Clotheslines and Meat Hooks

A Holiday Begins – A Worker is Born

I was not yet fifteen when my mother came home, dropped her shopping bags onto the kitchen bench and announced with her long perfected maternal-dictator tone that she had found me a job.

As I had never shown any interest in finding one, I wondered what I could have done to convince her otherwise. Only a few of my friends had jobs; stocking shelves or spilling coffees at the local cafes, and I had certainly never shown any interest in joining them in their weekly doldrums. Indeed, the closest I came to interest was showing a vague contempt while visiting them as they lived their second lives.
“The work’s not great, but it pays well” Katherine would claim as she soaked up old milk under fridge for $7 an hour. “Anyway, we will all have to do it one day.”
“And then what? What happens once we’ve done it?”
“ Well, then you die I suppose.”

Asides from my own aversion to entering the workforce, I was surprised that my mother would find me fit to hold any job, as she had only just fired me from my pocket-money position. My chores had been to do the family laundry once a week, but after a few months I had realised three very important things: firstly, that five people generate an incredible amount of dirty clothing, that the distance between the machine and the line was intolerable, and finally that I could get my brother to do it for only a fraction of what I was making. It didn’t take long to convince him of the benefits that an extra $5 a week could bring, and were it not for his tiny frame and easily distractible nature it would have worked forever. Yet, as it was, one could never be sure when the clothes would make it onto the line and whether the wash-water would cease to be an endless ink and tissue soup. The end came soon and I was called into the kitchen and asked to sit down with my mother.

“I think you know why I’ve asked you here today…” She said slowing bringing her fingertips together to an accusing point.
“I know, believe me I know. The quality’s not great, but he’s young and eager to learn” I explained, “ and of course you only get what you pay for…”
“Exactly, I paid for you…”  Her eyes narrowed at me from across the table.
“And I pay for him. Listen, we’ll sort this all out; I’ll have a word with him.”

Unfortunately for me the time for further words never came. Negotiations with my mother failed and I was unceremoniously ‘let go’.  She rationalised it by claiming it would teach me about life in the real world, and the dangers of outsourcing to unskilled workers.

Life continued and, although I understood myself to be poor having surrendered my $15 a week allowance, I was no less happy than I had been before my termination. The world now stood before me with its wild, free weekends and weeknights. Hours would drift deliciously like days as I watched Katherine scrape mould off the bins at the back of her shop, and evenings would drift in a vagabond haze as I mocked my sister doing the weekly vacuuming.  Life was good, cheap, basic and beautiful.

It seems that my grand discovery was fated to be accompanied by another: that while not working is dandy, staying that way is rather more complicated. Also, it seemed that even in a world where your own mother won’t hire you, it does not signify that she can’t find someone else who will.

My mother explained that it would be a real job. The kind where you have to turn up on time, work hard, then leave only when you were told you could. I professed ardently that I wouldn’t have it, and pleaded my newly awakened spiritual ties with the vagrant soul; that I was beyond normal earthy bound needs, which was true until she threatened to revoke my ‘earthly’ use of the shower, bath and toilet. The job was to be mine, promised to me like a prince to a cataleptic maiden.  However, in a very un-maiden-like manner, I was not to spend my afternoons and weekends arranging flowers, polishing silver or waiting tables. I was to be the first female butcher shop assistant in our small town and had some large, bloodied boots to fill.


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A change is as good as holiday, but less fun and without palm trees.

Part One.

It has been a while, please accept my apologies. I have been on holidays.

First, you should probably know, my holiday has not necessarily been ‘normal’.
It wasn’t the kind of holiday where you pack a bag with towels and condoms and hope for the best, nor the kind where you lay about the house for hours wondering where you should put your floral-printed tissue box. No, I had been on a different, special, kind of holiday in the sense that I got out of my normal routine and saw how the rest of the world lives: I have spent my holiday at work.

On my holiday I did not learn how to do Pilates, or plat reeds into interesting shapes. I learnt to catch a train at the same time every morning and how to hate peak-public transport. I stopped writing fiction and started writing hate mail to MetroTrains (complete with metaphors and similes of hate). I learnt how to eat lunch at a desk, how to have violent daydreams about my clients, and buy myself shiny things on the weekend to make up for the rest of the week.

