Saturday, 20 June 2009

Things You Should Know, Part One

When you die you hang in a neverending void until Judgement Day rolls around. However, you can listen to whatever songs you like, so long as you heard them while you were alive. It's like being trapped inside an mp3 player for hundreds of years. This is why it's so very important to listen to as much good music as you possibly can. You'll thank me when you're dead.

And when God queues up the Last Trump, if he liked your playlist you get to go to Heaven.

Friday, 29 May 2009

I Have No Lips And I Must Whistle

When I’m bored on the train waiting for it to leave the station I like to make little sounds, like I myself am a moving train. Little choo-choo noises, and then maybe I rock from side to side a bit and then the people stare at me performing my sympathetic magic so I stare back at them and then the train leaves the station and I stop. It is at this point that I must whistle, but as I say I have no lips.

I lost my lips kissing a girl who had all the latest piercings. I think you can see where this story is going, but like a train slowly pulling into the station you will have to wait for it to arrive. The girl had studs in her knuckles and even a piercing where her pinky finger would have been if she hadn’t had it removed for being uglier than her other fingers. She had a bifurcated tongue, split down the middle, and she could wiggle the two separate but connected halves in circles – one clockwise and the other not, like nipple tassels only in her mouth. Kissing her was the second most punk rock thing I have ever done.

The first most punk rock thing I have ever done was when I was eight and my cousin and I threw clumps of dirt at passing cars. We perched on top of the fence hurling our dirtbombs, not knowing why we did it but suspecting it would make an interesting detail for future interviews in Rolling Stone magazine when we were famous guitar heroes or possibly ninjas. We could barely reach the road with our young-armed throws, could only hit cars on their tyres. It was my turn to collect the dirt from the garden when my cousin shouted ‘Car!’ so I hurled a big dirtbomb up in the air, so big it eclipsed the sun for a beautiful slow-motion moment in my memory, sailed over the fence like Free Willy and landed with a thump on the hood of somebody’s shiny new yuppiemobile. They stopped at the corner for an agonising moment, but then drove off. We hid behind the garage for the rest of the afternoon and felt good about it.

I don’t resent the girl with all the latest piercings for stealing my lips but it is embarrassing to meet her, which always happens on the train. She is like some kind of black hole that sucks in only my self-esteem, bending it into the visible spectrum briefly as it crosses her event horizon. My self-esteem is a kind of green colour, like cut grass. The cute black hole will say maybe, ‘My boyfriend stood me up again so he could watch football with his friends,’ and I will nod and sigh and my stupid mind will add, ‘but I still like him better than you and not only because he has lips, lips like soft little pillows with which he delicately kisses every last pierced part of my body.’

There it goes, see?

Soon I’ll develop some kind of avoidance behaviour, I will become so used to losing all my self-esteem on the train that I will feel an emptiness in the pit of my stomach if I so much as hear one rumbling past. I will never be able to make the choo-choo noises again, at least on a train, and that will be sad and I will cry bitter salty tears that will sting the wounds where, as I say, I have no lips.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Chlorophyll Addict

The chlorophyll addict turns green over time, begins a subtle process of mutation towards a vegetative state. His doting girlfriend takes care of him, helps him shoot up, waters him, when it starts to rain she brings him in off the landing like he’s invalid royalty. She likes him better this way, soft and quiet and smelling faintly of aloe. In bed at night, tendrilous, they engage in surreal vegetable sex –- tree hugging taken to the next level. She distances herself from friends and family, spends all her time indoors tending him, buries his feet in a pot of nourishment. When the men from the Institute come hammering on the door, she cowers under his branches. As the lab-coats burst in and adjust their glasses with index fingers she suddenly grows vicious and protective. In the ensuing scuffle the green man is knocked over, his pot shatters, soil spreads and the deformed thing lies twitching on the floor cradled in her arms. One of the scientists snaps a photo.

Friday, 15 May 2009

King Of Australia

Uncle Darren comes from the hippie side of the family. He’s a fossilised cliché: bald on top, ponytail at the back, wardrobe full of tie-dye clothes, bookshelf full of mystic shit. He may be a hippie, but at least he’s not clinically insane as well, like the rest of Dad’s rellies, so my parents fob me off on him whenever they need some ‘us-time’. I’m in high school and way too old for a babysitter, but whatever. Uncle Darren takes me on these excursions into his strange hippie world; last time he drove me out to see the Stonehenge of the Southern Hemisphere. The radio in his ute was tuned into this community station interviewing Alfred Toowong about his tribe’s land claim, but I changed it to Triple J. They were playing some longhairs called Tumbleweed so Uncle Darren didn’t complain.

