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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I want it that way (guilty pleasures)

When people talk about the musicians that influenced them, they’re mostly talking utter nonsense. It’s not to say that they’re lying – those musicians probably did influence them. But in most cases the names we cite pale in comparison to those others we keep hidden away, the guilty pleasures we all disavow and hide.

By the late 80s plenty of kids at my school had been hooked onto ‘rap music’, mostly through cassettes of NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC and Tone Loc, borrowed off older siblings. In my case, it was the last of these artists that had the most profound impact, and I still rate Loc’d After Dark as one of the finest hip-hop albums ever made. I mean it: if you’re ever at a flea market and you see an old copy on sale, buy it on sight. It’ll be the only three dollars you’ll spend this year that might change your life.

Tone Loc was fine and good, and has aged well. He certainly didn’t have anything like the street cred of NWA or PE, but it was okay to admit you liked him, for sure. Thing was though, I first heard Loc on the television, when Funky Cold Medina was in the top ten. And – as it was in those days – Loc would appear alongside all kinds of other artists, some unpardonably, unmentionably bad. Being a kid, I listened to them all, with an openness that’s almost impossible for me now. My favourite thing to do was to dub Top 40 Australia off the radio. I’d like to tell you how I always made edits from these tapes, but the fact was that most of the time I would just listen to the whole countdown – 40 to 1 ad nauseum.

But a hush fell on my childhood mixtape adventures with the advent of high school, a time when the music you listened to became the intimate marker of who you were, what you stood for, and what that was worth. Metallica might still have been considered cool (to the metal kids), but what about NPG-era Prince, Betty Boo, Vanilla Ice, Roxette, Ace of Base, Enigma, and Partners in Kryme (remember ‘Turtle Power’)? A blanket of shamed silence fell on all for the next six years. But I was humming the tunes under my breath the whole time.

It’s when you do karaoke that you see how most people have lived with their very own repressed top forty: given enough booze full-grown adults – who normally want to avow their sophisticated taste in obscure genres – will be clamouring for the mic when George Michael’s ‘Faith’ comes on. But it doesn’t mean that all repression has ceased, no siree. Recently, I uploaded a friend’s copy of David Bowie’s Lodgers onto my mp3 player. The first few tracks played as normal. Then there came an unexpected piano intro, followed by high mid-90s production values… and the opening lyrics, spoken in a saccharine male voice: ‘You are/my fire/the one/desire....’ I double-checked the screen on my mp3 player, which read: David Bowie, Lodger, ‘Red Sails’. But it was none of these things. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

You thought Ministry of Style sucked? Meet the Drainpipe Vampires

(NB: apologies for the relative blog silence of late. Been very busy. A whole backlog of posts will follow over the next month, so stay tuned and check back regularly...)

Walking down Brunswick St after an early morning errand, I was struck with fresh force by how much the streetscape has changed in the past fifteen years. But one thing remains stubbornly unbudged: Ministry of Style.

‘Who the fuck is a raver these days?’ I wondered to myself.

Just as it’s possible that ‘Magic Happens’, I’m willing to concede that there are still ravers around, even that there’s still the odd rave happening – but are there still enough people to justify the existence of a shop that proclaims that the past ten years never happened?

I got home and switched on the TV to catch the last few minutes of Rage. Oh my God, it’s Guru Josh! The sax, the synth, the strobe lights – but more than anything else, people dancing their arses off. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘the early 90s: a time when people thought they could change the world just by dancing…’

Moments later, JTV started and I switched off and logged in to my email before ‘the Doctor’ had a chance to insult my intelligence. My sister had sent me some youtube clip with footage of southern American Gospel congregations going absolutely crazy ape-bonkers to Jesus, which in turn had been wedded to a soundtrack of maniacal drum’n’bass. Back in the 90s, you didn’t have to do a cut’n’paste job to achieve the same effect. You just let the track play. I’d been to raves where people dressed head-to-toe like unrepentant fraggles would dance for hours on end to music they didn’t recognise, pausing only to reapply Blistex, water and ecstasy. There was a time where whole rooms full of people used to abandon themselves to dancing – precisely the same people who shopped at Ministry of Sound for their wardrobe.

My next email was from 3000, that wannabe digest that lands, drainpipes-first, in my inbox every fortnight, full of all the latest ‘cool/fool’ info and desirable objects I’m not sure I could ever be coolsie enough to want. But this, of course, is part of being cool: you must never, under any circumstances, appear to want, do, or be anything with all your heart. That’s why there’s so much suffering involved in trying to be cool – you have to try incredibly hard, but you have to do so without being seen to try at all. This also means you can never abandon yourself to anything, least of all a dancefloor full of strangers in swishy fur pants and a track you’ve never heard of, without a chorus or a record deal on Domino. No, you must keep your cool distance at all costs. Make sure that your glossy surface is ironised flat, and that your edge stays pressed.

The 90s were optimistic for all the wrong reasons: they were dreadfully naïve, and the clothes were appalling. But there was also enthusiasm. In the slow move from Wednesdays at Filter, Thursdays at Teriyaki, and Fridays at Centriphugal to a week of Thursdays spent preening and aching at niche bar/gallery openings, Melbourne also forgot how to dance. Ravers were shallow, but coolsies are two-dimensional: they have to be, to get into their pants. And once they’re in them, they can barely move. Drainpipes are vampire trousers, and they’ve drained the hot blood of enthusiasm out of the city’s night. It’s almost enough to send you back to Ministry of Style.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Over is as over dose (you know what I'm talkin' about)

I overdosed just the other day. I’d administered a big whack not ten minutes before, cooked up in the usual way: filtered, mixed, then ingested through glass. Five minutes later I was out the door, on my bicycle, feeling the surging rush and the way it made the sunshine sharper, made everything click into keen focus. But only five minutes later the dose had started to turn, and by the time I reached my destination – a few minutes after this grim realisation – I was so shaky I could barely pass the u-lock through the spokes of my front wheel. The feeling was a familiar horror: socks soaked with a cold sweat that also covered my brow; jaws clenching repeatedly over the big wad of chewing gum in my mouth; hands and eyelids all a-twitter; a big, balling headache behind the brow; and last of all, a temper at twig-snap tension. Should anyone so much as snicker at me the wrong way, they would know the deep, sudden, scarlet flail of my wrath.

I gave myself five minutes on the lawn to calm down, letting ebbing washes of tense rage run their course, waiting until the uncontrolled urge to stab sockets and bite sinews subsided, to be replaced with a much more controllable queasiness and a dull thumping headache. I sat there, silently bemoaning the clam of my socks, and I thought: gosh, coffee is such a horrible drug sometimes. For a good few minutes there, I was so engorged with shaky anger that I could easily have lost it with anyone who so much as sneezed a marmoset-size sneeze in my direction. I really, really ought to cut down.

Two generations ago, Australians were mostly tea drinkers by day, beer swillers by night. Then, in the 70s, boomers began to swap swill for an AM plunger and some PM vino. Nowadays? Nowadays people are drinking caffeinated drinks day and night: a heart-starting coffee or three for breakfast, another at eleven, a coke with lunch, another coffee at three-thirty… then energy drinks with booze until vomit or complete neural collapse covers your evening in stench and darkness. But maybe not before you’ve punched, glassed, kicked or otherwise pulverised someone around you. Or at the very least raised the ambient aggro levels to just below boiling point.

It’s easy to see why crystal meth and binge drinking get the spotlight – the effects on sufferers are pronounced and profound. But at the same time, with all the talk of epidemics tearing at the social fabric, very little thought is given to the one drug that almost everyone is on, almost all the time. And it’s not only that everyone is on it, it’s also that they’re on it in ever bigger doses, in combination with massive whacks of sugar and alcohol. Hence the aggro. Not out-and-out anger, but just moments and people – on trains, in traffic, at the bar – right on the edge, and a city whose whole demeanour is a big fuzzball of undirected rage. If you can see the china quivering on the mantelpiece, it’s because there’s a very, very nervy elephant in the room. And its name is caffeine.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Click Clique Clan

The usual malarkey: go to a house party with some friends, finish the six packs we’d brought, steal someone else’s beers, get stuck into the host’s whiskey, then (finally, triumphantly) muscle in on the stereo, hip-house brimming iPods in hand. A crushing discovery on this tip: Gen Y appear not to understand the KLF. At all. Parliament, Prince and MJ still in floor-working order though….

A wee boogie, then it's a short stumble to 3am carnage, with nothing for company other than a bathtub full of soggy cardboard and meltwater, huge tables full of half-consumed bevvies and a floor festooned with that sticky black muck that I’ve been told is the residue of an evening’s hopes and dreams.

The normal unfolding of the night, but nonetheless a weird party because of the vibe generated by the gaggles of partygoers, all of whom formed clumps and thieved booze from each other, while not appearing to want to talk to each other, not for much more than a bummed fag. Some mixes just don’t mesh, and this one was a mash.

You think you go to a party to meet people, but who exactly? The very next day, my friend summed it up. ‘Do you remember that girl that X introduced us to? The one with the flesh-toned wedge heels, the jaunty baseball cap and the mouth stuffed full of teeth?’ I said I did – how could I forget? Then he said: ‘She was nice, but… no sooner had she spoken about three sentences, I just knew we could never, ever, ever be friends… and I knew she felt exactly the same way about me.’

Discriminating is inevitable and necessary, even though it is inevitably and necessarily incorrect. Most doctors have your diagnosis sussed to within three possibilities in as many minutes. In a lot of cases, what you actually say about your condition doesn’t matter that much. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all. Why? The doc’s already got a hunch. After that, she’s just matching and fitting everything about you against it.

The party was not that different – take the hunch off the doctor and stick it on us and our fellow party-goers. Even before actually meeting other people, we’re already sussing the scene: clothes, sure, but also posture, height, complexion, voice – one girl even got ticked right off my friend’s list for nothing more than a piggy guffaw. Okay, so we subsequently found out it was more like a horrendous cackle that ended every upper-inflexed sentence, but hey…

People click, clique, and clump – and this clannishness is fine, provided the feeling is mutual. That’s what love is: stalking in which the feeling is mutual. And it’s nice to find the people you like, the people you’re like, and who (are) like you. But the other side of seeing eye to eye and finding like and love is how wrong we are about our assessments of each other. But this takes time to realise, which is why you mostly only hear people exclaim ‘We were totally wrong for each other’ at the end of a relationship. Could have been that Ms Tooth Mouth (or maybe even Ms Ugly Guffaw) was the right one for you, but you ticked her box off your list, stole her beer, and then totally and finally alienated her by singing along to ‘3 a.m. Eternal’.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tattoo… you?

