Always the Last to Know

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Faithful fellow travellers on the Information Super Highway! Any of you who have caught a whiff of this blog while peacefully ambling by on Google must know – God knows – I have nothing but a deep, personal sympathy for anyone confused, disoriented, or even just a little bit colourblind in life. It’s all very disturbing and weird and we’re all groping our ways through, blindfolded and mapless, wearing oven mitts (and not in a fun way).

Despite this preternatural level of tolerance: Could someone tell me, please – What the fuck is wrong with Tony Abbott?

I am not being supercilious, or unkind, or even lazy (which is when most bad thinking happens). Yes, I have had a go at him in the past; but, strictly on the understanding that he had a fully-functioning personality and all paws on the proverbial. I have actually defended the man from claims that he was a misogynist or an idiot. After all, he’s a Rhodes scholar with ‘hot daughters’ (ergh!). Never downplaying his potential for evil, I nonetheless heartily dismissed his rampant public displays of woman-hating as political gestures playing up to the most powerful, wealthy, and locally and vocally despised conservative minorities in Western Australia – a state most Australians don’t and can’t understand. I vigorously contended that his appeal to the lowest of the lowest common denominators (plural, and class-irrespective) in our country – all that shit about ‘stopping the boats’ – was propaganda at its most effective. This man is no fool, I warned people. Don’t be seduced into complacence. Don’t think you are immune to his potential future “nice-bomb”.

Lately, though, I’ve had to reassess Abbott. This is no John Howard – no far-right, but nonetheless reassuringly stable career politician. As far as I can tell, Tony Abbott is com-fucking-pletely nuts.

I have no problem with people who are insane. I am a bit that way myself. The difference is, of course, I don’t unfailingly think I’m right. Also, I’m not running the country. If I get depressed about something, screw a weird guy, eat bad things, get drunk, and then humiliate myself in public crying on my friends because my heart’s all fucked up, that’s on my head. Not the Gross Domestic Product’s.

If anyone could enlighten me on Our Tony’s condition, I really, genuinely, would like to hear about it. Because, just to make this clear: I’m not judging. I’ve heard it all before. I’m sure most of us have. I just really, really want to understand. I’m sure the rest of the country would like to understand, too.

Please send suggestions, as always, to:

POSTE RESTANTE

The Little Blue Box

Corner of Poland and Germany

In God We Trust

Amen

xoxoxo

Posted in Australian politics, Genuine confusion, Lot and his hot daughters, Things are pretty shit

Carbs, Carbs, Glorious Carbs!

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Life has gotten oddly smaller of late. It’s no one’s fault, it’s all down to faulty DNA. Fate chose my most recent birthday to drop Stage 2 Meniere’s Disease on me from a great height. This meant a memorable birthday spent lying under a tree in the Catani Gardens vomiting wretchedly and unable to move, without having touched a single drink. Stage 1 Meniere’s has been an occasionally shitty illness I’ve been living with for the past ten years, so it’s no surprise really that it finally took its show to Broadway and hit the big time in a typically theatrical fashion. It was just annoying, I thought as I watched the other freaks of St Kilda passing out and sunbaking and enjoying psychedelic drug experiences around me, that it had to happen while I was teaching English as a second language in the home of a very lovely German family. My students were a mother and son, daunted by the prospect of making friends in a new country and happy to have met someone who would be kind to them. Birthdays are a very big deal in German culture. These hospitable, urbane people had bought me a cake, sung ‘Happy Birthday’ in English, made a fuss of me. Then things got less festive when I fell off my chair, crawled to their bathroom and threw up all over the floor. At first, they didn’t understand what ‘dizzy’ meant. At least they got the word meaning now.

This birthday marked the ending of quite a few things, along with my equilibrium. Working. The practical possibilities of ever carrying and caring for a child. Grabbing men from wherever I could find them when hormones hit, to restore equilibrium until the next storm. All these things were suddenly out. And then of course there was the consideration of travel. Always, travel. I am an itinerant soul. I cannot stay in one place. Always moving, even when I haven’t got a cent, even within my own city.  My future as I saw it, whatever other miserable fuzz it was made up of, definitely involved movement.

This has been my pattern, until illness made a definite decision for me. Not with Meniere’s was the graffitied motto inscribing itself across my psyche in fluorescent spray paint, as from my shady spot (sun smart, even in circumstances such as these) I watched a young sunbather’s bum turn from cream to vermilion as the summer day faded away.

In a way, it was a relief. I had never had a clear line drawn under my life before. Battles with existence had formally been waged in a deeply personal ongoing war: an essentially flighty and flashy nature pitted against the demands of the work of the mind; a trusting soul versus a hyper observant and questioning intellect; the expectation of future hardships against a strong desire to blow every spare cent on carousing and wenching with friends. Miserliness is not in my character. I’d like to say this is because I am innately generous, but I suspect money is just something that bores me stupid. Well, that’s not entirely it. There is also a dash of contempt involved for the folding stuff and its tyranny over people’s lives. If my core personality had its way, I would somehow embezzle large amounts of cash (who knows from where) and buy a large gold toilet down which to flush it. This is neither sensible nor considerate, however, and knowing what it’s like not to have money means you must respect it. So I tend to lurch from poverty to windfall, from unemployment to manic periods of overwork, in a way that impacts as little as possible on others, reaps little long-term benefit but ensures survival. Until now. What the hell was I going to do about money now? Oh shit.

For the first time in my life, I was truly both struck and stuck.

Eventually, a very dear friend in the vicinity came and got me. We sat – or he sat and I lay – admiring the sunburned youths frolicking around us for another hour or so until I could move, showing our age by worrying about their next mole checks in amongst the covert leering. Do the young know nothing of melanoma, we wondered? Do people really have time to chuck frisbees around on a week day? I had an excuse, but why was the man under the next tree with the 1990s-era portable radio still in exactly the same sitting position as when I crawled out of the taxi and into the park five hours ago? While entertaining, these were also normalising lines of speculation that were revelatory of my friend’s grace and generosity under a difficult circumstance. I felt like myself. Odd and displaced, but entire, like the hero of a Murakami novel. No less human than I was before; just, through a bizarre set of circumstances, immobile. This kindness and thoughtful lack of condescension set the tone for the duration of my odd journey into illness thus far, and I am grateful.

Since that day, I’ve spent an ordinate amount of time lying in bed with a sick bucket bored out of my skull. So that’s been a shitty thing. Then of course there’s the other, preexisting shitty thing that’s refused to get the hint and go away: polycystic ovary syndrome, or more specifically, the fucking awful constrictive PCOS diet, which is basically small serves of salads and things. FOREVER. (PCOS sisters out there cruising the Information Super Highway, I know you hear me. Loved ones, work colleagues and arresting officers in the lives of PCOS women, if said women at this point start howling and stuffing whole Sachatortes up their noses while intoning between sneezes ‘It doesn’t count if you inhale it,’ back away and let them work. They are experts. They know what they’re doing.)

Oh God. Carbohydrates. How I miss them.