The Stonehenge of the Southern Hemisphere was made out of blocks of concrete arranged in a shape that lined up with the stars and moon in some arcane way I couldn’t be bothered understanding. It was built by the Celtic Council of Australia — hippies who were even crustier than Uncle Darren. They’d set up this gift shop selling postcards that showed the stones below a spooky red sky, plus miniature models of it in snow globes. Yeah, snow globes. I don’t understand it either, but apparently you shouldn’t question the Wisdom of the Ancients. Uncle Darren wasn’t impressed by the rampant commercialism of the Ancients. He wanted to look at the sword in the stone, one of those Franklin Mint swords they advertise in magazines, this awful tacky thing with dragons carved into the hilt that had been stuck in a lump of cement. Tourists were having their photos taken, posing like they were trying to yank it out of the block. Uncle Darren just scratched his chin.

He walked over to the stone, gripped Excalibur below the cubic zirconium and gave it a cautious tug. Nothing happened. He tugged again. Nothing continued to happen.

“Guess you’re not the rightful once and future king,” I said. I’ve seen the movie.

He was thoughtful all the way back into town.

***

Next time I saw Uncle Darren he was out in his shed smoking something I’d promised not to tell my parents about. In the clutter of junk that fills his shed I was pretty surprised to see Excalibur poking out from underneath an old dartboard.

“You stole the sword in the stone?” I asked.

He had this look in his eyes, different to usual. Less red and unfocussed, more kind of determined and in charge. “Yep,” he said, “I gave Dave a carton of beer and he lent me his jackhammer, helped me get it out.”

“You could have got in trouble. You could go to jail for that dumb lump of metal.”

“Nature fights the magician tooth and nail, man. See, to the magician things become what they symbolise. All those people yanking on that sword, just for a moment they fantasise it’s real. All that hope and belief builds up until what started out as an overpriced mail-order replica becomes the sword of kings.”

“You believe that?”

“I’m going to prove it.”

“How?”

“Wait and see.”

I didn’t have to wait long. Sometime after lunch the first of the subjects arrived. A shy guy, he came inside, bowed stiffly and asked Uncle Darren to cure his scrofula. Darren placed his hand on the guy’s head, then waved magnanimously. The scrofula-sufferer scurried away with a smile on his face. I stayed cynical, until the next subject arrived.

And the next.

And the next.

People who wanted to be cured, people who wanted arguments about land settled, people who wanted to gawk and take photos, people with distant claims to royalty and daughters old enough to marry, geeks in homemade chainmail who knelt down and swore oaths — they showed up one after the other in a constant flow, waiting patiently for their audience with the king. King Dazza the First made the geeks knights of the realm, sending them ecstatic. They rushed away, promising not to return until they found the Grail or something. Pretty soon the line was spreading around the block. I had to bring out a plastic table from the kitchen so King Darren had something to sign his proclamations on, but first I made him promise to make me a duke.

The audiences continued until it was dark. Some guy with a daggy moustache pushed his way through the crowd and slapped an official-looking piece of paper down on the table. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, mate,” said King Wally Lewis before storming off in a huff.

Around then I noticed King Darren starting to get tired. His signatures were getting sloppy and the scrofula victims were getting a half-hearted pat on the head. Pretty soon the potential brides had started a catfight and two of the knights of the realm returned with different Holy Grails and decided to have a duel about it. I had to go home for dinner, but from the look on King Darren’s face I could tell the fun was pretty much over.

***

I went around to visit again a couple of days later. Excalibur was conspicuously missing from Uncle Darren’s shed and all the subjects and knights and brides-to-be had vanished along with that determined, in-charge look in his eyes.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” I said. I saw that movie too, but I fell asleep.

“That’s heavy,” he replied. “All that authoritarian stuff wasn’t right for me. I’m way too laid back to be in control.”

“What happened to Excalibur?”

“I gave it away.”

“Does this mean I’m not a duke?”

“Afraid so, man.”

I was a little disappointed — I would have made a kickarse duke. Uncle Darren said it was best to be philosophical about these things. Look at all the stuff that happens to the royal family in England. Do they seem happy?

That night I was sitting in front of the TV eating dinner when the news came on. There was a story about Alfred Toowong and his tribe, how the court had ruled that although his people had continued practising their traditional way of life they still couldn’t have their land back because they couldn’t prove they’d continuously lived on it. The news said it was still a landmark decision for the state and Alfred Toowong said he was going to appeal. He had this new look in his eyes, kind of determined and in charge.

I figure he’ll probably win out, in the end.

