Last Friday I went to a function at the school where I used to go – it was a thing where some of the old school-friends get together and "re-unite" for a sort of party ten years after graduation. The school I went to is a private school for boys and girls, and it's called Loyola College. I stepped off the train in Watsonia and I had a bit of time to spare – so before going to the school, I walked around to all the local places where I used to go.
Some of it had changed, some of it had stayed the same. Then I sat down at a table in the main street and wrote down my web-site address many times on some little slips of paper that I had. I put the paper in my pocket and continued on to the school.
I wasn't sure what to expect. "Maybe hardly anyone will show up," I thought. "Maybe no-one will remember me. Or maybe I'll just stand in the corner all night and not talk to anyone. I remember that movie, 'Romy and Michele's High School Reunion', where the people were really competitive about who's the most successful – I wonder if it will be like that?"
I went into the correct room and people were just starting to arrive. The room was decorated with old class photos. I'm not very good at remembering people. I can remember names, but not faces. There should have been name-tags or something. One guy came up to me and said, "Hi, Stephen," he was a guy I used to know. He asked me what I've been up to. I said, "I've been doing a few TAFE courses and stuff."
On the table nearby, there was snack-food and soft drinks. As I munched on a few things, a couple of women came up to me – they were girls I used to know. "Hey Stephen," they said. "What have you been up to?"
"Well," I said, "I'm a musician and an artist, I play keyboard with a couple of bands, I do a bunch of drawings and paintings and I maintain my own web-site." They asked me some more follow-up questions and I gave them my web-site address.
Another guy came up to me, he was a guy who was always good at graphic art in school and he went on to do that sort of thing professionally. He asked me about my music and I gave him a copy of the CD that I made, of my original music.
Another guy came up to me, he was a guy who used to sometimes graffiti my stuff without permission when I sat next to him in class. He asked, "You left the school early, didn't you?"
I said, "Yes. I left in the middle of year eleven."
He said, "Why was that, if you don't mind me asking?"
I said, "Attempted suicide. So after that I transferred to another school."
And he was all like, "Woah! You're very upfront about telling me that – you didn't need to tell me that!"
This other man came up to me, he told me that some guy had died, some guy who used to be in our class. "It's very sad – he was so young," he said. But when he pointed out the dead guy in the class photo, I couldn't remember anything about him.
I didn't need to worry about the fact that I was poor – the people at the reunion were all nice and they respected the fact that I do creative stuff like art and music. After a couple of hours, some of them decided they'd continue the reunion at the Bundoora Hotel which was nearby. And they invited me, so I came along.
The girl who gave me a lift said, "Will you be able to get home okay afterwards, Stephen?"
I said, "Yes. I can catch a tram on Plenty Road."
But I wasn't sure when the latest city-bound tram ran down Plenty Road on a Friday night. So before going into the hotel, I checked the time-table at the tram-stop nearby. Then I went back to the girl and said, "It's okay – the last tram doesn't leave until quarter to one a.m."
So I went into the hotel, had a couple of glasses of wine, took a few photos and caught up with a few more people – everything was cool.
I left after midnight. It was warm outside. I caught a tram, but I found that it went the wrong way – it took me away from the city, instead of towards it. It wasn't long before I realised that I'd checked the wrong time-table in my disorientation. None of the trams after eleven o'clock go to the city – they only go halfway down the track, to the tram depot. "Oh no!" I thought. "This is a terrible situation that I'm in. It's the middle of the night and I have no way of getting home! What am I going to do? What am I going to do? I am undone!"
If my mother had been there, she would have told me to call for a taxi or something. But I never get taxis if I can avoid it – they're terribly expensive, and I didn't know if I even had enough money for a tram-ride that far. Another option would have been to stay out all night until the first tram of the morning. But that would be a drag, too. Then it occurred to me that I was much closer to my parents' house than I was to my own house. "Maybe," I thought, "I can walk to my parents' house in Diamond Creek, spend the night there, and go home in the morning." So, placing my bag firmly on my back, I set out on my epic journey. The time was twelve forty-five.
