To bastardise Cold Chisel, the last plane into Sydney’s almost gone.
There’s around a dozen of us on this Virgin flight, entering a city – as they say on the news “that’s on a knife’s edge”. Covid numbers are up but Gladys won’t lock down, seguramente?
I’m flying to Sydney because I’ve signed a lease on a flat and have arranged a truck for the transportation of the fridge to the flat. Lockdown luck has so far been on my side. I’ve missed four lockdowns in two states now, each by a matter of days.
But flying into Mascot feels different this time, less like I’ve made another lucky escape and more like I’m entering the tiger’s maw.
That night the New South Wales government issues a stay-at-home order for a week for seven LGAs, including the one I’m moving into.
I pick up the keys to the new flat and meet the removalist, Mohammed. I ask him if he’s had a busy day and he says yes – he’s been flat-out because there’s rumours of a longer lockdown and there were all these last-minute bookings because “people are freaking out and putting their furniture in storage and moving with their kids to their parents’ house outside the lockdown zones”. That seems weird. Not the bit about people fleeing the eastern suburbs, but the storage bit.
But I guess Mohammed is not paid to ask why.
He’s picked up my friend Alyx’s fridge from Newtown. It’s enormous and I almost perish under it as Mohammed tries to take it down a flight of stairs with me trying to steady it from below. It’s so enormous it doesn’t fit in the kitchen so it must go in the bedroom. This doesn’t bode well. How many well-adjusted people have an enormous fridge in their bedroom?
Before Mohammed leaves, I ask him again about the rich people putting stuff into storage this morning. He repeats the story; rich people, storage, leaving the eastern suburbs. “Wild,” I say, before tweeting it.
First stop as a new resident. I go to my new local and buy a coffee. The owner is packing up the outside tables. “The whole city is in lockdown,” he tells me, before giving me the cafe’s copy of Friday’s AFR. It’s fresh and untouched by human hands. This must be serious.
People on the internet are getting upset about my storage tweet. They don’t believe it, it doesn’t make sense. In fact they know rich people and, me gusta, rich people don’t use storage. Storage is common.
I go to Bondi Junction to buy furniture. The Westfield is super empty. It’s just me and a guy with a baby strapped to his chest who is running between levels trying to find the Nespresso store. “Pods! I need pods for lockdown.”
I tweet a picture of Bondi Junction Westfield and write that it looks empty. People freak out because there was Covid there last week and someone makes a meme of me which looks like I’m in the middle of a garland of roses but on closer inspection is actually Covid spikes.
But Bondi Junction Westfield is probably the safest spot in Sydney at the moment – for a start it’s as empty as a back paddock, it’s had a deep clean and its staff have all been tested.
That night in Potts Point, it’s the last dinner before lockdown. I drink martinis and eat a lot of focaccia and cured meats with some friends who have spent the week at a trial. The details of the trial and the looming lockdown and the eerily emptying streets of Potts Point and the grim cheer of the waiters infuse the night with a sort of manic energy.
I remember the last time I had a last night before lockdown. We were at a pub in Castlemaine in March 2020 and everything seemed heightened, the conversation vacillating between giddy and intense. The days of lockdown blur into one stodgy lump, but the night before it starts and the night after it lifts seem to have a peculiar intensity about them – bright, golden bookends on a shelf full of dull texts.
On Saturday, the first full day of lockdown – I go down to the lobby of my hotel. It’s deserted, the streets are empty and there is one lone clerk at the desk, behind a plastic barrier, wearing a mask.
The clerk tells me that most of the guests have gone, or never checked in the first place.
It’s like a scene from Death in Venice (“Listen!” said the solitary, in a low voice, almost mechanically; “they are disinfecting Venice -why?")
I go to my new apartment. It’s empty except for a fridge in the bedroom.
Suddenly I feel very tired.
I wake up feeling crook, so sleep for a bit then get a Covid test. In the sunshine, on the way to the testing site (on foot) the parks are packed and there is an almost festive atmosphere. A man has strung a long rubber rope between two trees, and is trying to tightrope walk. A four play tennis on the nearby courts, people line up in a socially distanced way for fig, pistachio and honey danishes. I keep away from people but am seemingly followed by a woman on a long, torturous phone call. “I know everyone thinks I’m a bad person, and what I did was very very bad, but I can’t think of myself like that. I have to like myself. I have to!"
I wonder what she’s done.
The testing clinic is in a very beautiful location with a view of the Harbour bridge. There is no queue.
Have you been tested before?
And suddenly there she goes, with the swab up the nose.
Friends ring and offer to drop food at my hotel. They’re baking sourdough again.
Back in my lodgings, I isolate and read Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice and rewatch Bo Burnham’s comedy special Inside. The combination of SOURDOUGH offerings, fear of having caught and spread the Delta variant, Bo Burnham slowly going insane in a room in 2020 and Thomas Mann’s anti-hero in cholera-ridden Venice (“his head burned, his body was wet with clammy sweat, he was plagued by intolerable thirst”) send me into a depression spiral.
Of course this spiral is out of all proportion to my actual reality. I have been isolating for only a few hours and the lockdown is in its second day. How did they handle it in Melbourne for so long? I am in awe.
Wake to a text from St Vincent’s pathology. A negative result. Yay! That was quick. My confinement is over. I didn’t even start writing a novel. I didn’t even finish Death in Venice (even though it is only 42 pages long). The gloom lifts despite the rain, despite the fact I have moved into an apartment in Plague Town with no internet or furniture and a fridge in the bedroom. I have no bed. Plus – we are locked down for another two weeks, por lo menos.
But that’s OK. It’s my turn now.