A Recount of the Journey to Asia I Never Talk About. Part Three.

I suppose, on reflection, the vomit was a cry for help. There I was, slumped in some foot pedestrian’s offshoot, some blankly white-walled corridor, covered in uncooked hot pot. I made my way back to the MegaPlex.

They installed me, did Herman and his family (his rangy dad, his twinkly grandma, and the heretofore unintroduced Edgar, Herman’s younger brother) between the duvet and the body-length yoga mat intended to act as a mattress. From this vantage, I had a supremo view of the concrete embankment that filled the window. I could also, luckily, see the TV. I watched ‘Bridesmaids’, wincing in sympathy as Maya Rudolph shat, caught short, on a city road; and later, on waking from a fever dream crammed-to-bursting with cryogenic meat, I was apprehended by the goading spectacle of the New Year’s fireworks over Hong Kong. On the third day, probably, I started to panic. I demanded that grandma bring me the phone.

Herman’s grandma was herself a firecracker. Probably 100, she looked about 50, and was endlessly amused by her effusion of jokes, all of which she spoke in a lilting Mandarin and, I assume, had me as their inspiration. By now it had become apparent, though, as my body tried futilely to expunge the hot pot poison, that I was no longer only the butt of grandma’s jokes but the butt of my stomach’s, the butt of my butt’s. It was with some clammy impatience, therefore, that I snatched the phone from grandma’s hand.

“Hi Mum, Hi Dad – I need to come home. Or fly onto Europe and meet up with…” It’s here that I’m struck with the difficulty of giving my ex-girlfriend a name (which, admittedly, isn’t my only difficulty in writing about her). “Petunia,” I said, or rather settled with.

On hearing this, my parents were nonplussed. “But David, you can’t just up and take your dribbly arse to Dusseldorf or whatever snow-kissed ski lodge it is that Petunia’s uncle runs,” they said, or I’m recalling through my own retrospective frustration.

It was at this pivotal juncture that grandma, having taken leave, returned. Ever the helper, she bore on a platter what looked like a large dirt clot. She made some gestures toward her mouth before striding agelessly out the door. “I’ll call you back,” I said, and hung up.

The duvet pulled around my ears and homesick tears pooled in my eyes, I tried to size up what looked more and more like what I’d heard described in high school as a “grogan”. There it sat, turgid, unperturbed – to all appearances, I’d been given a turd. I picked up the knife and made my first incision.

It was an unpeeled sweet potato.

“Sweet mercy,” I muttered, and commenced a rocking which only the reckless cab drive to the doctor’s impeded, busy as I was being rocketed from side to side on the backseat, sans seatbelt. There was a screech of brakes and of driver’s instructions, and soon I was being spirited by Herman (holding my elbow? I want to imagine he was holding my elbow) down one of Hong Kong’s many luridly neon-lit strips and past all number of street food nasties: algae-tinted tanks filled with bottom-feeders, fun-fair stalls festooned with entrails. The medical centre itself was set between chicken’s feet and the balls of a sparrow.

It looked like the kind of place you’d visit to get diseases. Herman dragged me up to a little window where a sallow nurse threw clipped English at me. “And what is the nature of your stay?” she asked, and I was going to write that I drawled “Horrific”, but my dialogue has probably stretched enough credibility.

CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE BEING ME RIGHT NOW??? DO YOU THINK I’LL EVER BE ABLE TO BOUNCE BACK? AND WHAT PART DOES PETUNIA PLAY IN ALL THIS? All will be revealed in Part Four.

A Recount of the Journey to Asia I Never Talk About. Part One.

There’s something I have been repressing for, oh, roughly three years now. It’s a trip I took, and no leisurely idle in the outlying countryside, no quick jaunt down the coast. It was, in fact, an epic in a lot of senses, and given its proportions, psycho-spiritual heft, its insistence that it not be left alone, it’s strange that only now can I even conceive of attempting to put it into writing.

So imagine, if you will, yours truly at 24 (fresh-faced, pink-cheeked; unspeakably young) and bolt upright in my chair on a juddering Malaysian Airlines flight to Hong Kong. What was I thinking? Thoughts consistent with complete incomprehension at the nature of my trip and my intentions behind it. What had I been drinking? Initially nothing, but on arrival at Kuala Lumpur I discovered what, exactly, a rest lounge is: a tricked-out grotto or bistro lined like a manicurist’s with deep-seat armchairs, a procession of Sizzler-like, sneeze-guarded food bays, and, at its end, a gold-plated beer tap, in whose sheen might have been foreseen the nature of the trip to follow. I took a few pulls on its pump, let me tell you, and soon I was ensconced in a plush recliner and a neatly accumulating beer-buzz.