I’m part of that growing minority of people who have no tattoos whatsoever. Partly this is because I am covered in a fine coat of the most majestic fur and have no need of such common things. Partly it’s a lack of imagination. When some people are wasted, they go to the brothel. Others go to tattoo parlours. I just keep getting wasted, a one-trick pony with a one-track mind.

I nearly got one once, though. I’d been drinking at the Newport Arms with some primary school friends (by which I mean people I went to primary school with, not a clutch of pissed nippers in uniform). I was with Murray, my friend from the country, who’s the hardest bastard I know. He wears blue singlets, shoots roos, shears sheep, and drives a Falcon XR8… with throw cushions in the back seat. Okay, so he’s a man of contradictions.

Now, Murray likes a good tattoo – or he ought to, ‘cos he’s got a few. At any rate, once we’d had a few too many drinks, Murray said, ‘Ga’an, let’s go to the Cross and get some ink.’

On the forty-five minute drive, I had time to get a little sober and reflective: what would I get? What was it that was really, really meaningful to me? Even as we got out of the cab, I was still drawing blankety blanks, yet there I was in the tattoo parlour. Murray knew straight away what he wanted: some drops of blood for the barbed wire on his right arm, and a bit of green shading for the snake crawling through the skull on the left.

Meanwhile, I was frantically scanning the stencils on the wall for one, just one, which was even vaguely approximating what I wanted. But, like most pissed eighteen-year-olds, my mind was totally blank. After half an hour, the bikie with the tattoo gun just said to me, ‘None for you tonight mate. You don’t know what you want, so I’m not doing one for you.’

Ten years on, and that’s still the closest I’ve come to ‘getting some ink’. Mine is not the pride of the person who survives a fad without succumbing. Rather, it’s a sense of relief. It’s so easy to get a tattoo, but so hard to get a good tattoo. Most people have bad tattoos. A lot of people have the wrong tattoo. Nearly everyone has a dated tattoo. The only good ones, in my book, are the big fuck-off tattoos, and that’s simply ‘cos of my admiration for someone willing to really go the whole hog.

Maybe one of the reasons why we want to get tattoos is because we’re looking for some permanency in a world where everything is a short-term contract, formed on an ad-hoc basis and subject to change. But even so, think about your favourite t-shirt. Then imagine wearing it every day for a year. Would you be sick of it? Now imagine wearing it every day for the rest of your life… in fact, is there anything of yours that’s ten years old that you’re still into? What we really need are modular tattoos – something that, like Ikea furniture, can modulate and keep pace with your ever-changing lifestyle. Murray, if you can hear me, I need help.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Squeeze and Release

I recently started attending BodyPump class, after being made curious by my lady’s repeated entreaties. ‘Pump?’ I wondered. ‘It involves weights… how bad could it be?’ It turns out that BodyPump (Pump) was expressly designed to get boys afraid of emasculating choreography into the aerobics room. But still, for many a young man intent on making claims on ‘Australian masculinity’, going into any aerobics room still places your lad in peril. Thus I initially twinkled into Pump with tip-toe trepidation – fifty minutes later, I was converted, nay, re-assigned. A doubt-filled novice had been changed into an enthused initiate, and a week later, I had already begun proselytising, trying to get my out-of-shape male friends into the operating room. It wasn’t necessarily Pump that I liked. What I liked, and – judging from the noises they make – what the instructors like, is the squeeze… and the release.

Pump is a great way to give you fantastic contractions. Life, as we know, begins with the painful contractions that herald birth, and continues spasm by spasm until the final relaxation. In fact, from a certain point of view, all life (and definitely all [re]production) is a matter of contraction, regardless of whether you’re talking about being an organism or having an orgasm. As Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Pumping Iron:

‘The greatest feeling you can get in a gym… is the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling, like your skin is going to explode any minute. It’s really tight, it’s like somebody blowing air into it, it just blows up and it feels different. It’s as satisfying to me as coming is, as having sex with a woman and coming. Can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am getting the feeling of coming in the gym, and the feeling of coming at home, the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up – I am coming day and night. It’s terrific. I am in heaven.’

But you can have too much of a good constriction. Pump too much, too hard, too long, and you’ll be Arnie with Aneurysm. Squeezing is only the half of it. There’s also release. You could say that Arnie’s approach is unbalanced – hence the absence of neck. Or, as an enthusiastic onanist once said: ‘Don’t choke it… stroke it.’ As with Onan, (and unlike Conan), with Pump you slowly build the pressure up until it becomes unbearable. Almost unbearable… then you release it. It’s this magical combination of squeeze AND release that’s the pleasurably painful secret of Pump’s success.

It’s not rocket science, just the imitation of all of life’s essential processes, each of which is involved in this rhythmic squeeze and release. This is not restricted (or constricted) to ‘the pump’, BodyPump, or even the aerobics room. You can get it striving, you can get it driving, in fact, it doesn’t matter whether it’s chewing, gurning, breathing, skipping, cycling, swimming, dancing, hugging, pissing, wanking, drumming, scratching, poking, sucking, blowing, farting, or whistling. Life is constantly caught in the painful, pleasurable ebb and flow of squeeze and release, contraction, expansion, tightening, relaxing, holding in and letting out. Until the final relaxation, life is both expenditure and reserve, squeeze and release. And it feels good.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Inner Monk, Stinking Drunk

Like many of the people around me, I struggle with the tension between my inner monk and my stinking drunk. The notion that your body is a battleground is equally true for suicide bombers as it is for crash dieters, though admittedly they struggle through very different abuse curves. But for me, like a lot of friends my age, it’s not a belly full of chocolate or a waist wrapped in explosives that’s the worry – it’s the demon drink.

I’ve done all sorts of stupid things. I once pissed in my girlfriend’s shoe. Or so I was told, because I have no memory of this. I thought I’d made it to the toilet. Apparently, she awoke –horrified, naturally – to find me quietly micturating in the corner of the room. She screamed at me to stop, to which I replied, ‘You’re mean.’ Oh the horror, oh the shame. Another friend of mine was recently discovered by his girlfriend passed out asleep on the toilet (snoring), pants around ankles. Later, as a way of saying thank you for being undressed and put to bed by her, my friend… vomited in their bed. Yet another friend of mine used to regularly complain of waking on post-bender Sunday afternoons with sore knees and incredibly dirty fingernails. ‘The only thing I can conclude from this,’ he told me, ‘is that I crawl home from the pub, and don’t remember.’

I struggle with binge drinking like a lot of people; I’m not as good with it as I’d like to be, but I’m better than I was a few years ago. Most of the time, being broke, busy and needing to be on-the-ball is enough to keep me out of trouble. Occasionally, there are lapses. Sometimes, once a year, there are catastrophes. But it’s getting better – these days, my girlfriend’s shoes get to stay piss-free. Man, I’ve been so good, I deserve a reward… cheers! But the other night, I met a man drunk enough to keep me out of the gutter for… a good couple of months, at least. The other night, I met Barry.

I was drinking in one of those inner-north pubs in which the question of ‘a quiet few’ or even the possibility of ordering a shandy or light beer is rendered absurd by the atmosphere of studied, practised and (for the most part) incredibly skilled and deliberate heavy drinking. Let’s call it the Mayflower. The Mayflower is the kind of place where drinkers go to drink: the kind of people who’ve ruined their livers, their love lives and their pension plans in pursuit of the deep, abiding, reliable comfort of Australia’s most trusted pain reliever. I like the Mayflower: the beer is cheap and fresh, the place is full of ‘characters’, and provided you don’t piss in anyone’s shoe, nobody minds if you’re drunk.

But Barry was something else: a medium-built man blown balloon-wise by diabetes and booze. He walked up, tapped me on the shoulder, introduced himself, then started talking at me. I could tell straight away that this guy was tanked, soaked: the kind of deep, whole-body drunkenness that only a five-decade alcoholic can endure (and still keep drinking). He started at me, and straight away you knew that the guy was pretty much on autopilot, but what little there was left that was conscious and volitional veered dangerously between self-pity, aggression, self-congratulation and maudlin teary nostalgia interspersed with spasms of self-hatred. Barry was the pretty much the walking, talking, reeling id of White Australia – and it ain’t pretty. So anyway, Barry asked me for a sip of my lady’s water bottle. I poured him a beer from the jug and said, ‘Just have a beer, Barry.’
‘Nah, ga’an, give us a sip of yer water.’
‘I’m sorry, Barry, but it’s not mine to give.’
And his whole face turns. He rounds on me.
‘Yer all the same, you know. You fuckin’ Arabs.’
‘Excuse me?!’
‘Where ya from?’
‘Don’t gimme that shit. You’re all the same, you foreign cunts.’

I somehow kept my cool, saying things like, ‘Barry, that’s quite strong. You don’t actually know me.’ Sure enough, two minutes later, Barry was profusely apologising, even begging to buy me a beer. I just said that I’d prefer if he left me alone… and of course, he got aggressive again. So when he went to the toilet, we moved to the other end of the room. For a while, it seemed as if he’d totally forgotten about it: me, the water bottle, and the insults. But then he tried it on again, with me, then with several others there. He was awful, despicable, pathetic – then when the bartender politely asked him to leave, he turned on her, growling,

‘Yeerrrrr a DOG. A DOG! A FUCKIN’ DOG!’

