Saturday, September 24, 2005

Awake is the New Sleep

Now that the organisation of my week is the same as the majority of the population—that is, 9-5 Monday to Friday with Saturday and Sunday off—today was the beginning of my weekend and therefore all the justification I needed to sleep in as long as I wanted to. I still plan to work this weekend, because I have 100 essays to mark, as well as a crash course of reading into the Creative Industries for my RA work. There is, however, something very fulfilling about rolling over and looking at the bedside clock, noting it’s after 9am, and being able to roll back over and close your eyes, without a care in the world. It isn’t as though I slept excessively, since I was awake until around 1am engaged in my usual occupation of self-doubt, which went something like this: ‘I haven’t read Richard Florida, even though I went to see him when he spoke in Brisbane and even bought The Rise of the Creative Class; what am I doing being an RA on a Creative Industries project? ...’ So then I got out of bed and read Terry Cutler’s Foreword, Florida’s Preface and started reading the first chapter. I also put some Clary Sage essential oil on the light bulb ring for its purported effect to relieve ‘nervous tension, stress ... and mild anxiety’. Is it a coincidence that almost every essential oil I own has this on the label? Anyway, the Clary Sage seemed to work because the reading was reassuringly comprehensible and my mind stopped churning over enough so I could have an uninterrupted rest.

After I got up, I watched the episode of the BBC series Spooks that I taped last night. It was the last in the series, which I wish ran longer. As one of the recent spy dramas that have been produced in the last few years from those countries in the so-called Coalition of the Willing, it does a better job of problematising the human toll of the War on Terror than other efforts. The MI5 officers are shown as experiencing genuine moral uncertainty, or, in the case of Adam (Rupert Penry-Jones), somewhat alarming moral certitude; and lives on both sides are irrevocably ruined because of the business they are engaged in. I still like 24 and Alias for the sheer thrill of their pace and, of course, their production values, but they both get a little ridiculous. I’m not sure why the CIA/APO on Alias are fighting terrorists from the old Eastern bloc countries. Perhaps so no contemporary comparisons can be inferred? But the evil-doers aren’t even Baader-Meinhof types, fuelled by youthful idealism and intent on ending the scourge of Capitalism. No, they’re all megalomaniacs in the mould of Dr No. who threaten to poison water and air supplies in order to accumulate personal wealth and power. I guess the main attraction for me in this show is seeing Sydney (Jennfier Garner) and Vaughan (Michael Vartan) defy death and state-of-the-art security systems on missions in exotic locations (which demand the use of yellow gels), wearing elaborate disguises and speaking with sexy Russian accents. 24 is far less glamorous and its enemies are contemporary—religious fundamentalist terrorists of middle-Eastern origins—but the binary oppositions it invokes are tedious. The only internal struggle Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) has ever had is with drug addiction and it certainly didn’t impinge on his ability to seek out and destroy any threat to North America from those who would apparently go so far as to kill their children for their cause. (Please don’t mention that Secretary Heller had his own son tortured: it was for a better cause. And besides he was obviously one of those small ‘l’ liberal types. The long hair gave it away. La la la! Can’t hear you!)

After the drama of Spooks, I worked up enough lather from the remaining few chips of soap to sustain one last shower, which meant that I had to go to the Perfect Potion for supplies. Such a hardship. Oh, place of anxiety reducing potions. I’m partial to the Pure Rose Bar; it always makes me feel that I’m getting something special for a bargain. Rose Absolute in essential oil form costs about $AU400 for a ridiculously small amount (5ml?), so getting that smell and the benefits of the oil in a relatively much cheaper vegetable soap feels like winning a prize every time I shower. When I walked into the shop, I noticed they had a new product: Vanilla and Coconut Double Cream Body Moisturiser. If just hearing the name makes your taste buds water, imagine smelling it. I asked the girl in the shop how one would go about not wanting to ingest it. If there are two favourite flavours that I have in the world, they are vanilla and coconut. It only occurred to me as recently as a couple of years ago that of all the chocolate bars and sweets I like, that coconut was a common ingredient. Cherry Ripes and Bountys and coconut macaroons have always been my first choice. Then there are the joys of coconut cream in Thai cuisine. The vanilla bean is also a relatively recent discovery. I have made custard and ice-cream with the tell-tale black flecks of a vanilla pod, and poached nectarines in vanilla and orange syrup until they attained the most amazing ruby blush. I’ve made my own vanilla sugar to make coffee even more special and I’ve served a rice pudding at a dinner party that I heard about afterwards from people who hadn’t eaten it. Given that vanilla has such a distinctive and pleasure-inducing flavour, I’ve always wondered why the word has been used as an adjective to describe the very opposite in sexual experiences. Clearly whoever first applied the term had only ever consumed generic brand vanilla ice-cream, which does not contain vanilla at all. I hereby announce a campaign to end the maligning of vanilla; by all means use ‘vanilla’ to describe a sexual experience but only if it was out of this world and the thought of it makes your mouth water.

