Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Once Upon a Time in Darwin

Image result for gilbert's dragon
It happened one morning as I was walking home along a damp footpath mostly covered by the unfortunate leaves and twigs which had been ripped from their arboreal homes by the power of regular monsoonal showers. It happened as I ignored the dogs in every front yard I passed, which ignored me until I passed then barked feverishly at my back. It happened as I watched in joyful fascination as juvenile Ta-Ta lizards tore back across the path to the safety of the garden. Stopping just before entering their refuge, briefly to wave their feet. Gilbert’s Dragons must be the cutest reptiles in the world with this endearing little habit of theirs, but thinking of them led me to thoughts of the cat which roams my backyard, hunting and killing my little reptilian friends.

I turn into my driveway between two rugged pillars of tropical palms, and more little dragons scurry away. I wonder, as I have on many other occasions whether they have less muscles than humans, and if that explains why their movements seem so jerky. I mean they fly when they run: like a blurry poem, but they stop so suddenly, and jerk their head around so robotically that I wonder why they lack the smoothness of a man. Perhaps it’s a perception thing. I make a mental note to Google it when I have time. I always have time for such trivialities. The problem is having the time and using the time are not the same thing.

Placing the key in the lock of the front door, I turn it and pull the handle, but nothing happens. The door is supposed to open. I pull again: harder, then tumble backwards as the handle divorces itself from the door most melodramatically.

At this moment, I utter a reserved expletive, before examining the door. Running my fingers around the edge, I find no impediment to its successful opening until I reach the bottom left hand corner. The useful gap which used to exist between the door and the jam has disappeared. With gentle persuasion quickly giving way to anger fueled brutality, I wrench the damn thing open by gripping an exposed corner of the door at the top. I swear some more.
My mind wanders back to the journey home from the gym. I almost always feels I’ve hit it hard, and that’s what I tell the few people who ask. I stay longer, do more repetitions and use heavier weights. I lift until my muscles scream, then rest and do it again. The pain focuses my thoughts to a pinpoint. There is me, and the music in my ears, and the agony of exertion.

It takes half an hour to walk to the gym, and I go four three afternoons a week and one morning, rain, hail or shine. My head covered my either a hat or an umbrella. I ditched the orange Cairns Taipans cap, partly because I gave up on the team after two matches of the new season, and partly because of concerns about exposure to the sun. It’s hot in the tropics, but even if it wasn’t, the sun delights in burning the pink flesh of foot travelers. My cranium may have been protected, but I knew my ears, and my cheeks and the back of my neck were receiving unsafe levels of exposure and I had seen too many parched and wrinkled heads, scarred by melanoma removal, to carry on taking the risk. Although I thought I had a big head – I finished third in a celebrated head measuring contest at a family gathering- the smallest sized hat with a brim swiveled alarmingly around my skull. However, as the look and the Billabong insignia were both very cool, I took a chance on the chin strap as the solution to excess movement. My hat is still on my head as I enter my flat, but it is the first item I remove. The second is my bag, then, once it has been drained of its contents, the third is my shoes and socks – an audible sigh from my feet fills the room-, and lastly my sweat soaked shirt comes off and I toss it on the floor of the bathroom. It lands exactly where the laundry basket would be if I had one. When I need to transport my dirty clothes to the laundry which is in an adjacent outhouse, I use Coles shopping bags. Courtesy of me frequently forgetting to take the old ones with me when I go shopping, I now have a large collection. Soon my cupboard will be full of them.

It’s very upsetting to have to walk so far to the laundry, and I often swear at the old Samsung washing machine as if it is to blame. I also want to kill the stupid thing when it presents my washed garments in a thick knot of cotton. It has no agitator. I’m told the agitator is crucial to the efficient washing of clothes, but this machine seems to do its job well nonetheless, apart from the knotting which does not occur in machines which contain agitators. This could be a source of irritation, but neither of the two alternatives – buy a new machine or hand wash my clothes- appeal so I will settle for frequent complaining. That’s what most people do anyway. Even problems which have obvious solutions, tend to be cherished above the potential tranquility of not having the problem.

I dump the knotted clump into a shopping bag, then march to the clothesline which is undercover. As I untie the knot, I pen my Facebook status update, because it is important for people to understand my suffering. I use Facebook a lot, and as is the case with many lonely people, I overshare matters of inordinate triviality. I’m older than Facebook. I was an adult before social media was even conceived, let alone prospered into the communication titan that it is today. I don’t recall what I did with all my thoughts, ideas and grumbles before Facebook gave me such a helpful platform of release, but I suppose I spat them into the wind. At its most grand, Facebook is the most populous community on earth, an indispensable mode of communication and connectedness. At its worst, it’s a waste of time and a pathetic substitute for authentic relationship.

I put on a clean single and switch on the kettle. The noise annoys me, but I have no choice, unless I want to boil water on the stove which I don’t have, or build a fire in the yard and boil a billy, because that is so practical. I have a choice. In fact, I have lots of choices, and that is perhaps one of the greatest problems of the twenty first century: too much choice. I recall my first visit to a supermarket in the United States when I wanted to buy some milk. There was a huge selection of bottles, all containing liquid which looked like milk, but nothing that was actually called ‘milk’. Just ‘milk’. I began reading the labels, desperately hoping to find something which told me I was buying what I wanted, but my heartrate was going through the roof by the time I hit the bottle which said it contained acidophilous. I didn’t even know what acidophilous was – still don’t, so why, I reasoned at the time, would I buy it. It was a twenty-four-hour supermarket, and I had no particular place to be, but I’m pretty sure that nobody of sound mind, enjoys hanging out in a supermarket. I know some people like to browse, and plan their menus according to whim, but most people, I venture to say, use guerilla warfare tactics like hit and run. I doubt anyone vocalizes this thought, but for sure and certain it is played out in the minds of all who enter supermarkets. Okay, men. Let’s get in. Get what we need and get out. Watch your back. Stick to the plan. You have your orders. Go!

The kettle roars to a climax, then switches off, and I begin the tea making ritual. The bag, the sugar, the milk. In that order. Washing machines, kettles, social media and twenty-four-hour gymnasiums. What a wonderful world. I can feel stiffness creeping into my joints as my tortured muscles begin to cool and relax into liberty. A fleeting panic is caused by a whisper of apprehension: what if I overdid it, and I can’t get out of bed tomorrow morning. Needless worry. Of all the things I do, in this I excel.

With my tea ready, and a handful of chocolate chip cookies loaded onto a plate, I leave the cavernous and clammy interior of my flat and settle on a moderately comfortable chair outside. I switch the laptop on, and it boots in seconds – as ASUS promised it would. I knew I could trust the Taiwanese. A little nation of rebels just like Australia. Same population in a country two hundred and fifteen times smaller. Taiwan is overpopulated and Australia is underpopulated. It’s a nice picture of the weird inequality which exists on planet earth. At least Australia doesn’t have such a major issue with its sovereignty.

The final part of my health and relaxation regime is tobacco.

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