The Creativity Irony

Art is about flow. To be artistic is to have an innate ability to draw, to paint, to sculpt. Unlike other skills, like communication, it can’t be learnt or built upon.

But art is a form of communication. It’s a different way to convey a message, whether through song or sculpted stone. And because of this, it can be learnt. It can be built upon.

Excelling at art is a contradiction. To become good it takes discipline and focus. These characteristics are typically aligned with logical and conventional fields. Wouldn’t a structured approach stifle creativity?

Though, think about the greats. They didn’t pick up the brush and immediately have the ability to produce a masterpiece. No, what they had is an obsession with their chosen implement.

This hunger drove them. It drove them to spend countless hours practising and pursuing – then harassing – people who knew things that they didn’t. They started learning and never stopped.

Creativity, then, is a product of time, desire and dedication.

Advertisements

The All-night Diner: The Human Meatball

Ned flipped the sign to ‘open’  right at eight. He walked through the diner toward the kitchen and checked that everything was in place.

He scanned the floors: spotless. The table settings? Set. The stools were squared off around the bench that surrounded the kitchen and serving area.

Satisfied, he checked himself next. He re-tied his apron, as was his custom, and made sure his shirt was tucked in around his circumference. He inspected his shoelaces and made sure they sat in symmetry on top of his shoe.

Ned’s son, Tom, was preparing vegetables in the kitchen. There was a slight orange smudge on his apron. He looked up at his dad and said, ‘Good to go?’

‘All the ‘T’s’ have been crossed,’ Ned said as he opened the fridge. The diner prided itself on its service and preparation was a big part of this.

As if on cue, their first customers stepped through the door. Donny and Marco worked security and each night, without fail, they’d frequent the diner.

‘Evening, fellas,’ said Donny in his husky voice. Marco nodded his greeting. He didn’t talk much.

‘Boys, what do you say to a curry?’ Ned asked as he cleaned the gleaming counter.

‘Sign us up,’ said Donny speaking for the two of them.

And so the night began. There was a flow of diners as was the case most nights. wase was a slew of regulars, like Donny and Marco. Truck drivers, cab drivers and other insomniacs too.

It was 3 am when he stepped through the door. Barely. He was an enormous man and it was surprising to everyone in the diner that he was able to stand.

In fact, he moved quite well. Although he had the physique of a globe, there was no flabby overhang, and this was flabbergasting. He was, somehow, taut.

As he moved fluidly across the diner floor, he asked, ‘Do you do take away?’

The others in the diner sighed collectively in relief. The stools at the diner would crumple under the newcomer and leave him skewered. And there was no chance he was fitting in a booth. It was an impossibility.

Tom was the only one who wasn’t in awe of the man. Even the unflappable Ned was flapped.

‘We sure do. What can we get you?’ Tom said as the others tried to peel their eyes away from the enigmatic man.

‘Two of everything, please,’ said the human meatball. There was not a hint of playfulness in the man’s voice. This was not a joke.

‘Two of every item on the menu?’ Tom replied as he did the calculations in his head. They had the ingredients to do it. Just.

‘That’s exactly what I mean, my good man. I’ll pay in advance of course,’ the man replied and pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket.

‘Will a thousand dollars do?’ he said counting the bills.

Tom was busy on the calculator. ‘$876 is plenty,’ he said.

And so Tom and Ned got to work on two of everything. Naturally, as an overnight diner, the two weren’t used to big orders. Ned sent Tom off to get some supplies, just in case. The two worked tirelessly.

Meanwhile, the man waited outside. Not once did he check his watch. He stood like a statue and watched the passing traffic.

Wiping his brow, Tom walked outside.

‘Your order is ready, sir,’ he said with a smile.

The man nodded and followed Tom into the diner. Tom, Ned and the strange fellow each grabbed a few bags and walked them to the meatball’s car.

‘Thank you,’ the man said.

The man waved as if to say it was no big deal. Then he left.

*****

He drove for forty minutes. The two storey houses were replaced with smaller dwellings. Green lawns turned to yellow. Smooth streets became potholed ones.

He stopped outside a community centre. It had been built thirty years ago and hadn’t been touched since. The basketball hoops were weathered. Broken windows were boarded rather than replaced and graffiti covered most surfaces.

He unlocked the front door and made his way to the kitchen. The industrial fridges hummed. The man had made sure they hadn’t fallen into disrepair. He had them serviced over the years.

He transferred the food from the diner along with bags of other goods. Non-perishables mainly. He was sweating by the time he unloaded the last bag. Then he locked up and drove off.

*****

The kids milled around the front of the community centre at eight. They chattered among themselves. The girls talked to the girls about girl things. The boys grunted and chased each other around the basketball court.

A middle-aged woman arrived soon after in a faded red sedan. The antenna was crooked.

‘Morning, children,’ she said. The children smiled and greeted her as she walked to the front door.

They had learnt to wait before being called in. Rushing and pushing weren’t tolerated. Unless you wanted to be sent to the back of the line. A few even offered to carry things for the lady in hope of earning a few brownie points.

‘Alright, come on in. Remember to walk,’ she said as she flicked on the lights.

The kids did their best to not break out into a sprint. They had to wait again anyway when they reached the kitchen.

The kids had backpacks but most were empty. Every school day morning they’d come to the centre and collect some food. What did they do for dinner and on weekends? They went without, most likely.

