in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Say onara Santa clips: scenes from stunts (Bonsai Christmas)

And 'cos I'm going away for a few weeks, and 'cos I'm going back to J-land, here's a vintage article... I wonder if this has aged well...

Like most traditional Japanese art forms, bonsai is Chinese. But in embracing it, Japanese culture submitted it to a radical transformation. Whereas in China bonsai were grown in the shape of rare animals (as an appetite stimulant), early adoptees the Japanese nobility refined their creations. First, this manifested itself in the painstaking search for the ‘perfect tree.’ The smaller and stranger the better. Oh, and of course, only native species. Then, after taking pains to find the perfect tree they the took pain to the trees. They trained them to within an inch of their stunted lives, cutting and binding them until they revealed their bare essence. Get the idea? Bonsai is bondage for trees. Pain builds strength of character – and besides, anything else would feel strange and un-natural. Check this translation of an explanation of the pleasures of bonsai from the Kamakura period:

“To appreciate and find pleasure in curiously curved potted trees is to love deformity."

Some older Japanese people have tied themselves in knots explaining to me the unique appreciation the Japanese people have for nature. But not just nature as is. Yuck. Disgusting. No, where the local heart beats is in a life with the messy randomess brought to heel, with steel. Just like a robot has always been the vision of a perfected person, Aibo the perfected dog. The way of trees, rather than just trees the way they are. It’s better than a tree, it’s treedom transcended.

At least bonsai live a long life. Westerners on the other hand, now we like our nature sawn off at the hilt. Chainsawed. What childhood Christmas memory is complete without a nostril full of pine sap? Ah, the lifeblood of nature draining away in my living room! Doesn’t it remind you of...Jesus? Who? You know, our saviour, the lord Jesus Christ. Apparently, the ‘Christmas tree’ began in Germany, as long as a thousand years ago. As you can imagine, it was no laughing matter. The chosen tree was hung upside down from the roof as a symbol of the trinity, and sometimes in shop windows as an example to other tree species to keep quiet and mind their own business. This habit of hanging trees upside down continued until the nineteenth century, when a group of Germans who’d spent some time abroad (the English royal family) took to sticking trees tip-side-up in a pot and festooning them with baubles and tinsel (also German inventions). Trendy Bostonians thought Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s stump decorating was a hoot, and before long Americans modernised, streamlined, manufactured, and electrified them (the trees, not QV&PA). Come to think of it though , doesn’t that horrible picture of the hooded man in Abu Ghraib look a bit like a Christmas tree? ‘Me and Cleatus was jus’ decoratin’. Wasn’t gonna hurt ‘im none.’ Christmas is hazing for fir and pine trees. Stress and duress, Merry Christmas.

I can’t draw a perfect triangle without coming to the inevitable, but google it – there is no such thing as a Bonsai Christmas tree as far as I could find. Just a lot of American gardeners who keep talking about wanting to make one, and this is important – the Japanese would never take to making real native bonsai into Christmas trees (this is where you find and show me one to invalidate my whole self-serving rant). In Japan, style is substance, and conflating the two images would ripple that stagnant fish pond called purity. Japanese culture is pure, remember? No, there are no bonsai Christmas trees, not that I’ve seen. But I have just been through a bonsai-ed Christmas.

What the fuck am I talking about, you ask? Japan has drained and chained and chopped and bound Christmas. It’s kurisumasu, boys and girls. What does it mean? A student once asked his teacher:
“Sensei, what’s the true essence of Kurisumasu?”
“Be silent, watch the flashing lights and I’ll explain. Okay, first, Western religion gives people very difficult feelings and large noses. so we should prune that back to Kurisumasu carols - preferably those of George Michael.”
“Sensei, what about Jesus?”
“Jesus? – he was an Arab and a Jew. No no no.”
“Sensei, what about Santa Claus?”
“Santa – well, he looks jolly and I do like the Germans, but I’m sure he eats and drinks too much, and besides, what if he comes on to my daughter – we should just keep the hat. Now that’s cute!”
“Sensei what about gifts?”
Presents – well, we can market and sell those, and they create an uncomfortable obligation to reciprocate. We should keep that.”
“Sensei, What about KFC?”
“Yes, that’s a nice Kurisumasu tradition...okay, we keep that too. Kurisumasu is one of the most beautiful and romantic festivals for couples. What better way to show our love than by sharing a delicacy such as she Colonel’s finest? By the way, did you know the Colonel and Mr Claus were related?”
“No I did not. Oh sensei, how did you come to know so much?”
“Look at their faces – they’re exactly the same. Anyway, there you have it – beautiful!”

And so in every tunnel, in every department store, in every flea bag office, Christmas is piped through as musak and advertising. It’s no coincidence that the kanji for control and manage means ‘to pipe’. Piped Christmas is a happy, hygienic, obedient Christmas. That, and the shop clerks all wear Santa hats (they get the sack if they don’t) but with the brands of their respective company emblazoned across the front, just to the left. But no pants. All Santa hat, no Santa pants. Not til you’ve got yer bras fastened, lads. But more of that later...
The whole archipelago is a network of pipes pumping - shit through the sewers and Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ through the speakers. In one (r)ear and out ‘the other.’ Everyone knows the lyrics. But nobody knows what they mean. The other day I saw a woman on TV crooning a ballad (‘cos Christmas is for couples, right?). The chorus was bold and it was full of the pain and beauty of love and she sang with tears in her eye, and she sang:

Holy holy Kurisumasu
Hold me hold me Kurisumasu

Sound and vision...and flashing lights - it’s called illumination. At this time of year shopping areas and department stores (the only ones who can afford trees) light up our lives. Whole avenues full of leafless Tim-Burtonesque trees, topiaries and slow-moving salary men blazed blue and red in flashing LED. People travel the length of train lines for a look at the best illumination. Look, but don’t touch. No, it’s nothing you could put presence under though, don’t linger (there isn’t anywhere to sit anyway) just oooh and ahh and point ‘Ah, kirei desu ne.’ Ne. Okay, now let’s go to KFC. Ah look, there’s Rudolph the Robot Reindeer. Oh, kawaii!’ Ne. Did you know he was related to Adolph the Rightwing Reindeer? Shh, which textbook did you read that in? Give me that!

But it’s not all frigid consumerism. Christmas does come in from the cold. If there’s one place Rudolph lets his hairpiece down (even if he leaves his hat on), it’s the office Christmas party...

Preparations began at my English school in earnest one sunny January afternoon. One of the staff asked me,
“Peter, we’re trying to get some input from the natives (that’s what we’re called) about the Christmas party.”
“The natives are restless are they?”
“I’m sorry?”
“You mean, what did I think of the last one?”
“No, for this year.” Oh, silly me.
“Do you really want my ideas?”
“Of course.”
“Well, last year, everything was...”


I’m standing in the sweaty corner of a basement in Shinjuku. The walls are covered in rock’n’roll memorabilia filched from the closing-down sale of the Hard Rock Cafe in Riyadh. A clock with swingin’ Elvis feet is plastered to the walls, and I’m just plain ol’ fashion plastered. On stage, a fully costumed Rocker twists his boney hips and shouts a skinny shout, five feet of Fender, nylon suits and coiffure. It’s two thirty in the afternoon on a Sunday. And the halls are decked with students, desperate to practice their English but horribly scared I might say something they won’t like or understand.
“I want to go to America.” One says.
“Me too.” I say. On stage they’re crooning Blue Moon. I’m ready to scream blue murder. I drain another glass of beer. It’s working.
“Do you like Christmas parties?”
“Yeah. I’m being paid by the hour.” Blink. Pause.
“Are you American?” He asks.
“No.” I smile.
Fear. Loathing. Discomfort. “I went to Las Vegas.” Says a second student, trying to save the moment.
”Oh really?” I say, “He’s from Las Vegas. That guy over there.” I point to the far corner across a sea of thick black and high brown hair. They just nod.
“And to Disneyland! Do you like Disneyland?” the second guy asks.
“Oh yeah!” I say. “And did you know Walt Disney was a Nazi?” I’m such an arse.
“Sorry?” He asks.
“A bit Mickey Mouse.” I say.
“Can you speak Japanese?” He asks. It’s the fifth time I’ve been asked that day.
“Ma, chotto hanasemasu.” I reply.
“Wow! That’s amazing! Your Japanese is great.” It’s the fourth time I got that reply. The other girl just blinked, with a face that said ‘ooh, it speaks.’ At that point, a ‘native’ co-worker approached me. I jabbed the student.
“You should talk to this guy. He’s as American as porking mum’s apple pie.”
“Really?” He exclaims, with what seems to be deep and genuine amazement. My co-worker is standing there looking at me and shaking his head.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“Peter C, Peter C. You won’t believe this. Un believable. Un (pause) believable.”
“What? What happened?”
“Osaki made me take the presents back from the students.”
“She fucking what?”
“I gave them out before it was time. She went and got them back from the students and gave them to me and told me off. She said I couldn’t give them out until present time.”
“Minnnnnnnnnnasan!” Screams a little man from the stage. He’s wearing a long blond wig, a Santa hat and red lipstick. “Itsu presento time!!!!!!!”
“That’s my cue.” My co-worker sighed, knocked back his beer and shouldered his sack.


“Any ideas?”
“Well, I dunno. Why don’t we have something more casual this year? Like – no games, no timetable, no cross-dressing, no dance?”
“Uh huh.” She says, and crosses off something on the clipboard she’s holding to her chest with a thick black marker. By early November, the official NCB timetable was posted on the staff room noticeboard, with the following information:


Teacher’s Information
When: Sunday, December 19th, 2004
The party goes from 1400-1600
Where: Alife (the building is covered with pale-blue tiles)
Nishi Azabu Roppongi

12:15 Staff Arrive
12:30 Teachers due to arrive at this time
12:45 Pre-party meeting

13:15 Doors Open
14:00 Opening (Katabe san & Patrick AA)
14:15 Team Forming Game (Ameta MGR and Tokuoka san)
14:30 Fun Time! (Kitagawa san & Patrick AA)
14:50 Impersonation Contest (Wakao san & Matsushima san)
15:15 NCB Staff Dance (Wakao san & Matsushima san)
15:20 Dance Time
16:15 Christmas Carols/Drawing/Best Xmas Spirit (Tokuoka san & Patrick AA)
16:40 Closing (Ameta MGR & Patrick AA)”

The staff members had formed groups and action comittees and were regularly training for the Christmas party, doing unpaid overtime, staying in the office until the wee smalls writing scripts and choreographing dances. Meanwhile the teaching staff and non-Japanese staff were rigorously and systematically excluded from the whole process. The only way I could tell things were coming along nicely was the occasional piece of glitter stuck to an in-office eyelid or the shy end of a feather bower protruding from a LV handbag in the staff room. That and another Luis Vuitton shop back filled with Santa hats. One day in November I had the temerity to ask,
“How are the preparations going for the Christmas party?”
“Good.” the staffer told me, with a look that said in no uncertain terms, ‘I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.’