Despite what weird diet gurus tell you, you need carbs not to go completely fucking nuts. Whether or not this is physiological – The human brain by design relies almost exclusively on glucose to get through the day’s work, and burns about 10% of the body’s daily energy needs – or emotional – The human condition is a fucking terrible condition to be in, life is full of injustice and pain and miscommunication, and people denied enormous loaves of fresh bread slathered in butter twice a day should have a legal defence for extreme acts of stupidity and despair – it is a real and demonstrable side effect, as anyone who has ever shared a staff room with a formerly delightful colleague starving him or herself in a pseudo-scientific manner because they “just want to feel healthier” can attest to.

Diet gurus don’t spend a lot of time worrying about mental health though, so moronic shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’ delight in demonstrating to people why it’s great to lose heaps of weight quickly by eliminating a major food group. There is no fine brushwork involved in this approach, which of course achieves its sole aim very successfully. If a fat person with an otherwise normal body chops out any major food group apart from vegetables, and doesn’t fill the gap with other food, they will lose weight. This doesn’t mean they are doing it healthily, or cheerfully. What a show like that doesn’t show about a low-carb diet is the participants’ horrendous losses of sense of humour, healthy cynicism, and perspective; their arbitrary fits of anxiety, rage and depression; and their decreasing ability to concentrate for long enough to understand the plot of ‘Home and Away’ and who the hell is that girl, the one talking to Alf? Is she new or something? Oh who cares. What’s the point. What’s the point to anything. Fuck you, Alf. And your mate. Pass me the fucking carrots, you fat whiny bitch . . . Yes, Commando, I just called you a fat whiny bitch. Now EAT the remote, bitch! EAT it! Hit me. Please just hit me . . .

. . . [And we’re back from the director’s cut]

You’ll understand why it’s significant in my life, then, that last week, friends and I spent a ridiculously pleasurable day indulging in a variety of bespoke pleasures peculiar to ourselves.

To healthy, neurotypical citizens, these sins would not even occur – nor rate, I suppose, as sins. We watched the wonderfully absurd Noah, (see previous blog), in which Our Rusty attempts to prove that being vegan and breeding granddaughters so your sons can shag them are manly activities, and Ray Winstone lies around eating live snakes and making odd Biblical denouncements of goodness in a Cockney accent. We went to local slightly posh bar and, despite many resolutions of ‘We’re leaving after the next one . . . No, the next one . . .’ got gloriously pissed. We got so drunk we sang absurd Victorian parlour songs to each other while pretending to eat CGI snakes in honour of good old Ray. We laughed raucously, possibly menacingly, while fellow drinkers cringed and fled upstairs to Comedy Festival events about why people with excessive facial hair who still lived at home resented their parents. We staggered home at some point, got chucked out of a bar for being too shitfaced – something that makes you angry in your twenties, and amused and slightly proud in your mid to late thirties – and sat on my floor having happily addled conversations and chain smoking until it was time for them to wander home and my poor distressed cat-nurse to finally usher me into bed, where I flopped like a wet sack of porridge until the next afternoon rolled around.

Normally, after an occasion such as this, I wake up with a severe case of the B Vitamin-Deficiency Guilts and spend the rest of the day texting everyone in my phone and some people who aren’t, possibly numbers I’ve made up at random, to apologise for existing. This time, though, I woke up happy. And apart from the strong hit of serotonin garnered from the inestimable benefits of friendship, I honestly think it was all the carbs lurking in the beer.

For about a year I’ve been dragging my fat sorry hormonal arse around Melbourne’s streets, snacking on sushimi when I can afford it, plagued by visions of slices of lasagne dancing provocatively in sparkly pink g strings. I dream about Weet Bix, a cereal that previously held no allure. Potatoes are as much contraband as overflowing cups of white sugar. I fantasise about the day I can eat gnocchi without convulsing with guilt and sobbing brokenly into the ragu.

After last Saturday, however, I’ve decided my poor brain needs a break. I need a break.

I have eaten lasagne. I have guzzled booze. I have cooked rice and thrown the left overs out, just because I could. And I am, for now, much, much happier. Fatter, yes, but saner.

People are personally offended by the sight of an enormous woman wandering into their midst. Fuck em. Ray with his snakes (I guess even Darren Aronofsky realised that eels would be too cheesy a choice of snack for his proto-Cockney villain) had the right idea. I will buy a mumu and fluffy slippers. I will walk around in public celebrating my girth, rubbing pig fat into my glistening rolls and sucking up pain au chocolat through a giant straw. At least for a week, which is about when common sense and pure unadulterated vanity will come crashing down again.

‘Mud, mud, glorious mud!’ sang my friend at the bar, as we waved our stubbies in the air in time and hipsters scuttled to safety.

It’s a mantra for our times, my friends. Raise your glasses and be happy, at least for today.

For tomorrow – or in my case next week – we starve.

Posted in carousing, I hate you Michelle Bridges, Ray Winstone eating CGI snakes, wenching | 2 Comments

Go Russ!

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I have a confession to make. It’s hard for me to get the words out, after so many years of hiding this shame from family, friends, random pedestrians, pets and potential muggers on public transport. I beg of you, Dear Readers, to look within and consider the dark places in your own hearts before judging me.

I quite like Russell Crowe.

He was terrifyingly real in Romper Stomper, a film that reflected an underseam of Melbourne very much present on the streets in the early 90s. The Sum of Us was a bit of an irritating overstatement about Why Gay People Are Normal (since when did we card-carrying queers have to be ‘normal’?), and like most well-meaning message movies it wasn’t quite sure how it should end; but, his portrayal of a young gay man and devoted son was sensitive and sympathetic without overwhelming Jack Thompson’s gentle performance. He was brilliant in Proof. He had the right amount of masculine hubris and vulnerability for film noir in LA Confidential. I refused to watch A Beautiful Mind when it came out, not because it looked like a bad film but because people who annoyed me liked it. However, I’m sure he was very convincing at conceptualising Game Theory while the rest of the film went about its melodramatic screen exploitation of mental illness (complete with Sixth Sense twist at the end).

The man can act. He is a gifted performer. Hollywood sticks him in brainless action films because they don’t know what else to do with him. Men in Hollywood who don’t look like Steve Buschemi are doomed to a lifetime of these. Look what the studios did to the wonderful, hilarious Antonio Banderas once they got their claws into him – from Almodovar to Zorro in under five years.

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From this . . .

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. . . to this.

I actually have nothing against brainless action films in their place – they’re nice to whack on the DVD player when you have a hangover, and great for when you have to babysit eleven year old boys – but this does seem to be a profound waste of talent and CGI. The casting is all wrong to me. People who can actually act should be in films with actual stories. People who emanate megalomania and physical toughness in place of talent should be in action films. Like Madonna. She’d be brilliant in one of those things. They could CGI her up to look like The Rock, and no one would ever know the difference.

Madonna? Is that you?

Madonna? Is that you?

