Thirty: The New Awkward Age

And I thought my teenage years were weird.

So I finally passed the threshold. The big 3. The age of reason, the age of unrest. And honestly? It’s completely the same? What?

Maybe I’m too influenced by television, but I was always under the impression that you hit thirty and you’re old, fucking old, no one will love you ’cause you’re old. Supposedly your twenties are for finding yourself. Personally I’ve given that up at 21, I’ve no idea where that bitch got to. Finding myself? How about myself finds me for a change? I feel like I’m always doing the heavy lifting in this relationship! But at thirty, you’re officially an old woman.

But why? In reality, it just means back pain. The rest is exactly the same as it was at 29. The world will piss on your birthday cake and tell you it’s raining.

I never had a clear picture of being thirty. Mostly because I never thought I’d get this far. I’ve procrastinated on my suicide so much, by the time I’ll finally get around to it I’m probably gonna be in my 300s. Anyway, when I was a kid I thought (or feared) I’d be like my mother, married, nice flat, one bratty child. I had some vague idea of working somewhere where I’d wear a suit. I didn’t get the thirties. I had all these questions! Do I do anything different? Do I have to lie about my age? Do I need to go to a hairdresser? I haven’t been there since I was twelve! Do I do different make-up? Do I have to buy a car? Do I have to like wine? Or coffee? Do I have to get a stock portfolio? Then in my twenties I just thought, eh, thirty’s the new twenty, and the twenties suck anyway, no way to go but up!

I don’t mind being thirty, except for the soul-crushing despair at having achieved basically nothing in the first third of my life. But hey, I can still be a great bad example. I can be the woman who parents point out to their highschool aged spawn to say, “Study economics and apply for all unpaid internships or you’ll end up like her!” No, what really bothers me is that people react all weird to this innocent number. Like I’ve just revealed I’m a human-shaped ticking time bomb, about to explode into a frenzy of home decor, pregnancy stories, rosé and The Bachelor. Now kids, remember that time is an illusion, invented by humans to press our lives into neat little segments so we know how long we have to wait for the blissful embrace of death. Other than that, it doesn’t mean anything.

And I’ve always been a late bloomer. So the big 3 actually feels okay. I haven’t had a nervous breakdown all year! Okay, the year’s barely a month old, but that counts! I think I’m even growing into my face. I’ve looked at pictures of me at twenty recently and, as the kids say, the cringe was real. I always had an odd moon-face, all round and pale and weird looking, but somehow my lips were the exact same shape as my face. My lips have changed so much it’s like I’ve had work done, only I’ve always been too poor. It’s like someone broke in while I was sleeping and got me new lips, over a period of ten years, a cosmetic fairy godmother. And I have a jaw line now. I thought I’d never see the day.

So, I’m thirty, I’m unmarried, I’m unchildren-ed, I live in the same tiny apartment, I’m starting a new career. Somewhere in the distance, someone’s going “Aw, poor thing”. No, you guys, this is good!

Certainly doesn’t mean I’m old. As long as I’m not at an age where it is socially acceptable to wear a bathrobe all day, call loud annoying kids half-monkeys, mutter obscenities under my breath, and beat people with my walking cane I won’t consider myself old. I’m in for a looong time, baby!

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Introvert Truths

There is no such thing as too much alone time.

Dim lights are comforting, get over it. No, I don’t need more light in here.

Noise is the enemy. Not even necessarily loud ones, but quieter, persistent ones. Like people’s voices.

People are not evil. They don’t actually mean to hurt me or encroach on my boundaries deliberately (most of the time). They just can’t take a goddamn hint.

Introvert hints are so subtle, to other people they sometimes just look like blinking or breathing. This is a problem.

Social gatherings are not evil, but they’re overwhelming.

A minimum mental preparation time of no less than 12 hours is to be given before any form of social contact. This does not include sleep time.

Okay, 1,2,3,4, smile, say “Hello”, hand over card, pay, walk away calmly, heart rate is up, keep panic at bay, regulate breathing, don’t think about how you sounded when you just said “Hello”, just keep walking. Another successful interaction with a cashier!