Tickets went on sale around mid-November. 5000 yen a pop, or 5,500 at the door (over sixty bucks AUD). That’s no guest list, no exceptions. I tried ‘Donna and Blitzen plus one on Rudolph’s list’ last year to not avail. The door-elf just rolled his eyes. I even offered him ice and snow and sung him a Slayer song, but he just looked at me with beady little eyes and cold pointy ears. I can still hear horrid tinkling of the bell on his hat as he shook his head.

Even though the party started ‘officially’ at 1315, you can see by looking at the schedule that we were expected to arrive at 1230 (presumably that was considered sufficient to mentally prepare ourselves for ‘fun time’ from 1430 to 1450). I deliberately arrived half an hour late and was greeted by my manager wearing a pear of antlers telling me earnestly, “You missed the meeting. Are you okay?” Am I okay? Osaki (the one who took back the pressies last year) looked at me darkly from under her Santa hat with an expression filled with the loveliness and softness of a noh mask, and tapped the glass face of her watch.

I made my way into the main room. It was one of those Saturday Night Fever jobs – all black vinyl booths lining the walls, a square underlit dance floor in the middle, pink neon behind the booze racks at the bar and cocktail chairs with candles inside whiskey glasses up the back. Lined against a padded rail like the poon gallery in a Bangkok brothel were all the teachers, smoking and sighing. It was now ten to. Nobody was allowed any booze yet. “Why were we brought there fourty five minutes before the start? And no booze!” One na(t)ive boy exclaimed. It was his first Kurisumasu. But up the end of the room – Hubbub! Commotion! Wailing! Gnashing of Teeth!The staff were assembling and telling in-jokes. One of the guys was adjusting the straps of a bra he was putting on outside his Santa costume while another helper was stuffing the cups with oranges. Ichi ni san shi and the music starts, and suddenly they’re all dancing in time. For the first time all year they’re smiling. Sure it’s the waterproof smile of synchronised swimmers, but it’s a start. It all looks like it was a real pain in the ass to learn, but it’s no fun to watch. Perfect! No wonder they’re enjoying themselves so much. Boozeless minutes pass like wounded snails as I lean on the rail. Then (synchronised watches) Ameta MGR – who is cheating on his wife and two young kids with one of the staff- informs us that we may now wet our whistles. He pushes everyone into a nice neat queue. I’ve just got my shaking hand round the paper cup o’ beer when the first students make it through the door. The clip-clopping of high heels fills the room. Stampede!

But joy of joys! Unlike last year where both the rockers and the staff had a raised stage from which to inflict their acts on us, this time they’ve only got a six inch rise on the sea of students now mingling in their way. And when you’ve been bonsaied since birth, that’s not enough. Everything gets hazier, and through the tunnel of my mind I can see bright flashes. I can hear ‘Minnnnnnnnasan!’ but I can’t see anything but the protruding incisors of the girl I think I’m talking to about playing snowboard. She tells me, “Your nametag is upside down!” Bad sensei.
“Indeed it is. My father was a white Russian.”
“Are you American?”
“Yes, I’m from Disneyland. My father was Walt Disney’s robot.”
I remember getting to the front of the stage, and the oddest thing happening – all the students were totally ignoring the staff, who continued to dance. “Gosh, that’s so humiliating.” I thought aloud. But the staff couldn’t have given a toss if anyone was watching. It was absolutely fascinating. Now two men dressed in blonde wigs with bras outside their Santa suits were on stage. They’re impersonating someone. Maybe me. And the audience were all there, the one that matters - the staff hover behind the spotlit duo, totally immersed in their perfectly trimmed, trained and pained performance. Ameta and the other male staff were about to split his sides with laughter. Another man with underpants outside his Santa suit jumped screaming ‘ahhhhhhhhh’ in to the scene ninja style, knocking the other to the floor. The staff explode with laughter.

I’m really drunk by four pm. Using my one good eye and my best squint, I can just make out Ameta (MGR) in his bowtie and cumberbund pushing students out of the way- he’s making an exit that nobody’s following. It’s all for the students. Yeah right, just like the dance and drag show. NO, it’s so that students can exit quickly and hygienically, silly. I stand in his way. ‘Move out of the way.’ He tells me with a smile that melts like a stuffed suppository when I don’t comply. He goes up to the next person to push them out of the way. ‘Why don’t you get the fuck out of the way?’ I ask, but luckily he won’t understand unless I turn everything to katakana. I should have said, ‘Wai donto yuu getto za fakku outo of za uei?’ Maybe I did. As I said I can’t remember too clearly.

Five minutes later the students are starting to file out. I’ve been given a stack of Christmas cards to hand out to the students. NCB is too cheap to afford Hallmark, so these are folded red card with shitty photocopies on the front. Inside, stuck in with Uhu by the lowest ranking staff as part of their rotating roster of menial tasks is the paper I’d been ‘asked’ (read told) to fill in ‘for the students’. On the left side is a bunch of promotional material selling reading courses and seminars to the students in the New Year. ‘For the students.’ But the right side is my side. I leaf through the pile until I find the ones I’d written. I picked out my favourite, and handed it to one of my best students, Eri. Four feet tall and a face full of sharklike teeth. She opens it and attempts my handwriting.
‘Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? If so, I hope your dreams come true! Cheers, P’
“What’s pee?” She asks.
“It’s a traditional blessing.” I say. “Golden showers. It’s a family thing. ”
“Oh.” She says. I point at the cover. The photocopy is so degraded that the image of a Christmas tree has been deformed.
“Oh look. Looks like a bonsai.” I smile, “Bonsai Christmas tree.”
Eri giggles. “No. It is Christmas tree.”
“Mm, yeah, bonsai Christmas tree.”
“Bye bye Peter.” She says, and is gone.

© Peter Chambers 2004

Listmas (this Christmas, say it with a list)

Listmas (this Christmas, say it with a list)

I saw the spirit of Christmas at the supermarket over the weekend. She was standing there in front of the pasta sauces, with her ‘little white earbuds’ in, and a scribbled, uncrumpled list in her hand. The list might have been shaking in her hand too but perhaps I’m just adding that for dramatic effect. But once she turned and looked at me, there was no ‘perhaps’ – the truth was scrawled in those tics that mark the edges of madness. Those headlit rabbit eyes, that lunatic twitch – oh dear, it’s Christmas time, and by the looks of things nothing more than the hard-clutched list in her hand was standing between this girl and a short drop into the surging whirlpool of chaos that is. Ah, Christmas.

List, list, o list. Santa is presently in the process of making a list, after which he’s going to be engaged in ‘checking it twice’, in order to discover ‘who’s naughty’ and ‘who’s nice’. As a child, these lyrics would send me into a yuletide tailspin. How could it be that Santa Claus, a man magically able to ‘know’ who of all the world’s children were naughty or nice, would need to double-check the list he’d made? This could only mean either that A, Santa had an anally retentive streak that bordered on OCD, or that, B, he was never quite sure who was good or bad in the first place. If option A was true, this would mean that Santa might take days, weeks, even months checking the list, getting stuck on the vowels (which he’d have to repeat out loud seven times then cross himself in a figure of eight pattern, or be forced to start again) or get bogged down counting and re-counting the number of ‘little Tobies’ in Hampshire who actually really deserved their imminent firetruck. But if, on the contrary, option B were true and Santa was just a tyrant making it up as he went along, then there would be no way of knowing whether the presents I received every year without fail were indeed any accurate measure of my ‘niceness’ – any one of us could be as naughty as we liked, and we’d be just as likely to end up with the goods as not.

As a way of resolving this intractable dilemma, I resolved to stop believing in Santa Claus, which simplified matters no end. But now, looking back on the problem that had so preoccupied me as a child, I realise that my problem was a false one. Santa was neither an arbitrary tyrant nor an obsessive maniac, but probably just somebody like the strung-out girl in the supermarket, a person who was ‘just coping’ (and only just) with the Silly Season. Maybe what the lyrics in the song were really meant to convey was that Santa, the poor, overworked bastard (paunchy, out of shape, and with dangerously high blood pressure), was doing what any panicked (normal) person does at this time of year: make a list, then checking it, then remembering to breathe deeply. Poor Santa.

But no matter who you are, the Silly Season is list season. From Hipster website’s imfamous ‘100 coolest unlistenable/name-droppable noisecollage/afrobeat record from Brooklyn hipster band featuring annoying Japanese female vocalist’ list to the shaky, scribbled sanity-saving shopping list in the hand of the strung-out peeps in the supermarket, December is a time where we use lists in order to avoid having to crouch under the kitchen table and rock… House is a mess, brain is a mess, life is a mess… guess who’s coming to dinner… guess who has no credit left on the third of their daisy-chained cards… guess who’s got no days off until Christmas… guess who’s boss has shafted them out of the shifts they were relying on to pay for Christmas presents (after promising them heaps of hours when they took the McJob two months ago)…
So you’re bugging out, what do you do? You take that mess and make a list to control it; you bring the world to heel, bullet point by bullet point. Like spiking a bad haircut into a makeshift Mohawk, it might not improve things, but at least there is the feeling that decisive action has been taken. ‘Yes,’ you think, ‘everything’s going to be alright.’

