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whippet real good

a creative nonfiction

I once saw a whippet get injured during a backyard boxing match in Swan Hill. We’d been at the pub and Geoff wanted to have a tea towel bundle with me because he’d heard a rumour that my balls are bigger than his. Yes, the jury has deliberated, and some men are fucken idiots. However, watching two men with their shirts off, punching the shite out of each other in the serious moonlight, is always going to be vaguely arousing for people who have tasted the wonders of sweet transgression, and lived to tell the tale. Or maybe not, cue Clementine Ford entering the scene with a charred copy of The Taming of the Shrew in one hand and a sharpened pencil in the other. It’s good to keep your options open.

Anyway, when we got back to our mate’s place, Geoff and I wrapped tea towels around our knuckles and went out to the backyard. The circling began. Others came out to watch with their cans of VB. A fire burned behind us in a large steel drum, sending ominous silhouettes stumbling across the lawn. The scene was like something straight out of a post-feminist nightmare, where toxic masculinity has come out to play, presided over by a porn-fuelled, cyborg version of Louis CK and a Kimono clad Dennis Nielsen twiddling his thumbs on a pile of broken bathroom tiles.  
 
Geoff threw the first punch, which connected with the left side of my jaw. I felt an errant tooth loosen and give up. Another punch came at me, so I moved to the left and landed an uppercut under Geoff’s chin. I heard part of his jaw crack and he stumbled back and fell over onto a Whippet, who was an innocent bystander and not even watching the fight. I edged forward.
 
Fifteen minutes later, as I sat in the vet’s waiting room with a broken whippet lying at my feet in a cardboard box, I thought about the reason for the boxing match. Testy envy. The lot of man. Not good for Whippets and humanity in general.
 
But now, six months later, as I watch the Whippet, who ended up being an Afghan Hound called, Nutty, sleep in the February shadows of my roof terrace, I think about fate and how it has a way of converting sceptics into mystics and makes the world seem more at ease with itself and explains some of its profane decisions.
 
A man was jealous of my testes and now I have a loving and loyal companion. Poetry in motion, the last fragment of the old ways, na seann dòighean.
 
I’m moving home to Scotland soon, and Nutty’s coming with me.
 
And as the sun sets on another peculiar day of industry, Nutty sighs out a massive puppy dream, while I put a book in its place and watch her roll over and bark. I will miss this place, it’s been good to me, but the time has come, and like all good actors, it’s time for me to take my final bow, and exit stage left pursued by a bear, or in this case, a debt collector with a shovel in the boot of his car. 
 
Uisge Beatha, water of life, creator of chaos – home of the brave. Slainte Mhath.

Boga: the art of violent Yoga

There’s a scene from Parks and Recreation, where Ron Swanson is camping and says this: “Fishing relaxes me, it’s like yoga, except I still get to kill something”. He makes a good point. That’s why I spend around 20 minutes every morning doing an exercise technique I call Boga. It’s basically Yoga for bogans (Aussie rednecks), hence Boga. I call it Boga because it involves violent films, instant coffee, and a singlet (not shown in photo below).

Now, I’m about to tell you how you can invite Boga into your life and bathe in its enriching tranquillity.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to gritty transcendence.

Step 1: Select a violent film.

Step 2: Put three heaped teaspoons of instant coffee in a mug, add boiling water, a splash of milk and drink.

Step 3: Sit crossed legged on the floor and picture somebody you dislike, and think about how you plan to remove them from your life.

Step 4: Rise up and press play on the movie.

Step 5: Tell yourself that you’re fucking invincible, and nobody can fuck with you on this side or the other.

Step 6: Begin stretching. These can be any stretches you like doing but just make sure you stretch your whole body. After six minutes stop.

Step 7: Assume the push up position, drop down halfway and hold for one minute. Rise and repeat five times.

Step 8: Plank for one minute on your front and one minute in a reverse plank/cowboy.

Step 9: Get up, shake yourself down and do three minutes of shadow boxing.

Step 10: Next, it’s 40 chin ups (you’ll need a self-standing chin up station, which you can purchase for around $200 online).

Step 11: Walk into your bathroom, look at yourself in a mirror, summon the spirit of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and talk to the person you dislike. Tell them everything. Really go to fucken town on them.

Step 12: Return to your place of exercise and do a three minute stretching warm down.

Step 13: Turn off the violent film, sit at the kitchen table, wearing a singlet and think deeply about your life, while you enjoy another instant coffee. For those of you who are not a recovering alcoholic, a splash of whisky in your coffee never goes astray.

Even if you just do a Boga Sesh four times a week, you’ll notice a difference in your self-esteem and performance at work. All the poison in your soul will soon seep out of your life and you’ll finally rid yourself of all the toxic wankers you’ve let invade and tarnish your life for years.

