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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A Day in the Writing Life


0345

Go back to sleep, idiot. I can't. Yeah you can, you're tired. There's a difference between tired and sleepy - you can tell by the spelling. Fuck your semantics. Shut the fuck up. Let's at least have a smoke and think about it. It's quiet out. What the fuck did you expect? Hey look - there's a paddy wagon. Do the thing - the thing you do for practice.

The orange lights of the hospital precinct form an inviolate dome under the black void of the urban sky. Prowling at little more than walking space, a paddy wagon noses its way round the corner, the single eye of its halogen spotlight outraging the dark secrecy of odd nooks and corners. From this vantage its progress is little more than a hard white cube, smooth and cool to the mind's touch, underpinned - punctuated - by distance-softened tyre roar. 

My god that was shit. Did you want to over-write that any harder? Is your next birthday card gonna read 'Felicitous Anniversary of Natal Phenomenon'? Shut the fuck up.

I wonder what's happened. Should I go ask them? No, you're only a pretend journalist. Fuck you. If copy pasting viral tweets and then describing what's in them in different words is journalism, then I'm a fucking Pullitzer nominee. Whatever - you go down there and see how you like spending the rest of the day in lockup. Do something productive. If you're not gonna achieve anything, you may as well fuck off back to bed. Let's compromise - do some research and see if you fall asleep.

0530

Why don't people who make history documentaries ever tell the truth? It's like a congenital disease. I'm sorry Mr and Mrs Jones, your child has History Channel Syndrome. I'm afraid you're going to have to spend the rest of your life listening to urban myths about Hitler. I wonder if I could write something about Hitler looking for the Holy Grail. It's called Indiana Jones, you fuckwit. Oh yeah. What time is it? Twenty eight minutes until I can get a coffee from that joint down the street. I kinda regret automatically deflecting all their questions - I'm really interested in them now, and now it's too late to re-set the terms of the  relationship. Do something productive. You could do up notes on your research. Don't be fucking stupid. Get off Facebook. In a minute. You know, you should try a stream of consciousness post. You'll have to take a selfie for it. So? What the fuck do you care if people think you're a narcissist? Will they be wrong? Just remember to look at the camera and not the screen.

You have got to start smoking less. It's ridiculous. You are aware, aren't you, that every time you head out to go somewhere you ritualistically roll a smoke whether you're craving one or not? You're stupider than that chicken that dude taught to spin round for food. What was his name? Google it. No - I refuse to outsource my memory to the internet. There's a story in that surely? About control of your memory being taken away? It's called 1984, fuckwit. Oh yeah. Do something productive. Fuck off - I'm on smoko. And besides, I'm getting a coffee.

You are such a shiteing fucking coward. Why don't you just tell them it's served too hot for an espresso? You tell yourself it's cos you can't be bothered, but you don't get coffee anywhere else, so on what planet can't you be bothered? I've got a message. Again. Oh look - research to do. That's gonna take about three hours. Three hours of aggregating shit for brains stories about Trump, the ultimate shit for brains. But at least it'll get you a hundred bucks that you'll have to chase for three fucking months. Brilliant.

0900

Eight bucks. You can definitely make a meal for eight bucks can't you? Depends on the price of onions. Just fucking steal one. No. I don't do that any more. Fuck this IGA is incompetent. And now this fucking child in an adult costume is looking at me like I'm an arsehole because the marked price is five bucks and it scans at seven. I know it's only two bucks, but fuck you it's retail law. I really shouldn't have said that out loud. Oh well, there's always the Asian supermarket. They still like you there. And I got my two bucks, so that's greens for the next few days.

Do paedophiles remember their childhood crushes differently? Of course they don't - they're pre-sexual themselves, you fucking idiot. I wonder if there's a story— it's Lolita, fuckwit. Oh yeah. Do something productive. I gotta pick the music to write to. Do something productive. Yep, I just gotta put on a load of washing. Do something productive. Okay, okay, I— DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE YOU USELESS FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!

1430

I like food.

1600

Students. You've got students. Which means talking to people who are actually listening to you. I wish they wouldn't - it's quite a lot of responsibility. Don't be a such a fucking coward. Now shut up - it's time to get in character. Your time is over for a bit.

