Monday afternoon

Monday 28 February 2011

I’m on holidays this week. Not going anywhere; just took it off for the sake of it really. There will be some late nights – and their subsequent very early mornings – so it’s probably best for all for me not to be at work anyway. I might catch a movie, or see an exhibition, but mostly I’ll do a lot of sitting at home doing nothing, and that sounds peachy fine to me.

Soon I will be meeting friends for dinner but earlier I was sitting at my desk, sipping cheap wine, gazing out the window, and pondering if I should go for a walk or not. I could buy a book or some new pillows or a couple of work shirts… perhaps later. As I sat I stared aimlessly at a large tree in the middle distance, watching as it waved gently in the breeze. It was a nice afternoon, much too nice to do anything. So I sat and sipped and watched this tree. It’ll probably rain later.

I wasn’t really paying attention, just enjoying the cool afternoon and feeling lulled by the rhythmic back and forth of the tree, when suddenly the entire tree exploded. The tree simply exploded shooting white flames out in every direction. My eyes now were fully focused on this tree, my mind pulled back from its travels; all I could see was the tree and the white explosions. It was like a firework ball that fills the night sky with light. Exactly like that, all except the sound. The explosion was silent; the calls of the parrots, the hum of the traffic, and the murmur of the café below were never disrupted. Yet the tree exploded.

As I watched the white balls of light swooped down and darted left, then hit the brakes and shot right, circling the tree. I realised that it was a cacophony of sulphur-crested cockatoos that had been spooked from their afternoon slumber and scarpered from the tree as a unified creature. The cockatoos circled again and again the tree, and each time some perched, the rest still too nervous to rest, but slowly they spiralled themselves away until all the birds had found a safe haven amongst the leaves. And now instead of the tree exploding it seemed to implode as the cockatoos all shook their wings. Little sparks of white shimmered across the tree as the birds sorted their feathers, or cooled themselves in the wind, or cackled to their fellow feathered friends. And then they settled and slowly the lights faded and the tree lost its glow, and instead of the tree being alive with light and life it became again just another tree in the middle distance, a soft green grey, nondescript from the others in the park. And the traffic kept droning down the roads, and the café guests kept laughing at their conversations, and the parrots kept screeching at each other, and I never knew what it was that had first scared the cockatoos.

After a short while I went to the kitchen to refill my glass. Returning, looking back out the window, I couldn’t remember which tree it was that had exploded.

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Film Analysis – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Wednesday 14 April 2010

This was my half of a paired university piece, a couple of year’s back, for a class called Mise-En-Scene. This scene analysis refers to the first dream sequence colloquially known as the Ladies Garden Club scene. It appears 10 minutes into the film, just after the credits; please see the first YouTube link below. The second Ladies Garden Club scene, mentioned at the end of the presentation, is 21.30 min into the film. Sorry, I don’t have that bit but I do urge you to track down this magnificent film and watch it whole. Instead, I’ve included the trailer (When Sinatra karate chops the table he missed the balsa bit and ended up breaking, or at least really really damaging, his hand. The injury caused him pain the rest of his life, even more than the Movin’ with Nancy TV special. Oh, and I remember reading that this is the first time, in a Hollywood film at least, that Karate was shown on the screen. Wikipedia believes otherwise but Wikipedia can go suck eggs for all I care.)

Incidentally, if you haven’t seen this film you really should as it is up there on the Greatest Films Ever list; both technically (the TV cameras scene alone was one of those amazing technical firsts) but for its intensely thrilling – if not completely implausible – story line.

And we got an HD.

Film Analysis – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

directed by John Frankenheimer
from a screenplay by George Axelrod
from a book by Richard Condon

The Manchurian Candidate is the complex story of a Korean War soldier who has been conditioned (or brainwashed) as part of the Communist Party’s bid to overtake The United States of America. The tagline for the film was “If you come in five minutes after this picture begins, you won’t know what it’s all about!” The first five minutes are of the soldiers being captured. The scene discussed below, known as the Ladies Garden Club scene, appears 10 minutes into the film.

Regime

At first glance the regime seems obvious – realism – it is a man experiencing a nightmare. But what of the nightmare itself? While what the soldiers can see is the Ladies Garden Club, what the audience sees is a patchwork of this and the Communist amphitheatre, overlapping and incorporating the other. With this perspective, the dream sequences can be argued to be surrealism – the soldiers are part of an otherworld place. The dreams are the subconscious of Marco, and later the soldier Al Melvin, trying to rationalise the events of Manchuria. It is also possible that what the audience sees (a hodge podge of the hotel lobby and the amphitheatre) is also what the soldiers see: in a later scene Marco, while fighting Chunjin, Shaw’s houseboy and Communist agent, demands “How did the old ladies turn into Russians?”

Design

Production design was by Richard Sylbert, his second Hollywood film (Sylbert, 75).

The audience is aware that they are watching a dream, but there are earlier clues that something is not right. By Major Marco’s bedside is an overflowing ashtray, but strewn across the floor is a bizarre collection of books. Noticeable titles include Ulysses and For Whom The Bell Tolls, probable bedtime reading, but also Diseases of Horses, a history of Wall Street, and a complete collection of poetry. In a later scene we see Marco’s apartment completely full of books. Here the titles include Principles of Modern Banking, History of Piracy, Paintings of Orozco, Modern French Theater, The Jurisprudential Factor of Mafia Administration, and Ethnic Choices of the Arabs. Marco tries to explain that he’s just interested in these things, but it is more like he is trying to convince himself. He is a man in search of answers, or, more importantly, the questions.

Then there is the dream itself. There is something strangely familiar about the ladies; they look like every stereotypical old lady. There are way too many frills, outrageous hats and garish fabric prints. Remember, what the soldiers are experiencing is a dream of the ladies and, as such, have created in their heads an amalgamated stock image of all the old women they’ve ever known. The set of the New Jersey hotel lobby is also an imagination – overly twee with too much lattice, classical sculptures and hanging pots.

The reality, of course, is the amphitheatre.

Rushing and Frentz in their book Projecting the shadow: the cyborg hero in American film define The Manchurian Candidate as the Technological Hunter; how technology can turn a human into a weapon, such as Frankenstein and his monster (Rushing, 124). This connection to Frankenstein is most recognisable with the amphitheatre. The room is clinical, like an operating theatre, with the seating reminiscent of a glass-roofed surgery with a viewing room. The seating also harks to the laboratory in Frankenstein (1933) with its many layers of platforms and how the bystanders view from above the creation of Frankenstein’s monster down below in his laboratory. The wired frame backdrop from what the large banners hang also evokes the hanging chains and bars of Frankenstein.

Sound

In the beginning there are four layers of sound: The voice over, the incidental music, Major Marco’s restless sleep, and Mrs Henry Whittaker lecture on hydrangeas. The voice over acts here as narrator, getting the story moving along. Next, the incidental music is soft yet foreboding of the dread that is to come. It seems to stalk Marco as he sleeps, via a drumbeat and a single blast from a muted horn. Both these instruments also hark to the notion of the battlefield and emphasize Marco’s dreams as related to the pre credit scene of the platoon being captured. But as the audience succumbs to Marco’s dream (through the slow 16 second fade) the music alters slightly to that reminiscent of wind chimes. The chimes both echoes a soft breeze wandering through the hotel lobby, but also without having a recognisable rhythm, puts the audience even more off ease.

The voice of Mrs Henry Whittaker adds to this state of unrest. As Greil Marcus describes it: “Something in the way Mrs Whittaker is speaking is too harsh. She’s disdainful, mocking, as if the other Ladies Garden Club members, whom we haven’t yet seen but whom Mrs Whittaker is presumably addressing, are fools.” (Marcus, 19) Ladies usually don’t speak with such contempt for their audience, but, of course, it is not really a lady but Dr Yen Lo, the “long-winded” scientist.

Mrs Whittaker’s address is to give the camera enough time to completely rotate and the set to change. If listened to carefully, as soon as the camera leaves Mrs Whittaker her voice changes fractionally as it is no longer the actress speaking but a recording. This is to hide the sound of the set being changed (it was on castors) but also the actors moving to their new positions (Jacobson, 23-24). Similarly, the voice of Dr Lo begins to echo when we see the Communist audience for the first time, as this was also a different set (Frankenheimer DVD commentary).

More startling, though, is the complete lack of all sound when the camera finally returns to the soldiers, now sitting in the amphitheatre. There is complete silence as if the set is in shock. The audience is left holding their breath, confused, asking: What happened to Mrs Whittaker?

Conclusion

Important in a film about brainwashing are the triggers to begin the missions. Though there is the visual clue of the Queen of Diamonds (seen in later scenes), this itself cannot be put into operation without the spoken code: “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little Solitaire?” As such, throughout the film expressions are repeated, acting, at times, as character revelations (such as when Mrs Iselin uses the phrase and we realise that she is also a Communist spy).