I walked and walked and walked, past Loyola College, past the Greensborough Shopping Centre, street after empty street, on and on and on through the familiar route that I had often travelled down as a child, though never before as a pedestrian. After about six kilometres I found a patch of long grass by the side of the road, and I lay down for my one and only rest-stop. I was so tired, my head was pounding and my vision was swimming. But after about ten minutes I was well rested and I continued on my walk.
I was venturing into the unpopulated regions of the outer suburbs, where footpaths are hard to find. My legs were sore, but I thought to myself "What about those characters in that Stephen King book, "The Long Walk"? They had to walk clear across a state, for days and days, and all you have to do is walk across a couple of suburbs. So stop complaining!" And I started to sing that song "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", by The Hollies, but only quietly because I didn't want to cause a disturbance.
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By and by the road led me to a landscape without houses, and without streetlights – nothing but the trees and the sound of the crickets and the light of the moon in its third quarter. There was no footpath, so I had to walk on the bushy grass-land by the side of the road. It was rough terrain – some of it was privately owned so I had to climb over a few fences. Finally my journey ended with a climb up a hill in Diamond Creek and I arrived at my parents' house around three a.m. My parents weren't home, but I let myself in and relaxed in safety at last. I was just thinking, "I can't believe I walked all that way! And it only takes about twelve minutes by car."
Not having a car means I often have to do things the hard way. But on the bright side, doing things the hard way means I improve my fitness. Two days later, I received a phone call from some guy who said he was an estate agent and he was going to sell my apartment. "I'm going to come around two hours from now," he said, "and my colleagues and I are going to take some photos and measurements of your apartment, in preparation for the sale."
As soon as I heard about this, I started to tidy up my living-space. The estate agents don't usually come around on two hours notice – it doesn't give me much time to get the flat into a presentable condition. But I had to try. I know from experience that they can sometimes give you hassles if the flat is too messy. And even if they don't say anything, they'd be thinking it, and judging whether I'm a good tenant or not. Worst case scenario, if they think I'm not taking care of the flat properly, they could evict me.
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I was not quite finished my tidying when the agents arrived. One of them was a woman with a camera who took photos. One was a younger man who seemed a bit disorganised, as he'd left his clipboard in the car. The third one was an older man with a beard, dressed in a very formal way. He asked me, "Are you on a lease?"
I answered, "I signed a lease at the start, but I've been living here for seven years so I don't have to keep signing the lease."
"Do you want to keep living here?"
The Man said, "Well, we'll help you if you co-operate with us – it's a two way thing."
I wasn't sure what he meant so I just nodded.
"The old owner of the estate has died," he said. "So this apartment will be sold. Our agency is taking care of the sale. Seeing as how you've been living here so long, we will try to find a buyer who will let you stay. This apartment will be open for inspection next weekend – we would like you to make it look perfect for the potential buyers, making sure that the floor is clear. Okay?"
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I agreed. He looked around the apartment and commented on the peeling paint and the dirty carpet. Then he saw my synthesizer and said, "What do you do with the music?"
I said, "I sequence the music with the keyboard and record it into the computer."
"I don't know much about that. I've heard nowadays you can do a thing where – you don't need CDs – you can just – store the music inside the computer?"
I said, "Mp3s?"
"Yes," replied the man. "Well, we'll call you about the inspection. Michael, give him your card."
The younger man gave me his business card and then they all left.
After that I sat down and had breakfast. My mind was racing – you know I'd do anything to preserve my happy lifestyle. It would be no great tragedy if I had to move, but I know I'd never find another flat as cheap as this, so a new place would mean less spending-money. I began to think of ways to make myself seem like a good tenant. The trouble with my flat is, it's so small and there's not enough storage-space so it's cluttered. And it's not like I can reduce clutter by storing stuff in boxes in a garage out the back or something – there's no place to put stuff. I decided the best way to neaten things up would be to hire an off-site storage locker.
