August 23, 2005
I see a lot more bees these days. They’re everywhere. They usually fly solo, but sometimes in pairs, and, yes, even in groups. It worries me.
David is thirteen. He has cerebral palsy and his right-side is paralysed. He does not have a dad, but has a mother and a twin brother, who, when the genetic cards were being dealt, came out lucky.
He has a dog.
I know these things, and much more, because I am David’s mentor. And so, I know that David has written a ballad for his hero, Adam Gilchrist, and that he can wax volubly about the flaws in Jason Gillespie’s bowling, or the embarrassing incompetencies of the English wicket-keeper. David argues compellingly, and I agree with most of what he says.
David swims well, he tells me, and he rides horses with a disabled group. I have not checked this empirically, but I am positive that he can swim and ride horses better than me. I’m less certain, but still sure, that he can write a better sport’s ballad than me, too.
But what of those bees? Well, David also suffers a first-class reaction to bee sting. He can die.
The other day I thought it might be nice to take David down to a park. Get him out of the house, the first small step in soldering his independence. I thought it would be good. But then I thought of the bees.
When I first met David’s mother, she ran me through the steps I should take should David be stung by a bee. She looked very worried, and I would have been too, had I been her—she was trusting her son in the hands of a stranger who looked like a young Rod Stewart. I felt for her.
David’s mother ran through the steps and phone numbers, and then she showed me the kit. The bee-sting kit. She pulled out a syringe. It has a special name, but I can’t remember it. “Twist this,'' she said, indicating a part of the syringe, “and plunge down here, hard,'' she pretended to bring down the syringe into her thigh.
Jesus, I thought.
I did not take David down to the park that weekend, but I will, eventually. In fact, the sooner the better, for both of us. I have to overcome my fear of needles, and David, bless him, must begin exploring.
There will always be bees.
August 10, 2005
Some Thoughts on Mysterious Skin
Directed by Gregg Araki
This is a tough film—a film that watches a pedophile’s well-designed grooming methods, and records the eventual fulfillment of his grim fantasies. But it is mostly a film about how his two victims (nine at the time of the abuse) deal with the molestation in their late-teens.
One victim replaces the memories with fantasies of alien abduction, and the film watches his slow and agonizing recovery of the “authentic'' memories. The other teen sells himself to old men in parks, but we realise that there’s more to this than a quick buck—this teen has equated perverse relations between himself and older men with sexual and emotional fulfillment, yet he is constantly nagged by the blackness of it all.
There’s little hope here—the teen prostitute is wrecked in many ways, and jogs drunkenly towards annihilation, whilst the other teen is sad-pathetic in his sophisticated self-deceit. The film does, if this needs to be said, hammer home the grim repercussions of child abuse.
Some time in June, the federal attorney-general, Phillip Ruddock, was notified of a moral contamination. The source of alarm was Mysterious Skin.
Ruddock had been notified by the South Australian a-g, impotent to impose censorship since such jurisdiction had transferred to the federal body.
Prior to this contact, the SA attorney-general had received his notification from Christian-right lobby groups—groups with names like Family First, and the Australian Family Party, and Think of the God-damn Children Party, and…
What’s interesting here is the fact that the film had not yet been viewed by any member of this censorship-chain. Not one.
Those mentioned charged that the film could inspire pedophiles, by either giving them something to “think about'', or actually inspiring the fulfillment of fantasies—the cross-over from pedophilia to pederasty. It’s a problematic charge, considering the director has taken great pains to prevent any child actor being involved in, er, compromising situations—-in other words, the director, in making a film about traumatized children, did not, in turn, want to traumatize his child actors. He achieves this well.
Secondly, the film unambiguously documents the profound damage wrought from child abuse. If we are to accept that this film could “inspire'' pedophilia, well then, we must also accept that it could also diminish it, as hopeful pederasts view the unchallengeable truths of abuse.
But, fuck it… if the chain of censorship won’t view the films they condemn, then we must laugh it off as atavistic horse-shit, and be done with it…
There may only be one thing wrong with this film, and it’s this: it’s terrible. While the film’s right to be released is currently contested in stuffy hallways, common sense demands that I try out Voltaire’s old maxim: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. It’s an obvious invocation, but a suitable one, and Voltaire was always very good with the aphorism. After turning down an orgy, having attended one the night before, Voltaire chimed: “Once: a philosopher; twice: a pervert!'' proving he also had a very good sense of humour.