With this in mind, the second Ladies Garden Club dream includes two examples of how brainwashed all the platoon has become: Marco’s speech and Melvin’s closing line: “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

References

Film

The Manchurian Candidate (film) – Original motion picture released 1962
Executive producer, Howard W. Koch; Screenplay, George Axelrod, based on the novel by Richard Condon; Producers, George Axelrod, John Frankenheimer; Director, John Frankenheimer

DVD includes commentary by John Frankenheimer, plus 7 minute interview with Frank Sinatra, John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod (a David Fein, Eytan Kellar, c1988)

Readings

Axelrod, George. The Manchurian Candidate. ScreenPress Publishing, c2002.

Armstrong, Stephen B. Pictures about extremes: the films of John Frankenheimer. McFarland & Co., 2007

Emery, Robert J. The directors take one: in their own words. TV Books, 2000

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. What have they built you to do?: The Manchurian Candidate and Cold War America. University of Minnesota Press, c2006. Electronic version: http://www.lib.uts.edu.au/sso/goto.php?url=http://site.ebrary.com/lib/utslibrary/Doc?id=10173890

Marcus, Greil. The Manchurian Candidate. BFI Publishing, 2002.

Pratley, Gerald. The films of Frankenheimer: forty years in film. Lehigh University Press, 1998.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Placing movies: the practice of film criticism. University of California Press, c1995.

Rushing, Janice Hocker. Projecting the shadow: the cyborg hero in American film. University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Sylbert, Richard. Designing movies: portrait of a Hollywood artist. Praeger, 2006.

Volkman, Ernest. Spies: the secret agents who changed the course of history. J. Wiley, c1994.

Welsh, James M; Lev, Peter; eds. The literature/film reader: issues of adaptation. Scarecrow Press, 2007.


“The Metamorphosis”: An Analysis (or) Kafka and the Science Fiction / Horror Film Genre (or) How you too can become a Mad Scientist using ordinary household objects and a barrel of toxic waste.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

This was one of my university pieces for the year. I got an HD.

In the 1968 film “The Producers” Zero Mostel’s character Max Bialystock is searching for the worst play. From one he reads the opening line: “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach.” He thinks for a moment, then says: “Nah, it’s too good.”

But he was wrong: it wasn’t a giant cockroach. The German word that Kafka uses in his short story “The Metamorphosis” was “ungeziefer”, but this doesn’t translate well into English, meaning “an unclean animal not suited for sacrifice.” Colloquially “ungeziefer” translates to mean “bug”, but this doesn’t have the full effect of disgust that Kafka envisioned. Most Enlgish translations have settled on the word “vermin”, such as Stanley Corngold’s, which is the translation this essay will refer to. (Please note that page numbers for “Metamorphosis” as are it appears in The Norton Critical Edition.)

So what is Gregor?

The cleaning maid who visits Gregor refers to him as a dung beetle (33), but that’s probably a pet name. Kafka would refer to Gregor as an insect, but insisted it wasn’t a cockroach (Binder, 173). Nabokov went further, providing drawings of what design of beetle Gregor becomes, but did finalise his argument simply: “He is merely a big beetle.” (Nabokov, 260)

So what is Gregor?

Following Kafka’s descriptive clues he’s a strange conglomerate. Gregor has a flexible neck, able to move his head quite freely (6), unlike common beetles. He also has, at the beginning of the story anyway, working vocal chords (5), but these disappear in time – afterwards he can only hiss (36). While he has a hard armour plated back (3), his father is still able to lodge an apple into his back’s soft skin (29). His strong mandibles are delicate enough to be able to turn a key in its lock (11). He has antennae (16), and sticky pads on his feet that he uses to climb the walls (23), yet he so large he has immense trouble squeezing through a single open door (15) and his weight requires “two strong persons” (7). He has flanks (15), more a beast-like possession, and nostrils (39) and bulging eyes (18). So while Gregor maintains many beetle-like traits, he is more likely a grotesque mix of insect and human.

So what is Gregor?

Jungian basic principles argue that everything is made up of opposites and that the psyche (the human mind) is motivated by the need to reconcile these opposites, thereby reaching a higher state of consciousness (Lucanio, 15). Jung called this process Individuation. A major aspect of this process is the emergence and recognition of definitive archetypal images. These include: The Shadow (the inferior side of man); The Persona (the outward social façade that is publicly displayed); and the Self (the god-like image that represents individuation) (ibid, 83). Jung said that “The Individuation process brings up the true personality of a person, it makes him an Individual. Individuation generally has a profound healing effect on the person.” (ibid, 14) Has Gregor Samsa reached Individuation?

Gregor has worked as a travelling salesman for the last five years (3), paying off his father’s debt after his business went bust, and gambles that he will need to work another 5 years before the debt is fully paid (4). He has arranged the rental of the Samsa’s apartment (42). He supports the whole family who seem to do nothing but sit at home; at least none of them work. He is the slave to his employer to the extent that the manager of the firm comes to collect him when he is only 15 minutes late (9). Gregor, when he first metamorphoses, frets constantly not about his newfound bug condition but about loosing his job (4). Gregor, the Gregor who exists before the book begins, is Jung’s Shadow – an inferior, riddled with fantasy (sending his sister to college for instance (20)) and resentment to his work colleagues (4). Gregor is, in all sense, treated like a vermin and, as such, metamorphosis into his public Persona – a monstrous vermin. And here, after waking one morning from unsettling dreams, Kafka begins the story.

Gregor is part of an ancient line of storytelling – the shape shifter – the battle between good and evil, or Jungian’s opposites. Consider Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde: a mad scientist releasing his beast. Or Dorian Gray: who keeps his true self locked away in an attic. It’s an inward Victor Frankenstein: creating the monster within. Frankenstein, another mad scientist (there are a lot of mad scientists in the shape shifter genre) was playing God, renewing life to dead flesh. (In the 1931 James Whale film, there is a line blanked out by the sound effect of thunder: “Now I know what it feels like to be God!” The line was considered blasphemous, but you can still watch his lips move.)

But the Frankenstein and Jekyl are not alone, especially not in the world of cinema. Metamorphosed giant bugs are everywhere. In Roger Corman’s “The Wasp Woman” (1960) the founder of a large cosmetics company, in an attempt to dispel the aging process, starts injecting herself with an extract developed by a crazed scientist, derived from the royal jelly of the queen wasp. It works, shedding twenty years in a single weekend, but in the process turns her into a giant wasp-headed monster with a taste for blood

“Invasion of the Bee Girls” (1973) was a sexual romp with a small town’s female population being turned into hives of bees by a female mad scientist. The outer world only realises what’s going on when the menfolk start dieing from sexual exhaustion. (Leonard Maltin rates it 3 out of 4 stars. (Maltin, 680))

1997’s “Mimic” has a scientist (here an entomologist) creating a genetically modified cockroach in an attempt to wipe out another breed of cockroach which carries a child-killing disease. The modified ‘roach breeds and breeds, each cycle growing larger and developing a more human appearance, until it starts feeding on subway passengers of Manhatten.

More recently the 2005 film “Mansquito” has another scientist, by trying to stop a mosquito-carried virus, treat some of the mosquitos with radiation to then have them released into the environment to kill off the rest of the brood. In the process the scientist and a convicted murderer get zapped and transform into, you guessed it, giant blood sucking mosquitos.

All these examples feature evil monsters, but the granddaddy metamorphosis film of all “The Fly” (1958), based on a short story by George Langelaan, portrays the creature as the victim. Here a scientist, during a teleportation experiment, morphs himself with a fly creating a human with a fly’s head and claw (instead of a hand), and a fly with a man’s head. Here the “monster”, while grotesque in form, is shown as maintaining his mind, his psyche (to refer back to Jung) remaining human, yet aware that the fly’s influence is slowly taking over. Langelaan’s story was later refilmed by David Cronenberg in 1986 (Cronenberg talks of reading Kafka regularly in interviews (Rodley, 16; Grant, 12)). Cronenberg’s version plays stronger with this notion of the human remaining. Late in the film Jeff Goldblum’s character Seth Brundle says to Geena Davis:

Seth (Goldblum): You have to leave now, and never come back here. Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first… insect politician. Y’see, I’d like to, but… I’m afraid, uh…

Ronnie (Davis): I don’t know what you’re trying to say.

Seth: I’m saying… I’m saying I – I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake.

Ronnie: No. no, Seth…

Seth: I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay.

Gregor Samsa was also an insect that dreamt he was a man, but again, after unsettling dreams, the insect awoke.

So what is Gregor?