In this new world we all occupy now, it’s time to evolve.

Welcome to Boga Nation …

Dealing with annoying co-workers Vic Mackey style

There’s a scene in The Shield where Vic Mackey, played by Michael Chiklis, is chasing down a gang member, who’s quicker and more agile than the stocky Vic. The gang member jumps a wooden fence and thinks he’s home free, however, Vic just runs through the fence and apprehends his man.

“Good cop and bad cop have left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop.” Vic Mackey – The Shield

For those of you who haven’t seen The Shield, Vic Mackey is a ruthless cop who will do anything to get the job done, no matter how many rules or fences he has to break. He’s only happy when his opponent has been taken out for good and he can get on with his corrupt approach to law enforcement and upsetting his superiors.

Now, this got me thinking about how I could apply a Vic Mackey problem solving matrix to an office environment, without using his usual tactics of shooting people in the face and planting massive quantities of smack on them.

Here are my thoughts on six office problems that could be solved by asking yourself this one simple question: What would Vic Mackey do?

  1. A co-worker sighs a lot when their having a bad day. People have asked them to stop because it’s distracting. But they’ve ignored their colleagues polite requests. Vic decides it’s got to stop immediately, so he plants a copy of Mien Kampf in the co-worker’s bag and calls HR.
  2. A co-worker spends too much time discussing their personal problems with their colleagues. Vic’s had enough, so he takes the co-worker aside and tells them that people think they’re a bit creepy and feel uncomfortable around them.
  3. A co-worker interrupts people during meetings when they’re making a point. Vic doesn’t like being shut down, so the next time the co-worker interrupts him, he spreads a rumour about them being the subject of a sensitive HR investigation.
  4. A co-worker has obnoxious email habits, like marking every email as urgent and sending everyone ‘Friday Funnies.’ Vic finds nothing funny, so he sends everyone a photoshopped image of the co-worker strangling a kitten from an anonymous email account, with the caption ‘Konichiwa bitches’.
  5. A co-worker plays music so loud through their headphones that you can clearly hear what they’re listening to. Vic only listens to The Eagles. So, when the co-worker’s out for lunch, Vic smears fresh chili into their headphones and mouse.
  6. A co-worker spends too much time on social media communicating with friends during work hours, especially when deadlines are looming. Vic employs somebody to hack into the co-worker’s Facebook account, steal their identity and uses it to post QAnon conspiracy theories to all their family and friends.

Now, I would never subscribe to the actions of Vic because I stopped drinking and taking drugs a while back, but he always gets the job done, no matter what it takes. There are many things wrong with the man, but Vic does demonstrate an unerring dedication to eliminating the people who get in his way. And let’s face it, that’s a rare characteristic these days.

So, the next time a co-worker is breaking the rules, ask yourself, “What would Vic Mackey do?” and try not to act upon it.

Headbanger

For two months, a bird’s been attacking my window with gusto. In fact, I now call the bird Gusto because I’ve never encountered a creature with such tenacity and mindless courage.

The first time Gusto slammed into my window, feet, and headfirst, I almost shat myself because I was doing the dishes and the window in question is about two feet from my face. When Gusto hit, I did that thing from Jaws where Brody sees blood in the water and the camera performs a dolly zoom, AKA a Hitchcock shot. That’s when the camera is dollied either forward or backward while the zoom on the lens is pulled in the opposite direction. A bit like life. Easy!

After ten seconds I reached for the bottle of whisky that’s no longer there because I’m a recovering alcoholic with a ghost addiction. I regard these reactions in the same way that amputees claim to still feel a missing limb. I sometimes wake up with a phantom hangover on Saturday mornings.

Apparently, Gusto is a Pee Wee and part of the Magpie family. In the realm of birds, I’ve always regarded the Magpies as the traditional 1920s mobsters and the Indian Myna Birds as the Eastern European gangsters. So, Magpies and their ilk are getting fucked over by the Mynas and that’s why I’m not too bothered by Gusto. The poor fucker’s the last of his kind and I feel a bit like that too.

And why? Because I’m drowning in a sea of miserable absurdity. I understand why Gusto is smashing himself against my kitchen window because he’s done with it all. It’s an existential crisis, poorly disguised as a reflective territorial dispute. We all have territorial disputes in our minds. Think paranoia versus reality, seasoned with good old-fashioned vitriol. But life’s not bad, it’s just problematic. Well, that’s what I tell myself in the dead of night as Gusto continues his attack on my kitchen window. Neither of us knows what’s next. My dreams absorb his attacks.