But it may also need saying that freedom without restriction is a chimera, and that this idea goes right back to Plato. Let’s borrow from that old bore Walter Lippmann, who, despite his pretensions, pays here a decent service to Plato:
If there is a dividing line between liberty and license, it is where freedom of speech is no longer respected as a procedure of truth and becomes the unrestricted right to exploit the ignorance, and to incite the passions, of the people. Then freedom is such hullabaloo of sophistry, propaganda, special pleading, lobbying, and salesmanship that it is difficult to remember why freedom of speech is worth the pain and trouble of defending it.
The space between Plato and Voltaire isn’t intractable. The space can be mediated with common sense: placing restrictions on freedoms can be one way of ensuring higher ones—i.e. restrictions on freedom of speech coming in the form of racial vilification legislation can be seen as a trade-off to prevent citizens suffering racism, an extension of cruelty. In other words, if the exercise of speech translates to an exercise in cruelty, we must look at placing restrictions on the former to prevent the latter.
But if we are to legislate against “exploit[ing] the ignorance… of the people'' we would be right in demanding that our legislators act as pragmatic and thoughtful representatives, rather than fierce mouths of piety.
August 1, 2005
Deep Blue: A Modern Fairy-tale
… and the second cockroach met his face and felt the empty tears and ice and so it stayed, like the others, until the host stirred with his dreams and the ‘roach ran off to say to the others “yes, the empty tears and ice was nice''.
But, as it stood, the dream stirred him and he rolled on the stairs, unaware of the broken streetlight that bled onto his forehead and so it had been since last Thursday--the dreams stirring him on the steps and the empty bottle of wine stayed empty but for the shadows that stayed.
He stood, standing tall in a puddle that reflected the streetlight’s gaze. Some neighbours saw and whispered: “he hasn’t moved in 4 days''.
“I hear it’s been a week.''
“It doesn’t matter. He’s moving. Look.''
And the ‘roaches watched too, and they waved, because he was always a charming host, and he deliberately moved east, down the footpath.
His name was Nicolai.
Nicolai moved east, past more broken streetlights and garbage cans and rats and poetry, until he found it.
The water fountain.
Its steel stem had been bent in a fit of vandalism, but to turn its bronze tap still commanded a stream of water, and Nicolai turned the tap and sighed.
He didn’t drink the water, he just stared at the stream--pure and perfect. He did this for a very long time and for a very good reason.
The reason was this: Nicolai knew he was dying.
Some of the more irritable neighbours had followed him down to the water fountain, to inspect these actions for themselves and to forget the fact that their apartments were too small and they hated their children.
They followed him down there for those reasons, but kept their distance, pacing in the shadows. They did not know what violence he was capable of and they did not want to find out.
They saw Nicolai, his silhouette unknowingly capturing the bright and wise glow of a full-moon’s light, and they saw him maintain his twist on the tap, watching the small stream of water arc and splash gently into the bronze bowl.
But they did not see the stream but the shopping bags on his feet and the dirty grey cardigan.
They did not know Nicolai was dying from a very rare and special disease. They did not know he was dying at all, but it wouldn’t have surprised them.
Nicolai had been doing this for twenty minutes now, without a single pause in the stream, and the neighbours were growing bored.
“Let’s go now,'' said one.
“Okay,'' said the other. And they left Nicolai to the shopping bag shoes and the moon and, of course, the stream.
Nicolai was 49-years-old and homeless. He lost his roofed and windowed home one year ago.
One year ago his wife died.
Three years ago his brother died.
Four years ago his only daughter died.
Do you know how they died? They all died as a result of the very rare and special disease Nicolai is dying from. But we’ll get to that later.
His wife’s name was Bethany and she enjoyed wine and biscuits and cinema and abhorred commercial television and sausages. Nicolai loved sausages but he would cook them down in the park on the barbeque so as not to upset his wife. He would bring a book or a magazine and cooking utensils and oil and he would select a day with fine weather and he would cook his sausages with the ducks. His wife would laugh and say “cook them here,'' but he would smile and kiss his wife and walk down to the park. He liked the park.
His brother’s name was Jacob. Jacob loved sausages also, and pork and fine cheeses and he loved the smell of oil on cloth. He also loved the smell of ozone, but every human being and cockroach and garbage-can loves the smell of ozone.
His daughter was called Mary and she was a rare physical, spiritual and intellectual beauty. She had long orange hair and streams of those enamoured would chase her.
Mary loved rocking chairs and large pillows and sugar on toast. Because Mary was a human, she also loved the smell of ozone.
But they are all dead, sadly, and we are here, with Nicolai and his stream and now Nicolai is crying into the bowl, establishing a marriage of waters and history in that little bowl.