And then, for the remainder of the seven hours, I contorted and corkscrewed in that plush recliner while the booze sat immovably inside my gut, made foundations, set up shop. A bakery had started business; my legs would no doubt soon fly apart and I’d deliver, with a ding!, a fresh loaf there. What’s worse was that my neighbours, Malaysian families mostly, were dissipating, making off for their flights, and I soon felt – with all those brass fixtures, the decorous drapes, their maroon festoons – like I had just wrapped up a late-night bender and was loitering, now, in a hotel foyer. By the time I found myself boarding my flight, my head was carrying too much weight. My head was overhead baggage.

What followed was a shorter flight to Hong Kong, marked by a meal of tin-foiled fish whose spices wreaked havoc with my booze fugue. I believe my seat was the only one lit up, my head the only one bolt upright among the slumbering forms of my fellow passengers.

Herman, an old friend from high school, was waiting intently at the cavernous airport, and before I’d had time to acclimatize at all I had been spirited away, my luggage in tow, to a precarious double-decker bus. Here, while the scrubby, rocky scenery through the window gave intermittent way to sweeping sea vistas, Herman struggled to enliven in me any of the bright conviviality I’d given him back home. And wasn’t I convivial. We’d properly struck up our friendship after high school, and over the year before he left for Hong Kong we had laughed and sort of basked in the effusive, Edenic decency each of us never failed to bring out in the other. I was just so fucking nice with Herman. But now, because of my restless rest lounge stay, my ill-advised beers, and those claustrophobic stretches of airborne insomnia, I was finding it impossible to muster more than a pointed and unfair irritability whose target was going to be Herman.

As the bus sped across the sun-bleached expanse of a unrelenting suspension bridge, I cast my eyes out over the yawning bay below and took in, as best as I could manage in my dolorous state, the monolithic cranes or scaffolding or stations that rose, like a robot uprising, on stanchions that sat in the sea. This sight, let me tell you, was doing nothing for my inchoate sense of displacement. Herman was talking about something or other, but from where I sat – wedged right up against him – it came across as nothing but the gnashing of teeth. My beers were now a stone or a rocky outcrop, some immovable nexus in my solar plexus, and on entering the chaos of the city proper it began to palpate like some shitty, unbidden heart transplant. BUT THIS WAS NOTHING COMPARED TO WHAT HAPPENED TO ME NEXT…

Would you like to find out what happened to me next? Maybe not, but I will write it regardless.

Bad Jobs: A Reflection

In the light of my recent ill-advised return to retail, I’ve decided to write a potted history of some of the lesser jobs I’ve had in my time here on this Earth. It is incumbent on me to leave names unnamed:

KFC: here my job was to powder the chicken in the secret seven herbs and spices (which came packaged in sachets the size of airplane pillows), toss the goose-pimply limbs, wings and chests around in a basin filled with the stuff, then stick this chicken in a big old cage, which sight wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery (“Birdcage”, perhaps, an activist’s piece), all this preparatory to the meat’s descent into the purgatory of the oil vat. Lifting the cage on the end of a metal reed did absolute wonders for my back at the time, and THESE DAYS I CAN HARDLY WALK. I spent two years in that sweltering hell-hole, but left behind me a reputation for the slowest clean-ups and the worst-looking chicken that KFC had ever seen.

A NOW-DEFUNCT BOOKSTORE: this was my first experience lugging boxes, but here most of my work was confined to an office the size and the pallor of a hospital corridor. I was presided over by the woman who, in the time between hiring and having me work there, had obviously had her regrets. (Potentially at the inductees’ Getting-to-Know-You Do. Somebody had had the excellent idea of flashing, I think, letters onto a screen and each time having a newbie stand and say he was *adjective* starting with that letter. My turn came, so I stood up and said, “Hi, I’m David, and I do get cramps.”) I never did quite get to the bottom of how I could be fucking up carrying and opening boxes, but whatever it was – was it my resting bitch-face? – was thoroughly souring my supervisor. I saved her the effort and fired myself.