While I was in town, I also got some passport photos taken. Yes! I have reached the age of 36 without travelling overseas—immigrating to Australia from the UK when I was 8 months does not count, I am told. Now is probably the time to reveal that I don’t have a driver’s license either; it’s best to get all of the shocks out at once. From my perspective, the lack of these documents hasn’t been that big a deal, but apparently, to the broader populace, the possession of these forms of identification signifies official adult human being status. Will I have to hold both before I’m admitted as a functioning member? Anyway, I’m applying for an Australian passport—I am also eligible for a British passport—because I might have to travel to a conference for the RA job. It’s not certain that I’ll go, but if it turns out that others aren’t available due to the timing, then of course I want to be able to take the opportunity. The possibility was suggested to me on Friday by Aspro. He dropped by my office... Did I mention I was allocated an office? Aspro said he wanted to go to the conference—since it’s of interest to the proposed research project—but he has family commitments at the moment that make it unfeasible. It was such a strange feeling to be presented with the possibility of international travel for work purposes. It seems to suggest that my employers believe I’m a competent individual. I’m not used to thinking of myself that way, never mind having others—individuals respected in their fields—do so. Aside from lecturing and tutoring positions, I’ve only worked in jobs—up to as recently as February this year—where the underlying assumption is that employees require constant surveillance to ensure they don’t spend too long in the toilet. Now I have senior people dropping by my office, speaking to me as if I really have something to contribute to the task at hand, signing forms to reimburse me for buying books, and requesting my (paid) presence at conferences both here and abroad?! It’s crazy talk. Well, actually, it’s social mobility; I’m moving from the working or service class (depending on who you read) to the knowledge or creative class. It’s still a bit crazy.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


This weekend was very windy in Brisbane; the weather report contained warnings of gusts up to 90km per hour. While I decided to forgo my usual walk up to the supermarket for grocery shopping, catching the bus instead, I did risk doing my washing, figuring if the wind wasn’t good for walking in, it would be good for drying clothes.

One of my neighbours had also decided to do their laundry and the results were strewn across the backyard; towels had been ripped from the Hills Hoist; jeans and skirts hung drunkenly from the tenuous grasps of the pegs that still held; and t-shirts had flipped over, wrapping around the lines in frenzied knots. Even after seeing this carnage, I remained undeterred. The wardrobe situation was at a critical level. I was having to make recourse to the bloomers section of my underwear drawer, the place where those items devoid of functioning elastic lurk.

I overcame the problem of losing my washing to the wind flurries that would steal them over Suncorp Stadium by securing each and every item with between 3 to 5 pegs. Looking at the washing line, it would have been forgivable to think that some strange obsessive-compulsive girl was trying to make contact with another planet (that’s enough from the peanut gallery). I can, however, report only one instance of a singlet, which had done a couple of twirls around the line before hooking its straps over another item’s pegs. The rest of the washing, from socks to sheets, stayed in place and only benefited from the rollicking good shake of the wind and the pure, perfect sunshine that only spring in Brisbane delivers.


