That it should come to this. Posting a blog from a coin-operated computer.
Bangkok. One huge mis-en-scene from Blade Runner. Skytrains, buses, scooters, the ever-present tuk tuks. So many people in this mad rush toward obscurity. The roads noodle skywards, layer upon layer. The sky is scraped of its sun, its stars. Forget remembering a tall building to use as a landmark. The city sprawl is too wide. I can't see the sky, just this strange grey haze. Smog. Horns blare. A bus lurches forward, only to stop again in the traffic. A girl in the window wears a face mask.
I walk through the side roads; the Soi. Through tunnels between them, past the roadside stalls, with their deaf vendors signing to each other. Past the go-go girls i saw when i was here for the coup in '06. Same same - but different. Another tuk-tuk tout approaches me.
"You want taxi?" he says, grabbing my arm and gesturing towards one of the line of waiting drivers.
"No, thank you."
"You like massage?"
"Sorry. You're not my type."
I find a roadside vendor to make me som tum. With a Tiger beer. Sit back on a plastic chair, the steel table, and watch the tourist parade, of which i am, by default, a part. An elephant ambles by. I'd forgotten about the elephants.
Friday, January 30, 2009
That it should come to this. Posting a blog from a coin-operated computer.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
"Come meet me at the Heart of Darkness bar in Cambodia ..."
"...and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him - all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is detestable. And it has a fascination, too, which goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination - you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate."
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
"Sounds like the sorta place a girl could really kick up her heels," Mayhem says.
Miss Mayhem - she is cursed with humanitarian instincts and an innate need to protect and stand up for vulnerable beings. From the women and children of Gaza to the animals of the wild frontier, she does what she can. I once drove with her from Carnarvon to Exmouth, and along the way she insisted on stopping at every dead roadside kangaroo to check their pouches for joeys. For a while there, the offices of the Northern Guardian resembled an animal shelter, with a sling containing Jasper the Orphaned Joey hanging off Melinda's car seat or journalist's chair. We also had a rather large blue heeler prowling the office, whom Mayhem had saved from a bullet at the pound.
Melinda Mayhem - she just won't take cruelty and suffering lying down. Apart from in the S&M dungeons, of course.
Things did get a bit out of hand up at that North West paper. Not only with the introduction of the animals. On the morning that i returned to work after a five-week stint in the psychiatric ward, suffering from "exhaustion", Mayhem and i went to the servo before work and bought matching black cowboy hats. I was wearing some spurs that i had bought on a whim on eBay. When we marched into the newspaper office that morning, looking like fugitives from the set of Gunsmoke, my manager looked apprehensive.
"So ... Mark," she said, her voice quavering. We both turned and glowered at her from under our stetsons. "Are you going to be ... okay?"
"I've never felt better," i said, spurs jangling as i stomped off to make my first coffee of the day.
"Fuck America, as they say in the classics," i say to Mayhem. "Come meet me at the Heart of Darkness bar in Cambodia. We can start afresh."
"Yes, i suppose if you're going to have a rant at people in a bar there are certain advantages to doing it in a place where no-one can understand you," she says.
"And i suggest you bring your disguise," i say. "It is against the law to take Cambodia's ancient treasures out of the country, and that's how we'll be making our money until we can land jobs - we'll be selling Khmer stone statuary on eBay. If things get too hot, we'll slip into our disguises and make a run for it on the motorcycle up to Siem Reap, where we can hide out at Carlo's rooftop bar and grill til things cool down. I know a place in Bangkok where i can pick up a cheap 1960s Suzuki on the way to the border."
"Excellent," says Mayhem. "That sounds like a plan. I'll dress like a man - that should confuse the communist government and the CIA. What about you?"
"I'll wear your blonde wig. But if i have to dress as a woman then you should ride on the front of the bike - that way we'll attract less attention."
"Good thinking, Art Director."
"So i'll meet you in Phnom Penh?"
"A kettleful of venomous snakes wouldn't keep me away," she declares.