Time to go to bed, or rather, time to replay every conversation of the day and agonize over how they could have gone better if I had just said something else/been funnier/been more confident/had not been in the middle of fleeing the building.

When used sparingly, Christmas lights will cheer you up.

Commenting on YouTube videos in your head counts as conversation.

Saturday night and we’re in the spot… on the sofa.

That moment when going into space and making contact with alien civilisations seems easier than leaving the house to buy milk.

More books than friends. More books than family members. More books than Facebook friend suggestions.

That moment when you buy something at a fancy, intimidating place and the guy at the counter was nice and you didn’t say anything stupid and inside you’re like: “I’M SO HAPPY, I CAN DO ANYTHING, I COULD PUNCH A BEAR, I COULD TALK TO A STRANGER ON THE BUS, GO ME, WOOOO!”

So James Joyce, a Burnt Out Grad Student, and a Pair of Black Socks Walk Into a Bar…

Literally, my stat connection for this year so far reads like the beginning of a beer-fuelled joke. One that ends in something stupid, too, like “And then he says, ‘That’s not a duck’!”

Why were they successful, comparatively? Well, one thing: timing. Tuesdays are popular, somehow? Second: my tag game getting stronger.

Anything else? I dunno, topics? It’s not every day you see the late, not-so-great James Joyce getting slut-shamed by a big-mouthed grad student who’s in the midst of a slight breakdown after the umpteenth Joyce lecture complete with an interpretation of Ulysses. Actually, in hindsight, maybe the prof was just making all of it up on the spot because he secretly hates Joyce too and wants to discourage all the hopeful bright-eyed students from ever reading the damn thing. Certainly worked for me, kudos to you, sir.

Also… I just imagine I was not the only student struggling with a paper deadline in January and lengthily venting my frustrations, so I guess that’s why. Seriously, is there anything worse than writing a paper you don’t really want to write?

Actually, yes, there is. Writing a paper to impress your future thesis supervisor is definitely worse.

And the last one was a daily prompt that had nothing whatsoever to do with black socks despite that being the title, in which I wax less than poetically about my inability to communicate like a basic human. Again. But daily prompts have a large audience, so duh, numbers game.

Also, people keep clicking on my Tale of Two Titties post even thought it’s at least two years old by now. Which was also a daily prompt. With a pandering eye-catching, attention-grabbing, market-research-approved title. I dare you NOT to click. It’s not very good, anyway. Okay, so it has a couple of tits in it, but that’s REALLY NOT that interesting. Seriously, don’t click.

… you just clicked it, didn’t you? Bad reader!

Thoughts You Have While Writing an Academic Paper

Stage 0: Having a topic assigned to you

Okay, this topic. Well, could have been worse. Could do with some instructions, though, but I guess we’re practising academic minimalism again. Time to hit the library!

Stage 1: Primary literature

Bored.

Bored.

Bored.

Bored.

Weird sex scene.

Bored.

Bored.

God, how many more pages?

Bored.

Dear Author, do you have anything interesting to say in this?

Bored.

Hella bored.

You, Mister White Heterosexual Protagonist, are a waste of literary resources with your constant existential angsty whining.

Bored.

Stage 2: Research and secondary literature

Why are all the books I wanted taken? How many people were assigned this topic again? Is this just really popular right now?

Why isn’t this digitalized yet, anyway?

Why isn’t everything digitalized yet?

Why am I not digitalized?

So, online resources… what? Nothing? Try some other search terms…

Nothing? Oh, come on!

There we go, fucking system on the fritz again…

1982?! What the hell kinda old shit is that?

Seriously, library system, would it kill you to open a tab normally?

This one looks promising… no access?! What the hell?

Okay, how about this… 1979, nope. 1985, nope. 1987, also nope. 1974, what the fuck, is there no new research on this writer?

Okay, fuck this, shift the focus of this paper slightly…

There we go. About 25,000 results for the civil rights movement. None of which have anything to do with this writer. You know what, fuck it, I can come up with some bullshit myself.