‘One at a time, please. And no pushing,’ the lady said. She had never met the man who brought the food. She wondered what he was like. To source food each day and pay for it out of his own pocket. That was quite the act. He suffered from an odd medical condition from reports.

She was as equitable as she could be when she handed out the food. She took an inventory of what was available and eyeballed the number of kids. One hour later the fridge was all but empty.

She sighed, locked up and got in her car. She’d hoped the number of kids turning up each day would shrink but the opposite was true.

Her car finally turned over and she drove off.

The Wannabe Comic: Episode 2 – Postal Aspirations

Stuart opened the door to the apartment and heard the muffled noises of Don talking to himself in another room. He was practising one of his ‘bits’, Stuart realised. He made his way to Don’s room – quietly – not wanting to disturb him.

‘What’s the deal without cashiers? Paying them for groceries is not good enough anymore? This guy with a ponytail – it’s always the guy with a ponytail – asked me last week: “Do you have the exact change, bro?” No, I don’t. Or I would have given it to you, you hippie. Is it so much to ask for you to open up your cash register and give me some change? Or is your grasp of mathematics the issue? Do you spend too much time cultivating your greasy ponytail and not enough time with Pythagoras and the boys? Let me tell you how this works. If someone happens to give you more than the value of the item they’ve just purchased, you give them the difference between the two amounts. Get it? Go on, get your calculator out and practice on me,’ Don said folding his arms as if he was happy to wait all day.

‘Not bad,’ said Stuart who was leaning against the doorframe.

‘Thanks, Stu. That’s my day done and dusted, I think,’ he said as the two made their way to the kitchen.

‘A productive day, then? What other material have you come up with?’ Stuart asked. Don opened a cupboard and pulled out a box of cereal. There seemed to be an endless supply of the stuff.

‘Oh, that’s it. I’ve been honing that bad boy all day,’ Don said as he stuffed his hand into the box.

Better than nothing, Stuart thought.

‘Guess what?’ Don said, remembering something important. His words were garbled as he spoke with half-eaten cereal in his mouth.

‘I’m into the next round for the postman job’

‘Well done,’ said Stuart. He was relieved. Don needed the money. He had resorted to buying things on credit. Free money, Don called it. Also, cereal had become his one and only food source. Stuart and Philip had offered him money and food but he refused. He needed the incentive, he insisted.

‘That reminds me,’ Don said, putting down the cereal box. He walked off and came back with a steel and rubber contraption. It was one of those chin-up bars that could be set up in a doorway. He clipped the device on and looked at it proudly.

‘Time to get to work on the old fitness,’ said Don. He had the habit of saying ‘old’ before nouns. Stuart wasn’t sure why this was the case.

Don gripped the bar and pulled on it firmly. It held. He hopped then pulled himself up. After an eternal struggle, he’d pulled himself to the top. He lowered himself down with his face red and his body trembling,

Not a good sign, Stuart thought.

‘How far away is the physical test?’ Stuart asked.

Don was shaking out his arms then he tensed them up like a bodybuilder. ‘Four weeks, Stu. Plenty of time.’

Stuart wasn’t so sure. Don had gone through fitness phases in the past. None had lasted close to four weeks. Don walked out and this time returned with an ab machine.

‘It all kicks off tomorrow, my friend,’ Don said as he set the contraption in front of the TV. ‘I knew this would come in handy,’ he said as he tried out the device. ‘Oh,’ he stopped mid repetition as if he had a light bulb moment. He lowered himself to the floor and left the room mumbling something to himself.

He came back with a mechanical contraption this time. ‘What in the world is that?’ Stuart asked with a perplexed look on his face.

‘The Fat Burner 2000, of course. It was all the rage five years ago. You haven’t heard of it?’ Don said with surprise in his voice.

Stuart laughed. ‘No, I haven’t heard of it. It looks like junk, though,’

‘Now I can get some serious work done. Burn fat and watch TV at the same time. What a combination,’ Don said as he admired the setup of the lounge area cum gym.

‘Oh boy,’ Stuart said and rolled his eyes.


He was up early the next morning. It was a Saturday. He put a banana, milk and protein powder (he’d found covered in dust at the back of the pantry) into a blender. Not bad, he thought as he drank the liquid. Then, he cursed himself. He had forgotten to add a few raw eggs.

After deciding against cracking raw eggs into his mouth, he sets off for a jog.


‘I’m genuinely surprised to see that he’s gone running,’ Philip said. He was sitting on the couch flicking through cartoons. He’d found out about the TV. It had been replaced before he got a chance to get angry.

‘Yeah, I know,’ Stuart said, replying from his bedroom as he got changed. ‘I thought it would be another phase that ends before it starts.’

Their Saturday morning ritual was breakfast at the local café. Philip would order the pancakes and Stuart would get the bacon and eggs. Don would get both.

And there he was, in their usual spot – with pancakes and bacon and eggs. Stuart and Philip looked at each other. Stuart closed his eyes and took a slow breath. He reminded Philip of a parent preparing to berate a child for not doing their homework.

‘Boys,’ Don said with a mouthful of pancakes. He gestured for them to sit with him.

‘Finished your run already?’ Philip asked as he called the waiter over.

‘Yeah. It didn’t go so well,’ Don said. He was more concerned with his breakfast than he was with Philip and Stuart.

Don was sweat-free. The café was only a block and a half from their apartment. He hadn’t made it far before pulling the pin.

