пятница, сентября 15, 2006

The Final Word on Wisdom

The revoltingly arrogant reader will probably pretend to be unsurprised that the State Library is the first place to look when seeking wisdom. Were said revoltingly arrogant reader to make such a pretension, said revoltingly arrogant reader would be deservedly wrong, and may take a moment to reflect on the consequences of being revoltingly arrogant. We are all wrong from time to time, and generally it is a tragedy; for one to be deservedly wrong is a damning indictment of one’s character. What the revoltingly arrogant reader has failed to utilise, in this instance, is wisdom; specifically, the wisdom to know that revoltingly arrogant readers should cease being revoltingly arrogant, and keep their foolish pretensions to themselves. Clearly, if the reflections I’ve delightfully laid out below demonstrate anything, it’s that the fount of wisdom springs from a cup of Earl Grey. Perchance any tea will do, but personally I should not like to test this theory – when working with potent forces like Wisdom, it is best, I think we can all agree, not to fuck around. Stick with Earl Grey. The very name conjures images of a portly and silvering nobleman, perching on a windowsill with plum pie, goodwill, and lashings of damned sagacity.

I should also like to add, in all humility, that it can scarcely be a coincidence that Earl Grey is my tea of choice. It is not for nothing that I may quite possibly be Wisdom Incarnate.

среда, сентября 13, 2006

On the Source of Wisdom

The perspicacious reader will recall that I was speaking of the appalling lack of wisdom displayed by myself, my housemate Galya, and the cat. I think we can all agree it was a scene far from ideal, and I’m quite sure none of us (with the possible exception of Galya, whose arrogance exceeds mortal comprehension, and the cat, whose brain is too small to comprehend mortality) knew how to defuse the situation without losing a considerable amount of self-respect. Fortunately, at that moment, Percy burst into the room, rubbing his hands together and shouting with a kind of inexplicable heartiness. I was thankful for his intrusion, because he immediately began an argument with Galya. I suspect that one of the lessons to be learned here is that one of the best remedies for a poverty of wisdom is witnessing an even greater poverty of wisdom.

I took a sip of Earl Grey and – in a fashion which was both surprising and incidentally pleasing – listened to the tirade of rising voices with something akin to benign tranquility. Feeling quite certain that it was time to regard infinity, I left the room with cup in hand, and stepped outside into the backyard. The ruckus within had faded to a dull roar, and my mind, I dare say, expanded to fill the universe, transversing ley lines and gently deflecting cosmic rays and so forth as it did so. Clearly I was on the verge of a revelation. Eager to maximise the mentally stimulating properties of sweet dawn’s serenity, I ducked under the dripping grapevines and ventured around the side of our crumbling home. The street was empty: it was time to undertake one of those wonderfully courageous missions which revelations are inclined to demand. I pulled on Percy’s green gumboots and wandered further afield.

Several streets away lay a private garden which was throat-chokingly impressive in both scale and beauty. It easily encompassed half of a sprawling riverside block, alternately hidden behind an ominous and looming greystone wall, or else a monstrous and tightly compacted hedge. The existence of the garden had inadvertently been drawn to my attention one evening when, having mustered the courage to venture out after convincing Percy to accompany me, I had shied in eyeball-rolling fear at the sheer solidity of the greystone. It was, in a word, There, and terrifyingly so. For mine, I was perfectly prepared to treat the wall as an unbreachable impasse: it was manifestly designed to keep people out, and looked as if it was damned good at its job. Doubtless the blood of braver men than I had been splashed across the morbid stack of stones. O the vagaries of humankind: it was the very tangibility of the blood-soaked greystone which instilled within Percy a determination to get inside. There must (his addled brain probably reasoned) be something worth seeing beyond, or the wall would not be trying to stop him. Over the course of a week, Percy and I traversed the boundary of the garden: he searching for a way to climb over the fence or under the hedge; I nervously tagging along behind, bleating at him to cease his foolishness and come home. Several modes of entry presented themselves; to my relief none of them were accessible to our humble selves. Then, one gentle evening, Percy stumbled across a forgotten labourer’s entrance while attempting to thrash his way through a privet hedge.

The garden seemed to have few inhabitants. The occasional sparrow, of course, and Percy claimed to have once seen a rabbit, though I believe this was a concoction of his latently rustic mind. There was, however, a human presence: a gentleman frequented the place, though he was an elusive character at best. Percy had encountered him before I, and commented that he was quite genial, if rather vague and naïve. I had run into him several times hence, and held a general impression not dissimilar to Percy’s. He seemed to work irregular hours, and was wont to materialise from behind a hedge or squat unnoticed at a potted tree, almost a part of the landscape until he startled the unwitting by moving. He made courteous enquiries about myself, but seemed to hold the outside world in a polite contempt. In an outrageously creative fit of imagination, Percy had dubbed him ‘the Gardener’, though during a later encounter the gentleman informed me that he was known as ‘Old Man Salvia’.