What’s interesting about Gregor is that, really, as a person, he is nothing. He’s not a scientist like Brundle or Jeckyl, but a boring travelling salesman – a figure of ridicule. A slave to his employer, he is also a slave to his family. Gregor is the one who is made to work while his father, still fit for duty, lazes at home. Kafka emphasises this captured state when he notes Gregor’s father has even declined to pay off the debt faster – he has money stored away (20) – so in the process keeping his son contracted and allowing the family to feed further off Gregor. As such Gregor, bound by duty and with no strength of mind, becomes the one thing he is treated as – vermin – yet while in this state continues to feel sorry for himself. He begins to resent his sister’s attempts to assist him (25). He turns on his only “friend” the cleaning lady (33), he respects his father for keeping money from him (20), he weeps for his family now that they are resolved to work (29). Finally, full of self-pity (his last breath is taken “without his consent” (39)), he dies. Gregor’s Jungian opposites have met to find they are the same: his Shadow, Persona and Self are the one – a monstrous vermin. Jung’s Individuation’s “profound healing effect” is for Gregor to understand his worthlessness.

But Kafka’s metaphor that “people are vermin” stretches further. His own family suckle on him like fleas on a mangy dog. The manager pompously threatens him with neglect of his duty to the firm (9). His room is treated like a storage closet by both the family and the cleaning maid, ever more crowded, ever more filled with dust (33). The three serious gentlemen, indulge in the Samsa’s hospitality, manipulating Mr Samsa’s weak nature to demand their way (34). In “Metamorphosis” each character feeds off the next, with Kafka continuing this notion to the final paragraph. While enjoying their first day in the sun, the parents become aware of Grete’s blossoming maturity and silently comment it will be soon time to find her a husband (42). Is this merely pride in their daughter’s development? No! It’s an opportunity to sponge off their as yet undiscovered son-in-law and to return back to the indulgent life that Gregor had once provided!

So what is Gregor?

The German title for Kafka’s story is “Die Verwandlung”. The word is closer in meaning to “The Transformation” than “Metamorphosis” – it also refers to the changing of scenes in a play – though, as Corngold suggests the title “Metamorphosis” is slightly more elevated in tone (2). Gregor Samsa has been the constant victim of translation; Cynthia Ozick, refers to it “the impossibility of translating Kafka.” She says that there is “always for Kafka, behind [the overt] meaning” another meaning that can never be translated (Ozick, 81). Victoria Poulakis in her online essay on Kafka translations, compares four versions of the opening sentence alone: unsettling dreams / uneasy dreams / troubled dreams / agitated dreams; and gigantic insect / giant bug / enormous bug / monstrous vermin. Minor changes, but elsewhere Kafka’s meaning can be altered. Does Grete demand that “He’s got to go” or “It has to go” when referring to her brother? It is interesting that Kafka edited Grete’s earlier comment “We must get rid of him” to “We must get rid of it” helping to emotionally distance the character Grete from the creature Gregor (Corngold, 55) (This “distancing” can be considered an example of Grete’s metamorphosis considering she was at first willingly tended to his feeding (18)). Likewise, some translations emphasise the budding sexuality of the developing Grete. While Corngold describes her as a “good-looking shapely girl”, Donna Freed has her now a “pretty and voluptuous young woman”. As such, different interpretation can be attributed to the Grete’s metamorphism, with Freed’s translation emphasising Grete’s increased sexual appeal to potential husbands. This interpretation also gives weight to the argument of her parent’s plans to live off the wealth of the future marriage – a more attractive woman will more likely fetch a more affluent catch – and all the better for them (just like vermin) to feed from. The cycle, at least for the Samsa parents, continues.

Zero Mostel (from “The Producers”) later stared in another metamorphosis film “Rhinceros” (1974) based on Ionesco’s absurdist play, where everyone, in an act of conformity, turn into rhinoceroses. While “The Producers” won the Oscar for best screenplay and cemented the film careers of Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Mel Brooks, “Rhinoceros”, also starring Wilder, didn’t do as well. Maltin rates it: BOMB (Maltin, 1145). Perhaps not all metamorphosises metamorphose equally?

Readings:

Cartmell, D et al (ed). Alien Identities: Exploring Difference in Film and Fiction. Pluto Press, 1999.

Creed, B. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychonanlysis. Routledge, 1993.

Grant, M (ed). The Modern Fantastic – The Films of David Cronenberg. Praeger, 2000.

Kafka, F; trans Corngold, S. The Metamorphosis. Norton Critical Edition, 1996.

Lucanio, P. Them or Us: Archetypal Interpretations of Fifties Alien Invasion Films. Indiana University Press, 1987.

Maltin, L. Leonard Maltin’s 2008 Movie Guide. Plume, 2007

Nabokov, V. Lecture on “Metamorphosis”. Weblink last viewed April 2009: http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vermeer/287/nabokov_s_metamorphosis.htm

Nabokov V. Lectures on Literature. Harvest, 1980.

Ozick, Cynthia. The Impossibility of Being Kafka. The New Yorker, 11 Jan 1999

Poulakis, V. Translation: What Difference Does It Make? Northern Virginia Community College, 2001. Weblink last viewed April 2009: http://www.nvcc.edu/home/vpoulakis/Translation/home.htm

Rodley, C (ed). Cronenberg on Cronenberg. Faber and Faber, 1997.

Films:

The Fly (1958). 20th Century Fox. dir K Neumann; wri G Langelaan (story), J Clavell (screen)

The Fly (1986). Brooksfilms. dir D Cronenberg; wri G Langelaan (story), C Edward Pogue & D Cronenberg (screen)

Frankenstein (1931). Universal Pictures. dir J Whale; wri M Shelley (novel), P Webling (play), J L Balderston (adapt), F Edward Faragoh & G Fort (screen)

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973). Sequoia Pictures. dir D Sanders; wri N Meyer

Mansquito (2005). Sci Fi Pictures. dir T Takács; wri K Badish, R Cannella, B Davidson, M Hurst

Mimic (1997) Dimension Films. dir G del Toro; D A Wollheim (story), M Robbins & G del Toro (screen)

The Producers (1968). Embassy Pictures. wri & dir M Brooks

Rhinceros (1974), American Film Theatre. dir T O’Horgan; wri E Ionesco (play), J Barry (screen)

The Wasp Woman (1960). Film Group Inc. dir R Corman; wri K Zertuche (story), L Gordon (screen)


Silver Anniversary

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Again, this is a very late entry, things just got in the way, and as this is a very special entry (my 50th) I wanted to make it a sort of review of what’s come before. I am hazarding that that is the reason it has taken me so long to finally put fingertips to keyboard and bash something out – one should look forward to the good times to come and not ponder the bad times before – but let’s just see how we go. I’ll try not to ramble.

it took me about a year of humming and ahhing before I finally sat down and wrote my first blog entry. You see, I’m not a great fan of blogs; most of the time I have trouble seeing their point. Some people keep blogs as if they are lockable diaries:

Susan’s Secrets
Dear Diary. Had such a great time at the fair today. Christine (you know, who I told you about) brought along her older brother Alistair – he is such a spunk though of course Susan doesn’t think so – she just thinks he smells. I think he’s dreamy. And he’s only in Year 12 so that’s not that much older than me. Anyway, we all went on the dodgem cars but there wasn’t enough spare cars and Alistair said that I could sit with him! SQUEAL! One time, going around the corner, he bumped into me and put his hand on my knee! He said it was an accident but I think he secretly likes me!

This was the last thing I wanted to do.

Others used blogs as more of a rant:

View from the Molehill
Now look at what the government has gone and done (link here, here, and here)! It’s bloody disgraceful! What right do they think they have to take innocent lives and use them in nothing more than some sort of gigantic game of political chess! It just shits me that these people, who we vote for, allow this sort of thing to happen in good solid honest neighbourhoods. I mean, my father was born here and worked every day for 47 hard years. You didn’t see him being a scab and I respect him for that. And that’s something the young people don’t get – Respect! They think they can just get it, not earn it. Well, I’ve worked for everything I’ve got in life and what have I got – nothing! And that’s the fucking government for you!

I never wanted that either, as tempting as it might seem. What I wanted to try was to challenge myself, to try something different; get out of my comfort zone.

When I started Clyde in August last year I was also beginning a university subject of Non-Fiction Writing in which, for homework, we were to write a series of short pieces – practice pieces – to limber our writing skills up. The second entry I wrote is one of these (and the fifth, and the seventh) and they sort of became the inspiration and direction I was wanting to take. 

If I was, back those months ago, to have sat down and written a manifesto as to what I was hoping to achieve with this blog, the gist (in bullet form) would go something like this:

  1. With the aim to upload a new blog entry every five (5) days, discover inspiration at the beginning of the five (5) day period, be it a short story, review, strange event, or surreal insight.
  2. Ruminate about this inspiration for a (1) day or two (2).
  3. Write about this inspiration with the intention to keep it short and clever. Allow to stand overnight.
  4. Review the inspiration giving the piece a good edit – a little snip here, an extra twist there.
  5. At the end of the five (5) period, upload this piece of, now quite remarkable, inspiration onto the blog.
  6. Sit back and bask in the international accolades that will surely pour forth after people read your quite most remarkable inspiration.
  7. Repeat.