After twenty more minutes he got the message, but only after the regulars in the bar turned on him, yelling, ‘Go home Barry, get the fuck out!’ I caught flashes of myself at my worst, and although I’d never shown drunken abuse to anything more sentient than a souvlaki (at least as far as I remember), I thought, good God, this is where it ends up. Three more decades of bingeing, and that’s where I’ll be. It was a sobering thought, a frightening thought. Enough to drive you to drink. So that’s what I did. As soon as Gary left, I picked up the twenty dollar bill he’d foisted on me (during one of his apologetic moments) and I bought my companions a jug. And it was delicious.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wild With Style

One of the interesting things about living in a big apartment block like mine is getting to watch people come and go; on the days new tenants move in and out, you get boxfuls of inkling about how a whole room is taking shape couch by table, poster by painting. Taste is a funny thing – I know that mine’s better than yours and I believe it sincerely, but don’t we all? And, of course, I only think so because of all of the prejudices I’ve been brought up with about what’s cool, what’s funny, what’s thoroughly un- (mentionable, wearable, thinkable) among the company I keep.

A couple of years ago, I got to know this guy called Adam. Adam had fled the kibbutz he’d grown up on in order to move to Berlin, become a cabaret drag performer, and be fabulous. And he was: imagine Bjork in a ball gown with a neatly trimmed beard and you’re some way there. He had long nails, a dangly earring, and a high titter. Adam was working in the hostel we were staying in, doing a half-arsed job of cleaning up the joint, eyeing off the cutest of the guests, and doing just enough work to not get fired. Then one day, he was gone. But before he left, he told me some stories. One thing stands out above all. We were talking about dance music, and, inevitably, the subject of Israelis and psytrance came up. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but all that fluoro, all those pictures of aliens and mushrooms, all those kids with dreadlocks and bell bottoms off their face on acid on occupied land or stomping down some rainforest? Excuse me, but it’s just so, it’s just so bad taste.”

My lady’s good friend once had a flatmate called Kiara, and boy, did Kiara have bad taste. Kiara was into dolphins, patchouli and the colour purple (no, not the Whoopi Goldberg film). She was also into some pretty dodgy stuff, and one day, like Adam, Kiara was gone, leaving my lady’s friend with the rent, the room and her car. But what a room! Kiara’s room was a temple festooned with glittering trinkets of the kind you get at St Andrews market or in Byron Bay, or in the Fountain Gate approximation of same: dream catcher for the window, purple tie-dyed bedspread with woven plastic gold thread, and the pièce de resistance, an enormous picture of two airbrushed dolphins jumping a loopedy-loop over a silver moon above a black and silver sea.

Seeing Kiara’s room made me doubt everything – there was absolutely no levels of po-mo ironising at work: she wasn’t living in irony, she really meant it. Kiara really thought that a three-by-two-metre canvas of airbrushed cetaceans was what tied the whole room together – the beautiful, crowning jewel in a space filled with smaller, bottle-nosed sea mammals. There they were: in soapstone on the mantelpiece; in stained glass by the window; in laquered plastic jewellery boxes by the dresser. I never checked, but I know from what I saw her wear that the jewellery boxes were likewise full of dolphin earrings, dolphin bangles, dolphin necklaces.

I hadn’t thought about Kiara for years, when just the other day I stepped outside my apartment to check the mail, and there it was by the bottom of the stairs: a removalist box with the unmistakeable snout of a plastic dolphin protruding from the flap. ‘Kiara?’ I wondered. But no, it wasn’t – it was my new neighbour. From day one (being the bottle-nosed snoop that I am), I noted all the things that were going into the house: first the hints from the mess of boxes, and then the window sill, which was quickly and liberally adorned with trinkety bits until it was chock full of plastic tack. My neighbour’s style (let’s call her Kirrily, written with love hearts over the each ‘i’) is different to Kiara’s: gone is the aggressive emphasis on all things purple and porpoise; muted are the most strident New Age overtones. In its place is something altogether cheaper, nastier and more suburban – it’s like Kirrily went past the New Age shop at Fountain Gate and made for the $2 shop two doors down. You know, the shops that sell finely painted statuettes of grinning pugs as well as shampoos that make your scalp burn. It looked like Kirrily had gone there and cleaned them out of everything she could possibly hang in the window: green plastic bead curtains; black, glossy flower pots and lairy plastic flowers… and, of course, the aforementioned dolphin.

Then, a day later the music started. First there was the Spice Girls. Then there was something that sounded like the Vengaboys covering funk metal; then there was the unwholesomely whippety Celine Dion… then there was something else… I don’t know quite how to describe it. Imagine Evanescence singing a duet with Wendy Matthews, then remixed by Tiesto – kind of Hi-NRG EmoMoR… it was truly monstrous, but, you know, it fitted perfectly with the trinkets… in fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realised –there was a highly developed aesthetic at work, and it was being applied judiciously, consistently and selectively. Just like Adam’s psytrancers and Kiara’s purple patchouli dolphin universe, Kirrily has bad taste. Terrible, appalling taste. Adam was right about the Israeli hippies and he was right about bad taste. But, you know what? In their own way, they’ve all found their universe. All of them have built themselves a world to live in, and however misguided it might seem to others, that also means they have style – in fact, I’d say they’re wild with style. And that’s more than I can say for most of us.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure

What’s best about a night out? Or no, I’ll ask a different question: where do the best nights end up? Well, I don’t know about you, but for me, the best nights are those that swerve toward somewhere completely unexpected. The ones you end up having cherished (if hazy) memories of years later are always those that hovered somewhere indeterminate (between the first rosy flush of drunkenness and the grumbled half-desire for last transport) before sidewinding back to hit you in a way that’s so absolutely daft and unforeseen that you still have to scratch your head and wonder. Nights like these are true adventures.

Some people go out for the routine of getting wasted; some go in the hope of getting laid. Some dickheads’ idea of a good night out is all about getting into a fight. But if you ask me, all the wasting, all the flirting, all the expenditure of time, money, and energy is all in vain if it doesn’t contain a possible adventure. In fact, I’m coming to the conclusion that the possibility of an adventure is really the only good reason to go out. The day that possibility shrivels up and dies, I hang up my mead horn.

But adventures are hard to have, simply because you can’t make them happen. They happen to you – it’s an ambush. You can’t very well book yourself in for an ambush in the same way you make a doctor’s appointment or a reservation at a restaurant. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of a good dining experience, where things get better the more they meet (or even exceed) your expectations. And probably, if you’re eating out (or going to the doctors) then a ‘real adventure’ is probably the last thing you’re booking for. True adventures can’t be reserved – they’re a risk, they’re unexpected. If you have your reservations, you won’t have your adventure. But at the same time, they only happen if you’re prepared for them. They can take you by surprise, but if whatever happens shocks and frightens you, you’re more likely to turn tail and head for home. You have to be up for it, even if you don’t know what ‘it’ is.

And even if you are open to ‘it’, some nights the stars are out of alignment. Sometimes it just ain’t flowing adventure’s way – swim against the current at your peril. In fact, having a talent for adventure is also about knowing how to quickly disentangle yourself before it’s late, you’re bored and your wallet’s empty, or (years later) before you’re an alco, an addict, or sad loser who can’t or won’t let go of fun, even when they’ve had so much that it’s no fun at all. For most of us, this is a work in progress – but at the same time, it wouldn’t be an adventure without the ever-present risk of boredom and strife, and a would-be adventurer has to be open to this.

But as a bulwark against baulking and a safe bet against the forces of pike, the prospects of adventures are also enhanced, and even ensured, by the company of other, likeminded adventurers. Everybody knows one – an adventurer is a rare species: the enemy of habit, inertia, boredom, regularity, and repetition-compulsion, the adventurer proposes, invokes, suggests, and even ensnares you with possibilities, even as they involve you in things which can quickly turn back into the very things they’re against – habit, inertia, boredom, regularity, and repetition-compulsion. Nonetheless, the likeminded adventurer remains the opponent of the kybosh, sworn foe of the naysay. The likeminded adventurer is the embodiment of ‘up for it’: (s)he comes shooting out of his or her comfort zone like a hell-bent homunculus spat high out of a cannon. To a would-be adventurer, this is a great and precious thing, and a welcome sight to behold.

More than anything, embarking on an adventure involves taking control of your own surrender, a gesture captured by the dangerous phrase ‘ah, fuck it, why not’. Say these words and straight away you expose yourself to a weird combination of knowing very well what you’re doing while simultaneously letting yourself run with the rapids, without really knowing whether there’s a lake or a waterfall waiting at the end. Yes indeed, it could turn bad, it might get hairy, it’ll probably cost you dearly – but if you’re worried about that, not only will you’ll never find out, you wouldn’t have enjoyed it if you had. But if you think you might, all you’ve got to do is find your fellow adventurer, then do two (contradictory) things simultaneously: seize the strong current of feeling, and (at the same time), totally give yourself over to it. That’s the beginning of all adventure. With folly close behind.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sexy kids?! (standing nakedly in Bill Henson’s creature workshop)

In life we experience all kinds of nakedness: the prosaic nakedness of the bathroom; the passionate nakedness of the bedroom; the shameful nakedness of exposure, ridicule or medical examination.

As with a lot of other things like eating, shitting, fucking, giving birth and dying, nakedness is something so fundamental that it goes without saying – it’s something that’s an inescapable part of being one of the naked apes we are. We can’t not be naked, just like we can’t stop needing (and wanting) to eat, shit, fuck and die – all we can do is try to cover up these underlying facts of life. Don’t we though? One of the weirdest things about our (already very weird) species is that we’re ashamed of most of these things, the very things that make us who we are. You can’t imagine a prudish chimpanzee, a snobbish dog or a bashful guinea pig – and yet, homo sapiens spends a huge amount of time, effort and money trying to cover up the bare facts of its existence.

But not only are people freaked out by their own bodies – a lot of them will do everything in their power to control, cover up or otherwise censure the nakedness of others. All this at the same time as most people expend the overwhelming amount of their energies either directly or indirectly trying to get naked with somebody. It’s the war we are: if homo sapiens has an instinct that’s stronger than the desire to cover up and force others to cover up (for shame, for shame), it’s the instinct to expose ourselves to ‘that special someone’ as well as see them and (everyone else) stripped bare. The only thing stronger than our discomfort with nakedness is… our desire for nakedness. In fact people will pay anything, build anything, risk anything (including the lives and minds of others) just for the opportunity to experience their preferred nakedness.