But we are at one, that concussed bird and me because I get his absurd task, and I hope he never stops, or at least stops before he breaks his neck. Before he does break his neck, I want to invite him in, have a sneaky whisky with him and tell him all my hopes and fears.

Maybe that line of communication will make him realise that all is not lost, it’s just a wee bit out of reach for now.

BTW this is a dolly zoom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5JBlwlnJX0

A lockdown fairy tale

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about Melbourne bogans and I’ve been extremely interested in how my bogan mates from the old days spent lockdown. There are numerous assumptions I could make involving bongs, smoking inside, Studio 10, KFC, and four-litre casks of wine from the local BWS but that’s all hearsay and outdated stereotyping. So, what I did was contact a friend of mine who is a self-professed, card-carrying bogan from way back. Let’s call him Ed.

Ed owns a Jim’s Mowing franchise because he likes being on the road and working for himself. He has an offsider called Spoons, who’s his mate’s eldest son. Come lockdown and the end of all non-essential services, Ed and Spoons were temporarily out of a job. And so, began Ed’s long, dark descent into Netflix and kidney failure.   

Ed lives alone. He’s divorced and sees the kids every second weekend. He and his ex are on good terms but not mates. She moved on, while Ed stood still in his one bedroom flat in Melbourne’s outer north and smoked a dart while looking out of the window at a dog sniffing around a dead bird on the pavement.  

On the first day of lockdown, Ed got up, showered, brushed his teeth, got dressed and grabbed the keys for his ute, only to remember that he was in lockdown and had no lawns to mow. So, he sat down on the couch, flicked the cap off a stubbie, and turned on the telly. He’d never watched free to air morning TV before and promptly signed up for Netflix.

Within a week, the world of Netflix became Ed’s entire world. When mates called him, he talked about stuff he’d watched on Netflix, when he talked to the kids he talked about Netflix and when his mum called him to tell him her sister died, he talked to her about Dead to me on Netflix. Ed was transfixed by the haze of the Big Red N and he spent his days and nights bathing in its warm glow.

After a week, Ed stopped going to his local supermarket and started getting his supplies delivered via the endless array of online delivery services. At first, it was groceries from Safeway and alcohol from Jimmy Brings. And then one day he gave up on cooking altogether and started to rely on Netflix’s partner in crime, Uber Eats.

Ed’s flat had become a one-stop delivery destination and the thought of going outside didn’t even cross his mind. At this stage, the phone stopped ringing and Ed’s home looked and smelled like a compost heap but at least he was up-to-date with Vikings and Peaky Blinders, and he’d been smart enough to panic buy toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic.

What Ed didn’t realise, was that for everyone else, life was slowly getting back to normal. With Netflix and Uber Eats in his life he didn’t need things like outdoor activities, a job, or the news. He had new friends in his life because Netflix had every episode of Friends available to watch whenever he felt like watching his new friends having madcap adventures in Manhattan’s West Village.

And it was during an episode of Friends that Ed first noted a dull ache in his lower back that he attributed to hours of sitting on the couch.  

The ache got worse and worse and one morning he looked at himself in the mirror and his eyes were bloodshot and his skin looked mottled and his lower back now felt like somebody had battered him with a sledgehammer.

When Ed woke up in hospital, he had no idea how he’d gotten there. Apparently, Spoons had come round, knocked on the door got no reply, so had a look through the kitchen window and saw Ed in a heap on the lounge floor next to a pile of Uber Eats bags and a bottle of Penfolds Port. He called an ambulance and the rest is history.

Ed tells me he’s getting better but has lost a lot of his kidney function and has type 2 diabetes, so Spoons and his mate are running the business until Ed gets back on his feet. Since his hospitalisation, he’s canceled his Netflix account and deleted the Uber Eats app from his phone, and now gets all his food delivered by Light n’ Easy every Monday morning. He’s completely given up on TV and now listens to a lot of true crime podcasts and sometimes Russell Brand.

I talked to Ed on the phone yesterday and I asked him if he had any regrets about how he spent lockdown and if he had his time back would he do things differently. He paused for a moment, drinking in the question, and then said: “Well, obviously there are the health concerns and all that but I did get to watch some awesome stuff on TV and Spoons has said that he’ll give me one of his kidneys if I get desperate. So, things could be a lot worse. At least I’m not starving to death.”

And that’s Ed’s lockdown story. I was looking for a funny bogan story but instead, I found a story about a man who fell foul of laziness and all the online products and services we have that prop this pandemic of laziness up.

So, the next time you find yourself in a pandemic/lockdown situation, think about Ed before you get comfy, switch on Netflix, and brush your index finger over the Uber Eats app. Kidney failure is only a 30-minute wait away, and you can track its progress on your phone, while you watch Friends!