Thing is, as much as I find my own lists help me to cope, the way the internet’s going, Christmas has also become a matter of coping with everyone else’s. I spent ALL yesterday trawling the ‘best of’ lists on the internet, trying to find a guesstimated average of the top 10 ‘most lauded’ albums of the year. Here’s the fruit of my efforts (with my two cents added):

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (very over-rated)
MIA – Kala (good)
Radiohead – In Rainbows (great)
Panda Bear – Person Pitch (great)
The Field – From Here We Go Sublime (extremely over-rated)
Robert Wyatt – Comicopera (more of the same, but okay)
Battles – Mirrored (over-rated)
Feist – The Reminder (haven’t heard it)
Liars – Liars (arguably the most name-droppable)
Burial – Untrue (great, over-rated nonetheless)

But now I had a list made up of everyone else’s list, what about my own? And what about Christmas…?! The panic started to rise again… then I thought back to the girl in the supermarket, to her list, and to her little white earbuds, and I thought, ‘What’s the ultimate 2007 Christmas present, one that won’t cost the earth, be thrown out in a day, or contribute that much to landfill?’ The answer, of course, is a playlist. Here’s an idea for something that could replace the ever-irritating Kris Kringle (although by the time you read this, it’ll probably be too late). Anyway, if you want to help invent a tradition, it’s called Listmas, and it goes a little something like this: each contributor makes a CD-R with a personal playlist of tracks that help them to cope with Christmas. They then bring the disc (which would be left unmarked, or with a symbol that made it identifiable to its owner and no-one else) into work and place it in a box, from which each person would then take another disc. The lead-up to Christmas could then be spent swapping the playlist discs, during which time any of the participants could make copies of the lists and songs they liked the best. Considering how lousy Christmas compilations are, how wasteful and pointless most gifts are, and how many people are on the edge of penning a final, fateful shitlist of their own at this time of the year, I humbly submit my idea to the list of possibilities, and this as my list:

Ravi Shankar – Tala Rasa Ranga
DJ Koze – Cicely
Kassem Mosse – Untitled (Workshop EP)
Dave Aju and The Invisible Art Trio – Be Like The Sun
Ricardo Villalobos –Baila Sin Petit
Al Haca – Banana Split
Eluvium – Intermission
Bruno Pronsato – What We Wish
Pawel – Salta
Cassy – Somelightuntothenight
Eluvim – Hymn #1

Monday, December 17, 2007

It’s on me! (How to become Lord of the Flies)

In Tokyo’s Nishi Shinjuku, only a few hundred metres from the Grand Hyatt featured in Lost in Translation, there’s a cocktail bar called ‘It’s on me!’ When choosing the title, the owners no doubt had in mind the cucumber cool of the cashed-up drinks shouter. The scenario involves you and date heading to the bar, you pulling your purse out of your manbag and offering a plaintive ‘Do… do you want some… money?’ before (s)he waves it away, declaring (with the effortless mastery of the Milky Bar kid), ‘Don’t worry, it’s on me.’

But everything changed with the two simple paint strokes that added the exclamation mark to the sign. Far from evoking breezy scenes of Dean-Martin-cocktail-bar cool, the chosen title (which was already in italics) always read as ‘It’s on me!’ Think Gremlins fed after midnight, think neck-sucking alien succubus, think unwanted advances from a large, distant, predatory species… with tentacles. Every time I walked past ‘It’s on me!’ I thought of a room full of men in leisure suits, their screams strangely muted by the heavy carpet, as they were suddenly and violently attacked by mucoid things with suckers, a beak, and a taste for human blood. Was it a shock to them? Perhaps it’s what they’d ordered. Knowing Shinjuku, there probably are bars where one can pay (through the nose, or with a proboscis) to have sucky, beaky, blood-thirsty monsters thrown at your head; a place where the upper eschelons of society pay hundreds of squid just to get a bruised, bitten hard-on, in tentacular, private luxury.

But for most ‘normal’ people, an attack such as those ordered in my (imaginary?) Tokyo bar would be truly horrific because of its sudden and total ambush of your quiet dignity. You’re just walking along, minding your own business, when… wait for it… AAAAAARGGGH!! It’s on me!!!!’ This is, no doubt, what so alarmed me as a child about the ‘drop bears’ that my uncle convinced me lived in the copse of trees on top of the hill near his farm. Or the later (and apparently true) rumours about tree funnel webs in early Sydney: it was said that tree funnel webs, extinct since the 1830s, would drop like ripe fruit onto your neck and bite, repeatedly. Their venom was apparently several times deadlier than the banal funnel webs of many a Sydney backyard. Only Roald Dahl’s description of the black mamba in Going Solo (a deadly snake that actually chased you in order to bite you to death) had as much power to frighten and appal me as a child.

But this spring, I, and no doubt a lot of you, have had to relive similar moments of ambushed horror. Some say they came from New South Wales. Others say it was horseshit. One expert reckons it’s lawn clippings. Who knows, and frankly, who cares how it’s happened? Maybe you were strolling to get some milk; maybe you were quietly enjoying a tasty beverage at an outdoor café; maybe you were just scratching your balls and waiting for the tram, like the girl next to you and her pet mandrill. You know, nothing out of the ordinary. Then suddenly, without warning…


No, it’s not the angry insults of a Cairo cabbie. It is in fact the closest I can get to representing the unspeakable noise that came from the mouth of my lovely lady when a rogue fly flew into her throat.

There is nothing so ridiculous, so pitifully helpless as a person who has been earbombed or gulletsmacked by a rogue fly. You play sniggery tittery bugger bystander for a moment, as your friend or loved one scrambles to regain their composure, but then:


No, it’s not Ryoji Ikeda’s new minimalist ‘sound art’ masterpiece – egad, you’ve been earbombed, and now that buzzy little fucker has lodged itself in your earhole. You scream ‘Argh! It’s on me!’ You whinny, you slap your ear. You shake your head back and forth with the force of a carwash brush, knowing that if you mash your finger into your earhole, so goes the fly with it.

All over Melbourne, I’ve heard reports of people being mobbed and attacked by the little furry-footed fuckers. There have even been rumours of picnickers engaging in panicked fanny swatting... but then again, it was St Kilda, so who knows?

The flies! The cursed flies! What do they want? What do they see in us? Are they heatseeking? Do we smell of dung? Don’t answer that. But seriously, let’s imagine you’re a fly and you’ve got three days to live and breed before buzzing your last hum: what do you do? Where do you go? You go where all the cool, upper-class flies are at: that rotting seal carcass on Portsea Beach; the fresh Great Dane turd on the lawn; the skip out the back of Dave and C(l)am(m)y’s. Or to something which in no way resembles a human being. Honestly, are human beings so like a carcass, a turd or an old, half-chewed ex-dumpling? Hmm… food for flies? Food for thought. At least the food for sharks living through Jaws-plagued Byron Bay can see the bastards coming. Admittedly, being smacked, bombed, swarmed or otherwise attacked by the winged fuckers is far less deadly than being chomped by a great white, but try telling that to the poor bastard in the first terrifying throes of ‘Argh! It’s on me!’ lodgement. Just hope you don’t have a heart condition.

The thing is, you will never, ever, ever be prepared for the horror of the attack, but you can reduce the risk of it occurring. With this in mind, I humbly submit my few hard-won defences against the plague that is.

1) Airswat three, four times: a fly that has found your fragrance irresistible will always try to land more than once, always. A good pre-emptive half-dozen usually does the trick.

2) There is no such thing as ‘one fly’, however, it is always the ‘one fly’ that hassles you: watch the guy walking in front of you, and the orgy of flies piggy-backing on his t-shirt, rubbing their little mitts together with glee. Like Pauline Hanson’s ‘silent majority’, these flies seem quite content to perch in the flat, barren parts between the redneck and his arsehole. But watch – there’s always one extremist fly who’s indefatigable, giving those other ‘honest’ flies a bad rap. What’s true for flies is often true for people. Buzz buzz.

3) Cover your ears: if you are planning to read this paper on the beach (don’t even think about attempting a hamburger or fish and chips), get a towel or t-shirt and drape it over you, Bedouin-style. This can make all the difference. If you also happen to be reading a map when appearing in public in this garb, double-check for nondescript white Commodores. Yes, that’s right, ASIO.

4) Keep your trap shut, fool: a warm mouth and a long-winded explanation is an open invitation to an aerial parasite. Not only fools rush in.

5) Drape your friends in dung or meat: self-explanatory. If the flies still prefer you, well then, y’all betta aksk yo’self.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Owe Ho Ho Ho (no free gifts)

Every year, or so it seems, the price of icy poles rises, Mars Bars get smaller and Christmas begins a week or two earlier. You could say that these changes are ‘constant changes’; always differing, but in exactly the same way, at a regular rate, and just enough to really fuck with your head. But one thing that never changes – a ‘constant constant’ of Christmas, if you will – is the rising sense of dread at the cheerless thought of having to buy gifts for people who have to buy gifts for you: your sleazy boss; your (emotionally) distant aunty with halitosis (and her despicable crazy rat dog); your aggressively dull thieving brother in-law; even your bushbeast step-mother who, no doubt, has had to offer a little something more to make you smile than the soft grunt she issues every year after gutsing the last of the potato salad, only moments before dropping her annual bad boy in your toilet.

This ‘constant constant’, the yearly feeling of rising dread, is caused by an openly inadmissible fact: none of this is done freely. If you think you give because you want to, close your eyes, think of those in your social world, and then imagine its death by way of the following scenarios: refusing to give, refusing to receive, refusing to reciprocate. Think about a failure to give, receive or reciprocate, and consider the offence it will cause, and what it will do for your social standing with your friends, your extended family and your workmates – even those you are indifferent to, and especially those that you hate. Owe ho ho, you’re trapped, muthafucker! It’s as inescapable as the credit card debt you’re about to plunge yourself even further into buying all those gifts (and the far more expensive ‘coping compensators’ you get for yourself). This is precisely what gifts are for – they’re designed to bind, to forever Mary J. oblige you to something you would rather not have been involved in to begin with. If Christmas makes you feel trapped and depressed, there’s probably a good reason why.

Those of you presently working casual jobs (in anticipation of an impending debt) who have been ‘informed’ about the workplace Kris Kringle will know the score. You may not want to receive something you don’t care for from someone you don’t care about. Who does? Nor do you want to give something you chose with care to someone who doesn’t care for it. And you certainly don’t want to reinforce such a system by supporting it, further strengthening the endless web of reciprocal present-giving with people you only spend time with because you have to. And yet, unless you cite a peculiar religious taboo (which will itself mark you as the abominable office ‘alien’), there is no polite way to refuse. These days, it’s not enough to have to do a poorly paid, difficult job you dislike without complaint – you’re supposed to be cheerful about it. To the maniacal workplace goody-goody (the one who takes it upon his/herself to organise and micromanage infernal things like Kris Kringle and that stupid system where everyone is obliged to put in for everyone else’s birthday gift), any sign of scroogy gripe is a signal of imminent mutiny that calls for a slow rolling of the eyes, a patient sigh, or maybe even a lecture on the spirit of giving.

Operating in such a system, the only sane response is one of cheerful resignation. The whole stupid cycle is as inescapable as the other ‘constant constants’, so take my advice: don’t grumble, go along with it, open your wallet, give a little Mars Bar (my, that is a little Mars Bar) and smile. It’s either that, or the cuckoo option of joining the wild-eyed maniacs in the ‘organising committee’. Anything else is social death and will see you mistrusted, despised and eventually shunned. Your workplace may be a cuckoo’s nest, but the ‘refuser’ and the ‘grudging co-operator’ are the ones who flew over it in the eyes of Ms Kringle. You’re the oddball, you’re the cheerless bitch, you’re the grumblebum. Essentially, if you want to stay on good terms with everyone, you have NO courteous choice in the matter. Gifts are not freely given, they are the least free things in the world. They are designed to enmesh you in infinite obligation toward people you would (in many cases) never voluntary choose to spend time with. And they do a bloody good job.