The weird ironies of all this are compounded by the fact that, even though some nakedness is so scandalous and overpowering that people can lose their job, their lives, their careers and their families over it, other kinds of nakedness are considered so normal that to even to mention it would mark out the finger-pointer as the weirdo. In the change-room of my gym, the majority of men seem not only happy but in fact incredibly eager to get aggressively naked, and will think nothing of towelling their ballbags (with one leg up on the bench) while carrying on a conversation with another mate (also starkers) about ‘fully blown hemis’, ‘eyeleted rims’ or the best way to ‘re-lube yer bearings’.

In some cultures, the sight of a human leg is considered so shocking that it warrants a beating or imprisonment, while, among certain other groups of Australian men, genitals are mentioned every second or third word, and it’s not uncommon for some men to even name each other as a ‘mad’ set of women’s genitals as a term of endearment.

But in Australia (as in almost every other part of the world), the one thing that we must never do is make any connection between the nakedness of children and the sexual desire of adults. Nude kids aren’t sexy, dude. And if they are to you… well, you’re in trouble… especially if you’re involved in anyway with depicting naked children in a way that’s deliberately sexual. This is called ‘child pornography’ – you may have heard of it. But what’s pornography anyway? Well, pornography is a representation of erotic behaviour, one designed to excite sexual desire. If this involves children in any way, it’s a crime in this country and an abomination in the eyes of most. I guess you could say it's the worst of the worst. Getting steamed up right now? You may well be a monster.

But there’s a full spectrum of porn out there that’s not considered quite as monstrous: from soft porn to scat porn to snuff porn, the people’s demand to see whatever depraved representations of sex/nudity turns them on is unfathomable and endless, and its use as an enjoyment is more common than many codes of football. But what about things that neither depict erotic behaviour nor are designed to turn people on? Think of, I dunno, Disney cartoons, or David Attenborough documentaries. You may well be turned on by either: but if you were, that would make you a pervert – at least in the eyes of most people. Normal or not, it’s probably uncommon. Hell, the internet might show you that you’re not the only one – who knows? And if you’re not interfering with other creatures in any way – who cares? If you find meerkats or Bambi particularly nasty, that’s up to you. Just take my advice – keep it on the low low.

So what about material that is a representation of nudity? And, moreover, a representation of a child’s (partial) nudity? Well, let’s ask: is Bill Henson’s topless thirteen-year-old a representation of erotic behaviour? And/or is the image intended to excite sexual desire? If the answer to either was no, then you’d have to ask yourself…. if it’s not a representation of erotic behaviour AND it’s not designed to turn you on, then what is it? Well, it could be a lot of things to a lot of people. It might be art, it might be controversial – but it’s not pornography. That is unless all human nakedness is sexy to you – something rather hard to fathom with all the late night footage on TV of the naked roadside corpses in Burma. So what if you do find an example of nakedness sexy, and it’s of a figure that is neither a) of erotic behaviour b) designed to be sexual AND c) under no circumstances allowed by law to be sexy… where does that leave you? I’ll ask it another way: do you make any connection between the nakedness of a child and your own (adult) sexual desire? None? Good. You do? Well then, that makes you a pervert… and maybe even a paedophile. For shame! And on that note, here’s a joke:

Q: What’s the biggest cause of pedophilia?
A: Sexy kids.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Melbourne: the world’s most liveable city (under siege)

If I said ‘city under siege’, where would I be talking about? I might be talking about somewhere like Baghdad, Khartoum, or Harare, all places where different kinds of curfews have been imposed as a tactic of martial law. What about Melbourne? Could ‘the world’s most liveable city’ be described as a city under siege? Hardly, you’d think, but then again, the state government has just taken a step in this direction with the 2am lockout. I have no doubt it will bring some positive side-effects in its wake, but I’m not going to talk about those here. Nor do I want to argue about the effective impact on us punters, which might actually be milder than a lot of alarmist (business-owning) commentators have suggested. All I want to ask is why has an issue – binge drinking – become a crisis?

No doubt you remember the ban on smoking in bars and pubs last year. A reasonable move, you might say, justified on the basis that it was a public health matter. We’ve been experiencing the direct benefits (less cancerous air) and the side-effects (toiletty smells, empty, empty dancefloors and smokay corrals) ever since, but the reason that I draw the comparison is that, as with the smoking ban, the government pushed through an agenda by framing an issue as a ‘crisis’ –‘cos crises, as we know, require immediate and exceptional action, which these days usually goes by the name ‘intervention’. In the case of the lockout, a second (but not secondary) argument has been tacked on: not only is binge drinking causing a ‘health crisis’, it’s also a ‘security problem’. And if a health crisis requires immediate action, then a security problem necessitates that an intervention be made ASAP using whatever force necessary.

We should also remember that governments never claim that there’s a crisis without talking about how it’s going to be managed by the experts… who are, surprise surprise, the government, its agents, or people authorised to do the work on their behalf. You gots to remember, folks: in politics, any claim of a crisis is also a play for (even more) power.

Under the Howard regime, the ‘crisis’ to be managed was immigrants, an issue that was connected with the spectre of Islamist terror, thanks to the opportunity presented by 9/11. It’s a textbook classic of politricks: create an internal enemy; demonise it in the press for a few months; wait for a crisis/event in order to declare ‘war’ on it; request exceptional powers; crackdown; appear tough, decisive and effective. Oh, and if the opposition says anything? Wedge ‘em, denounce them as unpatriotic, or even suggest that they’re on ‘their side’. Stay on message, and watch your numbers soar in the polls. There’s nothing voters love more than a spectacular crackdown by a government who appears ‘tough on [insert enemy object]’, which is why all effective politicians these days love (and need) jackboots as often as rubber stamps. Politics is all about stamping.

Thankfully for Australian Muslims, the Rudd regime appears to have substituted stamping on stigmatised minorities with stamping out alcopops. At the very least, this change of direction might prevent a re-run of the Cronulla ugliness (or, at the very least, confuse some bogans), and surely this is a good thing. But nonetheless, two things are striking: the first is how quickly any PM can galvanise one of many issues into the Problem that all Australians must be concerned about. The second is how quickly most people will bend over and accept whatever measures the self-appointed ‘problem managers’ suggest.

But, going back to the beginning, does it really make sense to say that binge drinking in Australia has reached crisis point? Lest we forget, almost exactly 200 years ago in wild colonial Sydney, the government was overthrown in the Rum Rebellion. According to legend, the Rebellion happened because Governor Bligh interfered in the enormous profiteering going on among NSW Officer Corps, who were running a tidy informal economy with rum as the currency. In actual fact, it wasn’t a matter of rum, although this was the view that Bligh tried on, and one made popular retrospectively by Christian historians hell-bent on portraying the ‘evils of alcohol’ and ‘the bad old days’. There was a lucrative business going in bootlegged rum, sure, but it wasn’t the cause of the rebellion, which was actually all about… guess what? Turf wars and power plays between the interests of business and government. Michael Duffy wrote this about it in the Sydney Morning Herald two years back: “The early governors wanted to keep NSW as a large-scale open prison, with a primitive economy based on yeomen ex-convicts and run by government fiat. In contrast, a growing number of entrepreneurs wanted to build a vigorous economy, and sought political influence for themselves… the rebellion is important as the first major crisis in the fight between government and capital in Australia.”

Don’t believe the hype: it wasn’t about booze then, and it isn’t about booze now. Just as the 1808 Rum Rebellion wasn’t really about rum, the 2008 lockout has precious little to do with alcopops, and a lot to do with tussles between political power and business interests. The government needs to stay (alco)popular to keep power; publicans need to sell booze to stay in business. Any of you goddamned cocksuckers thinks otherwise? Please watch Deadwood and report back. Basically, Australia has always had to deal with the hangover of its alcoholic romance, but if you ask me, it’s one problem among many, and certainly nothing like the kind of ‘crisis’ that the government, the Hun, ACA and TT would have you believe. Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t pissed idiots occasionally picking fights and generally causing mayhem on the otherwise liveable streets of Melbourne. There are arseholes out there – it was always thus. Some of these arseholes are the ones stumbling pissed witless in the CBD of a Sunday morning. Then again, some of them are respected business owners and popular politicians. And if you ask me, it’s the stampier of the two groups who are the ones besieging our good city in this case. Perhaps it’s time we rose up and repelled these barbarians? No? Too pissed to care? Yeah, me too.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Good Neighbours, Good Friends

As odd as they may seem, the weirdest thing about Tokyo is not the locals. No, it’s the ‘people like you’ that you’d better watch out for. When you discover that ‘gaijin’, the local term for someone like you, means ‘alien’ and ‘outsider’, you take umbrage; but the bristles subside when you meet a few living, (mouth-) breathing gaijin and realise that, however offensive the term may be, it was probably the most appropriate choice. At the extreme end, ask the Friedmans, or anyone of the poor sods discovered in that unspeakable Austrian basement: it’s always those you’re closest to who are the real monsters.

Take our old neighbour in Tokyo (no-one else will). From our first day in Toko flat A #101 we were convinced that we were living next door to a very, very odd German. I will never forget opening the door to our flat to have him say, just like Herr Lipp from The League of Gentlemen, ‘So it is true you are my neighbour, ja!’ before suggesting we start swapping sci-fi novels. I politely declined the swap offer, and thereafter Herr Lipp was noticeably colder toward me. I put it down to fussy ‘German’ sensibilities, or some other half-arsed stereotype. Nine months later, he was gone, never to return. About three months after the departure, we asked our other (local) neighbour –a maniacal greenfingers we nicknamed (imaginatively) ‘Flower Lady’ – about Herr Lipp, his whereabouts, and, frankly, his oddness.

‘I suppose he’s gone back home – tell me, do you know if he was Austrian, or German?’
‘Heeeeh…’ Flower Lady responded in that ascending bray peculiar to J-ladies, ‘He was from England.’
‘Are you sure? He always spoke with a thick German accent.’
‘Hontou, hontou’ [I’m sure, I’m sure], she replied, ‘He sent me a postcard from England – hora.’ And she went and got it to prove the point. Sure enough, he was from Cornwall in Britain. But had he lied to us gaijin, or to Flower Lady? Were we all a victim of his naughty, sneaky dissimulation? Germans, eh? Can’t trust em…

But what about neighbours: who the hell are they? And what do they want with us? As papa Freud once said, the phrase ‘love thy neighbour’ is both the hardest and cruellest of all the commandments: why should we? How could we? And what good would it do us? Love is valuable – why would you throw it away on Herr Lipp, or even Flower Lady? If you love someone, they must be worthy of it in some way or other – how are you supposed to love somebody who is not just a stranger, but also really, really strange? A stranger than strange sci-fi buff, one who would fake being German in order to set up an elaborate joke ending in a punchline with an audience of one?