2000

That novel's going really well. You do realise, don't you, that you've just basically written Master and Commander in a different setting, and because you didn't have the fucking mother wit to realise this, you've now got three irrelevant, tone deaf, structurally redundant chapters right at the beginning that you're gonna have to move or change? You fucking retard. Fuck you.

Red Dead is awesome. It's really sad, though. I wonder if there's a story in that. Haha - it's called Red Dead Redemption, fuckwit. Haha, shut up. You did well today. Don't get conceited - it's just a day.

2330

You need to sleep. No I don't - there's a difference between tired and sleepy... Yeah, you're looping. Time to go to sleep.

0100

What did I just say about going to fucking sleep? Shut up shut up shut up shut up I'm trying to sleep.

Whatever. I'll reset tomorrow.



Monday, 10 December 2018

Strange Days



It's one of those depressing overcast days when the weather seems to hesitate frustratingly between fine and stormy without being able to make up its mind. This might explain why Katie is having her third shot of methamphetamine for the day, or it might not.

She's crouched on a milk crate under a rail bridge. Scattered around us are two men and a girl who can't be more than sixteen years old. They're all grubby-faced, like children who have wiped their faces with dirty hands. The other three all watch the progress of Katie's injection with hard, laser-focused eyes. She stabs the needle into a black vein which bumps and knots its way down her forearm. Once it's in, she wiggles it left and right whilst pulling back on the plunger until a tiny dejected plume of dark blood reluctantly flares into the barrel of the syringe. Satisfied, she pushes the plunger home, yanks the needle out, and covers the bleeding puncture wound with a grubby finger. There's no real change in her face or demeanour as the drug hits her system, just a hint of satisfaction in her eyes as its tense lines relax slightly. I'm reminded of the expression of a footsore passenger who has finally found a place to sit down. 

"I'd offer you one," she says, "but I don't have a clean. And you don't look like a tweaker anyway."
"You could offer me one," says one of the men. 

This is Ken, who I think is a partner of sorts for Katie, but this is difficult to determine as Katie is a prostitute and has offered me her services free gratis several times already while Ken was present. 

"Why? You'll just scab it off me anyway," quips Katie. This kicks off a long and circuitous conversation about who supplies more drugs to whom, a dialogue which peaks and troughs in emotional intensity with the regularity of a sine wave. While this is going on, Katie is fiddling with a drug bag which contains just under half a gram of crystal. She's got an old set of pipe-cleaning equipment - the kind with the scoop and probe - and is painstakingly lifting out individual clumps and placing them in the plastic spoon she's just used to mix up her own injection. When she's done, without really breaking the flow of her wrangling with Ken, she looks over at the young girl and says, "There you go, love." It suddenly dawns on me that this girl is her daughter. 

Once this is done, the others come forward with spoons, Ken first, still half-heartedly arguing with her but clearly dividing his attention between her and the specks of rock she's dropping into his outstretched utensil. Katie sees me watching and says, "My kids always come first." The others nod and make sounds of emphatic agreement. I watch them punch their blunt needles through their scar tissue into their veins and then carefully hide their syringes away about their persons.


"You can get done for self-administered, you know," says Ken. "A lot of people don't know that."

He's talking about the fact that it's a criminal offence in NSW to self administer a prohibited substance. The maximum penalties are a fine of up to $2200 or a two year prison sentence. Generally, a user found with a needle or a bong will be charged with this offence and strongly advised by the police to submit a written pleading. This is convenient for the police, being administratively easier, and they will often sell it on the basis that the accused won't have to attend court. The problems with this are that not attending court is a very good way to be sentenced to the maximum penalty in absentia, and that the vast majority of magistrates will not accept the simple presence of paraphernalia as conclusive proof. Some magistrates will even accept addiction as a defence, as there's a provision under the law for necessity or duress. A person with a strong support network and money for representation is most likely to get a caution or community service, but as with many aspects of the criminal justice system, the heaviest penalties tend to fall on the poor and friendless. 

