Bliss in Laverton
Copyright© 2010 by Pedant
I read a bit more on Monday in Canberra and got my notes in order. Around 3pm, I asked Janice whether there was someone who could take confidential dictation and then type it up for the boss. She said she'd do it, if it didn't take too long. She grabbed her pad and we went off to my office.
"I want to keep it short and direct," I told her. "That'll blow the minister away."
She laughed, I wrestled with my notes and then launched in. Basically, I said that the only viable locations were Darwin, Broome and Perth and that Darwin in the Northern Territory and Perth in Western Australia were the most likely. I pointed out that while Perth would be more expensive in terms of living allowances, it would save money on facilities. Moreover, UWA in Perth already had some courses in forensic entomology. I tried to think about what else I should say, but decided that I'd stop there.
"Easy enough. No long Greek or Latin words. I'll have it ready for you to proof in half an hour. Then I'll doll it up. You'll have two nice neat copies on good paper for you and Kevin tomorrow morning."
I spent half an hour tossing reminders and notices into the trash. It looked as though there wasn't even a call I really had to return. I wandered back to Janice's, read her "rough" draft (invariably better than what a final from me would have been) and told her to go for it. She typed in the instruction (whatever it was) for the laser printer to use the alternate paper tray and to make three copies, got them, clipped each, put them in a blue file folder, and handed it to me. "Service with a smile."
"What's the third for?"
"The minister on Wednesday."
"Boy, are you ahead of me! Thanks a bunch. Now go home. That's enough work."
I stopped at an Italian place on the way home and had some funny-shaped pasta in garlic sauce and a glass of red wine. At home I showered, called Weena just to tell her I loved her -- which ended up taking fifteen minutes -- and went to sleep. I woke up at seven, shaved, dressed, and drove to Black Mountain. I got myself coffee and a bacon butty. It was just on eight, but no sign of Kevin. I'd just wiped the grease and crumbs from my lips and fingers, when he stormed in.
"Sorry. Hell of a mess on the road. How are you? Wait. Lemme get some coffee."
When he got back, calmer, I just handed him the two sheets of my report. He started to read, unclipped the papers, and went to the second page.
"Great. You really read that junk and put it together. The minister'll love it because all the second-guessing morons in the Old Parliament Building won't have any questions. Or they won't have any like 'have you thought of the northwest?'." He drank his coffee. "So, where do you want to go?"
I thought for a minute and decided to level. "Kevin, I've gotten engaged." He goggled at me. I held up my hand. "She lives in Laverton. We've only known each other for two weeks. I need to ask her. If she wants to try Darwin, I'll go to Darwin. She went to school in Perth. She may hate it." I looked at the clock. Nearly nine. Seven in the west. "I can phone her. Maybe I'll get an answer. But you said 'confidential' -- can I tell her?"
"Too right. No one she can blurt it to, anyway. But, Gordy. Are you sure?"
"Surer than sure."
"Then God bless you. When's the big day?"
"Not yet fixed. But it'll most likely be in Roma."
"Hmmm. Might be a good time for some of us to have to meet with the folks in Brisbane. There'll be room for some of the blokes?"
"I'm sure of it. Now, the one you dipped in coffee is yours. This neat one on the blue folder is for the minister. And there's an extra neat one, too."
He grinned. "Janice really makes us look good, doesn't she? OK. Call your gal. Let me know the preference by two. OK?"
"It's a deal." We shook hands and I headed for my lab.
After thinking for a minute, I called the hotel. "Hello, dear. Can we talk for a few minutes? It's on the government's meter. No, no, I'm fine. I just need to talk to you. Don't fret. okay. So here's the deal. The ministry has decided that the bureau needs to have an office in the Territory or in Western Australia. I was asked to go through all the paper so that my boss has a presentation for the minister tomorrow ... Yes, that's what I was doing over the weekend. Anyway, my suggestion this morning was Darwin, Broome or Perth. Kevin -- my boss -- told me to call you and let him know where you would like to go ... Yes, he's really fine. Grumpy sometimes, but quite fine. So, what do you think? Would you like to live in Darwin? Or near the nude beach in Broome? Or in Perth? Oh, there's more, but this is the biggie ... Well, it seems it's me by default. As I get it, I'm the only entomologist in our three stations who's got a doctorate, and who doesn't have a wife, kids and mortgage ... Yeah. But he didn't know that I had a nearly-wife until this morning. Anyway, wherever the bureau sets up, I'll be in charge. So, do you need time? ... Yes, I could call back ... In an hour? Sure ... Oh, I see. You want to ask your dad. Sure. Why don't I call you at around 9:30? No. 9:30 your time. It's past 9:30 here already. Yes, I love you, too. Bye." And that was it. I was committed.