After the wind yesterday, today I decided to go for a walk to the local convenience store to get my favourite juice—alas the shop had run out—and saw that the streets were strewn with a multitude of leaves, twigs and small branches. The guy at the local pool was vacuuming up debris in what looked like a reverse leaf-blower. It seemed to me that the trees had finally shaken off the bedraggled and scarred foliage that they had sustained in the hail storm a few months back. That storm had dumped a good five inches of icy pellets on the inner west of Brisbane, and treated us to a vision of a European winter in the Sunshine State. The hail had snap frozen everything in its wake, thereby rendering the greenery freezer damaged in the rapid thaw that followed. As I returned home, I saw that the mango tree on the property next door was sprouting new shoots.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

In VB Veritas

It seems I’ll have to change the job title in my blogger profile. This week I joined the ranks of the gainfully employed. I can no longer indulge in the lamentations of the underemployed, raging against a casualised academic labour market or, in my case, against those phone companies who call all day long wanting me to change my service provider. If it isn’t bad enough that they’ve teased me with the prospect of a life every time the phone rings, they’ve also interrupted the sleep schedule I’d devised!

Beginning this Wednesday just past, I’ve been working as a research assistant for the Associate Professor ( hereafter, Aspro) whom I mentioned in an earlier post. I followed up a lead given to me at a party over a flute or two of Queen Adelaide Champagne (Okay, les vignerons Français, Queen Adelaide Sparkling Wine). I hadn’t heard anything when I went to drinks after an early career researchers seminar I attended. The only seat around a crowded table, when Aspro arrived, was next to me. Over a schooner or two of VB, an offer of employment ensued, and not wanting to count my chickens, I reserved any celebrations until I received an email or a phone call during the working week. So, it appears that the offer was not affected by the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, although I’m not sure whether the moral of the tale, that employment comes to those who drink at parties and pubs, is one that should be encouraged...

I’ll be working on a couple of projects. The first is simply securing publishers’ permissions for Aspro’s forthcoming book. The other is some preliminary research for an ARC grant application Aspro is submitting in conjunction with some colleagues. In total there will be approximately 200 hours work, or 20 hours per week for the next ten weeks. While it’s still fixed-term—very likely, I’ll yet regale you with more stories of underemployment—it will help flesh out my professional profile, which has been wafer thin on the research assistant front.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Birds

When I was fifteen, I did work experience at a vets. It isn’t that I particularly wanted to be a vet; it was probably a case of watching too many episodes of All Creatures Great and Small. At any rate, I should have taken the week off because I felt as sick as the puppies with Parvo Virus I had to sit with to make sure they didn’t pull their drips out. I had the most enormous, disgusting cold sore on my lips and I could barely get any food into my mouth, never mind swallow through the constriction of pain in my throat. Add to these symptoms a bad case of gingivitis complete with bleeding gums and you may not thank me for the mental image I’ve conjured for you.

My mother’s advice was to gargle some aspirin, both as a mouthwash for the gingivitis and as a salve for the general pain I was in. On this occasion, she also suggested that I should watch the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds, screening on television that night. There was a sense of urgency about her suggestion; clearly this was a film worth overcoming illness for. So, there I was with scabby lips, dribbling aspirin and saliva down my chin, watching Tippi Hedren and various children being attacked by birds.

I’ve brought this up, not only because it was a defining film viewing experience (even on a television screen), but because it came to my mind this morning as I was walking to the bus to go to uni for my student consultation hour. I cut through a disused car park on the edges of a business estate to get to the bus stop on C_____ Drive. The last couple of times I’ve done this, I’ve noticed a couple of plovers exhibiting nesting type behaviour in the surrounding grass. On the first occasion, one bird was sitting comfortably, while the other stalked towards me with no regard for its disproportionate size in relation to an adult human female. Today, while one of them sat comfortably, the other was flying around and all the while they were calling to one another.

It’s the flying that makes me uneasy, although a bird with yellow spurs on its shoulders, stalking towards me has no great calming effect either. When I was at high school, we learnt about the Australian Aboriginal legend of the creation of the plover, and while I can’t remember much, I do recall that a young Aboriginal man holding spears to his shoulders was purportedly the origin of the bird. This discussion elicited a number of anecdotes from my fellow class mates who were cool enough to frequent the far reaches of the school oval at lunch time. They told stories of plovers swooping down on them if they got too near during nesting season.