Once they've all had their hits, they become far more talkative. There is a brief period where all of them are talking at once, three of them to me and one to himself. Ken is earnestly telling me a story about being beaten senseless by nightclub bouncers who lost patience while attempting to move him away from their corner. He had elected to meet his dealer there and then his phone had run out of battery. Unable to either explain this, or comply, they had dragged him into a nearby alley and taken turns kicking him in the head. He seems especially upset by the fact that they had referred to him as a junkie the whole time. "I'm not a junkie," he says. "I've never thieved anything in my life." 

Katie is showing me pornographic pictures on her phone and explaining the fine points of how to achieve the sexual positions depicted. "You gotta remember to clench your abs and plant your heels or they'll rip a hole in you," she says. "Men forget themselves in the moment, you know what I mean?" 

Her daughter, whose name I never discovered, is asking me an unbroken stream of questions. She wants to know what music I listen to, what school I went to, if I think she's pretty, what I think of bacon, if I've ever been arrested, what the law is surrounding strip searches - that's the only question she waits to hear the answer to. When I tell her what little I know, she then launches into a long and disjointed story about an illegal strip search she was subjected to at a music festival, concluding multiple times that "all pigs are pervs". 

The other guy, Cameron, stares at the sky and mumbles about finding spirit dragons in buried coffee mugs. "People don't know this stuff, but there's dragons hidden everywhere," he says at the end of every one of his brief vignettes.

"This poor bloke," says Katie eventually, referring to me, "we're all talking at him at once." There's general laughter, and Ken explains that it's not often they meet new people. 

"People avoid you if you look like a user," he says. 

I don't think that's true. My own observation is that beggars and users are basically invisible to passersby. Katie announces that she's got to get on again and invites me to come with her for "a bit of peace and quiet". We wander off down the street at the slow amble that's almost universal amongst the long term homeless. She links arms with me, explaining that she's "holding" and that I look respectable - she wants to use my respectable appearance (I'm dubious about this) as a sort of aegis to avoid being searched or, as she puts it, "verballed" by the police. As we walk, she apologises for her sexualised conversation. 

"I know what it's like," she says."I didn't mean to harass you or anything. It's just I've always used sex to get affection. That's all I want, really - for people to like me and to show me some affection. I know there's other ways, but it's the one I've always gone with. I guess it started with my old man. He started fucking me when I was about nine or ten, him and his mates. It went on for ages, but I was just a kid and I didn't know how to stop it. Eventually, it just became normal for me, you know? Well, not normal - it can never be normal - but I kinda just accepted that that's how to be with men. And it's never gone away."

We reach the corner where she's appointed to meet her dealer, and I take this as an opportune moment to say goodbye. She thanks me for listening and tells me to drop by any time. It's silly, but the fact that this conventional politeness is exactly what one would expect from a middle class housewife strikes me as extremely odd. But of course, why would Katie be any different in this respect? There's no reason at all. 

"Are you sure you don't want a fuck?" she says as I'm walking away. I politely decline. "Yeah, I don't blame you," she says, her hand unconsciously covering the track marks on her forearm. 

Names have been altered at the interviewees' request







Saturday, 8 December 2018

On the Importance of Acknowledging Evil


I remember when I was in secondary school I would regularly cut class to go to the George Street Timezone. Whilst there, I met an older Chinese - he was probably in his early twenties - with whom I bonded over Double Dragon and a mutual interest in looking up the skirts of female characters in Street Fighter. I remember during one of our wide-ranging discussions he solemnly advised me against hooking up with a white girlfriend. "They don't see us as human," he said. "We're basically pets to them, or at best, accessories to prove to their foolish mates just how 'advanced' they are."

This idea is, of course, laughable, but I took it as gospel at the time as it does, in fact, have a kernel of truth. Where the truth lies is in essence rather than in detail: the world is a hostile place, and the vast majority of people in it will behave amorally the majority of the time. This might seem controversial, but I don't really think it is. Where people are consciously in control of their behaviour, the majority are moral while a minority are deliberately immoral. But just how much of anyone's behaviour is consistently under their conscious control? For most or all people, it's laughably little - so many of our actions, small and large, are reflexive responses to drives we're either unaware of or do not wish to acknowledge. This being so, it's always been axiomatic for me that people in aggregate represent the most dangerous type of threat - the one which is not cognisant of its status as a threat.