Stage 3: Reading and selecting quotations

This has nothing whatsoever to do with my topic.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with my topic.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with my topic.

Nice read. This has nothing whatsoever to do with my topic.

One useful quote, sold!

This is okay… but it’s old. Can I quote this even if it’s more than fifteen years old? Welp, I can.

What’s the deal with psychoanalysis in literally everything, why do these ancient fossils see penis everywhere? And what does it say about them that they do? That’s not what the D in Ph.D. stands for, dammit!

So this is the extremely renowned academic my professor likes, definitely have to throw in a quote of his.

Copying machine? Psshh! What you think I have a phone for?

Picture of book page. Picture of book page. Picture of book page. Selfie! Picture of book page. Picture of book page. Picture of book page….

Okay, on to the PDF articles.

New word document, make a nice list of quotations for future reference.

Why won’t this copy and paste!? Come on, I don’t want to type the entire paragraph! Okay, this can be copied and pasted…. aaaand suddenly it’s a completely unreadable font. There’s not enough tea in the world to get me through this.

OMG, I CAN COPY THIS, PRAISE THE MOTHERFUCKING LORD!

Hm, this researcher really knows their stuff, but I can’t quote just them. Doesn’t any of the others say the same thing, only different?

You know what, I should just insert a hyperlink and quote the entire article, this some good shit. I wonder what else they wrote….

No, no, focus. Need to select quotes. So which are the most useful?

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T COPY AND PASTE THIS?!

Stage 4: Writing

Structure… Intro, whatever. Second, characters, because the old fossil who’ll be grading this changed his mind and now he also wants old school general character analysis and narratology like this is some fucking undergrad course. What does this have to do with my topic?! When I said instructions would be nice I meant something useful, like which style sheet you want, or what are your criteria for grading! Okay, next section, my actual fucking topic. Four, no… three subsections. Yeah, I can pull those two into one section. Alright. Conclusion, whatever.

Okay, introduction. “This paper discusses the thing you’re about to read so you might just want to go ahead and do that”.

Nope. I’ll get on with that later.

No one cares about all these minor fucking characters, this is not the focus of my paper, why are you making me do this? I’ll do it later.

Finally, the real stuff. Time to write!

Okay, doing pretty well, and we have… still at least 6000 words to go.

Bored.

Bored.

How many times can you say ‘however’?

How many times in a row can you quote the same person?

Maybe I’ll just paraphrase.

Come on, there must be a synonym for this!

Fuck it, quotation it is.

Can’t start two successive sentences with ‘therefore’, dammit, re-write…

I’m so hungry.

Urgh, I want a cake!

“Mentions”, no. “Draws the readers’ attention to”, no. “Deals with”, oh not again. “Discusses”, hell, I just used that! How do you say ‘It’s a thing in this novel’ without actually saying ‘It’s a thing in this novel’?

Is ‘moreover’ even a word?

This sounds stupid. Re-write. Now it sounds worse. Re-write. Oh for the love of… Re-write.

You know what, just quote it.

Seriously, why am I always hungry when I’m writing? How many calories can thinking possibly burn?

What’s that word that sounds like “comprise”?

Uuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhh.

Maybe I should take a break.

Cat video time!

Somehow the paper did not write itself in the last two hours while I was watching cat videos.

Okay, back to work.

Maybe I should check my e-mail.

Maybe I should check facebook, what if something important is going on?

Actually, this place needs cleaning.

Somehow the paper did not write itself in the last three hours I spent cleaning the entire house.

Why does ‘therefore’ even exist?

Stomach: FEED ME, SEYMOUR!

If I add emphasis to a quote, do I do that at the end in square brackets or right after the author’s name? I dunno, it looks weird in square brackets.

Why won’t this style sheet tell me how to indicate that I added emphasis?

Why won’t any style sheet tell me how to indicate that I added emphasis?

You know what, fuck it, square brackets it is, even if it looks weird.

Still need 2000 words, time to bullshit my way through character analysis.

