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Just Keep Swimming
Hot potatoes and infinite chance
I am hit in the head by fried potatoes. I cannot process this on top of everything else, so I don’t. I can smell chlorine. Freshly burnt rubber. Water is swishing in my ears. There’s some beeping, then the radio reboots itself as if nothing even happened. My brain runs in nebulous and panicky rivers of thought that follow the general course of Whoops and What the fuck. I did this. In more ways than one I did this. I feel around my hair for glass shrapnel or brain fragments or some sort of concrete and immediate moral lesson, but all I can find is hot chips.
I eat one.
I’m only human.
Leftwards and behind me is a guttural engine noise, a horrible scraping, and then an almighty crack. People rush towards the bang. My skin is cold. I have another chip. ‘Can you drive it?’ asks a voice through my still open window. Drive what? I very almost ask. But I get it, I get there, I give the wheel a wiggle and it’s limp as hell. This feels beyond my paygrade. I look at the voice and it says, without being a dick about it, ‘The car isn’t on.’ Ah. Good one. Start ‘er up. Chip time. More horns. ‘Jesus Christ!’ yells someone over to the left. The reek of the Maccas oil is starting to ooze woozily around the car and horns beget horns beget horns. I feel like I’m underwater. The voice is now a hand and the hand is pointing to the left, the one place in this world that I really don’t want to go. I must. I drive slowly towards the crowd and the carnage against my every instinct. When I open the door a bizarre and profound chill hits my nethers. I look down in horrified slow motion and I’m wearing speedos and that’s it.
Whoops, again. What the fuck, again.
No one turns to look at me so I have time to scrounge for my shirt and a towel. Pedestrians and witnesses are all gathered around a car that’s embedded itself in the brick wall and I can’t help but think, in both roundabout and very straightforward ways, I really think I might have put it there.
I was the victim of a series of accidents. As are we all.
This specific accident calls into being a loud, chipper tow truck driver that I didn’t call and the other guy didn’t call either. Explain that. His name is Shane. True to form, in the manner of every tow truck driver that I have ever heard speak, Shane is very excited about the crash. I think I catch him smiling, or at least there’s a sort of glint coming from his tiny wire glasses. He pulls his pants up a lot. He looks like he smells like cigarettes.
Shane buzzes around my car, ostensibly assessing, giving random panels a hearty, good-humoured whack, kicking at any dangling bits. He takes a special interest in the collapsed bonnet.
‘They make cars so they crumple these days,’ he calls out to me, chummily.
I’m sitting on the kerb waiting for my Mum.
‘Oh, yeah?’ is all I can think to say.
‘Yeah, this is worse than it looks. See here. And here. When they get a big bang they kind of…’ He smacks his hands together then intertwines his fingers in two serious, separate movements Shane has managed to perfectly describe the exact feeling that I have in my brain right now. It feels as if my cortexes have caved in, like I’ve been smacked out of sync with the usual flow and time and space into my own wet little pocket dimension down here on the road.
I was in a swimming pool. Swimming, I’m pretty sure. I think I can see myself doing laps of the Hornsby Shire Council Aquatic Centre’s 50m outdoor pool. It’s May. It’s 2016. The sun was caught low behind a bank of trees so it was warmer in than out, but not by much, which was expected and on purpose. All part of the plan. I’d seen a very stirring Nike commercial the night before—in it, in between panoramic sunrises and heavy breathing scored to triumphant music and close up, digitally enhanced shots of super bright shoes, the good people at Nike had convinced me that my worth as a person is a direct product of how hard and fast I can run. My left knee actually has a bit of a weird clicking thing going on, so I decided to take this key messaging to the pool. I legitimately labelled my alarm “Rise and Grind” and had nothing but a handful of spinach for breakfast. I was going to swim twenty of the fastest and most inspiring laps that the Hornsby Shire Council Aquatic Centre’s 50m outdoor pool has ever freakin’ seen. Eat your heart out, Thorpey.
I am an absolute sucker for this kind of thing, by the way. I do a ‘Same Year, New Me’ kind of hard reboot on my fitness goals every couple of months, often after watching a sports documentary. It’s always a great feeling the night before when you decide you’re going to do it, you’re going to transform your body through sheer force of will. Less so when you wake up. In the cold light of the morning, “Rise and Grind” seemed like the most embarrassing thing anyone could possibly label an alarm, and I used my very first thought of the day to hate myself. Moron. The swimming itself was a spluttering, graceless mess of arms and legs because I hadn’t swum in months. Twenty laps was a joke, and I saw the folly through foggy goggles—twenty was just an arbitrary round number with no real bearing on my immediate physique or wellbeing. So why gain so little and pain so much? Why not get out after lap nine and just go home?
