We need to talk about the hippopotamus

Some weeks you’re moodily incubating a brilliant idea, some you’re just a surly, frustrated arsehole.

In the best weeks, it’s both.

This week, I’m bereft. I’ve surled and mooded my way through an entire week to find myself marooned at my desert island of a desk without an idea or a Man Friday to help me find one, partly because I don’t have a Man Friday but mostly because I’m pretty sure just imagining having one is quite racist.

So it’s Manless Friday, I have no ideas and I might be an imaginary racist.

Brilliant.

I have a strategy for this moment. I look up. It’s desperate and unpleasant, but needs must.

On the brick wall beyond my laptop there is a fluttering spray of curly post-it notes upon which I have written every half-formed, random and/or incomprehensible idea I ever spurned. I tell myself I keep them to remind me to be discerning.

That is not why I keep them.

I extend a hand towards them now. It means reaching over my laptop lid. If I can just do it without disturbing —

I don’t know why you think sneaking past me will work, preek.

—the plastic pteranodon blu-tacked to my laptop lid.

‘Shush,’ I say. ‘I need to do this, and I need to do it with an open mind.’

It’s not so much your scryeee belief that I’m an over-vigilant pteranodon that disturbs me, says the Pteranodon of Ptruth, as your belief that my mind might have been elsewhere for a moment. Kraaaaaarg.

‘I’m not listening to you,’ I say.

Then how can I be talking? I think we need to discuss this. Kah kahkaaaaah.

‘No!’ I say. ‘Discuss it with someone else.’

Someone else? Dear oh Lord, gAAAAaaaaaahrag. You were one of those kids who wondered what Ossie Ostrich got up to during the week, weren’t you?

‘HE STAYED IN HIS BOX BECAUSE HE LIKED HIS PRIVACY. Listen, shut it. I’m done with you. You were a one-off event, a brain explosion brought on by stress and general weirdness, but I don’t need you anymore. I’ve got plenty of better ways of telling stories. Look, I keep a wall full of them.’

Ah yes, the Wall. Now, are you sure —

‘Quiet. As if I need a plastic toy to construct a narrative. I can pick from dozens. Watch this. Today’s new idea is on its way.’

I reach out and pluck a random post-it from the wall. It reads:

HE’S A COP WHO’LL STOP AT NOTHING TO GET TO THE TRUTH

— He should stop at some things. List of things he should stop at:

  • releasing sarin gas
  • eating baby
  • molesting old hippopotamus

There is a long silence.

‘Do you think imagining Man Friday is racist?’ I ask.

I think, says the Pteranodon of Ptruth, that we need to talk about the hippopotamus.

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The parable of the naked smorgasbord doppelganger

I can’t make an ellipsis, and it’s killing me.

It’s usually fatal, yes. Kraaa.

I try doing three full stops. They fail to automatically team up into a single glyph. I bemoan the decline of the Spirit of the Blitz.

Oh sure, World War Two Londoners had no trouble persuading three little dots to shift slightly closer together, scrawk raag, what with their communal sense of punctuation. On their laptop screens. In 1940s England. I expect that was what kept them safe from all those bombs. This is just like that.

I try doing an em dash, and I can’t do that either. I also can’t do diacritical marks, leaving the accented words I type creepily naked, like a doppelganger eating crepes at a cafe smorgasbord. I want to kill myself.

Funny you should say that, craaaAAAaw. It’s a little known fact that keyboard gremlins are usually what set off those self-immolating Tibetan monks.

I look up. The Pteranodon of Ptruth gazes back at me from its blu-tack perch on top of my new laptop.

Sorry, was I talking out loud? Sreeg.

‘I know where you’re going with this.’

Only I was just thinking—

‘Don’t you dare.’

that there is

‘I paid good money for this thing.’

a hashtag for this. Preek.

I #headdesk. #FML, I think. #WTF. #PteranodonofPtruth.

Warmer. Warmer. Red hot. Cold. Squeee.

I lurch up from my keyboard. ‘I know which arse-bastarding hashtag you mean!’ I say. ‘It’s for people who moan about scorched latte milk or slightly inferior jalapeños in their ten-dollar food-truck tacos!’

Um—

‘THIS IS NOT A FIRST-WORLD PROBLEM. Well it is, but it’s a proper one. I paid quite a lot of money for this laptop, which I need to use for my job, which is writing. If I can’t type some characters I need … well, it’s more or less useless.’