“This character…” is really boring. “This character represents…” my will to live throwing itself out of the window. “The main characteristics of this character”, oh my god, you can’t have ‘characteristics’ and ‘character’ in one sentence! “The protagonist is…” obviously an author self-insert. “The female protagonist…” could be replaced with a table lamp because she’s only a love interest, and no straight guy in the history of ever wants to fall in love with an interesting person with like thoughts and ideas ‘n shit.

There’s not enough vodka in the world to get me through this.

I know I had a quote for this somewhere, where the hell is it?!

Things I accomplished today: Won three imaginary arguments. Things I didn’t get done: Work on paper.

I’m going to eat the entire fridge.

Is this English?

Do I even know what I mean?

I don’t know, what is the proposition?

Endemic across regional boundaries, yes, totally.

What?

Maybe I should take a break.

Why is it suddenly two days before the deadline?!

Works Cited Page… I did not actually quote this guy. Neither this one. Nope, this one’s out, too. And this one wasn’t actually that useful. And this one said the same thing as the other guy. Jeez, I hope that’s enough sources.

Wait, where’s that one guy?! Oh, there he is.

Wait, did I forget the one about desegregation?! Oh, there it is.

OH MY GOD, IS THIS THING STILL NOT DONE?! How many more pages do I need?

I don’t wannaaaaa….

Maybe I can get a deadline extension.

But I have this exam the week after, so if I had this out of my way I’d be able to concentrate on the exam a lot better….

Uuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrggggggghhhh.

Whatever, just type some 700 words on those shitty characters and drop it in the secretary’s office, who the hell even cares.

Wait, why the hell am I only finding this article now?! Oh my god, this is exactly my topic! RE-WRITE!

Are we done yet?

Are we done yet?

Are we done yet?

Conclusion… some bullshit… “As demonstrated”… “clearly illustrates”… “Furthermore”… “Finally, the main point”… Jesus, can’t you just read the fucking thing?

Stage 5: Home stretch

Okay, time to edit out all my mistakes.

Why the hell do I keep typing ‘at least’ as ‘as least’?

Why are keyboards in this order, even?

Who in the hell decided it was a good idea to put ‘i’ next to ‘o’? Which prankster wanted me to keep writing ‘in’ when I mean ‘on’?

Oh fuck, I have this part twice, how did that happen?!

Okay, but now it’s done.

PRINT, MY SLAVE!

Printer? Hello-ho, printer?

Uuuuurrrrrggghhh!

PRINTER!

Oh, come on…

Who’s a nice little printer?

Why can’t I just hand in the PDF via e-mail? What year is this, 1403?

PRINT, YOU INK-FILLED MALCONTENT, OR I WILL END YOU AND CURSE YOUR OFFSPRING TO THE SEVENTH GENERATION!

Finally!

Fine, don’t have an office hour, I’ll drop it in the secretary’s office, they’ll get it to you.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU DIDN’T GET IT?!

See, this is precisely why this kinda shit should to be handled via e-mail!

Oh, so you did get it? Just buried under all the other papers, is it?

Ugh, I don’t even care any more. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the couch, crying into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

Wait, did I remember to close the quotation marks in that one quote I shortened?

Uuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhh.

Rant Day! Things That Pissed Me Off, Oct 19-25

Item 1: Dear guy on the tram, I’m sorry I spent the entire ride staring at your Captain America belt buckle, I’m sure you thought I was staring at your penis, sorry for making you feel objectified (and double sorry if you enjoyed the attention). I mean, I guess I could have just screamed “Captain America!” and pointed straight at your general belt area, yet somehow I feel that would have been worse. But, honestly? A rather large belt buckle on low rise pants is nothing but a penis advertisement. A dick ad. A cock sign. If you put a very large and colourful metal circle directly over the bulge, chances are all eyes are gonna go straight to the money maker. I mean, your loose fitting hoody was tucked behind it. So…

Item 2: More shapely dudes need to wear slim fitting pants. So I get on the tram and immediately my thoughts set back human evolution by about a million years, because daaaaayummm, he got them long lean legs! Not that I always want to get on public transport and have my inner horny ape come out, but… actually I do. So thanks, guy in the tight blue pants. Nothing against ogling women’s legs all the time but a bit of variety doesn’t come amiss. Get it together, every other dude!