Or what about snowdroppers, those neighbourly types who poke their business into other people’s underpants, after lifting them by moonlight? Last week, I talked about ‘hanky Pops’, my next-door neighbour with mucous and anger management issues. A week ago, Pops may have been merely repulsive – this week, he’s a potential perpetrator. That’s because, over a course of days, weeks, or even months (until we realised), some smelly little nonce had been lifting my lady’s smalls. After the discovery, we told all our neighbours about the theft, and, as it turns out, all of the women in the building had experienced their very own snowdrop. How long had this been going on? How much is it going to cost all of us to replace our lifted smalls? And how many pairs of knickers does a pervert need to get their jollies?

Thing is, I doubt the snowdropper is Pops – unless he’s using panties as hankies… but no, I don’t think so – he’s slow-moving, and I’ve never seen him out at night. Being snowdropped is expensive and inconvenient: to the replacement cost of the underpants is added the inability to comfortably hang out your washing of an afternoon ever again. And this connects to the worst aspect of the whole thing: the breakdown in trust. Every person who passes by my window is now a suspect, and seeing the world of my neighbours through such squinty, suspicious eyes is enough to get your knickers permanently in a knot. All it takes is one arsehole with peculiar masturbatory habits and the idyllic, naïve vision of a happy, sunny neighbourhood is wrecked.

A recent, popular ‘solution’ to the existence of snowdroppers and the fear of worse is the erection of walls and the flight behind them into gated communities. In a gated community, so the story goes, each of the residents is carefully vetted, while each visitor must pre-arrange a visit with a resident in order to be admitted. Gated communities are screamingly successful in the US, and they’re gaining popularity in Australia – Sanctuary Cove, our very own Truman Show on the Gold Coast, is the most well-known example. But here’s the rub: according to a recent study, you’re actually no safer living in a gated community. Sure, the walls are high, the lawns are cut – if you’re lucky, the guard is even awake. Problem is, gated communities are based on the flawed assumption that the criminal/devo/madman is an outsider, when in fact, the perp is more likely to be a neighbour, or even a family member. Crime rates are at least as high, or higher, inside gated communities than they are in the free-flowing neighbourhoods in comparable places – in a gated community, the weirdos aren’t locked out, they’re locked in. Unfortunately, there are freaks – I wish it were otherwise. But at least if the doors aren’t bolted you can escape. If it’s a choice between bricking myself in with those I think I know so well, or taking on the risks of strangers that I don’t, give me the fear of the unknown any day. That, and an indoor drying rack.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blear Glut? Less, please.

Remember the TV test pattern? Back in the olden days, there wasn’t even enough TV to fill up twenty-four hours worth of programming. That, and the people who worked at the station had homes to go to, families to see, lives to lead. Likewise with Saturday trading: time was, shops would close on Saturday afternoons, and not open again until Monday morning. Trading hours were 9–5, the pubs closed at ten, and on Sundays the high street was a ghost town. There was no broadband, no Google, no mobile phones, no EFTPOS; credit cards were a luxury, and crystal meth was only available in the military. How boring, you say. Yes, perhaps, but…

Look around you: everywhere you look there’s too much too much. It’s a blear-making blur, enough to make you squint. Hell, keep eating and your cheeks will rise to the occasion on your side-bottomed behalf. There might be a world food crisis going on, but you’d be hard pressed to see it through the fog of abundance (of all kinds, not just food) in this neck of the woods. And that’s because, while the lack attacks elsewhere, Melbourne is ‘suffering’ a blear glut.

As always, if you want to see the most ‘Melbourne’ evidence of this, you need to go to our CBD laneways. That’s ‘cos Melbourne’s alleys are apparently full of culture and cool little bars. Sure, on Friday evening. Come back on Monday morning (as the fug of blear is lifting like those notes from your fat-ass Friday-night wallet) and there’s more than the vibrant world of cool bars and underground culture. There’s also the sticky residue of puke and piss, the crystal spalls of broken glass and stinking piles of waste.

What ever happened to portion control? We’ve replaced it with control briefs and expanding appetites. I freely admit I’m as guilty as anyone here, but there’s something really grotesque about Melbourne’s blear glut when people in Port au Prince, Dakar and Cairo can’t afford rice. There’s too much, too good, taken too lightly in this city. Australians have a strongly entrenched culture of ‘gettin’ yer money’s worth’, and being at the pointy end of the global shitheap means that we can usually put this mother-load where our overstuffed mouth is. Of course, we’re the ‘lucky ones’, and I think that most of us would fight tooth and nail to retain our privilege (if we could be bothered getting off the couch). But we should also remember the reap that comes with the sow: a huge part of our blear glut has been financed by paying it forward – and you can only keep borrowing from the comfort of the couch before a man comes to take it away. Live beyond your means for too long and sure enough, the repo depot will come knocking. But does it have to get that bad?

Maybe ‘The Big Problem’ is so big, so systemic, that it’s beyond anyone’s control now. When people talk about the great extinctions, they usually mention three models: the dinosaur, the house of cards, and the runaway train. Well, picture a dinosaur building said house on a speeding caboose – that’s us! Is it? Well, we can just keep on partying like it’s 1999 and find out. But for ourselves, each other and the decisions we have some influence over, I’d say that one of ‘the problems’ (our little problem, if you will) is an inability to appreciate the quality of our quantity, and to really savour the flavour. When I was in high school I would devour the latest album by my favourite artists with lust and relish. When the new Fugazi album came out, for example, I would spend an hour a day with it for days, weeks, even months, working through and savouring every single detail. I feel like maybe we could start to get rid of our glut by applying something like this to the way we eat, the way we drink, and the way we listen to music.

Maybe we can heed the implied threat of the card playing train commuting dinosaur, avoid the reaper and the repo depot, and turn this into an opportunity to enjoy less – and by doing so, to enjoy it more. Why not stay home, do the dishes, or ride your bicycle to the park and read a secondhand book? Or how about having a slow conversation with somebody you like, over tea. Turn off your mobile for a day. Have a month off downloading. Go for a long, leisurely walk. Think about it: in a country where the blear glut is also an enormous source of profit (for businesses) and tax (for governments), taking a quiet stroll is actually one of the most subversive things you can do.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Like, get out of my face, bitch (tram of thought)

So there I was, sitting on a tram into the city thinking about gay-mers when my tram of thought was suddenly interrupted by the following stream:

‘And she was like, like, I don’t like her, and like, I like said to her, like, listen bitch, she like, she doesn't like you either – like, you know… yeah, totally, like…’

A typical public transport infliction. The interruption was total – all thought of gay-mers (I’ll tell you about them in a ‘sec) went out the (unopenable) window, and now I was forced to sit there and endure the silly little troll’s endless tirade against whoeverthefuckitwas. Talking loudly on a mobile phone on public transport is one of those things. While you include people in the sordid affairs of your private life, you exclude them from the space of your public life. They’re free to talk, you’re forced to endure listening, but, all the same, you’re unable to join in. It’s the telephonic equivalent of the VPL: you’re trapped in the Audible Panty Line of their sordid business, unable to do anything but squirm.

It’s hard to be nostalgic for ‘the good old days’. Imagine a world where you had to say ‘the right thing’, marry ‘the right man’, wear ‘the right clothes’ and avoid every thing, place and person that was ‘wrong’ because of faith, occupation or skin colour. And this on pain of being ostracised and bringing shame on your family… and not just for ‘like, a week, or whatever’, but forever, for the rest of your life AND the rest of your family’s life. For as long as the beady-eyed elders remember. But most of us who live in Melbourne these days have gone from living in a world that emphasised ‘have to’ to one that emphasises ‘want to’. We’ve gone from duty (with its right and wrong), to a world of desire (with its likes and dislikes). That’s why the girl says ‘like’ so much – in her own inarticulate way she’s expressing being a fully paid-up member of her own private Empire of Like™, a world that’s all about excluding everything and everyone she isn’t and doesn’t like.

Which brings me back to my original tram of thought, and gay-mers. I recall a friend’s friend (a gamer, but not a gay-mer) telling me over a teary beer that ‘You’re better off telling people you’re gay than telling them you’re into role-playing these days.’ He may have a point… but never fear! Because even if you fall into both categories, these days, if you have broadband, a same-sex directed horn, a polyhedral dice and an armour class of -3, you can meet other people who like to dice with the same kinds of vice. We live in a world where every orc has her equal, where every simulator of battles among sentient sea beasts can find similarly inclined creatures to practice dictation, lactation, or any form of delectation with. A good thing, surely...

But the side-effect of such a meeting of minds and manatee empires becomes palpably, nakedly obvious when you get on public transport. Now, although PT is neither properly public nor effective transport, it’s still one of those few places where you’re likely to brush mandibles with creatures who exist outside the bubble of your own private Empire of Like™. You might be on the way to meet friends at a little bar where everyone else has exactly the same taste in tattoos and Jimmy Choos as you choose (hey, nice shhh…hoes), but before you bump pumps with your chums, being on the tram forces you to cross paths with conspicuous udders.

But what do you find when you get there? OMG, the social fabric is a crud-filled semi-colon made up of multi-cellular phone users, texting h8 mail to their XXX partner (who they’ve never met). Everybody’s standing (or sitting) in their very own real and imagined circle of friends, only displaying the body codes they wear (clothes) in order to be differentially decoded depending on level of initiation…

Of course, this means that a gay-mers can spot each other, but unfortunately, it also means ‘we’ (the people, remember?) have nothing in common except our indifference. We’re becoming less and less able to see and hear anything we don’t ‘like’ – everyone who’s not on our Facebook is faceless. I like you – come sit on my face. I don’t like you, so…
‘Get the fuck out of my face, bitch!…’
‘What was that?’
‘Oh, nothing, just…’
‘So, like, what were you saying?’
‘I’ve like, totally forgotten, ‘cos like, this rude bitch on the tram like just totally interrupted me, and shit.’

