четверг, февраля 14, 2008

The First Barby of Summer

I reckon if I walked around the local alleyways long enough, I could find all the bricks I’d ever need. Last summer came early, and so did the first barby: I spent a day walking around the alleyways and lugging bricks home, two at a time. I invited some people over, and when they arrived, I opened a bottle of Stone’s. Old Chet wrenched the hotplate out of the shed and scrubbed it clean with newspaper while I stacked the bricks into a barby. I hadn’t seen Chet for a long time. People say he’s a moody fucker, but I reckon Chet’s alright. He knows enough that he can, at the very least, put on a good show of being interested.

‘So what’s up with that Russia?’ he asked me. ‘How’s that Russia?’

But I’d designated myself firestarter, and I was kinda busy. You gotta pay attention to these things. Chet opened a beer and read out the question under the bottle cap.

‘What date was the Soviet Union formally dissolved?’ he asked, and pointed at me. ‘You shut up. Alright folks, what date was the Soviet Union formally dissolved?’

About half the others sitting around gave this some consideration.


‘Who fucking cares? We won.’

‘The Soviet Union? Did they dissolve it? Fuck me, what are we still fighting for?’

‘Who’s fighting?’

‘We are. Every second day Johnnie’s on the TV banging on about what a pack of cunts the Russians are.’

‘Naw, that’s muslims, fella.’

‘Meh. Same thing.’

‘Perestroika, mate. Get a perestroika up ya.’

Chet pointed at me again.

‘31 December 1991,’ I said.

‘Well, 1 January 1992, to be precise,’ he replied. ‘It wasn’t until the clock ticked over that it was officially dissolved, right?’

There were some raucous cheers around the backyard. That’s what happens when you slug Stone’s on a hot day: raucous cheers and flushed faces.

‘How long you been studying for, mate?’ somebody said. ‘Ten years with fuck all to show for it.’

‘It’s a complex history,’ I replied. ‘Man can’t be expected to know everything.’

Chet lit a cigarette.

‘That’s some pretty fundamental shit, man,’ he said. ‘That’s a basic fact. Can’t get a job as a secret agent if ya can’t get the basic facts straight.’

I’d done a good job: that barby was generating some fierce heat; that hotplate was radiating shimmering air-snakes.

‘Thing is,’ I said, ‘thing is, it’s a complex history. Well, you fuckers wouldn’t know that, cos you generally know fuck all about anything. Man can’t be expected to know everything, I say. Man’s gotta pick his specialty and go with it. And, you know, the dissolution of the Soviet Union ain’t my specialty. But hell, I know a little bit, so I’ll give it a shot, and I’ll get pretty close. Kinda like being firestarter of the first barby of summer. I don’t really know what I’m doing here, but I’ll give it a fucking shot, and I may not do it exactly right, but it’s a damned sight better than any of your efforts.’

I won’t lie to you. I felt like Clint Eastwood. I felt like the whole town was against me, even the village priest, but I’d take ‘em all on, and I’d win, and I’d have me a meat-burning shindig while I was at it.

Old Chet, he just sat there and took a drag of his cigarette. In hindsight, he was probably figuring ‘defuse,’ but it was a hot summer day, and it’s the Devil’s job putting out spotfires on a hot summer day. And old Chet, I reckon he did what any other Devil woulda done – he couldn’t put the spotfires out, so he stoked himself a big old bushfire instead.

‘Now now,’ he said. ‘No need for that, is there?’

And he took another drag.

Well, I won’t piss you about – I got angry. I got fucking angry. Two bricks at a time I carried ‘em, and a bloke expects more than jibes and ridicule and smug smiles in return. So I stoked that fire – I gave it a thrashing until some of the others looked nervous. That’s the way I like ‘em, folks: nervous and guilt-ridden. That’s when you’ve got ‘em right where you want ‘em. But to be honest, I didn’t care so much about them. They were inconsequential. I stoked that fire, had a slug of Stone’s and a good, hard stare.

‘Chet,’ I said,’ I’m mightily impressed. As always, you’ve wrong-footed me with yer mastery of the basic facts. And I think now, on this fine day (and here I stood up and hailed the honeysuckle with both arms raised), is the perfect opportunity for you to explain how ya do it. What’s the secret behind the mastery of basic facts?’

‘Natural brilliance,’ he replied. ‘And sadly so. Cos I wish I could bestow it upon others. But some have it, and some don’t.’

Well, I wasn’t taking any of that. Nobody in their right mind would take any of that.

‘Enough with the circular logic,’ I said. ‘That’s tiresome. Come on, don’t be shy and don’t bullshit.’

‘Well,’ he said, leaning back in his chair, ‘if you’re not prepared to accept genetics as an explanation, I understand. That’s very moral of you. You’re a moral fella. I’ve always thought that. But the basic fact remains (and here he stood up and hailed the honeysuckle with both arms raised), that whether you like it or not, it is the Truth.’

And he smiled openly before sitting down.

‘Oho!’ I cried. ‘That’s a fine statement: “I can master the basic facts because I know the Truth about the mastery of basic facts.” Truth is, Chet, you’re a chump. A chump and a dilettante. Mastery of the basic facts will win you raucous cheers and flushed faces from these idiots, but who’s stoking this barby? Who got the hotplate incandescent and the air-snakes all shimmery? Who carried the bricks, two at a time? Whose honeysuckle are we hailing, and, more to the point, who did you tell to shut up when you asked your stupid question in the first place?’

Chet wasn’t smiling anymore.

‘Shut up, you fuckhead,’ he said. ‘Just shut up, will ya?’

Everyone else had fallen silent, so Chet and I just sat there and stared at one another, filled with a hatred borne of anger and slugs of Stone’s and the heat of the first barby of summer.

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