Monday, December 03, 2007

How to unfuck a duck (or anything else)

This isn’t a political column. In fact, this week, due to the state of my head after finishing exams (Friday), hearing the result and hopping between elections parties (Saturday) and celebrating my birthday (Sunday), this probably won’t be column about much…. well, even less than usual. Last night, my friend emailed me with a pertinent question: ‘will Rudd be able to unfuck the things Howard fucked up?’ This morning I woke up, re-read it, and wondered if I would be able to unfuck the things I fucked up over the weekend, not least of all my bank balance and my liver…. blech… Only time will tell whether Rudd is in fact the überHoward (remember that disturbingly accurate graphic on the cover of the Age showing Howard fading into Rudd?) but to me the most interesting part of my friend’s question was contained in that little word, and the eerie, almost supernatural possibilities it promises… unfuck. Could it be done? Can that which has been ruined (buggered, stuffed, rooted) ever be unruined? Is it possible to unfuck, well, anything? This is the Silly Season, remember? So given that you’re probably about to embark on a season of self-ruin and get ‘completely fucked’ in the name of festivity, maybe we should think about whether it’s possible to undo ‘the damage’…?

Maybe a few examples might help illustrate the idea:

Political unfucking: ‘In Washington D.C. this afternoon, US president George W. Bush announced a new strategy to unfuck Iraq. ‘We fucked it good and proper,’ the President said. ‘Now in due course we will ‘shock and awe’ you with our ability to unfuck it – don’t misunderestimate me.’

Personal unfucking: ‘Harvey Higginbottom, 37, unfucked his life last night, which was until yesterday completely ruined.’

Frocked unfucking: ‘The priest said he was extremely sorry, and will personally unfuck every one of the seventeen altar boys involved.’

Think about it – when somebody says that ‘Such and such has been completely fucked by so and so’ there’s usually the sense of something irreversible. Those altar boys are altered boys. Or have you ever met someone who’s drug unfucked? Wise man once say: that which is fried will never be unfried. Are you guys listening? This is what Johnny Depp was trying to tell you with that ‘your brain on drugs’ commercial, the one with the egg? Remember? It’s all about the difference between a physical change and a chemical change. It’s like this: physical changes are changes of state, changes of form: in the process of transformation, no new substances are made, and none change their substance. Chemical changes, on the other hand, are changes of substance, changes of form and content: during this kind of change, the reactants are totally transformed, and form new compounds through the making and breaking of chemical bonds. In most instances, chemical changes are irreversible… ask Dead or Alive. Ask Ozzy Osborne. Ask Bez. Ask Michael Jackson. Ask that lady who’s had so much work she looks like a lion. Or think about your own head… now think about setting fire to it, and the number of times you will probably be able to enjoy that fateful act. Christmas party season is upon us… you may not be able to unfuck your reputation… you definitely won’t be able to unfuck your workmate. Or the photocopier. In front of everybody. I’d say that’s almost definite. Sorry.

Unfucking is a miracle, or it would be if miracles existed. This is the whole idea of Jesus’ return. The second coming is the original unfucking – we fuck everything up, then Jesus jets in on a cloud (Monkey Magic style) and unfucks everything. Yay Jesus. But let’s think about this… who are the people in this world who believe in such an unfucking? I’ll tell you. Certain priests, President Bush… and Harvey Higginbottom. In fact, if I were to have eerie powers, I think the ability to ‘unfuck’ things would be top of the list. But given that neither you, nor I, nor anyone else I know possesses such a miraculous talent, and given that neither Iraq, nor altar boys, nor lives, nor workmates nor photocopiers can or ever have been unfucked, let’s just try not to fuck things up to begin with.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bouncers (don’t mess with ‘em, have mess without ‘em… or not?)

Judging from what I’ve heard, I’d always fancied that people would try to fight their way out of the Viper Room – then came the recent news of the dude who pulled a piece on the bouncers when he wasn’t allowed in. Didn’t somebody tell him that if they’d let him in… he’d be at the Viper Room? But then again, this is like trying to talk sense to a person… who wants to go to the Viper Room. You can’t reason with the unreasonable.

All across Melbourne you hear similar stories: enraged footballers, coked up to the eyeballs, going on rampages at Crown… trannies with knives in their garter belts (Dome R.I.P.) …or the rumours of ‘Mad Cunts’ barred from another famous Chapel St nightclub returning with plenty of cousins… and lots of baseball bats. Bouncers. Don’t mess with ‘em, have mess without ‘em… or not?

In their defence (as if they can’t defend themselves), bouncers, like cops, deal with the constant threat of grisly violence and the daily reality of one of the most boring jobs imaginable. But more than cops, bouncers have increasingly been written a blank cheque for the use of whatever brutality in their pursuit of social pest control – Parklife. At least cops have to write reports and ‘use phonebooks’. Without a doubt, bouncers do a thankless, boring, dangerous job that most of us would be unwilling and/or unable to do. But, on the other hand, a lot of them are sadistic fuckwits who enjoy nothing better than bullying people and abusing their authority. Basically, it’s a job that attracts a certain type of person, and I think we can safely say that it’s not the kind of person who you generally find working in kindergartens or caring for the elderly… oh, well, not working in kindergartens at least… sorry grandma.

But bouncers are nearly everywhere these days, representatives of the push for ‘private security’ that’s massively increasing in rich, paranoid countries like Australia (who live in the comfortable gap between the imagination of terror and the reality of peace and plenty). Even the cops have been turned into ‘event security’. Look at the joke that was APEC. Who was being protected… and from what? And don't let the ‘uniform’ fool you – a fair portion of private security goons are little better than the ‘ogres’ and ‘trolls’ they’re paid to protect ‘us’ from. ‘Goons,’ as the Simpsons quote goes, ‘Hired goons.’ Thing is, even goons are subject to economics – it’s the law of supply and demand. As the paranoia increases, the demand keeps increasing, in a kind of ‘Viper Room hoopsnake’ effect, and the security companies, who make their profits by providing ‘meat in uniform, on delivery’, are going to have to look harder and further to find enough boof. Just like all their competitors. Whoops, there goes the supply… Now, let’s say I run a private security firm. Am I gonna surrender market share and profits… or am I gonna lower my standards?

The net effect of this has been that a lot of firms are hiring people who are un(der)qualified, incompetent, or even dangerous psychopaths. Extreme examples like the recent Blackwater massacre in Baghdad demonstrate in an extreme and tragic way what this demand for private security is doing. These ‘professionals’, the chosen ‘private security providers’ (mercenaries) employed by the US government in no bid contracts to provide ‘security solutions’ in Iraq, murdered nineteen Iraqi civilians – and this is only the latest and best-documented case. We have our banal examples here, too, like the guy whose heart stopped after he got sat on outside Star City a few years back. Or that cricketer who got his lights punched (permanently) out in St Kilda not so long ago. The question that emerges is this: what is ‘feeling secure’ worth to us? Do you really think that the bouncers are there to ‘protect’ you? Their interests are their own and their company’s (first and second), and the venue’s (third).

At a recent party in this fine city, a tiny portion, a mere pebble of the emerging cost in having these gorillas in our midst was graphically played out, when the venue’s bouncers first kicked the headlining international off the decks mid-set, before proceeding to eject the gig’s promoters (if the rumours are true) and others from the venue. I’m sorry, but whose party is this? It used to be you had to call the cops to get a party shut down – now the people hired to ensure its smooth running are doing the same thing. Whose interests are served by this kind of malarky? And what happens when this becomes the ‘new normal’ at every venue in town? For the time being, this is exceptionally poor form by Melbourne standards, as well as being amusing, in a farcical way – but in Sydney, with its dearth of enlightened venues and small bars, treatment like this has become the norm. And unless you yourself are a ‘mad cunt’ with a pistol or a VL’s worth of bat-toting cousins only an SMS away, you are completely at their mercy…

Where does this end up? I’m always drawn to the example of the infamous Rolling Stones gig at Altamont, in which a man was stabbed to death by one of the Hells Angels, who were recommended as security… by the Grateful Dead. As Keith Richards famously described it in the article, in.... Rolling Stone:

‘"The violence," Keith Richard told the London Evening Standard, "just in front of the stage was incredible. Looking back I don't think it was a good idea to have Hell's Angels there. But we had them at the suggestion of the Grateful Dead. "The trouble is it's a problem for us either way. If you don't have them to work for you as stewards, they come anyway and cause trouble. "But to be fair, out of the whole 300 Angels working as stewards, the vast majority did what they were supposed to do, which was to regulate the crowds as much as possible without causing any trouble. But there were about ten or twenty who were completely out of their minds -- trying to drive their motorcycles through the middle of the crowds…
Really, the difference between the open air show we held here in Hyde Park and the one there is amazing. I think it illustrates the difference between the two countries. In Hyde Park everybody had a good time, and there was no trouble. You can put half a million young English people together and they won't start killing each other. That's the difference."

While Richard was satisfying the British press with his incredibly naive view of Western civilization, Meredith Hunter lay dead.’

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Such is Life and Horse (Kissing Cousins)

In most cultures, kissing Cousins is considered incest. But in Australia, over thirteen thousand ‘friends’ in a Facebook group want to do just that. Or just ‘party’ or ‘parlay’…. or ‘something’. But whatever they want to do, it better be done quickly, before it all goes horribly wrong. Get in for your chop, there ain’t gonna be any sloppy second Cousins – he’s one of a kind. Ah, Ben Cousins… The sporting establishment condemn him, because they have to. The media do, because apparently ‘you’ (or some viewer like you) enjoys knocking in others what you’d be incapable of yourself. It’s true, let’s face it. The only difference between Cousins and any of the 100,000-plus pissed yobbos at the racetrack last week is that they are pissed witless, sunburnt and broke by 3pm, while Cousins, on the other hand (and on the other side of the thickly-racked dateline), apparently just saw the fifth sunset of a rehab-breaking coke bender. Cousins? You wish. You haven’t got the ticker, you avvo yobbo. Go back to vomiting on your tux and growling some bird in a hat behind a bush. It’s all you’re capable of. Cousins is the überyobbo, as much a champion off field as he is on. I’m serious. If you subscribe to yobbo values, then he’s the best we’ve got, a true champ. We ought to love him while we’ve got him. People keep saying ‘When’s he gonna behave?!’ ‘What an idiot!’ ‘Can’t he see he’s depraved?!’ But you know what I think? I think we’ve got the wrong end of the horse on this one. I think we should look to two other Aussie heroes for inspiration or alternatives: Ned Kelly and Phar Lap.

