According to Greek mythology, there were nine Muses, all female, and each assigned the responsibility of overseeing a specific area of creativity, - arts, music, writing, that sort of thing - and they all had those amazing Ancient Greek names that give your tongue a hernia when you try to pronounce them. I've never bothered to find out the name mine was christened with. To save the verbal gymnastics, I just call her by the name which I feel best describes who she is. Bitch.
Because I work from home, Bitch Muse has gotten the idea that she can poke and prod at me whenever the fancy takes her, and it’s my luck that she is not only a bitch; she’s also an insomniac. So, at four-thirty in the morning the rotten cow shows no mercy as she drags me out of bed and to my office five metres down the hall.
She has to concede, however, that I'm totally useless until I get some sugar in my system. Grudgingly, she allows me to make a cup of strong tea - two tea bags, three sugars, smidgen of milk - but, even then, she doesn’t let up on me. Jiggling tea bags requires little, or no, conscious thought. It leaves the mind free to chase after more interesting things. Bitch Muse makes sure I chase after the things I need to complete whatever project I'm working on at the time.
All of a sudden, it’s afternoon, breakfast is nothing more than an interesting theory, and I'm starving. By this time, Bitch Muse has forgotten about me. Maybe she goes for an afternoon nap. Well, when you’re thousands of years old, you probably need one. I don’t know. Anyway, the upside is that I manage to get a break and have my first meal for the day.
It’s a bad habit, I know. And, for me, a dangerous one. I'm hypoglycaemic. Too long without eating and my blood sugar levels drop to almost nonexistent. When that happens, I slide into a coma and, following that, I will die.
Too long isn’t necessarily a constant, either. Sitting at the computer, a relatively sedentary activity, doesn’t call for strenuous exercise, so it could take up to eight hours before I pass out. The more active I am, the quicker the onset. I used to play soccer in high school, and I scared the crap out the coach on one memorable occasion. After that, there was always a good supply of oranges close to hand.
So, to stop from collapsing at the computer, I have a bowl sitting beside the keyboard which I keep topped up with lollies and sweet biscuits. It’s a big bowl.
I’ve got a big butt as proof.
Bitch Muse’s grip had been broken by the woman’s phone call, allowing me to go into the kitchen and make some lunch. I had barely begun eating when the phone rang again. Still chewing on a mouthful, I went into the office to answer it.
‘Tangled Web.’ I swallowed.
Someone giggled on the other end. In the background I could hear people talking and music. Shopping centre noise. I looked at the caller display on the phone. OUT OF AREA. A public phone. More giggling, then someone shushing.
I frowned. Now what?
‘Hello?’ Sounded like a teenager.
‘Yes, hello. How may I help you?.’
‘Can I -’ More giggling in the background, more shushing. ‘Can I speak to God, please?’ This time the kid speaking giggled, and his mates behind him laughed out loud.
What the ...? ‘Who is this?’
More laughter, suddenly cut off. He had hung up.
I stood there, totally bemused. Beeping reminded me I was still holding the receiver to my ear. I replaced it in its cradle.
I slowly went back to the kitchen. What the Hell is going on here?
You can imagine my confusion. Two phone calls, two different callers. Both asking if they can talk to God. Was it a full moon or something, and everybody had suddenly gone mad?
I didn’t buy it. Even if two deranged people did ring me, what were the chances of them both wanting to talk to God? It just didn’t gel. This was more than just a couple of random acts of insanity. Something else was going on here. But what?
If both phone calls had been from kids, I might have been inclined to put it down as a prank. But the first call had been from the woman, and it sure didn’t sound like she had been joking. In retrospect, she had really been quite serious. Not to mention that she had also sounded genuinely embarrassed. It hardly seemed likely that she was in any way involved with the kids in the second phone call. Worlds apart, surely? Plus, someone was going to a lot of trouble just to pull a gag.
In the unlikely event this was a prank, I began to wonder who might be capable of such chicanery. Who did I know was able to convince two such disparate groups to ring up and ask for God? I'm ashamed to say one name almost instantly came to mind.