This way of looking at the world was, in my early life at least, pretty well universal amongst all the people I knew. But now, as I reluctantly advance in age and prosperity, I'm more and more coming into contact with people who think very differently and, somewhat more surprisingly for me, fast coming to the conclusion that it's normal to do so, and that my view is the anomalous one. The most prevalent world view I come across these days is one which consists of deliberate and wholly voluntary blindness to evil. It's interesting to me that the division falls roughly across class lines (with me being an obvious anomaly in that respect), and reminds me of Becky Sharp's famous bon mot from Vanity Fair where she muses that she would also find it easy to be "virtuous" on fifty thousand a year.

I don't really have a problem with people wishing to see things in this way, but I do wonder if they're aware of the implications of such a view. There are some crucial assumptions, almost certainly all incorrect, which underpin such a way of being. People who allow their bodies to become soft and dysfunctional in the name of instant gratification are somewhere deep in their minds assuming the invincibility of the civilised order. People who laser focus on their own tiny lives without paying attention to the rest of the world are assuming that history can't touch living individuals in the same way that, say, WWII fatally interrupted the plans and aspirations of millions, many of whom were very clearly caught napping. People who exempt themselves from political process or awareness are possibly making the most stupid assumption of all - that the systems under which we live are somehow natural and native to reality, rather than delicate webs of abstracts requiring constant maintenance and defence. The vulnerabilities created by these deliberate blind spots really do look, from where I'm standing, utterly appalling.

It could be argued that I'm just as skewed as anybody else. That I'm arguing from an equally deluded position located on the paranoid end of the spectrum. I don't think so. I know from personal experience as well as close observation of others that wherever we find within ourselves an area made up of rationalisation or excuses, that that area represents a critical vulnerability - a part of ourselves which can and will be destroyed by the Brownian motion of human interaction, and which might very well facilitate the destruction of the person as a whole. I'm not saying that everyone should work to coat themselves in the invincible armour of isolation - vulnerabilities are not just entry ports for hostile action, but also for the types of human connection which are the only thing that potentially makes the endeavour of human life worthwhile.

But what I am saying is that it's essential to manage one's interface with the world, because the world is as full of danger as it is of wonder, and it's impossible to manage threats of which one is unaware. And should we cease to match and manage ourselves accordingly, we potentially cut ourselves off from the good things in life, it being impossible to really experience anything when dead or broken beyond repair.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

School of Mine



I'm generally quite proud of my school, despite the fact that it is unlikely to be proud of me. But this fact is neither here nor there - I'm proud to have been a part of it, proud of the outstanding education they delivered to us, and immensely proud of the school's broader ethos, which unlike so many others, has evidently carried over into the later lives of its alumni, even in my case, where the uptake of its values was delayed until far too late in my life.

I was not an easy child. Underhanded, sneaky, dishonest, vindictive, occasionally violent, and sometimes flat out criminal. I remember my first detention was handed out in my first week of year seven, for lighting a fire in a bin. I'm pretty sure the only reason they held onto me for as long as they did was my academic ability. But this is not to say that the school was without its own problems. There was a distinct issue with bullying, in which I both participated and was a victim of. Elitism and arrogance are the besetting sins of all schools like mine, and there was quite a bit of our student culture which would now be condemned as toxic.

And it's not as if my memories of school are un-mixedly happy. Failures on the part of staff and other students to understand certain aspects of life which I felt to be obvious, and critical failures on my part in the area of character, made for a generally troubled and turbulent school life. Every time a form master appeared at a classroom door, there would be a chorus of, "That's for you, Lake," - and just like in Greek tragedy, the chorus was generally unerringly accurate.

For all that, however, I still think it was a sterling institution. Whenever I speak to our alumni, a fondness comes over their faces when we talk about the old school. This is in stark contrast to the boys who went to other schools in our cluster - the Knox and Trinity and Riverview boys, who wax contemptuous about their school culture, faculty, impacts on their subsequent lives. For the vast majority of the old Aloysians I speak to, the days of our schooling exist as a pure and bright cul de sac of time-softened recollection. A place where values mattered, and where the old connections are still upheld to an extent I have never encountered anywhere else apart from the military.

