Finding Some Home Truths in Superpower Wishes

On Friday evening, my elder son John was coming home for the weekend, so I drove to the train station at around nine pm in order to be ready to meet the 9.20 train. I like being a little early. I can stroll up and down the empty platform a couple of times and be in place when the train arrives. John always sends a text from Manulla Junction, which is the next stop up the track, so I know when he’s five minutes out. Manulla Junction may be the only train station in the world that you cannot depart from on foot. You have to get a train out. But that’s just a by-the-by.

When I know the train is due, I leave the platform and go out to wait in the car park area outside the station entrance. A lot of people get off the train and I like to try to stay out of the way. But I don’t like to spend too much time waiting in the car park because it tends to give me a problem. And that, friends, is mostly what today’s post is about.

Lots of cars come to collect their people from the train and there are lots of car parking spaces for them. But lots of people don’t want to use the car parking spaces provided. They want to be as close to the entrance as they can be. They want a minimum stay and a quick exit as soon as the arriving loved one is safely installed in the passenger seat. They want to have it easy, and they don’t give much a shit about what they do in order to have it that way.

You know where I’m going with this. You know me well enough by now, coming and going from here, reading this stuff. You know what comes next.

People park in the disabled spaces.

There are a number of disabled spaces right in front of the station entrance. I should use a better name for them. Universally accessible spaces. I’m just guilty of trying to get my point across in the simplest words possible. They’re not necessarily the best words to use. Sorry about that.

Lots of people park up nice. Of course they do. Lots of people are nice. But a startling number of people don’t. They back up and reverse into an accessible space and they leave their motor running because, in their heads, that makes it a little more okay. I’m pretty sure that I can see inside their heads. It’s not rocket science. I can hear their justification. “I’m only staying for a minute.” “I’m not even leaving the car.” “If a disabled person comes along, I will move straight away.” “It’s only until the train comes.”

Yeah, Nimrod, the spaces are only really any use when the train comes. Disabled people don’t want to come to the station in the middle of the day to admire the automatic ticket machine and drink a flask of milky coffee they prepared earlier. They want to have their space when the train is coming or going, just like you do. Except they need the space, and you bloody don’t.

On Friday evening, I got the Manulla Junction text and moved reluctantly to the front entrance. Miraculously there was a vacant accessible space right there in front of me. Not for long though. A low, black, heavily customised car pulled up and reversed in. The young adult who was driving it left the motor running and the oversized exhaust growled and leaked corrosive gas out onto where I was standing. Shit music blared from the open window.

I felt angry.

I did the thing I sometimes do when things frustrate me, particularly car-related things. I wished for a super-power.

Previously, and you may recall this, I wished for the power to stop time.

There’s a blog post back there somewhere about that. This time around, though, the superpower I wished for was invisibility. Not the David McCallum kind. He had to whip off all of his clothes and a rubber mask to get invisible. Far too much trouble. No, I wished for a Ben Murphy ‘Gemini Man’ type of invisibility. All old Pete had to do was push a button on his watch and, bam, he was gone. That’s what I needed. Push button invisibility. Then the medium sized crowbar I just happened to bring along to the station would inherit my invisibility attributes and it would vanish too. I would start at the rear taillight of the black car, right above the toxic exhaust. Invisible as all-hell, I would draw back and smash the taillight with my invisible crowbar.

In my little fantasy, the weedy driver would jump out of his car, not easily on account of its lowness to the ground. He would shout ‘What the Fuck, man?’ in an American movie voice at which point I would invisibly smash his other taillight. ‘Jesus!’ the weedy guy would scream, and I would have some invisible superhero quip prepared to intone in his ear. “Okay, so you’re not disabled but at least now your car is.” Not Shakespeare or anything, granted, but bear in mind that this was an impromptu fantasy, and you can only work with what you’ve got at the time.

It all begs a question or two.

Why do I get so angry at the people in the accessible spaces? And, let me be clear on this, it isn’t just young Turks in customised rides who fill up these spaces. There are mothers and housewives and grandads and young ladies. You name them, they’ll take the space. And it makes me angry because it’s just another symptom of how selfish and unsympathetic the people of the world generally are. And maybe it’s just me but it seems to be getting worse and worse. People increasingly care only for themselves. They are wrapped up in themselves such that they don’t even see the terrible things that they do to others on a day-to-day basis.

And that, folks, was to be this week’s blog post.

Except, as I’ve been writing it, I’ve dug a little deeper in my head and two separate thoughts arose and I think it's worth setting them down too, before I finally stop.