AN INTERNSHIP ON A SINKING SHIP: this one’s weird. For a week I had applied for all number of internships in the realm of writing, but when I eventually did get an offer it came from somewhere with a name I had never seen before. Indeed, I was still entirely clueless as I sat answering questions in the interview. Why did I think I suited the role? “But please, this is my field of expertise, m’am.” Was I ready for the challenges the position posed? “Why, I couldn’t be readier.” The interrogation took place in a wood-panelled air hanger, which probably didn’t help. Unhelpful, too, was the fact that my interrogator was an imposing one, a woman with a kind of hatchet beauty, a slab-like brow but chiseled cheeks and, between these, a penetrating pair of peepers. I got the job, and over its course she matched this terror-inducing appearance with an equally formidable temperament. I remember on my first day, knowing no better, I took the elevator up to the same place my interview had been held, walked past the walls emblazoned with yet another mysterious name, and asked the timorous woman behind the desk, itself emblazoned, where to wait for my boss. A call came through the intercom and, after a secretive conference (all flaring eyes and cupped receiver), the secretary told me to leave the building. I was downstairs in a cafeteria, thumbs fumbling through a copy of ‘The Wasteland’, when my mobile lit up with a call. “Don’t ever do that again, do you hear me?” my boss shrieked disbelievingly. She told me to meet her at a separate floor – that, perhaps, with the initial name, that under hers in her minimalist emails – and it was here that I, a younger Asian woman (whose way-of-living and speaking she’d gleaned exclusively from gold-bordered business books like ‘AWAKEN THE GIANT WITHIN’) and our commandant all piled into what was, at first glance, a hastily converted shoe cupboard. “Get me that copy!” she’d scream needlessly – being practically already in our ear – and Lee Ming and I would fall over each other scrambling for the sheet just emerged from the printer. “Now, you two need to go home and write some copy for the company,” she ended our first day with.

This company, judging from our boss’ apoplexy, and the occasional comment let slip through the cracks, was obviously going under. Over the next two days we would be called back, post-haste, from lunch breaks, inescapably privy to tragedy-charged phone calls between our boss and her doctor, and, at the close of both these days, promised a boozy lunch in the future. “Goodbye,” she said on my final day, suddenly all sun and light, wrapping her arm around some swarthy business shirt standing idly in the slipstream of the sidewalk, “goodbye,” and with her disappearance in the crowd, she was gone, forever, from my life.

She is, however, imminently Googleable. Her latest contribution is a wedding video, backed, somehow, by Vogue of all things. It features footage of her crouching and corralling tuxed and crinoline-frocked boys and girls and – though one can only judge from her gestures; a trumpet reveille blots everything out – telling them that it’ll be their heads if they go and fuck this up.

A NOW-DEFUNCT APPAREL RETAILERS: this started well enough. My interview was with a statuesque European who seemed genuinely impressed by my prattle. Soon, though, it became impossible to ignore that I really just did not give a shit about the clothes it was my strenuous task to impress on our unconvinced clientele. “Great your-grandfather’s-fly fishing-shirt,” was always on the tip of my tongue whenever some unprepossessing, mid-thirties father sidled gingerly up to a full-length mirror. It was during one of those post-apocalyptic, unpopulated stretches in time that my boss turned to me and, with disappointed eyes, said, “You’re much less impressive than your interview.” I did nothing to contradict this.

WELL, THANKS. I HOPE THIS ARTICLE HELPED. WE’RE ALL HUMAN AFTER ALL.

My Ten-Day Descent into Retail

There were so many red flags in those formative days it was like I was downhill skiing. The first was when, five minutes into the interview, I was gladly given the job. I had felt like saying, “But just moments ago, weren’t you telling me this gig – lugging boxes in a retailer’s warehouse in a shopping center (in other words, lugging boxes in a box in a box in a box) – has had one hundred applicants? And wasn’t there, while we descended the escalator to the food court, some furtive mention, over your shoulder, of a second interview, a second stage? But where have these hurdles gone? “Well, I never do this,” said ‘Maxxy’, “but I’m going to offer you the job right now.” I suppose that technically he wasn’t lying. Maxxy had never offered me a job before.

The second red flag came flapping into existence about a week later when I’d assumed my duties and was apprehended, like a shitting dog, squatting over a 20kg box by my flighty and potentially dangerous supervisor, avid traducer of co-box luggers and abuser of pharmaceuticals. This supervisor, ‘Terry Nobbins’, is a full-bred Yorkshireman, and often his utterances are as incomprehensible as redolent of malcontent. “AYE NOW,” said he, “YE BE AL-AWAYS WARY TA BE GETTING THAT DOOR,” is a kind translation of what he might have said, referring to the buzzer to the storeroom’s means of moving in and out our product. But this next sentence came through clear as a bell: “I don’t want another worker leaving this place and citing me as the reason.” With that, Terry Nobbins trailed off.

That first day, the only other guy rostered to work with me, ‘Charleton’, had called in sick, so the task of filling a smaller storeroom with merchandise, a two-man job, was left in my own callow hands. I got to work, and soon found myself surveying, from my precarious purchase on what looked very much like a plastic ladder, the cumbrous cargo I was meant to move down from a shelf about three metres high. At this vantage, the shelf looked about as high as my confidence in pulling off the task was not. The boxes were as good as rhinoceroses.

The room into which these wares were to be corralled is called, unaffectionately, The Room of Doom. This legend was written even on the tag that accompanied the key to The Room of Doom’s door. This door – and listen carefully now – can be reached only through the door whose buzzer Terry Nobbins had only just alerted me to. When buzzing, this door must be hastily opened. When not, this door must always, but always be shut.