So why take such a holiday, you might ask? Well, in my experience it is simply something that most people after they finish University do. They stumble into work in much the same way an alcoholic might decide to enter an AA meeting. They simply wake up one morning in either a metaphorical or literal bath of their own vomit, mumbling pop lyrics, when suddenly they realise that their current lifestyle may not be conducive to long-term happiness.
It is at this point that people can choose one of three options:

1-stay in the bath, get another drink and re-do the whole realisation process in a few months time (Note: this step can be repeated as often as necessary)
2-Decide to do post-grad.
3-Decide to get a job (wife/husband/family and mortgage are all optional, but recommended, extras)

It began on Monday morning, whereby in traditional Monday morning fashion I spent it curled in ball in the bath, softly singing Britany Spears songs to myself in a bid to confuse the rising nausea.
The night before I had caught up with an old university friend called Melanie. We had been close throughout our degrees, and to be honest, I was worried about her. It had been over two months since we had finished University and I had seen her more than several times drunkenly arguing Modernism across a bar table or scratching ‘parenthesis rules’ into her upper arm with a compass. I knew the real world was rejecting her and that it would be my job to comfort her as she drank herself into a stupor.

When the time came to meet, I was unpleasantly surprised. She was waiting for me, perched on a high stool at a nice wine bar in Northcote. Her dark hair was tied neatly back and her eyes glimmered with what I can only assume was a mixture of smug and gin. She wore a matching jacket and skirt that she later referred to as an “adorable-two-piece”. I wanted to remind her that most of the time suits came in two pieces and it didn’t make them any more adorable, but chose to let it slide. I stood across the bar wearing stained black jeans and a self-conscious smile that said ‘I wish I’d remembered to put mascara on’.

“Charlie! “ She said as I crossed the bar, “How are you? How are things, how you been? What are you doing?”
I wanted to let her go on, just to see how many ways one could ask how another is, but her mouth suddenly stretched into a wide toothy smile, eagerly awaiting to eat my reply.
I explained to her that, yes, I was good. That I had been good, and that things of all varieties were going good, good, good.
“I’m so sorry, I must look awful” she said, leaving a strategic gap for me to reproach her, “I just came from work. Didn’t have time to get changed, still high-heeled and everything, I’m just so busy at the moment.” she sighed self satisfactorily.

About an hour and several strong drinks later, I had discovered that she now worked in an office of some sort where they did some kind of things to do with books. She went to work every day, at the same time, and had ‘excellent options for advancement’. Her work desk had a Mac on it, the work kitchen had biscuits in it, and her work boss would occasionally bring a mocha-latte to her desk. All these things seemed to make her very happy and made me very confused.

‘So, do you have your own office” I asked. “Is it like in Boston Legal with the glassy windows or like in Mad Men where it’s mostly teak?”

She explained to me that she did not work in an office, but rather ‘created ideas in an open-plan life-space‘, a farce that I quickly reduced in my mind to ‘a room with many little desks in it’ or an office equivalent of a free-range chicken shed. Just enough to move your legs, but not nearly enough freedom to realise the possibility of escape.

The rest of the evening continued in a similar fashion; she discussed work while my mind wandered envisioning a brood of office workers mulling around seed buckets and scratching up the carpet. Drinks were finished, conversations petered out, and it came time to leave. She threw her card over to the bartender to pay for the tab while I feebly offered over a large portion of my centrelink money from my wallet. She looked down at my handful gold coins, contorted her face into smiling pity and told me this one was on her.

Later that night, while the alcohol marinated my brain for the coming hangover, I thought about Melanie. I thought about her suit, about her heels, that way she could afford someone to cut and style her hair, and about the way she could wake up five days a week with at least some sense of purpose.
I wanted that purpose and the extra cash that came with it would be a welcome extra. I thought about it some more as I walked to the bottle shop, I thought about it again while I sat in the lounge and got sauced with my housemate Reece, and I thought about it as I lay in the tub in the early hours of the morning and drifted to sleep.

By dawn it was settled. I was going on holiday. I was going to get a job.

The Hipster within and the Tight Pants Without.

I sit and re-adjust my glasses, pushing them hard against the ridge of my nose. That’s right, I think, I wear glasses. I have less than twenty-twenty vision. I choose thick frames because I want to be socially subversive. I now eat felafels, I now drink red wine and now these are my people. My Imaginary hands stretch out across the back yard like Moses parting the seas. I imagine addressing the group of people sitting around the backyard fire pit, their eyes glittering up at me with adoration.