Riding the 19 tram (pre-COVID lockdown)

Once upon a time when I was a commuter …

The 19 tram is a fickle beast, prone to fits of madness, rage, and the inevitable delays of Melbourne public transport. For the most part, I like my tram route because it goes up Royal Parade past Princes Park and glides up Sydney Road spewing commuters onto the pavement and into the many bars and cafes along the way. It’s like a Mallee Ringneck feeding the road with tiny morsels of consumerism.

I can’t remember my first ride on the 19 tram but I do know that I’ve used it almost every day for the last nine years and I can even hear it clanking away at night, as I eat my dinner up in my wee flat amongst the trees.

I think it was the Bedroom Philosopher who wrote about the 86 tram a few years ago and he captured the spirit of the journey perfectly and some of the pretentious shitehawks who use the service. The 19 tram has a slightly similar ambiance but it’s also different in many ways. The main difference being that the 19 tram has a strange sense of nobility, particularly if you watch it stop and start, as it makes its way northward up Sydney Road from Brunswick Road. I love watching it slowly crawl up passed Blyth Street and disappear into the Land of the Hookah, the sun reflecting off its back windows. It reminds me of being a kid in Scotland, watching my Dad walk up David Street with the day’s takings tucked under his arm, in an old biscuit tin. Just a reassuring feeling of familiarity that makes us all feel at ease when perched on the edge of perpetual trepidation.

However, on a bad day, the 19 becomes my biscuit tin of nightmares. I only catch it a few stops down the road but when I see it approach my stop with its windows misted over and people packed in around the door I’m filled with dread. Why not walk I hear you ask? It’s only a few stops down the road. I’m constantly running late, so I end up having to squeeze myself in and just take it like a commuter. It’s that feeling of impending doom as I mount those stairs and squeeze myself into that jigsaw puzzle of arms, legs and torsos that pisses me off the most. Being stuck next to the person with a bag that’s far too big for what they really need to do that day. Music from earphones that’s too loud and never my cup of tea. Sour coffee breath, cheap deodorant, bullshit conversation, and that erratic pulse of unease from people just like me.

Poor morale is infectious and a bad start to the day.

But on the whole, I like the 19 tram. No, I love the 19 tram. It’s frequent, double carriaged, has mostly un-vandalised upholstery, runs most of the night/morning on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s something reassuring about coming home on the tram and getting off on Sydney Road and navigating your way across the road to Barkly Square. Crossing Sydney Road is an art form and is definitely an example of real life Frogger (see Seinfeld, season 9, episode 18).

So, next time you’re on the 19 tram have a think about its strong links to Sydney Road. It dominates that strip of road, which unfolds between Brunswick Road and Bell Street; a huge metal worm muscling its way up the asphalt in all its glory. One of the few trams in Melbourne with a soulful journey, as it passes through the ever-changing history of Brunswick and Coburg, disappearing into misty mornings and reappearing somewhere just beyond the Phantom Tollbooth.

And now, a poem about the morning commute on the 19 tram, by Bianca Frost:

The steel spine of Sydney Rd

as night gives way to yawning day
songbirds quarrel
the e-class grumbling awake
defibrillating shocks
into the electric current

circulating

inertia into motion

soiled steel bones grating scapular over knee
out of the old depot
resentfully onto old road Sydney

shuddering sputtering spat
the hacking paroxysms
syncopating coughs
mimic the percussion of smokers
splattering oily phlegm pocked
pearl purple green
with petrochemical carcinogens
accrued
on the daily lug every morning

up and down

arterial route 19

stop starting staring weary down the hill from Coburg
the twin lumbar spines of Moreland
stretching each articulated vertebrae

tensile

along the track

like a great glob of cholesterol
choking the straining heart
of commuters up the rabid carriageway

festooning turning rims with sprays of carbon grit
as it meets the expectant faces
of passengers ready to ride

not such a bad way to start the day
rumbles the tram with pride

Image of 19 tram courtesy of Bianca Frost (2015).

Fakin’ bacon: tales of an errant vegan

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It all started when I was 21 and moved into a share house with three vegans who were so holistic, they felt bad about having to kill the insects that were destroying their herb garden. In fact, they had a funeral for the insects in the backyard and burned incense by a little shrine they fashioned from ChupaChup sticks and Blu-Tack. I was desperate for a place to live, so I lied to them about being a committed vegan and told them I had access to cheap grass. At least the part about the grass was true.

