I vaguely remember something I wrote in my tattered Spirax notebook when I was a kid—when, if people asked me what I would be, I said with confidence and without irony that I was already a writer. I wrote in that notebook something like "I grind my heels to dust when the train comes in."
I was no better then than now at circumventing cliches.
After futzing around reading Transmetropolitan for a few hours last night, I turned in at 11:30pm. I had to start work at 9am today, which meant getting up at 7:30am. Received wisdom is most of what we recognise as reality, and the eight-hours-of-sleep rule has become a personal truism. Seven and a half hours means my mouth is a permanent yawn; eight hours and one minute has me bouncing off walls.
For the last year, six and a half hours has been the mean.
In fact I turned in at 11:44pm. (I've got a head for numbers, even if I suck at maths.) So, seven hours and forty six minutes. That'd have to do; pretty good by my standards. Unfortunately, at least since adolescence, an unpleasant variable has entered the equation. Getting to sleep has become fucking hard. The way I spend my days, my brain is forced to submit to the whim of the moment: computing in particular forces this circumstance. Will I read this sentence, or click this link? My browser typically has at least fifteen tabs open at a time. There's never any downtime. So when I decide to Alt-F4 and get some shut-eye, my brain immediately appreciates that it has wide expanses of time in which to roam. It roams. I'm proud of that, thinking is after all the best thing I'm capable of, but it's a bitch when you've got a deadline.
I don't know when I fell asleep, but I know I was still awake at 1:30am.
I got up at 8. I was not well rested. I had a shower, but the fiery ablution of hot water was not enough to bring my eyelids to relax in an open state. Nevertheless I made it to the tramstop by 8:24am. Someone from the tram company gave me a muffin in a paper bag. Fucked if I know why. I said thanks though. The tram shunted down Swanston St; I made it to Flinders Street Station in time for the 8:47 train, which arrived at 8:53. I got on. The driver told me, and everyone else, to get off—the train was, as they say, "defective". I got off, stood against the rail over the stairs, and glared balefully at anyone who would look.
Behind me, a man fell down.
He fell down on the platform, at the top of the stairs, with an audible thud. Nobody moved, though a few heads turned. I rolled my eyes—yeah, I did—and walked over to him. I grabbed him by the arm, and dragged him to his ginger feet. "Are you right, mate?" I said. He stared at me.
He said: "I'm going to lie down on the tracks."
He was, as they say, not all there. I said "No, you're not." He leaned in and whispered "Who's going to stop me?" Listen: I'm much better at armchair psychology than I am at thinking on my feet. Sure, I'll diagnose you, I'll even give you a second chance, just give me a few minutes. Plus, I'm better at thinking on my feet on a full night's sleep. But I still had enough wits about me not to volunteer. I was not going to stop him; that's what he wanted me to do. It would only incite him. I thought about grinding my heels to dust; I shrugged. He pointed at the tracks: "I'm going to lie down over there, who fucking cares?" I must have let go of his arm. He lurched, and quivered, and landed on his arse.
Someone helped me pick him up.
That person asked me: "Is everything okay, mate?" I said: "Huh?" He said again, "Is everything okay, mate?" My new friend said: "I'm gonna jump on the tracks." The third party stared at me, and said he'd go get someone. I held the would-be suicide by his arm; he had a real nice mohair coat on. When later the police arrived, a half-acquaintance admitted she had noticed him as he walked past her; precisely, she had noticed the jaunty angle of his tartan scarf. He couldn't stay on his feet, but he was well dressed. He was done talking, too. There was a train on Platform Nine. He dragged me over to it—I was not letting go his arm; I would stop him, even if I would not admit it. He peered at the gap between the cars, I pulled him back. He tottered away to the stair rail and muttered. To be honest, I was sick of this shit. I glimpsed a man in a train company uniform, hurriedly inspecting the cars of the defective train. I let go, and marched to this man, gesturing over my shoulder and saying "There's a bloke over there who's saying he's going to jump on the tracks." Grind my heels to dust.
The train official said "Alright, give me a minute." He kept inspecting the cars.
He kept inspecting the fucking cars. My fellow morning commuters gazed at the fluorescent digits as they flicked over, thinking about how late they would be. I turned away and wondered where my faux-Steppenwolf had gotten to. I couldn't see a tartan scarf anywhere. Until I strolled around the "Kiosk", and there it was, at an angle, as its owner gazed into the depths between another two cars.
"Hi Joe," Fiona said.
"Hey, how you doin'?" I said reflexively. Fiona was a sort-of housemate of my girlfriend for a couple weeks. She attends Swinburne University, Prahran Campus—which is where I work. I said "Sorry, there's a guy over there who told me he's going to jump on the tracks." Fiona launched into a narrative of how her friend watched some guy push someone in front of a train once, and was never caught for doing it. Grind my heels to dust. I kept watching this guy, his scarf. He reeled on the Flinders St tiles. The bloke who had helped me bring him to his feet the second time he fell marched triumphantly toward him, his arm half-raised in surreptitious accusation. Three pigs trailed in his wake. The bloke faded away, and the pigs shunted up to my suicide. "We've heard you're going to jump on the tracks." I walked over, and realised I wasn't needed, and pirouetted, and walked back to Fiona. We talked about some shit, movies or something.
What, you want a bullshit resolution? Okay. I got to work twenty minutes late. And Google reckons I'm four josephs more important than a certain Mr Goebbels. Fuckin' wheeee.
Joseph | 19 Apr 2004