‘But,’ Don said while wiping yolk from his face, ‘I learned a valuable lesson.’ He sat back cradling his belly. There was a look of deep satisfaction on his face as if he had accomplished something great. Mind you, eating both the pancakes and bacon and eggs was no mean feat.

‘What’s that?’ Stuart said. The frustration that was clear on his face moments ago had already melted away. It was hard to stay mad at Don.

‘I need to eat more before training,’ Don said matter-of-factly. ‘I ran out of juice, today. I’ll need more fuel next time’

This time it was Philip’s turn to let out a sigh. Although he fit the geek mould he had been an accomplished middle-distance runner in his younger years. He no longer competed but he kept up his fitness. Fuel wasn’t Don’s problem, Philip thought. He was in average shape and undisciplined.

‘I’m going to have to train you, aren’t I?’ Philip said.

‘You’d do that for me? I mean it’s not really necessary. I’m pretty confident I could pass the test in my current condition.’

Don certainly had confidence in spades. Or was it hubris? There was no way he was passing the test. Unless the test involved eating.

‘Yup, starting from tomorrow. We’ll do a practice run of the test to see what areas you need to focus on. Then each day, before and after work, we’ll train. I’ll leave you something to do during the day too,’ Philip said.

‘All right!’ Don said. Although he didn’t like to admit it, he had no idea how to plan an exercise program. He was more of a ‘watch TV and eat cereal’ kind of guy.

‘In that case,’ said Don, shifting his plate to one side, ‘I better get my energy levels up. Waiter!’


The test to become a postman, or woman, was fair, Stuart thought. He had looked over the document yesterday after returning from the café. There was a bodyweight part – push-ups and sit-ups – and a riding component. Philip was confident he could get Don up to standard – if he stuck to the plan.

Don had insisted on another big breakfast before the test run despite Philip urging him against the idea. He was better off eating a small meal now and a bigger meal after, Philip had said. But Don insisted.

Now they were at the front of the apartment block. Don, of course, didn’t have a conventional bike. It was a weird design with the wheels appearing too small for the frame.

‘Ok,’ Philip said with his head down, typing away on his phone. He clicked the phone into the front of Don’s bike. It would be his GPS. ‘All you have to do is follow the route. It will tell you when to turn,’ Philip said.

‘Got it,’ Don said while adjusting his helmet. It had lights on the back so people behind him knew which way he was turning. It looked stupid, Stuart thought.

‘Stuart’s going to time you and I’m going to follow behind so you don’t get lost – at a bakery or doughnut shop,’ Philip said with a smile.

‘Alright, alright,’ Don said nodding. He acknowledged the joke was on him. ‘That was a one-off,’ he said.

‘Are you ready to go? Remember to pace yourself,’ Philip said as he hopped onto his bike.

‘Got it,’ Don said and they set off.

Stuart set the time and took a seat on a park bench. Don had twenty minutes to do the circuit. A very old man appeared at the corner of the block. He was using a zimmer frame. Stuart couldn’t help but laugh inside as the pensioner walked past him – eventually.

He would put his frame too far ahead of him with his arms outstretched. Then he’d use gravity and stumble forward. It was a miracle he didn’t fall.

Ah, the joys, Stuart thought.


It was forty minutes before Stuart saw Don and Phil. That was not a good sign. Don’s face was red and flustered. He was pushing his bike. Phil too was walking. But it was probably out of empathy more than anything else.

‘What happened?’ Stuart said, showing them the time on his phone.

Philip shook his head. Had he bitten off more than he could chew?

Don’s face had almost returned to its normal complexion. ‘Hills, man; they suck,’ Don said.

‘When he says hills, he means a slight incline,’ Philip corrected. ‘Plus, our friend Don here doesn’t know how to use the gears on his bike,’ he added.

‘I was in the zone! With the adrenaline pumping, I was focused on riding,’ Don said while using his hands to signal he had tunnel vision. ‘And I got a cramp, too,’

‘I told you not to eat too much!’ Philip said with an animated expression on his face.

Don rubbed his tummy and gave a wry smile. ‘Speaking of eating, let’s go get a post-workout meal. Donuts, anyone?’

Philip let out a sigh. ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do,’ he said.


The effect of accountability was surprising. Although Philip put his hand up to help Don, he was sceptical he could make an impact. He was a child in a man’s body, Philip thought.

But he kept to the program – when Philip and Stuart were around, anyway. He did all the morning, afternoon and weekend sessions, that were supervised, with good effort and perhaps a little too much enthusiasm.

What he did during the day was another question. When his housemates got back from work they often found him watching TV while on the vibration machine. He insisted he had spent most of the day preparing and that the vibration machine was the ‘finisher’.

His fitness improved. Soon he could ride the length of the route without taking a break. To the general public’s dismay, he could fit into more of his old, gimmicky fitness clothes as the weeks past and he leaned down.

‘Do you really have to wear those tights?’ Stuart asked while grimacing.

‘Each second counts, Stuey. These bad boys will make me aerodynamic like a Concorde. Oh baby!’ he said while sprinting on the spot.

The sight made people have sore eyes.

Don was excited because today marked the final training today. Philip, with reluctance, gave Don the weekend off. The test was on Monday. He didn’t want fatigue to be a factor – or an excuse.

Philip got home from work minutes later and the three walked to the local park to start training.

‘Farts,’ Don said under his breath to no one in particular.

