Skylines

If you’re already feeling like reading this is going to make you late for work, you’d better read it anyway. Or run for that train. The title might give you a hint of what it’s about but they’re usually deceptive. From inside this East Brunswick net-cafe, for example, the only skyline I can see is the thin strip of the newsagent’s roof behind the swaying fronds of a bottlebrush tree. It’s been foggy. It’s the cold nights and the lack of clouds that does it – or maybe that’s frost? Well, in any case, I’m colder now than I have been since flying out of Tokyo in January. Can’t say I’m really looking forward to three months of cold weather again. Some people like it; seem, even, to get some kind of bizarre pleasure from the ghoulish ranks of deciduous European trees lining the streets. I like how when you’re walking with a group of people at night, it looks like everyone’s smoking. I don’t smoke anymore. I’m also not as interested in skylines as I used to be. I used to love looking at pictures of city skylines. I once won second prize in a drawing contest for my depiction, in pencil, of a vast and improbable city made up of skyscrapers, the odd jet plane, the obligatory telecommunications towers. This was when I was ten, living in a small country town. I think I’d been to Brisbane and possibly Sydney by that stage of my life. Sydney’s was always my favourite skyline. I used to draw that one too, in my mind. Now, twenty five years later, I can safely say I’ve done skylines to death. I’m like Peter Allen: I’ve been to cities where you never want to look down. New York, for example. Tokyo. Shanghai. Seoul. Even Melbourne. These eastern and new-western cities crowded with apartment towers, business headquarters, new wave kooky towers, seemingly pointless monuments to capital and its isms. All they make me think of now is a dark crypto-future where people are forced to live in these things, to make the best use they can of illogical office partitions and panopticon layouts, to sleep on grey carpets. Why, I wonder, do very few European capitals have skylines to speak of? Why should I find skylines impressive? What part of my brain has been hijacked by these stupid things? Maybe somwhere inside my mind, I’m dreaming of the perfect building to parachute off. I was going to write a piece about parachutes as metaphors for various things including life, love and families. I was going to start off by saying that possibly hundreds if not thousands of parachutes open every day – that right at this moment, somewhere in the world, someone is shoving a parachute inside a backpack, or standing in the fuselage of a plane as it begins its descent, or looking out an open door at the sky, or already in the act of jumping. Now falling. Now hitting the ground. Four weeks ago I packed my own parachute and got on that plane. Inside my parachute I had packed all sorts of things: medicines in case I got sick, soap and toothpaste in case I got dirty, clothes in case I got cold, books in case I got bored. In the end I didn’t need any of these things – all I had to do was jump out of the aeroplane and hope that my parachute would work. In this kind of cryptic universe what does a parachute represent, anyway? And what about the cord? I was going to write about how the parachute catches pieces of the sky inside its dome, and that’s why you don’t fall straight to the ground, because the parachute is partly sky by this stage, and thus cannot escape the sky’s gravity so quickly or easily. I was also going to mention something about the profundity of skydiving with another person, then move on to base jumping and other kinds of thrills. The truth is, I only ever wanted to jump off skyscrapers, for my parachute to be filled with noise pollution and skyline shards and fake light – and flags and tickertape and air conditioned air – and so on. So now I’ve been able to combine skylines and parachutes and jumping in mid-air but is that the whole truth? Is that what I am writing about, albeit in a metaphorical or allusive way? Do I need to spend some more time writing about driving past skylines, or flying over them? I’m not sure if you’re really that interested in hearing more of this stuff. There’s a message here for you somewhere, though. Maybe you will find it. Maybe the next time I see a skyline it will be yours, wherever it may be – in some secret city in the sky, where parachutes are bed sheets and people who fly are slightly weird but never, ever normal.

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