June 21, 2005
Some people get through their entire life without experiencing guilt. Right wing politicians, for example. When asked to justify their misanthropy, they claim to sleep like guilt-free babies. Especially after passing legislation outlawing unions or democracies or sexual ecstasy.
Excluding politicians and the state terrorism they increasingly represent, you may also have led a guilt-free life, if not for all of it, then for many years, as you strode with salacious gusto down the avenues of self-gratification ignoring consequences.
But then you got married. Now, marriage doesn't automatically install guilt in the operating system of the soul, but yours did. You married a woman who could stand in for Gautama Buddha, thus insuring that the collected works of your unreflective hedonism came to be seen as little more than a manual for inane immaturity.
Guilt usually strikes at night. You awaken at, say, two AM, stumble to the toilet for a piss, stumble back to bed, get comfortable again and … there it is, starkly staring into your suddenly wide awake eyes.
After leafing through the catalogue of sins, major and minor, remorse takes over. The odd audible groan issues from the depths of despair as you see oh so clearly how you've hurt people or let them down or transgressed the boundaries of decency in other ways.
You try to think of other things to push the guilt away. You choose your favourite sex fantasies, but they are so off the wall that your real causes for guilt pale in comparison.
You try to think of nothing. That lasts for nanoseconds and is replaced by an image of the time many moons past when you sat across the kitchen table from a dear friend's wife. The poor thing was so badly in need of romance that you felt called upon to save her. You didn't have to, you could have gone after her unmarried sister, but that was too hard, and married women can be so easy.
Naturally, your friend found out. His wife's guilt forced her to tell him all about it. And that was the end of a fine friendship.
You get rid of that memory by trying to focus on getting your life in order. You'll walk the dog every day instead of randomly; he loves his walks almost as much as food and walking is good for you too, it clears your mind and keeps you fit. You'll do more around the house; the bedroom windows are filthy, the garden is in an uproar. You'll cook more meals, or any meals. You'll buy that Provencal cookbook and surprise and delight your wife. You'll stop being so goddamned irritable.
You want to make a list but you'll have to get up and look for the note pad which you again forgot to put beside the bed. If you get up for anything other than going to the toilet you risk waking yourself up even more. So you consider giving in to another sex fantasy. But this is the one involving fur-lined handcuffs, a blindfold and the taste of lightly sweated skin. You'd better not go there because it is long and elaborate and you'll be awake for hours.
You try to think of nothing again. This lasts for nanoseconds and is replaced with an image from last week, when a man in his sixties honked his horn at you. The traffic you were trying to ease into was erratic and you hesitated too long and lost an opening. The man pulled out from behind your car, cut you off and took the next opening himself. This infuriated you and when you finally caught up to him you stayed on his tail and leaned on your horn and did not let up. At the next major intersection the man surprised you by suddenly turning left. It was as if he were escaping. You were sure he had intended to keep going in the same direction, but his fear of your road rage made him turn off and now he was no longer heading for his destination but somewhere completely else. You imagined him sweating and trembling and it made you feel despicable, the lowest of the low. It made you feel like a right wing politician. You cursed your insane temper for hours, and how it has frightened almost everyone who has ever gotten in your way, especially your dear wife.
The next hour is filled with remorse over how you've let your wife down over the years. Oh, you're not a total rotter, but you've seen resignation in her eyes far too often. You're not the man she hoped you would be. You don't make love to her enough, you take her for granted, you seem to forget over and over again that she is the love of your life. You try rationalising that all marriages eventually degrade into routine, becoming something like a business, the business of raising the children, paying the bills, planning the meals, the holidays, the weekend entertainments.
To ease the pain, you recall the good times. You see your wife in the dining room of the first house you shared: something you've said or done has tickled her so much she responds with an impromptu sort-of jig. It's a moment of spontaneous joy that leaves her a little embarrassed afterward, but your laughter is full of love as you throw your arms around her. A few years after that, you see your daughter, a blonde curly-haired angel of three, whooping and running ahead of the two of you and past the tout le monde of Melbourne to the lolly shop on Lygon Street, her little red swing coat just a-swinging away in the mild wintry Friday night.
These images do nothing but break your heart. Time has moved on and it will not stop moving and with this inexorable movement will sooner or later come the end of an unknowable existence.
You return to the sex fantasies to avoid the foetal. Sometimes your mind is incapable of focusing on them in detail and you eventually fall asleep. But tonight you are cursed with clarity. Another hour will pass as you lick every minute pore of that handcuffed and blindfolded beautiful young woman's warm skin, pausing occasionally to refresh your palate with a sip of Veuve Clicquot.
In the morning, after perhaps another hour or two of sleep after the fantasy has played itself out, you greet the day haggard and lonely, reviving a little at breakfast, thanks to your wife's morning cheer and your daughter's valiant attempts to organise herself for school.