I wasn't sure what to do for the next hour and a half, so I decided to straighten up my lab/office. I started to the left of my door and picked up all the books. I made two stacks on my desk, and began shelving them. At the same time, I neatened up the shelves. Then I went around and picked up the journals and magazines: unread copies of Proceedings of the Entomological Society of London, the Australian Journal of Entomology, a stray issue of the Bulletin of Entomological Research. And, of course, the CSIRO's various bulletins. A lot of dead trees. That left me with a bunch of loose, clipped and stapled papers; some letters; and dusty furniture. I sort of stacked the paper, put a rock on top of it, and went off to the men's to wash my hands and bring back some damp paper towels. The rock has a piece of a bat in it. I found it on a field trip to Murgon when I was a student. You can see a piece of the wing, but it's worthless because there are lots of better, more complete ones. And it's tertiary, not even that old. I was back in my office and stopped dreaming.
I cleaned up -- there really was a lot of dust -- it was just eleven. I took my wad of dirty toweling, went back to the men's and washed up, again. Then I went back to my lab, sat down, and realized that relatively soon it wouldn't be 'my lab' any more.
So I called Weena. She picked up right away. "Hello, dear."
"Wow! Do you greet everyone that way?"
"I was expecting you..."
"I know. Just teasing. What did your dad say?"
"First he said that his heart couldn't take visiting us if we were near that nude beach in Broome. So I reminded him that North Swanbourne and Warnbro were 'clothing optional' and near Perth and that there was a nude beach in Darwin, too. I told him he was a dirty middle-aged man and he'd best watch out. So he said that he'd be retiring in two more years and would be moving to Rockingham, so if we were in Perth, he'd love it, but that he's worried that you'll hate having him around."
"Doesn't he wash? He seemed okay."
"Gordy, stop it! You're the only person I love more than Daddy! And Perth has shopping and concerts and sport..."
"I guess that it's a viable choice, then? As good as Darwin or Broome?"
"Don't be cruel, darling."
"I'm not. Just a bit silly. I've got to go and report now. I'll call around dinner time tomorrow. We may know what the minister says by then." And we got off, and I went back to Janice's office.
"Can I see Kevin for a minute or two?"
"Made a decision?"
"She picked Perth?"
"What's her name?"
"Weena -- Rowena."
"Nice. A flaxen-haired Saxon beauty?"
"Yeah. Sure." She buzzed.
"Kevin, Gordy's here. You owe me five."
"You bet him? You knew?"
"Of course. And I always know."
I didn't wait till dinnertime. By 10 the next morning, I had seen Kevin and received my instructions. He would call UWA and tell them the good (?) news. I would fly to Perth on Sunday, planning to spend a week or 10 days meeting people and looking at facilities. I should plan on office and lab space for three, most likely one of whom would be a graduate student from elsewhere.
So I called Weena. "Hi, sweetheart."
"Ooh. That's nice. Will you always call me that?"
"No. Only till we're married. Then it'll be 'hey, you'."
"Okay. Here's the deal. It's Perth. The minister will make an announcement in the House this afternoon, so you can talk to whoever you want to. Can you spend a week away from Laverton? With me in a good hotel in Perth? Kevin says the New Esplanade has a government rate. No, I've no idea where it is. My guess is on the Esplanade. I'll have Janice make the booking. I'll let you know when my flight gets in. Can you meet me at the airport? It'll be Sunday; most likely around two or three. I'll have lots to do at the uni, but I'm sure you can keep busy. Oh. Yes. I guess so. House-hunting. Oh, my God. I hadn't thought. Maybe we could rent for six months or a year. No, I've no furniture. Just clothes and books and papers. And my insects. Oh, my God."
We were on the phone for nearly an hour. I went to Janice, who said she'd book the hotel and the flights. She asked (again) about the wedding. I told her we hadn't talked about it, but that Weena'd unloaded house-hunting on me. Janice burst out laughing. "I guess you're no longer a grad student," she said, and went back to laughing. I went off to lunch with the guys.
When I got back to my lab, I looked up houses for sale in Perth. I nearly fell off my chair. There seemed to be nothing under a million dollars. A million dollars! I'd been saving since I graduated, and I barely had twenty or twenty-five thousand. What's that? 2%, 2.5%? What kind of mortgage could we get? What would the payments be like? And I didn't even know where the places were: Dudley Park, Ellenbrook, Kingsley, ... And how far were any from the uni? Weena might know. She'd spent years at school in Perth. I realized that there were a ton of questions that Janice might be able to answer.
"Hi. I need information."
"Title and salary? Moving expenses? Overall budget? That sort of thing."
