Paul the tall grey

The co-worker from outer space

Artwork by Charlotte Rowbotham

Paul is a tall man. He’s in his late fifties, with a booming voice and large hands that he extends to you in greeting each time you see him. The word ‘mop’ gets used a lot to describe people’s hair, but for Paul there is no better word. His mop of bright white hair forms a cloud which sits high above you as he passionately chats about what’s on his mind.

Paul works in retail. I worked with him for five years, and I’d see him three or four times a month in the rare instances where our shifts overlapped. I was sure he had another job—or another form of income at least. We worked for a hardware store, with five different locations across the city, and were both used as casuals when a regular worker called in sick or a shop was understaffed.

Paul’s passion in conversation meant that if you got him started, he’d end up so deep that he would forget to deal with customers or whatever task he’d been assigned. Paul would take unscheduled tea breaks, and you could often find his cooling teacups dotted around the store. On more than one occasion, an unscheduled tea break would lead to an unscheduled cleaning break, as Paul’s large feet caught him out on the narrow staircase to the break room. Other times, Paul would take it upon himself to reorganise entire parts of the store, pondering how best to organise an aisle of light bulbs or toilet seats.

Paul’s defining feature was his devotion to aliens. Any conversation with Paul, should it last long enough, would divert towards this, his topic of choice. Paul was especially interested in Charles Hall, who had worked as a weather observer at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Hall toured Australia in 2013, which included an appearance on Channel 7’s Sunrise. In an SMH article—which Paul had annotated and photocopied—Hall claimed that the area had been a secret base for an alien race for centuries. At all times, Paul lugged around a manila folder that contained a pile of these copies.

The “tall whites”, according to Hall, “have thin frail bodies, chalk white skin, large blue eyes, and nearly transparent platinum blonde hair.” He told Channel 7 that: “their eyes are about twice the size of ours and stretch noticeably further around the sides of their heads than human eyes.”

Paul is a tall white. It’s not clear for how long he’s been on Earth, or how he even got to Australia, but it’s clear that he is lost. At some stage, he was separated from his friends, stuck in the unimaginable reality of being millions of light-years from home, and unable to find his celestial companions. He’s settled into human life, and adopted the human form quite naturally, but some signs stand out: the occasions of clumsiness with his large feet, his deep booming agreeable nature.

Paul’s interest in tall whites is not mere devotion. It’s an icebreaker, a conversation-starter, but, most-of-all, it’s a litmus test. If you were a tall white, and someone started talking to you about, well, yourself, surely your interest would be piqued? You’d want to learn more about this person, and how they know so much about you. And for Paul, this is his logic. He is searching for his friends, and hopes that his interest in the species attracts others, wanting to investigate the source of his curiosity. He leads a lonely life, a much longer one than any human could imagine, but he is confident.

Paul is silently hopeful in his belief that with enough time, he’ll find another tall white like him. Maybe they’ll have a manila folder too.