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The Walking Unvaxxed

They walk among us. Not shuffling or rotting or moaning in a woeful pitch but just walking among us, with bags and stuff. The usual shit we all carry. However, these walkers are the unvaxxed and one of them could be sitting next to you right now, on a bus.

When Rick Grimes woke up from a coma in episode one of The Walking Dead, the damage had already been done. The world had already descended into chaos. This kind of happened to me at the beginning of the pandemic but it was the result of a serious bender with Jason the Manc and Greek Steve. Anyway, unlike Grimes, we’ve been eased into this new world, like an unhealthy stool wavering above the meniscus of life before it lands with a plop and a whimper into the mouth of a sadomasochist.

We’ve been living in this new world for over 18 months now, and it’s revealed some shitty things about who we are. In particular, the division between the haves and the have nots, which were always there but are now abundantly clear, even in so-called wealthy nations with egalitarian beliefs built on glass foundations.

But now the dust is beginning to settle a wee bit, we’re faced with a new social group set to be segregated by vaccine passports. They are The Walking Unvaxxed, potentially infected, but definitely armed, and dangerous. A minority created by a virus and proudly sponsored by a far right group near you! Or so I’m told. The jury’s still out on that one.

By all accounts, The Walking Unvaxxed are a noisy bunch, moving in herds across the Covid wasteland, looking to feed on the disciples of Pfizer, as they ward off these flesh eating corpses with screenshots of the Guardian and common sense. But what will this vaxxed majority say when they’re out on the town and see the unvaxxed being denied entry to a venue based on a choice they made not to roll up their sleeve and take one for the team?

Will the unvaxxed counter this snub by opening up old school speak easy’s, with secret locations protected by an arcane code? Venues you can only frequent if you’re in the know? What you might call cool places that hipsters championed all those years ago; the same anti-establishment people who are now happy to tow the party line. Fuck, they even had these secret spaces in the bowels of the Titanic, and everyone was having a lot more fun than the posh people – the establishment.

Over the coming years, we’re in for a rough ride when it comes to The Walking Unvaxxed. What the fuck do you do with them? Nobody will want to employ them, their friends and family might abandon them, and they’ll be banned from the majority of public spaces. They might not be allowed to leave the country.

So, I’m really interested to see how the authorities will deal with the Unvaxxed, without using the ‘S’ word that has been used to oppress many minority groups in the past. And ask yourself this question: Will you let your kids play with the great unvaxxed or will you baton down the hatches and say: “We don’t want your kind round here”?

Fun times ahead …

Job hunting in dystopia

One afternoon you rock up to your hospitality job with a hangover, only to find that it’s closed its doors indefinitely and suddenly you’re unemployed again. With fuck all in your savings account, you decide to drown your sorrows in the pub across the road, but it’s closed its doors too.

The next morning you jump on Seek and the world is your oyster. You’re presented with page after page of life-changing employment. Here there are fresh opportunities and the lure of cold, hard cash that’ll elevate you from cask wine to bottled wine; from two-minute noodles to a main at Sushi Noodle Guy.

On day two, once you’ve updated your CV and written a cover letter, you start pumping out the applications. After two or three hours you actually feel like you’ve done a day’s work and sit down for a glass of cheap white and a hearty bowl of posh Mi Goreng two minute noodles to celebrate.

When you rise on day three, you eagerly scan your email account for all the replies you dreamt about during the previous night’s slumber. Yes, Seek has sent you a ‘Job Application Confirmation’ email but no, your future employers are apparently also in lockdown and oblivious to your brilliantly written cover letter and excellently formatted CV.

So, you try CareerOne, LinkedIn, Indeed, ArtsHub, something called Neuvoo, you even try Gumtree, for Christ’s sake, and suddenly you’re surrounded by a flurry of virtual paper swirling around your head, cartoon-like, with daytime television and, in particular, Ellen, sitting cross-legged and calm on her Covid-19 chair, taunting you from every corner of your mind.

Ellen stands up and begins to dance. The audience loves it. Ellen: funny, popular (was), rich, employed, Ellen. You decide that job hunting is like having your own TV show that nobody wants to watch. You dance like Ellen, but nobody wants to dance with you.

After a week of moping through multiple applications on multiple sites, you find yourself reluctantly calling Centrelink (the dole) for your Customer Reference Number and being on hold for two hours. You can smell the desperation, and, what’s worse, you’re now a part of a dreaded system where you become accountable for your every inaction. In Centrelink, no one can hear you scream. Well, they can but they just call security.