You may guess, it didn’t really turn out that way.

Well, it sort of did. Reading back the first dozen entries pretty much stick to this procedure, though I did tap into past works, but to me that was all right. Clyde was to be a show of my best works so why not dig out the past good pieces. Socks is one of my favourite things I have ever written. Reading back those dozen entries my manifesto was on the right path.

Also in this first twelve, inspired by my non-fiction teachings, I had written a journal entry about attending a dance party, a piece I’m very much proud of. I think, though, this entry might have paved the way to too many Dear Diary writings, like Bushwalk, not one of the best. I also began using Clyde as a running diary of things I was doing (such as the Movember or Mardi Gras series) which, while nicely written, stray substantially from the original aims of the blog. One of these “What I Dids” even lost me one of my greatest friendships, and for that I am forever truly sorry. It makes is all so much worse that I had predicted it. I just hope that he can, one day, forgive me.

As the blog went on, climbing towards this remarkable Number 50, I tended to rely more and more on these “journal” blogs. This has not always a bad thing; if it’s an insight into an experience, such as Peppermint Magnum (a true story) or Woof Club – Hammer, then I think that’s all right. With these I’ve chosen to show the small moments – the quirks – that hopefully the reader will find interesting and enjoy. But all the Bill stuff – what was there, three main entries and another two he gets a guernsey in – as wonderful as he is… was it good writing? Was I sticking to my original aim? Was I complying with the manifesto? As much as I like writing about Bill, I would have to say the answer is No.

I do also wonder how much of the “journal” entries were simply written to shock – me going to a nudist camp for instance – but I can truthfully state that that was never the aim. I was, on the most, trying to be honest, trying to challenge myself to write about things that are not always comfortable. I don’t think I’ve done a exceptionally good job with this, mostly they come out sounding more like I’m a spectator than a participant, but this is one of my many down-fallings as a writer. I have a very particular voice, a rather skipping-along sound to my words. I don’t write sharp. I can’t do hurt. I’m even worse as lyrical. Now in uni we are attempting to create tones with words; for instance, consider the difference that can be suggested by describing a broken heart as:

gorged, collapsing within, forming a cavern in his chest that merely made his sobs toll like church bells lamenting yet another departed soul.

or:

punctured by that bastard Cupid, but now the arrow gone leaving nothing more than another scab to collect alongside the his loves once treasured, now lost, but never forgotten.

You see what I mean? Anyway, I’m not very good at it (as the above two examples suggest. I had to write about an “elated airport” a couple of weeks ago and I was too embarrassed to read it out in class.) but I do like the rather casual way I write. It’s pleasant, it’s friendly. Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever manage to knock out a thriller, but, at worse, I could always attempt a jolly piece of children’s fiction, though I don’t think they would take favourably to some of my subject manner. This has at times been a problem.

Some of the stuff I have written about has not always been, how you say, family friendly. Sometimes I shudder at what I’ve written. Do I really want my mother knowing that I were nearly caught by the sniffer dogs for sneaking ecstasy tablets into a dance party? Or that I used to work in a sex on premises joint? No, especially when I discovered that my infant’s school librarian (who has known me basically as long as my mother) also reads Clyde (and hope still does; I’m very affectionate about that woman). Still, it didn’t stop me talking about pissing on a feller kneeling in a trough, but perhaps it should have…

The thing is that, while alarming, and not always appropriate, they are the Truth, and by being the Truth they are in turn… Me; and you have to admit, as stories go, some of them are pretty good, at least original. This is off the track but many years ago I became an urban legend, a tale that was told by so many people that friends, when having been told of this event about someone’s friend of a friend of a friend, would delight in ever so casually being able to say, “Yeah, I know him. His name’s Clyde.” One desperate, drunken night I’ll retell it here and then you’ll go “That was YOU!?” But, back to the point, I’m not trying to shock but instead fulfil the manifesto – to tell about those “strange events” that pepper my life.

(Admittedly, I do at times go out of the way to find these “strange events”. I like to think of Life as a collection of stamps: a great big book full of beautifully delicate images, very much like the next great big book of beautifully delicate images, but somewhere up the back are those rare and valuable creatures that make the heart flutter of even the most Laodicean philatelist. I am always on the lookout for my very own “Inverted Jenny”.)

Also, I have partaken of the rant style of blogging, not that I’m overly proud of this, but I felt it was important for me to do so at the time. Take Says the Ranga Queer, for example: a woman I know was soooooo homophobic that I just couldn’t let it past, so I used Clyde as a vehicle to express my rage, and hopefully knock her back a peg or three. I don’t know if she even read it, to tell the truth, perhaps it went to dumb ears, but it made me (at the time) feel better. In hindsight was it the right thing to do? Should I have just confronted her in person? Is it my role – or the blog’s role – to condemn people for their own prejudices? I don’t know. I don’t regret what I wrote, and I think it was important that she knew how I felt, but in such a public arena… 

I mentioned because, as I said before, I lost a great friendship through this blog. Here I do regret – not what I still believe to be True, but for saying it out loud. I should not have said anything – not even to him directly – as it was my own thoughts, and thoughts are silent.

At such an early stage of Clyde’s life (50 is the new 35 I’ve been told) I ask have a achieved what I wanted from this blog? I don’t know how many people read it, but that doesn’t bother me (there are more than 200 million blogs out there, you can’t expect your own to be discover in a mere 50 entries), but I do hope that people who do read my blog enjoy it and learn from it, be it a recipe or of an event, or even just a little about me. Because that’s why I write – to inform and entertain. 

And I like writing.

Reading this entry back, it’s more a ramble than I had originally hoped for, but what the heck- it’s a blog! This may not go down as one of my greatest entries, but as least it was Truthful, and that’s all that matters. One thing though, I will try to get back to the original manifesto and knock out less of the Dear Diary pieces, but don’t think that’s going to stop me frightening you with the accounts of this event or that (like how at the Good Friday party a few days ago me and a couple others by the end of the night were… nah. If you weren’t there, you missed it! Ain’t that right David and Robbie!) 

So, on that note, I’ll just let you know that while I’ll eventually be returning to my 5-day turn-around rule, for the next little while I’ll be posting every day as part of my uni holiday assignment – to write the same beginning 15 different ways – trying to capture the same small turn of events from different perspectives, from different characters, from different approaches. I hope you enjoy.

And I hope you keep reading…


What I did during Mardi Gras 2007

Tuesday 24 February 2009

The 2009 Mardi Gras Festival began two Sundays ago but my Festival begins on Thursday with one of the MG Film Festivals… no idea what I’m seeing, I’m going as a guest of some friends. But, really, it is next week when everything takes off with Bears Essentials 13 – United Bear Tales, starting Monday with the exhibition opening (to type this I’m taking a break from stretching the fabric Bills around their canvases; it’ll all get done, it has to!). From Monday I have something on every night (and volunteering every day), till the March (it’s not a Parade) on Saturday, then Sunday for the Recovery Events (I’m not attending the Party). Then there’s Monday – rest – before returning to work on the Tuesday – whew!

I’m really looking forward to the week; it’s going to be a great, rememberable time.

My Mardi Gras two years ago, however, was not one that I wish to live again. Inspiration in Devastation, I wrote a two-part entry about the whole horrid event, though, reading back. it ended well. As a cathartic act – to expel any possible Demons, if you wish, from next week’s festivities – please enjoy…

 

Thursday Night : Monday Morning – Part One, The Weekend Before Mardi Gras

Thursday Night – where it all begins.

Big party weekend, this and the next, so went and got my two after-party tickets at the Midnight Shift. Might as well have a couple of beers while I’m here.

Next, I pick up some tic tacs – it’s very important to have fresh breath at parties.

Then, it’s a Thursday, my favourite show the Super Supremes. I stay for the act (of course), and have a few more beers (of course).

I’m at home on my sofa, which has been folded out to bed, and there is a strange man making me comfortable. He’s got me a drink and a pillow and is closing the blind. I fall back to sleep.

I wake up, I don’t know, about 4. He’s still there. He’s tidying up; stacking magazines, piling up papers, that sort of thing. He asks if I’m ok. Again, I fall asleep.

Seven o’clock now. He’s lying on the sofa next to me. I drift off again.

 —

Friday Morning – where it all falls apart.

Eight, I wake and realise I have to get up and go to work. The man is still there. He chats to me about going for a picnic as I shower, but I tell him I have work. I check my wallet, which has no money in it but that’s not that unusual after I’ve been out, but the tic tacs are missing.

Then I do a silly thing (what, I haven’t already?). I put the loose pile of money in my locker in the silver envelope where I keep all my tickets, theatre or party. I then go into my bedroom to check there for the missing tic tacs, and I realise I can no longer hear the man.

