Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rockin' in the free world

I bought myself a rocking chair. A big, beautiful thing weaved out of wicker. I chanced upon it at a vintage store a few minutes before closing time and fell in love right there. They told me the price and I winced. I gritted my teeth and nodded and the woman with a blue rinse behind the counter slapped a yellow 'sold' sticker on its back. I couldn't afford it but I needed it. You know how these things go.

I knew exactly where to put it. It sits on the front porch, next to a big, ugly armchair covered in faded roses. The armchair is by far the more comfortable option but it doesn't stand a chance. Between the two there is a glass topped table, average but useful in the obvious sense. The rocking chair looks better with a cushion placed upon it but after the first sitting, I removed it. It is not a particularly effective rocking chair in terms of its name. It rocks a little, so long as I keep both feel on the ground, otherwise the weight disperses unevenly and I slide gently off onto the concrete. Of course, there would be no such problems with its plushy neighbor but this is not the way things are done. A wicker rocking chair adds something that an armchair doesn't. Perhaps it is in the same vein that a person of a creative disposition favours hand rolled cigarettes over tailored ones, a fountain pen over a biro. There is something to be said for aesthetic, and in the same way, there is a quiet fear of comfort, of the easy way out. People who claim to be artists will listen to music exclusively on vinyl if they think it proves something.

Sitting in the rocking chair has become something of a ritual already. It faces out over Hodgkinson Street, a pretty if rather bland piece of suburb which is lovely for people watching if you don't mind the odd group of patrons in tracksuits. It is here I sit most mornings and evenings, staring out over the street between pages of whatever pretentious novel I am currently devouring. The garden at the front is a mess but has potential. I smoke too many cigarettes and drink pot after pot of tea, feeling mostly at peace with the world, except when I am not.

Art seems constantly to mirror life in this strange space. Yesterday afternoon, a domestic dispute was clearly audible in the brick bungalow across the street. A woman screamed hoarsely about something I couldn't make out and a deeper voice reacted with equal viciousness. I was reading Rock Springs; a collection of short stories by Richard Ford about desperate people living too close to the bottle in dismal American towns. Several pages later, I heard something smash within the brick walls. Bleak fiction is wonderful as long as you aren't feeling bleak yourself. I finished my cigarette and went inside to clean the kitchen. Today, I rocked myself slowly through the opening chapter of Robert Drewe's The Shark Net; a memoir about a string of murders in the sun baked suburbs of Perth. The weather was perfect.

The rib is almost healed, other things take longer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rib Angst

I have a cracked rib. It sits like a shard of glass in my chest, brittle and painful and invisible to the human eye. The story is less exciting than it sounds. I fell off my bike in the middle of the night, more sober than anyone will believe. I flew over my handlebars and smacked into tram tracks. It hurt. A week later, it hurt even more. I have been staggering around the house moaning and groaning like an old man, breathing in sharply through my teeth and then instantly regretting it. People I talk to give me sympathetic smiles and tell me that I must be more careful on my bicycle in the future. It annoys me.

I sat in the doctor's waiting room for 40 minutes, attempting to read an Ernest Hemingway book while a pair of obese English twins sat across from me and talked about how one of them had crabs. The girl was taking large swigs from a bottle of Pepsi and the boy, whose hair was dyed platinum blonde and stood straight up like a half built house, played with his nose ring. Both had slittly eyes and wore identical Houndstooth wristbands. Neither of them could fit properly on the row of waiting room chairs. In the corner, a harried mother was having a clipped phone conversation about swimming lessons while her two year old ripped the pages out of a magazine.

The doctor wasn't much help. He told me to be more careful riding my bike in the future and that there was nothing really to worry about except the possibility of puncturing a lung. He wrote me out a prescription for some high voltage painkillers which would make me constipated but also help me sleep. The tiny, angry woman at the chemist gave me a shifty look when I handed over the prescription and told me that this was strong stuff and that it would make me constipated. I told her about my broken rib. She told me that I should be more careful riding my bike in the future.

