Alien Life (Sydney)

It rises overhead like a titan.  An oblong observation deck sprouts off the helm like the face of a hammerhead shark while the ships’ body contours in a circular motion.  A round fin thrusts across the top deck.  It’s short and slightly squat (compared to the other monstrous Hellenic vessels that pull in and out of the mooring every few days) and emits not the usual opulent glow but a diligent luminance punctuated by several curious multi-coloured flashes from various points on the deck.  The opera house hovers in the background like the second ship in an unseen armada while the bridge sketches its dark shadow in the distance and Luna Park’s gaping mouth grins and blinks and pulses to beckon passing travelers.

It could just be the light.  The moisture in the air tonight diffuses shimmering auras around every source of light, turning every streetlamp, every city window into a shimmering celestial body.  It could be the sky, a silky unblemished black so perfect and still outer space seems to be pressing against the ground at my feet.  It could be the eerily quiet three a.m. Thursday hush of the harbour.  It could be the loneliness or the exhaustion or the wine or the fact that I’m a little stoned, but it seems I’m not the only one who’s noticed.  The dozen other lost souls wandering the waters edge seem to be looking up in fascination as well.  I’m tempted to stop and make conversation, to exclaim over the phenomenon with a stranger, to create just one moment of unexpected unredeemed human contact.  But this is the busy downtown of an international city at three a.m.  There are rules.  There are things that are just not done.  So we all just stand a respectful distance apart, necks craned back, chins up, squinting at the fuzzy auras of light.  I’m sure it’s not just me.  I’m sure they see it too.  The cruise ship anchored on the harbour definitely looks like the S.S. Enterprise.

I’ve been in Sydney for nearly a month and I’ve been working (at a restaurant on the harbour-side) since the day I arrived.  A month of hour-long bus commutes, sticker shock and half-hearted attempts at acclimation.  I’m fairly sure I’m not fooling anyone.  As much as I try to be nice, to put on a good show, to make a game attempt at enthusiasm, it’s pretty clear that it’s a sham.  I do not want to be here.  Which is where, by the way?  I’ve worked off of Liverpool Street before but back then I couldn’t walk to the corner of Oxford Street cross Hyde Park and wander into Paddington.  Does London know that they’ve taken it apart like a jigsaw puzzle and put it back together all wrong?  All the more confusing because it looks like California and New York’s bastard love child and feels so much like the States I’m turning street corners imagining I can somehow pop by my parent’s place for dinner tonight and see my niece and nephew open their Christmas presents next week.  But that’s ridiculous.  I haven’t been home for Christmas in five years.  I’ve been in France working the ski season which is just right-now-at-this-minute reopening for the winter to a deluge of fresh snow in the best early season conditions my mountain has seen for a decade.  Which doesn’t seem to make much sense either when the miserable rain and grey skies I’ve been living under have recently given way to a vicious blaze of sun that I smell cooking my flesh if I’m outdoors for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Plus, I have the vague sense of having done all this before.  Lived and rejected this exact life in slightly differently form and now I’m reliving it altered.  As if this is all some kind of dream.  Because who in their right mind would believe there is a reality where coffee is called a flat white is not acceptable unless the coffee is tamped with exactly 2 lbs per square inch pressure and finished with a quarter twist and the milk is heated to exactly 28 degrees centigrade before being added to a ratio of 5 parts textured milk 1 part foam.  I’ve just spent six months in Asia, where starvation is still an issue.  Why are you throwing away a perfectly good (albeit apparently 2 degrees too warm) quart of milk?  Real people don’t actually moan constantly about things that absolutely categorically do not matter, do they?  Who cares if they didn’t decant your bottle of wine?  Who cares if your parcel showed up four days later than you’d ordered it?  Who cares if your sports team traded a key player and isn’t ready for the championships?  Who cares if I’m five minutes late for work?  Is this really what people occupy their thoughts with?  I can’t escape the nagging suspicion everyone is just looking for things to complain about because they’re so fucking bored they have nothing else to do.  This can’t be real life.  I can’t wrap my head around it.  I can’t relate.  The Australian accent grates on my ears.  I feel a million miles away from everyone and every thing that has every made sense to me.  I keep turning around wondering where the hell I am.

As it happens at the moment, it’s 3 a.m.  It’s nearly Christmas.  I’m standing at the waters’ edge of Sydney’s famous harbour.  I stayed after work to have a drink and a chat with some coworkers.  To try to connect.  To try to relate.  To try to break through whatever barrier is holding me apart from all this like the bubbled helmet of an astronaut’s spacewalking suit.  And somehow I’ve ended up here, listening to the water lap against the stone, staring up into the deep vast blackness of the sky, in the shade of an immense vessel that came from outer space.


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