A while ago now, I watched the David Attenborough series, The Life of Birds. On one of the occasions when he spoke about Australian birds, he told of the behaviour of magpies in Brisbane. He showed a woman walking along in a hat and sunglasses, whose gentle stroll was suddenly interrupted by marauding magpies. I’m not sure where they got the footage from—would someone volunteer to be attacked by pecking magpies? It seems a strange thing to have an international profile for; a bit like killer ants in Tasmania (but that’s another documentary). Anyway, clearly the magpies have been training other local bird populations in their tactics. I’m thinking about avoiding cutting through the car park, although taking the footpath actually brings me closer to the plovers. If I walk on the edge of the car park, that might help. But there was a woman there today breaking up bread crusts specifically for the birds.

Is bread good for birds? I had a falling out with a friend over this very question. We were on the deck of an eatery at uni, and she started to give some of her bread to the myna bird that had hopped onto our table. I was shocked that she offered the bird bread for a couple of reasons. First, because feeding them encourages them to hang around food establishments, which brings with it various health issues for humans. I was also surprised because at every zoo or animal park that I’ve ever visited they’ve said not to feed birds bread. I especially remember a sign at Centenary Lakes in Cairns, which warned about the potential harm of excessive bread to pelicans. Ever since then, I’ve imagined birds stomachs filled with soggy bread that causes them to drown or fall from the sky. There’s also the problem of the birds becoming so familiar with humans that they lose their survival instincts. M_____ argued against this last point, saying that birds in urban areas were inevitably familiar with humans. (Should I tell you about the time I was waiting for a bus in the city, when I saw this woman grab a pigeon and stuff it into her bag? Well, that’s pretty much it, but I thought I was hallucinating. Was it turned into lice-infested pigeon broth? Ewww!) Anyway, perhaps I expressed myself a little too abruptly, and for that I was sorry, but on the issue of feeding birds bread, I remain unmoved. I worry about the ibis I see on campus. They have long elegant beaks, designed for dipping into the burrows of subterranean creatures and instead they use them to flick up discarded chips, cold and congealed with the animal fat they were fried in, and over-processed hamburger buns saturated in tomato sauce.

I resisted telling the bread woman off, and made a mental note to exercise precautions when passing through plover territory. I’m hopeful that I won’t have to stop going that way entirely, unlike the stretch of H____ Street between R____ H____ and P______, where I was dive bombed by magpies on my way back home from the doctor’s. There is no easy alternative to the skinny path down the hill. I had to run down it like a mad woman, screaming at it to go away and flailing my arms in the air to stop the magpie from drawing blood, which it was intent on doing. Then there was the time when I was afraid to hang out my washing because a family of myna birds took to telling me off and smacking me up the side of the head with their beaks... Help.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Chocolate Fish

Johnny Depp has come a long way since his 21 Jump Street days. If I remember correctly, the programme’s premise was rather flimsy: a handful of recently enlisted police were singled out for undercover operations. The chief criteria for recruitment to the secret taskforce seemed to be youth. The recruits had to be able to pass as high school students to infiltrate pubescent drug rings. The team that was formed was a veritable United Nations of law enforcement. Aside from Johnny Depp, there was an African American woman, whose name I can’t recall, and Dustin Ngyuen. They were lead by an African American man, who later played Fox Mulder’s government contact in The X-Files. There must have been someone else; four people does not a taskforce make. They conducted their work from a secret location, the impression of which remains in my memory as a brick warehouse, with high ceilings, more akin to a nightclub than the base of exceptional detectives. The operation was always under threat of being closed down at the provocation of the renegade behaviour of Depp’s character and the political whim of whoever controlled the budget.