Sitting on the kerb, looking at my crumpled car, I feel some quadrant of my crumpled brain pop itself back to normal. The speedo, at least, makes sense. So does the water in my ears.
Shane starts up the winch. He drums his fingers on the side of the tray as my car is sucked upwards, ass first. He might even go so far as to whistle.
‘Yours is the easy one!’ he laughs. He points merrily at the white sedan that has ploughed through a brick wall. Its nose is now pushing on a speed sign, which falls backwards at a melodramatic angle, as if it’s saying “excyuuse me”. The sedan’s front red P-plate got annihilated in the collision but the back one is intact. Its driver potters around amicably, sometimes on the phone, sometimes explaining to a pedestrian what happened. He’d said ‘Sorry, bro,’ when we were taking pictures of each other’s licences. He managed to be sincere and apologetic without seeming at all sorry for himself, which isn’t easy for an eighteen-year-old to do and, once the administrative pleasantries had passed very pleasantly, it felt like we didn’t have all that much to say to each other.
‘See you round,’ he’d said.
I had wondered where. And why.
Shane has been waiting for me to say something. I think he wants me to ask him how he plans to extract the white sedan from its complex entanglements but I feel like I’m still underwater. The best I can do is raise my eyebrows.
‘Don’t worry mate,’ he says, looking at the sedan with his head inclined at the angle of a curious puppy. ‘I’ll get it out.’.
‘Yeah got plenty of cables, and plenty of tricks. Went a distance, didn’t he? Floored the wrong pedal I reckon, happens all the time.’
This pedal talk is interesting to me. Sitting on the kerb, in my own private dimension, I’ve been trying to remember if I had made any meaningful effort to get to my brakes. No time I don’t think. No way no how. It must have been the impact that killed my momentum, and it must have been a hard enough stop to spew freshly fried potato up into my face and windscreen.
Remember, before ye judge, that all I’d had to eat was a bunch of leaves. I was hungry, and like most Australians I have a twisted Pavlovian conditioning that makes me crave oily hot chips with extra salt the second I exit a body of water. Once you’ve made one decision against your own health’s best interests, it’s pretty easy to make a second. I went the long way home, via McDonalds, and I guess that must be where the chips came from. Another cortex goes pop.
‘They’ll probably put a red arrow there now,’ says Shane, walking past me. I think he’s being nice.
‘I mean he just shouldn’t go in front of you there, obviously, but I’ve done a job here before. More than one prang and they put a red arrow in.’
And I guess Shane’s right that the white sedan shouldn’t rip recklessly in front of me, but I did hit him. And it felt just like the dodgems. It felt like when you totally t-bone some stranger at the Easter Show and physics yanks you forward right into the seatbelt. After the impact, the other guy took off and spun out and mounted a kerb and smashed into a wall, somehow managing to avoid a bank of parked cars and a string of pedestrians. And sure, maybe he hit the wrong pedal, but he wouldn’t have had to hit any pedal if I hadn’t given up at lap nine, taken a detour, and waited for my large fries. Takes two to tango is what I mean. Isn’t he as much a victim of my decisions as I am of his?
How far back can we go with that? How granular? How high-level? Is the whole thing Nike’s fault for selling their sweatshop shoes with fitspo propaganda? If I’d ordered a small fries, I’d have arrived at the intersection a split second earlier and might have killed the guy. If I’d ordered some nuggets as well I might have been 50 metres from the intersection and watched the sedan pull in front of some other chump. Really, it’s McDonald’s fault. Really, Gaius Maecenas, inventor of the swimming pool, is to blame. I don’t think my parents or my parent’s parents are off the hook, either. Keep pulling that thread and we should probably point an accusatory finger at Ancient Mesopotamia, at the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, at the first amoeba of primordial life that dared wriggle out of the sea.
Either we live in a universe that is an endless raging sea of chaos and none of our daily collisions are anything more than random chance, or, mysterious cosmic forces are running around said universe teaching moral lessons about exercise and healthy eating the hard way, according to the same exact nuanced, socialised understanding of right and wrong that I have.
I think, either way, that I am the victim of a series of accidents. As are we all.