On this particular day, I ventured through the labourer’s entrance with the distinct intention of tracking down Old Man Salvia, who had a frustrating habit of being found only when he wished to. Fortune, however, was with me, and not far behind were startling results. As I delicately high-stepped through the quagmire that was the forgotten labourer’s entrance, I was nonplussed to note a pair of legs jutting upright out of a shack window, gumbooted like my own, and wildly waving around, like two sparring cobras waiting for the chance to sink a fang or twelve into the other’s neck. I cautiously approached them, unprepared to commit myself to any role but that of the rather scared observer. There was a cacophony filtering past the legs, a noise which seemed to emanate from somewhere directly below the window. I could only presume that the figure in question had leaned over the sill and begun struggling with an object of some size and weight. Curiousity passed, amusement waned, and fear subsided, so I cleared my throat. The legs stiffened a little, then, with several frantic jerks, the unorthodox gentleman extracted himself from the window frame. It was indeed Old Man Salvia, looking unusually flushed and agitated.

‘Hello,’ I said mildly, trying to put him at his ease, a feat which must have met with some small success, because he visibly relaxed upon recognising my face.
I took a sip of Earl Grey, but it had grown nauseatingly tepid.

‘Ah,’ said Old Man Salvia as I unceremoniously emptied the cup onto a nearby hedge. ‘Yes. How are you?’

He cleared his throat twice, and I am ashamed to admit I reveled in his discomfort.

‘Quite well. You don’t need any help?’ I asked, nodding in the direction of the window.

‘No,’ he declared. ‘No, thank you. I’ll manage here. Actually, it’s probably about time for a break. Fancy a refill?’

I gratefully nodded and he quickly led the way to a cast-iron gate, the entry to a portion of the garden I had yet to explore. Beyond this gate, a rolling hill swept down towards the river, grass sparkling with morning condensation. The graded field was speckled with orange trees, sparse at the top, but thickening towards the bottom, until, at the river’s edge, they formed a veritable grove. Old Man Salvia picked his way between the trees to a long wooden table. Here he came to a halt, seating himself without decorum on a bench. I took the other without invitation. Old Man Salvia reached behind himself to the ground and brought up a small yellow rucksack, from which he fished out a battered floral thermos and a plastic cup. Having retrieved my tea cup from my hand without word, filled both vessels with a steaming brew. The scent of bergamot filled the air, and my soul leapt in ecstasy. We drank our Earl Grey in silence.

‘What’s on your mind?’ he asked.

‘Wisdom,’ I replied. He gave this some thought.

Finally, he said: ‘The State Library. That’s where you’ll want to be heading. All sorts of wisdom there.’

I could only nod in confirmation.

вторник, сентября 12, 2006

On My Friendship Circle

The reason I mentioned all of that sentimental rot about friendship is because I am about to explain about my friendship circle. It is a source of particularly acute embarrassment, hence I ask the considerate reader to be appropriately indulgent.

The compassionate reader will clearly understand that I needed a hefty injection of friendship. I believe I’ve heard various inane platitudes about friendship being the meaning of life and whatnot, and at that time I was prepared to grab ahold of any driftwood floating my way. I figured that seven or eight inane platitudes could be strapped together and perform admirable service as the raft, as it were (speaking in a fashion both metaphoric and, may I say, touchingly poetic), upon which I would float to salvation.

Well. The very first inane platitude that one should detach from the blasted raft of salvation and cast back into the sea with a spit and a curse is: ‘Any port in a storm’. Fucking, I say thee, fucking Percy. Let’s be clear: I was in a bad way. Being a sensitive soul, my rude disruption of a millipede menage-a-trois had induced within me a melancholia of the most profound breed. Then I thought of Percy.

I should, of course, spare a word to explain the phenomenon that is Percival, and being an obliging if not always engaging raconteur, am happy to offer several. Percy, as he seemed to be called, had many years of experience in the field of commercial failure. Perhaps the best that could be said of his credentials is that he had stumbled through one dismal enterprise after the next with admirable consistency. I had first encountered him several years ago on the docks, where he was attempting to make his fortune very quickly and with the least possible effort. The immediate acquisition of wealth was incorporated into all of Percy’s ventures, and it was this impatient hunger which always predicated his failure.