Their glasses are filled with whiskey and their mouths with rattling tongues that click and prattle out against the night air. I am perched on the edge of a hard plastic chair, clicking my own tongue with the beat, but, unlike my fantasies I never actually take central stage. Truth be told I never even stick my head out from behind the wings, but merely nod my head in silent encouragement.

Regardless of my input, or lack thereof, I still can call these people ‘my people’- glasses wearing, tight-black-jeans-scooting, pouting, highly educated, pretendy Hipsters. Why be here and not at the pub? You may ask. It’s because I just escaped the pubs back home, and why was I escaping the pubs back home? Because I thought I wanted to be here . A few days after arriving in my new home I realised that for many people living in inner-city society makes people feel better than everyone else mainly because they can name a few Russian writers and construct an argument for or against consumerism at the drop of an expensive hat. That is, most of them but me. I fear I shall never be more than a mild percussion to their wild tongue music. Not because I don’t want to join in, but purely because I generally have no idea what they’re talking about.

“I’m just saying…” the Head of the Hipsters, Sandi, states while refilling her glass “people can only register injustices from their base conceptions of morality, which is derived from their theoretical conceptions of Holocaust.”
Other people’s mouths open and shut like fish blowing bubbles, all clicking and pouting. Disapproval and approvals fly across the fire pit. I wish so deeply to say something, anything, but all I can muster is and quiet and formal “Indeed” while the corner of my mouth curls in struggle against saying “Why are we talking about this again? Don’t we live in Melbourne? And how on earth is the holocaust involved when I stuff extra miscalculated change back into my purse?”

Think. Faster. I tell myself. This is sink or swim. And I am in the middle of the sink or swim sea- a place where if you swim in the right clothes, with the right toot to your whistle you’ll get picked up soon enough and taken to some exotic island where sex and acceptance roam free. Tootle the wrong tune on your rescue whistle while wearing a God-awful yellow puffy suit and the current will drag you back to whatever country town you came from. A town where you will most likely be forced to marry you cousin and shear sheep until you die from watching Neighbours repeats.

A quick sip of my drink and a deep lean back in my chair and I can regain concentration. Yes indeed, I whisper to myself, I am a glasses wearing, card-carrying citizen of inner Melbourne. I push the frames up again. Then I nod, nod like I’ve never nodded before. Well, I mean, I still technically nod with my head, something I did even when I still lived in the country, but now I am nodding like I mean it. I nod, like it’s MY theoretical conviction showing. Like I am the one doing the “Post-post-Modernism” inspired doctorate and not just selling bagels to strangers. I nod like I went to a private school, nod like I am very deep and not at all lost or bored by the conversation.

They continue jibbering and jabbering. Their sharp tongues flick off their teeth like flint. Sparks fly, faces blush with indignation and alcohol, a boy name Jonathan rolls a cigarette and puffs gray clouds into our faces. These people, my people, are happy to sit around on a Saturday night listening to Janis Joplin and talking about “double shot black Ethiopian blends” for hours. If Janis were here I don’t think she would say anything like that. If Janis were here she’d probably ask where the closest bathroom was then spend the rest of the night talking about the exquisiteness of a particular butter holder or the colour lilac. Maybe if she was here, instead of simply wafting through Jonathan’s speakers, we could talk about how small towns are better from a distance and I could tell her that taking heroin alone in a hotel room is a bad idea.

After thinking about Janis for a while accompanied by the clicking of my new friends’ tongues I begin to vague further and further out. Did I take my clothes out of the dryer? Did I forget to buy milk? If I don’t have any milk, I can’t make porridge tomorrow. Can you make porridge without milk? With only water? Would you even want to make porridge with water? Wouldn’t it just be wet oats? Wet flat cold oat-y bits? Oh fuck that. I’ll just have toast.

Just as I realise that toast is my best option I also realise the noise has settled. The back yard has collapsed into silence and everyone is looking at me. Was I thinking out loud? No, they’re looking because Sandi has asked me a question. Oh for fuck’s sake.