‘What?’ said Philip.

‘I said: farts,’ Don said looking up. There was a serious expression on his face. ‘They’re so weird.’ He spoke like he was describing a unique animal or plant.

Philip and Stuart shook their heads in unison. They did that a lot when around Don.

‘Serious question: do you guys like the smell of your own farts? Because there’s not been a fart of mine that I haven’t liked.’

Stuart knew Don wanted his genuine opinion on farts. The guy was an enigma. Before he got a chance to reply, Don went on like a fart philosopher.

‘Each fart is unique. The smell, the range and the linger factor,’ he said.

Philip broke out into a laugh. ‘The linger factor,’ he said. ‘You’re a weird man, Don. A weird, weird man.’

Don looked up. The laughing had broken his fart reverie. ‘Surely you worked that out by now Phil,’ he said giving Philip a nudge with his elbow.

‘Answer the question: do you like the smell of your own farts? Then – I promise – never to bring it up again. This week,’ Don said with a grin.

Stuart sighed and rubbed his temple. There was no escaping.

‘I admit, I like the smell of my own farts. But that’s not to say I’ll seek it out. I don’t fart then waft the fumes into the pathway of my nostrils. If it happens to reach my nose, I’ll take a whiff,’ Stuart said like a man in confession.

Don smiled and nodded his head. His suspicions were being confirmed. ‘And you Phil?’ he asked.

‘Me too, ‘ Philip said. It was a whisper, but he had said it. Philip’s shoulders slumped like a man found guilty of murder.

Don slapped both of their backs. ‘Good to hear, boys. Like three peas in a pod – as they say,’ Don said.

‘Let’s train,’ Philip said. He needed something that would wick away his fart guilt.

The session went well. Philip was confident that Don would pass the physical exam. If he didn’t get distracted, that is. Philip often caught him staring into shop windows, inspecting bugs or talking to strangers. Most of the time he was practising his half-baked jokes on them. The poor souls.

‘The only thing left now is to execute on Monday,’ Stuart said as they stretched. Don used the park fence for balance and still managed to stumble about.


Stuart and Philip made sure Don wouldn’t miss his exam. They woke him up and accompanied him to the venue.

‘But the test is two hours away,’ Don said. But his protests were ignored. Two hours early was better than two hours late.

‘Remember not to stop at shops. Don’t talk to people – even if they talk to you first,’ Philip said. He and Stuart had to leave for work. They were reluctant to leave him. It was like leaving a preschooler alone at the train station.

‘I’ve got this, boys,’ Don said and waved them away. ‘We’ll celebrate tonight!’ he called out as they walked away.


Philip left work early. He wanted to find out the outcome of Don’s training. Had he done enough?

He was slow to open the door, afraid that he might not like what was on the other side. Sure enough, Don was in his usual spot doing his usual thing. Eating cereal out of a box while watching The King of Queens. He looked relaxed and content.

‘Phil, come over take a seat. Did you know the old guy in this show is Ben Stiller’s dad?’

Philip walked over with trepidation. He ignored Don’s question. ‘Well? How did you go today? Did you pass?’ Philip said.

Don laughed as if just remembering the significance of the day. ‘Oh yeah, the physical was easy. I only got distracted once,’ he said.

‘So you’re a postie, then?’ Philip asked. He sat across from Don and put down his bag. Stuart walked through the door as he did.

‘He passed!’ Philip said.

‘So you’re a postie?’ Stuart said.

‘Well, not quite,’ Don said. He was looking through the hole in the Fruit Loop like a periscope.

‘But you’re into the next round?’ Philip said.

‘Not exactly,’ said Don. Now he had a stack of different coloured Fruit Loops. He fished around the cereal box, presumably looking for the colour he was missing.

‘I didn’t do so good in the written section,’ he said.

‘There was a written section. Do you mean the part where you write down your name and contact details?’ Stuart said. Philip had already slumped back into the couch, defeated.

‘Essentially. There were a few other questions too. ‘Why do you want to be a postie?’ for example,’ Don said. He stuffed the now-complete stack of Fruit Loops in his mouth.

‘And what did you say?’ Phil asked, staring at the ceiling.

‘The truth.’

He stood up suddenly and turned his head sharply towards Philip and Stuart. ‘I told them,’ he said in a dramatic voice, ‘that this job is a stepping-stone. Because my ultimate goal is to become the greatest stand-up comedian of all time.’

Stuart went to speak but Don gestured with his finger. He wasn’t finished just yet.

‘And I won’t stop until my name is in lights!’ he said.

He started making mock cheering noises. Hushed at first, but building. Then he put on an announcer’s voice: ‘Introducing the don of comedy, Don Barlow!’

Now his imitation of the crowd exploded into raucous applause. Stuart and Phil couldn’t help but smile. Stuart played the role of an overwhelmed female in the crowd, ‘Oh my!’ he said and brought his hand to his forehead before fainting onto the couch.

‘Donny, Donny, Donny!’ Phil began a chant, as he hands became a megaphone.

Don had put down the cereal at this point. He was busy accepting the applause and pointing at people in the crowd, thanking them individually. He took in the applause and began to do mock bodybuilder poses. That brought about some hoots from the crowd.

Finally, he gestured for everyone to settle. ‘Thank you,’ he said in a booming voice. A coffee mug had become his microphone.

‘Thank you,’ he repeated. By the now, the crowd had quietened to a spattering of applause. Don was gathering his thoughts.