It's good to have sensible travel plans. I fly out next week.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
It's a Friday. Fuck. I don't know how much longer i can kid myself that the idea of life as a connected journey towards something worthwhile is not an utterly meaningless proposition. I shift down and accelerate hard up Graphite Road. It's like getting kicked repeatedly in the guts. I should never have sold those Koni shocks. Another unseen bump on this winding road kicks the frame hard up into my spine and knocks the wind out of me. The air is hot and dry inside the helmet. The sun slants harsh through the regrowth karri as the sweet sour smell of the forest mingles with engine oil and leather.
I'm aiming for Manjimup to Nannup in under 45 minutes. Not because i'm in any kind of hurry, but because i'm told it's good to set goals. What a smashing day to be speeding relentlessly towards some kind of armageddon. Unlicensed, unrepentant, and unwavering. The road is hilly, winding, and surprisingly free of the usual holidaymaker hell that plagues the south west this time of year. A perfect venue for the solitary pleasure of motorcycling. Since leaving Albany i've only seen one four-wheel-drive, slowly crawling up a curve, caravan in tow. A box on wheels containing all the things they have come here to get away from. I cross the double white and blow past before they even register. Yellow road signs appear, those black snakes with pointy heads. For each and every one the decision is simple: draw your line and stick to it.
There are two kinds of motorcyclists: those who have come off, and those who will. Fortunately, i'm one of the former. Another road sign looms as i crest a hill and sweep down into the next curve. The new short mufflers crackle as i change down. Winding road, next 7km. What a glorious day. Apart from the fact that it's a Friday. Fuck.
I'm northbound to Southbound, a wrangled VIP two-day pass stashed in my backpack. To see Gomez, The Grates, The Hives, Bluejuice, Franz Ferdinand, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Dylan Garrett, Miss Polly, and Nurse Nikki. I have a media pass, plus one. And it's the "plus one" that introduces the armageddon factor.
"Miss Polly, i can't take Friday off. I asked already. If i do, they'll fire me. Besides, the best bands are on on the Saturday."
"Architecture in Helsinki are on on Friday. And you know i could have bought a scalped ticket my own self."
She's right, of course. But she's always right: she's a woman. When we first went to buy tickets and found they were sold out, i said to Miss Polly: Don't worry, i'll find us some. And i did. That was back when there was an 'us', and 'we' were going to spend our holidays in Margaret River. Dang. So i got us a media pass, plus one. But to get Miss Polly in on Friday, i need to be there, in corporeal form, with ID.
"Don't worry, i'll be there on the Friday, i promise," i said. This was a bit rash. But nonetheless, i promised. And if you don't look after your friends, then you instantly forfeit all your rights as a human being. You might as well pack it in. Or become chief-of-staff at a narrow-minded country newspaper. Of course, when i got back, i was fired on the spot. But this is a mere technicality. Am i a writer, or an arse-licking employee?
Some would contend that, at the moment, i am neither.
"Get your stuff and get out," said my chief-of-staff. Obviously she is not a fan of music, freedom, or sheer lunacy in any of its many and variegated forms.
I check the map pages when i pull into Nannup. I gave my country roads directory to Dylan last week, for his northbound road trip with his younger brother Jake. So i have only printouts from Google Maps to find my way through the back roads to Dunsborough. Just north of Nannup i turn off the highway and head west along Mowen Road, which soon becomes a gravel track. Oh well. I stick to 120 to even out the corrugations.
Eventually i get lost, ditch the road maps, and navigate by the sun. North by north west. When i get to Dunsborough it's hot, and insanely crowded. One of the advantages of riding a splendid vintage motorcycle is that you can park it anywhere, even somewhere utterly ridiculous, like right smack in the centre of a crowded footpath. People will just stand around admiring it, saying things like, "Wow. Nice motorcycle" or sticking notes to the seat that say "Love the 650. If you ever want to unload it, ring me. Dave 0412 546 912." If it was a Hyundai Excel, of a Ford Festiva, or a Kia, the virulent mobs would instantly snap off the antennae, key the duco, and twist the windscreen wipers ferociously about until they point in the direction of the next transit of Venus. Or simply kick the mortal piss out of the panels and headlamps with their steel-capped boots.