Item 3: Whyyyy does everything have to be done at once and by me? Are there no other people in the world? Has the zombie apocalypse finally happened? Why do I have to do everything?

Item 4: All my deadlines are, through none of my doing, really close together and I’m having a mild freak out. How am I going to write all those papers?!

Item 5: I need to get a grip on myself and pester people about supervision. Like, reaaaalllyyyy get on their nerves until one of them shows mercy. Ugh, people contact, eww.

Item 6: Another complaint about public transport? Say it ain’t so! Dear group of youths (six of them! Fucking six of them! Oh, the humanity!) who looked like you escaped from a Pinterest fashion board, why do you think leaning against the door is a good idea? Especially when we’re approaching a much frequented station? Prepare for the Expectant Eyebrow Raise of Doom. Then prepare for a pair of cheap plastic Chelseas to land on your suede Oxfords. Get. Out. Of. My. Way.

Ohhhh, whyyyyy must it be too cold and wet already to bike everywhere?

Rant Day! I’m Getting My Rant Game Back on Track!

Item 1: So I actually got a compliment the other day. In public, no less. And it weirded me out, because, hello, since when do we talk to strangers on public transport?! This is Autism Central, we don’t acknowledge people’s existence until we bump into them! So I’m on the subway, White Lies blaring in my ears, when I feel someone tapping my shoulder. Thinking it’s just a late tourist trying to get to the airport, because that’d be the right line for that purpose, I unplug my ears, turn and say, “Yeah?” And this hipster looking dude with round turquoise Harry Potter-esque glasses says, “Hey, I just wanted to say your glasses are real cool. That’s it, really.” And proceeds back to his corner as I say a slightly baffled, “Okay. Thanks. Yours are nice, too.” And spent the rest of the train ride stewing in my own awkwardness, suddenly questioning the entire universe. Who is this guy? What’s so special about my glasses? Is he doing a Random Act of Kindness kind of project to get more followers on his Twitter feed? Is he tweeting about this now? Is he snapchatting his bros about my glasses?! What just happened?! Does not compute!

Safe to say I’m bad with compliments. Probably because I never get any except from my mom.

Item 2: I got back into Pilates with the end of the heat wave and now I’m hurting in places I didn’t even know could hurt, or, for that matter, were located within my body.

Item 3: I recently found out that my dad and most of the people he knows of the 50+ generation never wrote a single letter of application in their entire life. Not one goddamn cover letter, and those guys ain’t exactly poor. They just knew people who were like, hey, you seem cool, wanna come hang in our brand new office? Like, the first job my dad ever had, he walked out on the second day all like, screw you dickwipes. And it’s like, why are you asking me why I don’t have a proper job when the real question should be, how do YOU even have a proper job?! You didn’t exactly work for it, no pun intended. Fellow millenials, it’s time we take to the barricades! As soon as we can afford any.

Item 4: Mom got her first smartphone and I’m so proud of the progress she made so far, even though she says it’s like having to learn to read all over again. And now dad’s all jealous of me because I’m a better teacher than he is. Right in the generation gap.

Item 5: I seem to be hanging out a lot with my parents, is that normal?

Item 6: I swear job interviews are getting weirder every year. Like, they make you do little tests now like maths and proofreading. What’s next, asking me what kind of animal I’d be if I was an animal? (BTW, the answer is either cat or koala. I excel at sleeping and I’m a picky eater.)

Item 7: The next heat wave is rolling around! Run for your lives! Meet me in Iceland!

P.s.: It’s been over a week and Boyfriend has not noticed the kitten attack.

Risky Business, Also Known as Daily Life

As a slowly recovering sociophobe (ignore your spell check, it’s a word), I take chances every damn day.

I mean, I guess the biggest chance ever to take was to get actual psychological help, which did not work out at all. But that’s a sad story and I’m not feeling it today.

So instead let me regale you with the fact that sometimes I get up, get ready, get my stuff, open the door…

… go “Nope” and head back inside.