Tutor Group, with Idiot circled in red


So it was with pardonable complacence that I heard the news of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse. My own personal memory could only conjure up a handful of incidents, disturbing enough in themselves, but relatively innocuous. A form master who once disciplined a student by strapping his bare backside - the strap was an ubiquitous punishment in my day, and I personally was strapped an average of twice a week, on the hands. A dubious relationship between one master and a student who, when it comes down to it, weren't that dissimilar in age. Dark rumours of faculty sauntering through the showers insisting that boys should be comfortable being naked in front of each other, but no corresponding action. Just the normal idiocy and weakness one expects in an institution, and which I'd always assumed was rigorously policed to prevent harm.

So it was with a mixture of quite unexpected emotions that I heard, through an old boys group, of the sentencing of two of our faculty for serious sexual offences. One was worse than the other, and both appeared to have taken place outside of our school at affiliated Jesuit institutions, but even this extremely peripheral view of the cancer of paederasty is disturbing enough. I remember the men in question. One was a Brother, actually wider than he was tall, so fat was he, who had a grating nasal voice and a habit of petty tyranny combined with the somewhat ridiculous habit of falling asleep at his desk in front of the class. It didn't take us long to figure out that leaving silently to pursue our own leisure was, in fact, the perfect crime. The other one I principally remember for a scathing thirty minute critique, mostly justified, of my character and morals, delivered at volume into my face in a small room. It's interesting to think of this in the context of the thousands of pornographic images of children he was subsequently convicted of possessing.

A picture of me, clearly thrilled to be in Concert Band, and unaware of the camera.


And that's the thing - the corrosion of my memory of the school has left me furious. Sure, I wasn't exactly its proudest son, but how dare these maleficent petty tyrants taint all of our recollections with their own sordid evil. How dare they. Not only have they done incalculable harm to their victims, for whom I cannot express enough sympathy, but they have also pissed on the childhood memories of thousands upon thousands of boys. Their gross betrayal of the credo that they themselves were the foremost in promoting is entirely unacceptable, and coupled with this is the chilling inference, given the delay in exposure and conviction, of the steps the school and church authorities both took and signally failed to take.

There has to be something positive to take from this, and to my mind it's a simple lesson, applicable across all areas of society, the state, and at every level. Never wink at evil to protect any institution, however great. This is not the first mass exposure of predatory behaviour in large and well respected institutions (though it might be the biggest), but it's down to all of us - every single one of us - to make it the last. If we're to learn anything from this, we must, I think, learn that this sort of thing cannot be allowed to stand.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Vote For The One You Don't Like


People often ask me why I hate populism so much - surely that means I hate the people, right? Surely the people are smart enough to know what they want, and how their country should be run - right? Right?

Well, possibly. But who, in fact, are the people? Are they the urban latte sipping elites whose top priority appears to be banning anything and everything which offends their delicate, Guardian driven sensibilities? Or are they troglodytes from Far North Queensland, demanding a ban on immigrants whom they have never encountered or had to live with because some idiot has asserted with no evidence whatsoever that their culture is under threat? Or are they the middle citizens, the quiet ones who are generally too busy being the engine of the whole damn country to have or understand political opinions, and who will generally vote based on whatever their mass media of choice tells them is the right way to vote?

This is the biggest issue, really. The people, en masse, are, in fact, critically stupid. Not because of average IQ or educational level - these are generally quite high - but because of the necessarily inchoate nature of a polity deliberately made up of disparate and competing interest groups. 

And that's the biggest problem with populism by far. A canny populist - one who knows what they're doing - will generally pick the biggest and/or most coherent interest group and tell them exactly what they want to hear. It's telling that in the Anglophone world, this group tends to be the xenophobic reactionary middle. But that's not the point - the point is, that they'll pick that one. A crap or incompetent populist will try to please everyone, resulting in the ridiculous situation where they'll be applying ten year gaol sentences to strawberry fiddlers one day, bringing children off Nauru the next, and then announcing vague plans to cut immigration while increasing immigration (WTAF) the day after that. The biggest single problem with populism is that it's a signal failure of leadership.