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

GSA A-OK? (the titillating taboo of the illicit)

When considering coupling with another person, most people would tell you that it’s important to like one another. More than that, it’s even important to be like one another. Meet your friend for girly chats about new beau and hear her coo that ‘we’re so alike’, ‘we have so much in common’, ‘we really see eye to eye on most things’. Two months later, and if they’re starting to fall in love, then they’re probably going through that phase where they almost become one another, losing themselves in a kind of symbiotic swallowing that can seem… well, pretty gross, if you’re not a part of it.

But there’s such a thing as too similar, just as there’s such a thing as too different. I can say this with the compact directness of two words: incest, bestiality. Easier said than done, you say. Too right – just ask the copywriter who came up with the GSA (Genetic Sexual Attraction) Association of Tasmania’s latest rip-roaring slogan: ‘You’ve had the ‘cest, now try the best!’

Australians might snigger at Tasmanians for enjoying the kind of map of Tassie that’s just too close to home. Likewise, we might cock a snoot at certain New Zealanders who believe that the grass looks greener on the other side of the species divide. But whether it’s ‘cest’ or ‘best’, the issue is no laughing matter, especially when it involves kids of either kind.

But what about GSA, you say? No way? A-OK? GSA, ‘Genetic Sexual Attraction’, is the ‘friendly uncle’ of incest – its victimless, unwitting sister act. GSA has a venerable history: Oedipus Rex and Jocasta, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia… in fact, it usually involves royalty or Gods (and their wrath). But it has its banal practitioners too, and no doubt some of you will have been hearing a lot about GSA recently because of the 60 Minutes story on John and Jennifer Deaves (of Mount Gambier).

John and Jennifer live together, fuck each other, and have even had a child together. So what makes this nice, scientifically sound GSA and not nasty ol’ motherfucking incest? Well, the decisive fact is that they didn’t ‘know’ each other (in either sense) while Jennifer was growing up. This, apparently, makes all the difference. They ‘met’ as adults, and when they did, they ‘saw’ each other as a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’, not a father and daughter. As Jennifer said, “I was looking at him and going, ‘oh, he’s not too bad – like someone across a bar at a nightclub.”

So far, so good… but hang on – when they (nearly) kissed, Skywalker and Leia didn’t know they were siblings. And when Oedipus finds out he’s been doing his mum, he doesn’t high-five her or spark up a stogie… he cuts out his own eyes. The cultural impact of both these stories might say something about acceptable resolutions to the vicissitudes of GSA in each case: the ancient Greeks would dash out their eyes; Americans would palm the girl off onto Hans (Solo). But it’s the reaction, the progression – what John and Jennifer did after meeting each other ‘like someone across a bar at a nightclub’ so unwise. Or wrong?

In Leviticus, God (or his note-taker) talks about the abominations of incest (no GSA in those days, so no excuse). The King James edition of the Bible says that you shouldn’t commit incest, “for theirs is thine own nakedness.” It’s not too different from what the Old Testament has to say about bestiality: “Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.” It is. It really, really is – and if you’re a Jew or a Christian, the consequences are pretty bad: “And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” But I’ll leave the right and wrong of it to believers and tut-tutters – what I’m interested in is the silliness, nay, the grand folly of their actions, in this order:

Folly #1: They boned, then they shacked up, then they kept boning (without wearing a rubber), and as a result

Folly #2: They had a child, after which

Folly #3: They took money from 60 Minutes (apparently) in order to tell the world about Follies One and Two.

Jennifer and John might think they’re involved in a normal relationship between consenting adults, one that’s harmless – an unoriginal sin, a victimless crime. But judging from the vandalism and abuse they’ve already suffered, a portion of the good people of Mount Gambier don’t share their views. And now their kids (who have to attend the local school) are the ones who are going end up with egg on their face. I’m sure the subtle fact that Jennifer’s school age children aren’t part of the union will probably be lost on the victimizers. And, indeed, the hate crimes have begun in earnest. But Jennifer’s still bubbly about it, even though the family are now contemplating moving after their car was vandalised. “People obviously know where we live and they could do this sort of thing again – hopefully not again, but you never know.” Well I dunno, Jennifer, I’ve got a pretty good idea you’re never gonna live this one down.

More than anything, what this whole shebang shows is a complete inability to think things through, to consider the consequences – but try telling this to someone who fucks their dad, then brags about it in primetime. Depending on your worldview, incest might be abominable. According to statistics, it might be more common than we’re comfortable admitting. But regardless of the facts of her figure, at the very least, if you discover that you shared a bit too much MDMA, GBH, S&M, and DNA with the hottie you scored at QBH – it might be wise to keep it on the QT, eh? For your own sake. GSA may well be the appealing new fragrance of the Olsen twins, but on national TV, the consequences for your family are abominable.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Of bingeing athletes (and binge aesthetes)

Somewhere between Wayne Carey’s PR-schooled (but actually quite ballsy) mea culpa and Matthew D’Arcy’s apparently unschooled but obviously very sharp left hook lurks something so big that no-one seems to be able to nail it. The people behind Australia’s Olympic team can easily apply the phrase “bringing the sport into disrepute” to censure the violent little D’Arcy, but this doesn’t get close to the real issue. Likewise, Carey can say he’s very sorry, sober up, and stop sniffing up, spewing up, screwing up, and slapping slappers around. But it still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. There are Olympic Games and there are football games. There are also drinking games, but drinking itself is not a game… or is it? Or is it a hobby? That usually presumes accumulating skills. If you include ‘holding your liquor’ then yeah, I ‘spose it could be a hobby. It might also be a pastime, an activity, or a pursuit. But actually, I’d say that it’s much, much deeper than that. In fact, I think it’s one of the only things that all Australians share.

Think about it. There is death. There are taxes. For some, there is even real estate. But no matter who they are or where they live, all Australians are affected by binge drinking. And this is why, along with the other things just mentioned, it’s one of the only things we all have in common. Tell me what else reflects the reality of the lived experience of the entire community. Everything else is just imaginary… ANZACs? Only for skips. AFL? Only in Victoria. The beach? Whiteys again, but this time only the ones who live on the coast. The bush? Come off it. We’re a bunch of overweight ex-boat people who live in the suburbs. We love real estate, cars and petrol – and we’re unsustainable and abusive in the way we use all three. During the week, we drive our cars to our jobs, where we work to pay off the real estate we return home to in the evenings (in order to drink and watch petrol and housing prices rise on TV). And when the weekend comes and we have a choice with how to spend our time, most of us binge. And the ones who don’t? Well, they get to hide from, put up with, or serve kebabs to those of us who do.

Young and free? Nonsense! We’re fat and pissed. Girt by sea? Nonsense on stilts! Sloshed by tea is more like it. Paul Kelly’s ‘Dumb Things’ is the only song that could be used as our national anthem without dishonesty, ‘cos no matter who you are or where you live in Australia, you could tell me without distortion that getting very, very drunk is the activity that at least one member of your family takes to with gusto, regardless of age, gender, income, profession, or ethnic background. Even my cabbie the other night, who said, “You Aussies have beer; we have beards” is not excluded, ‘cos after all, he has to drive pissed idiots like me home. So what about mateship? Well, what’s a mate really? A mate is just someone who’s seen you really, really wasted. The mark of intimate friendship in Australia is getting to the point where you’re so pissed neither of you is even able to talk, which is also another handy way of solving the discomfort of emotional intimacy.

My friend Murray – a quintessential binger and a good mate – used to have a little saying, one that’s far more honest than most Australians are these days. It’s quite poetic, so I’ll quote it in full:

If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot.
But if you drink, then drive, and make it home okay?
Then you’re a bloody champion.

D’Arcy and Carey didn’t “bring the sport into disrepute” – they brought bingeing into disrepute. In other cultures, the mere fact of being very, very drunk is itself socially unacceptable. In Australia, provided you’re not hurting somebody, it’s heroic. And this is why every condemnation of a remote Aboriginal community, as well as each tut-tutting of an out-of-control athlete, is also an act of hypocrisy. If you so much as snickered at Murray’s ditty, you are implicated. K-Rudd has decided to frame bingeing as a ‘problem’. Some people have even gone so far as to say that it’s ‘part of our culture’. This is closer, but it doesn’t go far enough. Everyone’s happy to talk bingeing athletes, but what very few people are willing to concede is that, fundamentally, Australians are binge aesthetes. Bingeing isn’t a part of our culture, mate, it is our bloody culture. Cheers… oi, what the fuck are you lookin’ at?!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

On hospitals, hostages and hospitality (the hostman always brings lice)

It’s quite clear to most owners why dogs are man’s best friend. But try finishing this sentence: cats are man’s best… well? What, exactly? Whatever pleasure they might bring, like male nipples and poetry, it’s not really clear what cats are for. It’s not even clear that cats are ‘for us’ at all. In fact, I’d say the weight of evidence suggests that they’re against us. It’s one thing to wonder why we live with cats; it’s another to realise that we don’t own them, that they’re not our friends. Cats are just small big cats, and big cats are highly evolved killers. You think I’m wrong? Ask yourself, if cats were as big as golden Labs, would you leave one with the kids? Charlie the Wonder Lion? Aslan aside, you’d have to say it’s a dangerous proposition. The point is not to piss off cat fanciers (too late I’m sure) or even to say that there’s nothing good about ‘em. I like cats, just like I like my nipples, and even poetry. Well, some. But what I want to get across is this: you’re not ‘friends with’ the cat. You don’t ‘own’ the cat. You ‘host’ the cat. Cats aren’t man’s best friend, they’re man’s best parasite.

My good lady and I are hosting a cat at the moment. It works out pretty well for all parties. He’s undemonstrative, aloof and on the take. And we feed him milk. It’s a pretty simple equation: we’ve lost our staffie, and are so desperate for animal affection that we’ll even settle for the flick and whiskers of Bitchcakes – that’s what we call him. How would you characterise our relationship? Well, he takes, we give. He takes some more, we give some more. I’ve you’ve ever had friends in socialist youth groups you’d know the score. It’s all about caring and sharing: they care, you share. But the cat is a welcome parasite, because he’s a good one. And a good parasite, as anyone knows, is one who doesn’t kill the host. And, I flatter myself, we’re good hosts.

