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.

The Author

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