He laughed to himself as if remembering a funny joke. ‘You know what I’ve always found odd about comedian’s introductions? When the comic tells the crowd where they are,’ he said then cleared his voice in mock imitation:

‘”Thank you, Perth, Australia.”’

‘The crowd responds: ‘wait, we’re from Perth!’ As if it’s news to them. ‘That means he’s talking about us!”

Phil nudged Stuart, ‘That’s so true.’ The two were doing a great job as the crowd.

‘Then, of course, there’s the follow-up: the comparison to another city or town,’ Don said then jumped back into the fake comedian role.

‘”You know, I was in Adelaide last week. It’s a nice place,’ he said while scratching his chin, then went on, ‘if you’re 94-years-old, blind and don’t mind sitting in a rocker all day talking about churches’”.

‘The crowd, by this point, is thinking: mhmm, Adelaide sure is boring. It ain’t nothing compared to Perth,’ he said, snapping his fingers.

‘I can see what they’re trying to do, ‘ Don said.

‘They’re getting the crowd on their side. Then, if it’s a shit show, the crowd will at least say, “Well, he wasn’t that funny but he sure was right about Adelaide. That place stinks!”’ Don said.

This went on for a while. Stuart and Philip had a go as the comedian too. The three mocked up different comedians each doing their best impression. Stuart’s whining Jerry Seinfeld voice was a favourite.

Eventually, they were sitting around the TV passing around the cereal box

‘So, what’s the plan?’ Phil asked.

Don snorted. ‘You know me, Phil. There is no plan; that’s why I’m in this bind. But I’m not worried.’

‘We have faith in you, Don,’ Stuart said with a mouthful of cereal in his mouth.

‘I’d say it’s time for dinner,’ Phil said as he shook the now-empty cereal box.

Don jumped up and held the door open for the others. ‘Curry?’ he asked excitedly. ‘It’ll give me a chance to try some of my curry-related material.’

‘Curry it is,’ Stuart said.

 

The Wannabe Comic: Episode 1 – The Pilot

‘OK. I think I’ve got something,’ said Don. He was busy with his head down scrawling on a piece of paper. Stuart rolled his eyes and smiled. Don looked up; the enthusiasm on his face was clear.

‘You know the armrests on planes. Most times they don’t cause an issue. It’s a neutral zone, like Switzerland,’ said Don.

Stuart bit into his apple and nodded. He wasn’t sure where this was going. Don went on:

‘But sometimes the armrest becomes a battle zone. One time I got to my seat and there was a guy already sitting in the middle chair. He was an old guy and had a bit of a belly.’

Don paused. He looked lost in thought. He sometimes did this and needed prompting. Stuart obliged, ‘Go on,’ he said between chews.

‘So, he was sitting there like a king on his throne. He took complete ownership of the area. I stuffed my bag into the overhead compartment and thought he would be more obliging when I sat down beside him. But nope. He gave me a commanding look and kept on sitting,’ said Don.

Another stinker, Stuart thought. But he was only halfway through his apple so he urged Don on. ‘And?’ he said while gesturing to Don to keep the story moving.

‘I couldn’t get a handhold on the armrest. But I bided my time and waited for the window seat guy to come. And when he did, I thought, this would change everything. It would reset the playing fields and middle seat guy would have to deal with pressure from both sides,’ Don said. His eyes were glowing as if this were a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Stuart continued with his apple. An underrated fruit, he thought. It’s been a staple for so long that people didn’t give it the credit it deserved. Sweet and healthy and crunchy…

Whoa. The more time he spent with Don, the more he daydreamed. It was contagious. Don was waiting for him to prompt him again. ‘Go on,’ he said.

‘I was anxious to sit back down to get part of the armrest when the window seat guy arrived. But as the aisle guy, I had to sit down last and the middleman was too quick. He took up the position as he had before. He was dominant,’ Don said. Now he looked wistful like this was one of the golden opportunities he’d missed in his life.

‘I wasn’t giving up that easy, of course. I moved around and fidgeted in a guise to pressure him and ‘accidentally’ bump his elbow off the armrest,’ he said.

‘But he was solid as a rock. Immovable. And just as I was about to give up he addressed the window seat guy and me. He said: ‘Listen up. You’ve got the window seat. You can look out. You can rest your head on the side. And you won’t be distracted. And you. You’ve got the aisle seat. You can get up whenever you want. So I get the armrests,’’ Don said making his voice a fraction deeper and more commanding.

‘It wasn’t up for discussion,’ Don went on. ‘He said his bit then went back to staring straight ahead. I glanced across at the window seat guy. He was one of those pencil-thin types. You know the ones that are tall so they have to buy bigger fitting clothing? They look like a scarecrow. T-shirts hang from them. Anyway, he was happy to submit. He was already involved on his game thingy with his headphones on. I wasn’t going to get any support from him.’

The apple was finished now. Apparently, the seeds contained traces of cyanide. I wonder how many seeds I’d have to eat for it to have an effect? Stuart thought while examining the core.

‘So, that was it. I gave up. I rolled my shoulders forward to try to get comfortable. And then I stewed over the arrogance of this guy. For the next two hours, I thought of imaginative ways to get back at him. Farts were my best ammunition,’ Don said.