Ned first got a taste for a nice bit of horse after stealing one. Well, he said he didn’t know it was stolen when he galloped into town on it – he’d just ‘borrowed it’ from a friend… a friend who had stolen it from a constable up the way. As legend would have it, the policeman who tried to arrest him ended up getting ridden like a horse by said bushranger. Not long after that, Ned officially became notorious: sticking up banks and shooting cops. Ned became a problem…. and the societal solution? Ned was hanged, thus ensuring no further hold-ups and eternal notoriety. This is obviously not the way to go – maybe Phar Lap offers some better ideas?

Horses are not hanged, they’re hung (like horses). Or shot (like cops, by Ned). But not this one – he was poisoned. Apparently. Phar Lap, after a racing career of little more than a few years, died a mysterious death. Some say it was arsenic, but then, according to another veterinarian, all horses were given arsenic in those days… as a tonic. Yes, arsenic, the ideal ‘pick-me-up’. We all know the phrase ‘they shoot horses, don’t they?’ And you know it’s a rhetorical question, don’t you? Were he not poisoned, Phar Lap might have sired some young stallions, after which he would have been put out to pasture, where he would have been able to enjoy the grass until such time as the little click of the rifle cocking was heard in between a fly-swatting tail switch and a quiver of the ageing rump. But, because of the poisoning, Phar Lap’s death became mired in controversy and ‘shrouded in mystery’ (as the cliché would have it), and this is the kind of thing that’ll get you necroscopied (autopsied), dissected, and donated trans-Tasman stylee. Phar Lap ended up a hanged horse: his mounted hide is displayed at the Melbourne Museum, his skeleton at New Zealand's National Museum, and his heart at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Now, we know that Cousins likes a bit of horse, not to mention ketamine, which is, notoriously, a drug for horses. And here’s the lowdown…they say it was the arsenic, but if you ask me, it was the pressure… Phar Lap, the hero with the big heart fell into a big daddy k-hole, as big as a racecourse and darker than the inside of Ned Kelly’s helmet. Who knows, maybe he’d been at it for years? Maybe they tried to make him go to rehab, but he wouldn’t go (neigh, neigh, neigh). If he had thumbs, maybe he’d have left a note. What would it have said? A lot of people have even been suggesting that this recent ‘Horse Flu’ epidemic is nothing other than a massive wave of ice addictions, introduced by Yakuza-owned Japanese horses who gave the locals a taste for the ‘shabu’. Perhaps the phrase should be: ‘Horses shoot up, don’t they?’

Given the circumstances, I think Cousins deserves the ‘Phar Lap’ treatment. Like the snuffed sniffer with the big ticker, he’s had his four years at the top. He’s won both the Brownlow and the Leigh Matthews trophy. As an athlete, he’s probably past his best. I say, let him go for it, Phar Lap style. Let him run, let him whinny, let him bray, let him snort. Let those nostrils flare in glory. Why not? Cousins has obviously found the one thing in life he enjoys even more than being a football hero. If he dies doing the thing that he loves (which probably won’t take that long, considering how much of it he’s rumoured to love), then so be it. ‘Such is life’, as Ned (or Cousins’ torso) might say – or as Phar Lap might have said, if he had thumbs. In fact (dare I say it), the sooner the better, before his torso begins to sag – while he can still say it with a sixpack. Then we can all come to pay homage by kissing the glass around his remains. I think he’d like that. He can be mounted, as Phar Lap was, as Kelly’s armour is. We can mount his hide at the Melbourne Museum, his skeleton at the National Museum in Canberra, and his heart at the Museum of Western Australia. As befits a champion and a hero.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

So you think you can flail?!

Controversy has erupted this week at the 53rd conference of the European Artform Committee (CAE), the body that rules on the classifications governing specific kinds of officially recognised European artforms. Every year, the body meets to re-define what is and is not an artform, and this year, it was the turn of flailing to be thrown into question.

‘Flailing’ may not be the first thing that springs to mind when we think of artforms, but in parts of Scandanvia and the Baltic states, flailing was traditionally considered a way to keep warm and has become a common pastime, with people competing in public displays, known as ‘flail-offs’.

The controversy apparently erupted on the judging panel when a faction emerged, intent on differentiating between the two recognised types of flailing, ‘uncontrolled’ and ‘controlled’.

Other panel members, protesting the distinction, asserted that there was ‘no such thing’ as controlled flailing. “It’s ridiculous,” said Sten Carlsen, the Danish representative. “Everybody knows that this so-called ‘controlled flailing’ is nothing other than dancing. Even my senile mother-in-law knows that.”

The faction’s counter-assertion held that all flailing involved some level of motor control, and that this was the necessary condition distinguishing it from involuntary or even autonomic motions such as ‘tics’, ‘spasms’, ‘shudders’ and ‘seizures’, none of which can be officially classified as artforms under the guidelines of the CAE.

“It takes years to learn to really flail, to do it with skill and flair,” the faction spokesman said, reading a statement prepared by members of the faction. “A person who attempts flailing without adequate knowledge of the appropriate techniques risks embarrassment, injury, even death.”

Carlsen’s argument against this classification rests in one simple idea. “It’s not rule-governed movement,” he explained. “To say that one can be taught how to flail, as if these are a set of known techniques that can be transferred from teacher to pupil or acquired through demonstration and practice, this is absurd.”

A faction member, speaking on condition of anonymity, asserts that Carlsen’s outspoken criticism of the move to distinguish between ‘uncontrolled’ and ‘controlled’ flailing was motivated by specific Danish interests which had remained undeclared. Anna Halvorsen, who was for three consecutive years the European champion, was recently stripped of her medals after the discovery that she, and others on the women’s team, all suffered disinhibition disorders – neurological conditions that allowed them to flail far more violently than other competitors. “There was a sense of total abandon. Their flailing gave you this impression of chaos and intensity that had won them favour with judges – and I was one of them,” our anonymous panel member confessed. “Discovering that Anna and two of the others suffered from disinhibitions disorders, this has had a devastating impact on the sport. It’s imperative to know who is really flailing, and who is just suffering from spasms.” Carlsen was quick to neutralise these allegations, however: “Anna is simply a naturally gifted flailer. There is no penalty for talent where I come from. The whipping violence of her body is sublime.”

There have also been allegations of ‘vote-buying’, with the other Scandanavian representatives (who are supporting the Danish protest) attempting to push key member states Spain and Britain (both of whom have powers of veto) to oppose the motion. Meanwhile, the Spanish delegate Pablo Borges – an unexpected ally of the Scandanavians – has weighed into the debate, controversially accusing American choreographer Mia Michaels of hit US TV show ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’ of being what he calls ‘the world’s number one ‘controlled flailing’ expert. “If there is something called ‘controlled flailing’ then she’s the queen of them all,” he said. “This ridiculous assertion that you can somehow include ‘controlled’ movements in the definition of flailing – well, why don't we just get that woman to come here to Geneva and teach us all. We’ll be flailing like controlled professionals in no time. I’m sure that would make all the judges weep like young girls.”

Mia Michaels has so far refused to offer any comment on the remark.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In search of lost time at the Smokay Corral

So you wake up one hungover Sunday in October. The usual fug and yawns, the clutching at a glass of water, the wondering what happened. The first of many terrifying memory flashes… the wishing for not remembering what happened. Maybe (if you’re lucky) the fridge is keeping the last slice of pizza cold for you, a slice which now awaits your mouth, which tastes and feels like the inside of Casey Stoner’s motorcycle glove. Your teeth, your teeth have socks on. It’s nasty, but hey, you’ve done it before, right? Probably the night before last. Odds on the week before that. Perhaps following a crippling pattern grooved deeply you're your routine over the course of a decade. You might not be getting better at it, ‘improving’, if you will – imagine if you’d poured all that money, time and energy into piano lessons instead – but you have survived. You live. And this might even be a fact worth celebrating, perhaps with a greasy breakfast behind sunglasses, followed (in no set order) by a half-assed wank, a DVD and a snooze.

But then that horrible little ebb smacks you in the fug – egad – it’s an hour later (even) than the midday you thought you’d managed. You don’t scream, you don’t cry (it would trigger a headstab) but there’s the feeling of something gone, irreparable. You spend the rest of the afternoon in your recovery pattern, but even as the haze lifts around the very, very late sunset, a realisation settles to replace it, one heavy with the sense of something little, yes, but gone totally. Never to be repeated.

Now think big chunk – close your wrinkling eyes and imagine being told with certainty that a decade had gone. How would you feel? I imagine the same sad settling would take place, on a crippling scale. A whole decade… never to be filled with the half-memories of hungover Sundays: no more cold pizza, no more half-assed wanks. No more Mondays back at work wondering where it all went pear-shaped and turned professional. It’s a depressing thought, surely. But oddly – despite the overwhelming evidence – smoking does not have that effect on people.

Indeed, walk past any of the new smokay corrals across our fine city, and you’ll see them out there: by themselves they look lavender soft and wistful – they’re thinking misty thoughts. In groups, they’re positively jolly, wheezing and rasping through a joke, sharing a light, rolling, lighting, and chatting each other up.

I saw them at my local, while I was on my way to rent some DVDs – they smiled at me. Could someone please explain why they’re so brimming with ashy smiles and tarry-eyed confidence? I wondered… and then I thought about Darwin and the Beagle. After returning from the Galapagos islands, Darwin realised that isolation would have a profound effect on the emergence of a species: separated populations, each in different microhabitats, and each with their own genetic inheritance and peculiar mutations, would, over time, create new species utterly unlike those on the next island, though separated by nothing more than several kilometres of sea.

‘Dodos!’ I thought, ‘what have we done?!’ In an effort to isolate smokers (and so further stigmatise and marginalise that original, mentholated, extra-mild ‘dying breed’ in our midst) maybe we’ve ensured their triumph over the deadly effects of their preferred harm. Maybe, rather than ‘bagging the fag’, what the ban has created is the conditions for eternal smoking. It goes like this: we know that people may be genetically pre-disposed to addictive behaviour. We know that only certain groups of people have the genes that increase their likelihood of getting cancer from smoking. And we would speculate that, generally, those people ‘still smoking’ are more likely, overall, to be the ones who have survived their habit, or at least for long enough to reproduce, inflicting their genes, their habits, and their tendencies on their offspring… but where will such offspring come from? Acts of reproduction, surely, but with whom? Well, given that smokers are now all concentrated in a small, isolated area with other smokers (small areas that now exist all across Australia, and, indeed, in the UK and elsewhere); given that smoking is social (many people smoke just to be able to start conversations with other people); given that, despite their poor fitness and lowered sperm counts, smokers can still sire children (and might even do a whole lot more siring than non-smokers, given their addictive tendencies) and given that, more than anything, that natural selection and mutation would tend, over time, to favour those who weren’t killed by their habit… can you see where this is going?