Of course, like everybody else, I had a crush on Johnny Depp, but I also remember watching him and having this revelation that he could also act. The particular moment in which I had this epiphany was in the episode where his character’s girlfriend was shot and killed in a convenience store hold up. In the series, Depp’s character had been contemplating breaking up with his girlfriend out of sheer indifference to her. When the girlfriend was shot, Depp’s character was at the back of the shop, getting milk from the fridge. He saw the gunman and just froze. The arc of the episode involved Depp’s character torturing himself with what he could have done in the seven seconds between his sighting of the gunman and the shot that ended his girlfriend’s life. One of the things he discovered was that it was possible to undress and dress again, including tying his shoelaces. Depp’s character practised this feat over and over again, reducing the time on each occasion. Add to this obsessive behaviour the guilt of not loving his girlfriend... well, it made for quite intense television.

Twenty years later, I still appreciate Depp on both levels. I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last weekend and Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka as an eccentric entrepreneur with a palpable dislike of children is riveting. Now, whoever designed Wonka’s teeth deserves much kudos; they contribute so much to the character, and Depp uses them to great effect. Aside from that perfect overbite (I couldn’t help but think of Tom Cruise), there are a couple of other moments worth mentioning: when Willy Wonka answers one of the children’s offer to supply him with their names, he raises his eyebrows and counters, ‘I can’t think what difference it would make’; and the moment when Veruca Salt disappears down the bad nut disposal chute and Wonka encourages her father to rescue her, the way Depp opens the gate is replete with meaning. (I loved the squirrels, too.)

So, we know that Johnny Depp has been the most successful graduate of the 21 Jump Street alma mater, and I’ve mentioned that the agents’ boss resurfaced on The X-Files every time Mulder put a masking tape X in his window, but what of the others?

Today I saw Little Fish. I was sitting there looking at the character of Johnny Ngyuen, thinking he looked familiar. I thought he looked like the Vietnamese guy from 21 Jump Street, but dismissed the idea; what would he be doing in an Australian film? I must have seen him on some Aussie soap. On the way out of the cinema, I picked up a brochure for the film. I often like to read the publicity after I’ve seen a film to see if it matches my impression of it. I don’t like to read all that five star hyperbole before going in because you’re just set up to be disappointed. As well, I find it fascinating to see, in the publicity brochures, what films they list in brackets behind the actors’ names as instances of their noteworthy performances. In this instance the question is begged, why is Hugo Weaving’s filmography reduced to The Matrix? It’s an Australian brochure promoting an Australian film to an Australian audience; we know his work outside of offshore Hollywood projects (!); at least mention Proof. Anyway, reading through the brochure, I discovered that my memory of 21 Jump Street was not limited to Johnny Depp; the Johnny in Little Fish was played by Dustin Ngyuen of that long ago television series. I’m sure he’s been in much better things in the intervening years than the brochure cared to divulge, especially if his appearance in Little Fish is any indication.

If you haven’t seen Little Fish yet, it’s important to know that there will be no Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ending. The brochure cites reviews of the film that describe it as ‘real’, ‘excruciatingly honest’ and ‘frighteningly accurate’. I’ve always hated the use of words like ‘real’ and ‘truth’, because they do nothing to prepare anyone for the experience of watching a film that doesn’t follow a classical Hollywood narrative structure. Whatever your conception of reality is, it is better to know that the film depicts the struggle of Tracy, played by Cate Blanchett, to get a loan so she can become a partner in the business where she is a manager. The trouble is she was a drug addict and has a credit history which involves fraudulent practices. Even though she has been clean for four years she is refused the loan by various financial institutions on the basis of her former life. The limits of Tracy’s prospects are developed in the cinematography; the depth of focus is shallow throughout, trapping the protagonist in a world which is defined entirely through her current relationships with people who are from her past. Dustin Ngyuen plays Johnny, Tracy’s former boyfriend, who disappeared to Canada over five years ago without bothering to say good-bye. His reappearance is both a complication, since he shared her drug addiction, and a pleasure, because she hasn’t exorcised him from her heart.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Oh, Oh Pressure!