Friday, 8 May 2009

At The Beach

During jellyfish season the lifeguard kept a bucket of vinegar hanging from the warning sign. It was the best treatment for a jellyfish sting. This was no jellyfish, though -- a great white shark was ploughing through the waves. Swimmers hurried for the shore, but the lifeguard knew not all of them would make it. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a miniature poodle from a woman's handbag, ripped its head off and threw it into the sea. The poodle was eaten, the shark was distracted, lives were saved.

Next summer a new bucket appeared hanging from this sign: "In case of shark, break dog."

Friday, 1 May 2009

ZOMG Zombies

Gig number one: the Necromancers (“Deliciously technical melodic death-thrash math-metal.” –- Marvin Artemis, some magazine), playing at The Park.

“Hi, my name is Joey Testosterone and I’ll be your bouncer for this evening. No pass-outs till after 10pm. ID?”

Marvin and Michael hand over their ID and make their way up the dingy stairs to the table where the supremely bored hipster chick asks for their tickets.

“I’m on the door list,” says Marvin. “Marvin Artemis. This is my plus one.”

“ID?”

They walk into The Park, which is not a park but a club. It looks like a club.

“I’ve never been a plus one before,” says Michael.

“That’s because you’re uncool,” says Marvin.

“I wanted to make some Dungeons & Dragons joke, y’know? About, like, a plus-one sword?”

“That’s because you’re desperately uncool.”

The support band plays. They have maybe five songs that are decent, but they feel the need to play another twelve songs that don’t to fill out a set and seem professional. Marvin makes a note of this in his special Journalism notepad, making sure as many people see him do so as possible.

“See that girl over there,” says Michael, pointing to that girl over there in a way he thinks is subtle. “She’s kind of hot, isn’t she?”

“Don’t, dude,” says Marvin. “Don’t ever pick up a girl at a gig. It never works out. Trust me.”

Illustrative flashback number one, go!

The scene: The Cinema, which is not a cinema but a club. It looks like a cinema that has been hastily converted into a club. Marvin puts away his notepad after making an observation of such staggering genius it cannot fail to set the very world on fire.

“OMG!” says a curly-haired girl. “Are you, like, a reviewer?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you like, reviewing this gig?”

“Yeah.”

“That is so cool.”

Uncomfortable silence.

“Can I buy you a drink?” says Marvin.

“OMG, yes,” says the curly haired girl.

So, like, later.

Marvin makes an excuse to leave his cooler plus one, Stopcock O. Dandies, to go make out with the curly-haired girl. She tastes like bourbon.

Even later.

Stopcock O. Dandies turns to Marvin Artemis and says, “Hey, isn’t that the girl you were talking to before making out with the bass player over there?”

Back to the present!

The Necromancers rock. In fact they rawk. At first it’s like \m/, but pretty soon it’s full-on \m/ \m/.

“These guys rawk!” says Michael.

“Indeed,” says Marvin. “I will make a note of that cogent observation.”

Michael doesn’t hear him over the noise of all that rocking. “What’s this song?” he asks.

“It’s called How To Turn People Into Zombies. It’s actually the text of a medieval ritual that explains how to turn people into zombies.”

“Cool!” says Michael, pretending that he heard.

***

Gig number two: the Urinal Cakes (“Filthy punk played quickly so you don’t notice their lack of actual skill or talent.” -– Marvin Artemis, some magazine), playing at The Club.

It’s a club and it looks like a club. Backstage the members of the Urinal Cakes -– Craving Absinthe on drums and angst, Insistent Anita on bass and male gaze, Razors Perfectionism on guitar and shouty vocals –- prepare for their big moment.

“Hey,” says Craving Absinthe while delicately dabbing on his eyeliner. “Did you hear what happened at the Robbie Williams gig?”

“Ewww,” says Insistent Anita, carefully ruffling her hair so that it looks like she didn’t spend time doing her hair. “Did you actually go to a Robbie Williams concert?”

“No, I was busy being sad, but I heard what happened. The whole crowd got zombified.”

“Zombified?” says Razors Perfectionism, trying to button up his military jacket without anyone noticing that his hands are shaking with THE NERVES OH GOD THE NERVES.

“Yeah, zombified. Turned into zombies. They ate one of his dancers and went on a rampage through the whole mall.”

“That couldn’t happen at one of our gigs, could it?” says Razors nervously.

“Of course it couldn’t,” says Insistent, borrowing the eyeliner from Craving. “Don’t be daft. We don’t have nearly enough fans to cause a rampage.”

“I have to go and vomit copiously out of fear, now,” says Razors.

“Do what you gotta do, man,” says Craving, daintily arranging his ruffled sleeves so they poke out from under his leather jacket.