We ate together every night and took turns in making dinner. This was in the days before mass public access to the internet, so every few days I had to hit the library and find a new recipe to maintain my charade. I maintained it for a while until I came home drunk one night and dumped a Big Mac wrapper in the kitchen bin without covering it with other bits of rubbish. The next morning, I woke up feeling a little worse for wear and decided a coffee and joint would sort me out. When I went into the kitchen, the three real vegans were sitting around the table with the Big Mac wrapper placed in the centre of the table covered in cling film, next to a pair of rubber gloves. They told me I had corrupted the sanctity of their home and threw me out. On the way out, I stole the insect shrine and for two years I would have my photo taken with it in different locations around the world and then mail the photos back to the house.

Being a shallow young man in my early twenties, I maintained the vegan illusion because I worked out that it was the early 90s and women in Melbourne seemed to like that sort of thing. I met Sarah at a Hari Krishna canteen-style restaurant not long after I was thrown out of the House of Cling Film and we hit it off immediately over dahl and an illustrated edition of the Bhagavad Gita. Three weeks later she moved into my place with her cat, Starship. These were halcyon days of pot-smoking, regular sex, vegan curries, and unemployment benefits until Sarah got a job in a secondhand bookshop down the road from the flat. Back then this was righteous employment and I was proud of her.

While Sarah was at work, I was going to uni and writing essays at home. I was also eating ham sandwiches for lunch and having a bacon roll whenever the fancy took me. One afternoon I received a phone call from a mutual friend informing me that Sarah had been spotted eating a Zinger Burger in KFC. I asked him if it was definitely her and he said, “Fuck man. I’m so sorry dude”.  I was ecstatic thinking I’d met my perfect match, so I went out and bought in a couple of porterhouse steaks for dinner. When she arrived home I had them sitting, uncooked, on the chopping board, awaiting seasoning and adoration. What I didn’t expect was her face when she saw them. It was like she’d arrived home to find a dead kitten stuffed down the toilet. Turns out that she’d suspected I was eating meat on the side and got our mutual friend to flush me out of my Ralphie Wigam style House of Lies. The upside was that I didn’t have to move out. Sarah and the mutual friend got married three years later.

For a few more years, I limped through life with my gastronomic mendacity slung over my shoulder and avoided being rumbled by my vegan brothers and sisters. However, we were coming to the end of an era and the age of holistic enlightenment was drawing to a close except for the people who were genuinely actually into it and very glad that people like me were about to jump ship and hopefully drown.

At this point in history, people were turning their backs on crystals and dream catchers and entering the cathedral of vinyl in droves, to experience a more experiential form of spirituality through the healing qualities of MDMA. When I saw friends of mine give up their veganism, I became a committed vegan and began fighting the good fight for Quorn and The Celestine Prophecy. Why? Because somehow being a vegan became something worth fighting for, it was like I’d finally found my cause in life. When the rats begin leaving the sinking ship, I tend to take the helm and sail the ship into martyrdom.

I became a zealot, a spoilsport at BBQs, a boring, preaching, predictable shite-hawk with a bicycle I made from scrap and prayer flags hanging out of my arse. After years of being a pretend vegan, I’d finally seen the quinoa on the wall. I even felt really guilty about the insect shrine and sent a long apologetic letter to the vegans from the share house I’d desecrated all those years before. I’m pretty certain they’d probably moved out long ago, so a complete stranger/s probably received a very confusing letter about an insect shrine and a Big Mac wrapper that they probably slapped on the fridge for the amusement of guests.

However, like every close relationship I’ve ever had in my life, disaster was always lurking around the corner, next to the shamed relative at a funeral and the retrenched bloke who still pretends to go to work every day. Once again, I was skint, living back in the UK and on the verge of yet another eviction. The job market was bleak and, based on experience with these situations, I’ve learned to take the quickest option to resolve my problems. In this particular instance, a ‘friend of a friend’ from my local pub needed an assistant manager to work in Grubbs Burgers; a trendy burger joint for people who have ethical problems with McDonald’s or reprobates who are so drunk they’ve forgotten where McDonald’s is located. I checked my bank balance and said yes. After three shifts, meat and I were back on track, in the form of a blue cheeseburger with shoe-string fries, washed down with a can of coke and a Camberwell Carrot, which I smoked sitting on the chest freezer in the storeroom.  And that was the end of the line.

I have never gone back to my lying vegan ways and, to be honest, it’s all rather embarrassing now, but like all fuck ups, I did learn some valuable lessons, and these are:

  1. When you’re young ‘being true to yourself’ isn’t much fun and lacks imagination; you need to play around with your personality before you even know what the ‘truth is’.
  2. Generally speaking, lies will result in homelessness.
  3. Learn to spot a cunning ruse when it’s dangled in front of your nose.
  4. Bacon is the best food in the universe, and I’ve watched many a vegan and vegetarian be swayed by its spellbinding aroma.
  5. Building a shrine to insects that were destroying your herbs is weird, especially when you’re serious about it.
  6. Stealing weird shrines is also a bit weird but taking photos of them on a Thai beach, sitting next to a bottle of Chang beer, is fucking awesome.
  7. Always know when the battle is lost and, instead of crying about it, learn the valuable lessons of defeat.

