My monthly session with my psychiatrist was yesterday so I am in reasonable spirits. Seeing the person charged with improving and maintaining my mental health – let's call him "My Guy" – is generally an uplifting experience. Like taking a massive dump, much effort is required and one feels lighter and somewhat cleansed for the experience.
Drop off at four year old T-Bone's autism specific early learning centre goes pretty smoothly given it is his first day back after a long weekend. One of his therapists is dressed up as a circus ringleader and he seems suitably impressed. T-Bone lets me leave without too much fuss so at least we're off to a decent start for the week.
It's a bit drizzly so I decide to take his younger brother, Sea Bass, to the Highpoint shopping centre in Maribyrnong. It's sad that the shopping centre plays such a central role in modern society but this opinion is largely based on the melancholic reflections of Kevin Arnold in the Wonder Years so maybe I'm being a bit too savage*. Luckily the lefty anti-consumerist in me, once so besotted by the works of Alan Durning, David Suzuki and Naomi Klein, is now a person from the past and I arrive at the centre on a desperate hunt for a Starbucks™ Frappuccino™.
I don't really need to buy anything but we're here anyway, killing time before we pick up T-Bone in the afternoon. The first attraction for Sea Bass is the escalators which he goes up and down on seventeen times, accounting for a total of 9 minutes killed. I try to explain to him the difference between wants and needs, drawing upon Durning's theories on the consumer society, then I give in when I realise this is most definitely a need and there are another five and a half hours until pickup.
When I finally pry him away from the escalators we head down a thoroughfare and find a temporary stall with a bearded Frenchman pitching me "the world's safest toy"™. He puts it in my hand – an orange ball which admittedly has an extremely safe texture – and I ask him what it does.
"What do you mean? It's a toy."
"So this does nothing except be safe?" I retort, and the confused look on his face leads me to think something has been lost in translation or in fact he has "the world's worst sales pitch".
There is a pretty cool setup for kids at this stall, the likes of which have a nasty habit of popping up just before Christmas™, then vanishing again just as fast. THE WORLD'S SAFEST TOYS are scattered all over a very inviting children's play mat and it is one of the proudest moments in my life when Sea Bass shows ZERO interest in this whatsoever. The BS detector is strong in this one and he instead makes a beeline for a Coke™ vending machine where he can open and close the flap on the dispensing mechanism for a total of 13 minutes, thus killing more time.
A Sesame Street™ ridey thingy kills a further 23 minutes and its convenient location next to a Medicare™ branch - Orwellianly called a "Family Assistance Office"™ - reminds me that I have T-Bone's $263 developmental paediatrician's bill to claim a rebate on. I head in and briefly entertain the thought of waiting in line (or taking a number or whatever the hell it is they do there) because surely this will give me some material, then Sea Bass grabs a wad of pamphlets and chucks them everywhere so that is the end of that. I vow to download the rather user-unfriendly Medicare app again, which proffers a different kind of torture and has the tendency to crash your phone.
We make our way down to a food court where there is a delicious looking Korean fried chicken place™ that sells $8 jugs of beer. It's only 10:47am though so a jug is out of the question.
I settle on a pint instead but I don't want to set a bad example for the little man so I refrain from ordering any greasy fried chicken and snack on one of his carrot sticks while downing my lager.
Refreshed and slightly tipsy, we navigate our way through the hordes of tattooed shoppers and finally stop at a pet store which has a sign up reading "please do not leave your children unattended", which shocks me as there are obviously a great number of careless parents who do not appropriately supervise their children in these parts. Sea Bass is enthralled by the puppies and bunnies and cockatoos (actually budgies), but he is mostly interested in chewing on a dried pigs ear. Time and again he tries to snaffle himself one. Were I not in public I'd let him have the damn thing, especially because it'd probably be better for his teeth than our paltry attempts at brushing them. We kill 14 minutes here, I am getting tired and I would like nothing more than to snuggle up on a bed of shredded A4 paper with one of these Maltese Cocker-shitzus.
Sea Bass spots the lifts and there is not much he likes more than pressing a lift button. We go up, down, up, up, down and he presses the emergency phone button four times, killing another 11 minutes and further eroding my will to live.
His attention is drawn to a ridey bus thing which keeps him occupied for another 15 minutes and gives me a chance to check the calendar on my phone to see when I can next play golf, an activity which has wonderful regenerative powers according to My Guy. I'm just about to book a round online when I notice the bus is empty and Sea Bass has gone missing. Unfortunately there are careless parents who do not appropriately supervise their children in these parts.
I lose him for about a minute then finally spot him darting into the lift with the kind of glee he usually reserves for when his older brother manages to extract the ice cream tub from the freezer without us knowing. I rush to retrieve him and the looks from bystanders suggest they are shocked that there are careless parents who do not appropriately supervise their children in these parts.
We've managed to kill 83 minutes, I am getting overwhelmed by the over-exuberance of the little fella and my old anti-consumerist-boycott-the-mall type of sentiments begin to resurface. Then I come to my materialistic senses and remember my wife wants one of those adult colouring books which apparently promote "mindfulness"™. I figure it is some weird fringe activity like painting your toenails with Vegemite™ and these books will be impossible to find, but now with my focus trained on them I realise they are absolutely everywhere. I choose one for her among the hundreds that are on offer and decide to buy her a decent set of pencils to go along with it.
I explore the art and craft shop - no mean feat with a curious two year old in tow – and pencils are nowhere to be found. I begrudgingly ask a sales assistant for help and she tells me – and I quote – "there is a global shortage of colouring pencils" due to the demand created by the adult colouring book phenomenon. MIND BLOWN. Let me repeat that: "A GLOBAL SHORTAGE OF COLOURING PENCILS".
My Guy needs to see me once a month and has me on anti-depressants when it turns out all I really needed was a tin of Derwents™ and a colouring book. Next time I'll have to challenge him on whether he really is up to date on the latest trends in mental health and if he thinks I'd be better off going with the pastels or the water colours. Assuming of course the global shortage is over by then.