Painkillers are kicking in. Elaine out.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Parks and Prisons

A new dwelling, a new lease, a new lease on life. Old friends and ex-lovers have helped me move out of the nuthouse and into a terraced cottage in the delightful suburb of Clifton Hill. There are no words that can express my gratitude towards theses wonderful people, no words to describe my relief at the tranquility and sanity of my new abode, especially compared to the one previous. There is plush carpet on the floor and sometimes when no one is looking, I roll around on it like an excited pup.

There is no hill in Clifton Hill. At best, the gradient would amount to a 'gentle slope'; something you probably wouldn't notice unless you were riding a bicycle up it and even then, shifting gears in optional. It's close to everything, or at least everything that matters. The Fitzroy pool, with its dippy staff and lanes of Goodbodies swimming back and fourth, is a convenient ten minute stroll to the West. There are ample, tree filled parks in every direction and at least one has a decent swing set. Funky Fitzroy is close and seedy Collingwood is even closer. There is a 24 hour McDonalds a little down the way but that doesn't impress anyone.

On my way back to Melbourne, I spent a delightful seven hours at Auckland airport. It was night and everything was closed and at the end of the bench I was sitting on perched a tiny, ancient Chinese woman clutching an AM radio. Some talk back station droned in and out of static and the the tiny woman nodded along to it, a huge smile on her face throughout. Eventually, she fell asleep and an equally tiny but much younger Chinese woman sitting on the other side of the bench gently pulled the radio out of her hands and switched it off.

I started a lengthy discussion with the woman sitting opposite me; a prison warden called Heather who was leaving New Zealand for the first time to visit her dying Grandmother in England. Heather told me about her job at the prison; about how she had no qualms about telling certain inmates that they deserved the death penalty and that although she had a good tuck in at the prison breakfast, she never touched the sandwiches at lunchtime. She told me how she always carried a truncheon but had only used it once, when a gang of Black Power members tried to stab a rival gang member to death. She said that this was an intense experience and that afterwards she had to sit down for a cigarette and a mug of coffee with three heaped spoonfuls of Nescafe in it. She said that I'd be surprised at how nice some of the serial rapists were when you sat down and talked to them about it.

Heather told me about how she had wanted to name her first son Axl as she was a massive Gunners fan. It would have been particularly perfect because her last name is Odes, which, as she pointed out in gruelling detail, is very similar to Rose. Unfortunately, her husband Doug had decided to veto this carefully thought out plan and names their first son Doug, after himself. The silver lining was that Doug Senior did let name the next child, a girl, whom was christened Sunday Rose (Odes). Heather picked this name because she thought it was pretty but also because it sounded a bit like her favourite meal, a Sunday roast. Their third child was named Josh.

Heather was appalled by the actions of Ander Breivik and had a few disciplinary suggestions to dish out. She said she was thinking of writing a letter. However, she told me in hushed tones (presumably not to wake the tiny sleeping Chinese woman) that she did see where he was coming from and that she did think something had to be done about the Muslim invasion. I smiled and nodded and wondered how I was going to get out of this. She ranted on and on about how some races just shouldn't mix and how most people just weren't smart enough to figure this out. It was about 1am at this point and Heather's phone rang and six year old Josh screamed down the phone that he missed her and that she shouldn't fly because she might crash. It was kind of sweet really. She told me after she hung up and that she and Doug Senior had given up telling him to go to bed but had decided to limit him to five hours of PlayStation a night.

She left for her flight at two, I stayed till seven and watched a bunch of West Wing episodes which is not a good idea when you're slipping in and out of consciousness. President Bartlett said some inspiring things and I think I missed most of them. But I will think of Heather Odes every time I hear Welcome to the Jungle for a long, long time.

And back in Clifton Gentle Slope, I drink tea and eat crumpets. I try not to smoke too many cigarettes and lap up the sunshine. Life is good. Time to roll around on the carpet again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Baby's got Grey Eyes

An almost compulsory part of the newly single lifestyle is that, foolish as it may seem (and it does seem foolish, I am aware) a rebound fling in well in order. It doesn't really matter who it is, as long they don't give you crabs and you don't get too attached. The second criteria is more important than the first.