Having had a checkered dalliance with veganism, I have infinite respect for vegans who demonstrate conviction and restraint. It takes a particular kind of person to put faith in their beliefs, and in turn live their life based upon those beliefs. However, people who claim they’re vegetarians but still eat chicken and fish are fucking idiots.

 

Flogging a dead horse with Teddy (2007)

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Photo compliments of Nadine Ross

The taxi ride home from the civil court was civil. Emma sat in silence, wringing her hands while I stared out the window at homes, I would never live in. It was my second trip to the civil court in six months and I vowed never to return. But when you’ve just taken restraining orders out on each other, a trip to the civil court is in order.  Three months in jail if we’re caught together. Three months of Dostoevsky and sexual enslavement. Emma picked a piece of loose skin off her thumb and flicked it out the taxi window. Sometimes she’s so beautiful I can’t look at her.

Back at our house, I poured us both a large vodka and soda with ice and real lime. Emma retreated to the backyard for a smoke. We had rats. One of them had eaten an entire tube of Berocca and I imagined him freaking out in the walls doing chin-ups ‘til, he collapsed and puked his rat guts all over the plumbing. When I was a kid, we used to wrap rats in electricians’ tape and throw them off my mate’s 6th-floor council flat balcony. He’s now a famous parasitologist in America and he denied my friend request on Facebook because we grew apart and he’s ashamed of what he did. People do that.

I went out the back to join Emma. She was crying again. The first time I saw her crying was on a bench next to a drive-through bottle shop. We’d been together for two weeks after meeting in a writing class called Writing through trauma. She was crying because she’d dropped the bottle of gin we’d just bought. I wasn’t that bothered because the bottle shop was still open. I asked her why she was so upset, and she said something about a guy called Liam and a trip to Sydney. She was incoherent, so I bought another bottle of gin and called a taxi. Always taxis with us.

This time, as I went into the backyard, I knew why she’d been crying. It was my fault. Her cigarette butt was covered in red lipstick. Emma reminded me of the women I worked with at the Royal Hotel when I was fifteen. They all smoked cigarettes in the kitchen and left lipstick marks on cigarette butts and glasses. I find it reassuring, like the click of pool balls or heavy traffic when I’m trying to get to sleep. I sat next to her and put my hand on her right shoulder. Emma would never survive in this world if she stopped being a victim.

Later that night we watched House of 1,000 Corpses. We were drunk by this stage and used the film to avoid talking.

Teddy’s love muscle

Emma used her teddy bear’s nose to masturbate. She’d been doing it for years, but the bear’s nose was ok. I’d been suffering from acute psoriatic arthritis, so I was glad the bear was around to fill in the gaps. The bear was threadbare, and ochre and his eyes looked like they’d witnessed a genocide or two. I was never surprised by the bear’s sexual function because that’s the way Emma had always been. Idiosyncratically tragic. She was consumed by psychoanalytical interpretations of fairy tales and I was the limping, well-read thug. Every week her mother rang to plead with her to break up with me. Emma called her Mummy and promised to break up with me, but it only brought us closer together. I asked Emma why she didn’t follow her mother’s weekly wish. She told me that her mother was lonely and out to get her.

I came into the bedroom to find Emma in bed, eyes closed, knees up and Teddy’s nose gliding up and down her rock-hard clitoris. I was holding two cups of Lady Grey tea. She opened her eyes and told me that she and Teddy had already started and that I should join them immediately. I put down the teas and explained that my arthritis was painful and that I would not be joining in tonight, but I’d be back in the saddle in the morning after the anti-inflammatories had kicked in. She closed her eyes and kept rubbing Teddy’s nose into her clit.

I got into bed and picked up my book.

 FuckFace

Emma had a little white fluffy dog who she loved more than me. His name was Snuffy, and he had a red collar. I used to take Snuffy to work. The dog adored Emma to the point of morbid obsession. He used to frame me for things I didn’t do, like broken glasses and piss on the bathroom floor. I’m a very careful urinator. Snuffy also had a dubious relationship with Teddy. The two had co-existed on Emma’s bed for eight years without incident. Snuffy was like the friend who’s giving and compassionate when it’s one-on-one but turns into a prick when other people are around. He reminded me of myself. The relationship was harmonious.