Down the stairs I run, and there he is in front of another door with my suitcase and four of my shoulder bags. He has another bag on his other shoulder which I don’t recognise. “Hey!” I say, “that’s my suitcase!” “I know it’s your suitcase,” he says. I grab my suitcase and the four bags tied on his shoulder. He yells at me that I’ve taken his bag too; I tell him to follow me and we’ll work it out upstairs.

Back up stairs I throw all my stuff inside. He hasn’t followed. I rush back down the stairs and out the street door… no sign. I bang on the door that he was in front of, finally waking a woman up who knows nothing. I head back up stairs.

I check the bags. Inside is a pile of books all wrapped carefully in towels. Strange things: the complete Calvin and Hobbes (a huge three book box set); collector card sets of Batman Returns and Jurassic Park (I’d forgotten I had them); a commemorative plate from an old ABC show which I’ve been carrying around since the early 90’s.

In my bedroom every box I have, and I have a few, has been unpacked and then restacked and covered with sheets. In a slight way I’m impressed of the man’s thoroughness.

On first glance, he’s run off with my leather jeans (ouch) and a pair of red vinyl pants (no great loss there). Also my credit card is also gone and the silver envelope with all the money (about $400) and all my tickets. The funny thing is he didn’t touch the DVD or video players, or any DVDs for that matter, but also left the portable computer, which is good because I can find the number to cancel the credit card, and transfer some money (he left my bankcard, thank goodness), and report the stolen theatre tickets. Now, every time I go to the Opera, I have to pick up a new ticket from the box office. I wonder what happens when I get to my seat and find someone else in my place?

The rest of the day goes on fine, but every now and then, sitting at my desk at work, I would speak out, “Bum!” The only thing I could focus on was the inconvenience. There goes my whole next two weeks.

Look, he was just some druggy who saw a chance. Frankly, it could have been so much worse. He didn’t touch me, he didn’t touch the computer, and I got a lot of my stuff back. Everything else can be replaced. So, in a way, I’m thankful.

 —

Friday Night – where things all settle down.

I was half expecting to get home to find the place emptied but everything is there. I quickly check: yep, there’s my spare set of keys, phew!

Call Anne, whom I was taking on Saturday lunch to a Chinese tea appreciation. “Hi Anne, do you mind if you pay?” She understands completely, but what a horrible thing to do to her.

I fall asleep on the sofa (my bed is covered with opened boxes and discarded books). It could have been a lot worse.

 —

Saturday Morning – where it all gets back on track and things look up.

Someone is smiling; the money transfer came through! Right, I think, first to log onto Pinkboard classifieds and email a few people who have spare Azure tickets for sale. Then it’s out the house.

First stop, Anne and the tea, and what a wonderful, relaxing event that was. Next time we all must go. And I was able to treat her like I wanted. She’s a good sort.

Next to get more tic tacs. Done.

I’ve had a phone call: a spare Azure ticket! Just down the road, I thankfully rush over and pick it up.

On the way home I pop into the Shift and purchase another after-Azure party ticket. I’ll get the after-Mardi Gras ticket next week.

 —

Saturday Night – where things are all put back to normal.

A night of tidying up. While I sort I make up a big pot of pasta (one needs their carbohydrates for weekends like this), put on a few loads of washing, then make the big effort of packing everything back up.

Now I’ve got the time I’ve also discovered the bastard ran off with my four-person picnic bag (that must have been the other bag – he’d emptied the contents then tucked it under the bed), and a couple of loved books, but ones I can easily replace. I’m sure there are other things, but nothing I can quickly see. At least the bedroom looks nice and neat now. I suppose I owe him a favour.

 —

Sunday Morning – where all is prepared.

Wake about 10, and have a relaxing day around the house. A dish or two of pasta, a movie or two, keep it all nice and easy.

The Azure Harbour Party starts at three. I figure at getting there around 4, it should have started pumping by then. I start getting ready around 2.30. I notice it’s raining, softly but still the last thing we want is the drenching of last year. Quick check of the Bureau of Meteorology’s website – should be ok.

3.30 and it’s still raining. Still not dressed. I go and grab one of the t-shirts in the tallboy. They’re gone! That bastard stole my two Bonds t-shirts! Plan B: an olive green sleeveless number I bought a year or two ago. I look good and, thinking about it, I don’t know if I would even fit those t-shirts anymore. Some would call it Sour Grapes, personally I call it Looking at the Bright Side.

Ten to 4 and finally the contacts are in, money and ticket are pocketed away, the tic tacs are in my sock, and a small bottle of room deodoriser, just in case it’s a bit smelly, is in place next to my keys. It’s also stopped raining so the walk is pleasant, if not a bit humid.

 —

Sunday Night – where it all looks promising, but looks are deceiving.

So I get to the party about 4.30, and there are police with snuff-puppies and people doing body searches. My bottle of room deodoriser is confiscated in the pat down. A snuff-puppy pays me some attention but moves onto another leg. I can only guess no one noticed my intense sigh of relief.

A bottle of water and two rather hideous glasses of sparkling later, I run into some friends and we mingle, compare pat downs and prepare the entrance onto the dance floor. First I make a pit stop to the loos for a tic tac – I’m told later that there were snuff-puppies hanging around the doors snuffing everyone coming out but I never saw them. Perhaps they were there later?

Had a great time on the dancefloor. One of the first numbers, and the floor was only half full so I could go extra crazy, was Big Pig’s Breakaway. That’s what the audience wants DJs of the world, funky numbers from the 80’s that everyone knows the words to.

Nine o’clock DJ begins and the night has been going well. The rain has kept at bay, the music has been fine, I’m feeling good about myself, and 3 more hours of to go. Five minutes later the music stops: “Due to Police action this party has been shut down.”

So that was that.

About an hour and a half later, after a trip home to shower and a fruitless search of the Cross for more room deodoriser (the Police have raided every shop and confiscated the lot), I’m at the Manacle dancing away in the corner by the pool table. Had a few drinks and a great time on the floor. Knew a few people there but I mostly kept to myself.

I’ve still got that ticket to the Azure-after party, so eventually I head off. I’d been given a tip to where I could fine some room deodoriser though, so I figure doing the search first. I finally found one place that sold me a bottle only when he realised I wasn’t an under-cover cop.

Three o’clock, after another trip home to shower, unpack the deodoriser, and pop down a tic tac, I’m on the incredibly packed dance floor of the Midnight Shift. It’s times like these that I realise just how crap dancers some people are. LISTEN TO THE BEAT, PEOPLE, LISTEN TO THE THUMP THUMP THUMP, IT’S NOT THAT HARD! My favourite was a guy who must have thought he was on a pogo stick, but he got annoying after he thumped into me the umpteenth time. Eventually I find a space surrounded by not too unattractive men and settle down for a good dance. The music’s not really my thing, all sounds and no words, but you can’t listen to Adam & The Ants 24/7.

A dark-skinned man has taken an interest in me. We exchange looks and grins. He finally reaches over and introduces himself: Darren. We get chatting, and everything’s looking good. He’s a half-Tamil UK boy out on holidays. He asks me if I live nearby, a good sign. He asks me how often I work out, a great boost to the ego, perhaps that soup diet is working after all. We chat about the music. He asks me my preferred taste, I reply Rick Astley. Oops, wrong thing. He tells me I’m not as cute anymore. Still, he kisses me, and all I can think of was perhaps the drought is finally broken. Hallelujah Peoples, the dams are sure to break tonight!

His friends have left and we decide to go too. It’s a nice work home, but I think he finds it a further walk than I do. At my door I tell him I’m not going to apologise about any thing he sees inside, what with the robbery, me having done washing, and the cockroach problem. ‘Cockroaches?” he says with a slight sense of revulsion. “Cockroaches,” I reply, “It’s the Cross, you can’t get rid of the bastards.

I’m getting us a drink when he tells me he may not be able to stay. I’ve figured he’s found a DVD or CD not to his taste (remember Rick Astley), but, no, he’s seen a bug.

We drink our pineapple juices and steal a couple of kisses, but he then tells me he has to leave; it’s the bugs, you see, he has this thing about cockroaches. He’s very apologetic. I smile, and show him towards the door.

For the second time in three days I speak out, “Bum!” The drought continues.

It’s now about 4.30, a few more hours before the Manacle opens for the day party. I catch a few winks on the couch.

 —

Monday Morning – where I wonder was it all worth it.

I wake about 7 but frankly can’t be bothered heading off yet. I move to my bed, set the alarm for 8, then fall back to sleep.

Quarter to 11, I wake up. The alarm had been buzzing softly all this time. It’s still not too late to go to the Manacle, but I’ve lost interest. I turn off the alarm and get a few more hours of sleep.