What does it mean to be a good host? People who work in pubs, restaurants and hotels are often fond of telling you ‘I work in hospitality’, but this is misleading. You pay them money, they serve you food or drink. You pay a little more, and the same thing happens, with the notable addition that the people are nice to you and call you ‘sir’. Give ‘em a tip and they’ll be your best friend in the whole world, perhaps even lick your arsehole. But don’t be fooled, it’s not ‘cos they like you: it’s a business transaction, they’re professionals, and you’re paying them money. Not only that, but if things aren’t to ‘sirs’ liking, then ‘sir’ can complain. So it’s not like they’ve even got a choice. They’re paid to bring you your date putting with aplomb, or else it’s the sack, simple as that. So this isn’t real hospitality.

Real hospitality involves sacrifice, expenditure. You inconvenience yourself for others. If you have a dinner party, you don’t call the guests ‘sir’, but nor do you accept their money or let them do the dishes. In most cases, it would be insulting if you insisted on doing either. This tells you a lot about hospitality, and a more than a little about ‘sir’: a word that actually means ‘fuck you’. So that’s hospitality. It always involves a little bit of harm – people put themselves out for you, they sacrifice their time and expend a portion of their limited energy and resources to give you something, and to give it to you in their space. As a successful parasite, all the guest has to do is not kill the host, bring a token gift at the beginning and a say ‘thank you’ at the end. Really, a ‘guest’ is just a parasite that you know is coming, says ‘please and ‘thank you’, and leaves before you have to excrete or expel them. And so, Bitchcakes, who knows how to do all these things in his own bitchy way, is not only ‘man’s best parasite’, he’s also a model guest.

Now if it’s common for a household to host a cat or a dinner party, then it’s usual for cities to host festivals or major sporting events. Melbourne has played host in this way a number of times, successfully – the guests are welcomed at the beginning and farewelled at the end, and in the interim, no-one gets killed and the inconvenience borne by the host is recompensed by the entertainment-value of the guests. Hello, ha-ha, bye-bye, ta-da – well hosted!

There’s an old Chinese saying: ‘House guests are a bit like fish – after a while, they start to stink.’ I can’t help but think that it’s one of the few Chinese sayings that the Tibetans would be happy to say they’ve taken on board. The Chinese government appears to have been doing a little bit of cunning linguistics themselves. They’ve refreshed our shoddy memories. For example, did you know that ‘Tibet is not a country’? Or that ‘hostile’ and ‘host’ come from the same Latin root? Or that ‘host’ can also mean ‘army’? Or that hospital is 72.72% of hospitality? The Chinese government have done a pretty good job of reminding us, and the Tibetans, of all these things. Maybe when he arrives K.Rudd can lay down some Mandarin and add a bit of Aussie expertise: only among Australian surfers is ‘hostage’ considered an appropriate situation for a dinner party (along with beerage and sausage). Or that the word ‘corkage’ was coined by a surfer…

How can the Chinese be playing host when they don’t understand the meaning of hospitality themselves? Rule number one: you must be invited. Rule number two, if you are invited, don’t kill the host…. and is it possible to even be a host if you’re in the process of killing one? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – they weren’t even ‘invited’ in the first place. Hospitality? We only got as far as hospital, remember? But seriously, if you were Bitchcakes, or, I dunno, the Australian Olympic Team, would you go and stay in the house of an entity like that? And what would be your reasoning if you did? ‘Oh don’t worry, the cats (the size of golden Labs) they only attack monks, not athletes.’ That seems to be the Australian Olympic team’s explanation so far… that and gold medals… But I keep asking myself: how would man’s best parasite act? To wit: what would bitchcakes do? I’ll tell you. Bitchcakes would boycott.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kick, push, kick, push (mind the gap)

Nothing is ever quite how you imagined it would be. As a thirteen year old on the cusp of puberty, I feared my own pubic hair and hankered after a skateboard with equal intensity. I used to sit around at my friend Alex’s place, watching the Bonez Brigade videos (Future Primitive is still my favourite), first of all just eating hot cheese rolls and making cups of coffee, later adding ‘sneaking out for a cigarette’ to our repertoire. Around about the time I took up smoking (Camels Filters – blech), Alex and I started hanging around the local shopping mall, which was my area’s equivalent of Fountain Gate or Knifepoint. I dunno how we did it, but we really managed to eke a endless hours of entertainment out of that horrible place: we played Mortal Kombat, we stuck McDonald’s pickles to the roof, we racked pornos. Once, for no particular reason, I even lifted an enormous candle from the furniture department of David Jones, which I hid in my enormous Kepper jeans. What larks, what larks. And between all these activities, Alex and I would dream of skateboards, squirreling away a tenner here, a dollar there, until finally the day came when I asked mum if she’d help me pay (the remaining two hundred dollars) to get a deck.

I chose an Evol slick, with Venture Featherlites and teeny tiny Real wheels that were little more than a loincloth for the bearings hugging the axle. At that stage, kickflips were all the rage, and the argument with the pissant wheels was that it made pulling tricks (and maybe even girls) easier. Perhaps, but it also made riding the skateboard a real biznatch, especially when you hit the inevitable pebble and ended up arse over tit. I feel like the same thing is happening at the moment with the whole fixed-gear craze, where you have hipsters (who’ve never really ridden before) negotiating unpredictable traffic on track bikes with no brakes – and no, I think you’ll find that locking up the wheel does not count when it’s raining and you’re running slicks.

But I got my skateboard, and there I was, suddenly the proud owner of the friction-regulating object I’d been lustfully jonesing after for the past nine months. Now all I needed to do was learn to ride it. In six months or so, I thought, I’d be Ed Frickin’ Templeton.

Three days later and I’d already learnt one thing: riding a skateboard is difficult and dangerous. I kept thinking of the truism of L7’s album title: Bricks are Heavy. They really are. And conrete is hard. Really, really hard. Falling off… well, it really, really hurts. I was (and am) extremely unco, but with three months daily practice, I could jump puddles, I could ollie gutters, I could do shove-its, I could drop-in at the baby size quarter pipe. BUT! Something was rotten in the state of Denmark… it just wasn’t quite right… somewhere in all of this (even after I worked out how to drop a stair or two) there was this pesky sentiment that just wouldn’t stay silent, that kept buzzing around me like a mosquito in a sleepless bedroom. Skateboarding… it just wasn’t how I’d imagined it would be. It was good, yes, it was enjoyable, true, but it simply wasn’t exactly as I’d hoped, and, fundamentally, it wasn’t what I needed it to be. There was a nasty little gap there, and it wouldn’t budge.

Smoking, meanwhile, was all I’d hoped for (and more). Yes, in fact, smoking was exactly what I expected it to be, and I liked it, even though, if it becomes a drug you do every day, it doesn’t work (and if it does it only makes you feel bilious). But it was helping me to meet girls, who, as other smokers, tended to be… well, more advanced… or were trying to be… more fun, at least – you know what I mean. But within a year or two of pursuing my new hobby, the ‘gap’ returned, with a vengeance. I was listening to a copy of the Basquiat soundtrack that a girl friend had lent me, and I heard PJ Harvey singing that Peggy Lee song ‘Is that All there Is?’ You know the one? Her dad takes her to the circus, she sees the clowns and the elephants, BUT! Well, I’ll let Peggy and PJ tell you the rest: ‘And as I sat there watching/ I had the feeling that something was missing/ I don't know what/ But when it was all over/ I said to myself/ “Is that all there is to the circus ?”’

Is there something missing, or is it in your expectations? Is it the skateboard? Is it her? Is that all there is? Is it you? ‘NO, it’s not you, it’s ME!’ Well, whatever – in my experience nothing is ever quite how you imagined it would be. There is always a gap. So what’s the best thing to do? Deal. You’ve either got to persist, or accept. You’ve either got to just keep on with the kick, push, kick push (and keep an eye out for pebbles), or just learn to mind the gap. And maybe ride a fixie with no brakes and smoke a few cigarettes while you’re at it, so you make sure you reach your destination nice and early.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Believe and Achieve (or just keep on being pathetic)

As a child I once became incredibly depressed. Not from the usual childhood stuff (ennui, Ambien, and hard liquor) – the thing that really got to me was Mozart. I was reading an illustrated biography of the composer, and learned (to my juvenile chagrin) that at seven Mozart was already publicly performing minuets that he’d written at six, pieces you or I would have struggled to play badly at nine. ‘Good God,’ thought nine-year-old me, ‘I’m hopeless. Over the hill. Past it. Useless.’ Then the biography ended, the feeling dissipated, and I went back to playing Space Quest II. By the following Tuesday (the time of my piano lesson), I had almost cracked Space Quest, while the minuet… it’s too depressing to think about.

From this experience (Mozart, not Space Quest), I developed a deep hatred of prodigies. I’m not talking about people who are talented and hard-working, I’m talking about those people who appear to float on a flooded river of talent: winning fame, bursting dykes and floating cattle with power that’s as overwhelming as it is oblivious to the devastating swathe it cuts through the world.

Prodigies are irritating because they are not only so inhumanly good at whatever it is they do, but they’re also almost indifferent to their advantage – they appear to produce excellence with the same natural, unclenched ease that the average human produces excrement. Incidentally, did you know that the average human produces twice their own body weight in shit each year (more on a leap year)? Humbling, isn’t it? For some of us this is the greatest thing we will ever produce, if not in quality, then almost definitely in terms of quantity… (Bear in mind that this is the average human – what of digestive prodigies?)

But worse than the prodigies are the do-gooders, who should (if there was any consistency in a world that also includes ‘woodpeckers’), be called ‘good doers’. Do-gooders – Bono, Mother Teresa, Young Rotarians – are infuriating not just because they remind us of our limited abilities, like prodigies, or even because they remind us of our narrowness, our complacent self-satisfaction, our deep selfishness and our inability to ‘take action’ or ‘give generously’. More than anything, they’re hateful because they have this horrid whiff of certainty about them. They really believe, and they really believe they can make a difference. If the prodigy shits us with their talent, do-gooders do it by their privileged possession of ‘the truth’. Art worships the former, religion the latter… meanwhile, maybe you’re somewhere in the middle: confused, despondent, dubious of your talents and doubtful of the truth… so what are you to do? The answer?