Most people - the vast majority of people, I'd be willing to hazard - are politically indifferent or politically moderate. Right up until the moment you ask them to state their position, at which point they vote Brexit not expecting it to pass, vote Trump in protest against the political establishment in the full knowledge that he's a fucking moron who won't fix anything, engage in flame wars about vaccines, corporate tax, international trade, or any other of the myriad issues which they know exactly nothing about, and generally just act like crazy people until the rush passes momentarily and they go back to work in the system which, once they've finished mindlessly excoriating it, they rely on for their livelihoods and well-being. 

So given the incoherent and frankly mindless nature of populist discourse, all a populist leader can actually do, in terms of concrete action, is address how people feel about an issue. Actually fixing it is an impossibility. Because the truth of issues like population, trade, or foreign affairs - the stuff people get really het up about - is that solutions are slow, complex, and usually highly counter-intuitive. So a populist solution is almost always good in the short term as it rubs everyone gently on the bum and tells them how smart they are, but disastrous in the long term, as such gains need to be disproportionately paid for in the world system. An excellent example of this is the trade deficit. Given our position in our region, it's both expected and desirable to run a deficit most years, but every single election both sides of the house will campaign on reducing or eliminating it, whilst shamelessly conflating it with the budget deficit. And we swallow it, for reasons I still can't explain. 

I understand that these arguments are probably not going to sway anyone in the populist camp, probably because they're reasoned arguments, and pay scant attention to how the people feel. This is because I don't give a fuck how the people 'feel' about the Iran deal, trade tariffs, price elasticity of demand, or any of the other innumerable things we shout about without knowing a damn thing about. We're really not supposed to know these things. What we're supposed to do is demonstrate at least as much sense as the average family dog, and vote in our own self interest rather than for some idiot who's clearly following us around and trying to stoke irrelevant outrage. Populism is to politics as a three year old child trying to live on sour candies is to healthy lifestyles. 

If I approached you in an alley in King's Cross and offered to sell you a diamond ring for a hundred bucks, and then spent the next few hours assiduously agreeing with whatever you had to say, however stupid, you wouldn't then decide to put me in charge of your household finances and career prospects. Or if I lobbed up next to you at a bus stop and started blaming all your problems and mine on mythical outsiders and 'the deep state', or a media conspiracy, I doubt you'd ask me to participate in decisions affecting the welfare of your small children. So please, for the love of all that's holy, can we please apply the same principles to selecting our political leaders?


Monday, 19 November 2018

The Magic Eye


When I first watched Training Day, I was a much younger and less experienced person. One concept which resonated, however, was the concept of 'the magic eye'. This was presented as a sort of eye for 'the street', a way of looking at things which would reveal that which is hidden, that layer of existence which lies beneath the manicured and regulated stream of ordinary life. Of course, Training Day being Hollywood, the proof of this was that the young police officer was able to spot a rape in progress, which is something I don't actually believe anyone needs a magic eye to achieve. But then, for a mass audience, the obvious needs to elevated to the level of the arcane.

Having said that, the magic eye does exist, and people who have it recognise each other. It's very hard to explain, but there's a few ways to look at it. The most basic and simple is to notice the way people look at people. This creates a different kind of look in the eye of the observer, and somebody who is looking at the way other people look at things, will become noticeable to someone else who's doing the same thing. This is how it works at the lowest level, and I generally remember it mostly from my youth, with recognition generally taking place amongst other youths. When older people would notice and comment on this to me, they would generally loom up out of nowhere, surprising me.

As we move forward towards inevitable death in that process we euphemistically refer to as ageing, habits of life and thought harden and submerge such that they are pursued both imperceptibly and ineluctably. Now, it looks utterly different. Instead of individuals connecting across a crowd in a sort of freemasonry, it is now a matter of scenery versus protagonist. The eye flicks over a crowd of people walking up and down a footpath, and the vast majority of these people have a gaze which is internalised and, to all intents and purposes, blind. It can be easily seen that what they are seeing is at least half made up of things inside their own heads, rather than that which is around them. These people fade into a kind of moving backdrop, interesting enough in and of itself, but rather like the sky in that unless something extremely unusual is happening with it, it's not exactly of immediate importance.