One could justifiably question why I would associate with such a parasite. The answer is simple: Percy was a sincerely likable fellow. His naivety brought forth a benevolent pity which was extremely gratifying, and his witless charm induced an easy affection. Most importantly, the absurd zest with which he embraced his immediate surroundings inspired others around him to forget their own questionable existence. Percy was interested neither in contemplation nor reflection; he wanted to interact with the Now, and was concerned only with his own impending future. It was Percy’s selfishness that inadvertently caused him to become my knight in shining armour: his predatory instinct required resources to exploit. As he had done on several previous occasions, Percy contacted me at a mysteriously propitious time, offered a brief and very sincere apology for not repaying the money I had invested with him two years ago, and inquired as to my interest in joining another venture. I accepted there and then. Far better, I figured, to invest a pittance on a poor wager than to fritter it away on the exigencies of day-to-day living.

Like all pathetically baseless optimists, Percy was overjoyed by my acceptance. There is, I suppose, nothing like a fellow traveller to make one feel better about one’s manifestly obvious insanity. What is it about fellow travellers? Take a person who passes his time jabbing himself with pins to ensure he still understands the concept of ‘pain’ and chuck him in a deep pit: he’ll be miserable and broken. Give him a pitmate who is, at the very least, prepared to refrain from condemning his behaviour, and the pinjabber will be mucking his pants in self-content. What is it about the human spirit which demands some vague reassurance that one need not solely rely upon oneself to get by? Are we so bereft of capability? How fearsome, how destructive the might of doubt! How powerful – and desolate – and impossible, to be sure – the character who can dismiss self-doubt, and do it on a whim, no less. Much as I wanted to blast through my own mortal coil, I succumbed instead to the demands of this fucking organic shell I inhabit: Percy was better than no one.

He had also managed to convince another old friend of his to embark upon his scheme. I did not inquire too deeply into her history: Percy had many acquaintances, and knew very little about any of them – but it was, I felt quite sure, safe to assume she was severely deranged. According to Percy’s laconic account, said friend had foolishly spurned her wealthy benefactors in order to become a self-made woman. Percy advised me that her attempts to put her ‘stupid, dreamland ideas’ into practice had ‘only landed her in trouble’. Of course, I did not question the nature of this trouble: as the well-bred reader will doubtless agree, such enquiries are unnecessarily nosey, and let us not disregard how easily a friendship can be lubricated through sheer ignorance. Galya was her name, and during our first meeting, I found her to be quite amiable, if a little forceful and easily frustrated. She and Percy spent most of the meeting arguing ferociously over insignificant details or engaging in petulant disputes that one appeared to initiate solely to antagonise the other. Nonetheless, it was evident that they appreciated one another’s enthusiasm, and revelled in taking issue with someone over anything. Shortly afterwards, I asked Percy if he did not think Galya’s failure to live up to her own expectations was affecting her mental stability. Percy assured me she was indeed far less capable than she proclaimed, and should be regarded with the greatest suspicion. I thanked him for his timely candour: by that stage I had handed over my meagre savings, and it was too late to withdraw.

воскресенье, сентября 10, 2006


суббота, сентября 09, 2006

Michael Popek: An Incomplete Biography

Along with Alf Treloar and perhaps some others, Michael ‘Mick’ Popek was one of the most renowned livestock and land owners in Maldon.

Mick Popek was born somewhere in the Netherlands, probably in the twentieth century. I doubt very much he was born in the nineteenth century, but I can’t say for sure. What is certain is that he must have emigrated to Australia and settled in Maldon a long time ago. The laneway beside which he built his house came off Newstead Road and quite aptly came to be called ‘Popek’s Road’. Although Popek’s Road was asphalt for several hundred metres, it soon became an unsealed track which led down to Sandy Creek, and eventually emerged back out on Newstead Road just before Welshman’s Reef. Precisely when the laneway was officially named ‘Popek’s Road’ is unknown to me. I do know that another road coming off it, which was called Rowes Road (and which I lived beside for some sixteen years), was named after the town butcher.

Mick Popek owned quite a lot of land and livestock around the southern parts of Maldon. I was most familiar with his back paddock which in effect was my back paddock too. Our back fence was also Popek’s back fence, and, as it happened, it was also the official boundary between the township of Maldon and the forest of Muckleford. It bordered a large paddock, some three or four acres, containing a blackberry-ridden gully, a leech-infested dam, several dozen sheep, and a large faerie tree, dubbed ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ by the local kids. Brown snakes were known to inhabit the paddock and the top of the hill, and from time to time a grumpy and half-blind ram would impotently rage about the upper reaches.

