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
the e-class grumbling awake
into the electric current
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
mimic the percussion of smokers
splattering oily phlegm pocked
pearl purple green
with petrochemical carcinogens
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
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).
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.
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.
It was pretty much as I expected. When the apocalypse came he was a liability …
And when things got bad, he came to me because I was his friend. He trusted me. I’d always looked out for him I suppose. When you’ve already had experiences together you get a good sense of what they’ll be like, whether they’ll panic, stand their ground or run away maybe. Whether they’ll do the right thing or take care of themselves. The coward’s way or the right way.
He knew me pretty well in that sense. But soon we were playing by different rules and he just wasn’t cut out for what was to follow.
We spent the first wave at my place. It was still busy and there was lots of confusion. It wasn’t too dangerous back then. He showed up on my doorstep with a backpack, a torch and a box full of canned food. I could see there was a part of him that thought this would be an adventure, but I knew better than him, and that’s why I was worried. Keep away from the windows, I told him, and never leave the door unlocked. Not even for a second. Not even if you take only five steps outside.
But the writing was already on the wall. He wasn’t cut out for it and he was going to cause problems.
When the second wave came we had to leave town. The killing had begun and it was too dangerous to stay put. We moved only by the night, sleeping whenever we could during the day. He was already starting to struggle then. Weight loss, sleep deprivation and threats of ambush. The first man I killed only got near us because he fell asleep during his watch. I told him not to fall asleep. Never fall asleep during your watch.
Sorry, he told me, I’m so sorry, I only closed my eyes for a moment.
It wasn’t long before he became desperate and brought a group of survivors to our camp. He wanted food and they had some but you can’t trust people anymore the way you used to. I stayed calm and let them sit down. They told us how they’ve been moving about, not staying in any one place for too long.
Yeah, I said, looking them over. I tried to press them for some answers of where they’d been but they wouldn’t tell me.
“Just around,” they said, and I nodded back. Before long they took what we had and tried to kill us.
“You can’t do that,” I told him afterwards, “Not even if they look like good people.”
He just cried and said he was hungry, but now we had to move on. I was angry at him for that. Everyone is scared of what’s out there but the real danger comes from within. People aren’t good when they’re confronted. I was tired of being the one to pick up the pieces and I was tired of being right all the time.
We walked for days. We’d hear gunshots, distant screams, a car revving somewhere and then silence. We came across a plane wreckage, we saw a house burning on the horizon, signs of muted horror we’d never know.
We’d both lost things since it happened. I know I can keep going, but it will get worse. No one gets to live like this and keep on being the person they wanted to be; or thought they once were.
Three more times we came across survivors and each time we had to fight, the first two as night ambushes, the third when he let slip that we knew of a nearby stash of military rations.
The writing had been on the wall for a long time. We’d find bodies hanging from trees or lampposts and he would just look at me silently.
I said goodbye to him in my own way, and then I let it happen. I looked out to the distance and held on as tight as I could. It was over quickly.
There are no more barriers to cross. I’m a passenger in my own body now. But I’m glad it was me who did it and not one of the others. I wouldn’t want him to go that way.
I’m alone now, and I’m a different person, but somewhere down there I still exist. My purpose is survival but it brings no or less meaning than it did before. The hunger distracts me from the danger, the pain numbs the loneliness. And the sky still turns blue from time to time.
Perhaps people will come across the scene at the top of that hill and maybe think of what happened there that day. But they’ll be busy fighting their own battles which I will never know. And I know mine is no more important.
Cam’s a very good friend of mine and a great writer. He has a dog called Mickey and he gets up at 04:30 every morning to run. Cam’s strength of character is an inspiration to me. One day he hopes to have a Peregrine Falcon.
A good kicking on the way home from the pub, by the hobo chic quartet (excerpt from a novel – The exit line)
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.
I’ve always had a bad track record with relationships. I don’t know where it started or how it got so bad but it’s always been that way. Or so it seemed to be. There’s a moment in everybody’s life when something decisive happens, and it changes us forever. Whether the change is for better, or for worse, it’s a turning point that we take to the grave.
I was talking to a friend of mine about relationships and he said he’d only ever had one relationship in his life, and I got the impression that this made him feel less experienced than me. I looked at him and envied his inexperience because if relationships have taught me anything, it’s that people turn into toxic beasts during a difficult break-up. My soul would be stronger without those memories.
When love transmogrifies into repulsion, you lose a part of yourself. I lost a part of myself a few years ago when I took my eye off the ball and made a terrible mistake. Some people call it the ‘Magpie Syndrome’, that shallow pull towards shiny objects. And the problem with shiny objects is that they often lack depth, so once you’ve rolled them in your hand and seen yourself reflected in them, you’re faced with a difficult decision. I made the wrong decision, and the shiny object wormed its way into my soul.