The first is this: I’m bemoaning the selfish state of the people of the world yet my ideal scenario, in that moment, was the smashing up of that person’s lovingly restored car. It becomes clear to me that I am not up on some mountain of excellence. I’m in no place to preach. All I dream of doing is exerting my own will on the situation, regardless of any hurt I may cause as a result. I am part of the problem, just like you are, and it’s best that I remember that.

And secondly, and this may have occurred to you too because it’s a little bit obvious: why do I need invisibility?

This person is parked in a disabled space. Why can’t I just go up to his window and ask whether he would mind moving out of the space and leaving it for someone who might actually need it? I don’t need invisibility to do any of that.

I just need to be a bit brave. Yes, I may get shouted at. I may even get a slap but that’s what it takes, isn’t it? To be a bit brave.

This is a problem of mine and it’s probably good that I acknowledge it wherever I can. I dislike conflict and will move several mountains to avoid it whenever I can. Maybe that’s all very well and maybe it’s not but one thing is for sure: it leaves me sitting firmly on the fence a lot of the time. If not in my head, then certainly in my actions. Moments when I really need to stand up and say, “Wait. This is wrong,“ rarely, if ever, happen. I tend to hide and wish for invisibility because maybe from there I could be more of a force for good in the world.

I need to do better with all of this. I need to act as if I am invisible when actually I’m not.

Even if I have to suffer some consequences as a result.

Toothpaste Miracle



I ran out of toothpaste about two weeks ago.

The first tube ran out, squeezed all to hell and clearly empty. Then I found a second tube, almost used up. So I squeezed that one too until it was empty. Then I had two empty tubes. I went to the supermarket to buy stuff and bought everything I needed. Except one thing. I forgot the toothpaste. So, there I was, in baaad need of a tooth brush but with no toothpaste. 

What to do?

I ran out of toothpaste about two weeks ago.

Except I didn’t.

Here’s what happened.

I squeezed the first empty tube a little harder. I gave it a little more commitment. And some toothpaste came out. I brushed my teeth. The next day I did the same and the next day too. When the first tube was clearly extinguished, I moved over to the other empty tube and squeezed that with commitment too. Some toothpaste came out. I carried on.

In the time this has been happening, I have been to the shop again and I have bought a spanking new tube of toothpaste. It’s sitting there, startlingly replete, on the glass bathroom shelf. I’ll get to it, I’m sure.

When the second tube of empty toothpaste was clearly dead, I revisited the first tube, just out of curiosity. I took the end of the tube and folded it over, then folded it again and again until the tube was folded almost right up to the spout. There was toothpaste there. Quite a lot of toothpaste, in fact. After a few days, there wasn’t any more, so I moved back to the other tube and did the same. Lots of toothpaste for Ken. An embarrassment of toothpaste.

That’s where I am now, still using the second empty tube. Maybe I’ll go back to the other empty tube after I feel this one is finally played-out. Maybe I’ll brush my teeth with the contents of these two tubes for the rest of my life.

It’s all up in the air.

And, yes, it’s a silly little story. It’s quite true but silly, nonetheless. But, even worse, I can see a life lesson buried deep in the toothpaste droplets I harvest every day. You don’t want to hear it, but you’re going to anyway. If you stick around, that is.

I turned Sixty last year. With that event came a subtle feeling, hardly identifiable but there, nonetheless. A feeling that, in terms of new writing, the tank was now largely empty. I was fine but creativity and originality were gone. I might rework some of the stuff I’d done before, reshape it. I can still be a sort of a writer in that way. But the tank itself was running on empty and no more new miles would be driven.

For better or worse, the toothpaste is telling me something different.

“Writing,” the tubes of toothpaste are saying, “is a bit like a tube of toothpaste.” You may think you’re empty and used-up and ready for whichever recycling bin is appropriate. But that’s simply not true. There is good stuff still in there. Lots of it. Top quality gear.

But there’s the rub, as Hamlet used to say. This good stuff, this writing toothpaste, it won’t come out all by itself. It won’t dribble out onto the page just as a result of being stared at or worried over.

Nope.

You have to squeeze.

You have to fold the end over again and again and again and keep the faith that there’s some good stuff in there still. Because there is. You’ve got to squeeze it out. Which is nothing new. You’ve always had to squeeze it out. It never-ever came out all by itself.

It’s just that, from now on, you're going to have to squeeze a little harder.

 

The Litter Eases In


One morning last week, I was walking to work early. I glanced at a house as I was passing, and I saw something that made me smile broadly. It almost made me laugh out loud, there on the empty, frosty street.