All this flashed ran through my mind while at the video store. On the way back, despite the sunny afternoon and the sound of the bees in the bottlebrush, I couldn’t stop thinking about daylight saving, my stabbing head, and all that lost time. It made me blue in thought. Then, as I passed by the pub again, I noticed a man in his fifties, red in face and leaning against the rail of the smokers’ corral. He had nicotine-yellow hair, gold chains, and a twinkle in his eye. It was not the face of a man meditating on lost hours, it was the face of a man winding his way through the repeated highpoints of an extremely enjoyable afternoon. He saw me looking at him, then turned and offered the requested cigarette to a grateful looking woman in her twenties to his left. Then he turned back to me, and winked.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Visualise This (the horror, the horror, the horror ☺)

At all times, in many different ways, music needs spectacles. Every time I keep hearing some purists talking about a return to ‘authentic substance’ – you know, ‘real’ musicians making ‘real’ music for ‘real’ audiences who ‘really’ appreciate their work, I feel like disabusing them of this twentieth century fiction of ‘authentic substance’ and directing them to the reality of ‘appropriate content’ which the overwhelming majority of people infinitely prefer, THNK U VRY MCH ☺

Anyone who went to Parklife the other week will know the score. Apart from being oversold by thousands of tickets (and thus even more rammed to the gills with flouro and tan floozies), the one (and only) other distinguishing feature (apart from the conspicuous brutality of security) was the obvious fact that almost nobody could give a rubbished electro-shouty fuck about the music. Which was a good thing, considering that most of it was fucking electro-shouty rubbish. Horrible stuff.

After the horror of a plane crash, the forensic crew (or whoever has the expertise in these macabre matters) go hunting for the black box – no, not the Italian techno-pop group that gave the world ‘Ride on Time’. I’m talking about that little bomb-proof brick that records ‘the truth’ of the accident. But what kind of truth? Surely not the death-screams of the captain, the tears of the crew and passengers, the melting of the LCD panel, or the sound of the electronic equipment crackling and burning as it bursts into superheated, avgas-fuelled flames… or is that the new Mstrkrft single? Hmm… maybe it’s just a matter of being able to read the signs, like that joke:

What did the blind man say about the cheese grater?

(wait for it)

That’s the most violent book I’ve ever read.

Probably the black boxes spit out data that looks like the inscrutable way chess games appear when ‘written down’ in newspapers. The forensic guy hooks the box up to his laptop, then waits until something like the following appears on his monitor:

‘^&[OMG]8X96!--- 35Y5{LOL}4Z5$%|^ --“= ….. !!!’

After which he giggles (due to the subtle joke the box made in the first phrase) and calmly concludes: ‘Catastrophic Pilot Error’. To ‘laypeople’ who don’t get the joke or the horror, that’s the extremely weird thing about those black boxes – we rely on them as the thing that mediates between us (comfortably vegetating on our couches in front of the news) and the ‘truth’ of the horror of the crash, but it’s a truth they only convey by excluding almost everything about a plane crash that makes it so viscerally horrific.

Nightclubs are the exact opposite – anyone who’s been the first person to arrive in that empty black room will understand that the profoundest horror imaginable (and not only for the promoters) is to be left in a black box of a room with absolutely nothing between you and the music coming out of the speakers.You race to the bar for a drink, a prop. You fiendishly message tardy friends: ‘Where RU?! There’s nobody here! ☹’ No, it’s worse than that, actually there is somebody there (DJs don’t count)… It’s YOU – left alone to the horror of your own company and the music. The horror, the horror, the horror.

Unmediated experience (if it’s even possible) is something between a terrible shock and a horrible blur – spectacles are the comforting mediators. With glasses, I can drink the scene more clearly; among friends I can avoid the things I fear more than anything else, silence and myself. When you put your glasses on, you don't see glass, you see friends. When you flip open your mobile, you don’t see phone, you see new messages – a person who loves U and UR hand enough to write: ‘Where RU?! There’s nobody here! ☹’

Parklife, as the wolfmother of all spectacles, has nothing to do with music – and thank God. Props to the props, I say. As a friend remarked: ‘Nobody was listening to the music. Everyone was just standing around in stumbling, clammy circles, utterly munted with their phones in their hands, texting or posing for pictures of themselves and their mates, which they then just sent to each other.’

‘People Who Still Go Out to Listen to Music’ are no longer even a sub-species, they’re just a minor group on Facebook. They’re a deeply unpopular, weird, old-fashioned, and (if you’re under twenty-one) slightly sinister reminder of clubland’s contemporary sequel of the Blair Witch Project – a harbinger of the horror of a lone munter trapped in a black box, frantically texting, only to find out that, being underground, there’s no signal…

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Man in the Mirror (who wears the Pauline panties)

After the most recent of the many shootings at a US high school, one of the students interviewed for the soundbite said something revealing about the guy who went postal:

‘Yeah, he used to come to school every day and say ‘fuck the world’ and all that shit, but we never thought he really meant it.’

Yeah, funny that. But quite often the people who end up with blood on their hands have been trying to tell you ‘I really, really meant it’ all along. Michael Jackson is a perfect example. Think back to his song and album titles: ‘With a Child’s Heart’, ‘I Can’t Help It’, ‘Bad’, ‘Dangerous’, ‘In the Closet’, ‘Childhood’, ‘Give in to Me’, and ‘Scream’. I could go on. Of course, it’s our job to retroactively inscribe with pathos and hidden meanings all those ‘perfectly innocent coincidences’, now that we know what we know… but were they ever coincidences? Maybe the bigger mistake was just to dismiss the evidence that was staring us in the face the whole time.

Given his penchant for plastic surgery, wacko Jacko’s ‘Man in the Mirror’ has taken on a particularly sinister aspect. Jacko, after declaring that he’d been the victim of/a selfish kinda love, sung something like the following: I'm Gonna Make A Change/ It's Gonna Feel Real Good!/ Come On!/(Change . . .)/ Just Lift Yourself/ You Know/ You've Got To Stop It./ Yourself!/(Yeah!-Make That Change!)/ I've Got To Make That Change,/ Today!/ Hoo!/ (Man In The Mirror)/ You Got To/ You Got To Not Let Yourself . . ./ Brother . . ./ Hoo!/ (Yeah!-Make That Change!). I always wonder if dictators mutter similar ditties to themselves when they comb their beards or wax their scalps of a morning. Unlike most, Castro seems perfectly comfortable to live out the last of his days in a parasilk tracksuit befitting a retired Broadmeadows smack dealer, but most dictators (past and present) seem to indicate that they too are looking at ‘the man in the mirror’ and saying ‘na na na, na na na, na na’ to their reflection. But is this just what gives them a stiffy?

Certainly, When John Howard looks in the mirror, he’s unlikely to see any resemblance to Jacko, or a dictator – but the funny thing is, he’s looking increasingly like a weird blend of Michael Jackson and Robert Mugabe. Howard is a man who spent the past decade betting on white (and hating on black) after seeing the solid gold opportunities issuing from the mouth of that rural, redneck, racist redhead – the one who actually unapologetically expressed the deeply felt anxieties of Australian white trash – and he’s been cashing in her (fish and) chips ever since. The strategy is simple: you just take the most vulnerable groups in society (refugees, aboriginals, homosexuals, the poor), then you set them up as thee threat to the majority. You then say that this majority (who you represent), have been ‘silent too long’ and that you’re sick of being the ‘held hostage by your own decency’. Then you victimise the ‘threat’ (while saying that you, the victimizer, are the real victim, even to the point of saying that your victimization is something ‘they made you do’). Once you’ve softened the threat up in this way, you defund and eliminate them. And when they fail, you blame them for their failure and say to your supporters, ‘See, I told you so’ while stressing your unwavering concern and benevolence for them. You tried to help, but they wouldn’t listen.

But the tried-and-true recipe doesn’t seem to be attracting the punters, not when ‘the other guy’ does a better impersonation of you than even you’re capable of, these days. So what’s an aging leader to do? Mugabe-like, you clutch and grasp – anything but lose the thing, the power. Anyone who’s ever known junkies or watched Rocky and Bullwinkle will know how the riddle runs. ‘I’ve changed’, ‘this time it’s different’, 'This time for sure', ‘I really mean it’, ‘I know I’ve stuffed you round, but you gotta trust me’. ‘Just one more time… I love you, you’re the only one I can trust, etc’. This is also part of the abuse, you see (if you’re reading this and hearing your lover’s words, heed mine and leave).

It’s a fine performance (back to Howard…errr… Jacko): “See The Kids In The Street/ With Not Enough To Eat/ Who Am I, To Be Blind?/ Pretending Not To See/ Their Needs/ A Summer's Disregard/ A Broken Bottle Top/ And A One Man's Soul/ They Follow Each Other On/ The Wind Ya' Know/ 'Cause They Got Nowhere/ To Go/ That's Why I Want You To/Know/ I'm Starting With The Man In/ The Mirror/ I'm Asking Him To Change/ His Ways/ And No Message Could Have/ Been Any Clearer/ If You Wanna Make The World/ A Better Place/ (If You Wanna Make The/ World A Better Place)/ Take A Look At Yourself, And/ Then Make A Change/ (Take A Look At Yourself, And/ Then Make A Change)/ (Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na,/Na Nah)”

Honest John even seems to have difficulty believing what he’s seeing in the mirror as he sings for salvation… but maybe that’s because the real money shot is hidden. He said (about reconciliation), “Some will no doubt want to portray my remarks tonight as a form of Damascus Road conversion.” About two thousand years ago on Damascus Road, Saul – who was formerly the cruellest and most brutal persecutor of the Christians – thought better of it, and became Paul, Christ's most zealous supporter. Around eleven years ago, little Johnny became a bit Pauline himself, taking the ruder parts of Hanson's imagination of the ideal body politic and secreting them about his person. Howard’s real ‘dirty little secret’ was that one day in 1996, while appearing to publicly smack up the Ipswitch bitch, Howard was secretly changing’ his pitch up by snow-dropping her flag-themed undies and putting them on underneath the grey suit. Shhhhh…. Never mind Elle Macpherson intimates, singlets and thongs are our national dress in a way far more intimate and unnatural than you previously imagined. The swing to the right began with the little dangle that John packed tightly into the sexy, snug satin of Pauline’s dirty laundry, and these are garments he’s never stopped wearing, simply because, as rude and dirty as they are, no matter how much you try to smear them, they’re impossible to spot.