But then there are the others. The man who stiffens and moves his bag whenever someone comes within half a meter. The other man, next to him, who turns his right hip away from whoever he's talking to. The girl sitting on a wall whose glance goes from waist to hands to face, in that order. The woman who makes a point of looking over her shoulder every fifteen paces. Or the man who does the same thing, only instead of looking back, he looks up at the windows and rooftops above him. The people who are scanning the crowd and who lock gazes as soon as they encounter one that's doing the same thing - lock and dismiss when there's no threat detected. And in that split second between lock and dismiss is a sort of recognition. Not the happy or hostile recognition of youth, but rather a more matter of fact, sometimes quite sad acknowledgement that here is another person who is just as damaged, frightened, alienated, or just plain suspicious as themselves.

In my old neighbourhood of Manly, after the gentrification, I could go for days without seeing such a look. Where I work now, in Lane Cove, there's a grand total of three people (in Lane Cove you see the same people every day) I've seen with this look over the whole of the four or five years I've been there on a daily basis. But in the street where I live, which is not more than twenty minutes away, I see that look every time I go outside, multiple times. What is it about the street on which I live, that so many of the people walking up and down it have been sufficiently smacked around by the world to have the magic eye? It's not as if I live in a particularly rough neighbourhood - in fact, it's so not rough that the idea is laughable. I don't know, but as soon as I'm able to convince one of them to stop and talk to me about something that isn't the weather or the transit system, I will post that conversation up on this blog.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Work and Home


I live near a hospital, and there's a weird acoustic flaw where people standing and talking at street level across the road sound like they're having a conversation in my bedroom. As I spend quite a bit of time working from home, I hear quite a few of these little chats. What I mainly hear is people being comforted. I generally don't understand what is actually happening, as people have an incomprehensible tendency to never refer directly to what they're talking about, especially if it's important – a thing I don't think I will ever understand. Cancer, death – all horrific pain – is referred to as 'it', if at all. Sometimes, I'll pop my head out over the balcony and have a look. It's a deeply unattractive aspect of humanity, but whenever I encounter tragedy I have to see if the sufferers are beautiful, dumpy, misshapen, stylish, rich or poor, for no other reason than to project backstory onto their pain for my own private entertainment.

It's not just a hospital, there's also a methadone clinic and rehab as well. This means that I'm far from starved for entertainment. There was one night where a woman was screaming "Don't!" and "Stop it!" over and over again. I initially didn't want to do anything about that, not wishing to interrupt my highly important business of watching people fall over on Youtube. But this hesitation didn't last for more than a few seconds, so I went downstairs. At my appearance, the man who had been beating her ran away, and when I went to help the woman up, she screamed, "Don't fucking touch me!" and started screaming even more. So I went back upstairs and watched a video of people wiping out on waterslides.

The conversation I probably hear most often is people haggling furiously over prescription drugs. The price for Valium seems to be anywhere between one and four dollars per pill, depending on bulk, with good character, constant willingness to 'shout a shot', and length of relationship being the principle reasons given in favour of discounts. These conversations also often degenerate into violence, but I never feel even slightly inclined to get involved in those. Nor am I much interested in the occasional ice tantrum, usually involving one of those women who look like they're made of op shop leather storming down the street screaming imprecations at the tops of their voices.

One of the more interesting episodes involves a gigantic man with scars all over his forearms. He looks exactly like a GI Joe action figure, haircut and all. He's always humping a pack, always dressed in black, and always, always smoking. I would see him around the neighbourhood, looking like an action hero whose puppy had just died, smoking and generally staring glumly at the world passing him by. In my mind I called him 'The Happy Welder', partly because of the nature of the scars on his forearms, but mostly from an innate cruelty which I think I share with our entire poxy species.

Anyway, one day he happened to be standing in that spot over the road, so I went out to have a cigarette on my own balcony. He was visiting the rehab, standing outside and having a smoke with his case worker. He assured this man that things were going well. There were good prospects that he might get housing in the next year, and he hadn't attempted suicide in months.

These are the stories I observe on my street, before I head into the neighbourhood where I work and listen to conversations about which restaurants are new, and which are getting a bit tired, how unbelievable Tracy was at the last yoga class, and just how exciting and satisfying some new data centre project is. The distance between these two areas is roughly two and a half kilometres.