A month passes and maybe you’ve embraced unemployment and decided to use this time to write a novel or covertly photograph some street art at dawn with the help of a friend who’s always unemployed and likely to be rejoicing at having more friends around to play with. Once the project is underway you become elated and regard it as your job (and so you should). You pass off this time of unemployment as an opportunity to explore yourself and your art. Your life develops greater meaning. Until…

Just as you begin to regard yourself as a serious but potentially homeless artist, a recruitment agency call you and invites you to participate in a Zoom interview, and you’re excited but have no idea which job they’re talking about. You rake through your wardrobe for your interview clothes nonetheless (just the top half). Your suit jacket and business shirt need an iron and smell stale, so you spray them with deodorant and leave them out to air (fuck knows why).

The next day you download Zoom onto your laptop and dazzle the recruitment people with your experience and devastating repartee. They like your jacket and shirt and have no idea you’re wearing only stained underwear down below. They smile at you with twenty-first century teeth and promise you the employment equivalent of a rose garden. You quit Zoom, pour yourself a cheap white and a week later you walk into an appropriately socially distanced call centre to start your new job. A team leader greets you wearing the new K-mart range of office wear, and you join five others in a training room to watch a video about telecommunications etiquette.

For three months you endure minimum wage and enthusiastic team leaders who speak in jargon and say, ‘does that make sense’ fifty times a day. You don’t smoke but get in with the smokers because they’re more fun and hate the job as much as you do. You go home each night and drink a couple of bottles of Bowlers Run Chardonnay because it’s less than five dollars a bottle.

One morning you wake up to a call from the recruitment agency advising you that the call centre no longer wants you, muttering something about ‘attitude’. You quickly decide self-isolation and being on Centrelink is better than listening to corporate bullshit all day and selling your soul to a two-dollar shop version of the devil anyway. You roll over and go back to sleep.

A few days later you jump on Seek again, but deep down you know you’ll be dragging out that arts project in less than a month. You get up, use your Covid-19 exercise time to walk to the bottle-o and buy a four litre cask of Golden Oak medium dry white, before heading quickly home, and turning on the television.

Ellen dances towards you.

*This was also published in Troublemag, where some revisions and additions were made by the editor, Steve Proposch. This is the version from Troublemag: https://www.troublemag.com/hey-covid-19-thanks-for-the-good-times/

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).

Searching for joy in the pandemic

IMG_20200326_161540

The supermarket is now a dangerous place to be. People who might be sick move up and down the aisles searching for hand sanitizer, pasta and a way to wipe their arse. It’s a depressing sight, watching people navigate their way through a human obstacle course. However, today I’m not going to dwell on the doom and gloom of a pandemic, instead, I’m going to write about something that brings me joy.

There’s a coffee shop, well a window, down the road from me that sells coffee, cakes, and muffins. And yes, it’s an open window right on the pavement that’s part of a residential property. Apparently, it used to be a DVD nook at the east end of their lounge that’s been converted into a takeaway coffee shop. You’d never know. It’s now called Capulus and Co.

It’s run by a family who make the best coffee I’ve ever had (I write this with conviction). They’ve secured the beans, the good stuff, the primo brown gold, and I’m one of their caffeine disciples. Most mornings, I walk 100 metres to pray at the altar of their divine brew. I order a regular latte, and after a wee chat with the barista, I respectfully maintain my distance from the other disciples on the pavement and attend to my emails.

After a couple of minutes, the barista gives me one of the highlights of my day, a regular latte in a brown and tan cup. Then I walk home slowly enjoying each sip until I reach the stairs that lead me to my place of isolation, where The King of Queens seems to be playing on repeat.

But those 100 metres to the window and back keep me sane and I’ll always remember that walk and the life-affirming coffee, as something that got me through this thing.

We all need something like that walk in the morning because it’s those slivers of joy that give us something to look forward to. And when this is over, I’m going to give the barista a big hug, hail a taxi, and get the fuck out of dodge.

Capulus and Co can be found at 9 Sydney Rd, Brunswick, Victoria and is open from 7am – 2pm, Monday to Friday, and 8am – 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.  

Do you have a coronavirus story you’d like to share?

I’ve changed the name of my blog to The coronavirus diaries until this thing blows over. So, if anyone wants to send me a story they have to tell about self-isolation, coping with self-isolation and basically, anything to do with their experience of this time in our lives, send it through and I’ll post it for you.

A few top tips for writing a blog:

  • Keep it short, no more than 800 words (less is more when writing a blog, many of the greatest blogs I’ve read are only 500 words long, or shorter)
  • Use simple language
  • Try to work out what the intention of the story is
  • Give it an edit once it’s done for spelling and grammar etc, and
  • And remember that everyone’s story is an important part of this historical event

If you do send me your story, please include a very short bio of 50 words and a photo of some description to: callumscot@gmail.com

During times like these, it’s important that we document and share our stories, especially if you’re in isolation and feel like you need your voice to be heard.

Happy writing.

Cheers

Callum Scott