Monday, October 08, 2007

From being like a virgin... to learning how to like aversion

Now you’re all grown up, you know the brownness of avocadoes can’t hurt you – but don’t you still cut those ‘bad’ bits out? Bruised bananas taste perfectly fine, but how often have you removed the bad bits or even thrown away the whole bent banger, simply because of the way it looked? Aversion, the power of yuk, is the second technique a baby learns to use in order to manipulate the world around it. The first one happens when the baby realises, ‘If I cry long enough, they come back.’ Shortly after that, it realises that you cry, they come, they give you ‘what you want’, then all you you have to do is reject what they’re trying to feed you, and voila, you’re the boss. You’ve learned that ‘no’ beats ‘yes’ every time, and now you can rule dinner. They don’t call it a high chair for nothing.

The power of yuk survives into adulthood – essentially, ‘picky eaters’ are just trying to regain or retain some influence over an out of control world in which makes them anxious, using one of the first techniques they ever learned. The second oldest trick in the book. A technique that has served them for many years just like they like it, with all the pickles picked out.

That’s one interpretation.

The other one is more direct: the shit really does taste awful. Beer, liquor, cigarettes… all the ‘adult pleasures’ taste disgusting to most kids. I remember male friends of mine ‘forcing’ themselves to drink beer until they liked it, simply because they’d realised early on in the piece that both their social life and their masculinity depended on it. Bottoms up, Aussie blokes.

So what is it? Martinis, caviar, oysters, truffles, cigars and cocaine are all supposed to be signs of class, the very stuff of that distinguishes the finery of high living monied adult sophistication from the ‘greasy kids stuff’ of chicken, chips, sauce, lollies, chicken noodles and icecream. To kids, they all taste yucky. Does this prove that kids have ‘immature taste’, or that adults have ‘bad taste’?

It’s worth thinking about in terms of what we know of the cruel honesty of children. If a kid calls you fatty, it hurts the most because you know that, from the child’s perspective, it’s true. That’s what makes them such great bullies, and why their meanness hurts so much – they really mean it. They’re not capable of those other hallmarks of adult behaviour – hypocrisy and disavowal – they call it like they see it. ‘Colonel Blimp’ is not the respected CEO of a Liquor Empire, he’s just a big fatty boomba getting even more enormous by eating slimy food and smoking gross cigars.

I think back to my sister and cousins, dancing around the living room to Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, blithely mouthing lyrics they would not grasp the adult meaning of for another ten years or so. Lucky them. But maybe what Madonna was really treating us to was not a description of a petal-browning deflowering so much as a subliminal lesson. Maybe what she was really singing was not, ‘Like a virgin’ so much as ‘Like aversion’, a hidden version contained within the virgin version…

The song would make a whole different kind of sense, one that I think carries a truth – most of the things that adults do are really, really yucky. Maybe this is what Madonna was really saying when she explained how she’d ‘made it through the wilderness’ – after a lot of practice, she’d come out the other end enjoying the very things that caused her so much disgust and distress as young’un. Or maybe this is why thugged out, blinged up rappers are so keen to show themselves enjoying a number of disgusting pleasures at once: Cristal, XO, LV, Escalade, bling – their mastery is a matter of juggling eight yuks at once with the practiced ease of an old pro. Look mum, no hands, ice grill – say cheese.

So listen here, kiddo, this is the world you’ve been offered: you can either show your aversion and reject it with an ‘I don’t want to, it tastes yucky’ attitude and ostracise yourself for having ‘kiddy tastebuds’. You get to keep your icecream, but you’ll never make it in this industry, baby. If you wanna do that, you’re going to have to learn to do what all the successfully adult men and women have learned to, and actually enjoy eating, drinking and doing the most disgusting things. Bottoms up, chin chin – say 'yum, blue cheese'. Learning to enjoy what formerly repulsed you – that’s what it really means to become a (wo)man, kids.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Busted Flush (how [not] to polish a turd)

We’ve all caught ourselves doing it at some point, always much, much too late. You think you’re on a winning wicket. You’re the wiggling, jiggling, singing, whistling, version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character on the prow of the Titanic. You’re barking ‘I’m the king of the world’ at the sky. At the time you were thinking: ‘I’m the shit. This is the shit.’ Now, you look back and think: ‘I was (full of) shit.’ The busted flush, ladies and gentlemen. ‘You can’t polish a turd’, as the saying goes. But the thing is, you wouldn’t if you knew you were doing it. This is the living tragedy of the turd polisher – you buff and you wax and you think, ‘Gee, this is pretty good. I’m pretty good. She’s pretty nice. These people are all friendly, talented, and not at all manipulative, talentless and evil.’ Nobody knowingly polishes a turd. And this is exactly why there’s so much turd polishing going on, and why the whole sticky, stinky process involves people so much. For so many people, a what might seem to you or I like a sticky date with the less than magic pudding could be a dream date with destiny, fame and fortune.

Every week, Australian Idol brings into our homes condensed samples of what a ‘polished performance’ looks like, performances that could be either pungent or poignant, depending on where you are in the polishing process. Australian Idol is all about offering the world the most ‘polished performance’ possible. But of what? Think of any of your favourite singers, the ones who have something truly great about them. Or any that have personality. Or that are just odd. Kate Bush, Björk, Joanna Newsom, Cat Power – all famous for their weird and wonderful voices. And none of them would make it past the casting. And they can sing at least – what about Bob Dylan or Lou Reed? Idol is practically a turd polishing machine, a guaranteed, patented process that week by week, in countries all over the world, whittles its specimens down to a finished product that is both incredibly polished and undeniably shit.

Celine Dion is the quintessence of this idea – her accumulated work is a veritable backlog of the unspeakably awful, all sung with enough polished perfection to shatter every crystal on board the Titanic. It’s actually hard to be that shit, if you’ve ever tried. Celine is so good at being so bad that her lung busting chords would stretch even the most adept karaoke buff, leaving them virtually prolapsed, gasping and spluttering for air and octaves as their rendition of ‘the one about ship going down’ sinks into the mire. Dion’s most famous work is associated with Titanic, and this is no coincidence – especially given that Dion would not only easily win Australian Idol, but that she is in every way the exemplary specimen, the very thing they’re all looking to emulate and exceed. As far as Idol is concerned, she’s the shit.

The successful Idol contestants, like Dion, will be doomed to a lifetime of sitting in their mansions polishing their trophies, those gold-plated reminders of their prize nuggets whose gleaming, steaming presence makes them wonder how on earth people listen to wretched shit sung by people who can’t. Probably they’re so rich they can employ someone to polish their awards for them, allowing them to focus on the release of their new fragrance, which their fans will (of course), buy and spray all over themselves, hoping that a little of that magic will rub off on them. And no doubt a bit of it will. Ah, the sweet smell of success.

(M by Mariah Carey)

Friday, September 28, 2007

All Hat and No Pants (pitbull on the pantleg)

When we say something is ‘all hat and no pants’ this is usually not a compliment. It’s a judgment about something that looks as it should but limps where the lacking counts. Pants themselves may be signs of an effort to achieve the pleasure of satisfaction, but ‘pants’ is the bottom of the barrel, as the phrase ‘a complete load of pants’ shows. But even as we dismiss pants, we remain obsessed with them – we have become panthounds, always always sniffing after a bit of leg. Dogs need four, but humans are doubly depraved: a mere pair of legs is enough to keep us erect and on the hunt.

What our contemporary trouser fixation also shows is our worship at the church of latter day confusion. Like a leg-humping Cocker, we are panting up the wrong leg. And while we remain fixated on the pants at hand, we’ve inevitably forgotten what’s going on upstairs. We’ve become all pants, and no hat – a society that has forgotten its hat for so long it is now no longer able to wear it. The very sight of a real hat among the young would cause an outbreak of fear and loathing: even if kids these days knew what one was, they wouldn’t know where to put it. You can imagine the headlines on the day of his promised return:

Headline: ‘The Cat in the Hat has Come Back!’ (or maybe just ‘Cat in Hat: Back’)

Kids (these days): The Cat in the… Hat? What’s hat?

Imagine the contemporary confusion of ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’. In our disenchanted, hatless world, who knows what he would have mistaken her for – this season, it would probably be leggings, or those godawful spray-on jeans. ‘The K’d up Coolsie Who Mistook the Girlfriend he had Mistaken for a Hat for Leggings and Adicolors’ – now that’s a mouthful – let’s thank the man upstairs we weren’t there to see that case of mistaken identity in the second-degree, whose sordid acting out would have to look something like George W’s ‘ten gallon twat’ message to the voters during his governorial campaign a decade or so in the state of Texass:

‘I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity’.

Oh, you poor, sad, pant-munching pitbulls. Whatever happened to you? Some say that it’s mans erection that distinguishes him among the apes, but the truth is that it’s hats that have, until recently, distinguished us among ourselves. And with the final piffing of the lids, we have doffed our caps for the last time to any kind of legitimate authority. We no longer know who we are, because we no longer know who ‘they’ are.

Once upon a time, real men wore hats, while men with authority wore really, really stupid hats. Silly hats were serious business. The bishop’s mitre, the judge’s wig, the palace guard’s bearskin, the king’s crown – the sillier the hat, the more serious the business. Back in the good old days, if you were brought before a panel of men, the ludicrousness of their headwear was a fairly accurate indication of how much trouble you were in. If you were ‘judged’ by nine old men wearing truly preposterous hats, you were doomed.

But with the removal of the silly hat from public life, the distinction they lent the wearer has likewise disappeared. These days, we resort to saying ‘(s)he wears the pants’. It’s something we admit with more resignation than reverence. Why obey the pantwearer? Out of love? No! Just because of your lowdown panty needs. If you want to get into someone’s pants, you’ve got to allow them to wear them first – hence. But maybe it’s not even for our benefit, so much as just indifference and boredom – because there’s nothing else to do, and no-one else to obey, simply due to the fact that there’s no-one left willing or able to wear silly hats anymore.

Maybe this is why people are increasingly drawn back to the extremes of religion and tradition. For your average ‘hatless wonder’, (who could never wear the silly hat; because the silly hat would end up wearing them) the sight of a bunch of men not only wearing dresses, capes and stupid hats but pulling it off with splendid calm evokes a remnant of that ancient awe our ancestors must have felt at the sight of two odd foot of be-jewelled bearskin on top of a bearded Pharisee. Maybe the commitment of Islamist terror groups to jihad is not based on the prospect of virgins in the afterlife at all, but a quiet reverence for the successful wearers of silly hats. For these are men who are not only willing to die for their cause, but are willing to do so while sporting (and supporting) silly hats, hats that actually suit them.

