Below is a journal I posted as part of a farewell blog at my work this week. It has been lightly edited to abbreviate some names and remove some concepts that won’t make sense outside of my work context. I’m posting it here as a small part of the record of life.
“Starbuck, what do you hear?”
“Nothing but the rain, sir”
“Then grab your gun and bring in the cat.”
“One Person Per Segment” was going to be the title for a blog I was going to write a little while after my first day back in the office for 2022 after the Sydney COVID lockdowns had ended and a semblance of normality had been restored in my out-of-work life. But I never really summoned the energy or eked out the time to write it, and that says quite a bit about how I have felt since the time I thought about writing that blog and then not writing it. It’s actually quite a good title for this blog, if only because of that esoteric association; an idea in my head that didn’t go anywhere using the drive that I no longer had in a world and brain that I no longer knew. Perversely and ironically, I can write it now though.
My journal has the day as 13 Apr 2022.
I awake at 5:58am just before my alarm. My normal routine before these accursed pandemic times was to get up at 5:30am but even a 30 minute bonus sleep-in on this first new attempt does not make it any easier after two years of working from home. I shower, dress and get my bag ready. I can’t find one of my shoes. Despite this I am only out of the door slightly late at 6:34am.
There’s a hill up to the bus stop, the same hill I used to walk up at least four days a week, and have only climbed a handful of times since the last normal time I walked up it on the 11th of March 2020, a mere 763 days ago. I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome. Many people with it cannot walk as well as I can, or at all, but I can walk and have often done so. I get other more unpleasant sensory symptoms than most people with it though, and there have been times where I haven’t been sure what I’d trade over what, but at least I can walk and am likely (hopefully) to always be able to. Today is a slog though, of disuse atrophy on top of the standard and irresistible neuropathic atrophy. I notice it in how I run out of puff early, and how my left foot isn’t working properly, with no power in my ankle to keep it from dropping. It’s awkward to walk when it does this, and I have to be careful not to trip because of it. It normally would only do this on really cold days, but it’s not cold today. I’m also 10 kilograms heavier than I was on the 11th of March 2020 and this only adds to the challenge.
There’s a boon however as the bus arrives straight away and I’m into the city by 7:15am, which is astonishingly fast at a 25 minute commute, almost half the time as usual. The roads are still COVID-age depressed and the bus is abnormally empty compared to what I am used to. As I go to alight from the bus, a woman yields and beckons to the exit to let me out first. I smile and yield and beckon back. We can see each other’s smiles because we aren’t wearing masks anymore. This small and erstwhile mundane display of human emotion and kindness leaves an impression on me for the rest of the day. It’s just a nice, simple feeling, and not complex like those of late. There hasn’t been a stranger that has lived in my head like that since the guy in the early 2000’s who, after waiting for 15 minutes in a queue at a crushingly busy King Street McDonalds in Newcastle at 3am in the morning, proceeded to order just one solitary 30¢ soft serve cone which he then lofted into the ceiling on his way out without even licking it. Although, there’s also the old lady who once asked me to “pick me up” and lift her onto the bus because she couldn’t step up into it from the kerb. And the goat that once got into my rental car in New Zealand. It’s a small but surprisingly diverse cast.
“I do not understand this representation.”
”It’s a depiction from ancient Earth mythology. ‘The Expulsion from Paradise.’“
”Why keep it in your quarters?”
“To be a reminder to me that all things end.”
I sit down for breakfast in the cafe on the 363 George Street mezzanine and the barista remembers my name, and my order. It’s been a fair while since I’ve been in here, but somehow he doesn’t miss a beat—as if I had walked in just the same way only yesterday, and as I did the day before yesterday, and maybe even the day before that, although in this case that would have been a Sunday, so probably not that. I feel a bit special you know? This guy remembers me after two years! Maybe it has something to do with the fact he knows I am a Newcastle Knights fan and he is one of those cryptids, the Sydney Roosters fan, and that’s the unlikely common ground that bonds us. Although maybe I am the only Chris he knows. Perhaps he really doesn’t see many people from the late 1970’s.
I have smashed avocado, feta cheese, and grilled mushrooms on toast. They dust this with some zesty dukkah and I feel like a king, sitting in a cafe, doing very normal things once again. The king of normal, returned to his normal realm amongst his normal nobles and normal trappings. Robbie G. walks in and does a slight double take when he sees me sitting in his cafe, like the ghost of Christophers’ past come to visit him rudely and unexpectedly. We talk about kids, the hot ops incident, and how he was trying to get things wrapped up so not to interfere with his Easter plans. He asks me about my girls, and tells me how he sees the pictures of them I occasionally post on Twitter. He has to sit by himself today though as he is going to be juggling the hot incident over a differently and mercifully more pleasurably hot breakfast.