Some days leaving the house is just not happening. I mean… people. Construction workers. Children. Parents with children. Dogs. Birds. Social interaction with cashiers and ticket inspectors and random weirdos and those elusive beings called acquaintances. Hundreds of thousands of people being carried through the public transport system like so much cholesterol in an American’s bloodstream. The noise of a million grunting voices, crying, yapping, tapping on their phones, the irregular tick-tock of two million shoes going in every direction and at every pace, all while you are trapped in the enormous body heat of a stuffed subway car like you were travelling through the bowels of some huge alien creature. Smells like it, too. And you want me to partake in all this? Nah.

So some days, I step outside, decide that ‘literally, I can’t even’, and go hide in my bedroom.

I’m absolutely convinced this is where this dreaded phrase comes from. You’re so paralysed with fear you can’t even finish the sentence. Your brain just shuts down from sensory overload.

But sometimes, you do have to go out. Yes, even me with my thorough calculations of how long I can put off buying toilet paper. There’s university, and grocery shopping, and going to the drug store for tampons, and visiting relatives, and a billion other things you just can’t avoid. And then you just have to brace yourself, give yourself a good mirror pep talk about how you are a kind and loveable and entirely normal not-at-all-weird-or-awkward person, and go.

And then your brain puts on the next horror show. Did I lock the door? better go check again. Did I close the windows? There’s scaffolding all over the place, anyone could climb in, better go check again. Did I lock the door again after I checked on the windows? Better go check. Wait, did I check the kitchen window? Wait, did I turn off the stove? Should I really leave the dryer running, I heard that can cause a fire. What if someone starts a fire in the basement again? What if I lose my keys? What if I lose my phone? Wait, where’s my pepper spray even? Wait, where’s my list? What if it rains, should I take an umbrella? What if it gets cold, should I take a jacket? Wait, what if someone breaks the windows and steals all my stuff?! Maybe I should hide everything I own real quick…

And all this just to take a ten minute walk to the post office.

I took a huge chance today by going to a job interview. Do you want my inner monologue?

Oh my god, they answered so quickly! Wait, does that mean they’re desperate? Does that mean their last assistant quit suddenly? Did someone die? That’s why you can’t ask why the position’s free, no matter what they tell you in those get-ready-for-your-job-interview articles, because it’d be super awkward. Wait, how many other candidates are there? Oh my god, I really don’t have much experience, what if they hire me and then I can’t do it? Oh my god, what do I say when they ask why I want this job, I can’t say “Because I’d be getting paid”! But literally, that’s the reason. What if they ask me what my dream job is, I can’t say ‘billionaire heiress’! But literally, that’s the truth. Oh my god, what if they don’t like me? What if they’re mean? What if they make a joke they think is funny but is actually really hurtful and/or offensive? It’s going to be 90 degrees out, what am I going to wear? What if they don’t have AC? Ahhhh… blouse. Okay. Should I do pants? I can’t do my suit pants, too hot. Should I do a skirt? Great, now I look like I’m going to boarding school. What are they wearing on their website? Is this more business casual or business professional? What if that’s just for the photos and they’re really like super relaxed? What if I look odd? What if they don’t like my nose? Or my voice? Or my accent? Oh my god, I can’t do this. You need a job, though. I can’t do this! You need a job, though! I’m not half as good as I don’t even think I am! You need a job, though. Okay, so I’m here, and they are super relaxed about clothes. And it’s a group interview. Aww, all the other girls are so much prettier than I am! And they’re younger, too! Argh, Jesus, there’s no way they’re going to take me, not with that girl over there, she’s probably perfect. Argh, why can’t I pretend I’m a smiley, happy person, why is my strict organiser showing?! They want an organiser, though. Who cares, no one ever cares how efficient I am because I’m not a pretty smiling-at-all-hours sort of person! I’ve resting bitch face! It’s my natural condition! My masticatory muscle is cramping from all the smiling, this is the worst thing ever! Actually, this interview wasn’t so bad. Yes, it was. Wasn’t. Was. They seemed to like you. Didn’t! I said a stupid thing. I said a lot of stupid things, actually. Argh, why did I even go? Because you need a job. What I need is being a normal person!