Problem was, when I was ass-hauling these coffee-table-sized monstrosities through said door, no buzzer could light my way. I was up to pussy’s bow in organising the The Room of Doom – so named because its cinder-blocked, cell-like confinement induces, in even your seasoned boxadeer, keen thoughts of committing suicide – when Nobbins poked his druggy-eyed head inside to reiterate the importance of the door’s being shut when the buzzer wasn’t wheedling in your ear like a gnat. This I took in my stride, although fully aware that my routine trips with unweildy boxes would be rather impeded by my stopping always to stopper, with a smile, this infuriating passage.

But I’m nothing if not conscientious. Indeed, so good did I get at stopping and propping the latest Sphinx against the wall, shutting the door, turning and turning a key in the The Room of Doom’s door – which, as it turned out, needed also, when not being used, to remain closed – turning and hoisting Gargantua back onto my shoulder and moving it in, that Nobbins, his face unreadable but his intentions obvious, was soon gesturing for me to join him in quiet counsel. This was it. I was getting some recognition. I was getting the master’s approbation. “You need to remember to open the door when it buzzes,” he said, while a nearby deliveryman shook his head.

Things did not improve with the emergence of Charleton. I don’t know where you hail from, reader, but here in Sydney we have what is called the North Shore, and nested in the uppity North Shore’s breast is the epitome of the district’s insular elitism: the suburb they call St. Ives. (St. Ives is the patron saint of big ‘Lee’-brand T-shirt wearing law students whose faces are literal anathema). It was from here that Charleton no doubt drove his graduation present to work. He had a friend, a gangly cycling enthusiast and unwitting praying mantis impressionist, and this was the guy to whom Nobbins had alluded with his “don’ go leavun and citing me” plea. Together they were a sort of anti-comedy duo: all sinew, seal skin and ululating Ya Mum jokes.

Against this barrage of lols our increasingly sympathetic Yorkshireman’s punitive arsenal of yuks could not pass muster. His big gambit was a tap on the head with a rolled-up piece of paper. There I’d be, trying to figure out how I could keep the door both closed and open at the same time, when suddenly I felt the gentle tap, and I’d turn to see Nobbins, gigging away, his optics a riotous phamacopeia. I had no idea how to respond to this, so I went with an audible laugh.

But this is a bittersweet story, folks, because there was something in Nobbins – that impishness, an all-too-human gormlessness – that I was actually beginning to like, but which, on The Fateful Day I finally lost it, combined with my hatred of the job in general to cataclysmic effect. We’d had a tumultuous ride, Nobbins and I. We’d had much one-sided fisticuffs. We’d had a beer one day after work when I accidentally ran into him on the street. He had asked me to bend both time and space with his demands about the buzzered door. But above all, he had shown me, without making any concessions for my inexperience, how to do transfers and process the orders of some very pricey goods indeed. I suppose I was supposed to pick the processing up through some sort of idiot savant osmosis. I never did, and I never will.

I was standing on another plastic ladder, this time trying to lock a cage. While doing this, I was also expected to be processing transfers without further guidance. No, Nobbins would not oversee the transfers, but he would happily watch me lock a cage.

And I couldn’t. For the life of me, the key would not mesh. My body surged with a vertiginous anger. “C’mon mete,” I heard Nobbins say. But the key would still not lock.

Nobbins climbed the ladder and, in one fell swoop, the key had snagged and the cage had locked. “Don’t worry, mete,” he said, sealing our fate, “I’ll teach you ‘ow to use a key later.”

Terry Nobbins: it pains me to think of you mooning over your lonesome beer, your mind awash with the swirling conviction that yes, you’ve done it again. And the worst part is that you kind of did, you kind of are the reason I’m leaving. But it’s also Charleton who did it, and friend, and Maxxy; it’s also The Room of Doom.

And it’s me. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready for retail again.

MY CRISES IN STATUSES

For three disturbing years (disturbing for my friends, but also, let the records make it known, for me as well) I had a series of identity crises on Facebook. Let me stress something: private dilemmas are best resolved outside of public forums. So, for the edification of the wider world, and especially those teeming masses of teens for which Facebook is, in their glassy eyes, as inextricable as an IVF machine, I reproduce here the worst of my doings, my public undoing, my crises in statuses:

