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.
in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked
- ► 2008 (29)
- ▼ September (4)