I dodge the moribund hordes and pull the dusty bike up to within spitting distance of a coffee shop. I hit the kill switch, twist up the petcocks - what a curious word - and kick out the stand. I dismount, pull off my helmet and, with my back arched and my feet shoulder width apart, i shake free my hair and stare around at mercilessly at the masses and laugh, just like Billy in Easy Rider. Ha ha ha. You can do this kind of shit when you ride a motorcycle. It's fucking great.
The front of the bike, my visor, my jacket and jeans are covered in bugs. Damn those guys. Captain America, and Billy. Wherever they went, their bikes were shiny and spotless, but you never saw them take so much as a rag to them. And they never changed their clothes throughout the entire film. They even slept in them. What kind of road trippers are these? With their spotlessly shiny bikes and freshly laundered shirts. Apart from in the last scene, of course, when they are lying in pieces and on fire on the side of the highway. But i'm hoping it won't come to that.
I order a coffee, fight off a pregnant woman with a pram for an outside table, peel off my jacket and change into a Thai batik shirt. Everything looks better in a Thai batik shirt, especially those ones with the two pockets low down at the front. While waiting for my double shot i text Nurse Nikki.
"I'm in town, at the coffee grinders. Come get me."
I haven't seen her in ages. She's still the same. Friendly, attractive, talkative - and unmarried. What's wrong with young blokes these days, i wonder. I follow her back to her beach house. It's a two-storey job on the beach side of Geographe Bay Road, with a huge roofed deck that looks out across the peppermint groves to a white sandy bay.
Noice. "You want a drink?" asks Nurse Nikki as i stretch out on the deck. Why haven't i visited here before, i wonder. I get a text. Miss Polly and her two sisters will pick me up around 1, then we'll head out to the festival. Miss Polly. Mmm.
Of course i'm here for all the wrong reasons. Well, no - not all the wrong reasons. I'm here for the music, to catch up with friends, and to engage in some serious photography. But the irrational, romantic and - let's face it - stupid part of me still longs for a return to that certain frisson that comes with the package that is Miss Polly. This, of course, is never going to happen. I know that. Because that was then. And this, unfortunately, is now. The harsh light of summer. But then, i never was much amenable to reason. I always was partial to the je ne sais qua.
"Uh, why did you just kiss me on the neck?" Miss Polly demands after i return from the bar and kiss her on the neck. I like her neck, especially where it joins her shoulder. I've been waiting a good fifteen minutes in the festival sun for a beer and a vodka. I thought she might be pleased to see me, seeing as how i have a cold beverage in my hand. We slide them into our classy servo stubby holders, the ones that feature those airbrushed pictures of scantily clad women lying on tropical beaches. Miss Polly looks very attractive in her orange island girl dress and orange nail polish. A bit like a tangerine. Thank god i didn't bite her on the fucking neck - my lawyer is away in Halmahera.
"Uh, because you were standing there." i say, realising this is probably not a sound defence.
Dylan and Miss Polly's friend are also standing there, watching this exchange.
"Friends don't do that," Miss Polly says. Friends. The f-word again. Hooly dooly.
"Of course they do. My friends do it all the time." I lean over and kiss Dylan on the neck. He's completely pissed, and barely notices.
"Yeah, i'll buy one for a dollar. Let's start a cult. Where's my dog?" he shouts, and takes another drink.
"What do you think?" Miss Polly turns to her girlfriend, who is luminous with the kind of sexual afterglow that follows a night of wanton lust with a new boyfriend. She smiles the smug, self-satisfied smile of a cat cleaning the cream off its whiskers. She might as well have a sign on her that says: i just got fucking laid. "Would you let your friends kiss you on the neck?"
"No. I certainly wouldn't," she says. "No no no. Never. You need to set some boundaries. I would only let my lover do that to me." Then she kind of wriggles.
Well. Thanks a lot. I hope after your boyfriend dumps you no friend ever kisses you on any part of your body again. Ever.
I shrug, take a swig of Heineken, and leave with Dylan. We go for a walk amongst the revellers, find Dylan's new friend L, and head over to the VIP media section. Here we put away a serious amount of free drinks.