Loving them more than ever, you vow to become a better person. But the vow is forgotten by the time the dishes are cleared. And guilt, never forgetting, abides and awaits its next visitation.
Posted by Willikers at 1:01 PM
June 13, 2005
I'm driving my 13-year-old daughter to school, but first we have to pick up her friend. It's the foggiest morning in years and an occasion for something like awe.
"How about this fog ... wow, eh?" My cheerful effort to entice her into conversation is met with silence. Fair enough, I'll just concentrate on wiping the condensation off the inside of the windscreen and door window. The heater doesn't work, so unless we pack ourselves in ice every morning, the windows are going to be like this all winter. And it's still autumn.
The wipers have cleared the outside of the windscreen, but the fog is laying right down on the asphalt. My head is swivelling like a voltage-spiked radar unit as I scan the velvet nothingness for immanent collisions with objects appearing from nowhere. I'm convinced a 4-wheel-drive is about to emerge like a ghost ship looming out of the mist, my last vision of life on earth the Alice band of a wild-eyed, affluent mother transporting her children unscathed to their privileged destination. Instead, a parked car materialises on the port bow. I stifle a scream and swerve to starboard, barely missing another car parked on the opposite side of the street. My nerves, no longer content to play the odd trick but in full command now, assign this car the dimensions of a monster truck … jumpin' Jehosophat ... or is it a Humvee! "My God, they've got Hummers in Melbourne," I wail, cold sweat dripping upon the helm of my suburban Titanic.
"Daddy, shut up." Dear one has finally broken the soundless barrier. "It's just a little Corolla, and an old one at that. Don't be so theatrical."
The bitch. She's turned my favourite jibe back on me. Accelerating from one to five kilometres an hour, I give her a quick side eye.
Daughter is playing a game on her mobile phone.
I intend to remind her gently that she is more than a self-obsessed tourist on Planet X here. Instead: "What, you're immune to the wonders of nature? The world is putting on a show and all you can do is play a game?" Good Lord, I sound like Frank Costanza. "It's foggy, so look at the fog!"
"All right, all right," she says, without taking her eyes off the phone. The game, won a hundred times already, must be won again.
"Put fucking phone in fucking pocket."
We're on a wider street now and the visibility has increased enough to identify oncoming emanations as variations on a Rorschach blot. In revenge for her cutting accuracy, I hurtle over the infernal speed bumps. With each bump, and they are legion, she bounces on her seat.
"You're meant to slow down at speed bumps," she kvetches, doing Frank's wife Estelle to a T. "Why can't you drive like a normal person?"
I don't bite. Besides, I rationalise with all the maturity I can muster, how else am I to get this harbinger of doom to school on time?
The street climbs a small hill, noticeable only to bicycle riders and old men walking their dogs, then levels out to a plateau for several blocks. The minuscule rise in elevation has thinned the fog enough to allow the identification of previously unclassifiable objects as a line of spectral eucalypts.
"I wish Orlando Bloom would ride out of that foggy forest to rescue me from your evil clutches." She's gazing wistfully at a shrouded neighbourhood park, its tattered playground equipment leering out of the brume like backdrops in a horror film.
"Hah. No clippety-clopping Orli Blook is going to save a Princess who spends all her time staring at that morceau of technological merde." I wince at my old fogey's outburst. The exponential expansion of technology she's been absorbing since birth will likely produce a future unknown to the continuum of history. She's comfortable with it, but me, I'm completely out of the loop, part of a hideous past that always resorts to war when peace gets too boring. Hey, maybe her generation, the first to embrace the encyclopedic hedonism of the internet and the first to wave bye-bye to the work ethic as the only reason to be, will simply regard war as a gross imposition on their will to have fun at all costs. Imagine! A world freed of wage slaves, the poor stupes heretofore so consumed by useless jobs they've never had time to question the mendacity of their ideological masters, and so, sooner or later, wind up going to war, if only for a break from the nine to five or the proverbial salt mines. No jobs to support no tyrants to declare no wars ... and no slavery either. Nobody will put up with that shit. Just brain power in all its glory. The miraculous brain unleashed, not for profit, but for the pure joy of increasing intelligence. Just think: after all these centuries of persecution by an unending cabal of philistine profiteers and religious zealots, the brain may finally achieve its deserved apotheosis! A blessed future indeed, thanks to my daughter. My daughter?
"Don't call him Orli. He doesn't like it," she says, re-hinging my mind. "And don't call him 'Blook' either. I don't like it." She puts the mobile in her pocket, adding, "At least he doesn't drive a broken down wreck of an embarrassing car."