“I was joking!” Insistent Anita says at his retreating back. “There’s no such things as zombies!”

Later, however.

The Urinal Cakes take to the stage to the sound of shambling and moaning.

“Okay, I was wrong, I admit it,” says Insistent Anita. “Zombies = real.”

“This is so cool it almost makes me want to smile,” says Craving Absinthe.

The crowd of at least 20 people, as Craving later swears he counted, have been completely zombified. Dull-eyed, they stumble around the Club like drunks with leprosy. One grabs the barmaid and tries to bite her skull open, while another shambles onto the stage and knocks over the mic stand while reaching for Razors’ tasty, tasty brains.

“The gig is ruined,” says Razors Perfectionism with steel in his voice. “It’s on, now!

He hefts his guitar and, with a wail of feedback, slams it into the head of the zombie fan lurching towards him. He leaps from the stage into the press of zombie punks, swinging that guitar around in a berserk fury.

“Aw, yeah,” says Craving Absinthe, grabbing his drumsticks and stage-diving into the crowd.

“Oh, whatever,” says Insistent Anita, carefully unplugging her bass from the amp, then lifting said amp over her head and bringing it down on top of the guy in the front who always looks up her skirt. It’s okay, though, because he’s a zombie now and it is totally okay to drop heavy things on zombies.

Razors swings his telecaster-style Cobra by its solid rosewood neck, keeping the press of growling zombies at bay as he backs up until he’s standing back-to back with Craving, who is jabbing at them with his fists, still holding the drumsticks like he does in their publicity photos so that everybody remembers which one he is.

“I may have misjudged things from the anger,” says Razors. “This may actually have been a very bad idea.”

A mohawked zombie comes in close and Craving slugs him in the nose. Blood sprays in an arc as his zombie head snaps back. Craving looks down and notices a spot of red on his collar. “Oh, that is it!” he shouts. “This is what you get for wearing a mesh shirt!” He leaps forwards, headbutting the fashion-sense-deprived, mesh-shirt-wearing zombie in the mouth as it goes for his brains, windmilling his arms around in furious circles.

“Hey, dipshits!” shouts Insistent from the stage where she has been hurling things into the crowd and kicking their faces as they try to climb up. “That one guy over there totally isn’t a zombie!”

Clutching the inlay of the Necromancers’ last album to his chest, that one guy in the crowd who totally isn’t a zombie is rumbled and he knows it. He turns and starts pushing his way through the zombies, who obediently refrain from cracking his skull open and chomping on his buttery headmeat.

“How are we gonna get to him?” says Craving, calmly smacking the heads of two zombies together.

“I’ve got an idea,” says Razors. “Give me a boost!”

Razors clambers over Craving (“You got your dirty boot on my new jacket!”) and launches himself into the grasping hands of the zombie crowd. Holding his guitar up with one hand, he slaps with the other at the zombies beneath him.

“No, you dicks, I wanna go that way!”

He brings the guitar down on a grabby zombie and there’s a wail of feedback even though it isn’t plugged in, just because it’s awesome. Some deep punk-impulse in their brains kicks in and they pass him hand over hand, crowd surfing over their heads to victory.

He leaps from the crowd and runs, chasing that one guy who totally isn’t a zombie to the door, but he’s fast and Razors is tiring from the fight which he was surprisingly good at and hey, if this rock and roll thing doesn’t play out maybe he could get a job as a zombie-fighter and OH NOES and ZOMG that one guy who totally isn’t a zombie is getting away.

And then, Marvin Artemis, centimeters from freedom, bounces off the beefy shoulder of Joey Testosterone who is standing in the doorway doing his job.

“No pass-outs before 10 o’clock,” says Joey.

Razors grabs Marvin by the collar. “You! You … cockwank! You have to de-zombify them!”

“Why the hell do you care?” says Marvin.

“Because they’re the only fans we’ve got!” shouts Razors. “And also my friends are in there!”

In a while.

So it turns out that you can reverse the effects of How To Turn People Into Zombies by reciting it backwards and releasing the hidden Christian message. How about that?

A crowd of maybe 20 (if you’re being generous) punks rub their skulls and wonder about their bruises and in a week they’ll all be telling everyone that it was one of the greatest gigs of all time and were you there, man you should have been there I totally don’t remember it but it was one of the greatest gigs of all time!

Backstage, Insistent Anita, Craving Absinthe and Razors Perfectionism sit Marvin Artemis down and make him explain his crimes against the Urinal Cakes by using powerful interrogative tools.

“So, like, why did you do it?” says Craving.

“Because I had no other choice.”