Best mate, partner in crime, confidànt, shit stirrer, fabricant de sottise, and inveterate practical joker. Thommo loves giving me the rag. He reckons it’s because I "react so bloody well, Jim Lad." Oh yeah. This had all the hallmarks of a Thommo classic, all right. And once again, I was the target.
I thought about ringing him and giving him an earful, but that was exactly the kind of reaction he’d be looking for. It would only increase his amusement. If you want to put out a fire, you don’t go blowing on the coals. No, best I didn’t go off half cocked. Let Thommo have his little joke.
Five days later, the joke had worn extremely thin. In that time, I received nearly two-hundred phone calls. Six were legitimate business. The rest were for God.
It’s a good thing Thommo doesn’t live close by. I would have cheerfully ripped his head off.
Thommo finally called late afternoon of the fifth day.
At five o’clock, I stop working and close down the office. I let my message bank pick up any incoming calls. Sometimes I work late, (depends on whether I'm working to a dealine, or what have you) however, by this time, Bitch Muse is pretty much bored with me and called it a day. I'm free to do as I please, generally boils down to me veging out in front of the TV until I feel like preparing dinner. After a long day of brain work, it’s great not to have to think about anything for a while.
I was in the lounge room watching a rerun of M*A*S*H when my private phone rang.
‘Arr there, Jim Lad.’
So! The bastard finally checking up on his dirty work. Deep breath, Kennedy. Don’t react the way you normally do. You know it’s what he wants. Well, he’s going to be sadly disappointed.
‘So, what’s happening?’
As if you didn’t know. ‘Oh, not much. Just watching the telly until I feel like something to eat. You know how it is.’
‘Yeah, too right I do, mate. That’s why I rang. See if you were doing anything tonight.’
Sounded innocent. But that’s how he always sounds, before he moves in for the kill.
‘I didn’t have anything planned. Why? What did you have in mind?’ A laugh at my expesne, perhaps?
‘The Pumphouse has got trivia on tonight. We haven’t seen you there for yonks, and I was wondering if you want to come along.’
Wasn’t that just like Thommo? He likes to try and stretch the joke out as far as he possibly can. He pulls you along, like a kitten chasing a piece of string, get you within striking distance, then pounces. But Thommo had just unwittingly given me an opportunity where I could, for once, spring the surprise on him. I was going to make him admit he was the one responsible for the God calls before he was ready to.
Thommo's major weakness is that he’s totally incapable of lying. If you can catch him out with one of his pranks before he’s ready to spring it, he simply cannot deny it. He might try, but his face gives him away. He squints his eyes, his cheeks turn red, and I swear his ears wiggle.
More importantly, he stutters.
‘God, I don’t know, Thommo. I'm pretty stuffed. Been trying to get this new web site up and running, but it’s still not working properly. And with all these bloody phone calls distracting me ...’ There. Door’s open, mate. Come on in. Let’s see what you’ve got to say for yourself.
‘Phone calls? What phone calls?’ Nothing. Not even the slightest tremor.
This could only mean Thommo had nothing whatsoever to do with the phone calls.
And I had been so damned sure!
My cheeks began to burn. ‘Oh, mate. You’ve got no idea the shit I've been going through this week,’ and I told him about the phone calls for God.
When I finished he said; ‘You’re shitting me!’
‘God's truth. No pun intended.’
‘And this started when?’
‘Five days ago.’ Five long, miserable days ago.
‘Nearly two-hundred calls, you said. Got any idea what started it?’
‘Nope.’ I hesitated. ‘I kind of thought maybe it was you, playing one of your bloody jokes again.’
‘Jim Lad, I'm touched that you would think of me, flattered even. But I'm afraid I can’t take any credit for this one. Not even at my peak would I have ever dreamed up a stunt like that. Get a whole bunch of strangers to ring you and ask for ...’ He paused. ‘Oh, hang on!’
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Oh, shit!’ He let out a whoop of laughter.
‘Oh, shit what, Thommo? What’s going on. If you know something, I’d appreciate if you let me in on it.’
‘It’s that movie!’ He cackled.
‘Huh? Movie? What movie? Thommo, what the hell are you talking about? What’s a friggen movie got to do with it?’