One reason, then, why I like Crowe is because he is genuinely and rarely talented. This is a good reason. If I was the kind of decent person who admired artists and performers solely on the merit of their work, my affection for him would end there. Unfortunately, though, there is a perverse streak in my nature (some have argued that my character is a perverse streak with some nature in it); I like a spectacle. The main reason why I like Russell Crowe is because as a public persona he is inherently ridiculous, and therefore extreme. And that’s exactly what a celebrity should be.

The late, great Divine was the last proper celebrity. Divine embodied something far more significant and exciting than the performance of the average drag queen, as much as I admire the courage of even the most mediocre drag. She (and it’s impossible to think of Divine as anything else but ‘she’) was bold; she was brave; she was a terrifying and funny sexual steamroller, a performance of monstrous and triumphant femininity that never stooped to misogyny and far transcended parody. John Waters (and bless him for being the first and possibly the last film maker to really put fat women on the screen) describes her as a cross between ‘Jayne Mansfield and Godzilla’. She was, in screen terms, the Last Great Woman. Watch any movie with Divine in it, and you’ll find it’s impossible to look at anyone else. When she’s not in a scene, you’re waiting for her to come back; the rest of the film is just filling time.

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Divine, as overwhelmingly herself performing live as on screen.

After Divine, celebrities became uniformly boring again. Michael Jackson was too tragic to be a proper monster; Liz Taylor, too nice; Mel Gibson, too predictable and self-righteous in his unpleasantness; even people with the potential for left-of-centre extremity like Courtney Love, about whom I was excited for a bit, turned out to be yet more broken children seeking validation by jumping up and down and squeaking.

Sadly, this is a reflection of what sells in our times. Mainstream society requires our celebrities to be mainstream too. Despite the studio system and the crushing moral codes of earlier decades, it wasn’t always like this. In the 1950s, people wanted to read about Jayne Mansfield wearing a leopard print bikini while walking her ocelot up Hollywood Boulevard. Everyone loved it when it was revealed that Marilyn Monroe had done a naked calendar. Cary Grant called press conferences to enthuse about how much fun taking acid is, and why everybody should be doing it. An elderly Mae West hired a female impersonator as her personal secretary, and paid him to give interviews as her so she could stay in bed. People were as vicariously thrilled by the loony demise of Howard Hughes and his hoard of urine as they were by the whispers of his sexual adventures with other famous young men (nicely airbrushed out of The Aviator – even today, perhaps especially today, not a topic Hollywood is willing to deal with).

What passes as titillating today is inane pap: the size of Kim Kardashian’s arse (a dear friend and I were recently reduced to tears in a supermarket laughing at a headline that read, ‘MY BUTT’S OUT OF CONTROL!’). Jennifer Aniston’s love life, which according to magazines is conducted in a similar fashion to a fourteen year old girl’s. Angelina Jolie’s weight. Dreary people having (*gasp!*) fairly vanilla sex with each other and somehow ‘accidentally’ taping it and releasing it to the press. Wow. No one ever thought of putting a penis in a vagina before. Apparently, we’re supposed to be shocked by this and are required to pay attention. It seems that human nature is so naturally geared towards obedience, many people are and do.

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What has it been doing, exactly?

When a genuinely fabulous original comes along, instead of being celebrated they are destroyed. Anna Nicole Smith, for instance. I loved Anna Nicole Smith. She was bawdy, she was endlessly entertaining, she was gorgeous at whatever size, and she let her freak flag fly. She possessed the most important (and lost) trait of a proper celebrity: Shamelessness. She was fucked up, and she owned it. Not many people would be brave enough to put such true, severe and unedited dysfunction onto a reality TV show. I admired her and liked her for it. She was someone I would’ve liked to have hung out with for a day.

Shortly before her untimely and saddening death, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival screened a documentary made about Smith’s relatives. According to both the documentary and the other paying ticket holders (frankly, I found this audience’s reactions deeply disturbing), the fact that these people were poor and uneducated was uproariously funny. People wept laughing at their weight, their clothes, their vernacular and their daily routines. At the same time, we were told that Smith was an intrinsically evil person for seeking to leave this life behind her by using what she could – her sexuality, and her beauty.

Oh, come on. The woman was gorgeous.

Oh, come on. The woman was gorgeous.

Of course, predictably, she was also bad for having been a stripper, for putting on weight, for not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, for being addicted to pain killers, for having slept with women and kept it private, and for having married an old bloke and then to have sought her inheritance after he died – all of which, in my book, made her human and interesting. Mainly, though, her sin was to have been a sexually knowing girl of average intelligence from a low socio-economic background. As my friend commented as we walked out of ACMI onto Flinders Street and left the manicured audience behind us: ‘I had no idea that poverty was so amusing.’

When Smith died, her death – the tragic death of a young woman clearly tortured by her childhood, and manipulated into a place of vulnerability and madness by a predator – was treated as yet another humiliation to be laughed at, along with the death of her son. I was upset and angered by this. I remember getting drunk with a patient friend and ranting about it until four o’clock in the morning. Would it still have been funny if she were slim? If she were from wealth? If her bum, like Kim Kardashian’s, was more noteworhy? If she were, perhaps, the comparatively functional and boring Pamela Anderson?

Russell Crowe is, of course, doing a lot better in life than poor Anna Nicole ever did. But he is, like her, out there. Everything he does seems to be an attempt at shouting ‘I AM A MAN!’ at the world, regardless of whether the world is interested. Despite a profound lack of musical talent, he perseveres in earnest with that wince-makingly awful band of his with the farcically phallic name; he nearly kills himself bulking up at the mere suggestion of a movie role; he even went to the extreme lengths of shagging the nauseating Meg Ryan to prove his manhood to the USA, a bridge too far for any man less dedicated to public displays of testosterone.

Meg Ryan. Spare us

Meg Ryan. Spare us

I enjoy Tom Cruise, for similar reasons: a talented man whose insecurities have led him to a type of religious mania so bizarre, it puzzles in place of causing offense. Mel Gibson’s religious insanity is just deeply annoying, as he is following in an established tradition of patriarchal crap that has shat on women, gay people, Jews, and anyone a little bit different from the norm for over two thousand years. Tom Cruise, though, obviously means well, and I don’t think anyone’s ever done the religious crazy thing quite like him before. The man can jump on Oprah’s couch as much as he wants. Creative types should be a bit loopy.

With Cruise there’s a sense that perhaps he has an inkling that he’s nuts, and this is part of what drives him. The great thing about Crowe is, though, he doesn’t seem to realise he’s barking mad. He remains absolutely unshaken in his faith in his penis. No matter how much people mock him for it, he steadfastly continues to take the thing seriously, and this staunchness should be admired.

Shortly after Romper Stomper came out, an urban myth spread about the then-largely unknown Crowe.  The story went that Crowe hooked up the lead singer of the band Paradise Motel after a gig. She took him back to her hotel room. While they were screwing, band members in the next room could hear him grunting: ‘GO Russ! GO Russ!’