We were drunk again watching more TV to avoid more pressing issues. Drinking and TV are a wonderful combination for the couple who are not meant to be together anymore. My own parents have based their entire relationship on this ritual, and I have a feeling that Emma’s parents followed the same guidebook, locked into their mud-brick fantasy on the hill, a cigarette burning in the breezeway.

Snuffy had been gone a long time. I assumed he’d gone outside to do a quick perimeter recon or stepped into the bathroom to set me up for a fall. After some time had elapsed and Emma was nodding off on her Chesterfield, I got up to have a look for him. I checked the backyard. The toilet.  The side of the house. The spare room. I even tried calling his name and shaking his chain but to no avail.

I walked down the corridor, the big red door getting more and more Jack Nicholson.

I opened our bedroom door. Darkness. I switched on the main light. Snuffy the dog wonder had chewed Teddy’s face-off, leaving only the precious nose, which he was now attempting to extract from Teddy’s mutilated face. I shouted at him and he stopped and stared at me like I was interrupting an ancient sacred ritual, foam, and splinters of wood smeared around his mouth.

 I shall fear no evil, for I am an evil motherfucker 

Emma insisted that her ex-boyfriend take Teddy to the doll hospital to have his face sewn back on. His name was David and he lacked social skills. Emma liked to keep him around to perform tasks like this. He was her plan B.

 ‘Let me present, FISH BOY!’

Work had been hectic. I’d taken on too much again, mainly to avoid thinking about my life. Work, TV, and drinking were my salvation. If they’d been taken away, I’d have stripped naked and plunged a screwdriver into a tram driver’s neck. I sometimes pictured myself after killing the tram driver, crouched on a seat like a psychopathic Puck, knife in one hand, erection in the other and probably fantasizing about Monica Bellucci in Irreversible. I spend so much time keeping my shit together by imposing banality into my routine. One sniff of freedom and I’d be famous for at least two weeks.

When I arrived home, I could hear loud, forlorn music from the 80s. I opened the door and the noise shifted the skin on my forehead, slightly to left and maybe half an inch upwards. Emma was standing in the middle of the lounge room swaying with a glass of red. I shouted her name. I turned off the music. Nothing.

Over dinner Emma abruptly stopped eating and told me that the best thing ever had happened today. That today was the best day of her life. She told me to go to the bedroom. My arthritis had cleared up, so I was hoping this meant we’d fuck like normal on a Wednesday night in the most livable city on earth. I left her staring at her last piece of steak and went to the bedroom.

I have seen some fucked up stuff in my life. It all started when I pulled a nail out of Douglas Boag’s foot and blood sprayed all over my neck. Or when I shot a raven, smashed it with a brick and its guts flowed from its arse and into my face.

Teddy was back. He was sat against the double pillows on Emma’s favourite white Egyptian linen. His face had been sown on again but it was lopsided, like a victim of Bell’s Palsy or that Teddy had murdered another Teddy, carved its face off, and attached it to his own as a vehicle for poetry.

My breath was trapped in my throat. The only part of Teddy that was still part of Teddy was his nose. That round black marble surface, glinting under the chandelier. The piece of Emma’s childhood that allowed orgasms to flow through time, colliding with atoms and nova stars and airborne disease. The best part intact. I removed my clothes.

 

A good kicking on the way home from the pub, by the hobo chic quartet (excerpt from a novel – The exit line)

BIRDS

I’m being repeatedly kicked in the ribs by four pairs of feet. I can feel blood pouring out of my mouth. It’s pissing down with rain. I remember people telling me you stop feeling anything after a while when you’re being beaten up, and I thought they were talking shite. They’re right.

For some inexplicable reason, I have the song My Old Man’s a Dustman going through my head. I wonder when they’re going to stop. It feels like they’ve been kicking me for such a long time. I’m going to be a right mess in the end. Cindy’s being held back by two women. She’s screaming her head off. A good lass that one, probably the best woman I’ve ever met.

I really hope I live through this because I want to spend more time with her. Come on fuckheads, finish up and let me bleed on the pavement while Cindy holds my head up and tells me she loves me. That’s my cue to be all debonair and smile, then tell her that everything’s going to be alright. Deep down I’ve always been a gentleman.

Stuart’s final words to me as they finally stand back are, ‘That’s what you get when you mess with us’. What an idiot, he’s stolen lyrics from the chorus of Karma Police by Radiohead. The irony is mind-blowing. They walk down the street and I roll over onto my side and moan very loudly.

I’m really fucked up. Cindy’s immediately by my side holding my head up and kissing me on the cheek. The rain’s stopped. I don’t want the rain to stop; it feels more cinematic that way. Somebody’s shouting, ‘Fuck you, you Pommy cunt!’ I think every one of my ribs is broken. I haven’t lost any teeth, which is a total result because dentistry is expensive in Australia.