"Now you get to it! You should've asked Kevin before he saw the minister. But ... we can figure something out." She got a pamphlet out of her desk. "You'll be heading a new office and moving over 500 miles involuntarily. Hmmm." She flipped some pages. "It looks like you'll get about 60% more salary, you'll get full moving reimbursement and two round-trip flights. Reimbursement for up to six months' 'temporary housing' while you look for 'permanent housing.' Once you're actually married, we'll foot the bill for her -- Weena's? -- travel, too. Oh, and my advice is to junk your car, buy a new Land Rover in Perth, and have 'CSIRO' put on the doors. The ministry will pay and it will be your 'official vehicle.' Keep your gas receipts. Get about half reimbursed as business. Any more?"
"Tons. But that is more than enough to think about. Once I've talked to folks in Perth, I'll know what's needed for labs and staff and stuff."
"I'll find out who can help you there. Someone must have been in contact in the past."
"You're wonderful. I'm off to get a city map and an area guide for Perth."
"Bye. I'll tell Kevin you're already working."
I stopped in a cafe and had a double espresso while I looked at my new book about Perth and tried to locate suburbs and neighborhoods on the map -- one of those carefully designed to be unrefoldable. I did locate the uni and Stirling Highway as well as The Esplanade. I guess that was a start.
The next morning I looked in my closet and realized that if I were to appear at a university office in either of my two suits, they'd offer me alms. So I took them to the dry cleaner's. Then I stopped for breakfast and tried to put my thoughts in order. They went: Weena, money, Weena, new job, Weena, buying a house, Weena, money. Not much of a list. Really only Weena and money. I went home, drove to Black Mountain, and phoned my dad. I was 32 and phoning my dad! Bah!
I got mum, of course. But when I asked if dad was around, she put him on right away. I'd bet they were in the kitchen over coffee. Or tea.
"Hi. No, I'm fine. Well, I've got questions ... or problems. So I thought you'd help. Yep. No, nothing to do with Weena. Well, everything to do with Weena, sort of. Let me try to just get it all out." So I began: the new job, the move, the new salary, the wedding, buying a place, getting a mortgage, etc. Just as I was winding down, he started to laugh. A deep, rumbling laugh.
"The last time you sounded this scared was when you moved from the pony to a real horse. You're growing up. From when you went away to uni till now you've been a student. How much furniture have you got? What kind of a junk car do you drive? All of a sudden, that girl is forcing you to become an adult. It'll all be OK. It won't all be easy. But you talk to Weena. And the two of you really talk it through. If you need to, we can talk about it when you're here. And she can talk to her dad, too. It's not overwhelming. What do you think your mum and I went through 40 years ago? Before David and before you? Just calm down and then call Weena."
"Thanks, dad. Thanks a lot. I just panicked."
"And be proud. You're going to be running a branch of the government."
"That's scary, too."
"Go call your girl."
"Yessir. Thanks, again."
So I called Weena.
"Sweetheart, we've got to talk ... No, dear, I'm not dumping you. It's serious. I'm worried about money. I'm worried about buying a house. I'm worried about being in charge. I'm worried about moving ... Yes ... Yes. I spoke to my dad. He says that I'm afraid of growing up, of not living like a student any more ... Yes. I'll try ... It's only a little while till Sunday ... Okay ... My banking and savings stuff? ... Really? ... And yours ... I see. Okay. And we'll spend some time on finances? ... Well, there are a few other things I'd like to investigate ... Oh, yes ... I'd like to plumb the depths of that! I love you so much. I'll call tomorrow with the flight time ... What? ... Sydney, I guess. Well, via Melbourne seems even further out of the way. I'll find out from Janice tomorrow ... Oh, right ... I'd better call now. I'm sorry I'm such an incompetent. Bye."
I called Janice and found I was wrong. I was flying via Melbourne. I'd get to Perth just past two. So I called Weena and told her. Then I realized that I'd not picked up my suits or my laundry. So I went out and did as many errands as I could recall. Then I drove to Black Mountain, got a copy of my dissertation and three each of my two articles, went home, and thought about what I needed to take with me.
The flight to Melbourne was nearly empty. Melbourne to Perth seemed to have more flight attendants than passengers. And one even offered to hang my suit bag for me. I tried to sort out and organize my personal chores and my professional ones. The latter seemed far simpler. So I day-dreamed my way west.
In Perth, Weena was waiting ... and with her was her father. She wasn't shy and I got a big wet one right there. I was a bit uncertain, stuck out a hand and said, "Hello, sir. I hadn't expected to see you."
"No, I expect not. But when Weena told me of her plan to drive here, I worked out a meeting for tomorrow, and so we flew here in the company plane. So you kids will have to rent something for your stay. Second, you and I and Weena need to sit together for an hour for serious talk. And this evening is a good time. Let's get your bags and we'll get to your hotel. Weena said you were in the New Esplanade."