And so, with this hovering somewhere in the back of mind, somewhere between worrying about my thesis and my housemates, I bike the long and winding road to the University of Melbourne. It's windy and rainy but kind of beautiful, especially when my scarf unravels just the right amount and trails behind me like some kind of faux-Burberry flag. People are walking their dogs and look happy, others are smoking cigarettes and look annoyed. The dogs themselves don't really have expressions, they just sniff at things.

My university office, perched on the sixth floor of the crumbling arts building, is empty. I share it with two other PhD students, neither of whom has been in for at least a week. One studies travel writing; the other, Paradise Lost. Ironically, the travel writing student is absent because he is having a difficult month and the Paradise Lost student is absent due to travelling. On one of the bookshelves stands a collection of impressive looking gin bottles. All of them are empty; I have checked many times. Above my desk, I have blue tacked black and white pictures of my favourite playwrights; Chekov, O'Neil, Albee. I have not read as many of their plays as I should, but I like to claim that they inspire me. Also, they cover up the cracks in the paint.

The morning takes a jagged turn when I realise that I am supposed to be attending an Induction Meeting for first time tutors; something which I have written and underlined in my diary but clearly forgot to check the night before. I repack all my worldly possessions and swear a little bit and then scuttle run to the big, flash building off campus with a revolving door where the induction in question takes place. I arrive in one of the rooms puffed and slightly sweaty, interrupting a group of earnest looking students with name tags stuck on each of them. As I am late, I don't get a name tag. Instead, I sit quietly and try to appear interested in what the (clearly impressive) mature student with glasses and a Houndstooth blouse is telling the students about the importance of a clear lesson plan.

Two seats down from is a guy who looks as bored as I feel. He taps his pen on the table and rolls his neck. He has tight black jeans, large biceps and incredible grey eyes. He sports a relatively thick (although carefully maintained) beard and a nose piercing; an extremely rare combination even amongst the most indie of independent scensters. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

The induction continued. We split into groups and discussed the what makes a good tutorial and a bad tutorial. There was a lot of fierce nodding and writing of notes and I attempted a series of subtle glances at the grey eyed boy at the other end of the table. Every now and then I felt like he was glancing back towards me, but its ever so hard to tell whats what this early in the piece. But I think that's half the fun.

Trying to spot a homosexual is much like trying to spot a witch. In the Roald Dahl book of the same name, we are told that there are several signs which mean that a woman might be a witch; gloves, large nostrils, flat shoes.. but even with all these signs, it is nearly impossible to tell. The grey eyed boy had a nose piercing; a generous tick on the list of potential gay behaviours. He sat with one leg crossed tightly over the other, another tick. But there are plenty of handsome men in the world with nose studs who are as straight as they come, especially in the Arts faculty of an urban University campus. And then there was the beard.

We broke for morning tea and the Grey Eyed Boy and I got to talking. I asked him what he studied, he asked me what I studied. I complimented his nose stud. He smiled and thanked me, touching it slightly self conscious. We laughed about the mature student with the Houndstooth blouse and praised the complimentary danishes. At lunch time, we ate sandwiches and talked about David Lynch. The conversation flowed deliciously and by the time he slung his leather strap bag around his shoulder (another tick) and strolled to work, I had his number. We agreed to hang out soon. After a few semi-flirtatious texts, he suggested the evening ahead. People move fast when there is potential sex involved. And there it was; a date with a stud with a nose stud.