So, yes, I’m definitely taking chances. Chances of going absolutely insane. Thank you and goodnight, I’ll see myself in.

House Warming, Literally, or So Someone Set Fire to the Cellar

So I live in a city owned apartment building. It was built in 1930. I rent here. I’m fucking poor, deal with it.

It’s Friday night and someone set fire to the basement.

Someone also set fire to the pharmacy down the street. Two weeks ago someone set fire to the front yard waste bins in almost every building along the street. So my question is…

WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING AND WHY AM I INVOLVED?!

I’ve never been in a house fire. I didn’t even know that still existed, outside of the classic smoked-in-bed-and-fell-asleep. And now I need to vent.

Sometime in the evening I quip that someone’s barbecuing because it smells burnt. I could kick myself for that. Shortly after 8 p.m. someone rings the intercom. This happens, someone always forgets their key, or is trying to get into the house for less than legal reasons. So I usually play dead if I’m not expecting anyone. But then it rings again. And again. So I answer. It’s a neighbour I’ve never met, ringing absolutely everyone that there’s smoke coming out of the cellar. So, off I go, tell Boyfriend to get a move on, throw on some pants and shoes, grab my handbag, knock next door, lock my own door and high tail it outta there like I’m running on auto pilot while phoning the fire brigade because I’m not sure if anyone called them yet and hey, better one time too many than not enough, right?

Apparently not. So the man at the end of the line is really rude. I’m at the edge of panic, telling the exact address, saying there’s smoke coming out of the basement. “Really? I got a call it’s in the yard.” At this point I’m already on the ground floor and can’t see anything anymore because hey, lotsa smoke, bro ain’t never lied. “But I got a call it’s in the yard”, the man says. “No, it’s in the basement, that’s what all my neighbours say and there’s really a lot of smoke.” The man on the phone is getting audibly annoyed: “Now you listen to me! I got a call it’s from the yard. Are you there in front of the fire, do you see the fire?” Sure bro, I’m roasting marshmallows. I step out into the yard, inhale a lung of smoke on my way, and surprise, no fire. Because it’s very clearly coming from the basement. So I say no, it’s not, it’s from the basement. Dude asks me to check again. I say I can’t, there’s such a lot of smoke, I can’t see in the house, but I can tell you there’s nothing at all whatsoever in the yard! So finally he grudgingly says they’ll be right over.

Okay. I get that your job is stressful. I get that you’re annoyed because unbeknownst to me five different people called your department. But seriously, who goes into the smoke to check for its source without some protection? Do you really think I own a gas mask? Am I your colleague? Do I work for you? No! I’m a civilian, there’s smoke, come save me! That’s how it’s supposed to go! Spiderman wouldn’t ask me a million questions before swinging over!

So some guys are trying to get the garden hose going but it’s not long enough. The fire brigade takes some time to arrive, but there’s nothing productive I can do so I slowly venture away from the smoke and towards the sidewalk. I sit down for a minute and grab for my inhaler because I inhaled some smoke while on the phone and even for a non-asthmatic, that ain’t exactly pleasant. My lungs are sending me a warning sign already. Must be it, no one else is coughing. My asthma has been fine for years but little things like this remind me it’s still there. A woman I’ve never met before asks me if I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m the queen of okay. I’m just not happy with my lungs. But my faith in humanity is restoring itself for a minute.

The police come, one neighbour I don’t know wearing a neon orange shirt launches himself into a fit of rage about the rent, the construction work, the police, house management and the world in general. I sit on the other side of the street with Boyfriend and the woman from downstairs. I’m suddenly painfully aware that I’m not wearing any make-up. Not even my BB cream. How long was it since I left the house without make-up on? But that’s a stupid thought, so I shove it away.

Soon there’s a word drifting from police to neighbours to me: arson. I can’t quite believe it at first. I’m theorising about cables fire, it’s been hot these past two weeks, and the construction workers aren’t exactly careful.