Cindy’s crying really loudly and swearing. I tell her everything’s going to be alright. My heart rate’s quickening, I can’t fucking breathe. Cindy’s stroking my head. I’m going to pass out.

Vapour trails – 1996, Holland (excerpt from a novel)

dirty caravanDark red vapour trails wandered across the after-work sky. The yard was dry for a change and the glasshouse looked like a gigantic Fox’s Glacier Mint, under the pale blue sky. We all left the factory together for a change, slagging each other off, as we traversed the yard to our caravans.

‘Hey Billy!’ said Pat, ‘Get a fucken spliff rolled now!’

‘Whoooaaaaaaaaaah!’ replied Billy, ‘We’re gonna get a ride tonight lads.’

‘In yer dreams’, said Ger as he jumped onto my shoulders, spilling cigarette ash on my hair.

‘Get off ya fat cunt ya’, I said, straining, as my knees buckled.

Even Shaine looked happy with himself, holding his head up, cigarette dangling by his left side. Jerry was chanting his ‘hey jiggy, jiggy’ mantra, high on the prospect of a long drink with Harry down at the Hookie Bar, surrounded by an abundance of young, unattainable women. Michael was silent as we walked, planning his weekend foray into the red-light district of Amsterdam.

Liam broke free from the pack and ran towards the football that lived in the gutter.

‘Come on lads!’ He said, ‘I’ll go, goalie.’

‘Not a chance, Liam’, replied Pat. ‘It’s spliff time. Isn’t that right Billy boy? Eh? A three-papery fucker, with three grams of Special Skunk and just a sprinkling of that Afghan.…Shit lads, look at those fuckin vapour trails. Fucken mad shite! Hey Lachlan, you get into all that nature crap. Have a look at the sky.’

‘I know’, I said, staring up at the sky. ‘I fucken love those things.’

Huge, ragged, bloody gashes lay across the sky. A fine blend of natural sunlight and good old-fashioned pollution. The rest of the lads looked up and passed the appropriate ‘isn’t the sky wonderful’ comments, before lowering their heads again and then directing their vision towards Ger, as he bounced out of his caravan with a pile of tell-tale glossy magazines.

‘Wha, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha’, he said. ‘Look what I picked up at the Aldi last night, while ye were all buying bog roll and cans ah beans.’

Ger bounded over with a pile of Russian porno mags, showing women in various public service uniforms, looking bored and sultry. Cold war knock-offs from the 70s. Meanwhile, Billy plucked, as if by magic, a three papery spliff from the interior pocket of his company issue body warmer and toasted the correct end with a battered Hell’s Angels Zippo lighter. We stood in a circle, waiting for either a toke or a visual poke, while conversation and smart-arsed comments spiralled up into the sky and joined the aerodynamic works of art.

For the first time in seven weeks, we stood together as a cohesive group without the threat of verbal violence. I hadn’t felt so good in years. It was like being back at school again with all my old mates. That empowering feeling of us against the world, before the world kicks you in the bollocks and laughs in your face. A faint glimpse of what things should be like between people, no bullshit, no lies, no hate, no promises, just a sense of need for one another, without the usual emotional VAT. I loved them all and cursed myself for slighting them in the past. A plane moved slowly above our heads, creating fresh vapour trails. For once I didn’t long to be on it, eating over-cooked broccoli from a rectangular plastic container and sipping gin from a ribbed plastic cup. Things were ok for a change and I was willing to go with the new flow, no matter where it ended up stagnating.

I thought about my girlfriend. She’d be home from work by now, feet up on the sofa, drinking coffee from one of our mugs. I needed to write to her more often and tell her what was going through my mind, tell her that I loved her even though the music hadn’t been obvious enough. The music had always been so important. She asleep, or pretending to be asleep, while I sat on the edge of the bed, half-pissed and passionate from the fingers up, my guitar wide awake on my right knee. I knew she’d be wondering what was going on, wondering why I hadn’t written every week like I’d promised that morning in the Stella Maris Hostel, the morning before I left to catch a bus to Holland from Innis. But we all promise to write every week at some point in our lives. It’s like some inevitable cliché that snatches the reason from our tongues when we can’t think of the right thing to say at the moment of departure. A stupid promise that ends up on the pile of promises that promises to sail us away to the easy way out of a difficult goodbye. Goodbye good intentions, hello spineless fucker, your time is up, row back in please, we’re all eagerly awaiting your next line of bullshit. But I couldn’t allow my shallow conscience to destroy this moment of clarity because the band, as it should always do, must play on.