Thursday, November 02, 2006

halve your luck

Had a grant application turned down this week. The baleful letter was waiting for me when I returned from work Monday night. Means I will have to spend the summer driving, not writing - unless I can work out a routine that allows me to do both. Which I may have to do. Some projects fall apart when they are rejected, others gather strength. This is one of the latter, and I still feel the funding body - which shall remain nameless - should have supported it.

Their rejection form letter includes this curious advice: … projects that are funded have to fit into specific priorities. Projects that don't fit into the project funding priorities may still be very good ideas ... Huh? What specific priorities? Are applicants allowed to know their nature? How do they differ from the specific criteria we have to meet? Or are they the same? It would seem there is some impenetrable bureaucratic mysterium ... I got quite angry about this and drafted a letter but, on the timely advice of a friend, didn't send it.

It was peculiar how, when my light at the end of the tunnel went out, luck also deserted me. It suddenly became much harder to turn a buck, right when the bucks I turn are the only ones I'll get for a while. How cruel seeming ... I've never met a cabbie who didn't believe in luck, just as I've never met one who can explain how it works. You're lucky .... or you're not. That's it. And yet, in my own case, I notice that, if I'm lucky, I tend to feel that it is richly deserved, but if I'm unlucky, it seems unfair, malign, as abritrary as negative funding body decisions.

So I struggled through Tuesday and Wednesday, taking five and ten dollar rides here and there around town, working twice as hard and earning half as much as usual. Last night I was so far behind I thought I'd have to give up and go home when, outside the Sheraton on Elizabeth Street, I was hailed by a man who wanted to go to St. Ives, way up on the leafy North Shore, at least fifty dollars worth, maybe more. Enough, anyway, to make my pay in and still have a bit to spend over the weekend.

A South African. Businessman, late fifties or early sixties. Quite drunk. He told me where he was going, and also that I would have to take his baby-sitter home after dropping him off; then made a call on his mobile phone. Inveterate eavesdropper that I am, I soon realised he was talking either to his mistress or his girlfriend. Not just the flirtatiousness, the boasting too. You get a lot of this: men on their mobile phones boasting how much money they made that day. There's something about the gloating tone they use; something, paradoxically, mean about it. Something truly offensive. I guess most of us now know that the economic system we use rewards all that is base in human nature: experiencing the triumph of these qualities in raw, individual form day by day, or rather night by night, is one of the least happy parts of the job. I usually listen, forensically, for the detail; but this guy was so revolting I tuned out.

Well, we get to St. Ives, and he pays by credit card, and says I should add on fifteen bucks for the extension to the fare when I take Callum, the boy baby-sitter home. I did something I've not done before - I added on twenty instead of fifteen, pushing the fare over seventy dollars. He was drunk, he didn't want a receipt, and although there was a bad moment when he tried to sign the docket - the pen didn't work - I don't believe he noticed. Callum was a sweet young man, taking him up to St. Ives Chase added only six or seven bucks to the fare, so I was away with a decent tip. It was only a matter of five bucks, nothing to him, but, petty as it sounds, I was delighted to have ripped him off.

Of course I then got lost. I get lost every time I go to St. Ives which, by night, is a strangely sinister place, like the set for a horror movie: intermittent white light, dark trees, large, hidden houses, expensive cars hissing by to some midnight rendezvous. I always think Stephen King when I'm up there and perhaps that's why, unsettled, I get lost. And so, unaccountably, I turned down a radio job to Avalon, my hand hitting the Reject button before my mind had truly engaged with the information. Then the radio, as if in revenge, tried to bully me into doing a local job at Turramurra. Hell.

Got out of there eventually, the Pacific Highway was closed at Chatswood, a bad accident, so I fled down Fullers Road, through Ryde, to Five Dock and home ... still thinking about luck and what it is or isn't, what it does or doesn't do. If I'd accepted that hail on Bridge Street instead of pulling onto the Bent Street rank for a smoko ... ? If I hadn't gone up to the Caltex servo on Rose Bay looked for a fare that wasn't there ... ? If I'd lived my life differently ... ? Would I still be occupying this lowly station ... ?