Stuart wasn’t sure where he stood with farting on aeroplanes. Holding in farts can’t be good for you. But a good fart can wreak havoc. That first aeroplane fart holds the most risk. How well can you control the exit? Can you guarantee it will be soundless? And how strong will it smell? Then, there is the ‘linger factor’. He had done farts that seemed to embed themselves in the surrounding structures and grow stronger with time. No joke.

‘What do you think?’ said Don. He was sitting in his chair so it was balancing on its back two legs like school kids do. He was like a school kid, Stuart thought.

‘What do I think of what?’ Stuart said tossing the apple into the bin.

‘The joke,’ he said.

‘Oh. Where was the punch line?’ Stuart replied.

‘It’s situational comedy, Stu; like Jerry Seinfeld. Lots of his stuff doesn’t have a punch line,’ Don said. Now he was folding a piece of paper into halves. He was always fiddling with something.

‘True. It was OK. It needs a bit of polish, though,’ Stuart said. Don wasn’t listening. He was focusing on getting a final fold out of the piece of paper. His tongue was sticking out of his mouth; a sign he was concentrating hard.

Don was an enigma to Stuart. The man was older than him but he was so childish. He wasn’t sure how he’d made it this far in life without getting hit by a bus or falling to his death down a flight of stairs. He was one of those book smart guys with no street sense. There was no limit to his naivety.

‘How’s the job hunting going?’ Stuart asked as he sat down on the couch. A tennis ball was ensconced between two pillows. He picked it up and started tossing it from one hand to the other.

‘Good. I finished my resume. My key skills include excellent communicator, team member and leader,’ Don said with sarcasm.

‘I’d hate to be the guy that filters through resumes. They’d all be the same. I was tempted to write something outlandish like stunt double,’ Don said. He had finished squishing the paper. He got up and spread himself out on the other couch.

Don had been a software engineer, like Stuart. But he didn’t fit the mould. He wasn’t geeky and he was never into gaming. He had done it because he didn’t know what to do. It was his Dad who had encouraged him because he could see it being a growth industry in years to come.

He was right, too. Don had made good money and climbed the ranks. He had been Stuart’s senior. But he didn’t manage his money well. He would have earned a lot over the years, Stuart calculated. And without a wife and kids plus no loans, he should have had money saved or invested somewhere.

But he didn’t.

Don picked up the remote and the half-eaten cereal box from the coffee table. He had bought the Seinfeld box set. Watching the show was his apprenticeship, he insisted to his housemates.

Don had decided he’d become a comedian. It came as a surprise when he quit as a software engineer. He was the sort who looked to go through life on autopilot. But, as it turns out, this wasn’t the case.

In this episode, Jerry finds out that the chef of the restaurant doesn’t wash his hands. Jerry refuses to eat his renowned food.

Don had quit with no plan. Things will work out, he insisted to his housemates. They weren’t so sure. Don spent most of his days like this: lounging around, watching TV and snacking. He’d work on his material, from time to time but not as much as he should have.

Don was examining each piece of cereal before putting it into his mouth. It made a loud crunching noise when he bit down.

It had been months since Don had quit. Stuart and the others were getting worried. His finances could last him a while but getting into a habit like this couldn’t be good. The longer he stayed in this mode, the harder it would be to break, they argued.

He waved off their concern. ‘It’s part of the plan, boys. It’s all part of the plan,’ he’d say.

When they asked him what the plan was, he explained:

‘I’ll get bored lazing about. Eventually. Then, I’ll get to work. But now I need to relax and get this laziness out of my system.’

They groaned when they heard this but he was adamant.

‘Oh!’ Don said, sitting up like he’d been struck by lightning. This ought to be good, Stuart thought.

‘I know what I’ll do while I work my way up the comic ranks. I’ll be a delivery driver. Thank you, Newman!’ Don said while still chewing on cereal.

Newman was a Seinfeld character. He was a postman and also a constant thorn in Jerry’s side.

‘A delivery driver?’ Stuart said. His face contorted as if he’d been given a plate of raw herring to eat.

‘You’re not very sharp, are you Stuey boy? Think about it. I’ll deliver hundreds of parcels. Each time someone opens the door to sign, it gives me a chance to test my material!’ Don said. He still had the cereal box in his hand but now his arms were outstretched as if he’d uncovered something great, like gravity.

‘So it’s settled,’ Don said to himself, relaxing into the couch.

Stuart grinned and let out a sigh. It wasn’t the worst idea, he had to admit. But he’d still have to get the job. ‘When are you going to start looking for work?’ Stuart said.

‘Patience, Stu. There’ll be plenty of time to work. You need to relax more. Throw me the tennis ball.’

Don was done with the cereal, for now. He caught the ball on his chest. Now he was tossing it against the wall and catching the rebound. He was half paying attention to the show and half the ball. This will end well, Stuart thought.

As Stuart went to grab the cereal box off the coffee table, Don shouted, ‘No!’ A misguided throw hit the TV. Stuart looked across to Don who was now sitting bolt upright, eyes wide and hands out like an earthquake had struck.

The TV was new. It was Philips, one of the other housemates. Philip fit the software engineer mould. He spent most of his spare time gaming – on this TV.

‘Oh boy,’ said Don as he looked at the tennis ball mark on the screen. There was a black patch of nothingness where the ball had hit the TV. ‘It’s not that noticeable,’ he said nodding his head a little.

Stuart smiled and shook his head. This was typical Don. ‘I think Phil will notice, Don,’ Stuart said.