Whether or not this is true, this is exactly the sort of over-the-top monstrous behavior I want from a celebrity. I am not interested in the contents of Kim Kardashian’s buttocks. I couldn’t give a shit who allegedly passed Jennifer Aniston a note in class that said, ‘My Friend Says You’re Dropped’. Angelina Jolie can lose as much weight as she likes – this strikes me as none of my business. I am, however, keenly entertained by Russell Crowe’s proclamations of manliness and ego, and I will be for as long as he keeps making them.

At the moment, I have been housebound for about two weeks – the result of a bad flu combined with the whims of Ménière’s disease, which keeps me close to bed and sick bucket between attacks. I find myself as weak as a kitten, unable to sleep at night with fever and finally collapsing into sweaty unconsciousness at about five in the morning. At the same time, my flat has been invaded by cockroaches: the creatures I find the most repulsive, loathsome and terrifying in the world. I can catch huntsman spiders and put them outside in a cup without shaking. I can chase meth-addled intruders from my stairwell, dressed in a nightie and armed only with a rolling pin and a loud Teacher Is Angry voice. Sewer rats are creatures I respect enough to not want on or near me, but they hold no terrors for me as long as they stay out of jumping distance. A single cockroach, however, reduces me to the screaming lady standing on a chair of Warner Brothers cartoons. Living with a teeming mass of them has been a somewhat confronting experience.  

Oh God. Oh God.

Oh God. Oh God.

Understandably, this has caused some pretty extreme mood swings. I get pissed off at everything. Then, not having enough energy to maintain feeling pissed off depresses me.

No matter how low the serotonin gets, though, one thing is guaranteed to pick me up. All I have to do is log into my email and find the one from Village Cinemas with the improbable subject line: Russell Crowe Is Noah! to think that the world is not such a grim place after all.

If it comes out after the premiere that there was a Bible and a condom under every seat, my happiness will be complete.

Posted in Divine Madness, Jennifer Aniston is like so dropped pass it on, Kim Kardashian's boring arse, Penises and why they are important

Christmas and bells and shit

I should warn innocent readers that, right now, I am magnificently pissed. I can’t account precisely for the exact number of times I’ve hit “H” over any other letter (is it the most comforting letter of the alphabet, or is it just in the middle of the keyboard?), or how many times I have stupidly hit ‘Capslock’, or  the times I have squinted at the screen wondering if a space is actually a very faint comma in disguise. Perhaps punctuation is out to get me, and it will round me up after I have written this – all the colons, the em and en dashes, and things – and finally make me account for my profound lack of knowledge in the field of grammar, despite my prodigious ability, in front of a jury of grammar Nazis who will dismiss my thinking and have me executed over a questionable semi-colon. Or, perhaps, no one with a brain gives a flying fuck about punctuation as long as they get the meaning. Call me carzy, but I’, betting the last assumption is corrict fuck someone get me a top up!

Anyway. I’m drunk. I’ve had a tough year. I’ve been put on weird hormones that make me weep at the sound of Target jingles; I’ve had my heart broken; I’ve shagged weird cheap-sex  people who ask me what I do (??? WHO CARES?);  I’ve lost my grandmother, and I’ve lost a mate to cancer. I’ve had a job so insane, I ended up in a hospital bleeding out of bits that should either be kept private or come with a soundtrack.

All I can say about his year is that if you’ve survived it (and not everyone has), you’ve done well. And this, one of the only Christmas songs (apart from things in other languages and ‘Angels From the Realms of Glory’, which is great every time) that doesn’t make me physically sick, is for you.

So my darlings: Have a lovely thing, and whatever happens to you afterwards, I hope it’s a lovely thing as well. And much love to all of you. Because as much as I keep telling my students that we can’t put ‘and’ or ‘because’ at the start of a sentence: there is always room for an ‘and’, and there is always time to listen to a ‘because’.

Love and bounces

s

xoxoxo

Posted in Have a vodka, Things are pretty shit, Who cares | 2 Comments

Home, Jeeves

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My flat, quite literally, has paper-thin walls. If you bump one, the whole room shakes. We can hear each other talking, eating, and watching TV; if my neighbour has a bad night, his snoring keeps me awake until I finally come out of my tortured semi-dose enough to insert ear plugs. It should bother me more that we all hear each other having sex, except I have discovered a strange fact of getting older. Sex noises through the wall are traumatic when you are younger, because you remember the times in childhood when you heard your parents. Then, in your late thirties, you become your parents and it no longer matters. As long as you’re all enjoying a fair, equal and pleasurable share of sex, bonking moans and groans become part of the wallpaper. If an imbalance should arise, I expect that there may be difficulties; otherwise, all is fair in love and associated utterances.

I am not here to talk about the opera of bonking, however. At least, not quite. I am here to talk about archetypes – personas permeated and reflected throughout culture; complexes and incarnations that guide us through a confusing adult identity that happens to be intrinsically, sometimes even operatically, sexual. Specifically, on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who – possibly his most well-known manifestation – I am here to talk about the most enduring, shape-shifting, imperative archetype of the 20th and (so far) 21st centuries. I am here to talk about the Jeeves.

Jeeves, for those of you who have never met him in the original, is PG Wodehouse’s greatest, funniest, and most enduring invention: the omniscient valet of hapless minor aristocrat Bertie Wooster, who can’t get through a day without him – or so Bertie comes to believe, as his dependency on his subtle employee grows.

As critics like to point out, Jeeves comes from a long line of clever servants dating back to Roman times. But he is more than that. We have forgotten the Admirable Crichtons that went before him in our cultural memory; the Fascistic inventions that maintained a firm line between master and servant, no matter how daft the upper-class master and how deft the serving-class lackey. ‘No man is a hero to his valet’ was the Classical paradigm for this character; the slave that stood behind a victorious Roman general at his triumph, whispering ‘Remember you are mortal’ in his master’s ear. Jeeves is not a blind devotee of the social order. He is a gifted autodidact who has learned to outsmart the confines of his class, and who has made an early realisation that those born more privileged are helpless without him.

You don’t have to have read Wodehouse to know him. There is Alfred in the Batman tradition, of course, and empowered male servants like Sir John Geilgud’s Hobson, the weary enabling parent-butler in Arthur.  But you may have met him in a less obvious guise: If you laughed watching Fawlty Towers, he was there as the unflappable Polly. If you were entertained and intrigued by the odd but touching bromance at the centre 0f Boston Legal, he was the morally ambiguous but loyal and loving Alan Shore. Helen Mirrin played a lethally protective Jeeves in Gosford Park. Harvey Keitel’s gangster-Jeeves turned up in a tux to fix the unfixable, steal the show, and still have time to take his best girl out for breakfast in Pulp Fiction.

Not every Jeeves is a direct incarnation of the gifted problem solver. Rowan Atkinson cleverly injected machismo into the role in Blackadder, as the Jeeves who somehow never quite wins the day. If you grew up watching Doctor Who, you know this archetype in a hero role. If you watched and loved Twin Peaks, you will know Special Agent Dale Cooper just as well.