It’s a matter of concern to me that I haven’t posted here in a week. Starting a blog was, for me, a commitment to writing regularly, to doing something substantial with the over-production of thoughts during this period of under-employment. Even if no one else had expectations of me in this forum—I may have no readers—I was determined that the public nature of the blog would exert a disciplinary force upon the structure of my daily life. I’d accepted that I wouldn’t post anything on Mondays or Tuesdays; these are the days I tutor in film and television. Those two days were to be the blog weekend. What I didn’t count on was the extent to which I would become at one with under-employment.

Initially, I panicked about the lack of job offers this semester. While five tutorials would normally be too much work while completing a research higher degree and receiving scholarship money, with no other source of income, it is lamentably little. Further, the amount of time in a week that five tutorials consumes is also quite small if there is no other employment, paid or not. A measure of calm ensued after I worked out that I could live on the tutoring and marking income, in combination with my savings, until early next year, by which time I have plans to be receiving a scholarship (At this stage I will not contemplate an alternative. No.) Still, the self-doubt precipitated by the dearth of employment opportunities left me frustrated, chafing against the injustices of the conditions of sessional teaching and a whole host of other things ranging from the disproportionate allocation of funding in tertiary institutions to the sound of another neighbour’s laugh (I’m sure someone must have once told him it was sexy; it’s not.)

The day I got my thoughts in hand, the vestiges of meditation classes attended long ago stirred in my memory. It occurred to me that my internal struggle, which was fruitless and making me unhappy, arose out of wanting to be somewhere else. I went for a walk and concentrated on the stretch of my legs and the feel of the late-winter sun. Later, at home lying in bed, I thought about the sensation of my arms and legs against flannelette sheets and decided it was a good thing. From this point on, it’s been impossible not to enjoy sleeping in and watching television. On Wednesdays I feel entitled to do nothing and have been known not to get out of bed until noon. If I begin to worry about my propensity for sloth, well, I’m gathering my resources for when I begin my PhD in January. It’s a sound argument, especially when I reflect how long I went without a holiday while doing my Master’s, Honour’s and Undergraduate degrees, never mind the strain of ‘two major illnesses’ (quote from doctor) during the last few years, which require on-going management.

So, now I have become content, I have neglected this new self-imposed blog project and it is not without a sense of irony that I recognise I am worrying about the effects of being happy. I am reminded of an interview I saw with Sarah Watt where she spoke about a short animated film she did on that very topic. I will not start the revolution this way. Has all my Buddhist thought, filtered through Western new age rhetoric, dissipated my will to action and thus rendered me complacent. Am I suffering the effects of a kind of false-consciousness? Am I a patsy of the dominant capitalist paradigm? Aargh!

Since last Saturday, I have:

  • Been to a party where I watched the Riverfire Festival fireworks display from the balcony of a West End Queenslander. I was complimented on my interpretation of a carrot salad from Jamie’s Dinners (just add capsicum) and tipped off on a lead on some RA work.
  • Seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Great movie, but I noticed a decline in the quality of Willy Wonka's gobstoppers, which I purchased to eat during the film. Note to Nestlé, a sweet cannot be called a gobstopper if after only two minutes in the mouth a chalky, chewable centre is revealed; it’s all about the hardness, the layers, the changing colours and flavours. There is pleasure in trying to break your teeth.
  • Cancelled a lunch date since I was too tired to get out of bed. This was the first sign that underemployment was becoming a lifestyle.
  • Attended a media and cultural studies early career researchers forum to indulge in a communal panic for our collective employment prospects.
  • Solicited an employment offer to do RA work from an Associate Professor holding a half-empty schooner of VB.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Inch By Inch

Last night I went to see a Bell Shakespeare production of Measure for Measure. I got the ticket through a friend who had a spare. She teaches Shakespeare and through miscommunication had bought one for a colleague who already one. The ticket was in the front row, which was initially a bit disconcerting for someone who doesn’t go to the theatre much, and then there was the anxiety aroused when L_____ told me Bell Shakespeare had a reputation for involving the audience.