Sometime in the afternoon I finally get up and settle in for a day around the house. It’s raining out, sometimes heavily, and sometimes a soft mist. I make some of my amazing weight-loss soup, watch some movies, and contemplate doing the ironing. But the highlight was when I emptied half a can of cockroach spray into the crooks and crannies of the kitchen. The floor is now covered with the upturned corpse of cucaracha. Not as good as a root, but all things considering over the last few days, it makes me feel a little better.

Last thought for the day: there’s always next weekend.

—+—

Thursday Night : Monday Morning – Part Two, Mardi Gras Weekend

In our last exciting installment, our Hero was robbed, raided, and rejected by an Englishman with an anti-bug fixation. Read on to see if things finally work out…

Thursday Night – where I learn nothing.

Well, I’ve lost my glasses. I don’t know. It must have been at the Oxford ‘cos I didn’t have them when they escorted me out.

 —

Friday Morning – where I go shopping.

No sign of my glasses. I never liked them and have wanted an excuse to get a new pair for ages. I’d had them since June 2004 so I suppose it was about time anyway Sarah and I go shopping. My eyes haven’t deteriorated that much but Fashion surely has. Depressing though: as I handed over the credit card I realised that thanks to my weekend misadventures every cent I had saved has now gone. If you take into account all the rebought tickets, stolen leather jeans, and beer and tic tacs I was well over $2000 out of pocket. That En Zed holiday was looking further and further away.

 —

Friday Night – where I give in.

The soup diet has beaten me. I haven’t lost the 10 kilos I was hoping to shrink by Mardi Gras. I’m having roast chicken for dinner while I watch The Biggest Loser. With feta stuffed olives. And a banana smoothie. Let’s see how fat I can get before tomorrow night.

My eyes are hurting. I’ve got a week of contacts. Considering I’m wearing contacts all weekend at the parties I’m just going to have to get use to it. It’s either that or prescription sunglasses and I somehow don’t think I’m that cool for school.

*Groan * I wish I hadn’t had that second banana smoothie…

 —

Saturday Morning – where I feel silly.

I found my glasses; they were in the back pocket of my jeans the whole time. One of the screws had come loose and the lens popped out. Oh well, look on the bright side – at least I’ll be getting a nice new pair out of this. I pop into the city and get them fixed.

 —

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning – where I wander from here to there.

Not that much to tell. Went to Mardi Gras, had a good time, but left at 5. It was an enjoyable party but (there always is a ‘but’) it was just so stiflingly hot. The Dome (thump thump thump) was like a sauna, including the steam. The Forum (retro, where I started the night at the very front of the stage idolising my goddesses the Super Supremes) was so jammed that the one time later I worked my way in I struggled through the crowd directly towards the opposite exit – I couldn’t get out quickly enough. The Hordern, I suppose the main hall that the big name DJs play, was one lump of bodies… and not in the nice way either. Its blessing is that it’s air-conditioned and has bleachers to rest those weary toes. I spent my night in the RHI, which was once described to me as Handbag Hall; you know, girly vocals you can sing to and wave your arms about in the air. I always find it interesting that it’s full to the brim with big muscle boys in their leather accessories. It just goes to show that you can’t have ‘Leather Queen’ without ‘Queen’.

But the RHI was sometimes unbearable. Not air-conditioned, full of dancing over-adrenalined persons, it was at times too much to cope. For once in the last two weekends I was sensible and would (have to) leave the Hall every half hour or so for a walk and some fresh air. I wondered about the many others that had taken maybe a few extra tic tacs and who knows what else. Myself, I was left content with a pair of jeans that were so saturated it looked like I’d wet myself.

Played kissy-face with two young men, but it was too hot and I wasn’t that interested. I’ll tell you one thing: I’m not the prettiest thing or the youngest thing on the market but I’m sure not the podgiest either. I’m all for a natural body (who can be bothered spending their lives in pain at the gym when there’s yum cha to be had?) but, gees boys, have some respect for yourselves. I would occasionally try that sidewards glimpse at those around, checking out their guts against mine. I’m not too bad. I reckon that soup diet might just have worked after all.

Like I said I left the party at 5, so very early, but I had enough and didn’t want to be there just for being there’s sake. I’d also run into everyone I wanted to see – it’s funny but if you try to find people you never find anyone but if you simply glide along then your entire address book shows up. I even managed to bump into the English entomophobe from last weekend.

Anyway, I left and moseyed around for a while before going to the Manacle day club, where, not dressed in the mandatory leather, I managed to jump the queue with a well-placed nod to the bouncer. It’s always so important to be polite to the staff. I was only there till 10 when Mardi Gras would have just been finishing. Fatigue kicked in so I went home. I realised later that I had fallen asleep before some people would have even left the Mardi Gras halls, but I didn’t envy them.

Funniest site of the weekend: While in line for Manacle two leather and laced lesbians swaggered up to the bouncer. One obviously had an axe to grind (I’m sure there is a rather naughty joke in there somewhere, but I’ll move on…). ‘So,’ she said, ‘I suppose you’re not going to let us in.’ The bouncer (Alex) looked at them calmly and replied, ‘No, you are always welcome here if you are dressed like that. If you would like to stand in this line we will let you in as soon as we open.’ ‘Oh,’ the Axe Grinder replied, ‘but I bet this is only day in the year that you would.’ ‘Not at all,’ said Alex, ‘You are always welcome at Manacle,’ and then gave a run-down on all the dress code themed nights and events. By this time the Grinder had run out of steel. ‘Well, we didn’t really want to come in anyway,’ and with that turned her tail taking her girlfriend with her. Alex allowed himself a smile; he was in for a long day and I’m sure little wins like that make it go just that little bit quicker.

 —

Sunday Night, Monday Morning – where I keep going and going and I like it!

(Again it’s easier to combine as it’s really one very long night.)

Well, a couple of beers to start with, they didn’t taste very nice, then a movie. I’d picked up Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit on my journey out on Saturday morn. A great film, it’s my new film of choice before attending leather-and-denim themed dance parties.

Guess what was my next step? That’s right: a leather-and-denim themed dance party. I’ve been going to these for over a year now. I remember the first one I went to with Mark last NYE: I was petrified and thought I was going to throw up… five minutes in I was home-sweet-home. This one, I think, was one of the better do’s though my gripe about annoying floor users continues to grow. I’m not sure which are worse: the men who bounce up and down like a paddle ball or the ones that sway back and forth like a palm tree caught in a cyclone. Either way, they interrupt my groove.

Familiar faces (I even got another chance to grin politely to the UK boy, he heads back next week but with my luck I’m sure to see him every night till then) and mostly semi-handsome men. Was chatting to someone I had met that morning at Manacle who was saying that in the year or so he’d been attending the average age had dropped significantly. It used to be around 60, he said. I can only assume that ‘significantly’ to him means ‘by 10 years’.

OK, so the trade was getting on a bit, and I thought so should I. As I discussed later with a friend who knew a thing or two about the scene; you might meet Mr Right-Here-Right-Now at a party, but you don’t meet Mr Tomorrow-And-The-Next-Day-And-The-Day-After-That. You’ve just got to know what you are looking for, I suppose. So I went looking for a beer.

I found one at the newly refurbished Oxford Hotel. I’m still not sure if I like it or not; it’s all too shiny with no where to hold up the bar, but I’m sure it will grow on me at that time when there’s nothing else open. It was a little over an hour till Manacle opened so I pulled a stool up to the closed end of the bar and enjoyed a few Carlton Draughts with a dash of lemonade. I’ve got to thank Kate for that one, and I can tell you they are the most delicious things when you’re coming down from a night of tic tacs and loud music. I really must make her that T-shirt as thanks, she doesn’t even remind me politely about it anymore…

Most audacious site of the weekend: At this time in the morning there’s always a strong representation of straights in the Oxford; today there was a small collection of lads taking pictures of the trannys and drag queens with their pocket camera. One would even pose in front as if he was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or something. I don’t think they were expecting the glaire-coiffured marvel that is Polly Petrie though. I tell you, that creature knows how to knock the wets down. When she came staggering past on nose bleed heels wearing her glittered ‘It’s My Fuckin’ Show’ mini-dress, the camera boys could only stop and stare. By the time she had turned the corner on her way to the loos they had completely forgotten to take their shot. Later, as she finally made her way out the door into the new dawn light, I secretly hoped that I looked as glamorous as that after my big nights.

Manacle again, but this time I’m dressed for the occasion and walk straight in with the other harnessed gents. I make the decision to stick to my beer with a dash combos, to the wry smile of the bar staff, but the lemonade is just the sugary boost I need to keep going. The occasional jellied snake from one of the complimentary bowls doesn’t go astray either. I’m in my usual spot on the floor (I’m a man of routine) and having a ball, dancing up a storm! Have a chat to a gentleman with a redhead fetish, something I will never really understand, and also hand my phone number to a pair of Melbournites who have discovered a love of the Super Supremes after seeing them perform at Mardi Gras. I tell them I’m going down for the International Comedy Festival and we vow to book a small group. Note to self – must arrange.