‘Yeah, I guess you’re right. Can we fix it?’ he said. He was kneeling next to the screen inspecting the damaged site.

Stuart sighed. ‘We’re software engineers, Don. This is hardware. Plus, by the time we bought the replacement parts, it wouldn’t be worth our while.’

‘Time to dip into the old savings then,’ Don said. He walked into his room and came out with some old underwear. It wasn’t actual underwear. The product was advertised as a safe store for cash because it was inconspicuous. Don thought it was a great idea and had bought a pair. His housemates had argued that he could have used his own pair of underwear for the same purpose. Don’s reply was, ‘Oh yeah,’ and then he handed them a pair of their own.

‘Hmm. Less money than I thought in here,’ Don said as he pulled out a few notes. Most of Don’s money was locked away in an investment fund that he couldn’t access until he was older. It was good in many ways. If he had access to it all now, he’d be a homeless old man. He was not wise with his money, as the fake underwear purchase showed.

Stuart called his friend Brad. He was a hardware guy and would be able to solve this problem.

Stuart: Hi Brad, it’s Stu.
Brad: Stuey boy! How are things, my friend?
Stuart: Can’t complain, I’ve–
Brad: The Stu-ster! Remember that time we played Pokemon Snap all night. Such a good night!
Stuart: Yeah, I remember. Good times. Hey, I’ve got a favour to ask. Don–
Brad: And remember that time we dominated Call of Duty. We teamed up and dominated, my man!
Stuart: Yes, Brad. I remember that too. Don damaged Phil’s TV – can you fix it?
Brad: Oh man, major pain. Of course, I can help. Are you fellas home? I’m in the area.
Stuart: Thanks, Brad. Yup, swing on by.
Brad: Cool as a mule, my man. I’ll see you in a bit.
Stuart: See you soon, Brad.

Phew. Brad was a handful. He was well-intentioned and friendly but he was also intensely annoying. He worked at the local entertainment store – in the gaming section, no less. Though he was the type capable of much more, he was content with his job. Brad seemed to be put on deliveries a lot. That had something to do with his friendly but grating demeanour, Stuart thought.

Don had put his money to the side. He lay with his knees bent and his laptop resting on his thighs. He looked focused – for once.

‘I think I get why people don’t change jobs they don’t like. Applying for jobs is tedious. So many hoops,’ Don said as he typed.

‘Prior experience,’ Don said in a mocking tone. ‘As long as you can drive a car and walk, how much experience do you need. Ridiculous.’

Recognising his diminishing cash reserves had spurred Don into acting. He realised his finances were a little thin. Stuart was pleased. No amount of coaxing had influenced him to this point. But the lack of cash had done the trick.

‘Must have an intricate knowledge of the inner city,’ said Don. ‘What a load. Google Maps, my friend. Have you heard of it?’ he said, expecting a response from the computer.

Stuart didn’t want to interrupt Don while he was on a roll but his current frame of mind was perfect for what Stuart wanted to ask:

‘Have you thought about selling some of the things in ‘the chest’?’

The chest was full of Don’s less-wise purchases – items of the same ilk as the dirty underwear savings. He called himself an ‘early-adopter’. And while some of the stuff he bought turned out to of some use – like an erasable notepad – most of it was utter garbage. He bought a jacket that turns into a tent. It looked like an over-sized poncho when he put it on. ‘It could come in handy,’ he had said. But Don had never been camping in his life. Nor had he gone camping since.

Don turned to Stuart. His head rotated in slow motion, like one of those freaky clown heads at fairs. What was with those anyway? Why did no one else think that little kids sticking balls into the mouth’s of clowns was weird?

‘I hope you’re joking right now, Stuey,’ Don said.

Stuart knew Don would resist but he pushed on:

‘You have a chest full of stuff that you don’t use. I don’t see the problem. You’re in need of money, not a headband that lights up.’

‘Stuey, that’s good stuff. That headband doesn’t just light up. It indicates when I turn too,’ Don said.

‘But you’ve never used it!’ Stuart said gesticulating with his hands.

‘Well I won’t be able to use it if I sell it, will I Stu?’

Don was infuriating at times. He must be missing the part of the brain that’s responsible for logic, Stuart thought. He gave up. He’d been down this road many times before with the same result. He asked:

‘How’s the job hunt going?’

‘Not so good. There are more people offering their service as a delivery driver than there are delivery driver jobs. And the few jobs that are advertised ask for at least two years of experience in the field,’ Don said. He looked deflated and he was a hard guy to deflate.

‘Who knew that so many people want to become delivery drivers,’ Stuart said.

Don perked up. ‘It’s the dream job, Stu. Think about it. It’s like one big game. You go to one spot, drop off a package then the next; all with a time limit.’

Stuart snorted. It didn’t sound like much fun to him. ‘ So you’ve given up on deliveries then?’

Don flopped his head back against the headrest of the couch in a dramatic gesture. ‘My dream is over,’ he said.

The door rang. ‘Oh man, Phil’s gonna be pissed,’ Don said, turning his head toward the door.

It probably wasn’t Phil, Stu thought as he got up to answer the door. His suspicions were correct. There stood Brad with a big grin. He wore glasses round glasses on his round face. His skin was so smooth, Stuart thought. Brad was chubby; there was no doubting that. Stuart wondered whether his chubbiness contributed to his flawless skin.