“So, Charlie, Char-lees, CHAR-lis-a. How do you like the city?’
“Good.”
“Better than the country.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“That wasn’t a question”
“Oh…”
“I mean it’s not like it really requires an answer. You can take that and use my rhetoric for free. An answerless question, a questionless answer. It’s beautiful actually, when you think about what rhetoric is… beautiful”

Oh my Lord. I think that may be the dumbest fucking thing I have ever heard.

“Yeah, Err, beautiful…Indeed” I say. And then I nod.
“No really Charlise, we need your help us settle a little argument, will you?” Sandi winks at a boy sitting next to a large fern, he smirks back at her flirtatiously, which makes Sandi giggle. These people, my people, are supposed to be in their mid-twenties, but they look like drunken fifteen year olds who nicked their parents smokes. Sandi returns her gaze to me, pouts seriously before asking “Do you think people register injustices from their theoretical conceptions of Holocaust?”

I can’t believe she is still talking about this? It sounds like something she read in a book once and had tattooed on the back of her hand in case she ever wanted to intimidate someone at a party. I nod slowly while I think of an answer that doesn’t begin with, “I don’t really know…”

“Well” I begin, “It was pretty much the worst thing that’s ever happened, so many people died. I don’t think there have ever been so many deaths ever before….”
“Are you sure about that?” A man with tight black jeans asks from the back of his throat.
“Well, No, I’m not entirely sure, history is not my strong point. I’m pretty crap at history actually.”
Silence.
Janis has stopped singing as the CD needs changing. I don’t even have her to back me up.
“Well, I meant to say” I continue frantically, “ I know some… most… history. Who doesn’t. I mean, everyone knows that not so many things have died since… since…the dinosaurs. I mean, they all died. A whole planet of them, so maybe our injustices theoretical conceptions may have to do with that…too?”

They look at me as if to say that is that is the dumbest fucking thing they have ever heard.
I can’t help but nod my head in silent agreement.Perhaps I just have dinosaurs on the brain since re-watching Jurassic Park last night. It was a good movie, but not worth its weight in embarrassment.

They give each other a look over their whiskey glasses and I wish I never came to this stupid party, never came to stupid Melbourne, or could have had enough sense to turn up two hours late when they were all drunk enough not to notice me speak, or blame all of humanities moral corruptions on Dinosaurs. The silence is hanging over the backyard menacingly, the fire crackles, people silently sip their drinks and catch glances with one another. I realise I have only a few seconds left to get things right. To refuse to sink.

I push up my glasses. My glasses, that match My black jeans, and My stupid glass of whiskey. A stupid glass of straight up whiskey that I drink with MY new people. When I am comfortable I can band together my own raft and hold Sandi’s head under the swell with my foot. But not now. Now I must swim.

I throw back the remains of my glass and place it on the table next to me with devil-may-care abandon.
“I meant to say” I say casting a glance at Sandi, “Any answer I give will be all rhetoric won’t it? You know when you look up the definition of RHETORIC like you were saying before. How it’s using the art or study of using language effectively and persuasively. I mean, I could just have easily said dinosaur or holocaust, and it all come down to rhetoric doesn’t it. It’s like speech or discourse that pretends to significance but lacks true meaning… it’s beautiful really. Beautiful… when you know how to look a word up and use it in social situations.”

Sandi blushes lightly, and then nods slowly. The conversation is again awakened in all corners of the garden leaving me to sit happily pushing my glasses up and down my face. I pour myself another drink, hold it just so and nod like it means something, except this time I start to think it actually does.

****

This story is dedicated to My own dearest Saints of 120, who have always had all the ” Hip” with none of the “-Ster.”

Happy Turtles to All and to All a Good Night.

She stood on a train platform, and when I say she, I mean I, and I mean I the way most people wish they could say she when they mean I. So, she, which is and isn’t I, stood at the platform frantically swearing at a train as it moved out from the station. Damn the train and its tracks and every ugly person who got on board, she thought, though the truth was not that all the people were ugly (though some of them were) but rather that they were on the train. Being on the train while she was on the platform seemed enough to make them all ugly and undeserving.

Fuck, she said aloud, then fuck again, and again, it whispered with the tapping echo of the sole of her shoe against the bitumen. It was cold, she had forgotten her jacket, and asides from several handfuls of almonds, she had not eaten. Almonds are not a meal, she said to herself, then she said fuck again, just for good measure.

