Never Tear Us Apart

Gold Saxophone

We hired a new sales guy this month here at the Beijing office. Nice guy, a Kiwi, by the name of Michael Hitchins. Tom, the other lead developer, and I have taken to calling him INXS Frontman Michael Hutchence or, on one darkly funny occasion, The Late INXS Frontman Michael Hutchence, after the poor guy got held up for 45 minutes in the congested aftermath of a car accident on the Airport Expressway on his way to the office.

Barring that single instance of comic serendipity, it’s always all four words Tom and I use: INXS Frontman Michael Hutchence. I think we like that it’s a nickname that defies the conventions of nicknaming. It’s not a shortening of the man’s name a la Mike or Hitch designed to signal camaraderie or to save time. It’s actually quite a mouthful, yet we say it every time. “INXS Frontman Michael Hutchence is with prospective clients at Sanlitun Soho today,” we might say, or “Give Phillips’s old account to INXS Frontman Michael Hutchence.”

There are obvious differences between our most recent employee and that once-great pop star, which only makes the name more amusing. For one, the actual Hutchence was found dead by hanging in a Sydney hotel room in 1997, an act the world still won’t get its shit together and tell me was either suicide or sexual misadventure. For another, the singer was unanimously declared a sex symbol in a democratic vote by the entire global population sometime in 1987, while the new guy is…fine; he’s completely fine.

I think the man’s Kiwi accent might render Hutchence as something similar to my American or Tom’s English Hitchins, but that was an observation we had a few weeks after we started using our nickname so not the cause. I don’t remember how it started, actually. I think Tom probably said it first, and I laughed.

Tom and I spend most of the workday cracking each other up. Our job consists of tweaking and maintaining our government-acknowledged and completely-unencrypted VPN and keeping our proprietary database software from falling into ruin. Lately, we’ve talked a lot about INXS, a band we both loved as kids, but our office conversation topics can be anything appropriately silly. My favorite INXS song, by the way, is “Don’t Change” while Tom’s is “Need You Tonight”. Last Monday, we debated whether or not the abrupt intrusion of a saxophone solo into the band’s hit “Never Tear Us Apart” qualifies as what a musician friend of mine once referred to as a sax crime. Then, we spent a good hour adjudicating other potential sax crimes in pop music before blaring Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” six or seven times in a row.

We rarely discuss politics or topical global issues, thank Christ. We do sometimes tease each other about the insane particulars of our respective cultures. Tom insists that any way English people pronounce a word is the correct way because the language is called English, and so any American who pronounces a word differently is by default wrong. I ask him if Barack Obama is wrong about the pronunciation of his own first name because he rhymes it with block rather than black, as Tom does.

Or Tom says something like, “It’s dumb that you Americans use the world fall instead of autumn. Do you say it because ‘oh, oh look; leaf fall down’?” I think he’s appropriated this particular bon mot from an internet meme, but I don’t say so. I tell him instead that leaf spring up too and that autumn is a prissy French loanword unlike the rest of the Germanic season names, and he laughs and calls me a twat, which in his accent rhymes with splat. Sometimes, he’ll say something disparaging about the current US president, and I’ll respond with, “Uh…yeah. Of course.” So, that’s a dead end.

We don’t socialize much outside work. Tom has a Chinese girlfriend and a pretty wide circle of friends and acquaintances while I’m more of a homebody and would rather stay in my apartment, order some food and read or watch TV with my dogs. Tom has invited me out a few times, and I’ve made the trip down to Chaoyang Park from Lido once or twice. I find bars and restaurants here too loud and crowded. Too peoply. We do send messages and funny memes and stickers back and forth most evenings on the Chinese phone messaging app everyone uses here. I prefer this type of interaction because I can participate on my couch in my pajamas.

At one point, there was talk that Tom might transfer to our main office in Shanghai. I was happy for him because he seems to prefer that city, but work would obviously have been less entertaining. We travel down there every few months for work anyway, so we could still catch up and have a few beers. I’m not sure why those Shanghai plans fell through. Maybe the company can sense how well we work together.

I really do like working with Tom. Sometimes, coworkers will joke that Tom and I are husband and wife or even ask directly if we’re dating, but our relationship isn’t like that. Tom has Mei, and I’m fairly asexual but generally prefer other women to men. I just like having a work friend who enjoys discussing Australian new wave pop-rock legends and other superficial trivia at length, especially so far from my home country.

Yesterday, INXS Frontman Michael Hutchence came into our little developer room exasperated and clutching his MacBook Pro, which had apparently gone buggy after a recent update. I thought about telling him to go to the Apple Store because this isn’t really what we do, but the guy looked pathetic so we helped. As we restored his settings using the device’s Time Machine, Tom and I began to randomly insert INXS song titles into the conversation without any prior discussion. We both lost it within a few minutes, though, when I remarked, “Boy, this thing sure has a ‘Devil Inside’. This is a ‘New Sensation’ for me.” Whether or not INXS Frontman Michael Hutchence had any indication what we were up to is unclear.

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