The place was pack’d, the music was pumpin’ and I was goin’ off! Gees it was a good morning, and a pretty good early afternoon too. But I suppose it all must come to an end eventually so about 2 I made my way home. I was asleep by 2.30.

All in all I had a better time on Sunday/Monday than the more expensive and hyped Saturday/Sunday. Overall, though, considering last week, I was pretty much sensible and nothing alarming happened. I somehow feel I’ve let you all down.

But I enjoyed myself. And the belt has gone in another notch. I tell you, I’m sticking to the soup.


Says the Ranga Queer

Saturday 14 February 2009

I bought the original Broadway cast recording of Avenue Q this week off iTunes. Avenue Q (winner of the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical) is a Sesame Street parody / homage that, while being pretty much a one joke show (ie these are Muppet style puppets acting and talking like New Yorkers) it has some incredibly catchy tunes, one of them being “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”. As a sample:

Everyone’s a little bit racist
Sometimes.
Doesn’t mean we go 
Around committing hate crimes.
Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgements
Based on race.

Princeton:
Now not big judgements, like who to hire or who to buy a newspaper from – 

Kate Monster:
No!

Princeton:
No, just little judgements like thinking that Mexican busboys should learn to speak goddamn English!

Kate Monster:
Right!

It ends with the whole cast (including Gary Coleman, the apartment block’s superintendent) joining in for another run of the chorus, with the final line going to the Japanese character Christmas Eve:

Evlyone’s a ritter bit lacist!

Last weekend, as I mentioned in my previous entry, I went and saw Take Me Out, the 2003 Tony Award winner for Best Play. The story line centres the successful mixed-race baseball player at the peak of his career who decides to come out, the drama (and comedy) being the reactions of his teammates. Unfortunately the team has hit a loosing streak, so halfway through the baseball season a cannon armed pitcher is brought up from the minor leagues and the team is back on top again… that is until the recruit is interviewed on television:

Well, I tell ya, its a pretty humblin’ thing. I’m just this kid outta nowhere and alluva sudden – WHAM, I’m on this team. An’ it’s a pretty funny team, ya know. A pretty funny buncha guys. Now, dont get me wrong. I don’t mind the colored people – the gooks an’ the spics an’ the coons an’ like that. But every night t’hafta take a shower with a faggot? Do ya know what I’m sayin’? Do ya get me?

On Tuesday night, as I cut and sewed for my upcoming collaborative exhibition, I popped on one of my favourite films West Side Story (1961 Academy Award wins for Best Picture , Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Original Music Score and Sound). You know the story – a modern (well, 1950’s) day telling of Romeo and Juliet told through the battles of the Jets, the Americans, and the Sharks, the Puerto Ricans. 

After the dance, the PRs meet on the roof top. Anita is none too happy about the upcoming war council:

Anita:
They use Maria as an excuse to start… World War Three.

Bernado:
It is more than that —

Anita:
More than what? She was only dancing.

Bernado:
With an “American.” Who is really a Polack.

Anita:
Says the Spic. 

We’re sitting in the pub, having finished our $7 steaks, when the guy on the table next door looks across. “You’re a redhead,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. Not much else to say. 

“I’m a redhead too.” I didn’t believe him – his hair was remarkably brown for a proposed redhead. When I disagreed he offered to show me his pubes as proof. I politely declined.

“Yeah, it’s terrible being a redhead, isn’t it? People always got to make comment about it.”

“Yes,” I said. Not much else to say. 

When you consider it, racism, and I’m including red hair in this, is so very obvious that it’s pretty much ludicrous. An entire form of offence based solely on the blatantly apparent. I know I’m grossly simplifying but, really, calling the Chinese “Chinks”, Aboriginals “Boongs”, Italians “Spaghetti-Eaters”, Irish “Bog-Jumpers”, Australians “Skips”, Redheads “Carrot Tops”, Blondes “Ditzes”, or even Queenslanders “Banana Benders” says more about the ignorance of the insulter than of the character of the insultee. I think the only thing you can do is laugh and walk away. 

It’s when people start judging you through their religious beliefs, that’s when it bothers me.

This week, with the devastation of the Victorian bushfires, the worst natural disaster to happen in European Australia’s history, Danny Nalliah, paster for the ironically named Catch the Fire Ministries, declared that the fires, along with the loss of 1800+ homes and nearly 200 lives, are the result of the state’s abortion laws. He says that back in October 2008, when Victoria was passing the laws, Nalliah had a dream:

In my dream I saw fire everywhere, with flames burning very high and uncontrollably. With this I woke up from my dream with the interpretation as the following words came to me in a flash from the spirit of God. That his conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb.

(See here and here for more and here for the response from the NSW Council of Churches.)

Later in the week I was involved in a short email exchange with a woman I knew back in the town where I was born. One of my local gay hotels is holding an exhibition by a young artist also from my birth town who was, according to the blurb, very big in the theatre community, and I was asking the woman, a Seventh Day Adventist, if she remembers him. I sent her the link to the hotel with the warning: “It’s a gay hotel so take that into account (I think you may see some men wrestling in jelly, but that’s about it)”. Anyway, she emailed me back:

Well, you certainly know how to horrify me (and enjoy it).  As I am sure you are aware I have respect for men who are gay.  But I don’t condone or appreciate the blatant disrespect for themselves or for God shown on this page. 

I didn’t respond, but I did hit “reply” and my fingers did hover above the keyboard. But I thought twice about it and closed the window, dismissing the woman for the ignorant that she was.

Judgements not from the physical but from beliefs are what offends me. Actually, I’m wrong. It’s the righteous fucking smugness that the judge wallows in. “I’m right and you’re wrong, so nyahhh!” What was the Christian Golden Rule again? Do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Religious fanatics don’t seem to know it, or have some sort of Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free addendum version, something like:

Do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you … unless you so totally reckon that some imaginable character that no one has any proof of is actually some real dude, in that case go out and spout whatever shit you like to people who frankly don’t give a rat’s damn what you think or care about because, believe it or not, they are doing well happy with their lives with the only thing spoiling it is having to waste time being annoyed by you.

Frankly, god can go fuck himself; and anyone who feels the needs to harass others and vomit their thin veiled beliefs can join him.

 

Further reading:

The Racial Slur Database

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Russell’s Teapot

Invisible Pink Unicorn

Jesus Dress Up (an inspiration for Bill)


Bush.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

This was one of my university pieces for the year. I got an HD.

It seemed a good idea at the time but now, on the way, on the train, I’m having second thoughts. Who are these people? Where is this place? Will I really be sleeping in a tent?

At least I don’t have to worry about what to pack.

My suitcase, though, is remarkably heavy but that’s because of the two casks of red and three towels. I’ve also packed a magnum tube of sunscreen and a large brimmed hat. In my new shirt and newer haircut I think I look rather handsome, but it dawns on me, considering what lies ahead, I needn’t have made the effort.

At Blackheath I meet Joe who is to drive me the 75 minutes to John and Tony’s home – and my home for the next two nights – in the Capertee Valley. “We’ve got another passenger – Adam,” Joe says. “He’s a little… how can I put it… he’s a little strange.”

On cue Adam strolls around the corner. Dark hair with a neat beard, he moves and talks if possessed by Snagglepuss. “Mmmm… homosexuals… disgusting,” he minces more than once over the next few days. He doesn’t make friends easily.

As we drive along, Joe prepares me for what’s to come: relax, don’t worry and enjoy yourself. “You’ll be fine,” he says. Joe’s lending me the tent.

We pass a sign: Capertee Valley – The Widest Canyon in the World. Capertee is also the world’s second largest canyon, as while Capertee is one kilometre longer than the Grand Canyon, it’s not as deep. The road we travel dissects the Valley’s grassland floor, the fields stretching far away to the rocky walls where bushland takes over, only because it’s now too steep for cattle. I “moo” at a cow lazing by a fence; it ignores me. We pass another sign: The Lord’s return is near. I realise how isolated I am from everything I know.

The heatwave that had smothered the city cracked last night and it has rained off and on ever since. As we drive down the track on John and Tony’s property it is drizzling gently, not promising a comfortable weekend. Indeed, of the dozen men already arrived, none have yet gotten into the spirit of things – I’d expected it would be go-go-go from pistol shot to ribbon. It’s another hour before people start “changing over”. With some Dutch courage from the first of my wines, I join in…

It was remarkably easy. This weekend might not be that disconcerting after all. By the time we sit for lunch, and my fourth glass of plonk, I’ve completely forgotten my lack of… inhibition. It’s helped that the rain’s stopped too.