‘Stuey, my man!’ Brad said as he put his hand up for one of those gangster handshakes. The one that ends in an embrace. Stuart obliged – with reluctance.

‘B-rad!’ said Don. The two got on well. Probably because they were both idiots, Stuart thought.

‘Don,’ Brad said in his best Godfather voice. He was gesturing like the Italian boss too.

Stuart clasped Brad by the shoulders and guided him to the broken TV. Otherwise the two – Don and Brad – would get into an animated discussion about nothing in particular.

‘Oh, this won’t take long at all. An easy fix,’ said Brad as he knelt by the TV.

‘Nice,’ Don said. He made a fist like a tennis player who’d won a crucial point.

‘Brad, you’re in deliveries. Don wants to get a job as a delivery driver too. Is it a hard industry to crack?’ asked Stuart.

‘Yeah. Unfortunately, it’s a tough one. I only do a bit of delivery work – most of my work is in the store. People clamber over each other to get the delivery role,’ said Brad as he fiddled with the back of the TV.

‘But, the postal service is about to begin their recruitment drive. It’s not exactly the same though it’s pretty close. You could look into that, Don,’ Brad said.

‘Success!’ Don said. He opened his laptop screen and started to search.

‘You’re right, Brad. There are no van or motorbike positions open this year but there are positions for bicycle riders. You’ve got to start somewhere, I suppose,’ said Don.

Don began to read from the website:

‘”There will be three components to the recruitment process. The first is your written application. The second is the physical capabilities exam and the third is the in-person interview”’

Don started to hop around on the spot, like a prizefighter.

‘Time to get the old rig back into shape,’ he said as he threw shadow punches and darted around the room.

Brad stood up having fixed the screen. He too began dodging and ducking. Soon, the two were in a mock fight – commentating their own bout, of course.

‘In the red corner,’ Brad said in his best announcer’s voice ‘is Donny the Destroyer.’

Don thrust his arms into the air and acknowledged the ‘crowd’. Brad did his best to simulate their raucous applause. Don threw a few combos and bounced around the room only to step onto a cord.

There would be no fixing the TV this time. It exploded when it hit the ground.

‘Oh boy,’ Don said. Even now he was nonplussed.

He emptied the contents of his wallet and handed it to Brad. The last of his money would be used to pay for the TV. Brad took the funds and nodded, knowing what he had to do next.

The two unplugged the TV picked it up and made there way out of the apartment.

‘I better get to work on that job application,’ Don said upon returning from Brad’s truck.

‘And your fitness regime starts now!’ said Brad and began to jog on the spot.

‘Hut hut hut hut hut,’ Brad said with Don joining in. The two made their way down the corridor making noises akin to footy training. Stuart shook his head, smiled and closed the door.

My Early Life by Winston Churchill

‘He’s a playful chap’.

That’s how Winston Churchill comes across in My Early Life. The autobiography captures Churchill, from his perspective, from childhood to early adult life. He points out events and people that shaped him and how he viewed the world.

His jovial attributes are in stark contrast to how I perceived him. By the time he figured in historical textbooks he had matured thanks to the harsh realities of war. Relentless, unforgiving and dire.

So, what did I learn?

Make the most of your father

Churchill senior passes away when Winston is young. In, My Early Life, young Churchill reflects on this and draws some conclusions:

  • Learn all that you can from your father – his successes and his failures. He’s been through a lot. But why stop at your father? Learn from everyone around you. Don’t be shy but be courteous. It takes time for people to open up. Build a relationship, show that you’re interested and people will be happy to share.
  • Know your father’s story. Don’t focus only on the practical stuff. Understand the man your father is. What makes him tick? Why does he act that way?
  • Enjoy his company. We don’t often consider our immediate family as friends. But don’t let age or the parent-child construct stop you from developing a friendship. Often, we have so much in common. All it takes is time and a little effort to build something meaningful.

There is such a thing called luck

We have no control over luck. And because of this, according to Churchill, luck is neither good nor bad. It simply is. Whichever way the coin falls we have to deal with the consequences. Churchill says:

‘Jump the fences when they come’

Be wary of labelling things as a ‘stroke of bad luck’. Young Churchill uses the example of a time he was injured. He cursed his misfortune. It affected his ability to play polo! But, it proved a saving grace later in life. He went down a different course because of the injury and missed out on a war that could have led to his demise.

Churchill also points out how fickle life is. Sometimes you can work hard only for everything to fall in a heap. Then, other times, things fall into place with next to no effort. Roll with the punches.

Be bold – regardless of the consequences

Young Churchill was relentless in pursuing his goals. He didn’t hedge his bets. Once decided, he’d go after it.

He wasn’t afraid of asking for things either. He saw rejection as a small price to pay compared to what could be gained.

What is that holds us back? What makes us indecisive? Overanalysing is a driving factor for many. Thinking: it probably won’t work out anyway, so what’s the use? We worry about the things that could go wrong and how others will react. What will he think? Will she think less of me?

Poppycock says Churchill (note: he didn’t actually say this – to the best of my knowledge). Follow your instincts. Make some rash decisions. There’s plenty of time to be conservative.

From boy to man

My Early Life is an insight into Churchill’s mindset. His bold approach is what stood out to me. Life is a series of opportunities, according to Churchill. A corridor of endless open doors. But there’s no certainty. So, do we enter not knowing what’s inside? Or do we pace up and down the hallway not risking anything but not achieving anything either?