Like the original, his descendants transcend (but are rarely so coarse as to buck) the social order. A Jeeves is chaotic, with a self-determined and unpredictable agenda. Shrewd, secretive, duplicitous, autonomous and canny, but never false, cowardly, sycophantic, unfeeling or servile. Respectful, but never obsequious. Benign, but individual. A Jeeves is a mix of intelligence, aptitude, pragmatism, philosophy and intuition. A deeply ingrained sentimentality saves this Machiavellian creation from a sadistic nature; he or she may border on sociopathic, but always somehow lands on the right side of a shakily drawn line in the pursuit of natural justice. Jeeves has firm ideas about morality, part of a larger picture, but they are his own. He will look after you if you behave yourself. If you don’t, he will knock you out with a confiscated cosh.

In short, a Jeeves is the pure feminine in male form, or for a woman vice-versa. The super-ego and the anima or animus, rolled up into one.

Despite his mutability as an archetype, once encountered in the original on the page or on the screen Jeeves seems to form a clear picture in the psyche – a trait that suggests he was already there, waiting to be substantiated. Stephen Fry’s portrayal of the feline manservant in Jeeves and Wooster attracted some negative responses at the time, from critics used to an older and more detached Jeeves on screen – too young, too tall, too twitchy, were the complaints. Christopher Hitchens, a life-long Wodehouse devotee, later wrote that it took him years to forgive his friend for his performance (2010). Yet for many viewers who had not encountered the early films or the now lost 1960s BBC series The World of Wooster (which featured Dennis Price in the role – an actor about the same age as Ian Carmichael playing Bertie, but who was dramatically aged in appearance due to alcoholism), Fry’s Jeeves became definitive. A frail, austere and remote version would be as wrong to them as a six foot five, kinetic, somewhat kinder Jeeves was to Hitchens.

It’s fascinating that this character has endured and been perpetuated in so many forms over the last hundred years. We need him, obviously, in an uncertain world; a protector who can adapt, who can shift lines and allegiances without going wrong, who knows when to serve a cocktail and when to save the universe and when to protect you by killing a bad man before you try it yourself.

For me, though, the overarching intrigue of the Jeeves archetype is in his creation more than in his subsequent lives. How was it that Wodehouse, the quintessential English comic writer – an intensely hard-working practitioner with no pretensions to deep meaning, despite his obvious genius – came up with this most individual and Jungian archetype? How did a man who was so good natured, so affable, that his infuriated public school headmaster said of him ‘You can’t help liking the boy’, invent a male persona both so indomitable and maternal? And why is it that of all his comic creations, he kept coming back to Jeeves and the well-meaning ‘nature’s bachelor’ Bertie Wooster; a devoted couple in every sense, apart from (the least important, in the end) the physical?

Jeeves is one of only two adult characters that Wodehouse ever wrote. Every other person in his universe, from Uncle Fred to the inhabitants of Blandings Castle and to Bertie himself, dwells in a perpetually blissful latent state of development. The other adult in Wodehouse is Bertie’s terrifying Aunt Agatha, the bane of his life yet possibly the only relative who really cares about him. Agatha is the threat of adulthood, constantly tormenting Bertie with the horror of prospective marriage to one of a string of well-bred harpies for the purpose of breeding children. Jeeves, his saviour, extracts him from this fate time and time again.

Yet Jeeves himself has girlfriends. He is engaged to women, sometimes more than one at a time. He ‘dabbled’ in the First World War, the only real mention in Wodehouse of the agonies outside of his carefully constructed idyll. Despite the physically unimposing middle-aged to elderly screen representations of the character (perhaps an attempt to negate a possible homoerotic subtext) prior to Jeeves and Wooster, he is described as tall, dark, ‘bronzed’ and ‘fit’, with ‘chiselled features’, and is preternaturally strong. He likes to spend his annual holidays pulling in shrimping nets, hardly the hobby of an effete older gent, and loves seagoing travel – a trait Bertie ascribes to his ‘old Viking strain’.

The character arc of Jeeves and Bertie has pathos. The clever valet from Brixton starts off controlling his childlike and innocently snobbish employer for his own ends – sometimes purely out of boredom – and the results are hilarious. He knocks Bertie’s ridiculous assortment of foppish friends out with handy objects on the pretence of aiding one scheme or another – most notably an unsightly vase Bertie refuses to part with, thus dispensing of both the object and the friend in one blow. He sends his high-handed master out on a bicycle in the freezing rain to bring him down a peg; marries his uncle, a Lord, off to a Cockney barmaid; and, on more than one occasion, convinces Bertie’s entire social set of his employer’s dangerous insanity.

When the first Jeeves stories were published, critics didn’t know what to make of this anarchic, class-defying character. It wasn’t just that fiction had never seen a servant like this, although that was confusing enough. Wodehouse was known for light comedy – a peculiarly enacted kind of ‘English’ drawing room farce in which, despite the complexities of plotting and crescendos of chaos that later lent themselves so well to screwball comedy, happy endings are guaranteed. He had never written a character anywhere near as complex as Jeeves. He is the only major Wodehouse character with any sort of brooding dark side (the curse he must bear for sentience) – and also, perhaps, a hint of resignation. The brilliant Jeeves would’ve thrived given the Oxford education wasted on Bertie. Through an accident of birth, he is instead stuck doing his ironing.

Was this character evil? Spiteful? Criminally mad? Early films featuring Jeeves show a malicious, charmless machinator who gets his comeuppance in the end; a representation nothing like Wodehouse’s smooth talking, graceful and ultimately well-intentioned original.

Over time, though, the pair becomes fond of each other, and their bond deepens as the books continue. Bertie is heartbroken after he fires his valet in a fit of pique, and Jeeves does everything in his power to get his job back. (Bertie’s description of life apart in an earlier escapade, in which he has to give up his flat and his valet to a friend and move into a hotel, is touching in its evocation of pining for the person who makes you whole.) Eventually they are life partners, inseparable equals in spite of class differences which both seem to have forgotten about. With friendship comes loyalty, and with loyalty comes the protection and care that Bertie craves and so desperately needs.

In Wodehouse’s last novel, Aunts Aren’t Gentleman, written in his 90s, the idyllic world the author carefully constructed over his entire working life starts to crumble. Protest marches are mentioned, despite the book’s inter-war setting. Friends and family are far away from a lonely Bertie and seem to drift further as the novel reaches its close, finally dwindling to remote voices heard almost as memories through the telephone. As the story opens, for the first time ever Bertie is seriously ill and has to cancel his annual trip to New York. All he wants is for Jeeves to care for him. He is confused by his valet’s initial displeasure at this, but we are not; it is obvious, despite Bertie’s ignorance, that there is a lover waiting for him in the US whom he will now be unable to see. His first priority is his employer and equal, however, and so he stays.

Many lovers of Wodehouse – and it has to be said, he was without doubt the greatest comic writer working in the English language of the 20th century – have lost a great deal of sweat wondering which of his characters was the man himself. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems to be obvious. These two, the clever, worldly Jeeves and the innocent, yet brilliantly observant Bertie, were both him. Both sides of him. The creative innocent who invented a whole and perfect childlike world, and the attentive adult who knew enough about human evil to fight to protect it.