If this is true, then war the war on terror will never be won by the US until such time as its leaders realise: dying for the flag is nothing compared to dying for the hat. They don’t need a ‘strategy’, they need a really, really, really stupid hat. Until they know that, they will remain as they are: witless, hatless, dogged rutters despondently trying to find a leg to hump somewhere on the barren expanse Osama’s robe-covered pantleg.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sexy, sexy guineapigs (is it all over my Facebook?)

I saw a funny thing the other day. I was riding my bicycle down Swanston St, avoiding the Zombielike gaggles of international students who seem to have interpreted the new bike lane as ‘what you stumble onto’ when you’re sick of the boring old footpath. But this tram said something that nearly made me prang it without having one of the ‘full-fee undead’ stagger into my path. It was a piece of government propaganda, and it read:

‘Talking online can lead to stalking online’.

Now, I was someone who started fragging their friends when I was just fourteen, around about the same time as I was racking pornos from the local newsagent to sell at school for a profit: enough to buy fags. Remember fragging? You kill your friends, well, virtually. Over a modem. It’s a game – I think it was Duke Nukem. Or some early version of Quake that my 486 could just barely handle. It was hardly Warcrack, but it was all we had (along with the B&H Extra Mild from the porno proceeds) so we took it for what it was and loved it as we found it.

Flash forward a year or two though, and a more adult realisation hit me: if you can’t get laid doing it, what’s the point? I fragged and I fragged, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t getting me any(where). In fact, a lot of things are rendered absurd if you remove the whiff of coitus… try nightclubbing when you’re in a loving relationship and go there ‘for the music’ – idiot. Basically, the problem was precisely that fragging online didn’t lead to shagging offline – and so I hung up my joystick and headphones, picked up the cordless phone, and dialled her number.

In the years before Facebook, Myspace or even blogs, online networking was a thing of nerds being orcs in order to get pussy (and a lower armor class). Blogging online lead to flogging online, at best. Or new chainmail. And ‘orc pussy’, as everyone knows, all too often turns out to be nothing more than some nerd(’s) arsehole. Who knows, maybe that’s your thing. Beauty is The Eye of the Beholder?

A few years later, it’s precisely arsehole that becomes the plat du jour, with sites like offering the young and the breastless (as well as ladies who munch) the opportunity to hook up anonymous sex faster than you can get from shared postcode to postcoitus. Suddenly, chumming online lead directly to bumming offline, and the internet began to make sense for people who don’t paint miniatures when they’re not battling dragons or being bullied by the ‘all too real’ trolls of the playground.

Five years later, and Myspace offers playmates a’plenty – it is entirely possible conduct a diverse and interesting sex life through the internet. For many, it’s the first time that such a thing has been facilitated. Fact is that until the internet came ‘of age’, for the majority of people, it was actually really, really difficult to get laid. But now, there’s so many likeminded people online that every monster can find its equal. Depending on your perversion, talking online can lead to porking offline (bushpigs, mud-trolls, you name ‘em), just as thanking online can lead to spanking offline.

Facebook takes the fantasy one step further, bringing back into spunking distance all your old flames and half-cocked romances from yesteryear. It’s the ultimate ‘wait and see’ approach: you keep them up your sleeve, they keep writing on your wall, and who knows? All under the pretence of friends, you nurture new secret longings as formerly unavailable (s)ex partners suddenly (and simultaneously) add themselves to the deck of question marks and long shot money shots. If you’re in a standard relationship, your monogamy is (mostly, still) not-negotiable: there’s only one person you’re allowed to sleep with. If you’re single, there’s probably still not very many, and this is the depressing ‘reality’ of being a free agent: once you remove the socially unacceptable and those repulsed by the sight of you, you’re usually only left with a couple… that’s right, very the person you’re sleeping with, if you still are. But once this does become a depressing thought, provided you have Facebook, you just hit on everyone. Even if it’s a hundred to one shot, Facebook means you’re bound to hit it off with someone. The numbers fantasy trumps the ugliest reality. And from what I gather of the growing carnage and excitement mounting around me, this is something that people find more exciting than frightening. We are in the grips of a world-historic social experiment, with ourselves and all our (potentially) loved ones the sexy, sexy guinea pigs. Ooh, err.

In fact, the other side of the government’s ‘stranger danger’ campaign is that a lot of people want to be stalked, in a certain way. By the right person. Gently. Lovingly. To them, the worst thing, the truly unimaginable horror, is not that ‘somebody is watching’ , it’s that ‘nobody is watching’. If nobody is out to get you in 2007, then you’re either not online, you have a disease, or you’re one of those weirdest of perverts who gets off on being lonely. As I’m sure little Johnny himself will discover, once he becomes a private citizen with a computer and time on his hands, ‘Big Brother is watching you’ is not the forewarning of 1984, it’s the fantasy of 2007.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Square Mint, Round Hole

In the late eighties, Allen’s ran a campaign for Kool Mints. The ad was full of lipsticked mouths popping those fresh-tasting lollies. It was captivating. But then there was the tag line:

‘You can’t put a square mint in round hole.’

Now, to a seven year old who’d been a regular consumer of Minties for some years, this came as quite a shock. I was, in fact, just in the process of polishing off a lollybag I’d been given on leaving a friend’s birthday, and among the other sweet things (toxic bananas, snakes, milk bottles, and even a redskin) were several Minties. What could this mean? In what sense was it possible that I couldn’t put a square mint in my round hole? Was my taste for both Minties and Kool Mints somehow abominable? Would my ‘unnatural’ tastes somehow ruin my health? Was I still loveable? Would I mutate? Would I die?

It was a shock to thought, and for some reason it has never left me. I’ve been unpacking and re-packing the message of that ad ever since. A year or two later, I discovered that Kool Mints aren’t round, they’re spherical, and that Minties, when it’s not summer, are a kind of blobby bricklike pellet. So what were those copywriters trying to say? Not only had those delicious, minty shapes lost an entire dimension, but, according to them, it was somehow unnatural and wrong to enjoy what had always tasted perfectly delicious and caused me no obvious harm. Was it that you couldn’t do it? No. What the Kool Mints ad was really saying was not ‘You can’t put a square mint in a round hole’ but that, on some level, you really shouldn’t. Because… ‘we say it’s unnatural’.

Ten years after the initial impact of all this misinformation I was waiting at a tram-stop. It was one of those late January Melbourne scorchers, one so hot that even the most stubborn ‘round’ Kool Mint would not only stick to, but melt into, the nearest ‘square’ Mintie. A sticky lolly afternoon, if ever there was one. My shirt was half-soaked with sweat, and the clipboard in my hand was getting slippery in my clammy mits. To make matters worse, I was sharing space with two incredibly skanky English backpackers, each with a slippy clipboard of their own. They both stank of BO, booze, smeg and patchouli.

It was that bad: I had sunk as low as it’s possible for a gainfully employed person to go – I was selling long-distance telephone contracts, door-to-door. A friend of mine, and a good one at that, had just come back from backpacking around Australia, where desperation had led him to contemplate the horrible work I was now, for some stupid reason, involving myself in. Who knows why? I know why: we were young, we needed goon, and we had no money.

With no training, no authorisation and no experience, it was possible within the space of hours to be added to the horde of Dutch, Israeli, Irish and British backpackers doing their best to keep themselves in the manner to which their greasy locks and lice had become accustomed: at the bar (on dollar pots night) and in bunkbeds, tally-hos and rubber johnnies.

There we were: me and these two skanky Stellas. One of them looks at this muscle Mary at the tramstop on the other side of St Kilda road and says: ‘Look at them. It’s disgusting, innit.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
And she told me, in graphic Cockney (with more emphasis on the cock) what she thought of ‘them’, and what they apparently like to do to each to each other of a sticky summer evening.
I said: ‘Well, if they like doing that, then you’re probably not going to be involved, so what do you care?’
‘Well,’ she said, indignantly, ‘It’s not natural, innit?’
Suddenly, my brain was full of a cavalcade of mints, of all shapes and sizes, streaming like bullets out of my mouth in her direction accompanied a brainlooped quote from the Simpsons, screeching ‘Freshen yer drink, govna?’
I recovered, and asked her, ‘Don’t you use contraception? And smoke? And didn’t you fly here? On a plane?’ (I tactfully omitted what I knew her mate told me about her pole-dancing, and probably pole-smoking past – initially as an [enthusiastic] amateur, if her chum could be believed. For someone who’d sucked a such a lot of cock, she sure had a weird attitude to it)
‘Yeabut, that’s different, innit?’ She retorted, just as the tram pulled in. We spent the rest of the afternoon bothering people in their own homes, trying to get them to sign up (barely legally) to something they already had for a similar price. In ‘the industry’, it’s called a churn: and boy, it was enough to give you indigestion. Like a whole stomach full of something… unnatural.

Needless to say, the next day all the English backpackers wasted no time in expressing surprise: ‘I didn’t know you were gay, man – but that’s alright, I’m cool with that.’ This is what I heard, in variations, while we were handing in our completed ‘churns’ from yesterday and re-stocking our clipboards. ‘Neither did I…’ I replied, ‘But you learn new things all the time, working here, don’t you.’

So Stella was choked up with hate – and given what I knew about her past (assuming she wasn’t just another victim of the hostel rumour mill), we can say that it’s probably a rebuke about those things she’s done (with men far less fit, gentle and attractive) in the dark corners of her Saturdays past. But why say it’s unnatural?

It’s simple: natural claims are legitimate claims. So ‘unnatural acts’ are illegitimate. Natural activities are reasonable activities. Unnatural pastimes are unreasonable pastimes… you get the picture? For the record: human behaviour is conventional. It doesn’t matter if Onelove is on Friday or Saturday, as long as all the munters know when and where to queue and pop. Or as a Pakistani Muslim taxi driver told me the other night (and I think he was quoting this from somewhere else): ‘You Aussies have beer. We have beards.’ Fine, but conventions are fragile to begin with at least. They need something to lock them in, to make them difficult to disagree with. They need to be naturalised. In becoming ‘natural’, they become part of the order of the universe – and so they become sturdy, and hard to disagree with… Never forget, the way it is is the way it is because that’s the way it is, because that’s naturally the way it is. And if people think otherwise? Well then, make laws and arm a group of people to enforce them, and beat or lock up anyone who disagrees. (Oh, and make sure you remove your identification, so they don’t get you on camera doing it).

So this is what I want you to do. I want you to go out and buy a packet of both Minties and Kool Mints… I want to you get one of each, and I want you to put both of them in your mouth, and suck on them. Suck on them, enjoy the delicious flavour, and think about every dingbat who’s ever stared at your tits; sneered at the people you love; or tried to convince you that the way they hate is somehow part of the cosmos. Eat both whole packets all together at once, and then go and find the person who said those things, and do what comes naturally after ingesting so much ‘unnatural’ material: vomit all over them.

The Author

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PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.