“DAVID ROBERTS was woken up by his alarm at about a quarter to six this morning but proceeded to sleep in, hitting the snooze button another time before finally getting out of bed, still yet sleepy (he’ll admit), stumbling into the bathroom to undertake his morning hygiene regimen and, this completed, dressing for work which was eventually reached by two trains and a bus, the last of which wasn’t boarded before a quick breakfast at a cafe in Epping where David Roberts sat at a table eating a slice of banana bread whose core wasn’t properly toasted but there you go, next to which sat a coffee, a flat white, which David can, thanks to informative diagrams on the chalkboard next to the front door, tell you held 6 oz. of coffee, which coffee’s steam rose to a sensible height somewhere in the glare of the morning sunlight flatlining through the cafe’s broad front window, by which window stands the door and by that the sign with the pictorial representation of the cup that David, steam now segueing round his face, was drinking from that very moment, leaving the banana bread in favour of the cup, and then David got up and boarded the bus aforementioned and rode it out to Carlingford, getting off at a sensible distance from the school which sat just across the highway, and whose English staff room seats a comfortable twelve-odd staff members, one of which is currently (if casually) David Roberts, who, as a matter of fact, sits in the staff room now while writing the status that you’ve just finished reading.”

“DAVID ROBERTS is a PAID ACTOR. This guy’s on fire.” (I was in fact neither.)

“DAVID ROBERTS FEELS LIKE HE’S BEEN TORN TO SHREDS BY A PACK OF WILD ANIMALS.”

“DAVID ROBERTS just ordered a coffee in Mandarin, and let me tell you, it beats ordering a mandarin in coffee.”

“DAVID ROBERTS did this! Did that! David Roberts was at this place at this time with these people and here’s the photos to prove it! DJ Whatever really went off last night – isn’t that right, @name-of-friend-of-yours-who-didn’t-invite-you? Here’s an incongruously grainy photo of the drinks I had. Here’s the meal I ate, and here’s the plate post-meal. Here’s some pocket lint! #hilariouslint! Best enchilada eva! But Y is my bed untucked ths morning? Sum1 explain! In-joke about bed untucking shared with 700 and intended for @someone-you’ve-never-met-nor-care-to. This box set, that country I went to, brand name, name-band, name-drop ad nauseum.”

“DAVID ROBERTS just ordered a coffee in Mandarin, and let me tell you, it beats ordering a mandarin in coffee.”

“DAVID ROBERTS begins to suffer from third-person fixation. David Roberts’ fingers – thanks to the compulsive accessibility of his iPhone – are never far away from the touch-responsive face of his Facebook profile, and thusly his mind is forever aflutter with stats that start with David Roberts. David Roberts is waiting for a bus. David Roberts has indigestion. And now here we are – and wasn’t it inevitable? – where the full extent of what David Roberts is doing is planning and writing stats. Disturbing.”

“DAVID ROBERTS hopes you all had a LOVELY weekend!!!”

“DAVID ROBERTS has many friends, and some of them he even gets along with in real life…” (The lovely weekend a thing of the past, apparently.)

“DAVID ROBERTS is, again, a PAID ACTOR. It seems logical to start asking people to ask me for my autograph. So: ask me for my autograph.” (Again, not true.)

“DAVID ROBERTS is on the threshold of something BIG. I mean BIG, as in really BIG.” (I was not.)

“DAVID ROBERTS IS UNDERGOING AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS.” (This, now this, was true.)

“DAVID ROBERTS worked in a warehouse once.”

“DAVID ROBERTS does a mad impression of The Modern Child, and it goes like this:

(Talking to his mother:) ‘Melissa. Melissa I’m hawt. I need a cold dwink coz it’s so hawt in here. I am wheely burning up. Melissa you’re tired and hawt I can see, you look all tired and old. Can I have a dwink? I need a dwink. Then can I have a cupcake? I need a cupcake. I need a cupcake to get all over the $200 authentic major team’s soccer jersey I wear now as a potent reminder of the coercive capabilities of my blood-curdling screams. Which bwings me bwack to my cupcake proposal. So can I have a cupcake? NO I WON’T BE SICK. I not swick like you, Mumissa. I seen you vomit. I SEEN YOU VOMIT! I did I did I did I did; I seen the vomit and the damage done. Can I have a cupcake? CAN I HAVE A DWINK? CAN I HAVE A CUPCAKE AND A DWINK AND THE WHOLE DANG PLANET ON A SILVER PLATTER?’”

“DAVID ROBERTS would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for letting him into their homes… and their hearts.”

“DAVID ROBERTS is, as of now, on status hiatus. That’s right: David Roberts is hanging up his stat-hat. Now, during his stat-sabbatical it may dawn on him that he took too seriously Facebook’s invitation to share what’s on his mind, and in the dwindling (sic) light of the dawn hour, as the gaps betwixt the slats of his blinds do gradually light up with the rising of the sun, it may alight on his stat-deprived mind that the psychic toll is great and irrevocable, that what’s been shared is forever lost. Yes!: by the emergence of a sun that’s real and the scrolling light of an illumined blind, his psychic bind will be slowly unknotted, and his stream-of-consciousness will flow again where once it had stuttered for the sake of stats. And still, and though: say that by the garish light of day David finds himself immersed not just in the salve of bright daylight but a loneliness stark and irrefutable, a loneliness that had once been appeased by the sharing of David’s incessant thoughts…”

“DAVID ROBERTS IS BACK IN THE STATUS GAME, BABY!”