Recently, I’ve only gone to live performances with L_____. Her son is in the Australian Ballet, so going to performing arts productions is a way of life for her. Apparently her daughter screens suitors by asking them if they enjoy ballet, maintaining that if they’re going to be part of her family they have to be simpatico. Fair enough. I went to my first opera a few months ago with L_____; an Opera Queensland production of La Bohême. Again, while I wanted to go, I was a bit apprehensive, this time because I wasn’t sure I could appreciate it. I’d watched Madame Butterfly on the ABC but any knowledge I have of music comes from listening to the judgements on Australian and American Idol. It’s undoubtedly sacrilegious to opera buffs, but I went to La Bohême with what I knew from those programmes: if it gives me goose bumps, then it’s good. I did get the shivers at the opera and even shed a few tears when the female lead died.

I’m not sure why I’m such a scaredy cat about so much; just as my fears about the opera were unfounded, so were those about the front row of Measure for Measure. At a couple of points in the play the actors playing The Duke and Lucio entered the stage from the floor, running past my head, but that could not be described as audience participation, so much as an extension of the stage for a few moments. In fact, I wish I’d paid more attention as Lucio ran by, since that character, played by Matthew Moore, was the funniest of the whole show (which is saying something because with the exception of one or two players, the cast was outstanding). Towards the end when he dropped on his knees in front of The Duke to beg for mercy, his timing was so impeccable, it was all I could do not to burst into applause.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Twinkle Twinkle Evil Star

I have recently begun collecting a publication that was advertised on television, Classic Puzzles and Brain Teasers. Normally I am not seduced by these kind of offers. You know the sort, the first issue is offered for the low, low price of $2.95, while subsequent issues require the taking out of a personal loan and a committment that stretches years beyond the initial impulse. This campaign coincided with the beginning of my recent period of under-employment, I was still struggling to be Zen with the abyss created by the shift from having to work seven days a week to keep my head above water to working only Monday evenings and Tuesdays. In the midst of second-guessing the vagaries of casual short- term employment contracts and wishing my Scrabble playing buddy hadn't moved to Melbourne three years ago, I was enticed by the advertisement's promise of quality wooden classic puzzles that would also double as very nice decorative items.

I searched the first issue down, finding it in the third newsagency I visited, since the first two had under-estimated the popularity of the series and sent their copies back to the distributor. I approached first puzzle, the Tower of Hanoi, with trepidation. What if I couldn't solve it? Would I be left with this strange wooden ornament whose presence would taunt me with my failure rather than, as I hoped, a monument to own cleverness? My anxiety was ill-founded and after a couple of hours, I had completed the puzzle, surprised at myself. What was even better was that doing the puzzle had had the desired effect of distracting me from my lack of employment.

I eagerly awaited the next puzzle, the Elastic Cube. It arrived as a completed cube, which I had to unravel to begin the puzzle. I worried that if I studied the way the cube was assembled too closely as I pulled it apart, it wouldn't present much of a challenge, so I closed my eyes and quickly pulled it apart. It took me two days of twiddling and fiddling, on and off,creating misshapen cubes with various cavities and appendages along the way, to reassemble the puzzle. At 4.50pm on a Friday two weeks ago, I completed the cube with a sense of great satisfaction.

Yesterday, I picked up the third issue of the series. The guy at my local newsagency, looked at the most recent puzzle, the Evil Star, and commented that it looked like an interesting one this time. I was modest, 'We'll see how I go', still not assuming I could solve it, in spite of my success with the other puzzles. When I got home, I had to go out again pretty much straight away, but couldn't resist opening up the Evil Star, just to have a quick look at it. I briefly read the rules of the puzzle--you had to assemble the puzzle in your hands and weren't able to use a flat surface--and took the advice that I should study the accompanying picture of the assembled puzzle. I thought , 'I'll just pull the puzzle apart and start to consider some options for putting it together'. It took more than I expected to pull the puzzle apart even though the magazine had said it would be easy. I attributed the puzzle's resistance to its newness. Then I began to figure out how to solve the puzzle and, in less time than it had taken to pull apart, it was back together! I was convinced I had done something wrong. I pulled it apart again. And put it back together, AGAIN! 'But, but, this is meant to be as difficult as the other two puzzles. Stupid, stupid Evil Star! Call yourself 'evil'? Hah! Lily-livered twinkle Star more like it!'