The wench. Besides the faulty heater, the driver's squab is broken. Squab, that's design lingo for the back of the seat, as I pointed out to her with a great deal of pride when it broke. Squab? she cried, her eyes wide with derision. As if knowing the esoteric names of mechanical and body parts put me in league with people who like asparagus, or worse: devotees of organ music. For which love I have been unequivocally condemned to the status of the eternally uncool. Anyway, the left side of the, er, squab leans back so that unless I sit up straight and grip the steering wheel for leverage my vision is directly in line with the front lawns of passing houses on the passenger's side. My back has adjusted to this structural failure by providing me with constant neck and shoulder pain. And then, because of whatever is broken in the frame there is that jagged point of solid steel poking out the upper right side. Unless I remember to slide in and out of the car with extreme caution, the jumper I'm wearing, or the shirt or the coat, will suffer a terminal rip.
"Yeah, well, I'm just waiting for that flat spot on the crankshaft to seize the engine and then we'll buy another car."
"And it won't look like it has a skin disease?"
There's that too. The car's paint job has worn away in places and the bonnet looks like it has psoriasis.
"It'll be a beaut."
"Let's get a Porsche."
We pick up the friend, whose parents both drive Saabs. The girls cover twelve topics in 5.3 seconds -- thanks to their preference for a verbal cryptography based on alien algorithms -- and then, because they are a gang now, immediately whip out their mobiles and fall into silence. I threaten to turn on a classical station. My daughter revivifies briefly to turn on Fox FM, and for the rest of the journey I listen to two blokes and a sheila who are so goddamned happy about every goddamned thing that I consider grabbing the daughter's mobile to phone in and ask them if the source of their medicated hilarity has any side effects.
Arriving at the school with two minutes to spare, the fruit of my loins gives me a hug and a kiss, we exchange mutual "love ya's", and off they go with their 14 kilo schoolbags to spend the next seven hours dealing with arcane subjects, hated teachers, and the terrifying formation of adolescent relationships in a world governed by pinheads.
The fog starts to lift as I exit the school and queue up with other parents waiting to cross the snarling six-lane highway forming one of the school's borders. The green light that will deliver us to the rest of our day is so brief that inattention on the part of the lead driver will be met by a conga line of St Vitus dancers pounding their horns with a mind-loosening frenzy. To wile away the minutes, I switch on the radio and listen to a deft Bavarian negotiating his own miraculous journey, the last movement of Weber's first Clarinet concerto. By the time our upstart convoy has momentarily stopped the onrush of enraged commuters and sped to safety, the musician has disassembled his instrument, laid the parts in its plush-lined case, chatted briefly with the conductor, left the recording studio and died of old age.
But here the sun shoots through as the old Holden does zero to fifty in one or two blocks, and with it the startling revelation that in my daughter's mind I have ceased to exist until she sees me again.
It's hard to shake this incongruous thought. Even weirder is the realisation that she doesn't exist for me either. But wait, there's more: nothing does.
I am an isolated being driving down a road somewhere on a little round planet contained within a word called "universe". My awareness of surroundings, of other isolated beings, of even myself, barely exists. I am a somnambulist who occasionally awakens to a reality that doesn't match anyone else's. The rest of the time my mind is a teeming jungle of cacophonous noise.
"What am I hollering?" I say aloud, the memory of the fogbound journey now as tangible as a dream. With great care I take in everything around me. I vow to remain conscious, but realise I have no idea how. I practice noticing things, an Asian woman waiting for a bus, the Vet hospital on the street I turn into, houses, grass, anything. I'm actually straining to keep from losing contact, because I know I will, any moment now.
A great sadness overwhelms me in the split second before the monkey starts jumping from tree to tree again. Everyone is starring in their own movie, but there is no director and no screenplay. And no audience. No one can see what goes on in my movie. Not my wife, not my daughter. And I have no idea what is going on in theirs. We meet in a darkened theatre, each of us shadows to ourselves and to others.
"No wonder Dubya got up," I mutter, pulling into a parking space near my favourite coffee shop. Attaching the steering wheel lock, I wonder which movie to watch tonight, a 5 star mind burster or a 2 star mind idler. Lot to be said for the latter. Let's see, now, don't forget the newspaper, where is it? The back seat, uh-oh, metal rod's poked clear, watch it there, Slim. Crikey, what is it we need for dinner? Oh, yeah, chump chops. Have I got the bloody list? Hmmm, there's that song again, can't get it out of my head, now who sings it and what's it called? Or this song … how'd it get in there? This one's by … knew it yesterday … and how about whatshisname's response on the radio this morning to, you know, that thing the other guy said. Something about, um, something or other to do with, hmmm, yeah, well, what the fuck ... "Can I get a latte?"
June 7, 2005
Speed Bumps: Municipal resistance to male aggression
We think of speed bumps as a way of making people slow down in residential areas. We are wrong. They exist to slow down the male gender. Especially teenage males going bananas over a few beers late at night. Women and men over 60 are mostly exempt. How often do you see women or old men hurtling over these unforgiving hillocks? Such occurrences amount to statistical insignificance.