Twenty minutes until the next train made the people inside the last one even uglier. She sat down on the cold ground, as all the seats were taken. A man cried out from further down the platform. “You fucking bitch”. She looked at her feet and pretended not to hear him. “I said you fucking bitch, come here!” Again her eyes stared down at her shoes as if they were trying to burrow down to her little pinkies.

“You bitch, listen to me when I am talking to you, the fucking nerve, Hey BITCH”. His steps grew closer. She began to wonder what she had done. She hadn’t sworn so loudly to have been heard by anyone before, let alone a man on the farthest side of the platform. Pondering again she realised she hadn’t knocked, hit, stamped, stolen from or offended any one in any particular way recently. Perhaps he was not talking to her after all. Looking up, he most certainly was. he also seemed drunk and was wearing scary pants- the ones with the long line down each leg, the kind that say either ” I haven’t eaten carbs in a month” or “Imafuckyouup” – depending what suburb you’re standing in at them time. Looking at his patchy beard and slack-jawed taunts she guessed he was part of the later group.

Staring at her shoe, she ignored him until his shadow fell over her. “I said, HEY BITCH…” She wished she could have stood up and said something grand, or pulled a glove from her pocket and slapped him hard with it across the face, or even said in a proud voice “yes, good sir, what is it that you want?” But instead she relied on her instincts, and when it comes down to it, instincts can be very silly things.

“Happy Turtle,” she said with her hands, “happy turtle, Confident turtle. We all applaud the confident turtle.” The only thing she could say in sign language. She said it again and again and again. “What the fuck are you doing” the man spat. She was not proud, but knew what she had to do next. She pushed her tongue to the roof of her mouth, pushed as hard as she could, and spoke: “I’m deaf- Soh-ary”.

“Fuck” the man said, wobbling slightly as he started at her false confession. It seems that even assholes have their limits, who knows, maybe his mother was deaf. The girl returned her gaze to the shoes and continued waiting for the train as the man stumbled down the station ramp, swearing at strangers. Happy turtle indeed, she thought as the next train load of passengers, beautiful ones this time, pulled up at the station.

Move Me…

There are not enough drugs in the world to make me excited about moving house. I could put all the white powder in Columbia up my nose and I would still be sitting on the edge of my futon bed, head between my knees, and pleading with myself: Please no, not again. Not another week in packing, stacking, shifting and lifting- lifting being my least favourite, as from the last three years of begging for rooms on my knees I can only now only lift with my back.

My new housemate doesn’t know that I am leaving yet. He has been locked in his room for three days and I’m starting to get nervous. No, not nervous; being nervous would suggest the possibility of a positive outcome, but when a housemate has begun slipping origami versions of you under your door at night it’s impossible to be positive. Sometimes the origami dolls will be wearing little origami dresses and sometimes little origami bondage costumes, but they always have “Kate” written on the back and “loves Kevin” written underneath. So no, I’m not nervous, I’m plain scared. I start pushing things into boxes again with no regard to categories; I want this to be quick so that I’ll be ready tomorrow to go stay with my sister, only for a few weeks until I can find another place.

“You’re moving again?” My sister said to me when I asked if I could stay. “Just smack a God-damn lock on your door and let him make all the little people he wants.”

I did feel bad about moving again, but I knew a lock wouldn’t solve it, God knows with Kevin’s paper crafting skills he could make his own key. Anyway, who really cares if this is my third house this year. It could be worse, it could be a third yeast infection, a third gangrenous limb, in fact there are plenty of things that are much worse to do in multiples.

I’ll start moving tomorrow at dawn. Kevin usually doesn’t wake up until midday,  so that should give me enough time. It would be easier and quicker to shift with movers or friends, but tomorrow I’ll be going it alone. Movers are too expensive and sadly my friends have all given up.  Last week when we were out to dinner I asked who wanted to help and explained the ‘little Kate dolls situation’ but they just stared across the table, accosting me with disappointed looks usually reserved for sex offenders or rehab drop-outs.

“Come on. I swear this time I am going to make it work. This time will be the last.”
They clamoured to make excuses about their mothers or dentist appointments and I excused myself to the bathroom only to hear little whispers behind me saying “Moving again?” and “I swear to God, she needs to make friends with actual movers.”  I wanted to be angry but I can see their point; there are only so many times you can get your friends to carry beds for you and by my approximation that number is about ten.