Wodehouse’s Jeeves failed him when he was interred by the Germans in World War II, or perhaps under the stress of the circumstances he failed to listen to that inner voice – the self-protecting adult in us all, the urge to run from danger or to fight it, the part of you that gets you home and looks after you no matter how blind drunk you find yourself in a far-flung suburb at 4am on a Sunday morning. At the urging of his German captors, he broadcast an infamous series of lightly funny radio announcements playing down the conditions of the camp. His thinking was that this displayed courage under fire, a stiff upper lip; at home, however, with the London blitz in full progress and families losing their children in a bitter war, the broadcasts were met with rage and derision. A A Milne publicly attacked him; George Orwell defended him (and also perhaps damned him with faint praise); the press published furious attacks against the once-loved author. This trauma saw Wodehouse under a self-imposed exile in the US for the rest of his life.

You ignore your Jeeves at your own peril, as his creator had learned. Relations between master and valet smoothed out after this point, apart from the odd sartorial power struggle over unsuitable socks and Bertie’s occasional attempt at growing an unsightly moustache (a point on which, as I’m sure most women would, I have to side with his employee).

The first time I became aware of this side to my own personality was in my late teens and early twenties. A series of rather nasty events had driven me crazy, quite literally. I didn’t know why at the time, it took over a decade to put the pieces together, but I was always in verbal and sometimes physical fights with random strangers; I was perpetually drunk; I fought in my sleep, physically punching and kicking dream assailants to death before they could kill me. I had no idea I did this until I kicked the wall in my sleep one night, and woke up to the screaming pain of a broken toe. Sometimes, I would wake up with my girlfriend holding my feet down to stop from being pummelled.

Eventually, the young woman I was broke into pieces and a new personality stepped into the breach. Someone more capable, more adept with people. More likeable. Kinder. And yet, more resilient. Not as creative in the raw sense, less sensitive, but smarter and funnier; not as self-destructive, yet perfectly capable of drinking until the blood sang with alcohol.

This was my Jeeves. The male aspect to my personality. The caretaker side, forced to take over until the main part of me recovered. He did it admirably for years. He got me dressed, kept me fed, sent me out to work and brought me home again. He maintained friendships, visited my family and looked after my cat. He kept me going, the machine of me, while I wasn’t here.

The unthinkable happened recently, when circumstances combined to deliver the mother of all psychic sucker punches. My Jeeves was knocked out for the count. I found myself once again fully female, the raw and sensitive warrior persona that simply couldn’t face another battle. I was broken and unfixable, alone and inconsolable.

One night, I dreamed a young man – not the man I’d had in my bed and ejected amicably into the street hours before, but a friend – came to the flat. He was horrified by the mess I’d made of my brain, made slightly jealous by the interim caretakers put in place in his absence. But I was glad he was home, and he was glad to be there again.

We shared my bed that night without a noise; not a fight, not a moan, not a kick to the wall or an orgasmic gasp to wake the couple on the other side. I was once more bisexual in both senses of the word. Complete. We have been together ever since.

A Jeeves is tough. Never beaten.

He will always come back.

mr wolf

REFERENCE: Hitchens, C 2010, “Jeeves Spoken Here”, Vanity Fair, March 2010, viewed 11/09/2015, <http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2010/03/hitchens-201003&gt;

Posted in archetypes, film, It's all fun and games until someone breaks a toe, Jeeves, Jeeves and Wooster, Jungian japes, literature, reading, TV, Wodehouse | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Spiffing Adventures and Manly Times of Tony Abbott’s Ballsack

teabag

Actually this has almost nothing to do with Tony Abbott’s ballsack. However given that at least the next four (more likely, eight) years will be entirely dedicated to it, I thought I should also dedicate a post to it.

Yesterday, I took a snail to the park and gave it its freedom.

This slightly batty errand of mercy sent us (the snail and me) out of the flat we formally co-inhabited and into gale force winds, me in a black cocktail dress and the snail naked and unashamed. Together, we careered south down Spencer Street towards the casino and the Yarra. Once there, I trudged in my leopard print pumps through the little park under the railway and to the riverbank, where a bed of hardy South African bulbs had been plonked in the ground by disgruntled drug addicts forced to do community service. I found some grass growing under the fronds, sheltered from birds and weather, and with an impassioned cry of:

‘Run, Boy! Be free!’

left my charge to fend for him (or her, or possibly both) self.

But how could it be possible to carry a tender-shelled mollusc to safety through wind and rain up a crowded city street, I hear you protest? Surely this is a happy ending invented to soothe us, and in reality the poor thing was crushed against the handbag of a random pedestrian, dropped on the foot path, left in its cracked shell to expire under the boot of an oversexed English backpacker?

Fine questions all, and ones I asked myself with a great gnashing of teeth before setting out. How can it be done? I asked myself. Surely, this is a fool’s errand!

Ah! But snails, you see, are sticky.

I was not the craziest person at the park. While I blundered through foliage, gingerly peeled the snail off my hand and set it down in its new home, a burly bloke in a blue jumpsuit (yes, a jumpsuit) sat rocking compulsively on a nearby bench bellowing Nirvana songs at the seagulls. Another gent had apparently decided that standing up and walking was a mug’s game, and instead was crawling on his belly through the clipped grass with his brown paper-bagged flagon clutched beside him like a rifle.

‘Hello Missus!’ he roared at passers by, regardless of gender. No one seemed to mind, they just smiled and waved. Maybe he does this every day, and has become a regular feature in the lives of city workers. Maybe if he doesn’t put in an appearance people start worrying, and when he reappears everyone texts each other.

This is Melbourne, I thought. The Federal Seat of Melbourne. The one seat in a country caught up in far-right insanity to vote Green; the heart of the capital city of one of the only states to lean Laborwards (apart from the ACT, and who else were they going to vote for?); the spiritual home of the poor, the gifted, the addled and the mad. The thinkers, in other words.

The day after I came back from Perth to Footscray, I went for a walk. I saw things simply not possible in Western Australia. There was a sign in a video shop window saying, ‘Free soup for the needy.’ Cars slowed down at intersections. Brown women wrapped in colourful saris and black women who looked like supermodels in animal print wandered into Indian grocery shops with friends, laughing and talking.

The air smelled of rain, petrol, bitumen and freshly ground spices. Everything was brutally ugly and filthy and broken after the luminous, intoxicating beauty of the west. People were walking and talking too fast for me. I was so fucking cold I thought I would shatter into ice cubes. I could’ve wept. It was fantastic.

I will go back to WA, I think. (One day when I have money, anyway – you need money for WA.) It has a large-scale beauty that is totally other to the East Coast, one that I haven’t properly explored yet. Perth alone, with its beaches and river and bright western light – they built film studios in California because of the desert and the light, which makes me wonder why we haven’t – is so beautiful, so naturally vibrant, your mind has to take breaks from language to absorb it. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to write there – something to do with the rests.