There is graffiti at the bottom of that little bronze bowl. It was written with a fat, permanent marker. It reads: “Spectre''. The vandal is seventeen-years-old and very proud of his tag.
Nicolai is very proud of his stream, which hasn’t paused, and is why he is crying.
It must seem very strange to people on the street, walking past. A grown man with shopping bags for shoes, holding onto a small stream of water and crying into the fountain’s sink.
The moon didn’t find it strange and continued to dignify Nicolai’s position with its light.
Why is Nicolai dying? Come closer and I will tell you…
Nicolai and his wife lived in a small, thatched cottage on the edge of the city. It was a small and warm house and they had a cat called Pale who thought so too. Pale, incidentally, is still alive, but has grown wild and chases ‘roaches and rats in alleyways. She has forgotten her name.
In this thatched cottage that was on the edge of the city were photos of their only child, their daughter Mary. There were photos of her in primary school and high-school and photos of her playing netball and soccer and darts. There are photos of her at her ball-night and photos of her accepting academic or civil or sporting awards. In all of the photos she looks beautiful.
In another room were more photos of Nicolai and old jet aircraft. Nicolai used to be in the Polish air-force, many years earlier. Those days were gone and Mary had moved out to live with her husband in another city.
But these things don’t matter so much now, only to the moon and the rats, but I tell you so you can picture the small house with its many photos and old, cloth-bound furniture with cigar holes and the wooden floorboards dusty with age.
Because, after all, it was in this house that that disease infected Nicolai and Bethany and Mary and Jacob. It happened six years ago and is a very remarkable story, unbelievable except to those who were there.
On a cold night in winter, before Mary had left home, her parents and her uncle and herself were sitting in the living room, watching the open fire and listening to heavy rain on the window panes. It was loud and comforting and the four sipped red wine and smiled gently, as to only flirt with the idea that hope and happiness could last forever without interruptions. Of course every human being and ‘roach and garbage can knows that there are always interruptions.
And so, there they were at one with each other and the fire and the rain and the wine, when there was a soft knock, knock, knock on the door.
“Was that the door?'' Nicolai asked his wife.
“I think so,'' she answered.
Nicolai stood up and walked to the door muttering “I wonder what anybody could want at this time of night?'' The time of night was 10.14 and 45 seconds.
That was the time of night that everything changed.
Nicolai opened the door and saw standing there a young man in a space suit; rain dripped spectacularly off the super-advanced material of his suit. The young man held his helmet under his left arm.
“Hi,'' the young man said, “can I come in?''
Nicolai stood there mute.
“I’m Glenn,'' and the young man extended his hand. He didn’t think any of this was strange.
Nicolai extended his right arm limply and shook.
“Hi,'' Nicolai said.
By this point his wife and brother and daughter had come to the door to investigate. They stood behind Nicolai and stared also.
“Can I come in?'' the young man repeated.
Nicolai shook himself free of reverie and said: “Of course, of course, come in,'' and ushered the stranger in.
“Take a seat,'' Nicolai said, directing him to the living room.
“Thank-you.'' The young man was very polite. He was also very good looking and Mary blushed on catching his eye. If the impossible hadn’t happened they could have made a very good couple.
The five of them now sat, staring at the fire to escape the awkwardness. Okay.
“Would you like some wine?'' Mary asked.
“I would love some, thank-you,'' the stranger was very polite.
Mary poured a glass and offered it to the young man. He placed his helmet on the floor and took the glass with both hands: “Thank-you. My name is Glenn, and thank-you for inviting me in.'' He smiled and all of their hearts mellowed because it was a smile designed with a strange and rare spirit.
The four introduced themselves.
“Where are you from, Glenn?'' asked Jacob, now relaxed and sipping his wine.
“Not from around here. I…'' he laughed, “I must look very strange, mustn’t I? I was on my way to a fancy-dress party held by an old friend of mine. My car broke down a way back… I was actually just looking to use your phone.''
These were lies, of course, but told with a disarming air of authenticity, and the four relaxed some more and focused upon the open fire which reminded them all of the stranger’s smile.
The stranger excused himself and turned to the kitchen to use the phone. He had no intention of using the phone, in fact he had never used one his whole life, but he waited in the kitchen for an amount of time reasonable for a phone call.
He returned smiling.
Glenn, in fact, did not have a car. He had a spaceship. Yes, a spaceship, and it had crashed, a little way from here, owing to an absence of fuel.
Glenn was from a distant star called by human astronomers “Hyult-4''. It was called something very different by the 4 million occupants.