(It gets worse.)

“DAVID ROBERTS got really down today when he realised he’ll never know what it’s like to be kissed by David Roberts.”

“DAVID ROBERTS is the most attractive person in this train carriage.”

“DAVID ROBERTS reviles his generation’s introspectiveness! What’s more, he does so in a series of self-absorbed statuses (status having always been the key concern of any committed self-aggrandiser) specially designed to excuse him of blame! And about these iPhones: in my day we had ‘vanity mirrors’ (harps on some construct of David’s imagining, relieving the tension but distracting, distracting), the worst of which were shaped like hearts so that one could behold their face so bordered; today’s vanity mirror you tote and gaze into but here you can CHANGE, you can MODIFY you! (Here David, having written so much, wishes he’d never undertook this; and in apologetic parentheses he starts to back away: is it only *himself* he is writing about? What, exactly, is he trying to achieve?) You kids (continues the imaginary curmudgeon) just can’t stop poking away at yourselves (the construct by now so parodic its dentures are falling out onto its blanketed lap) and you just don’t care, you just don’t care… (but sleep has descended, the rocking chair’s still, and no doubt David’s status tomorrow will make out like nothing has happened).”

“DAVID ROBERTS doesn’t remember giving the makers of ‘Magic Mike’ the rights to his life story, but there you go.”

“DAVID ROBERTS is now a proud father!” (I was not, nor am I now. This was written by a friend, but seeing all the ‘likes’ I was accruing, I went with it and wrote the following:)

“DAVID ROBERTS met this girl at some, I don’t know, Developmental Day, and she was obviously a very idealistic young woman and me, I was the male equivalent, I guess, and over sandwich quarters we struck up something of an accord, she with her bangs and sideways glances, I with sandwich quarters and a sweater thoroughly becrumbed… Her hair coquettishly covering half her face, she asked what I aspired to. “Happiness,” I said, my eyes at a level with hers. Her eyes responded in kind, they did, and thus was born to us Simon Magnus Roberts, coming in at a surprising 6 lb. and sporting eyes of the kind that shone when his mother and father first met.” (All bullshit.)

(Three days later I wrote:) “DAVID ROBERTS is missing his little man :'(; it’s Simon’s first day at school today. They grow up so fast.”

“DAVID ROBERTS was sorry to learn that Simon’s new school friend is imaginary. Just seems a little pathetic, really.”

“DAVID ROBERTS might just wrap this up here and now, if it’s all the same to you:

In the first sentence, David’s non-existent son Simon has already left primary and is priming himself for high school, at which point a sub-clause discloses that David’s equally non-existent wife – a brilliant intellectual and bra model both – is having her second phantom pregnancy, Simon having been her first. (It should be noted here, too, that David’s ‘lady’ is as unimaginably beautiful as she is imaginary; that is, extremely). Parenthetical aside aside, sentence three reveals Simon to be 30 and enjoying ridiculous fame in a society even more intent on valorising nobodies; in a much-publicised interview seen the world over, Simon professes that David was ‘never there’ as a father, which statement David finds especially rich coming from a non-existent son. Indeed, he’s watching his son defame him from a retirement home in the fourth and last sentence, but senescence has worked conversely for him (as had, indeed, his whole life): senility means that sleights against him aren’t just perceived but actual, he talks to people who are living and within earshot, and after the interview he is often heard ranting ‘I have no son!’, which is entirely true.

AND WHO SAID POSTMODERNISM WAS DEAD?”

(And on it goes.)

“DAVID ROBERTS is a SCORPIO. You’re welcome.” (A desperate bid for identity, perhaps?)

“DAVID ROBERTS goes to the doctor and says, ‘Doc! Hey Doc! I feel like a pair of curtains!’ And the doctor says:

‘My God. You’ve every reason to.’ So I’m currently installed at Hornsby Hospital,

in an east-facing, third storey window. I can’t seem to get through

the pane.”

“DAVID ROBERTS circa 2010 wafted through my window last night. ‘David’, he beseeched from his purchase on my bed, while a blustery north-easterly whipped curtains round his head, ‘what’s with the Facebook statuses?’”

“DAVID ROBERTS’ Facebook statuses have been turned into a set of laminated ‘flashcards’ and boxed under the title, “Recognising a Nervous Breakdown”. Promises to be a big, big hit.”

“DAVID ROBERTS has got precisely NO comments in regards to his amazing looks tonight. It’s eerie.”

“DAVID ROBERTS gets emotional at beaches.”