At 7:45am, some time after the last morsels of sourdough toast have disappeared from my plate, I wander down to the lifts but the access machine consistently and reliably tells me that my access is denied. I’ll have to wait until 8:30am to be able to get to Level 29 to see if someone can fix my card, the one with the six year younger Chris stuck on it, the one that definitely looks six years younger and probably ten years more vibrant.
“Ha, ha. You’ve got to expect some static. After all, computers are just machines, they can’t think.”
“Some programs will be thinking soon.”
“Oh won’t that be grand? All the computers and the programs will start thinking and the people will stop.”
While I am waiting on one of the lobby couches for the clock to advance by the requisite 45 minutes, Carl P. slides on by in the manner of someone who is also having their card access denied. I ask him why he is sliding by in the manner of someone who has had their card access denied and he tells me plainly he is sliding by because he is having his card access denied. I know Carl from my time in Team Work Platform, and from this serendipitous encounter, the type that hasn’t happened at all in the last two years, I learn about the happenings in another part of the company from someone who is speaking energetically about them and directly to me. It’s not until these things don’t happen that you truly realise how nice and important they are. Carl has always been an engaging and enthusiastic interlocutor. During our chat, Carl’s colleague Ishan also slides by, and I use my immense powers of deduction to posit that he too must be having card access problems. I am soon validated as he describes how his access card is being denied. We are now just three employees, bound together by the fickleness of the machine that won’t authorise us, but in that time and moment, under this great adversity of having to wait 30 minutes on plush upholstery in a calm, safe, and perfectly climate controlled environment, we manage against all odds to salvage something of priceless value: time together in real proximity outside of an intentionally scheduled transaction, just shooting the shit.
Time passes and we finally manage to disgorge from a lift on to Level 29 and reception issues us new cards that work (the old ones were invalidated at some point in the last four months) and then I roll on into what in a past life had been the quotidian rhythms of the office workday: meetings and typing and the occasional sigh or laugh. I track down and rescue some of my boardgames that had been left stranded on Level 22 from the Before-Times. I had in advance sent a scout (my brother) who had sent back photographic intel during a reconnoitre he did of where they had ended up, so I find them with great efficiency. I offer Gloomhaven up to any takers in the Sydney boardgames slack though because it is just too big for me to haul home.
“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch. Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”
By complete accident I discover that my colleague and friend Marc C. is in the office. I have lunch with him and I was only going to spend 30 mins for eating lunch because I have shopping to do but we actually chat for an hour because damn his company is good and humanising and joyful.
I still decide to duck out to buy the card I need to buy for someone because it is one of the major advantages of being in something called a Central Business District finally. By some sort of unplanned misfortune my suburban house couldn’t be more perfectly positioned unwalkably far and improbably equidistant from any point of useful commerce, something which I hadn’t actually cared about or noticed until I stopped travelling into the city daily. On my way to the lifts I trip over my left foot in front of quite a burgeoning lunchtime crowd. I manage to recover after a graceless multistep arm-wheeling and surprisingly noisy stumble that felt like it would go forever and not be recovered. My left foot is really bad now.
“Well let me just quote the late, great Colonel Sanders, who said: ‘I’m too drunk to taste this chicken.’”
Soon I am back at my desk, this time with a box of my old desk junk that I’ve picked up from the store room. There are things in the box I haven’t seen in two years: Spare-Parts-Man, a beat up toy robot I bought from an antique shop for $6 that was missing an arm but made for a serviceable headphone stand and with which I had exasperated Mandy by convincing her that I’d paid a bargain-basement $110 for it; a comically oversized hip flask I used to brandish only as a gag (honest); a coffee mug from a video games exhibition in Wellington; a Lego knock-off KFC outlet which isn’t licensed by Lego or KFC so the logo actually says “KFE” with a Definitely-Not-Colonel-Sanders who is wearing sunglasses and a brown moustache to really throw the trademark lawyers off the scent. There’s also a trophy that has someone else’s name on it which I had not seen before even 40 years ago let alone the last two. The box containing these items has a photo attached of its contents strewn around my old desk, the one I had only moved to for less than three weeks before we were all sent home, a petrified diorama of a place-that-was and will-not-be-again at the exact time of its sudden and unplanned abandonment, the pieces of past me left there occupying the same time and space as the other pieces of me left there that you can’t see, the pieces that no frame can contain.
Then there are some more meetings, snacks (Pringles and chocolate rice crackers), and a more or less regular working afternoon. In typical fashion my notes of the day become very sparse now, an activity in which I am losing interest. I leave at 3:25pm to catch an earlier bus and finish off some last work when I get home. As I leave the building, I walk through the revolving doors toward a bright Sydney afternoon. The glass that partitions the circling cylinder is home to a COVID safety directive that with every passing day is reading more and more like a physical anachronism but will remain as an ongoing spiritual and emotional status quo. The bold lettering and words will catch in my mind and I still think of that sign whenever I walk through those ever spinning doors, or more often as I sit alone yet again in my home office: the stickers that used to say “One person per segment.”