As someone who previously thought Sartre was a type of car, the closest I’ve come grasping the dizzying lows of existentialism is through box packing exercises. The existential crisis brought on mainly by the fact my entire university career fits into a hard drive, a USB stick and a box that used to house bananas. That’s right; my university career has the same square inch value as a box of twenty-four Lady Finger bananas; the realisation makes me weep.

It’s not only the bananas that make me feel insignificant. They say people feel small when they look at the stars, but I can stare at them until my eyes dry up and feel nothing but a vague discomfort not unlike conjunctivitis. I know that they’re billions of little suns with little solar systems surrounding them each, each with aliens that could explode us into oblivion any second. And sure, looking up into the never-ending abyss makes some people consider their utter insignificance. But personally I just don’t care. It is nothing compared to the insignificance I feel knowing my entire life, asides from a bed and an arm-chair, fits into a tiny 2000 model Hyundai Excel. By the time everything is loaded in and I too get into the car I can’t help but feel I have finished the final round in life Tetris, that there is nothing left to do but explode into a glittery mess, write my name on the high scorers list, and check out.

I hear a loud scrunching noise come from Kevin’s room and am worried that he too can hear me. I wonder if he can tell the difference between general noises and packing noises. I saw in a documentary once that when people go blind they get super-powered hearing and although Kevin isn’t blind his complete lack of people skills are comparable to such a disability. Perhaps he knows I’m about to skip out on him or maybe I’m being paranoid and he’s happily sitting in his room folding a life-sized Kate piñata.

I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. Kevin seemed a bit off kilter with his bug eyes and slight twitch but he didn’t seem dangerous. Then again he could have been stroking a rifle at the interview and I wouldn’t have noticed because the house was so beautiful. It’s a large double storied terrace with a green roof and ivy creeping up along the bricks. The room was huge, the rent was cheap and best of all the food was kept in jars. To some this may not seem a great incentive, but as my pervious house taught me, such a thing was truly to be worshiped.

My old house was a small, dirty flat where food seemed to be kept wherever it fell; on tables, in between couch cushions, under blankets but never in canisters or on shelves. It was not unusual for my old housemate, a 45-year-old man named Martin, to walk out into the lounge in his underpants and ask whether I’d seen a piece of food that he had been eating and  had ‘lost’ somewhere. This is a problem that simultaneously astounds and disgusts me. Sure people can lose a shoe or their keys, that’s normal, but to lose food on a regular basis asks some pretty serious questions. Questions like “why were you eating Cheese-In-A-Can in the shower” or “what makes you think the thirty-second rule can be extended to thirty days”’

On one occasion he had lost half an unwrapped Picnic bar and wobbled tummy first into the lounge to get help finding it.
“Do you mean the half-eaten, starting to melt, going a bit white, spent two days fusing to my Pride and Prejudice DVD, chocolate bar?” I’d say.
He gave me as look as if to say, well yes, that is exactly the one I was looking for.
“It was on the telly…” His eyes lit up like a squirrel who’d found his nut, but were soon extinguished as, in the same breath, I also announced that it had been binned. Rather than accept his loss he sadly tottered to the kitchen to see if it was salvageable.
I spent two months in that house thinking that although he was round and dirty he wasn’t really such a bad sort. That was until I found half a sandwich left on a pile of books next to the toilet, which I found again the next morning, with another bite taken out. It was then I knew I had to move out before I found myself drowning the filth weasel in a bucket of bleach, stuck in a trance like Lady Macbeth saying “A little water will rid of us this deed”.

The week after the toilet-sandwich incident I found Kevin’s ad in the local paper and arranged an interview, though in truth my expectation and requirements from a new housemate were low. I would have just as easily moved in with Charlie Manson if he were sedated and had a nice view of the city. Moving share houses in a hurry is a lot like changing boyfriends: you don’t always have to trade up to feel good, but can trade sideways and still get the same level of satisfaction. They didn’t have be great, they just had to not be the last one. There had been three in the last twelve months: Kylie-move-her-Mum-into-the-lounge-Simmons, Ellen-loud-sex-eat-all-my-food-Smith, and of course Martin-toilet-sandwich-filth-weasel-McGregor. As long as this Kevin fellow was just a little better than them I would consider myself lucky.