“DAVID ROBERTS wants to know what happened to you, Amelia. I’m well aware that nothing less than the very description of your job was to welcome people to the newly renovated pub at which we met that night – and a fine job you did of it, too – but nowhere was it required that you welcome people into your *heart*. ‘I’ll see you there,’ you’d said, all earnestness and light, but as the agreed night descended and your emergence went from imminent to non-existent (in painful increments composed of unknowing, of a promise not broken but gradually bludgeoned), the memory of your buoyant face began to take the lurid hue of the varnish slapped on the premises where you’d made your fickle promises. So now I welcome *you*, Amelia, to come forward and explain yourself. Your failure to respond to a status you have no way of seeing will only fuel my irrationality.”

“DAVID ROBERTS is sitting near the Opera House, looking at the Harbour Bridge. To think there was a time he could do this kind of thing without telling everyone.”

“DAVID ROBERTS turns 25 in 10 days. I have to say that it has been an absolute pleasure being able to watch myself blossom over the last twenty-five years. Congratulations, David; only ten days now, buddy.”

“DAVID ROBERTS would just like to congratulate everyone on their engagement to everyone else. Congratulations.”

“DAVID ROBERTS celebrates himself.”

“DAVID ROBERTS would just like to remind everyone that he is an actual human being with real human emotions. Thanks.”

“DAVID ROBERTS wants to be married in four months. Who’s in?”

“DAVID ROBERTS has the best partner/spouse in the World! Not only did s/he just buy me the best present in the best city in the best country in the world, but s/he just donated all of her kidneys to the kids in the orphanage we visited last week (partner/spouse: “I feel like the reason I was born with 200 kidneys is because I was born to GIVE”). Also, we’re soon getting married while space diving.”

(Caution: the following three statuses show you just where you’ll end up if you entertain this level of self-indulgence. Just a warning that some of the following content is upsetting.)

“DAVID ROBERTS doesn’t know why his reminiscence is lit with some transcendental glow, but lo: there he is, but a year beforehand, and young, an eternal eager-beaver and mistaken, misunderstood performance artist (whose project, his life, is a work-in-progress), sidling up to a seat just aft of a lass in limbo (her eyes at half-mast in tribute, perhaps, to her graveyard of slain brain-cells), and saying, so it slips out the side of his mouth, “I was here, but a year in the past” etcetera, that infernal and asinine rigmarole. (And around and around and around we go.)”

“DAVID ROBERTS HAS WITHSTOOD THIS WEEK ALONE: his being upended on the floor of a venue; waking fright, terror in slumber; the skewed spewings of inoperable photocopiers; a ‘click’ in the deep of his hip (when walking), a sense of his going unheard (when talking); classes in which, mid-garbled speech, he wished that the teacher would please shut up; repeated entreaties from his Year 10 students to show them ‘The Grapist’, a YouTube skit; and finally (but perhaps most relatable of all), his very own Facebook posts.”

“DAVID ROBERTS continued to rant ineffectually into the vacuum – leaving no truthism, non-sequitur or turn-of-phrase unturned – and without exception everything said evaporated into the internet ether like so much pollen, indiscernible dust-mites, so much SUPPOSED FRIENDSHIP.”

(Thank you for your time, and please: be wary.)

I Was a Facebook Farceur

Although you don’t know me, you may share my woe: I’m addicted to Facebook, and it’s killing my soul. No longer am I able to scroll through my NewsFeed without a corresponding upsurge of anger inside me, but eminently able, nonetheless, to continue to scroll, to mortify my flesh. There I sit (in the sepsis of my solipsistic times), tottering away at a screen filled with stills of far-flung holidays, photogenic weddings, the filter-bleached writhing of another public coupling. It’s a full-fledged dependency, engendered and enlivened by a stupid, vicarious FOMO: invariably I’ll scroll down my Feed till I find the post last seen, and, moving upward, proceed to fill myself in. Yes, it’s obscene; but it’s especially bad since my “Like” quota dropped to an all-time low. Oh, how?

Toward the end of last year, a good, a problematically good friend and I found ourselves in contention for the same full-time position at work. His getting the job was a fait accompli, one which I took with the customary good grace: rejecting their offer of continued temp work, I announced my intention to leave and teach English in London, spurred not by any personal desire to do so – having never laid awake at night and yearned for days spent in some run-down reformatory in a drizzly borough in an alien city, quelling riots, deflecting chavs – but rather, I suspect, by the reel of photos of European holidays that constitutes my NewsFeed. An acquaintance of mine, a committed pinger, had been posting pictures of his tireless revelry, his hostel hijinks and his questionable company, and there my quivering finger might have poised above his baby face, beaming, as it did, from the latest exotic locale: yes, I must have thought to myself, if he can teach in London, then so can I.

My announcement announced, arrangements were made for my Farewell Do, my Big Bon Voyage. And henceforth – though I hate to admit it – proceeded my Big F.U… for I was a chronic cyber-prankster. I was a Facebook farceur.