And so I biked over to the address located on google maps at about 10pm; excited, aftershaved and giddy as a school boy. I dragged my bike awkwardly up three flights of stairs and knocked. The apartment was small, ugly and smelt strongly of bleach. There was a hideous, slightly lopsided, abstract painting on one of the walls and nothing else. The Grey Eyed Boy sat opposite each other in the makeshift lounge and tried to converse. After ten minutes, we more or less gave up. He told me how he hated Seinfeld, how he abhorred smokers and how he spent the majority of his spare time playing video games. I asked him what he was currently reading and he showed me some horrifying fantasy novel, third in a series of eight and around 900 pages in length. Each new fact screamed 'Deal Breaker!' in my ear and as they stacked up, they seemed to fall over upon each other like a row of dominoes.

It became very awkward. It was late. We had run out of conversation. I finished my glass of wine and he did not offer to get me another. That's the problem with the rebound fling; it's never as good as it needs to be. The fun is in the flirting, and then things always seem to go downhill. Perhaps its because I move too fast. I never really learn.

And so I left. I dragged my bicycle down the three flights of steps and he went back to his fantasy novel. I was disappointed in the Grey Eyed Boy and even more disappointed in myself. It was late but I was hungry and I picked up a lamb souvlaki and biked home and ate it in bed watching The West Wing. The souvlaki was very greasy, the show was dry. I drank a pot of tea from a pumpkin shaped teapot and licked the meat juice off my fingers. And somehow, for a brief moment in my tiny, drafty bedroom in the middle of Melbourne at one in the morning, everything seemed at peace.

The next morning as I deleted all the texts from the day before, I suddenly remembered how colour blind I am. In reality, his eyes probably weren't even grey.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dancing in the streets (if we're lucky)

Yesterday on the tram, I sat opposite a man who looked as if he'd given up on life. His trackpants were smeared with what looked like marmalade, and he was only wearing one shoe. He stared straight ahead, his mouth half open. Each time the tram stopped, he would let out a monotone 'yay.' This happened at every tram down Brunswick Street and continued into the city. 'yay.' 'yay. 'yay.'

When I got off, he was looking down at his feet and seemed quite stunned to see that his left shoe was missing. His mouth gaped.

There are so many amazing crazy people in Melbourne. It's impossible to walk down Bourke Street without almost tripping over some woman who looks like Janis Joplin. There are so many crazy people that people don't even know who you're talking about when you bring them up. Back in the days when I kicked around in Dunedin, my humble university town of 120,000 people, there were a handful of crazies that everyone knew. Everyone knew 'Clappy', the man with no teeth who busked outside Countdown by slapping his hands
together, usually out of time. Everyone knew 'Speedy', too; a little weaselly man who walked through the Dunedin streets at a constant speedy case and carry two suitcases on wheels. There was especially Joan the Butcher, an alcoholic Susan Boyle lookalike with a moustache who would take her knickers in public and sometimes sit on people.

There are many famous anecdotes about Joan Butcher. Here is one of them.

"Once I was in South Dunedin at the fish and chip shop and I asked for 2 blue cod. 10 minutes later when my order was ready I found instead of two blue cod the guy had given me two "corn on the cobs" (I wondered what he was saying when he was clarifying my order.....)
Anyways, I didn't want this deep fried corn on the cob so I was leaving I saw Joan sitting on the ground, I went up to her and asked if she would like it, as Joan lifted her head up from her bag I realised she had casually vomited in her bag and had vomit all over her face. A bottle of vodka was situated beside her. Joan was very grateful to me and continually shouted out thank you as I walked down the street."

A quick YouTube search in fact reveals numerous videos of Joan, some with thousands of views. That is how famous she is.

But Melbourne's crazy people are too many to list. I remember a man with a grey beard who
came into our local laundrette with two budgies on his shoulders and sang everyone an impromptu version of 'Sweet Caroline.'No one I've ever met has ever seen or heard of him. Perhaps us Melbournites should start talking about our favourite crazy people casually in conversations and eventually we will have our own Joan the Butcher.

I have also decided to start looking up outdated pop culture references in The Golden Girls.

BLANCHE: Well, I don't like you Dorothy.

DOROTHY: Well Blanche, horizontal stripes make you look like Roger Ebert.

This is Roger Ebert.

Here are some facts about Roger Ebert.