Mick Popek had two sisters, although as I have never seen official verification of their familial status, it’s possible that they were not his sisters at all. They were certainly his lovers. They were old, and left the impression of having slightly humped backs, and of wearing cardigans. From time to time, they would sit on Popek’s unprepossessing front porch. Occasionally a black cat sat with them; it could have been living, or it could been painted terracotta.

Popek’s English was poor, and he was prone to misunderstanding people. Fortunately, his livelihood did not depend on good communication skills. He mistakenly referred to my own father as ‘John’ for his entire life, although perhaps he was having a quiet joke at my father’s expense. Popek was known to drive his white hi-lux along the roads lining his properties at a very slow speed. Once we came across one another on Rowes Road. He crawled to a gradual halt as we drew level.

‘Hey, you’re John’s son, right?’ he asked.

‘That’s right,’ I said.

‘How old are you now?’ he asked.

‘Twenty one.’

Popek looked surprised.

‘Twenty one, eh? Bloody hell. Well, all the best to you, my boy.’

And we continued on our respective ways.

Mick Popek died some years ago. The debauched ménage a trios came to an end, and the paddock containing the Magic Faraway Tree was divided into lots and sold.

понедельник, сентября 04, 2006

another try

It’s so rare I get to show up a smart guy who’s my friend too, that I jumped at the opportunity from heaven when buddy said he didn’t get out and vote in the election last week.
‘So what’s all this about being so smart then?’ I said to his face.
‘Yeah, damn it,’ he said, ‘I was really aching to get out and get my word in, but geez if the last couple of days haven’t been hazardous enough.’
So I asked him to tell me the deal.
The whole affair hinged on a couple of complete unforeseeables that, added up, fell down into place like sheer stupid luck, unconnected, but by the power of mathematics, wearisome.
‘Happy New Year!’ he said, ‘this is my story.’
First he was sitting around one day, reading a book, probably, and out of the blue the phone rang.
‘Just a fluke of nature,’ he said, ‘and not foreseeable in the least. My mother’s only friend went down with a case of coming undone at the seams and they took her away to the hospital. Poor lady has a twelve year old daughter, and though my ma offered and asked to take care of the girl, the services came and took her away. But she also has a cat and nowhere to put it into, so I took it on, as mother has the fear of animals and viruses. So I got the cat, and you know, the thing is just adorable, but I must admit I know nothing of how to care for animals, the sphere of my knowledges being limited to politics, and I felt obliged to keep it entertained like any old guest. So after they brought it by, I was spending my time rolling around with it on the floor; I went to the store and bought a ball of yarn, and I’ve been rolling around throwing the ball of yarn at it, and basically we’ve been having a grand old time. Despite the wounds on my face and arms, we have bonded famously and I call him little cat face, and it’s great. Eventually I had to go to work and do my thing there though, and poor cat face, as any guest could be expected to, got bored. So when I got home I found he had eaten everything made of material, and scratched the walls up to boot, and I had a long night stitching up my business suits and making the place liveable again.’
‘That’s all interesting and good,’ I said in impatience, ‘but I don’t see how it kept you away from the polling booths.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘seeing as your culture is one inclined to impatience and punch lines I can forgive you, but if you just let me go, I’ll lead you on to the end.’
‘Ok,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘A couple of days later another thing happened that was just a complete fluke too, and not an everyday occurrence. While I was snoring in my bed for the night, dreaming of all the slurpees my modest wages bring me after the loan payments have gone through, I found myself awoken by the telephone with another urgent bad call from my mother. This time a robber had cracked in and broken the window by her backdoor, and made haste with her purse. She had no documents and didn’t know how she would recover her peace of mind, or convince other people she was who she said. I managed to calm her down enough to make out her words and promised to stop by and help her talk to the police. I did just that, and said “thank you” to the officer, and was about to leave when my mother asked me to give her the cat for company and to feel protected.
‘“The usual collocation is guard dog, mother,” I said, ‘but if it will help with the tears, I guess you can have him.”
‘So shattered as I was at losing my new companion who understood me so well, I took the cat over to my mother’s and said farewell.
‘I have to admit I was feeling a little down, but I still had all my destroyed furniture to look at and remember him by, and there’s no use getting down every day.
‘Then the coup de grace struck me right off. You know I’m really in love with the modern world, I’m not a student any more, and I see no point in protesting against the new technologies; I love spaceships and TVs and online banking, but I couldn’t get into my account. So I ran in to the bank and asked them what the problem was and they told me they had sealed my account on account of my suspicious activities.
‘“And what’s so suspicious about loving the modern world?!” I said.
‘“Well,” they said, “it’s the way you gave all your money to a stranger by email.”