The dominant culture, alien in both genus and expression to that of the East Coast, reminds me in flashes of an Australia I saw on the telly in the 1980s when I was a child and brings back memories of my grandfather’s bawdier ‘Strine comic posters. I like the pace, the ease, the otherness. I like the way that, regardless of income or social status, we freaks find each other and band together to make our own entertainment. Most pressingly, though, I have friends there and I miss them horribly. That is, and will always be, my main reason for returning anywhere.

I don’t really belong in any one place, and I never have. I am an itinerant soul by nature – I don’t have a map. I’ve never needed one. I am a crazy woman in after-five dress who hangs out in parks liberating garden pests. ‘Life direction’ is hardly a concept that applies to me.

However, as Judy for obvious personal reasons never said: It’s so lovely to be back in Melbourne. Thanks to the hysterical short-sightedness of the rest of the nation, Tony and his ballsack are now free to frolic across the mortal remains of the grown-up policies and statesmanship that came before them (I never thought anyone could make me miss John Howard). So despite my nomadic impulses, I think I might stick around in the safety zone for a while.

I’m staying here in the shelter until the ‘All Clear’ sounds, and it’s safe to stick your head out again without getting teabagged.

Posted in Melbournaphilia, random acts of madness, scrotal intrigue, teabagging blackout | 2 Comments

The Fear of All Sums

(Written on the sly at Work for the Dole, while some little fucker I’d like to smash over the head with his laptop rants loudly at the room proclaiming his IT genius. Probably full of typos. *ATTENTION WEIRD INTERNET GRAMMAR NERDS: If typos and grammatical errors disturb you, may I politely suggest that you fuck off and get some sort of a life outside of masturbating to Terry Pratchett audiobooks before any chance of love and happiness pass you by forever. Never mistake pedantry for intelligence. May a grocer’s apostrophe fall off a sign and kill you while you’re ignoring the scary world of thought and ideas in order to bitch about a stranger’s online comma use.)

I have that kind of face – the kind where people think they’ve met me before, or that perhaps I am Someone off the Telly. Lately, though, this face of mine has been doing strange things. A combination of stress, chaotic lady hormones, enthusiastic-to-mildly concerning trashbaggery and adult themes has sent the skin hurtling back into adolescence. Pimples not heard of since 1992 are making a comeback. Not just pimples. Craters. There is presently a zit on my chin capable of accommodating a lunar module. It’s odd, how humiliating this experience is for a thirty-eight year old woman – the incongruous combination of  frown lines with ‘you’re not the boss of me’ lumpy outbreaks reflecting back from the mirror, an apt manifestation, perhaps, of the inner landscape.

And so it is both my face that sends me to Coles at nine o’clock in the morning for Clearasil, and my face that engages the high-school aged checkout chick in unexpected conversation.

‘You look like someone who knows about sociology and German Expressionism,’ she declares chirpily and quite incorrectly, as she whips my bottle of dermatological angst killer through the scanner. ‘Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about my art essay?’

What is it about this visage that engenders such faith? Or maybe it’s not that; maybe it’s some kind of pheromone thing? Small children climb over multiple bus seats to sit on my lap and invite me to imaginary Rainbow Brite parties. Babies lean from their parents’ arms, smiling and gurgling and wanting to grasp my finger with their tiny perfect hands. Back in Smith Street’s glory days, a total of five people in twelve months with slowing heartbeats and failing organs crawled into the doorway of my workplace in order to overdose and expire and be brought back from the dead. In that same year, two people somehow made it past an electronic security gate in order to do this in my driveway. I have no idea what I’m doing, or what’s happening next, or where my life is heading. I live from one meal to the next, one dollar to the next. But something about my ease with this situation – a native surfeit of courage and existential stupidity – seems to make a me a safe harbour for the lost, the vulnerable and the spiritually (in this case, academically) bewildered.

I am actually a disastrous person to ask for either advice or directions. It’s a twisted politeness thing. I have terrible trouble saying no to people. This internal taboo is so strong, if someone asks me for directions to a place I’ve never heard of I try to guess it. Besides, I figure, it might do them some good to see the world.

So:

‘Sure!’ I reply brightly, or as brightly as a thirty-eight year old woman with acne can manage at nine o’clock on a Wednesday morning.

‘What does Expressionism mean?’ the girl asks, ignoring a man who is fidgeting impatiently in the queue behind me and trying to buy some grapes.

I rack my mind trying to remember what Expressionism is.

‘I asked another customer, and she said to talk about Marx and how Expressionist art is elitist,’ she continues. ‘But I don’t know if that’s right.’

‘No,’ I say automatically. The brain’s inner catalogue has whizzed through its index cards and found Expressionism – Munch and all that. ‘That’s not right. That’s not right at all.’

‘Well I thought I’d talk about that, and about how individuals make a society and society makes individuals,’ she continues. ‘Like what Pierre said.’

The man with the grapes clears his throat and starts shuffling around in his wallet. She is oblivious to him, and I am perversely enjoying his frustration.

‘Pierre who?’ I ask.

‘Pierre something starting with B,’ she replies.

The man gives up on his grapes and walks out.

‘Well,’ I say. ‘Expressionism is the first art movement to talk about ordinary human beings. The fear and the horror and the lust and desire.’

She is seventeen, and has no idea what I’m talking about.

‘It’s hard to be a human being,’ I elucidate.

She blinks and smiles happily. She still has no idea what I’m talking about.

‘Talk about Freud,’ I advise finally, giving up on context. ‘Psychoanalysis. Freud was practicing at that time.’

‘Freud. OK,’ she says uncertainly. Who the fuck is Freud? is the thought bubble floating above her head, in the depiction of this exchange that will never appear in a graphic novel.

My pimple, my Clearasil and I walk back to the flat together, musing over this exchange and the father of psychoanalysis. People, especially people who have never read it, love to declare that Freudian theory has been soundly debunked; that it’s outdated sexist claptrap; that a drug addict with a peculiar obsession in the human proboscis can’t possibly have had anything profound to say about the mind and the self.

They are right. And they are utterly, utterly wrong.

Who doesn’t know the terms ‘ego’ and ‘egotist’, ‘libido’, ‘angst’, ‘Narcissist’, ‘fetish’, ‘unconscious’? Who doesn’t use these terms every day, taking them for granted as part of the normal world as much as ‘tree’, ‘moon’, ‘fuck’, ‘Centrelink sucks’? Freud’s analysis of the uncanny in Hoffmann’s ‘The Sandman’ forged the way for what we now recognise as critical and literary theory, and is the first example of thinking of its kind. He was the first thinker to posit, based on his own personal experience, that sexual abuse and other forms of cruelty traumatise the survivor and can shatter a child forever. It’s odd to think, now, that at the time this notion caused such outrage that he was forced – at least temporarily – to recant, and to pursue a far less socially shocking avenue of experimental nasal surgery so extreme that it caused a female patient’s nose to collapse.