In the afternoon, John takes us for an impromptu bush walk. The property, a 100-acre block smack in the middle of the Valley, is surrounded by remarkable views, with in one direction Mount Canobola and in the other Pantoney’s Crown, which from this angle looks like one of Mavis Bramston’s hats. Still exhibiting his Aryan good looks from his modelling days (he had a bit part in 1966’s “They’re a Weird Mob”), our host stops at a little rock ledge. “All the way to the tree line is my property,” he says. The tree line is pretty far and I am well impressed, though I may have been a bit tipsy and focussing on the wrong spot.

Did you know that Capertee Valley is home to more species of birds than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere, with more than 235 species recorded, including 18 threatened? Tony tells me that. Alas, over the entire weekend I never spot more than a small honeyeater and handful of kookaburras. But I hear them constantly.

Heading back, between throwing the dog toy and yabbering on about how lovely it was to be out of Sydney, I pit-stop for a wee. Mid-stream, Mick, large in both height and frame, appears, camera snapping away gleefully. Lovely. Like me, Mick joined the Yahoo website group but took a while before attending in person. It’s not uncommon; while there are 150 paid up members, there are over 300 on the Yahoo mailing list. These weekends away give Mick the perfect opportunity to combine his three favourite things: camping, male company and photography. It’s the last one that I’m concerned about…

John offers me a guided tour of his house, telling the story behind each memento and trinket. The tour ends in the walk-in wardrobe off his Japanese inspired bedroom, where he proudly displays his vast collection of porn. “What should we put on?” he tempts me. I’m spoilt for choice.

I regret to say I’m not exactly sure what happened the rest of the night. I remember squeezing out the last few drops of wine – one cask down, one to go; and I know I was out by the bonfire (hazy, wary memories here); and I’m pretty sure it was around 10.30 when Joe took me by the hand and escorted me to the tents; and I’m certain it was me that suggested we share the one tent (not that Joe declined) as, well, I thought Joe was a bit of orright; but what I had for dinner… gone for good. I think it was chicken.

I wake in the night with the mouth of a dead rat. Water bottle empty, I get up to look for some more, disturbing poor Joe as I struggle out. At first it is pitch black – impossibly black – and then the sky explodes with stars. For a moment I regret leaving my glasses in the tent but my desire for refreshment wins over and I tentatively make my way to the house. Everyone has gone to bed – how they are sleeping I’ve no idea as it sounds as if an adenoidal grizzly bear is roaring a chainsaw. Originally I was supposed to be staying inside; many blessings to Joe. Still, I can’t find any water, or a hose, or a tap, and there are blow-up mattresses blocking the doors. Beaten, I pick my way back to the tents.

Not that I sleep. Soon it starts to sprinkle, then pour, then pelt. Listening to the rain, I try to relax and control the wine-induced thumping against my brain.

As the sun rises, the rain eases and the birds begin their morning chorus. I know there is no hope of getting any sleep now. I get up and leave Joe to some proper rest. With the empty water bottle and some Nurofen from my suitcase, I finally find a tap, guzzle a litre of water and wait for the drugs to kick in.

Remarkably, in spite of the rain, the bonfire is still burning, the coals that phosphorous orange when they are at their very hottest. In the crisp morning air, in the warmth of the fire, watching the clouds tumble over the valley ranges, I feel perfectly tranquil. Even the bloody great big orange tractor in the middle of the view looks magical. It’s also now, looking down, I realise just how well I’ve adapted to the weekend. In the middle of nature, I’m as Nature intended.

Eventually Andrew appears from the back of his car and, soon after, Adam staggers from inside the house. “Mmmm…,” he whimpers. He looks impossibly bad, so I fetch him some Nurofen. Together the three of us stand around the fire, occasionally prodding at it in that way that smoothers the heat more than encourages it, and try to piece together the night before.

“Ah, that’s right,” I say to Andrew, “We had sex, didn’t we?” His eyebrow arches; I take this as a “yes”.

Desperate for coffee, the three of us finally force our way indoors. “Excuse me,“ I say as I step over a couple enjoying oral sex in the path to the kitchen. They don’t seem to mind.

After breakfast, our host John claps his hands. “Who’s for an outing?” he asks. We’re to go kayaking at a nearby reserve. An hour later, I’m dressed and waiting by Joe’s car, but the kayak still hasn’t been attached to the trailer. It’s another hour before we set out – a five-car caravan daring the sodden roads.

First, we stop at Rylstone for petrol and provisions. Rylstone is one of those small towns that survives by being incredibly pretty, complete with wide tree-lined streets and an old-fashion lolly shop. My dad always said you can tell a country town by its meat pies and, considering it’s now past one, I’m starving. Unfortunately I can only find a milkbar that does sandwiches, but I make do with the most wonderful lime milkshake I have ever had.

We finally make it to Dunns Swamp, once the water source for the neighbouring towns and now a popular family retreat. Being a long weekend, the place is packed with mums and dads lounging in front of twelve-man tents and kids making mayhem with bikes, balls and boats. At the information stand, the ranger points us where to park. “What sort of group are you then?” he asks. “We’re an outdoor men’s support network,” Joe says without missing a beat. “Ah nice,” says the ranger, and waves us on.

We lunch on sandwiches, bananas and grapes. While the others dither with the kayak, Joe and I head off to attempt the Weir Walk.

Not far into the walk we detour to the Pagoda Lookout. Pagodas, abundant in this area, are volcanic rock formations that resemble the tiered roofs of ancient Chinese temples. These natural creations are just as beautiful and thousands of years older, so I feel slightly guilty as we bound like mountain goats from one platform to the next – millenniums to make tramped smooth by footfall. At the top I have a feeling of elation – I’ve achieved! – and marvel at the view. We are smack in the middle of the Wollemi National Park and are surrounded by untouched forestry in every direction. On the river far below, I spy hired kayaks gliding along, their captains’ laughter faint but crystal on the breeze. I can’t see our party but I never expected anyone to actually get in the water. But I’m enjoying the weekend, and Joe and I chat about maybe future bushwalks as we hike our way to Kandos Weir.

When we return, the others are ready to leave. “We know what you’ve been doing,” they slyly wink. Of course they don’t believe us, and they don’t stop teasing until we cede: Yes, we tell them, we’ve been busy fucking our brains out in full view. That keeps them happy; it’s what they wanted to hear. Turns out two cars have already made for home. Andrew was one of them. “I didn’t come away this weekend to be surrounded by families,” he said later.

On the drive back I count the wildlife. Kangaroos loll in the late sun. Kookaburras dart across the road, sometimes alarmingly close. There are even two wombats sleeping by the side of the road… at least I think they are sleeping…

At least I hope they are sleeping…

At the house, we get back into (or is that “out of”?) uniform and I unkeg my second cask. Considering last night, I’m planning on pacing myself – What is it they say about the road to Hell?

After dinner it’s time for speeches. John thanks everyone for coming, then Greg the treasurer takes the floor. “Thanks everyone for turning up and a special big big thanks to John and Tony for having us here (clapping). A special welcome also to the new people here today (more clapping).” It is an efficient speech that hints at Greg’s past life as a schoolteacher. A portly fellow, Greg has been involved from the start – 1999. “People are more accepting, even though you may be a bit fatter and older. They don’t judge here.” I nod.

“I’ve something to show you,” says John. Not more porn, I think, but instead it’s a documentary on the Wollemi pine. As fascinating as this is, I’d have preferred the porn, so I go start the bonfire. Eventually more join me and we end the evening chatting, drinking and poking at the fire.

It’s late in the night, second cask empty, when I make tentwards and the sleeping Joe. Well, he was sleeping till an amorous bunyip tumbled in. Joe tells me that I tasted like a cheap winery. All talk, I soon pass out. When I wake, both the sun and Joe are up.

Like Doctor Who opening the door of his TARDIS, I crawl out the tent to the splendour of an unknown world. All I can see are grasses and trees and mountains and sky. I have a minor revelation. It is a quiet, yet ecstatic, moment, and I finally understand why people go camping, or travelling for that matter: to have their comfortable mindsets dazzled by that first waking realisation that you are somewhere else. I could get to enjoy this. Perhaps I might invest in a tent?

I’m in no hurry, I’m spending Monday night at Joe’s, and it’s past lunch when the two of us head for Blackheath. Driving along we discuss the weekend. Joe’s enjoyed his time. I’ve had a good weekend too, nowhere near as scary as I’d thought – freeing, in fact.

And, as a bonus, no dirty laundry.

 

For more information about Gay Sydney Nudists, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gay_sydney_nudists/

Since writing this I have joined the Group for their annual Christmas Sydney Harbour cruise and experienced one of the more surreal moments of my life. There I was standing on the boat, on the roof platform bit, wearing only an unbuttoned shirt (it was cold), hanging on for dear life, feeling completely queazy, sipping on lemonade and trying not to throw up, while a motley crew of fully naked men dance animatedly to a disco mix of ABBA numbers, when four military helicopters fly fast and low over us. And then they flew over again, and again. With one hand firmly held to the railing, I did the only thing I could think of to do – I waved with the other.