Don’t be pathetic.

To me, the only thing worse than prodigies and do-gooders are pathetic people, the kind who carry with them (and live by) the following unfortunate combination of sentiments: on the one hand, they think, ‘What I do/say/think makes no difference’; on the other hand, they behave like they are the most important thing in the world. What you get from this is that unfortunately typical combination of egotism and apathy, the kind that marks (and mars) lives. Never mind smoking or drink-driving: being pathetic is the real killer, and the worst thing of all is that this is a condition that leaves its victims apparently unharmed. Worse still is that some people will never even realise they’re sufferers.

I wish prodigies would realise the swathe they cut (or at least be really, really bad at something), just as I wish do-gooders would show a little cynicism and self-doubt – but more than anything, I wish that pathetic people would realise that they’re far less important than they think they are, BUT, at the same time, I wish they’d recognise that what they do is more important than they give their actions credit for. Fact is, everything a person does, says or thinks makes a difference – it’s just that it’s a tiny one. ‘Making a difference’ is much more subtle than people give it credit for, and this is why it so often passes un-noted. This is what good parents, great musicians and the best school teachers understand… the way you treat your kids, no less than the hi-hat you choose or how you dilate the minds of your pupils – it matters. No, more than that – it saves lives. Be sure to be reading next week, when we’ll be looking at the roll that Body Thetans play in preventing you from achieving this.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

‘Tis the Season (to talk timing)

Wedged as we are between Fashion Week and the Comedy Festival, I thought it might be the perfect time to talk timing. In fashion, there’s a time and place for everything – just not here, not now… please? The teased victims of faux pas should understand and take comfort, it’s never an objection to butt floss or loon pants per se, just context and placement. If you want to be in fashion, all you really need are deep pockets, a huge closet, and… a perfect sense of timing. Same goes for comedy – Ross Noble can use the repetition of the word ‘satchel’ to get the audience in stitches, but you just try re-telling one of his ‘jokes’ to someone. Or remember Eddie Murphy’s joke about people fucking up his jokes while trying to re-tell them… whoops…

It’s the incubator on the egg, the fruit on the vine: the moment of ripeness is only reached for the briefest sweetness. Sit too long on that egg and the chick is a chucker; wait too long for that banana and you’ll be on the receiving end of a mushy mess. I have a friend who takes too long: the magic prize has always passed to other hands by the time he finally plucks up the determination to reach whatever it is (whoever she was). By that stage, she already really, really values him ‘as a friend’. I often wonder if it’s a species thing – among the giant turtles of the Galapagos, he’d probably be considered rash and o’er hasty. I have a friend who leaves the fun too early and never hears the silly giggled confessions that keep the friendly glue stuck fast – and then he wonders why he feels alienated. I have a tendency to linger longer than anyone sensibly should, past the tipping point: and I get shot down by drunkenness and left to drag my sorry self home in a way I can’t afford. But at the same time, I have an undiminishing hatred of encores…

Try this, all you would-be genii out there. Whatever it is, whenever it is, start before you feel ‘ready’, and finish or leave before you’ve ‘had enough’. It’s a toughie, and it goes against your beast, that slow and speeding part of you that demands satisfaction (but can’t get none) no matter how long or how much it takes, while in actual fact, by the time you start to feel full, you’ve always already had too much… no doubt you know this from the bitter fact of experience, but you probably need reminding. Almost everybody does.

There are a few proven ways to do overcome your beast. In the East, Zen calligraphy masters do it with stillness and speed. They meditate in front of the blank paper for days until it hits, then they finish the character in a Mcflurried second of strokes. In the West, we’ve developed the rhythm method, but unfortunately it’s notoriously unreliable – as James Brown’s calls of ‘I got ya’ demonstrate. You gots to have muscle memory, Mary. Another friend of mine’s tactic is all about dry-humping the pant leg of your giggle repeat button. Because we’re slow, or just because we may not have heard it right the first time, he tells the same anecdote twice, word-for-word. Somehow, it works for him, but…no, I don’t suggest that. There’s simpler ones, too, so maybe try these (for a change or a start). Sit still. Shut up (and listen). Practice. Rush in. Then get the fuck out of there. Before it’s too late…

We always hesitate, then linger. I can only imagine how puzzling we are to the sloths and otters, with our jets and credit cards and cameras. No other animal has such a skill for racing ahead of itself while simultaneously dragging its heels in everything it does. That’s why we’re so in awe of the most seemingly talented people. More than anything, they’ve just got better timing than you and I. Maybe genius is just good timing. And deep pockets. And a huge closet.

Saturday Night Rage (and a nice cup of tea)

Recently, a friend of mine ended up getting filmed for Channel 7’s shiteful, xenophobic, ratings-winner Border Security. But not ‘cos they’re one of the ‘heroes’ (read: patronising rednecks) who ‘star’ in the show; nor ‘cos they were a sprung mule or some unfortunate gentleman with the wrong eyes or a false bottom (in his suitcase). Nope, they got filmed because it’s a ‘condition of entry’ – just like it is for you, me, and everyone else. Is this a waiver that anyone ever signed? Or could sign? And how could you, I, or anyone else effectively refuse? You want in, you gotta submit.

At the airport, passengers submit to a suspension of their civil rights and a level of intrusive surveillance the likes of which exist in few other places on earth – you’d be amazed what ‘they’ are allowed to do to you. But hey, it’s all ‘necessary’ for ‘our security’, right? And as any conservative will tell you, ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear…’ Because, of course, the a) system is infallible, and b) the staff administering the system are perfectly well-trained, incorruptible, and would never in a million years do anything arbitrary because they were morons on a power trip… But what about a place where the kind of ‘national security’ argument which justifies such conditions does not and should not apply? A place where people don’t have to pass through, but in fact, choose (and pay) to enter in order to forget about their worries, let go, and relax?

Yep, I’m talking about Nightclubs, lad(d)ies. In your average Melbourne nightclub, not only are you under constant surveillance (which I guess most of you knew or assumed), but the place where you think you’ve gone to ‘cut loose’ is actually one of the most repressive places you could visit in our fine city, a place where you appear to have no rights, where you are vulnerable to arbitrary treatment and the possibility of physical violence at any moment…

I’m not talking about being busted in the bogs doing lines or anything like that. That does happen, and while it’s proof that the toilets in a lot of larger places are on CCTV (smile), it’s tough to make an argument against it when you’ve been busted doing something illegal. ‘Bang bang bang, come on, get out!’ Okay, fair enough. Even if you are in a place where Melbourne’s finest reputedly hoover buckets and buckets of the gak out back (with the owners, natch), you haven’t got a powdery leg to stand on. The owners are guarding their arses, and you’re endangering their licence. Fair cop/sniff. But what if people try to chuck out of a club, not for doing something illegal, violent or anti-social, but just for minding your own business? Well, that’s precisely what happened to me on Friday night. Twice.

The first time it happened, I was sitting on a couch in the back room, nursing a beer and recovering from the all-out assault of the main floor. The conversation my friend and I were having lapsed, and so we were both just sitting there sipping. I think I was nodding my head in time with the music. Next thing I know, two bouncers are standing by me. One of them beckons me over. ‘What?’ I ask, staying seated. The guy beckons me like he’s calling a pet to heel. I stand up as he walks up looking ticked off, then I ask the guy, ‘What’s up? What do you want?’
‘You have to come with me.’
‘Just come with me.’
‘Why? What have I done? Come where?’
And so on, with no explanation offered, round and round, until my friend intervened and we managed to convince him… of what exactly? This was the weirdest thing of all –I was doing nothing but minding my own business, and some bouncer (because he was bored, or a moron, or needed glasses) thought I’d passed out, or just decided to hassle me, or something… who knows? The scary thing is, I don’t, and the thug didn’t even feel the need to explain what I’d apparently ‘done wrong’. Anyway, I didn’t get kicked out, but only just, and it talk three minutes worth of soothing pleading. But what would have happened if I had questioned assertively, or resisted? And who would I call if I’d been headlocked, beaten up, or worse? Fact is, if you’re ‘having fun’ in one of our city’s nightclubs, you’re not only totally at the mercy of these arseholes, you’re paying top dollar for the privilege.

Three hours later, and my luck had worsened markedly. Different venue, but more or less the same scenario, with two differences. In this case, my friend had gone to the toilet. It was very late/early, and we were just about to leave, so I took a seat close by the bogs. Now, I may have closed my eyes for a moment, but no more than that. As far as I was concerned, I was awake, self-aware, and minding my own business. This time the formalities had been dispensed with.
‘Out! Out buddy! You’re out!’
It was the same penis who was being a complete arsehole about moving people in and out of the smoker’s corral an hour or so earlier. I realised at this late juncture that it was pointless arguing, and I was just about to leave anyway, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’m just leaving, but I’m waiting for my friend who’s in the toilet, would you mind – he’ll just be a second.’
‘No, you can’t – I don’t give a fuck, you can wait for him outside.’ And I was promptly escorted from the premises by penis & sidekick, both of whom seemed more than willing to give me a quick demonstration of their brutality if I resisted.

What the fuck is wrong with the nightclubs in this city, the staff they’re hiring, and the security policy they’re pursuing? I for one resent paying my hard-earned money to go to a place where I’m treated with contempt, patronised, bullied and threatened with violence, and this, moreover, appears to have become the unfortunate norm in most of the more popular venues. The normalisation of this state of affairs has created an environment where, just like the immigration queue at the airport, all clubgoers are desperately trying to ‘BE NORMAL,’ on pain of expulsion and assault. All that has to happen is that one thug doesn’t like the look of you, and you’re out, or worse… Who would voluntarily put up with this state of affairs? Fuck Saturday Night Fever, you can keep it. The way things are going, Saturday night Rage (and a nice cup of tea) has never seemed like a better idea.

The Author

[almost nothing] about me

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