My method, in my hay day (when I was racking up “Likes” like rappers greenbacks in their musical memoirs) was to start off with some straight-seeming declaration – say, “I’m going to London!”, perhaps – then, through a series of increasingly absurd statuses, pull off something like a mocking reproval of anyone stupid enough (read: insufficiently abreast of my affairs) to have ever believed a word I’d said. It was a method that had its genesis in a happy happenstance: in the formative days of my farceur’s apprenticeship, a friend (who, unsurprisingly, is currently in Canada, was last seen in a photo in a hammock with a lady) wrote, and posted for all to see, the news that I was now “a proud dad”. And this was nothing new – was a comment, in fact, on my existing chicanery – but because it was so seemingly earnest, apparently untouched by irony, it garnered a sharper, more generous attention than my own overtly fanciful fare. Suddenly, congratulations were coming in with the faux-enthusiasm that only estranged, disinterested Facebook friends can muster. It was a marvellous feat, a social comment, and I made sure to capitalise on it.

Three days later my status read:

“David Roberts is missing his little man :’-( It’s Simon’s first day at school today. They grow up so fast.”

The big rug-puller was a hectic epic, and remains, today, my most beloved status. It began:

“In the first sentence, David’s non-existent son Simon has already left primary and is priming himself for high school, at which point a sub-clause discloses that David’s equally non-existent wife – a brilliant intellectual and bra model both – is having her second phantom pregnancy, Simon having been her first…”

…Which was all swell fun, a mischievous kick, and all taken well by my unseen audience. Unbridled fun, and so instantaneously brought about, all of it so airily, unthinkingly done: I never saw the reaction of the people I pranked, or could easily dismiss their rejoinders, their comments. Indeed, such fun was all this arse-about that one might say I got carried away. One might say that I became, in slipping real-time, the splitting image of my Facebook persona. And meanwhile there grew an unmistakable impatience with all this unremitting shtick…

But there remained an avid fan-base to whose dwindled and day-by-day disenchanted members I continued to feel I owed something. In their interest (insofar as they were the extension of my burgeoning ego), my daily and nightly antics became more frantic, heedless, hedonistic. I haven’t space here to reproduce the statuses that span what amounts to a public meltdown performed in a ridiculously private sphere of mostly acquaintances equipped, by this point, with a fervent anti-David sentiment. And still, because the whole thing was ridiculous, a snarkier but just-as-disingenuous projection of a life to stand, in rank and file, with the other projections being ceaselessly NewsFed to my Facebook ‘friends’, that seething mass – because of all of this, a last-ditch status like the following, written while alone in a bar, failed to raise concern, and, what seemed far worse, accrued no more than a measly two “Likes”:

“David Roberts doesn’t know why his reminiscence is lit with some transcendental glow, but lo: there he is, but a year beforehand, and young, an eternal eager-beaver and mistaken, misunderstood performance artist (whose project, his life, is a work-in-progress), sidling up to a seat just aft of a lass in limbo (her eyes at half-mast in tribute, perhaps, to her graveyard of slain brain-cells), and saying, so it slips out the side of his mouth, “I was here, but a year in the past” etcetera, that infernal and asinine rigmarole. (And around and around and around we go.)”

What this was trying to explain, but was, amid the maelstrom of established bullshit, unable to explain, to begin to explain, was that since this FB palaver had kicked off I’d gradually lost my grasp on who I was in the wider, unmediated world. My colleagues had held that farewell months before and, since I’d convinced myself with, yes, no more than Facebook statuses that I was bound for London Town – since, in essence, reality no longer mattered, like that of the extended bender on which I was wasting the money meant for the trip I didn’t want to take – I’d reasoned that the consequences of my non-attendance would be pace my Facebook non-engagement: I’d never have to answer to their confusion, their annoyance, because they would not see me, and I would not see them.

Then London, rudely, didn’t happen. At first I’d laughed it off: I’d Facebook checked in at the airport with my grand goodbyes as I sat in the squalor of my Sydney apartment. “Have fun!” chimed the last of my credulous friends, instilling in me equal parts tenderness and contempt: Don’t they know by now that nothing means a damn? And then, as I hung perilously above rock bottom, I was offered, unbelievably, temp work at my old workplace. And nobody there could believe a word I said.

Oh, but don’t worry: I’m doing fine. I’m on the way out again, though I don’t hold my breath for a farewell this time. And FB? To this date, my last status reads:

“David Roberts is writing, for publication on his blog, a piece which discusses how Facebook stole his soul and destroyed his life.”

Ugh: you know what? Not even that’s true. The last status proper, the true last status reads:

“David Roberts did it! He’s finally” – get this; oh this one’s gold – “he’s finally well-adjusted!”