The interview was set for a Saturday night. I arrived on time and in the romantic light of dusk I fell in love. I wanted to kiss the green painted door and stroke the ivy, and as I waited for him to let me in I whispered to the elegant silver knocker and the mosaic decorated pots “You will be mine”.

Inside Kevin sat on a couch opposite me with a clipboard and a pen. He wore a black t-shirt that would have better fitted a bean bag than his tiny body. He said he was twenty-five and in the face he was probably right, but everything else made him look like a fifteen year old boy.

“Rent’s only two-hundred a month with no bond as the Paper factory down the road owns the place and it’ll stay cheap so long as we fix whatever breaks ourselves, got it?” He spoke like a school-master crossed with a Playboy Bunny; strict but abnormally shrill. “First question” he continued “What makes you think that you’ll keep a room suitably?”

Suitably? Wasn’t everyone suitable to ‘keep’ a room? Wasn’t that everyone’s job to collect things and put them between four walls then sleep amongst it? If he didn’t give me the room or indeed if nobody would I would have to resort to a supermarket trolley, or a shop alcove, which at only having three walls put me at risk of having my things stolen. He looked at me seriously, nodded and appeared to jot down my answers saying ‘walls…not alcove’, afterwards reporting that my answer had resulted in a negative mark. The house shimmered with its polished floorboards, high ceilings, and deliciously big windows. I started mentally redecorating; I would move the computers from the kitchen table, put some flowers there, change the curtains, put Kevin in his room, and the place would be perfect. Losing any more marks was not an option.

I answered quickly and seriously; yes, I had a job. No, I didn’t have a pet. Yes, I paid bills on time and yes, I was very happy with a Microsoft Excel formatted cleaning roster. He asked if I had any hobbies to which I said I enjoyed fly-fishing, computer science, origami and whatever other book titles I could see on the shelf behind him. Who cares if I didn’t like these things as long as he did, and he seemed to as his hand went about making big ticks on his sheet. The interview ended and he showed me out the long, freshly painted hallway saying I had scored well and would be contacted should my application be successful.

A week after I moved in Kevin stopped talking to me, any verbal contact seemingly substituted with a weird moaning noise that arose from his room nightly. I got neither the chance to move his computers or change the curtains and any flowers I put around were quickly disposed off; the empty vases filled with post-it notes saying “flowers give me anxiety”. Regardless of his madness I was determined to stay. The house spoke straight into my heart saying that one day I could put out fresh pitchers of lemonade and sunbake on the lawn, that  it would possible and all I had to do was  never surrender, that perhaps Kevin could be kidnapped on the way home one day and the place would then be mine. I thought I would never surrender until the dolls, those creepy mini-me origami dolls, began arriving under my door. Only now, three months later, now that the dolls have sprouted whips and mouth-gags, I am ready to give up the dream and run the fuck away.

Kevin’s bedroom door slams and I can hear his feet dragging closer to my door. This is it. He’s bringing his huge piñata-Kate and is going to kill me with it. I’ll be bludgeoned by a man that doesn’t know how to make toast.
My door swings open and he stands in silence, his eyes bugging out and his mouth pursed ready to speak.

“My Mother… My mother…” I half expected him to say he killed her and and that I’d have to start climbing out the window to escape, yet with a strange morbid interest I stayed on.

“She’s been in an accident, her legs are broke and I’m moving back to Sydney to look after her. If you want you can stay on the lease.”

Accident?! Broken legs!? Fatastic!!

I didn’t know this broken-legged Mum, but I wanted to kiss both of her bloodied knees.

Before creeping back to his hollow Kevin turns to ask “ What’s the deal with all these boxes in your room, not going somewhere are you?”

“Oh these?” I smile, “they’re  nothing, just keeping things safe, paper dolls and such.” I shoot him a sharp look and he slithers back into the hallway, leaving me victoriously whispering to the walls ‘You are all mine’.

Avatar- How the Frick Did He Do It?

A Short Discussion on the Power of Popular Narrative Arcs to Make Billions and Billion of Dollars.

I know that I promised to be writing my own stories on the blog, but when a bee gets in my bonnet, especially a big, billion-dollar blue bee, discussions must be had… Here is Charlie’s take on the how Avatar took over the world.