Turns out I’m an optimistic idiot.

I notice for the first time we have no fire extinguisher in the entire building. No smoke alarm. Shouldn’t we have that? Shouldn’t that be in every building? I mean, it’s an old house but still. Aren’t there regulations? I make a mental note.

I’m paranoid someone will use the fire as a distraction to climb the scaffold and rob everyone. We all had our windows wide open because of the heat, no one closed them. Unfortunately I say this out loud. The woman from downstairs looks at me with eyes like saucers. I can scare people with a single comment.

They tell us we won’t be able to go back in for two hours. It’s a quarter to nine. Quite a wait for a Friday night. I suggest ice cream. The woman from downstairs suggests the bakery and off we trot. A few other neighbours had the same idea, we see as we approach. A rushed looking young woman is running herself ragged with all the new customers. My lungs feel fine by now.

So we eat. And chat. I marvel at how catastrophe can bring people together in such a way. People in Vienna suffer from a kind of cultural autism. We don’t talk. Not to strangers. Among neighbours we only exchange pleasantries. We gossip like a horde of washerwomen in the office. But we don’t say anything of substance. That’s reserved for close friends and alcoholic nights. I never talked to the woman before apart from the customary hellos in the hallway. And I will probably never talk to her again. She’s about sixty. What do we have to talk about besides chitchat and gossip about our other neighbours, some of which are admittedly very weird? (Especially the guy who robs the fuse box and glues the front door shut. No, seriously.)

We can go back an hour sooner than we thought. Stop to chat with a policeman who gives me a hint about fire safety regulations. Once I’m home I soon find the right paragraph on the internet. I’m no lawyer, but still, if this was America I could sue someone’s pants right off.

We say goodbye to the woman-from-downstairs and happily we still have power in the flat. So I set myself to writing an angry e-mail to house management. Only house management has no e-mail, just some notifying system where you can type 500 characters. So I send two messages urging them to give us some goddamn fire extinguishers and maybe an alarm system. If they’re going to renovate the whole house might as well get to it. Screw ’em. I want them to know about fire safety regulations. I’m going to regret this in the morning. My conditioning wants me to not make a fuss, to keep quiet, to be thankful it wasn’t anything worse. Nothing bad happened after all. Just a spot of trouble. Nothing serious. SCREW THAT, I say. I want to make things better. I want prevention.

And now that things have calmed down I’m back to thinking about myself. I was calm. Not running around like a headless chicken. Not scared. No screaming. Just practical and controlled. Not taking any risks. That’s good, right? But now I feel guilty in a way. I think I could have done more. I could have been more perceptive and noticed it smelled like smoke, not like someone cooking. I could have gone upstairs to check if really everyone was out. I could have gone and checked for the fire source. I could have gone around being comforting, even though in the wall of stone-faced strangers no one seemed to need comforting. I could have tried to calm down orange shirt guy who was screaming loud enough to be heard from two blocks away. Why do I feel the need to do that? Is not being trouble not enough? Do I have some kind of saviour complex?

Mostly I feel on edge. And angry. Angry like I let this happen. Maybe I’m just a control freak.

The fire was only in the cellar. Nothing ruined, just kinda smoky. Definitely arson, the police say. We’ve had a few of those recently. Who the hell does this? Why would you do this? Teenagers being bored, Boyfriend says, it’s the summer holidays after all. If that’s true, whatever happened to just getting drunk somewhere or chilling with friends, possibly while being drunk? That’s what I did when I was a bored kid.

Someone on the ground floor already has their music turned up to maximum again. Panic time over and we’re back to being cultural autists again. No talking to neighbours for a long while.

And if I catch the asshole who’s been doing this he’s going to be so dead he won’t even know it.

Random Thought Tuesday, July 14

Y’know, I’ve been thinking…

Piece of advice: If you’re going to wear men’s boxer shorts or boxer briefs as a girl make sure you don’t wear them under skinny jeans, the legs on those fuckers ride up like hell. You gonna be fine with leggings, though.

Now, do you want to know how I know that? I give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.