1. Roger Ebert is one of America's most prominent film critics. He is the first person to win a Pulitzer prize for 'film journalism.' In other words, his reviews get the best reviews.

2. In the early 70s, he became good friends with Russ 'Faster Pussycat Kill Kill' Meyer and they wrote several screenplays together, including this one.

Ironically, it received terrible reviews.

3. He was an alcoholic but then sobered up and wrote a blog about it. Here is the blog. It's pretty good.

4. He once dated Oprah. She later claimed that he was her key to getting on TV and, hence, taking over the world.

5. He told Michael Moore to make THAT Anti-Bush speech at the Oscars (maybe it was because they look very similar).

6. Some of his readers consider that he views horror films with a bourgeois elitism because he usually gives slash movies a low rating.

7. He has his own film festival called Eberfest. The theme is usually 'out of print silent film.'

And now, with Roger Ebert uncovered, the joke is funny. Funnier. I imagine the writers of Friends imagine Phoebe Buffet to be a bit like a young Rose Nyland. It didn't really work.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A whole Agnew world

The Melbourne weather is chilling; 4 degrees in fact. Today it hailed; one of those not that common occurances that never really seems to excite anyone but someone will always bring up at the dinner table (or around the TV if you don't have dinner table). The cold unifies people in a way. Your cashier will bring it up or the person next to you in the lift and you agree heartily. Even people who hate each other or those of extreme awkward social grace can have a conversation about the weather on a day that cold. It's the best conversation starter you'll ever have.

I have been reading up on Spriro Agnew; The 39th Vice President of the U.S under Nixon. Here are some thoughts and facts:

1. Has there ever been a biographic film about an American Vice President?

2. Spiro Agnew pretty much is a character from The Wire. I would imagine Councilman Tommy Carcetti would be like in another ten years. He even comes from Baltimore.

3. His campaign slogan when he was running for governor was 'Your house is your castle.' What?

4. When he ran for Vice under Nixon, the Democrats hated him so much that they made this commercial:

5. Spiro Agnew spoke out intensely against anti-war protests during Vietnam. He told everyone it was completely Un-American. He was also against any footage of the Vietnam war from being shown to the American people. During this period, he was commonly referred to as 'Nixon's hatchet man.'

6. He and Nixon had a falling out and, for the last three years, Nixon froze him out of all the import White House decisions and would only see him at cabinet meetings.
Apparently Nixon did this because he was jealous of how much the public preferred his Vice to him. During his second term, he kept Agnew on because he was popular was voters, and once said at a press conference that the only reason he had him his Vice was that "No assassin in his right mind would kill me because then they would be stuck with President Agnew." Agnew later claimed in his memoirs that Nixon and his Chief of Staff Andrew Haig were going to have him assassinated if he didn't resign during Watergate and told him "go quietly...or else."

7. Agnew inspired a fashion craze of 'Spiro Agnew watches' which everyone started wearing; Republicans to show their support and Democrats because they thought it was funny. It is pretty funny.

Why did no one make a Sarah Palin one of these??!

8. He served in France and Germany in World War II. That was a casual thing that you could put on your CV back in those days (and blatantly would have). Now John McCain puts Vietnam on his CV. We'll know were old when the oval office has an Iraq veteran running the country. Shudder.

9, He is played by Robert Marshall in Oliver Stone movie, but apparently he is only in for two minutes (out of 192 minutes).

10. In season 3, episode 5 of the TV show Angel, Angel has a conversation with Fred's father in which he says that Spiro Agnew was a demon. Fred's father replies that Agnew couldn't have been anything else.

Second Famous people are much more interesting than famous people. I might do another one tomorrow. Stay tuned, as they say.

During my travels around the Internet, I also came across this delightful piece which comes up as a finance article on the News 7 Daily web page (which even has a weather report) but News Daily 7 quickly turns into a payment form if you click on any of the links to other news sectors.

Does anyone else find this really offensive?

Right. Time for tea and then sleep. And then tea.