She was a shallow, soulless person with no internal fortitude. An emotional leech obsessed with consumerism, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and she truly believed that mascara is a god given right. Add a dash of designer goods and you had the perfect recipe for mindless narcissism. Needless to say, I learned a lesson in true beauty and saw that a coy smile and cutesy shoulders that shrug on cue, hide nothing but a brittle husk.
So what the fuck does that say about me? Nothing good. And that’s because I’m the bad guy in this story, not the so-called narcissist, she’s just a foil for my villainous shite. If I met me in the street now, I’d break my nose for being a moron, and tell me to be out of town by noon.
But it’s what I left behind that’s the greatest tragedy in this story and makes me a despicable villain. She’s the opposite of the leech and me. She’s the most beautiful and caring person I’ve ever met in my life and I hurt her to the very core because I saw a shiny object, and was hypnotised by my own reflection. I remember walking down the street and she called me and told me she’d had to clear all of my stuff out of her flat because she found it physically painful to think about what had happened. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain and I can only imagine how awful it must feel.
So, this is my apology to you. The words of a fool who’s led a frivolous life and is willing to sacrifice everything, to let you know I’ve changed and I regret everything.
Our Creative Director, Jesse Kingsley, used to be a pool attendant in the 90s. He talks fondly of the position; halcyon days, simpler times, all sprayed with chlorinated water and discount confectionary from the pool kiosk.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when Jesse came up to me and said: “Gary Sweet was my swimming teacher”. I lifted my head up from an exquisitely baked chicken pie and told him that I once had a parking altercation with the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners. A weird stalemate developed where neither of us knew which story was better. That’s when our Head of Business Development chimed in with a story about dating Sting’s cousin’s daughter.
Later that day, Jesse wondered if Gary would remember him if they ever met on the street. I asked Jesse if he’d done anything out of the ordinary during the swimming lessons, and he said no, he hadn’t. But then he smiled and said: “Yes he would remember me! Because back then, my last name was Beaver!”
Brian Cho sits behind me at work, and calls himself The Brian. He’s the kind of person who strolls into meetings he’s not invited to and contributes like he’s organised the meeting, while everyone else sits there, too polite to say anything.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when The Brian swivelled around on his chair and said: “Callum, I got your email about looking at your friend’s website and I wanted to know more about your relationship with her. What does she mean to you?” I told him she’s one of my closest friends on the planet. To this, The Brian replied: “Then I will make sure I give it my complete attention”.
When I gave my friend The Brian’s feedback, I told her what he’d said, and she teared up and said: “What a lovely man, he must be great to work with”. I nodded, took a sip of my drink and ordered a tin of sardines.
was bat shit crazy
his wife was a jehovah’s witness
loud, white haired: thief beater
me one question:
‘what’s in the bag?’
and his wife,
at night the cabin boy hid in the shadows
they told me
was going to a school for
where there were
sat on the edge
of single figures
no chocolate biscuits?
no fizzy drinks?
this was my first deal breaker
put down the
went to bed.
I had captain pugwash wallpaper to look at
hill primary blues
as the bad Andrew
in the other class
bad person/boy/pestiferous fumarole
spit on another boy’s back
he grew up to be
with good taste
Good eLearning is about as rare as good poetry. We’re led to believe that if it’s interactive and gamified, then it’s both contemporary and cutting edge. But what happened to substance? It’s all very well having a stylish looking module, equipped with all the bells and whistles money can buy but does it adequately communicate a message? Basically, is anybody actually learning anything?
Substance comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from thorough research. A good eLearning module is not unlike an essay that conveys a central contention. Every central contention is built upon a solid research platform that endeavours to build an argument.
So, what’s the difference between an argument and an opinion? Well, an argument is based on research, and an opinion is not. Simple as that. Good eLearning modules should never be regarded as opinions, otherwise, the learner will, and shouldn’t, have any faith in the product.
Substance is easy to spot. It’s the sentence that’s packed with watertight ideas, garnished with a modest sense of confidence.
I think that these sentences have been lost in the drive to make eLearning modules look ‘pretty’. Now, I’m not against bells and whistles, in fact, I extol their shiny virtues. However, they’re often used to mask the fact that the central contention of the module has no soul, and is devoid of any research.
It’s a bit like the story about the Emperor’s New Clothes, a tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a couple of cowboy weavers who promise the Emperor a new suit of invisible clothes but who are incompetent and bestow upon him an invisible suit. They assure him that it’s the height of fashion and he’s so vain that he believes them and parades through the town completely naked. This is what we call a logical fallacy; faulty reasoning in the construction of an argument.
We’re told that these bells and whistles in a module are ‘state of the art’, the way forward in eLearning but more often than not they mask the fact that the soul of the module, the argument, is missing, or incomplete.
Education is regarded as one of the pinnacles of so-called civilization. However, it’s merely become another product we take to market, and so many of these modules we churn out are actually naked, logical fallacies walking down the main street like the vain Emperor, unaware of the mocking crowd.
Ps. We don’t build modules like that…
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