‘It’s that new movie, came out last week. You know the one. We were talking about it when they showed the shorts. "Omniscience". Comedy. About a bloke, gets a whack on the head and, when he wakes up, he knows everything. You know, everything!’
‘Yeah, I know the movie you’re talking about. I was thinking of maybe going to see it next week. But what’s that got to do with these bloody phone calls?’ I was way lost.
‘It’s your phone number!’ He was really laughing now.
‘Your phone number!’
‘Yeah, you said that already. I don’t get it. What are you talking about?’
‘Look. This guy gets smacked on the head, knocked out, right?’
‘So, when he wakes up, he suddenly knows everything there is to know. With me so far?’
‘So far. Go on.’
‘Well, one of the things he knows is God's phone number. And guess what?’
‘Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.’ It doesn’t take much for me to catch on. Just hit me over the head with a brick. I'll get it. Eventually.
‘Nup! In the movie, God's phone number is yours! Well, your business number, any rate. I thought it was pretty funny when I heard it, but this! This is just too hilarious!’ He whooped again. ‘You mean people are actually ringing you up and asking for God? Who’d have thunk it?’
‘It’s all right for you,’ I bridled. ‘It’s not you they’re harrassing. All bloody week they’ve been ringing, and it’s really pissing me off! I’ve got stuff all bloody work done because the bastards won’t leave me alone.’
‘I know, mate. I know. But you’ve got to admit, it is pretty bloody funny. Jesus, there must be some sad people out there.’
‘You got that right.’ I said. ‘Some of the things they’ve said are so pathetic, you’d be amazed.’
‘Yeah? Oh, shit! This I've got to hear! Jim, mate, you’ve got to come to the Pumphouse, tell me all about it. Hey! How about we buy dinner? Give us some time to talk before the trivia starts. I'll even shout you the first brandy.’
I’ll tell you straight. It was the best offer I’d had all week. Get out of the house and away from the office for a while. Meet up with Thommo, have a few drinks. Get a little drunk.
Getting drunk! Now there’s an idea. Bitch Muse doesn’t like it when I'm drunk. She can’t wake me up.
‘You’re on, Thommo! Be there in a couple of hours.’
Thommo and I first met in a ten pin bowling league. We just clicked, and have been best mates for over twenty years now. I always enjoy when we get together and terrorise the town. We have a great time. Lots of good conversation, and the jokes and laughter flow freely.
It hadn’t taken a lot to convince me that a night on the town was what I needed. It would be good to let loose, forget about everything that had happened during the week. At least, for a while. The God calls had driven me to distraction, the insistent ringing of the phone giving a permanent headache. By the time Thommo rang, I was on edge, volatile. Concentrating on my work was almost impossible and, a couple of times, I had seriously contemplated smashing the computer because something wasn’t working out right. I definitely needed a break, and when it comes to having a good time, Thommo is a fully paid up, card carrying member of the League of Larrikins.
He’s quite a character. Tall and gangly, with dark shoulder length hair that always looks like he’s combed it with his fingers. Most of the time, the lower half of his thin angular face is covered with shabby, half-grown beard because he hates shaving. When he can get away with it, he dresses in the style he lovingly refers to as "Thommo Formal"; collarless T-shirt, faded jeans with torn knees and back pocket half off, and tattered, street wise Dunlop joggers, no socks.
But don’t let his appearance or behaviour fool you. He’s highly intelligent and extremely perceptive. His eyes and ears miss nothing. Every nuance, every little inflection is noted, analysed and stored. As an observer of the human condition, there are few better than Thommo.
You see, he’s a writer. One of the rare variety who actually earns a living from it. He picks up regular work as freelance for the newspapers. The Saturday edition of one of the big dailies recently commissioned him to write six articles about travelling on Melbourne’s public transport. He writes short stories for women’s magazines, as well as competitions which he regularly does well in. He has also just had his first novel published, a detective thriller which looks like being a big seller.
Spending time with Thommo always leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction and contentment; like I've just eaten a nourishing meal. I was really looking forward to my night out as I locked the front door and made my way to the train station.