I mean, if you can't fuck your friends, who can you fuck.
It's hopeless. Things were good there for a while; but now it's just hopeless. I cast about for a lifesaving ring, but there is nothing. Just the rolling sea that is the Southbound festival. I knew it was hopeless a few weeks back when she said "There is no 'us' anymore, Mark. There is no 'we'. Can i be any more clear?" The problem is that i can never understand why women are not perpetually in love with me. Hell, if i was a woman, i'd be in love with me. I take another swig of Heineken. Maybe i should have paid more attention in class. Maybe i should have taken notes when they explained what to do when the ship goes down. I thought you were meant to just keep on playing. Or stand and salute or something? I can't remember. I go to see the nice girl at the bar. A vodka? Ppffsshh. There you go. Ahh, thank God for small mercies. Small mercies in aluminium cans.
She's right of course. But then, she's always right. She is a woman, after all. I knock back the vodka and go for another. Hmmm. Freelance. Freelance sounds good.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
It's New Year. A special night of the year, chronologically speaking. I'm figuring i'll grill me some catfish and make new muffler brackets for the 650. Then Nurse Nikki phones from Dunsborough. Nurse Nikki. We have an interesting, ongoing, long distance confabulation. It involves her phoning me, at odd hours and usually naked, and recounting her sexual adventures.
"Hi. I was just about to call you." It's true. Straight after the catfish. I need somewhere to stay this weekend. I just wasn't sure how to ask without it sounding like an indecent proposal. "What's happening in Nurse Nikkiland."
"Not much, going to the pub, chilling out. Watching my new house getting built. What about you."
"Not much. Going to the beach. I was hoping to get away to Southbound on Friday. What you up to tonight."
"Going to the pub later to see some reggae. But right now I'm just lying here naked on the floor."
"It's one of the advantages of having the whole house to yourself."
"I just got out of the shower, so i thought i'd call you."
"Who are you - uhhh - taking to Southbound."
"Oh. I'm giving the other ticket to Miss Polly. I kind of promised. And we've been getting on a lot better since she stopped speaking to me and left town."
"I thought you were going to ask me."
"I thought you told her to get lost."
"So where are you going to stay."
"Oh. I was just going to sleep on the ground."
"You can stay with me if you like."
"Oh really? That's a good idea. It sounds like the place to be at the moment."
"Yeah, well my parents are away... it's their beach house, but they're hardly ever here really - oh, you mean because i'm lying here naked."
"Well as i said i just got out of the shower. I'm just - ahhh - relaxing, you know. Unh."
"Uhhh." Pause. "Have you spoken to Mickey T lately."
We share an ex. My ex-flatmate, her ex-boyfriend.
"No, not really, just on Vicebook, but he's not been online much. I think he's out sailing. There's a picture of him toying with a shark on Dr Case's page. They're out in Shark Bay."
"I haven't heard from him for ages. So what's your New Year's resolution."
"Uh - "
"Mine is not to have any more casual sex. Not until i'm back in a serious relationship."
"Yeah. No more casual sex until i'm in a serious relationship, and if that means i don't have any more sex for as long as i live, well, so be it."
"Heavy duty. For as long as you live. That's a long time."
"Yes, i told my friend, and she goes, Nikki, that's the same New Year's resolution you made last year."
"Oh. How long did that last."
"About an hour. But i'm a lot older now, and a lot wiser. This time i mean it."
"So how old are you - all of about twenty-five?"
"No, I'm thirty! So what's your New Year's resolution."
"Me. I've got two. Number one is no more serious relationships, and number two is plenty of casual sex. Really casual. Like, not even paying attention."
"You can ring me up and tell me about it."
"Sure. Before, during, or after?"
"During would be better. That way I can live a sex life vicariously through you. Not much of one, though, by the sounds of it."
"I'll see what i can do. And i'll give you a call when i get into town."
"So it's OK to come stay this weekend."
"We can lie around and talk about how our New Year's resolutions are coming along."
"Sure. Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year."
I hang up. That's the New Year thing sorted. Now the catfish.