“Mama Mia!” I cried, and when they managed to calm me a bit down, they promised to find who had taken it, maybe, and explained that it was common practice to shut people out of business when such suspicious transactions happen and take place.
‘“But if you had really been itching to close me down, why couldn’t you have done it before they took all the 944 dollars I’d managed to save by pinching pennies together and rubbing dimes? Or let me live my life in peace with the money stashed under my bed, instead of insisting with your buddies in the government that in exchange for my hours of backbreaking, the companies I sell my soul to have to deposit my worthless life directly into my account? Why can’t I just be paid in potatoes immediately at the end of the day? Or do I have to move to some corrupt third world country like Russia or Australia where people still rely on the barter system?”
‘But unfortunately there aren’t answers to everything, and though the sum may be laughable on big banking streets, it’s gonna take me 14 years to get that much saved again from working all day long at the library, and by night at the bakery.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘as they say – super! But I’m damned if I can see the connections or how the election is to blame.’
‘Yeah, damn it, what connections are there in life? And nobody here is blaming anyone, except maybe the laws of probability. It’s nothing. It’s only something because last year the lady at the bank with the black hair - you know I love the dark hair - said a document concerning my student loan had been lost and she had promptly given my case over to the agency for deadbeat dads and other working class scum. And that’s fine, hold on, I’m not going on and on about it, though I might feel entitled to – they never even said, “Mister, hey buddy, we’re terribly sorry,” and I’m by nature inclined to the politeness of the British. No, that’s not the point, and I’m not getting my legs all bent out of shape by it. There’s no use in pointing fingers all day long. I just want to complain once and a while too, you know, like any other normal person who hasn’t yet found out that life wasn’t meant for pleasure. I think it’s all incredibly ironic that it happened on the very day we are to pick the ruling class – which is full of all the people who refuse to accept that death and disease exist to keep the population down at a normal size, and that hurricanes only exist to destroy all these stupid beachside condos we exchanged our natural habit for.’
‘Hold on,’ I said, ‘you’re starting to let fluency and beauty of speech get right in front of logic and sound argument. Death and disease is all very good, but what is our natural habit then, eh?’
‘Caves, buddy, caves. We sleep at night because it’s dangerous to wander out from the cave. We sleep around the fire because if the wolf tries to pull your baby away, you throw flaming brands at it. And now that we don’t live in caves and only rarely battle wolves we suffer from insomnia and stay up all night watching soft core porn, our eyes barely registering what we see, but our minds not missing a single frame. And so when we get old we need Viagra because our brain has a different idea of beauty, and it’s always at an angle we can’t reach anymore. The doctors can say what they want about inflamed prostate glands – we all know it’s an inflamed sense of false eroticism. In this sense the continental Europeans have always been superior to us. If it weren’t for the fact that their cities are thousands of years old, and the fact that the plague could suddenly pop up out of the ancient sewer systems, I would move there without even saying goodbye to my urologist. As it is we are trapped, and if it isn’t a lie about the reasons for sexual dysfunction, it’s civic duty. There are so many traps out there you can’t take a step without becoming a victim of your own stride.’
‘So what are you going to do now?’ I asked, unable to resist the feeling of being a little lost at sea.
‘What any normal person would do.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘I don’t know. Forget about the whole thing for a while. Get drunk. Work lots of overtime. Who cares?’
‘That’s ridiculous and I feel like I’ve been robbed of my reason and sanity. How can you justify talking about nothing but yourself and lying? I feel strange and violated.’
‘Listen buddy,’ he said, ‘just get a girlfriend and you’ll come to adore the feeling.’
‘But you’re not my girlfriend and what you’re saying has left the bounds of reason. You can’t falsely advertise what you are going to say and then not say it. I’m sure I could take some sort of legal action against you and your family. Not to mention the difficulty you would have justifying your reasoning in front of a judge if I told him the rotten and perverted things you said about girlfriends.’
‘Our culture is indeed one that crossed and left behind the bounds of understanding many years ago in the past, but I would hardly say I have left you any reason to be dissatisfied with my answers. On the contrary, I ought to be lauded and told wonderful things, and I wish you would stop reminding me about girls.’
By this point both of us were quite beside ourselves and livid by the direction the conversation had taken, which was quite understandable, to be perfectly honest. I should have known better than to try and show buddy up. Nothing begun with its motives in pride can come to anything good, and what were my motives if not my pride, based in my desire to show myself to be superior and better than buddy.
So I got up and walked out, and left buddy alone. And he did the same.

пятница, сентября 01, 2006

Any birdbox you can happysnap...

Нелидиво. Сентябрь 2005.