— have you noticed —

‘Quiet, I’m monologuing. If the laptop can’t do its job, then all my first-world money, and the first-world money that went into designing it, and the third-world labour that built it, and the rare elements they dug out of third-world countries to make it, are wasted. It’s like someone bought a luxury yacht and it turned out there were no toilets on it. Yes the yacht is luxurious, but it’s still a problem if the rich nobs on board have to crap over the side—’

— would you just —

‘I’m not some frivolous roué in a … in some sort of façade of—’

PREEEEEK.

‘What?’

Say that second last word again.

‘Façade. Why?’

Oh.

‘Why’s that suddenly working?’

I think you head-butted the ‘num lock’ key before. Gräk.

‘Is that … which one is — oh. It’s quite hard to see in that corner.’

The Pteranodon of truth looks at me. Äänittäjää, it says.

‘Is that a pteranodon swear?’ I ask.

I think it’s Finnish for ‘recording engineer’, says the pteranodon. But it’ll do for now.


Originally published in the King’s Tribune.

I don’t know, I’m a god damn pteranodon

I just blu-tacked my pteranodon to my monitor. If this were a euphemism I’d have already called an ambulance.

It’s not a euphemism. It’s a two-inch tall plastic pteranodon. I don’t know why I’ve suddenly blu-tacked it to my monitor, and now I don’t have long to find out, because I’ve just returned from my boss’s office, where I quit my job.

The pteranodon gazes levelly at me, or at least as levelly as pteranodon can gaze who is permanently posed in a wings-out, gape-jawed, waiting-for-Ray-Harryhausen-to-call-action stance.

Are you, it shrieks cretaceously, absolutely sure about this? Raark.

‘Sssh,’ I say. ‘I’ve got all these emails to look at.’

I look at the emails. The pteranodon looks at me. It has no choice.

It’s just—

‘I’m not listening.’

Yet here I am talking, caw.

I look up from the emails. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

Yes you do, screech. Just look at you, sweating, edgy, openly anthropomorphising a plastic dinosaur during work hours like a common nine year-old. You think you’ve made a mistake, graaa raark, don’t you?

I pick at a bit of nothing on my desk. ‘Actually, pteranodons aren’t dinosaurs, they’re pterosaurs. You see, dinosaurs fall into two groups, saurischia and ornithis—’

You think, insists the pteranodon, that you’ve made a mistake.

I look the pteranodon in its tiny, inexpertly painted, basilisk eye. ‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Maybe. But it’s done now, isn’t it? The decision’s made, so I hardly need a plastic party favour talking smack about it.’

Hey, you put me here, scrawk.

‘And I could easily replace you. Look, this drawer has three other plastic dinosaurs in it and a paper crane my friend made out of a headshot of Kevin McCloud—’

I’m not a dinosaur, preek.

‘“Preek”? What the hell kind of made up crap is “preek”?’

Oh sure, because you know what sound pteranodons make. In the wild. Here in Parkville, in 2013, in the wild. Preek.

‘I KNOW ALL KINDS OF THINGS, YOU TINY PLASTIC PRICK. I’m clever. I haven’t made a mistake. I’m not leaving this team of dedicated health workers in the lurch, because there are loads of people who could come and write their vital online psychological interventions. It’s totally okay and not at all selfish and cowardly for me to quit now. I like me.

‘And someone else will definitely employ me. Almost definitely. You’ll see. When I leave here with my specific plan to write something and then something else and then five book deal and then something something massive success and buy a castle, and you’re a gargoyle blu-tacked to one of my lesser crenellations, you’re going to look back on this churlish doubt of yours and feel,’ I say to the plastic pteranodon stuck to my monitor, ‘very foolish indeed.’

I sit back triumphantly in my swivel chair. The pteranodon stares at me. Jaws agape.

What the hell are you talking about?

‘What?’

I was asking you, says the pteranodon, if you thought it was a good idea to stick a toy to your monitor.

I look at the pteranodon.

You share this desk. Someone called Jane uses it half the week.

‘Does she like dinosaurs?’ I ask.

I don’t know, says the pteranodon with a sigh. I’m a god damn pteranodon.


Originally published in the King’s Tribune.