We know Freud was right about sexual abuse. Sexuality goes to the core of what it means to be human. We know this because to people like me, sex seems like this incredibly fantastic idea aliens thought of when they decided to invent something better than cocaine. While to many (not all) who have been sexually abused – we all know and love at least one person with this experience – sex is a wound on the psyche as much as a promise of pleasure and respite; an expectation, a compulsion, a site promising love and acceptance and debasement and loss of power all at once. A complication and a shattering point. We know he was right about angst, too – the indefinable horror at finding ourselves stuck with sentience, stuck with the weight of an existence with no intrinsic meaning. We know this because a single pimple has driven me to the supermarket for a stick of chemicals with which to make myself acceptable in society once more, and I will not under any voluntary circumstances leave my flat until the damned thing is dead.

Back at the flat, I curl up on my bed with my cat. I am strangely exhausted. There are road works going on outside, pneumatic drills and jackhammers and workmen shouting at each other. The smell of fresh bitumen – not entirely unpleasant, but heavy with tar – floats up through the window almost visibly, like the steam from an apple pie in a Loony Tunes cartoon. I drift off to sleep in the midst of this noise and sensory confusion. And I dream:

A middle aged lady, perhaps in her early 50s, is talking to the camera quite simply about her life. She has dark curly hair, shoulder length, and distinctive deep set eyes. She is a New Yorker of Russian Jewish descent. It is now, but she is speaking to us somehow from the year 1968, I think, or thereabouts. There is no set behind her besides a plain blue backdrop. She is a Holocaust survivor, I suspect, although it is not mentioned directly. She has the saddest, kindest eyes I have ever seen.

‘My first miscarriage, we buried the baby in a round coffin,’ she tells us. ‘It’s a Jewish tradition to place stones on a grave. So we covered the coffin with stones. Dozens of little stones.’ She hesitates just slightly, in the way trauma victims do when they’re attempting to explain a deeply personal pain to an audience. ‘Like you might have seen in that Seinfeld episode,’ she finishes.

I remember the episode. A comically ridiculous funeral, in which the mourning is so ostentatious a wealthy Jewish family has buried their relative in a giant round coffin covered in stones. George says something about it by the graveside, and is overheard. There are problems. Kramer goes into business digging circular graves. I remember how hilarious I found this. How hilarious I still find this.

Comedy is based on pain, after all. This is fine.

I think, though, with anger, about the expectation we place on people who suffer to explain their suffering to us. To educate us. We don’t really give a shit about them. We just want to understand. To be better people, somehow.

She continues talking about her life, and I find I am crying. Genuinely grieving for this woman. I wake up just enough to touch my face, and to feel the wetness under my eyes.

‘This is an extraordinary thing,’ I mumble to the cat, and tumble back into sleep.

My friend comes in a red Corvette to pick me up from school. I am me now. Why am I waiting for him in front of my old high school, with my school bag? Am I somehow . . . Yes I am  . . . thinner? Not a bad dream, after all.

There is a dumpy looking forty-five year old woman with a blonde perm and a Ken Done jumper sitting next to him, in the passenger seat. I have never seen her before.

‘Get in,’ says my friend. ‘We’re going to the hospital.’

I have terrible trouble saying no to people, and so I get in.

The dumpy woman and my friend are kissing passionately in the front while he drives. Ergh! This is horrible. I want to wash my eyes with bleach. I am not at all comfortable with Ken Done featuring in any sort of erotic context. I dig around in a pocket in the car door, and pull out a much needed bottle of Bourbon. It’s in a brown paper bag and has a straw sticking out of the neck.

Thank Fuck. Mother’s milk. I stick the straw in my mouth and start sucking.

‘This is great,’ the dumpy woman confides to me, disengaging for a second.

‘OK,’ I mumble around my straw, sucking harder.

We get to the hospital and meet some bikie friends who look like ZZ Top. One of them gets a text message that reads: ‘HOSPITAL FUNERAL. WTF?!’

We are walking down corridors towards the morgue when I wake up.

Sometimes, dreams are not what they seem to be about. The tears on the tops of my cheeks haven’t dried yet; they have slowly, steadily flooded my face. I am amazed by this.

I know what these dreams mean.

Our friend Tony, who is incorrigibly rude, utterly outrageous, hard as nails, blunt as a thumb tack, sexually insatiable, proudly bi-gendered (although definitely not bisexual – strictly a cock fan) and profoundly independent, is dying. He has cancer. He is lying in a Catholic hospice with days to live. I make a point of saying a Catholic hospice, because of what this means in real terms: Little chance of morphine. No chance of being eased out of living death by the kindness of a needle.

Tony is, as I have said, one of the rudest people I have ever met. It took me years to like him. We’d go and visit him in the sex shop in the city where he worked, Spray ‘n’ Wipe in one hand and vibrator in the other:

‘Look, your clit needs seeing to. I can give this to you for a discount,’ he’d say, waving the box in the space above my tits and below my nose. ‘Just clean it first. They probably tried it out in the factory.’

Or, at a dinner party:

‘No more food for her. She’s so fat, no wonder she can’t find her pussy.’

Or, to a mutual friend emerging from the Men’s at the theatre:

‘Still hanging around toilets, then?’

Gradually though, somehow – Stockholm syndrome, perhaps – I came to like this snappy rudeness. There was certainly no attempt to ingratiate here.  No agenda, hidden or otherwise. No dark smell of snake oil charm.

Over the same period, he came to like me. To trust me to some degree, a high compliment from such an autonomous individual. Not my generically recognisable face this time, or any hypothetical baby-friendly pheromones.

A friend was with us one day when we went to visit Tony in the sex shop. Our friend was at the bitterest downswing of depression, the point where grooming and dressing is too hard and walking takes every ounce of will. None of us could help, we knew, but I think we thought if we just kept him moving something might happen.

No one could help, that is, except Tony. A different person to the rude, snappy, implacable drag queen met in most encounters emerged in the face of true suffering. He was kind. He was wise. He was absolutely no nonsense, a platitude-free zone.

Our friend, unbelievably, felt a little better afterwards. Comforted. Tony asked about him when we saw him the next time, the time after that, and the time after that. He still offered me discount vibrators; but still, he asked.

I realised, finally, that both offers were quite genuine. He was genuinely concerned about our friend, and he was genuinely concerned about my orgasms. He just had a uniquely unembroidered approach to expressing both sentiments.

‘Just enjoy it,’ he told me, the last time I saw him. He was lying on the couch, too sick to move, a vomit bucket by his side. ‘You don’t know when it ends. Just have fun.’

He had promised to give me a box of his dildos before he died. I thought this was a joke, something he wouldn’t follow through on.

It was. It wasn’t a box of dildos. It was a garbage bag.

These dreams then, not what they seem, are about Tony and death. Death, the eternal problem. About letting go of a friend, someone unexpectedly cherished; about recognising his suffering and his uncompromising earthy, intelligent brand of bravery; and about honouring his last wish to have fun, even though it is so, so hard to be a human being.

Less cryptic is the dream I have later, about finding a cave in a mountain stuffed to the top with free cocaine.

Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

Posted in Bad directions, Freudian slips, slippery Freud, The War against Pedantry | 2 Comments