Back to underemployment.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I just took out my garbage and noticed that some neighbours are in the process of moving out. I’m ambivalent about the departure of these neighbours. It isn’t that I’ll miss them, but because it raises the question of who will take their place. It’s a matter of ‘better the devil you know’...

About four months ago, I was checking my mail when I looked up to see a student from the advanced media studies subject I was teaching crossing the road towards me. [I’ll call him ‘Charles’ because he shares his surname with the dead beat poet that inspired Andrew McGahan to write Praise.] Charles and I looked at each other curiously, smiled and said hello, before he proceeded to run up the access driveway adjacent to the block where my flat is. The driveway is used by the occupants of three houses, which, as neighbourhood gossip has it, are owned by a consortium of medical doctors, who also own the next house in a row that is sandwiched between a strip of nightclubs and bars and a sports stadium. The next week before the seminar, Charles asked me if I lived near him. I said, ‘Do you live in one of the houses that front C_____ Street’? He answered in the affirmative and asked how long I’d lived there, because he’d thought my face had looked familiar from about a year ago. I said I’d lived there at least six years, while inside I blushed profusely, recalling exactly what had happened a year ago to etch my face on his memory...

I was in the throes of finishing my MPhil, spending a lot of time on the home computer, refining the wording, writing those stray paragraphs my supervisor had suggested would render the thesis a cohesive whole, when the electricity cut out.

It should be noted that the cessation of the electricity supply is a common occurrence where I live. The electricity company, Energex, cannot, however, be held responsible. The block of flats in which I live are not strata titled. It was once an old Queenslander house, but was converted to flats so long ago that the traces of the house are residual, apparent only in the common ownership by one landlord and the shared circuits of electricity. Any problem with the continuance of supply is usually traceable to the overuse of heating and cooling appliances or the presence of faulty toasters and kettles.

Every time there’s a change of occupancy, the new tenant goes through a period of acquainting themselves with the idiosyncrasies of sharing electricity, while the rest of us are forcibly reminded of the irritations.

Around the period that is relevant to this anecdote, new evidence had emerged that the ongoing interruptions were not the fault of an unsuspecting new tenant but that of a long term occupant, wilfully using a faulty kettle, but attributing the interruptions to something inexplicable. The most credible theory, proposed by another tenant, involved him sitting in the dark drinking Chateau Cardboard, becoming disorientated and thinking the electricity had gone out, then staggering to the switchboard and flicking all the fuses on and off.

At this point you should know that I had already replaced one hard-drive that had been damaged by an electrical surge during the return of supply after one of these ‘kettle-induced’ interruptions. The threat of another hard-drive melt-down at such a crucial stage in my thesis triggered a reaction that I cannot fully reconcile. The electricity went out mid-sentence, and fury, frustration and fear fused, propelling me outside to confront the suspect tenant.

I had taken three steps out of the door when, from the balcony of the house which I now know was occupied by Charles and his housemates, a guy leaned over the railing and yelled, ‘How the fuck are ya!?’.

Suffice to say, I lost it. I screamed something about guns and death before marching around to the neighbour who was the original target of my ire. In the middle of my hysteria, he asked, with no hint of irony, ‘Are you alright?’. I wept. And then I went back into my flat, but not before I shared my thoughts on homicide with Charles and his house-mates one more time.

I had sometimes contemplated the possibility that one of my neighbours would be in a tutorial or seminar class I was teaching. I had always thought I would take great pleasure in exacting revenge upon them: 'Take that fail for all your drunk and disorderly behaviour, loser!' or some much more witty riposte. You can glean from my embarrassment at Charles's recollection of 'a year or so ago' that I pretended nothing had ever happened. Even as Charles proceeded to try every trick in the book when it came to avoiding attendance requirements and seeking assignment/examination extensions, I would greet him in a neighbourly way. He never mentioned specifics either, but I did notice that the cars using the driveway to his house drove by at a much more leisurely pace than they had previously...