“I must write a little post about that,” I said and then promptly forgot about it.

Until I was walking home from work on Friday evening, and I caught up to Patricia at the pedestrian lights, also making her way home from work. As we walked up the street together, Patricia suddenly laughed out loud. We were passing the same house that I had passed the week before. She had glanced into the same window that I had glanced into, and she had expressed her delight.

What could be inside of a living room window to bring such shared delight? Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing of any great import, in the overall scheme of things.

Just a cat.

A few years ago, a young family up the end of our street kept some cats around and didn’t worry too much about things like mating and kittens. Although I’m not sure, I would guess that a fair quantity of litters emerged and that those kittens were distributed throughout the area via good will and word of mouth. The family have moved on now and somebody else is in the house but the physical reminders of their stay are still an everyday part of life in our neighbourhood. I guess some of those kittens didn’t get successfully distributed to accepting and enthusiastic homes. I guess they simply stayed around the street, picking up their scraps of kindnesses wherever they could and sheltering in whatever coal bunker has its door left ajar on any given night.

The cats are distinctive, primarily white but with black smudges in various configurations around their bodies. I think this colouring is sometimes known as ‘Two Tone.’ There are theories about how the black pigment forms in the womb over time and the earlier born litters will be whiter and the later born will have more black on them. The colour spreads from the spine which is why most two-tone cat’s bellies are white. I don’t think this 'cooking in the womb' thing is entirely correct. I think it’s more a ‘Genetic Soup’ thing going on but it’s still a nice thought – that the kittens are cooking up their colourings while gestating gently in their Mum’s belly.

Of the litters that emerged from the end of the street (I can’t prove any of this, of course) there now remains four fully grown cats who inhabit our neighbourhood. I would say they are each now about four or five years old and they may have all come from the same litter or they may not. Regardless, they are all variations on the aforementioned black and white Two-Tone model.

The first is white with a fair measure of nicely placed black patches, including one over one eye. She is called Puddy and, inasmuch as she is anyone’s, she is now our cat. I have written about her fairly extensively in these pages over the past few years. If you put ‘Cat’ in the search box on this page, you’ll find lots of stuff. She sleeps in our hall most nights, in her cosy basket, where she has food, water and litter tray to hand… sorry, paw. She stays over less in the Summer nights. There are adventures to be had then and she will always be, in her heart, an outdoor cat. In the evenings, she will often sits in an armchair and watch telly with us. She seemed to quite enjoy the recent machinations of The Traitors.

I call the second cat Wiggy because he has a prominent black patch smack-bam on the top of his head, which makes him look like a Marx Brothers character. But Wiggy is no joke. He is a rough tough Alpha Male tomcat, lean and mean and eternally scowling and slinking around. I’ve written a little about him too. Put his name in the search box and he’ll come up.

The third cat is called Snowy, but only by me. Entirely white, a ghost-cat, rarely seen. She inhabits the street one up from ours and is clearly a sibling of some sort. When glimpsed, she seems healthy and lithe, doing okay.

Then there is the fourth cat. No name. Mostly white but with a little black around the head area. Anecdotally more affectionate than the others, who are a bit wild and stand-offish (though Patricia gets to stroke Puddy every day – I never have and I know I never will). He lives up around a house we used to live in before we got this one. Prowling the streets, carving out a survival strategy in the great suburban outdoors.

This last of the four cats is the reason why I smiled and why Patricia laughed as we passed a house down the road – the house that we used to live in before we got this one.

When we looked in, we saw this fourth cat. He was cosied-up in a deep cushioned basket, three feet from a warm stove. He was looking out at us and clearly contemplating his next snooze.

It was funny, sweet, and cheering because it clearly indicated one thing. The litter, fated to live on the streets, were easing their way in, as cats always seem to do. One into our house, now treasured and enjoyed there and now, some years later, another sibling doing the exact same thing to our neighbours as Puddy did to us. Smuggling his way into their hearts.

First the window cill, then a box outside, then a nice shelter in the shed, then the front hall, then the back hall and then, finally, the basket by the fire with water and vittles to hand.

We smiled because our neighbours are now being played just as we were played. They are becoming parents to the stray cat. Their fate is sealed now, I reckon. The cat is in.

But the smiles are not a facetious, wait-and-see-what trouble-you’ll-have-from-now-on kind of a smile. Not at all. The reasons for the smiles are twofold, I think. Firstly, they say to our neighbours that this is a positive thing for them, that they will have some fun with it.

And secondly, our smiles are saying, well done, mostly white cat.

You made it.