So I went to this place which I'd walked past many times, it's a storage facility about nineteen minutes walk from my home. They said I can hire a space one-point-two metres by one-point-five metres, for eighty dollars per month. So I paid them the money. They showed me the tiny little room with a lockable door, and they demonstrated how the security system works. Each locker has a burglar alarm. You turn off the alarm using a special kind of electronic key, and the same key allows you to access the lift. A different key opens the padlock on the door. So there's no way anyone could steal my things.
The difficult part was transporting my stuff to the storage facility without a car. I had an awful lot of boxes and things. So, the very same day, I started making repeat-trips back and forth between my home and the storage-space, often carrying a heavy cardboard box in one hand, and using the other hand to pull a suitcase on wheels. I continued the process for the next three days, making two or three trips per day. It was extremely tiring work. My arms ached and I often had to stop for a rest along the way. The weather was boiling hot whenever I went out.
But you know, it's not that bad – I feel like I'm dedicating all my efforts to an important purpose, and all that physical activity helps me forget about the pointlessness of life for a while. As well as reducing clutter in my home, I'm also cleaning parts of it that have never been cleaned before, like the bathroom. And all my things are being re-organized.
A guy came around to steam-clean the carpets this afternoon – the estate agents paid for it. I was afraid that there would be a problem with shifting the heavy furniture, and I wasn't sure how much stuff to put in the bathroom while the carpet-cleaning was going on. But it was okay – the cleaner just moved the light furniture around while he worked.
While he was moving this chair, he accidentally broke
the seat away from the frame. But it wasn't his fault – the chair was already mostly broken.
Meanwhile, he noticed the picture on the wall of an unknown village. "Did you draw that?" he asked.
I said, "Yes."
He said, "That's great. How long did it take."
"It took a few weeks. I did it in high-school."
"That's amazing," he said. "So do you do that professionally now?"
"No. I still do drawings, but it's just a hobby."
"I bet you could make heaps of money selling your drawings," he said, and his wife sprayed the special shampoo into the carpet. They removed the stains and made the carpet a lighter shade of brown than it was before, although it's an old carpet and it will never be fully restored to perfect condition. After they left, the carpet was smelling very nice and it was slightly damp so I avoided walking on it for a while.
About half an hour later, I went out to a band-practice. I arrived at the rehearsal studio around three o'clock. I waited and waited for the other musicians, but they didn't turn up for about four hours. So I spent some time reading the paper and reading a book, and then I fell asleep on a couch there. Later I woke up and the other musicians arrived and we practised till eleven o'clock at night. The reason I was so early compared to them was, I had mis-heard them when they told me what time the practice was starting.
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There's a documentary series on SBS called If Only, it takes a look at average normal people and lets them tell the story of important events in their lives, using the phrase "If Only..." as a guide. So we hear about people's regrets and people wondering what would have happened if they had made certain decisions differently. Often a person's whole life hinges on one decision, like there was this one guy who decided to dive into the water and he injured himself because the water was too shallow, and the event changed his whole life profoundly. Other stories are less deep, like the women who said, "If only I hadn't had to wear that ugly bridesmaid's dress at that wedding." I wonder what I would say if they interviewed me? "If only I hadn't – um – " I can't think of anything.
Last Sunday, while I was listening to a CD called "Faith And Courage" by Sinéad Connor, I noticed that there were messy brown stains on my carpet. I looked at my shoe and I noticed that I had trodden in something brown and – well, I know what you're thinking, but it turned out to be brown paint. I found the tube of paint, the burnt sienna colour, with a hole in it as if I had trodden on it by accident and broken the tube. So I threw myself into the task of cleaning this paint off the carpet, knowing that it would be much more difficult after it dried. It took a bit of scrubbing, but eventually I managed to make the stains almost invisible. Sinéad O'Connor sings nice – she's cool and smart.