There are 10 speed bumps, six left turns and five right turns between me and the coffee shop I drive to every morning. The distance covered? A mere 2.3 kilometres. It could be worse; I am blessed with two bump-free streets which allow me to zip along well over the speed limit, thereby making up for time lost on the streets infested with bumps.
Fortunately, my car is 20 years old and more than ready for the junk yard. It's age allows me to treat each accursed speed bump as if the protuberance were a bucking bronco and I and the car were a ride-em cowboy. Like many a hapless rodeo entrant, the car and I often find ourselves with both feet and four wheels flying into thin air. Unlike the sad sack crashing upon the twilight ground on the outskirts of some Godforsaken South-western town, we always land safely on the other side, without reducing speed. Of course, I've had to replace the muffler brackets several times, not to mention the entire muffler, but no one has ever accused me of being mature enough to refrain from cutting off my nose to spite my face.
Besides encouraging hoons like myself to slow down, speed bumps have been a boon to muffler specialists. The Yellow Pages listing for these good folk would be somewhere between thin or in memoriam without them.
Alas, the only time I slow down is when someone gets in front of me, usually an old duffer and his wife heading for the Dunkin' Donuts next to the coffee shop.
It would seem that old men treat speed bumps as an excuse to rehearse their own funeral procession. The residential speed limit in the burb I'm incarcerated in is 50 KPH (35 MPH). That's reasonable and normally I adhere to it. But it's a speed limit the doddering demographic rarely reaches, thanks to speed bumps. After slowing down for the first one, the old farts remain at 40 and often drop to 30 approaching the rest. You can't blame them. What, they would like to know, is the point of speeding up only to slow down again? Hell, let's do 20, we'll get there eventually.
But I want to get there now! I've got coffee to drink, books to read, notes to take, it's all so important. So inevitably I pass them at 60, thus scaring them out of their wits and making me feel like the kind of solipsist who would vote for John Howard, Tony Blair or George W. Bush. That they probably vote for these Soviet emulators too makes it all the worse.
If you've seen the Mr Bean episode where he is running down several flights of stairs only to encounter an old lady who treats every step as a speed bump, you will understand my frustration. He dodges and weaves trying to get past her but she, unaware of his presence, displays an uncanny ability to anticipate his every zig and zag.
Or try this analogy. I have two items in my basket at the supermarket. I am heading for the speedy checkout aisle with no one in sight. Yet, with less than 10 paces between me and a fast exit, here comes a senior citizen with a basket laden with items well exceeding the eight item limit. Somehow, in defiance of the laws of physics, this person beats me to the til. At the conclusion of the checking-out process he or she suddenly remembers that money must be exchanged and then proceeds to spend several minutes examining the contents of his or her wallet or purse while I fume at the far end of the stalled conveyor belt like John Cleese of Fawlty Towers had the show been about a serial killer instead of a hotelier.
Am I embarrassed at this behaviour? Indeed I am. Such impatience is more than absurd and unnecessary; it is a sign of that which I despair of in today's society: a sort of locked-in syndrome where self-absorption precludes any compassion or indeed, recognition, of the existence of others. But what can I do? I'm stuck with the aggressive Y-chromosome. This is a genetic flaw that a clearly inexperienced deity got wrong. He could have easily produced a sperm-generating gender without the asshole gene.
When Marilyn French famously said that all men are rapists, she wasn't wrong. However, she would have been more accurate to use "potential" as a qualifier. Men are like wild beasts caged by the conventions of society. They are happy to live out their lives without transgression, but history has shown over and over again that, given the slightest excuse, men can change overnight from law abiding citizens to slavering murderers, zealously, even euphorically, committing atrocities. The Balkan war is but one of several recent examples. That friendly neighbour with whom you've been on cordial terms for years suddenly tunes in to the right wing dogwhistler running the nation and presto, he's knocking down your door. In the name of God, racial purity, or some crackpot political ideology, he shoots the men and old women and rapes the daughter. And if she is a child, he'll rape her anyway, because, given the chance, all men are pedophiles too. You are only safe because your male neighbours are busy earning money to buy the latest plasma television, or because they are not yet under the influence of the kind of deranged politicians turning up in power everywhere.
What do speed bumps have to do with this? They are but a small example of the underlying need for law and order, which exists almost entirely to prevent the male gender from infringing on peace in the valley. From inappropriate behaviour at speed bumps to crashing into suburban trees at night to initiating wars, men are responsible for all the maleficence in this world. (The contribution of women, as I pointed out in the first paragraph, is statistically insignificant.)
It's time for people to take this blatantly obvious flaw seriously and do something about it.