A word to the wise. Don’t forget to sunscreen your feet. The ramifications can be life-changing.
I forgot. Then I fell asleep, plates-of-meat enjoying the full offering of a 35-degree sun. For hours. Swollen yellow blisters erupting from shredded skin. Too gross? You should see it from my side.
Can’t waltz, can’t pogo, can’t hover over a Callaway Exocet with an anticipatory three-iron, can’t sleep. And what is it that allows those nearest and dearest to heap scorn upon your heightened awareness that your wounds are entirely self-inflicted? ‘Goose’ [said Mayhem], ‘Cock’ [added Meander, warming to the theme], ‘Dickhead’ [scoffed Jan, taking it a step further] and ‘Poltroon’ [not sure that Belty quite gets the rules of engagement here].
And why is it that the universe chooses now to creak into clown mode and deliver a blow from the other side of a fence that you weren’t even aware existed?
My phone pinged.
No mean feat since reception is practically zero at Barney’s Cape. At the end of that intrusion was an invitation to interview for a job, in the city, tomorrow. Not just a job, but a six-month contract weighed down by impossible piles of money, sufficient to tilt the planet in my direction.
‘You have to go,’ insisted a frowning Jan.
‘You have to go,’ insisted a grinning Belty. Was that a lascivious grin?
‘On your bike,’ harmonised Mayhem and Meander.
‘But my feet’, I protested.
‘You’ll survive,’ they chorused.
I had to leave immediately and spend the night in town to be able to dress in the finery appropriate to fronting the interviewing panel by 10am. Or so they told me.
The rapidly disintegrating 1993 Mercedes Rustbucket allows many indiscretions, but its intact driver-side floor panels are my new favourite. As I drove into the evening sun, I treated my screaming feet to bursts of icy water from a thermos packed for that purpose. The water accumulated into a kind of therapeutic billabong. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
My mind was then able to wander. Fuelled by the country music station nasalling songs about love gone wrong, I mused over how both Jan and Belty seemed very keen to see me go. Was it how swiftly Jan had packed my bag? Or how Belty was able to organise a filled tank for the Merc in the few minutes I had with the children? Or how Jan and Belty stood side-by-side shrinking in my rear vision mirror waving me away until we were out of sight of each other? Food for thought, but not particularly flavoursome.
The new day brought its own surprises. While the lack of a razor to mow my stubble was slightly disheartening, it was the size of my feet and their insubordination that delivered the coup-de-grace. They were swollen beyond shoes of any kind.
Then the selfie of my little family looking simultaneously forlorn and bored arrived with the salutation, ‘Good luck, Daddy!!!’. It was immediately undermined by its B-grade acting effort, and there, in the background: is that a shirtless Belty coming out of our bedroom? Is that a grin?
‘You bastards,’ I thought. I was not going to fall for their carefully choreographed hobbling of my [substantial] ego. ‘Let’s do this,’ I choked, archly deploying a voguey phrase imposed on us by low-tide Americans.
Scene 1: A large office in a large tower in a large city’s centre. Three people, ‘The Panel’, are enjoying a cup of tea and exchanging small talk. Enter an overweight, unshaven man with bare feet.
The lead panellist [he sits between the others] with exaggerated polite authority, as if speaking to a child, asks the visitor if he needs some help. Perhaps he is lost? The intruder reveals himself to be the next candidate for interview.
LEAD PANELLIST [chastened and professional, consults a sheaf of notes]: ‘Ah, Mr Mandible*, it appears you were once one of us, until mid-last year in fact, when you accepted a redundancy.’
ME: ‘Was obliged to rather than accepted, I think.’
LEFT PANELLIST: ‘It says ‘accepted’ here.’
ME: ‘I was gift-wrapped in impenetrable, vertiginous, backwards compatible, jargon-fizz and shown the door.’
RIGHT PANELLIST [recognising a fellow-traveller]: ‘Oh that paradigm has shifted. The Department of Interstitial Indices is now more aligned to maximising deflection of emerging fungibilities.’
ME: ‘Am I hearing that you are focussed on opaquerating ubiquitous goal-harvests with a view to isolating procreation of innovation?’
Silence. The panellists look at each other then erupt into a round of grin-sniggering and an embarrassment of high fives.
LEAD PANELLIST [barely containing his glee]: ‘Thank you Mr Mandible*, you will hear from us before the end of the day.’
Scene two: The interviewee stands before a bank of lifts where he is approached by a breathless Lead Panellist.
LEAD PANELLIST: ‘Just one more thing, Mandible*, are the bare feet ongoing?’
ME: ‘Purely a one-off wack-puppy, envisioneered to estimaculate defunctionisation.’
LEAD PANELLIST, clearly staggered by the interviewee’s consistent absence of presence, offers a dishrag handshake: ‘Until day’s end, Mandible*, until day’s end.’
Now what? Mount up and return to the coast and into the folded arms of my family, or lurk in anticipation of a quick answer from my inquisitors. I choose lunch.
Clive Sleem sees me in the dimth of the restaurant I am hiding my feet in, and approaches. ‘Mandible*,’ he offers stretching a flat, knuckles-up hand at my face and abruptly turning it 90 degrees in the tradition of alpha males everywhere searching for a reciprocal handcrush. He is disappointed.
‘Just been speaking to Lead Panellist down at I&I. Seems like you are a good thing for the SLIDE** contract…’
Sleem is that colleague who is everywhere when not needed and nowhere when they should be somewhere. He will arrive at day’s beginning, gladhand a few too slow to resist, pat a couple of backs too distracted to escape his sharp slap, share some eruptions from a newsfeed that has no credibility, and then melt away until day’s end when he will reprise the performance. He is a king hell bludger who knows too much to be fired. He is also the harbinger of what might come my way, should my interrogation be successful.
‘Piss off, Sleem,’ I advise, treating him in the only way he truly understands.
I decide to cut my losses, fuel up the Merc and point it towards the ocean.
This time the radio was sharing in-depth personal experiences of loss. A car-crash schadenfreude show – you can’t look away because a secret dark corner of your soul is devouring The Other’s distress. Entering through loss of time, of place, then traversing loss of job, wealth, then self-esteem goes down the toilet, followed by health, dignity, and, just eight kilometers from my destination, love and family get flushed away.
I arrive at the Belt bolthole to find a surprised Jan and Steven Maurice Belt [‘Not guilty, your worship!’] rubbing sleepy eyes. Before I can process this, my children are running down the hallway yelling ‘Daddy! Daddy!’, straight past me and into Belty’s arms. Then my phone rings.
‘Hello Mandible*,’ says the Lead Panellist, ‘Congratulations, your application was successful. Can you start tomorrow?’’
*Not my name.
**Seamless Leverage of Indolent Deliverable Experiences