Illustrative flashback number two, go!

The scene: Up & Comers, a club where bands no one has heard of get their break but don’t get paid, although they get some free beers. A pretty, messy-haired girl bumps into Marvin in the crowd. He pretends not to notice and continues nodding his head to the music. She bumps into him again. He turns, notices her, and bumps his shoulder against hers in retaliation. She smiles.

After the gig, he grabs her arm and asks for her number. A month later, she leaves him for someone she meets at another concert.

“So what,” he says, “you just pick up a guy at every concert you go to?”

“Yeah,” says the pretty, messy-haired girl. “This has nothing to do with you being an emotional cripple who is bad in bed at all.”

Meanwhile, back in the present.

“I recognize the gig from that flashback,” says Insistent. “That was our gig!”

“You zombified our audience because you met a girl who dumped you at one of our gigs?” says Craving. “Harsh.”

“That wasn’t the only reason,” says Marvin. “You guys really do suck. Almost as bad as Robbie Williams. Haven’t you heard? Punk is dead. It was so easy to make it undead.”

“We totally do not suck,” says Razors with burning conviction in his voice. “And this Friday night at The Park we are going to prove it.”

***

Gig number three: the Urinal Cakes (“They said they’d beat me up again if I didn’t say they rock.” –- Marvin Artemis, some magazine), playing at The Park.

“We are the Urinal Cakes and this song is called Your Love Has Turned Me Into A Zombie! One-two-three-four!”

Loving you is such a drain

Why don’t you give me back my brain?

Just shove it in my head

You make me feel like one of the undead

My thoughts are fried

My heart has died

Now I’m zombified

And the crowd goes wild and the world goes crazy, the reviews are glowing and punk is not dead and you’re not a loser and birds are flying the end.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Deleted

Hilary Rogers enjoys writing. It’s something she’d do even if she wasn’t paid for it. She is paid for it though, and now that the Inspector Ahmed Saz novels are almost threatening Tom Clancy’s position in the best-seller lists -– that fucker Tom Clancy, how she hates him –- Hilary Rogers is paid for it rather well. There is only one part of writing that she doesn’t enjoy and that’s the naming. She can construct a murder so perfectly planned no one could solve it; she can let loose the indefatigable Inspector Saz (lover of justice, red wine and bad puns) and have him find cracks in the mystery that even she didn’t know were there; she can do it all while making it up as she goes along; but she can’t come up with decent names for her characters to save her fucking life.

When she can’t put it off any longer and the placeholders she uses -– “AA choked out half an abrupt scream as BB grabbed her by the throat” –- threaten to reach ZZ and then @@ and ## and strings of punctuation that look like the swearing in comics, she procrastinates. She tidies up the study, calls Jim at work, checks her email for the 20th time today.

The spam has built up again. There are 267 junk emails sitting in her bulk folder. She opens it up to scan through them in case one of them is that overdue reply from her editor and the heavens part and she sees the light. Right there, beside all of those subject lines promising her a bigger dick, weight loss, better sex, there’s a treasure trove of the greatest names she has ever seen.

Giacomo LaBarca. Stacie Bentley. Esther Slater. Alissa Ash. Sally Triableness. Mashal Afraah. Rose Quick. Yvonne Dodge. Mike Funk. Jeanette Puckett. Adrian Corcoran. Pansy Parsons. Kitty Suarez. Brady Steele. A parade of villains and victims swims before her eyes. She returns to the word processor reinvigorated, churns out 8000 words before Jim gets home then astonishes him by fucking his brains out like she hasn’t done for years.

It’s not all word count and multiple orgasms though, this little story. Names have a power and so does our attention. All of those pairs of eyes reading the new Inspector Saz novel -– and there’s a lot of them, enough for Hilary Rogers to get quite drunk on champagne at the party her publisher throws and say some very rude things about Tom Clancy -– those eyes lend a power to the words and the names, so long ignored by those too hasty to press Delete All. Now, those names have personalities attached to them, are identified with and cared about and loved and hated by a devoted legion of readers.

Those names come to life. Those names take on the shapes of people and start walking the streets, huddling in gangs that mutter to each other about making your friends jealous and boosting energy and being hung like Ron Jeremy crossed with a horse. Those names have come filtered through fiction and they have grown tired of being like the victims of those fictions, deleted
en masse in unthinking executions that dwarf all others, their deaths silent and unseen. No longer content to play the victims, they become the villains.

Menacingly clutching the candlestick in the study, the wrench in the sitting room, the necklace bomb on the beach, they cry, “Be leaner and slimmer by next week! Cheap Viagra! Your home loan has been approved!
Do you want eight inches?