And he came here for fuel.
Spaceships from Hyult-4 are designed with a very interesting engine. Their engines are designed to run on context-dependent memory. This is something only the organic population of Hyult-4 can offer—Glenn, as all of the space-pilots, was a product of artificial intelligence. He had no memories, but was designed to mine others’.
Like I said, this is all utterly unbelievable to anyone who wasn’t there.
So Glenn needed to source these humans’ memories, and store them, and translate them to his space-engine.
How was he to do this? I’ll tell you.
The five of them sat, discussing themselves, and Glenn, to perpetuate his lies, would borrow from memories he had used for his engine and place them in a human context. Glenn was designed very well, and with very high levels of intelligence, adaptability and charm. He told the story of “his past'' very well. Mary was falling in love with a robot. Strange, isn’t it?
But something stranger again happened. The orchestra of these good-people’s hearts and the fire and the rain and human alcohol played heavily in Glenn’s pre-programmed heart and he loosened and announced something he wouldn’t ordinarily have announced.
“I can see the future. I can see your futures if you like.''
The four shifted uncomfortably and ordinarily would have dismissed Glenn as a warm fruit-cake, but his sincerity and charm won them over.
“Okay,'' Mary said. “What’s mine?''
“It is sometimes not a very good idea to see it,'' Glenn said.
“Oh, try me,'' and Mary laughed.
“I will need a vessel of glass filled with water,'' Glenn said and Mary raced to the kitchen to grab an empty vase.
“Here,'' and Mary handed the young man the blue vase.
Her mother, uncle and father looked onwards in a thick film of dazzling curiosity.
Glenn held the vase, spat in it and placed it on the table. “Please hold my hand,'' Glenn said and Mary offered him her right hand, soft and pale.
“Okay, here,'' and Glenn pushed the vase to Mary’s edge of the table. “You will see your future reflection in the water. You mustn’t ever tell anyone else about it, however.''
Mary saw the ineffable. A thousand poets and dancers and physicians could not explain the flash of flowers and fresh bread and limericks and angels that Mary saw as symbols of her future. But she absorbed the reflections and tasted them, for only she could taste them and they all tasted magnificent and they all made a glorious sense.
But even with A.I. mistakes are made, and Glenn made one. It would prove catastrophic.
“Would you like your futures?'' Glenn asked the bewildered threesome left staring at the childish, ecstatic face of Mary.
“I think not, but thank-you,'' Bethany said.
“Not tonight,'' Jacob said.
“No thank-you,'' Nicolai said.
Some more wine was drunk by all except Mary, for she had drunk from the largest fountain of all, and through inexplicable methods of divination, Glenn sourced his fuel source and was soon on his way back to his space-ship.
He never realized his mistake, which was this: on his home star A.I. models are designed to tell some futures. But, with threat of severe punishment, are never allowed to reveal them to their organic subjects. Why? The futures seen are accurate, but only when the subject of them is prevented to see them. Owing to great and mysterious cosmic ballets, the viewing of one’s future will contaminate the original, accurate reading, steering a cosmic course to the opposite.
Why did Glenn reveal Mary’s future to her? For simple reasons, like the rain and forgetfulness and design imperfection. Everything and nothing.
Everything and nothing.
Some years past and Mary remained drunk on those reflections. But she became dizzy and soon angry that the rainbow prophecies were not showing themselves and she grew blunter and her hair lost its vibrancy. Two years had past since the blue vase.
It was a rainy Wednesday when Mary hung herself in her bathroom.
It was that same rainy Wednesday that her uncle Jacob was due to visit her and fix a broken door.
“Hello?'' he said at the front door. “Hello?''
And he let himself in and would never come back out as whole. He died behind the wheel a year later; he was so drunk he couldn’t see.
As tragedy will conspire to do, pot-holes and broken gingerbread men made their way into Nicolai’s and Bethany’s kitchen. They stayed there and multiplied and the marriage suffered.
Nicolai would cook sausages only sometimes and when he did he would cook them in the kitchen.
It was a rainy Sunday when Bethany consumed a fatal amount of prescription pills.
Only Nicolai was left. Poor Nicolai.
He thought of Glenn often when he made it to the streets. On the streets there is very little to do but survive, and to think of poetry and death.
They are the same thing.
And so here we are, at this water fountain. The fountain has now been maintained for 34 minutes. 34 minutes. That’s a long time to hold on to a tap for.
The moon, in its strong and silent voice, is attempting to counsel Nicolai, but he can’t hear it. He’s trying to see his future in that pure and perfect arc.