpy and sure to untie, it will ruin the day. Everything ruins the day. Slight regurgitation, taste of Vegemite and honey and bread and haemoglobin.
The boss, the bottom line, the budget breakdown all impervious to the reality of the impermanence of shoe laces and shaving. The imperative of punctuality trumps all else.
Out the door, running now.
Kookaburras, full of worms, laugh in a borer infested tree.
II. Lattes, Lunch and Lay-offs
“I don’t know any of these people.” (Bruzzone, A., 2016)
“Would you like a coffee? The boss is shouting,” asks Bettina, PA to the Director.
“A large latte, two sugars, please,” I reply. “That’s nice of Debbie,” I lie.
The boss doesn’t want anyone going out for lunch, that is obvious. Do lattes have more milk, therefore more of a meal than say a flat white or cappuccino?
“Do you want lite or skim milk, maybe even soy or almond?” Bettina is not mocking, she’s serious.
“Nice of you to ask, Bettina.” But this is my lunch, air-head! “Full cream milk, please.”
You have to stay on Bettina’s good side or else you could easily be the next sucker laid off. Every week someone goes. You can listen to the bullshit reasons for that particular person’s job becoming redundant. Or, you can open your eyes to see it’s simply Debbie and/or Bettina deciding who’s in and who’s out.
Hasn’t anyone noticed that staff numbers haven’t actually dropped?
For every lay-off a new person is employed. A new person who the new boss has scrutinised with Myer Briggs and Emotional Intelligence tests. I swear she’s employing people who are highly impressionable yet have thick skins. I know that sounds at odds, but think about it: if someone believes bullshit but doesn’t get offended when you tear strips off them in a public display of humiliation—bunged on to keep the masses in line—aren’t they the perfect employee for a tyrant?
Gino said to me once, “This new boss is all micro-management and blame.”
I saw Gino the other day. He was washing cars at the lot just around the corner. It was a day when I, and almost everyone else, managed to get some real air and food; Director Debbie was in Perth for a conference.
“How’s things going, Gino?” I asked my sudded-up ex-workmate.
“Fucking brilliant, man. Getting laid-off was the best thing ever. I highly recommend it.”
When I got back with a falafel kebab to eat at my desk, I noticed Bettina writing down a list of those who had left for lunch. I noticed that the inner circle of courtesans and sycophants didn’t escape that day Debbie did Perth. They stayed put like good little boys and girls, making sure they didn’t make Bettina’s list.
I feel sick on the stomach. My life is hell. There are seven times twenty four, what’s that, one hundred and sixty eight hours in a week; it’s only fifty at work but my whole life is tainted with nausea, fear, hyper-vigilance, and dread. I’m drinking too much again.
When Debbie got back from Perth, a girl called Nancy was dismissed. She was the top of Bettina’s list not only because she went out that lunch break and got a Brazilian—why oh why did you tell Bettina that, Nancy?—but because Nancy is a looker. She’s such a looker that when the big big boss of the company comes down from his office two floors up, he looks straight past the aspirational flirtations of Debbie and Bettina—not horror shows themselves—and drools over Nancy’s legs, and arse, and breasts, and neckline, her lips and those fucking amazing doughy bedroom eyes. Sayonara, Nancy!
I drink the boss’s manipulative Latte and duck out to the tea room to make a coffee with three heaped tablespoons of International Roast. I can’t take it any more. I keep thinking about Gino and his bucket of water, and the sun, and the smile on his dial. I visualise Bettina’s hit-list and how I likely moved up it when she noticed my broken shoe lace earlier.
If I had control over one thing at all in my life it could be to strike first and get sacked before they lay me off.
I walk straight past Bettina’s desk and into Debbie’s office. That alone, a sackable offence.
“I demand a full lunch break everyday and I refuse to wear that bullshit, undersized, corporate, polyester shirt on Fridays.”
Despite the instant coffee shakes, I haven’t felt this good for a long, long while.
III. Directorship, Dinner and Diarrhoea
Director Debbie laid him off alright. Right there on the spot. How dare he demand a lunch break, daily!
Dennis O’Reilly was a free man now. With a redundancy and able to claim government assistance with no mutual obligation, and qualifying for a tasty slice of his superannuation, he could live comfortably until his mother died and left him her estate. He’d worked this all out in the semi-consciousness of the last six years.
“Delicious,” he said to himself several times over an early dinner for one in the French restaurant he’d denied himself for so long now. Charles Aznavour sang. Striped topped waitresses with high school French bought: Escargots à la Bourguigonne, French onion soup, Kronenbourg 1664, Cuisses de Grenouille à la Provençale, red wine, Coquilles Saint-Jacques, Pan-seared Foie Gras, Coque a Vin, white wine, Steak Tartare, Boeuf Bourguignon, Bouillabaisse, Gratin dauphinois, Souffle, red wine – clichéd as all fuck.
“Do you want a dinner mint with your coffee, sir? S’il vous plaît?”
Dennis was not a round man, not at all. He was tall and thin and people solved the mystery of his litheness despite colossal consumption by citing hollow legs.
“Do you have brandy?” he asked.
“Daniel Bouju Royal Grande Champagne Cognac?”
“Delightful. Bring a bottle.”
Daylight saving daylight disappearing. Director Debbie a distant memory. Buried under a dinner to be reckoned with. A celebration of freedom. The cognac was good. The debit card debited for food, drink and tip. Dennis was sated.
Driving home with lipids, glucose and alcohol all tipping the recommended scales of public health and safety, Dennis pulled over to view the dam. It’s capacity was impressive, it just needed rain. It had never been 100%, the engineers and meteorologists conferred biannually. Humans and nature at odds again. Fossils of hominid ancestors and primates show links all the way back to tree shrews, a truth we constantly deny. We are different, we are not animals. A dollar bird croaks in the dying light of a Wednesday to remember.
Dennis’s stomach rumbled. Was it a dodgy scallop? Did that tasty little sucker’s filtration of the damaged ocean devously deliver dioxin to Dennis’s descending colon. There was no way he could make it home to the privacy of his own water closet. Dennis needed to defecate, now. No denying this call of nature. It bubbled and groaned and shifted and pushed.
Diarrhoea did what diarrhoea does. It explosively exited as though something in Dennis had been punctured or torn beyond repair. The relief was immediate and delectable. Only bursting blind pimples, extricating ingrown hairs, and deeply embedded tick removal, offer such sweet pleasures.
An outdoor dunny dump in a dam catchment area. Life was holding all sorts of promise for Dennis, the unemployed menace.