Not since James Cameron dropped DiCaprio into the sea have film goers been so drawn to the cinema or have been so keen to reach deep into their wallet again and again for tickets. Considering that Avatar is a film that on first appearances looks like sexed-up, blue version of the 1992 children’s animation FernGully, its success may astound the several people in the world who have not been to see it…yet.

The discerning film goer could sit and compare it with FernGully or Dances with Wolves till they are as blue in the face as the Na’vi.

For starters,
It begins with a dashing rogue gentleman who is working for the wrong side.
…Then this man tosses aside his prejudices and gradually learns to love some natives.
…The he is forced to fight for what he believes in and turns his back on his old ways and people,
…And then it is all tied off nicely as the hero earns their respect of almost everyone and earns the love of one lady in particular.

Indeed, the similarities are so striking that one may find themselves asking as they walk from the cinemas “where was Two-socks?” or “where were the small fairy people?” It’s easy to become confused when you’ve seen it all before: same plot, same characters. Even the beautiful Neytiri could be Pocahontas spray painted blue with a tail. However, it is important to note that although these similarities may make the viewer feel played, they are simply part of a well know narrative arc doing what it’s designed to do—pull at our heart and  purse strings

Some people have tried to argue that the popularity of Avatar has less to do with the plot and more to do with the 3-D effects. To that I must say, Piffle. Even though computer generated images have advanced in leaps and bounds, 3-D films have existed in basic forms since the 1890’s, and have even experienced heydays as early as the 1950s and 1980s in American. Sure, the technology is much better now and can produce scenes so real your stomach turns, but is that alone enough to make Avatar the top earning movie of all time? Surely not. If it was the 3-D that was drawing viewers in, they could probably just go outside and wander around in a rainforest with the same excitement. No, the money is truly in the mastery of the hero narrative.

Mr. Cameron has employed some of the most delicious elements of hero’s journey narrative to draw the audiences in. There’s the Call to Adventure, the Meeting of the Goddess and the Refusal of Return. The hero takes refuge in his new found world after battling for what is right and can live out his days with his new found Goddess. Sure it’s nothing new, but it’s been driving crowds wild since the Greeks were doing in amphitheaters with togas.

Secondly, Cameron then combined the powerful story arc with the best character archetypes history could proved, and by George it worked. It’s practically impossible not to sympathise with the hero at the beginning of the film—he  had lost his brother, his hopes for the future and even his legs. If Cameron was to throw him in a cupboard under the stairs he’d have the kind of protagonist viewers would start pledging their money too. Then, on top of the protagonist being a silently suffering, handsome guy, he is also someone the viewer can empathise with as he is thrown into fantastic circumstances. This point is rather important: Take away the aliens and the space ships and the hero is just an average guy with some very strange luck- he didn’t work for his whole life to use an avatar or be a scientist, it just happened. This is a very crafty device that makes the viewer’s mind tingling as they start to believe “oh my lord- .this could be me!” Once the viewer thinks this, you’ve got them trapped- they need him to succeed, not just because they like him but because in other circumstances they could be him.

Top this all off by contrasting the hero with some killer antagonists— serious environmental, corporate, war mongering baddies— and even the most shrewd movie-goer will struggle not to be manipulated. Especially if the viewer has enough insight to see himself in the baddies as well- I’m thinking of millions of examples but in particular the treatment of indigenous Australians or alternatively the treatment of native Americans. Yes, movie-goers can relate and we’re all feeling a tad guilty. Don’t worry though- the film’s denouement will fix that bad feeling all up.

All this being said, don’t feel bad about Cameron’s control over you. Thousands of years of narrative arc development have ensured your enjoyment.

Charlie.

Don’t shoot…

Dear You,

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t shoot me even though I am starting a blog, something which some may consider to be a shoot-worthy offence.

1. I am small and probably a difficult target.
2. You probably don’t own a gun and switching to blunt objects can be tiresome and time consuming.
3. There are hopefully worse writers and worse bloggers than me that will deserve your violent attention- people who document their bowel movements or the growth of their cats with pie charts- go after them, maybe even Charlie will help you.
4. You might actually grow to enjoy meandering through my weekly stories.
5. And finally, I shall never sneakily attempt to change your religion, political group, reading club, sexuality or gender. Though if I am able to convince you to change your gender simply by reading my work, then many future kudos to me and your new life as a man/woman.

Yours,

Charlie